has compiled its latest brief on the usage of technology by travel agents, showing that social media use has surged to eighty percent of surveyed travel agents.
The results were derived from ASTA's Research Family, a representative sample across its member base, and has a sampling margin of +/- 5%, providing an extensive layout of how agents use technology to sell travel.
Social + ROI?
So with all these agents plying the seas of social media, what about ROI?
Well, ROI remains elusive, according to this set of findings.
Of the 80% that responded positively to usage of social media, a whopping third have seen zero dollars in revenue directly from that source. And yet, beyond that "0% of revenues" mark, 43% have seen over 5% of their total revenue derived from social media efforts.
The large discrepancy between the two camps either means some are getting it incredibly wrong - ie. are not using social media at all effectively - or some are overestimating the amount of business actually derived from the social efforts by perhaps not measuring this effectively.
Melissa Teates, ASTA's Director of Research:
Generally, it mostly agencies that are not using the platform effectively – but this is often by choice not skill. There are agencies that just see social media as another way to communicate with current clients and build relationships – not so much as a sales source or leads source.
There are also many who have not put together a formal plan and are winging it without a goal in mind. Then there are those (especially agents in our Young Professionals Society) that have put a lot of thought into social media as a sales tool.
Not to say, that some overestimating could not be happening. We try to define it as much as possible – but this is a relatively new question (3rd year in use) and may need to be updated at some point.
When compared with 2011 and 2012, I identified the large jump for 2013 in comparison as well. I didn’t think it was unreasonable when you consider we also saw a drop in those saying they were still learning social media and an increase in those saying it is “essential.” Also remember, 20% did not answer this as they do not use social media, so they are a defacto 0%. Plus the upper percentages dropped – either better estimating or normalization of time spent/effectiveness may be going on now. Hard to tell until we get a few more years of data.
Of those surveyed, twenty percent did not have websites as part of their online presence. These agents were much more likely to be be independent agents:
This development is highlighted by some agents in the survey, who pointed out the ease of creating and maintaining a company page on Facebook as a primary wedge against the cost of developing a standalone website.
And with other tools that promote agents - such as ASTA's own TravelSense.org - there are different means of fostering the community necessary for inbound sales traffic.
Here's how the specific breakdown of that particular path looks:
In regards to motivations behind being on social media, the year-over-year changes (2013 is all the way to the right, 2012 middle, 2011, to the left) show that agents are much less inclined to say they are "still learning how to use social media."
The "nice to be there" indicates a level of simply enjoying the social element of the space - perhaps home-based agents enjoy the socialized platforms, while also emphasizing the feeling that they "have to" be there.
Perhaps some of these stats stem from the overall lack of clarity on social media goals that's reflected in the responses to questions related to specific company goals on social.
Note the jump from 13% to 24% in two years of people still needing to plan and/or develop goals. Also, the drop from 45% to 29% seeing general awareness as a goal for being on social media suggests perhaps there is actually less of a "have to be there" feeling on social platforms for agents.
Other tidbits from the research related to the 2013 social landscape:
- 58% of those surveyed do not monitor the web for mentions of their companies.
- Most popular websites for travel agents are: Kayak and Expedia for searching airfare, TripAdvisor and CruiseCritic for reviews, and Centrav and Farebuzz for air consolidator bookings.
- Among travel products, travel insurance is the most booked online (86%) with theater/concert/other tickets being the least booked online (43%).
- Travel agents received an average of less than 5 new leads from both websites and social media.
- GDS software is becoming more integrated beyond simply booking travel, with TripCase, Checkmytrip, VirtuallyThere, and ViewTrip all seeing large gains in share since 2010. TripCase was the largest gainer, jumping from 2% to 13% since last year.
- The top four tech challenges facing agents are: keeping up with tech changes and replacing old equipment; Affordability and implementation of new tech; imprvoing social media program/updated website; and online booking tools/mobile apps for clients.
As far as takeaways, Teates says agents should do the following:
First, you need a plan and a goal or goals. Those doing well have a goal in mind and a plan to put up timely posts oriented to the platforms they use and their target audience. You have to decide who your audience is and also what action you are trying to prompt.
Is it to get current clients to keep you top-of-mind or interest them in a new product? Is it to reach out to potential customers? Is it to make your agency synonymous with a destination or type of travel? Also, the vehicle used is important based on your targets.
Also, if you don’t know how to start there are many ways to educate yourself in social media planning. ASTA has past webinars in our video library and a Nolan Burris course on sales and marketing plans. Many platforms have their own webinars and user tips. YouTube has plenty of videos on social media planning.
The report can be accessed from ASTA's research page.