The internet is the world's greatest travel portal. Customers now surf the globe from home in search of the perfect holiday and hospitality providers have to work hard to match their expectations online.
The proliferation of web based travel portals, combined with easy access to online photos and video clips means travellers can now pay a virtual visit to their planned holiday destination before they ever leave the house. Beach view wallpapers decorate computer screens in offices and homes around the world and destination websites receive millions of hits every day. The internet has become an essential tool when comes to planning holidays or business trips with most people now booking flights, hotels, hire cars, even restaurants online. This has had a profound effect on the marketing strategies and even the service concepts offered by many hospitality based businesses.
Trip Advisor® is perhaps one of the most significant additions to the international travel landscape in the last 10 years and for selected groups of connected friends, Twitter® is also becoming a personalised guide to the globe. A few years ago, very few hotels or holiday homes would have considered starting their own Facebook® page or You Tube® channel, but today's traveller relies increasingly rely on video and social media when making accommodation choices, so marketing departments have no choice but to keep pace.
So how do people actually use these travel sites and online media portals? Do they believe every recommendation they read? Will they book for two weeks based on a nice photo? Research suggests the process is generally much more involved with people using a combination of online resources to make their choices, collecting valuable snippets along the way and balancing opinion with facts. Marc Ribail is Chief Operating Officer at Samui Villas and Homes, a highly successful private villa management and rental firm based in Koh Samui,Thailand. He believes that today's travellers research their destination and accommodation choices thoroughly, especially at the high end of the market. "Details are important with so much information available online," he said. "The web gives people the freedom to tick all the boxes. By looking online at our photos and video clips, potential guests can check whether the villa is child friendly, they can see the ocean views from every room and even confirm the length of the swimming pool. This not only helps them choose the right property, it also helps us because most guests know what to expect in advance of their arrival."
Of course, visuals are not always the acid test when it comes to travel. As anyone who's ordered from a fast food restaurant will tell you, the photos on the menu rarely match the food on the plate. With web designers now skilled in image manipulation, a picture can hide a thousand unwritten words. But then there's always text and word of mouth. The internet is awash with comprehensive descriptions, personal recommendations, holiday snaps and video records, the only problem being that on balance they tend to cancel each other out. A cursory glance through the average Trip Advisor® list often leaves you torn between booking immediately and writing a letter of complaint in advance, and with a world of eclectic tastes to consider, one man's palace may be another man's dungeon.
Just like the search engines, clever web marketing professionals now monitor user activity in order to match visitors' expectations. Armed with the knowledge that travellers want valuable information, honesty, and images that actually tell them something, they increasingly focus on detail, using the web to offer an informative overview of their products and services. "If you offer quality, there's nothing to hide," continued Ribail. "The web lays your cards on the table and if you try to deceive people, you'll be found out for sure."