Travel companies are relying on Facebook to help bolster the falling numbers of people viewing their websites, according to industry experts at the TravelTech: Best of Enemies conference in Sydney.
Kate Vale, director of Loopster Media, said that 9.5 million Australians are on Facebook every month, with 8.6 million page views per month, up from 6.1 million the same time last year. "Facebook can't be ignored," said Vale.
Vale used the L2 Digital IQ Index: Travel 2011, conducted in January in the US, which stated that the "web is dying and Facebook is thriving".
"Facebook alone accounts for 12.3 per cent of all consumer time on the internet. During the first quarter of 2011 measurement period, travel brand Facebook communities grew an average of 20 per cent," said the report.
"Most brands are incorporating booking engines, video, online loyalty programs on their sites, but when it comes to being social the numbers drop considerably," said the Digital IQ Index. Only 28 per cent of sites have some form of social sharing, 20 per cent have Facebook "Like" and 9 per cent allow user reviews on their site, according to the study.
"Traffic to brand sites is down by 8 per cent year on year, and, during the first quarter of 2011, the travel brand Facebook community grew, on average, 20 per cent," said Vale, referencing the Digital IQ Index. "Why spend money on developing all these custom-built sites when you should be targeting people on Facebook? Your audience is already there; why not target them?"
Brands are using Facebook as an alternative to search, said Vale.
Air New Zealand's GM Online and Leisure, David Simmons, said that the airline stays in touch with its followers on Facebook, which has increased the airline's brand awareness, not only in New Zealand, but also worldwide.
Air New Zealand, traditionally recognised as a smaller company than airline giant Qantas, has 216,000 more likes on Facebook than its Kangaroo-crested competitor. Air New Zealand has over 301,000 Facebook "Likes", and its brand ambassador Rico has almost 44,000 likes.
The airline also utilises YouTube and Twitter, achieving over 2.3 million views for its cheeky Fit to Fly series, starring Richard Simmons. Air New Zealand's brand personality has reached media in the US, the UK and Asia.
Brenton Jones, marketing technology manager of Carnival Australia, said that the company's Facebook page allows holiday seekers to turn to other holiday seekers for advice. P&O has been on Facebook for just over two years, and garnered 43,400 "Likes", which the company uses to promote sales, competitions, risk management and regular content "that delivers value and long-term engagement", said Jones.
"Honest conversations deliver respect," said Jones. According to Jones, the Facebook page appeals to both past and new passengers: past passengers enjoy staying connected, being in the know and helping others on what to expect for their trips; new passengers go to the page to learn more, get tips and hints and share the excitement with future fellow travellers.
Carnival has staff monitoring the page, reading and preparing for any negative comments to clear up any issues that may arise, according to Jones.
Both Carnival and Air New Zealand said that they will be updating their websites to incorporate social media within the next month.
However, the travel industry audience at the conference showed that while they trust Facebook for personal use, they don't trust it enough to make transactions through the social media site. There are only a handful of travel companies that allow online booking through Facebook, including Malaysia Airlines and Delta Airlines.
Updated 2:30pm, 1 September 2011: Air New Zealand was originally reported to have 142,000 Facebook "Likes" and 230 million YouTube views, when the accurate numbers are 301,000 and 2.3 million, respectively.