I have just returned from a trip overseas which was dominated by social media. At a time where mobile phone data roaming is so expensive, I deferred to Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends whilst travelling and communicate with friends living overseas to organise catchups and send real time messages rather than sms when the venue had to be changed as it was not open at the time we originally scheduled to meet.
With over 75 million reviews and opinions, and 50 more posted each minute, TripAdvisor was my first go-to social site to consider what to do in each location and also solve problems like – the best way to get to the airport and which moroccan cooking class to choose. But my favourite all-time social media travel resource would have to be airbnb.com. Simple to use, it allowed me to book an apartment in France, ‘live like a local’, meet some fabulous and very friendly Parisians and enjoy space and facilities at a price far less than it would have cost me in a small hotel room.
All through my two weeks abroad, I was also surrounded by social media offline. Where once you might have seen “recommended in Lonely Planet”, you now see green Trip Advisor stickers displayed as a stamp of credibility in the window of restaurants and cafes. On two occasions, I was told that if I was happy with the service, to please write a review online. And even when I was deep in the ancient medina of Marrakech, I saw a “like us on Facebook” sign.
To me, this showcased the power, ubiquity and pervasiveness that social media has all around the world. But more so, it demonstrated how social media has transformed the travel and leisure sector. Is there really any need for a travel agent anymore? In the past they played an advisory as well as a booking role, but I see no need to use those services when I am alerted to great airline prices and destinations through my Facebook friends and can book everything from flights to insurance myself online. Is there really any need for a guidebook anymore? I still see a range of Fodders, Lonely Planets and Rough Guides for sale in bookshops but have no need to spend $50 (and carry the weight!) on a book when I can use my ipad to discover comments and suggestions from just last week on places to see and things to do.
We talk about social media connecting people, empowering consumers and making the world smaller. Nowhere have I seen this demonstrated as much as I did in the travel sector – and whilst I know that there can be some manipulation by providers and even consumers, the overwhelming number of posts by ‘real people’ gives me confidence to trust and listen.
On the flipside, some have suggested that social media can in fact limit the whole travel experience. According to one travel writer, “the more we connect with the world above and beyond us, the harder it is to be present wherever we actually are”.
For me, social media enhances the travel experience, especially for independent travellers. Though I will admit that on this occasion, I probably received more recommendations online than from fellow travellers. What do you think?
Until next time.