How important is social media in attracting visitors to Britain?

How important is social media in attracting visitors to Britain?

A lot, according to Visit Britain – and it’s going a long way to disrupting traditional research methods.

Will talking to friends, family and colleagues replace other types of recommendation? No: our nearest and dearest are the most trustworthy. And will probably remain so.

Some 40% of us rank this category the highest across all age groups, according to Visit Britain’s latest research and planning survey of 11,400 tourists thinking of visiting.

Yet while we trust our nearest, how much knowledge do they have of the world? Their opinion is limited to where they have been – and there is so much more to explore.

Which is why social media is coming to the fore: the pool of travel information and opinion is growing hugely and we increasingly research online for stuff we don’t know.

Hence search engines, aka Google, rank second for the broadest of travel searches. If you were thinking of visiting Britain, what would you type in – maybe the best beaches, coastal walks, road trips or history tours?

Then we check prices, says Visit Britain – to get a broad feel for budgets, I’d suggest. But having narrowed your search by small margins, then social media really kicks in.

First up, travel reviews, where Tripadvisor is king. At the time of writing, there are 197,409 England topics from its community asking questions of where to go, what to do and how to do it– a colossal resource. The 35-44 age group rates reviews higher than prices.

Then we talk to extended friends and family on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms for advice – presumably about Britain, in this case, or wherever relevant F&F are based.

Already, we see that the internet and social media have taken places 2-5 when it comes to travel research. And their importance is growing. The next five research categories are as follows:

6:     An accommodation website (starting to hone in)

7:     A travel guidebook (bless!)

8:     Travel or tour operator website (thinking of booking)

9:     Offline (mostly the 65+ age group)

10:   Travel blogs and forums

The last category here is fascinating. Having read reviews, some traditional print advice and actual accommodation or holiday packages, then 22% of potential visitors will settle down to research blogs and forums for more specific information (rising to 27% in the 25-44 age brackets).

By now, visitors have got a rough idea of where they want to visit in Britain and are starting to research specific ideas and information about those areas. Which is where I think tourism providers in the UK can really take advantage.

There are still so few creative travel blogs about Britain, those that can swing a destination decision for a visitor.

There are trillions of commercial sites spouting PR talk, and countless old style tourist board sites with endless lists but no opinions or inspiration.

Tagged .

Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent the previous 10 years reporting general news at a variety of papers and news agencies, in the UK and abroad. He has also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and caught the train home from Hong Kong pre-fall of the Wall, the only hitch being a train strike in Belguim. Once Steve decided travel was his thing, he left TN in 1990 to freelance. He wrote freelanced for a variety of trade and consumer press, from L'Echo Touristique in France to The Journal of Air Commerce in New York. He began writing for The Times of London on travel news and business travel in 1996, went on contract two years later and joined the paper fulltime as deputy travel editor in 2000. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. Three days after joining, the Indian Ocean tsunami happened and online reporting, video, webinars, analysis and comment suddenly made a lot of sense. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and in December 2011, he left News International to co-form Travel Perspective. The company ran the inaugural Social Travel Market at Reed's World Travel Market in London last November, and now works with Reed Expos and other clients in helping the industry best understand and embrace the world of social and digital media in travel.

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