Travel marketers find social media just peachy

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As Summer nears, travel marketers are pushing deals online, using social aspects of travel to convince consumers to spend on a summer vacation.

The Georgia Tourism Board has revamped its travel site to make it more about the social experience. “The consumer really wanted us to plan their trips for them and provide them information like they'd find on Trip Advisor,” said Fred Huff, mar­keting director at Georgia's Department of Economic Development. “They wanted to have a reason to come back again, rather than just an online brochure.”

The site features potential in-state trip ideas. Much of this information has been collected by other travelers. As the site is updated this summer, it will allow consumers to share their favorite photos from trips and write captions for existing photos. A contest for the best photos and captions is also in the works.

The state is also using MySpace pages to connect with potential travelers. Geor­gia will have a MySpace page for each of the nine different regions of the state. “This makes it a little more familiar and less institutionalized,” said Huff.

Pushing travel via social networks is nothing new. “Travel is by its nature a social experience and [people] embrace it along with fellow travelers and then come back and talk about it,” said Raghu Kakarala, VP of strategy for Engauge Digital.

Another example of the vertical going digital is on Facebook. STA Travel began using the site with a sponsored group in March 2007. The student travel site has had a Facebook profile since fall 2006 that now has almost 20,000 friends.

“We are focused on the student and youth market,” said Kristen Celko, VP of marketing and e-commerce for North American headquarters at STA. “When we first got started, we were hoping to push transactions, but over time found that the benefits are more about branding.”

STA uses Facebook to spread the word about its monthly ticket giveaways. On STA Travelers.com, students can create profiles and share experiences about travel via photos, videos, blogs and a Q&A board. The site was created by the Night Agency in New York.

STATravelers.com membership has surpassed its Facebook profile members, reaching more than 28,000.

The site is not transactional, but it does list product specials. “There is a tremen­dous amount of research that you do up front when you are planning travel,” said Celko. “It's a place where people can get recommendations and advice from other travelers.”

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