“The rules of the game have changed and the consumer is in command.”
That was the conclusion from Dr Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UN World Tourism Organization, after today’s ministerial today at World Travel Market London, the leading global event for the travel industry.
More than 50 tourism ministers and deputy ministers from around the globe met to debate the challenges of branding their destinations in the “brave new world” of social media.
As well as hosting one of the largest gatherings of ministers in the world, the event also heard from Facebook, Expedia, Eurostar and the World Travel & Tourism Council.
“Destinations can reach out directly to consumers on social media,” said Rifai.
“Today, consumers have access to more information, more choices, and more opportunities to voice their opinions and can be the whistle-blowers for unethical practices or the biggest ambassadors for destinations and service providers.
“In this context, branding is an ever-more complex challenge requiring destinations and companies to adjust their structures and their policies.
“It’s not enough to say you are good, you have to be good.”
He highlighted the scale of the global tourism market, saying: “There will be 1.18 billion tourists in 2015 – that’s four million per day.”
The ministers outlined how their countries marketed themselves – either by highlighting the qualities of their people, their nations or particular cultural and natural icons.
However, the rapid rise of social media means that countries’ brands are at “the mercy of so many external forces” over which they have no control, said the debate’s moderator, Richard Quest, CNN International anchor.
Lee McCabe, Global Head of Travel, Facebook, flagged up the fact that there are now two billion smartphones on the planet, but his company is one of many that can help tourist boards to understand how ‘big data’ can help target consumers.
Noah Tratt, Global Senior Vice President, Expedia, Inc., added: “We work with tourism partners to test things, to see what works.”
The shift to social media was demonstrated by Eurostar, which now receives fewer phone calls to its call centre but if there are delays on the service, Twitter “lights up like a Christmas tree”, according to Quest.
Nicolas Petrovic, Eurostar’s Chief Executive, told the ministers: “Customers are very savvy. People expect a one-to-one conversation with the company.
“We have three shifts of people working on Twitter…and we can ask the train manager to see you if you tweet on the train.”
David Scowsill, WTTC President and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council, advised destinations to act quickly and communicate truthfully in times of crisis.
About World Travel Market
World Travel Market, the leading global event for the travel industry, is the must-attend four-day business-to-business exhibition for the worldwide travel and tourism industry.
Almost 52,000 senior travel industry professionals, government ministers and international press, embark on ExCeL – London every November to network, negotiate and discover the latest industry opinion and trends at WTM.
WTM, now in its 36th year, is the event where the travel industry conducts and concludes its deals. WTM 2014 will generate around £2.5 billion of travel industry contracts.
World Travel Market is part of Reed Travel Exhibition’s WTM portfolio, which also includes Arabian Travel Market, World Travel Market Latin America and World Travel Market Africa. www.wtmworld.com
The World Travel Market Portfolio is comprised of the leading leisure travel events in the world; World Travel Market in London, WTM Latin America in Sao Paulo, WTM Africa in Cape Town and Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
The WTM Portfolio’s events are attended by the global travel and tourism industry’s senior executives to conduct business deals and discover the latest research, insight and opinion.
In 2014, the WTM Portfolio facilitated around $7 billion in industry deals from negotiations between the more than 15,000 buyers, 9,500 exhibitors (1,500 main stand holders and 8,000 stand sharers) in attendance of its four events.
WTM is owned by the worldʼs leading events organiser Reed Exhibitions.
About Reed Exhibitions
Reed Exhibitions is the world’s leading events organizer, with over 500 events in 43 countries. In 2014 Reed brought together over seven million active event participants from around the world generating billions of dollars in business. Today Reed events are held throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa and organized by 41 fully staffed offices. Reed Exhibitions serves 43 industry sectors with trade and consumer events and is part of RELX Group, a world leading provider of professional information solutions. www.reedexpo.com