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Likes, tweets and hashtags: the significance of social media in travel retail

The momentous, innovative and undeniable power of social media continues to connect consumers and businesses, transcend borders and influence the entire passenger journey.The momentous, innovative and undeniable power of social media continues to connect consumers and businesses, transcend borders and influence the entire passenger journey.

December 2015 | by Garry Stasiulevicuis, Managing Director

Consumers now have the instant ability to connect with each other wherever they are in the world, share information and news updates before the main media channels, as well as have conversations with companies in a way that was unimaginable until recently.

As 92% of consumers trust earned media – such as recommendations from family and friends – above all other forms of advertising*, it’s inevitable that social media platforms have become an increasing part of the traveller journey: before booking, they want to be inspired; during their journey they may wish to interact with the airline, airport and retailer; post-journey is a time for reflection, sharing photos with friends, posting online reviews and then on to planning the next trip.

Whilst the consumer benefits of using sites such as Instagram, Trip Advisor and Facebook are fun and useful, the platforms are actually some of the most valuable and sophisticated channels available to businesses. When mastered correctly, these tools can create meaningful relationships with customers, increase brand awareness and boost company loyalty.

The connection

Described as the “world’s largest focus group”**, data from social media offers a great insight into the customer and their behaviour: their likes and dislikes, how they communicate, what they really think of different brands and what brands and companies can do to help them.

This gives brands and retailers a chance to connect with the consumer throughout the passenger journey in a targeted way. For instance, Heathrow Airport segments its audience using social media analytics so that passengers, business travellers, airlines, hotels and retailers can receive relevant information in a single subset***. Flight information, brand offers or special events can be delivered to the right audience at the right time, as well as in a way that encourages travellers to share the information and provide feedback.

The conversation

Once this connection with the consumer has been established, the beauty of social media is that it allows businesses to engage in two-way conversations with their audiences.

Whether it’s a customer service department on Twitter, a response to a comment on Facebook, or sharing a post on LinkedIn, social media is changing the way companies interact with each other and with consumers**. Establishing a balance between a professional company persona with a likeable human face is perhaps one of the greatest challenges of modern business communication.

A good example of combining professionalism with personality on social media is Hilton Worldwide’s @HiltonSuggests Twitter handle. The online concierge service allows travellers to ask local team members for their ideas and advice on what to see and explore when visiting a new city. Team members respond to individual requests with their favourite suggestions and sign-off the tweets with their initials. What’s more, the tweets do not necessarily have to come from paying guests, which opens up the target audience and adds value to the traveller’s experience.

Social media also offers companies the ability to send out targeted messages via geo-location technology****. Brands and retailers can find new customers and leads by location, language, age, gender and even country if using Twitter**. Visa has leveraged this technology to improve security for its customers when they’re travelling abroad*****.  To help increase approval rates for legitimate transitions, the location of the cardholder’s mobile device is matched to the payment transaction – and travel purchases made using the customer’s Visa account are also registered to help predict future travel plans.

What’s next?

The use of social media is both global and local. As new platforms and technologies become available, social media will further connect the travel retail industry with its customers, promote dialogue and redefine brand loyalty in real-time.

With more platforms and more brands on social media, loyalty in an increasingly digital age is set to be more reciprocal and emotional. 72% of frequent flyers would join a social loyalty scheme if it meant they could receive points for posting positive feedback******. An integrated digital marketing strategy across the booking to boarding journey would then allow the traveller to ‘spend’ their social points in the way that they choose.  

As social media marketing embeds itself within travel retail’s digital future, brands and retailers have an opportunity to give their shoppers something immediately relevant, personalised and unique. Connecting with customers is key – and conversation and considered content will always be social media’s currency.



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Image: rvlsoft /


If unspecified: CiR database.