Here is an example how a resort town is using social media to attract tourists *before* they make a decision where they want to spend their vacation next year.
Tourists are much better informed about the destinations they are targeting. Long before they make a decision, they read reviews from other tourists, explore the places on Google Maps, and often times know more about the place than all the travel expert sites together. The glossy brochures have less and less influence. The week of vacation is too precious to just trust advertising.
One resort town decided to make a difference. They wanted to get in touch with tourists long before a decision is made and have a chance to get in touch with the tourist long before arrival. Here is what they decided to do:
1) Social Media Monitoring
The tourist information center was equipped with social media monitoring tools to learn about people asking questions like "has anybody been in XYZ" or "We plan to go to NNN" where NNN is a similar place but not our resort town. We developed a comprehensive set of searches and an internal escalation plan so everybody knows what to do based on the results.
2) Social Relationship Building
They then add the people they find into Xeesm and do two things:
a) Getting in touch with tourist in the social web and develop a relationship.
The team is visiting the tourist a few times, to learn about their optimal place.
Xeesm is the social relationship manager keeping all the contacts and their social profiles in one place.
Also Xeesm helps to keep track of the visits, contact intensity and so forth.
b) Introduce tourists to former visitors
The team then introduces the tourist to former visitors of the town to increase the number of positive suggestions.
Especially if the search is on a competing town it is important to let the tourist know what others think of their place.
In this case Xeesm acts as a database for former tourists and their social sites. So that a virtual introduction does not need to reveal any email addresses but for instance a Facebook URL. That way a tourist can make their own intro, asking the person how they liked the respective place. Introductions are made only to people who are already publicly stating their support of the resort on their fan page.
The tourist center has a young team who reaches out to over hundred people a day and you can already imagine what impact that has. No tourist had ever experienced such a personal touch to a resort or place *before* they even made a decision. Obviously the team is *not selling* but just socializing. The team is not allowed to make any hotel suggestions, give out pricing, promote a place or any other promotional effort unless explicitly asked for. The overall task is to be that friendly guide before the tourist even arrived. Obviously the team was well trained and is equipped with URLs to "show people virtually around". With an outreach team of approximately 100 (most college kids) the tourist center is able to reach over 25,000 tourists a month. After some additional ramp up the goal is to be in touch with a quarter million tourists long before the summer season 2011 even begins.
An interesting aspect to mention is that the whole initiative is all about relationships, personal touch and individual connections. There is no traditional social media marketing like contests, pricing competition or any of the "old world" promotion involved. The cost to the tourist center is primarily hiring the team for an hour or so per day and is distributed to sponsors, mainly resorts and SPAs. But none of the sponsors get access to the people and the people are not getting any advertisement. The reward for the sponsors is to get a fully booked hotel in 2011.
Xee you next year in…. ah ah no selling :)