Social Media: The travel industry hops on board.

There’s an industry that is currently making monstrous leaps and gargantuan bounds in social media. Surprise. It’s travel & tourism. Hotels, airlines and other segments of the multibillion-dollar industry are now aggressively tapping into the social media landscape and Charisse Jones and Roger Yu reported on it in a recent article in USA Today.

According to Jones and Yu, travelers can now book their flights on Facebook. They can send a tweet if they’re running late to a hotel. They can even win two tickets to Cabo for the price of one by downloading an IPhone app and being the first to locate a taco stand near LAX. Amazing Race, eat your heart out.

And that’s just a mere skim of the surface. United Airlines has “Twares” offered exclusively through Twitter. The Ritz-Carlton has sought out social-media mavens and bloggers to sing its praises. And LuxuryLink.com and FamilyGetaway.com, which sell hotel packages, have launched “mystery auctions,” in which customers bid for hotel packages at discounted rates without knowing the property’s identity. Marketing wanderlust. Brilliant.

When you consider how many airlines and hotels there are competing for our business, social media is just a natural fit. Travel organizations aren’t looking for the single transaction anymore, they want to build loyalty and that means long-term engagement. Particularly with the younger audiences. The 18 to 24’s. According to Carl Howe, a director with the Yankee Group, a telecommunication market research firm, “Email’s a little, well, old school to them. If you want to reach them, you have to communicate in the ways they feel most comfortable, and that’s mostly Facebook and texting.”

To be sure, while an airline’s website continues to be key, Bob Kupbens, Delta’s vice president of e-commerce asserts “these other channels are opportunities to be where the site isn’t. You’re not standing in line in security with your laptop open. But you are there with your mobile phone.” It’s a brave new world. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

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