Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Many C’s of eTourism

Sunshine, a blue sea and 25 degrees outside temperature is just excellent when I know that at the same time it is freezing cold and snowing back home in Vienna. However, we had no time to relax at the beach because the topics covered on the second day of the E-Tourism & E-Marketing conference in El Gouna were far too interesting and not be missed. Just to make you a little bit jealous, though, I post a foto of me in the beautiful garden of the El Gouna Mövenpick hotel.

The presentations on the second day were centred around the themes distribution 2.0, branding 2.0 and tourism education and how tourism businesses and organizations can make the best usage of social media applications.

Matt Jerwood, discussed “How Tourism Organizations Can Embrace Digital Media and New Channels of Distribution” and pointed out that the “norm” of digital media usage evolves quickly and the challenge for tourism organisations is to keep up with that speed of change. He concluded that it does not make sense to put the same effort into all activities but tourism businesses should analyse and evaluate the strengths & purpose of different platforms and applications such as social media, email, mobile, web, sms or voice for different user activities. Not all platforms or services are likewise suitable for creating awareness, browsing for information, purchasing a product or post sales activities. Online is certainly an important part of the entire marketing mix and therefore businesses should also start reorganising their budget and shift it from traditional marketing to experiental marketing because online drives traffic and reservations. It’s all about selling experiences!

The issue of “E-Learning and Capacity Building in the African Travel Sector” was discussed by Damian Cook. He explained that eTourism consists of a number of important C’s in the travel life cycle that we need to consider in our marketing communications . eTourism means

  • Communicating the right
  • Content across a variety of
  • Channels to the best value
  • Clients who will
  • Convert to a sale and keep
  • Coming back

Dimitrios Buhalis provided an overview of how DMOs can exploit the new technologies for marketing and distribution. He revealed that he was able to predict the future but he cannot say when it will happen …
Nonetheless, he presented the lessons to be learned in order to tackle the challenges of the future. Travelers, he argued, were always connected through social networks and mobile applications. Therefore, a simple list of inventory of products and services is no longer enough for DMOs to stay competitive. They need to promote experiences and develop location based services for tourists en route.

The last session of yesterday was dedicated to Tourism education which faces challenges such as increasing globalization, sustainable tourism development, informatisation of the entire tourism value chain and the growing importance of innovation. As a result of this, tourism education should consider these trends in the curriculum design and educate and prepare students for the flexibility of the tourism market. Tourism is an important and growing industry also in 3rd world countries and a high quality tourism education is considered as a major imperative especially in African and Arabic countries.

In my presentation on “Tourism Education in Europe and Overseas” I focused on student employability. Employability is regarded as a key performance indicator for Higher Education Institutions. The three major stakeholders in tourism education are the students / graduates, the higher education institutions and the industry (see illustration below; based on Sofia Reino).


There should be a very close interrelationship between all the stakeholders. The aim of higher education institutions is to endow the students in the related subject matters with the key assets knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) so that they will be fit for and competitive on the labour market. The industry asks for specific skills and competences of the graduates and life-long learning has become crucial in our fast-changing times of increasing internationalization and globalization.

You can download the complete presentation on “Tourism Education”.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Always On – Challenges for eTourism in a Changing World

I am currently in the beautiful city of El Gouna, Egypt, attending the 2nd International Tourism Online Marketing Conference. El Gouna is also called the Venice of the Red Sea for its beauty, peacefulness and its scenic beachfronts, however, I must admit that so far I have unfortunately not seen much more but the conference venue.

The conference was opened yesterday by Mr Amr Elezabi, CEO of the Egyptian Tourist Authority (see foto below). In his opening speech to the approximately 250 participants he emphasized the importance of eTourism for Egypt and other Arabic and African countries to tackle the issues of communication and information, knowledge transfer, eTourism and eMarketing.

A great number of international eTourism experts from all over the world will give presentations on a variety of topics (see detailed conference program) over the next 3 days and share their expertise with the conference participants. I had the honour and the pleasure to moderate the first session this morning which was titled “E-Tourism Today” and then give a presentation myself in the second session on “Online Advertising”, and I would like to share with you the most interesting and important statements from this today.

The first presentation dealt with the “Challenge of Change” and was held by the change consultant Michael Jackson. “What?”, you might wonder now, “Michael Jackson at an eTourism conference?” But of course it was not THE Michael Jackson (and how could he?) but the other Michael Jackson, which he calls himself ironically. Although one could say that the king of pop was also a good example of change.

Michael pointed out how the speed of our lives has changed over the past 20 years due to a dramatic increase in communication through email, web-applications, smart phones and social media applications such as Twitter and Facebook. The challenge for us is to be “always on” in order to stay informed and competitive. We live in a world that is going to be more collaborative than ever before in history and especially businesses can benefit from these developments. A good example for collaboration, which was presented by Karl Wöber from Modul University Vienna, is the Tourism Information System TourMIS (www.tourmis.info/) which is a free platform for the tourism industry to exchange marketing knowledge about cities and destinations and contains also several benchmarking functions. Michael Jackson concluded that those who do not use or have the technology such as iPhone, Blackberry or Android will be left behind. That can be seen as rather bleak scenario because it creates a digital gap between those who have access to the technology and those who have not and in turn increases the information gap. This issue is also dealt with by the United Nation’s World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) as Alex Rayner, eTourism advisor to the UNWTO, explained.

Lee Hunter, Marketing Manager with Google, shared his insights into technology changes and trends with the audience. He identified three drivers for technology change:

  • Ubiquitous connectivity (rember – always on!)
  • Democratization of the tools of production (shift from social media to business media)
  • Falling costs of communication

These changes have also led to new basics in eTourism and eMarketing:

  • Relevance of the marketing communications in order to harness increased customer engagement
  • Precision in targeting the customers (e.g. through local geotargeting)
  • Deeper connections with customers
  • Constant innovation: be nimble and willing to adapt and experiment.

My presentation dealt with “Search Engine Marketing” (SEM).The two most frequent activities on the Internet are sending emails and searching for information (see foto below). About 80% of all journeys start with a search query in a search engine (mostly Google) and therefore search engine marketing has become increasingly important over the past few years. Moreover, tools such as Google AdWords require only little technical understanding but focus rather on marketing and content issues. Another asset of SEM is that it gives marketers a better control over the budget and the performance measurement of marketing campaigns.

The key success factors of a successful SEM campaign are:

  • to define the conversion goals of the campaign
  • to find the right keywords from the consumer’s point of view
  • to write appealing ad text copies
  • to monitor and optimize the campaign performance
  • to invest time and endurance (learning curve!)

If your are interested in SEM, you can download my presentation on Search Engine Marketing. (pfd, 580 kB)

In the following days topics such as Distribution 2.0, Branding 2.0, Tourism Education, Email Marketing and Content Management will be covered on this conference.

So keep visiting my blog for more insights into the eTourism research and industry.

You can follow the proceedings of the conference (in German) on www.twitter.com/guenterexel

Sunday, 6 December 2009

How to Conduct Email Marketing that Doesn't Suck

In response to my last post on “SMEs favouring Email Marketing” a friend of mine from a tourist office called me and asked whether email marketing was still an effective conversion and customer retention tool because there obviously is a shift of communication towards social media platforms? Moreover, she argued, another drawback of email marketing was that users’ mailboxes are filled up with not only private or work related emails but also with a lot of spam and therefore the low opening rates and even lower clicker through rates for email campaigns are not worth the effort. Sure, she had a point! And I have to admit that I receive newsletters occasionally that make me wonder whether email campaign managers ever have the interests of their subscribers in mind?

Nevertheless, I think that email marketing has a number of advantages over other online tools provided that it is carried out in the right way. And right means in this context saying the right things to the right people in the right ways at the right time.


This also implies that email is only one tool of many in the whole online marketing mix. What are then the success factors for email marketing campaigns? One advantage of email is certainly its versatility for different objectives. Popular email marketing formats include:
  • Newsletter: information about products and services is sent to the subscribers on a regular basis
  • Campaign: the information sent is linked to specific user interests (e.g. winter sport highlights)
  • Reminder: message is sent at a predefined point of time (e.g. online check-in for flights 24 hours before departure).
  • Alert: information is sent only when certain criteria are met (e.g. special offers for family holidays)
  • Survey: valuable marketing research data can be gained by sending questions and answer options to subscribers. Surveys can be included in all the other email models listed above.
Further benefits of email marketing compared to other online marketing formats comprise the relatively low fulfilment costs, the faster campaign deployment, the ease of personalisation and targeting, the simple and cost effective options for testing, the combination with other online marketing goals such as driving traffic to the website, and finally the many possibilities for a detailed reporting in real time which facilitates a thorough analysis and optimisation.

Despite of these advantages e-marketing managers have to be realistic in terms of performance measures such as opening rates, click through rates and conversion rates. There are a several barriers or filters which narrow down the conversion funnel for email marketing campaigns (see my own illustration below, click to enlarge).


The first obstacle is that in practice rarely all sent emails will be delivered to the subscribers due to a variety of possible reasons (e.g. spam filter, email address has changed, user settings in the email program). Therefore, maintaining the integrity and improving the quality of the email address database is essential for successful email marketing.
The first filter from the recipient’s point of view is whether the subject line is relevant and interesting. On average only 27 to 50 per cent of email subscribers open an email newsletter (n.b.: figures were collected from various sources) and scan through the content. If the content is geared to the user interests and needs (filter 2) then the average click through rates on articles or offers add up to 10 to 28 per cent. The final hurdle is whether the offer is attractive enough (filter 3) that the user will actually purchase it. The conversion rates of email marketing campaigns typically range from 2 to 5 per cent.

As a result of this, the success of email marketing is dependent on the clear definition of the campaign strategy and goals, the professional implementation and the ongoing performance analysis and optimisation. Like with all marketing tools, the content must be geared to the customers’ needs and interests. Dave Chaffey (in his book Total E-mail Marketing, 2006) suggested the mnemonic acrostic C R I T I C A L as a checklist for email marketing success factors. C R I T I C A L stands for:
  • Creative: design of email (layout, colour, image, copy text)
  • Relevance: the content meets the needs of the recipients
  • Incentive: the benefit for the user, ‘what is in it for me?’ (if I click on an article)
  • Targeting & Timing: same message to all recipients or individualised; time of day, week, month etc.
  • Integration: consistent with and reinforcement of other marketing communications
  • Copy: structure, style, explanation of offer, location of hyperlinks
  • Attributes (of the email): characteristics such as subject line, from address, to address, date/time of receipt, format (html, text)
  • Landing page: hyperlink to web page for more detailed information
Finally, it must be emphasised that email marketing is permission marketing and subject to legal and ethical constraints. Thus, emails should only be sent to customers who have explicitly and knowingly given their consent in an opt-in or even double-opt in subscription process and users must have the option to unsubscribe at any time.

Resource tip: Download the very comprehensive “Essential Guide to E-Mail Marketing” by DMNews (pdf, 6.7 MB)

Sunday, 29 November 2009

SMEs Favour Social Media and Email Marketing over Banner Ads

Small & medium sized enterprises (SMEs) sometimes struggle with the efficient and effective utilisation of the increasing variety of online advertising channels and formats due to their limited budget, lack of human resources and lack of in-house marketing expertise. The entire range of Web 2.0 applications and services and in particular the growing popularity of social networking platforms have obviously further changed the patterns of budget allocations for marketing activities, according to the results of survey conducted by VerticalResponse and published by eMarketer.

The majority of the SMEs with less than 500 employees plan to increase the marketing spending for email marketing and social media marketing in the year 2010 whereas they budget for online banner ads will be cut down significantly. Nearly all SMEs will carry out email marketing campaigns in 2010 and three out of four SMEs will even increase their spending for email marketing (see table below, click to enlarge).

Similarly, almost 80% of the SMEs will carry out online marketing activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube and two third of the marketing managers intend to increase the spending for those communications. Unfortunately, the survey does not shed light on how exactly and for what marketing formats the budget will be used on social media platforms, but since most of these websites offer cost-per-click advertising (e. g. the adverts bar on the right in Facebook) I assume that the budget will go there.

As far as search engine marketing is concerned, almost half of the surveyed SMEs will invest more in paid adverts in Google, Yahoo, Bing or other popular search engines.

If companies plan to increase the marketing spendings does this then mean that they have more financial resources available despite the economic crisis? Certainly not! The survey data gives clear evidence that online banner advertising is losing importance for SMEs. Nearly 55% of SMEs claimed they will not carry out any display advertising campaigns in 2010.

It is not stated in the survey how many of the 831 small & medium sized enterprises of the sample enterprises belonged to the tourism sector and thus generalisations for the tourism industry per se are not valid. However, the research outcome clearly indicates that banner advertising is losing importance in favour of social media, email and search engine marketing.

Display ads can be effective for certain marketing goals (e.g. branding) and there are without doubt design agencies that develop highly creative rich-media banners (I love the artistic banners on e. g. DoubleClick). However, the shortcomings of banner ads are also well-known. First of all the production and display costs for an appealing banner can be rather high. On the other hand the click-through-rates (CTR) are usually relatively low with an average of 0.5-3%. Further, many users consider banner ads as annoyance and turn a blind eye on them. The biggest problem for SMEs is, in my opinion, that successful banner advertising always requires the cooperation with an online advertising agency which causes additional costs.

Search engine marketing tools such as Google AdWords, on the other hand, have become relatively easy to use and are moreover very flexible and quick in terms of creating, tracking and adjusting a campaign. Further, it is possible to achieve very good results even with a rather small budget.

The email newsletter seems to be still the most popular online marketing tool among SMEs and many enterprises regard it as an inexpensive and effective way to reach new customers and to generate fast responses, according to the “2009 State of Small Business Online Marketing Survey” (see table below, click to enlarge).

However, compared with other online marketing tools (e. g. keyword advertising) email marketing obviously causes difficulties in terms of the implementation as well as the tracking and measuring of the performance. Besides these technical and organisational obstacles, email marketing campaigns often fail to generate good conversion rates because the content is not geared to and not relevant for the recipients. The lack of relevant and personalised content is the number one reason why users unsubscribe from newsletters, as revealed by a recent study (see chart below, click to enlarge).


One out of four users further complained that they had problems with managing the email newsletter flood. This is doubtless a big shortcoming of email communication, especially with the ever increasing spam that we receive every day.

There are, however, interesting and effective alternatives to traditional email marketing which can be implemented by SMEs without great effort, for instance RSS-feeds or Twitter-tweets. New tools such as Google Wave and Mozilla’s Raindrop promise to offer new forms of organising and bundling online communication by combining multi-media content exchange and chat-functions.

Maybe these new tools and services will have the potential to oust or at least complement the traditional email newsletter as a marketing tool in the near future. What do you think? Share your opinion with us!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Inside Azerbaijan: an Eye-Witness Account of a Teaching and Cultural Experience

Hopefully some readers and followers of my blog have already started to miss my posts over the past days, and even if they did not suffer from withdrawal symptoms they might have wondered what has happened to me.

Well, I was on a lecturing mission to Baku, Azerbaijan, for one week and unfortunately did not find enough time to blog, because I was too busy with lecturing and absorbing the life and culture there as much as possible. I taught the “Introduction to eTourism” course at the Azerbaijan Tourism Institute (ATI) in Baku and I must say that was an interesting but at the same time very satisfying experience (see photo below with my nice students).

The IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems has established a co-operation with the Azerbaijan Tourism Institute (ATI) some three years ago which gives Azerbaijan students the opportunity to study for the first tourism double-degree diploma in the country. Azerbaijan students are taught the same curriculum as it is taught to students of the Tourism & Leisure Management degree programme of the IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems.

I am sure that some readers might actually have problems in geographically locating Azerbaijan in the first place or even imagine to ever go there on a holiday, although the country at the Caspian Sea has without doubt a lot to offer. Nine out of the world’s eleven climate zones can be found in Azerbaijan. In terms of the size and the number of inhabitants Azerbaijan can be compared with Austria. However, an organised tourism industry, let alone eTourism industry, does not exist in Azerbaijan or is at most in its nascent stages. There are approximately 1.5 million Internet users in Azerbaijan or 18% of the total population (Source: www.internetworldstats.com/).
The tourist arrivals show significant growth and amounted to nearly 1.5 million in 2008 (see chart below, Source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture and Tourism).

The major source markets are Russia, Georgia, Turkey and Iran. Barriers to tourism (just to name a few) are expensive visa regulations, the generally poor infrastructure (especially outside of larger cities), the lack of organized tourism products and activities and the low number of less than 400 hotel and accommodation establishments (see chart below, Source: Azerbaijan Ministry of Culture and Tourism).


Comprehensive online tourism and travel information on Azerbaijan is hardly available for interested tourists. There are a few websites that contain some basic information on Azerbaijan (e.g. www.lonelyplanet.com/azerbaijan, Wikipedia.org, wikitravel.org) and there are also a number of Facebook groups but not yet an Azberbaijan tourism fanpage.

A more comprehensive information about the history, nature and culture of Azerbaijan can be found on the Azerbaijan Tourism portal which is published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. However, the official tourism portal is only mildly attractive and does not really help a visitor to plan a trip or even find and book an accommodation apart from a few selected hotels which are listed on the website. From what I have seen myself during my one week stay I believe that Azerbaijan has potential in areas like cultural, historic and religious tourism but even more for nature and sports tourism.

Therefore, I am very happy and content that I might have been able to contribute to the positive future tourism development of Azerbaijan with my course on eTourism which I conducted for the future generation of tourism managers at the Azberbaijan Tourism Institute.

Inshallah!

Maybe you are interested in more impressions of Azerbaijan.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Google Invests in Mobile Ads and VoIP and Says, “That’s Good for All of Us”

No doubt, mobile Internet usage is a fast growing market which has been boosted especially by the new generation of smart phones such as the iPhone or Google phone. Hand in hand with this trend goes the search for additional revenues through mobile advertising.
Despite or maybe because of Google’s corporate motto “Don’t be evil” the Google strategists know that attack is the best form of defence and therefore Google announced only yesterday that they bought a mobile display ad technology provider called AdMob, based in California, for $ 750 million. Being in a shopping and spending mood, Google further acquired the Voice over IP (VoIP) company Gizmo5 for a bargain of $ 30 million, probably in order to challenge Skype. Does Google know that the future is mobile?

Mobile phones have become an increasingly indispensable part of our daily lives. eMarketer predicts that by 2013 nearly 50% of American mobile phone users will access the mobile Internet at least monthly (see table below).


As a result of this, mobile applications for the travel and tourism industry are mushrooming. Mobile devices with integrated GPS support location based services and open new perspectives for the tourism industry to serve the customers better on the trip by adjusting and personalising the services to the specific location and situation of an individual traveler.
SMS-based context aware information push services have been used by many advertisers but have not really generated the big revenues for various reasons. Firstly, in most of the cases customers need to opt-in to subscribe to the SMS service and secondly text ads are not really that attractive for the tech-savvy generation N.

Google offers already many forms of mobile advertising, however its focus to date has been mainly on mobile search ads which can be seen as analogous to Google AdWords for search engine marketing. Google’s new strategic partner, AdMob, on the other hand focuses on mobile ads and in-application ads (see examples below, click to enlarge).


Mobile Internet consumers, used to a largely ad-supported Web content, will expect free content on their phones as well. Hence ad-based mobile applications can provide users with more free and low-cost mobile content and with contextual mobile ads that deliver useful information. Google claims that for advertisers the deal will bring better, more relevant location-based ads and greater reach especially in combination with Google’s existing search engine marketing tools. It is also likely that we will see more innovative and engaging ad formats developed especially for mobile applications. The benefit for publishers of websites and content (e.g. a DMO) may be that mobile advertising can mean a more effective monetization of their content.

Related article:
A New Travel Buddy Called iPhone

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Say it with a Song: Customer Complaints in the Era of Social Media

It has become kind of state-of-the art that tourists share their travel experiences on holiday review platforms and post comments on the perceived quality and service of hotels, destinations, sights, transportation means etc. Platforms such as www.holidaycheck.com or www.tripadvisor.com are gaining in popularity among visitors who make their booking decision dependent on what other customers have to say about the service they received. And very often the comments turn out to be relentlessly honest indeed.

Review platforms literally have put the power into the hands of the customers and the tourism suppliers have become at the mercy of their guests in terms of meeting and exceeding customer expectations. This shift from passive users to empowered producers or prosumers has been fostered by both the active participation of the users themselves in the online communication as well as the still growing popularity of social networking platforms such as Facebook or YouTube which enable users to publish and spread content easily. A combination of written text, photos and videos of the visited site can be published in an instant by visitors and can be then viewed immediately by other interested visitors.

However, a creative Canadian musician took the biscuit when it comes to expressing the frustration of a bad customer experience. After baggage handlers of United Airlines broke the 3,500 US$ guitar of song writer Dave Carroll he tried for nine months to get a compensation of 1,200 US$ for the repair of his beloved instrument, but standard procedures were applied to poor Davy and his endeavours were in vain.

That did not sit well with Mr Carroll. Therefore, he satisfied his thirst for revenge by creating a music video titled “United Breaks Guitars” which has been viewed on YouTube more than six million times since July. Yes – 6,000,000 times!


Eventually, United Airlines executives were ready to meet up with Dave and offered him US$ 3,000 compensation which he decently donated to charity.
Encouraged by the success of his video message, Dave composed a follow-up video that he published on YouTube last August and which has been viewed by more than half a million users since then.



This rather unconventional form of a customer complaint on social media platforms did not only increase Dave Carroll’s popularity as a singer beyond the Canadian borders but also made him a wanted speaker on customer service matters at various conferences. On this mission, it happened that Dave travelled to Colorado Springs less than two weeks ago to give a keynote speech at a customer service and social networking conference, and of course also perform his song “United Breaks Guitars”.
Guess what airline he took? – United Airlines.
Guess what happened? – His luggage was lost.

This amusing but informative story shows us clearly that the voice of an unsatisfied customer can be loud in the era of Web 2.0 and a subtle irony or parody seems to be an ideal formula for attracting a big audience on social media platforms. Maybe tourism suppliers will be confronted with more sung customer complaints on review websites soon.

I am grateful to my friend Alex Rayner who informed me about this great social media campaign.

Related articles:
Welcome to my Blog
Danish Mother Video Erased from YouTube

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

How to Generate Revenue with Social Media Platforms

The visitor numbers on social media platforms have been growing exponentially in the year 2009 and this growth will certainly continue in the next couple of years. However, even the bigger social networking platforms still struggle to find viable business models in order to generate revenue. The majority of the social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter are (still) free to the users. Other networking websites such as Xing or LinkedIn charge their users for certain content and services.

Although Web 2.0 has changed the way how we use the web, it has not spawn new revenue models. The main focus of social media monetisation has been on the advertising revenue model, however current developments give evidence that payment for content will become an equally important revenue source as a “Social Media Survey” revealed which was carried out by Abrams Research among 200 social media leaders from across the USA and Canada (see illustration below, click on graphic to enlarge).

More than 45% of US social media leaders regard the “freemiumpayment model as the best way to turn social media platforms into business. The “freemium” model allows users to access basic content and services for free but premium services or specific content can only be obtained when paying a fee (e.g. subscription or pay per use). One fifth of the participants in the survey consider targeted advertising as the best way to make revenue through a social media platform, whereas traditional online advertising is seen as the least profitable revenue source. It is also comforting to know that only 4% think that selling user metadata is the way forward. Does Facebook agree?

Certainly, most of the social media platforms show hybrid models when it comes to revenue creation. What does this all mean for the users? Is it likely that Facebook, Twitter & Co will sooner or later charge users for using the platform or maybe accessing their fotos? According to eMarketer, users are willing to pay for social network content as long as they can create value to the customers. How much would you be willing to pay for your Facebook?

Related article: Eight Ingredients to Brew your eCommerce Business Model

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Forty Years of Internet – Some Thoughts on today's World-wide Internet Day

Forty years ago from today, on the 29th October 1969 the Internet was launched. The term “Internet” was already coined in 1962, but on the 29th October 1969 four computer systems located in the USA were connected via a telephone line which was considered as the start of the Internet. Since then millions of computer systems around the world have been connected and this global network has seen extraordinary growth rates since the mid 1990s and has revolutionised the business models and processes as well as the marketing strategies of companies.

In fact, the Internet has influenced and changed the communication and interaction among human beings on all levels. The World Wide Web (WWW) is the biggest information and knowledge source which mankind has ever managed to create in a collaborative effort. Today about 1.7 billion people worldwide are online (source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/), which accounts for one quarter of the entire human population on earth (see chart below, click on graphic to enlarge).

An unbelievable number of 230 million websites are online to date and the publication of new websites is still climbing exponentially. Just imagine, it would take 7.3 years if you looked at each of these websites after the other only for one second!

Further milestones for the growing impact and influence of the Internet on the masses were the search engine Google (founded 1998), the reformation of the “old” web into Web 2.0 (in 2004) and applications such as YouTube (in 2005), Facebook (in 2006), Twitter (in 2006), just to name a few. Web 3.0 (i.e. the semantic web) and Web 4.0 (i.e. the intelligent Metaweb or “global brain”) are considered as emerging trends.

The Internet and especially the WWW have made many tasks in our lives much simpler and quicker (e.g. data exchange, access to information, tele-banking, online booking) but on the other hand the complexity of the tools, applications, organisation structures and business processes has increased simultaneously. The Internet and the WWW have changed the world dramatically and the changes will continue.
There are still many challenges and unsolved issues which can have far-reaching social and economic consequences as for instance the digital divide which can increase the knowledge gap between technologically less developed countries and the modern world. Human beings will have to adapt new strategies for dealing efficiently with the increasing information flood and communication overkill.
Companies need to identify and exploit the strategic and competitive advantages of information and communication technologies without overwhelming their customers. The quantity of information and communication keeps growing exponentially and an end of this trend is not yet in sight. But what about the quality? Further examples of superlatives are summarized in the interesting video "Did you know?"

So, what does this all mean?

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Social Media Marketing – Now or Never?

In today’s post I want to give you a summary of thought-provoking presentations from the annual Tourism Conference of the Vienna Tourist Board, which I attended last Thursday. The event took place in the very atmospheric Semper Depot in Vienna and more than 400 representatives of the tourism industry and governmental bodies followed the invitation.

Norbert Kettner (see photo below), director of the Vienna Tourist Board, presented the new marketing campaign with the catchy new slogan “Vienna – Now or Never”.

This year’s programme included several presentations of international speakers. Keith Edmonds, from Oxford Economics presented market research data and gave an outlook for the economy and the travel industry with respect to the global recession following the economic crisis. His uplifting message was that although 2009 is going to present a universal downturn Austria will do better than many other European countries.
Aren’t we lucky? Well, the statistics for arrivals and overnight stays in Austria confirm that he has a point.
The current developments give evidence that the worst is over and that we will see a weak recovery in 2010 in terms of the GDP growth (see chart below, the thick line is the Oxford Economics' forecast).


I also listened to the interesting presentation “What is Open Source Marketing?” by James Cherkoff, CEO of Collaborate Marketing. He stated that social media marketing is already well-established in many industries and especially in the tourism industry. He illustrated the mechanisms, strategies and tools of social media marketing by referring to the “Best-Job-in-the-World”-campaign.

Tourism businesses and organisations can increase their online visibility if they let their customers do the communication work, was Cherkoff’s credo. The four key elements for customer participation are the environment, the concept, the tools and the content for the me-too marketing campaign (see photo below).

You need to determine and understand the environment in which participation should happen, i.e. the target market, target audience and the communication platforms your customers use. The campaign concept describes the advertising message which can be disseminated through adequate tools such as blogs, wikis, online communities, Google applications and so forth. Last but not least, the content for the conversational campaign has to be relevant and interesting for the target audience.

Spreading the virtual word-of-mouth has become an effective and efficient form of marketing communication and companies should rather start with social media marketing now than later. What are the barriers then that have prevented many businesses yet to turn their efforts to collaborative marketing? Apart from a lack of social marketing knowledge and concerns about an increased work load, it is often the fear of losing control over the content and in turn over the advertising message. Social media marketing certainly requires a deeper understanding of the hedonistic motives of your customers. Cherkoff claimed, that “you have to make your customers look good” because for them the deal was “you can get my attention if you give me a platform.

I say, you better start now, because never might be just a touch too late!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

eTourism: Horizons – ENTER 2010 Conference in Lugano, 10-12 February 2010

Lugano in Switzerland will host the 17th ENTER conference from 10-12 February 2010. ENTER, organised by the International Federation for IT in Travel & Tourism (IFITT), is a unique forum for academic, industry and destination managers to explore and discuss both cutting-edge applications as well as the future of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for the tourism industry.
ENTER has a long-lasting tradition and was founded in Austria, where the first ENTER took place in Innsbruck back in 1994.


I will also participate actively at ENTER with at least two presentations. My blog post on The Next Generation of NTO Tourist Information Portals had the positive side-effect that Dimitrios Buhalis, Programme Chair of ENTER 2010, invited me to organise a session and talk about just that topic.
Moreover, I will contribute to a workshop on the Google Online Marketing Challenge and report on my personal experience with this excellent project for Universities. I have implemented the Google Online Marketing Challenge in my Master degree module on E-Marketing in the last summer semester and it was truly a great success for both the students as well as for the clients for which the students carried out search engine marketing campaigns using Google AdWords.

The three ENTER tracks, namely Research, Destinations and Industry are designed in a way that enables maximum exchange of information and interaction. State-of-the-art research and industry case studies on the application of ICT to travel and tourism will be explored in about 150 presentations and panel discussions. The programme includes topics such as Web 2.0, Travel 2.0 and social networking, eBranding and brand integrity, ICT for regional development, Web 3.0 and Travel 3.0, online marketing, mobile solutions, location based services, usability and web design, and many more.
A range of innovations will be introduced alongside ENTER 2010 including a Bloggers Summit, live tweets #ENTER 2010, a YouTube channel and many more.

Besides the great variety of the presentations, I have to admit that ENTER conferences are also famous for their social (late night) programme and the excellent opportunity for connecting and networking with people from all over the world. Rumour has it that for some these are the only reasons for attending.

Very well then! See you at ENTER 2010!

For more information on the ENTER 2010 conference as well as the latest programme and registration details visit www.enter2010.org/.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Two Third of Internet Users Worldwide Socialise Online, with Women Dominating

Online socialising has become a well-established pastime and amusement among all age groups. About 65% of the 1.1 billion worldwide internet users older than 15 years visited at least one social networking site during May 2009, according to a survey conducted by comScore. An average user spent 3.7 hours per month on community platforms visiting 525 pages.

Interestingly, Russian web users showed the highest involvement in social networking with an average of 6.6 hours per month. The survey did not suggest any reasons for that high engagement, but it may be attributed to political or sociological reasons or simply to the novelty of those platforms for a large user population. The United Kingdom (4.6 hours) and Germany (4.5 hours) followed on the ranks 7 and 8, whereas Swiss Internet users only spent 3.2 hours on average on community websites. In the UK nine out of ten internet users aged between 25 to 34 years old visited a social networking platform each month (source: comScore May 2009).

Contrary to the common misbelieve that men dominate the internet world, it seems that women call the shots as far as social media is concerned (various sources, e.g. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Inside Facebook). However, marketers will be disappointed to hear that a woman’s buying decision seems to be resistant to product recommendations given on social networking platforms. According to the “Women’s Survey”, carried out by QInteractive, 75% of the women using social media claimed not being influenced (i.e. the sum of not really and not at all) by social networks in their purchase decisions (see illustration below, click on chart to enlarge).


The online buying decision was much more influenced by factors such as coupons and discounts (~ 42%), product ratings and review websites (~ 22%) than by advice from friends (~ 8%) or blog posts and online communities (4%). The survey further found out that women rather use social networking platforms for sending private messages to friends and sharing photos with their friends instead of talking about their latest shopping experiences and sharing product information. The survey does not provide data to what extent men’s buying decisions are influenced by social networks.
But isn’t a man's shopping behavior a mystery anyway which has its roots somewhere in the age of hunters and gatherers? ;-)

Also on Facebook, one of the world's most popular community platforms with more than 300 million active users, the female users outnumber the men. However, new male users apparently join Facebook at a faster rate than their female counterparts and therewith closing the gender gap gradually.

About half of the Facebook population of both sexes is aged between 18 and 34 years. With an increase of 14% Austria and Germany have seen the biggest growth of Facebook users in Europe from September to October 2009. About 12% of all Austrians use the Facebook platform regularly (source: Inside Facebook) for communicating with their friends and sharing photos, videos and other events worth telling.

Considering these figures and the still growing popularity of social networking platforms among the internet users it is hardly surprising that many tourism businesses and organisations are getting eager to shift their marketing activities to online social media.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Eight Ingredients to Brew Your eCommerce Business Model

I published a post about a new tourism webportal for Austrian holidaymakers several days ago in which I also claimed that I did not regard their business model as very innovative. At any rate, a management representative of this portal called me the same day and explained to me that they had a large sales team in the background which ensures the successful implementation of the business model. An ambitious and experienced sales team is certainly one key to success, but is that enough?

What constitutes a business model for eCommerce and eTourism?

eBusiness models are a frequently discussed and at the same time hardly understood aspect of the web. We always emphasise how much the web has changed the traditional business models. But what are actually the ingredients for an effective and sustainable eBusiness model?

There are many different definitions but most authors understand an eBusiness model as a set of planned activities designed to result in a monetary or non-monetary revenue in a marketplace by using and exploiting the qualities and advantages of the Internet and the WWW.

You can cook a special eBusiness model for your firm or organisation by answering the following 8 key questions:
  1. Unique selling proposition (USP): why should customers by from you and not from your competitors and what is the added value for your customers?
  2. Revenue model: how will you earn money? Basically, there are five major ways how you can generate money on the WWW, through advertising, subscription fees, transaction fees, sales of goods and services, and through affiliate programs. Very often a combination of revenue models is applied in practice.
  3. Market Opportunity: what marketspace do you serve and what is its size and realistic revenue potential? The marketspace is a conglomerate of various industry segments, e.g. the European online travel market broken down by travel products (see illustration below).



  1. Competitive environment: who are the competitors in the marketspace and how can you distinguish yourself from them?
  2. Competitive advantage: what is your special advantage to the marketspace (e.g. first mover advantage, cost or technology leadership)?
  3. Market strategy: how do you promote products to attract your target audience? The best business concept or idea will fail if not properly marketed to potential customers.
  4. Organisational development: what organisational and functional structure is needed to implement your business model?
  5. Management team: what experiences and skills deos the management team need? A strong and competent team gives credibility to customers and business partners likewise.

There is no golden rule for developing a viable eCommerce business model, but for being successful the business model should focus on the business objectives rather than on the technology. A very good introduction to eCommerce business models is provided by Kenneth Laudon & Carol Traver (2008): e-ecommerce. business. technology. society.

What is your experience with eCommerce business models? Share your thoughts with us!

Related article: A New Tourism Webportal for Holidays in Austria

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

What travelers are actually looking for when searching online

The information needs of travelers are different before, during and after the trip. That’s nothing new, right? Thus, travel websites should support the users in all three phases with the content they are looking for.

But do you actually know what tourists are looking for and, likewise important, when they are searching for specific content?

Frommer’s, together with eDigitalResearch, conducted an online survey in March/April 2009 among 1,324 online travel consumers. The researchers found out that customers’ requirements of information are changing during the process of picking their holiday destination and consequently just before and after booking.

84% of the respondents stated that they were searching for information online before deciding on a destination (see chart below, source: Frommer’s Unlimited).

When booking a holiday, airport and transportation information are the most important information for 71% of the respondents. Pictures remain important and a guide to the city or resort is required by 70% of the travelers. After booking, customers consider a map of the destination the most important content (70%).

In the planning stage, most people’s decisions of their vacation is influenced by the price. A vast majority of respondents (85%) claimed price is the most influential factor (i.e. sum of influential and very influential) for their decision, followed by activities geared to their interest (68%). The weather (63%) and length of trip (65%) were rated as the next most influential or very influential factors (see chart below, source: Frommer’s Unlimited).

The majority of the respondents claimed that images (76%), a written description of the destination (71%) and maps (69%) were the most important information they were looking for when planning a holiday. Information about weather, exchange rates and visa regulations were also regarded as useful. Videos on the other hand had an important influence only on about 25% of the respondents (see chart below, source: Frommer’s Unlimited).

What annoys online customers most are a confusing website (52%), the lack of pictures (51%) and a poor navigation that makes it hard to find what they wanted (46%).

The respondents were from the UK (52 per cent) and from North America (27 per cent). The remaining 21 per cent of respondents were from other parts of the world.

Download the survey for a more detailed information about the results.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A new travel buddy called iPhone

For several years m-commerce has been proclaimed as the next big boost for the travel industry, but unfortunately the forecasts never seemed to materialise due to both technological as well as economical reasons. Maybe the increasing usage of the so-called smartphones, especially the iPhone, can now bring fresh winds into the sails.

Mobile ad spending worldwide is predicted to grow by 74% in 2009 to $913.5 million, according to a Gartner report. After 2011, this trend will continue as smartphones and flat-rate data contracts become more affordable to mainstream users. (source: www.newmediatrendwatch.com/)

Since its introduction in 2007 more than 20 million iPhones have been sold in over 80 countries. The iPhone is not merely a telephone or a mini-computer but also a platform for developers of third-party applications which can be sold through the AppleStore and thus the iPhone platform represents a high potential for an eMarket place. The iPhone has already outperformed the competitors on the smartphone market (see illustration below, click on chart to enlarge).


The impact of the iPhone on the travel industry will grow as it adds value to the user experience through mobile web access, GPS map applications for navigation and camera functionality combined with a very user-friendly touch-screen interface (just to name a few).

Hence the iPhone supports the tourist in all 3 phases of travel: before – during – after the trip:
  1. Searching the web for information about the destination before the journey
  2. Using location-based services and navigation to points of interests or posting of comments about the quality of hotels on review platforms during the stay at the destination
  3. Sharing photos, videos, stories and experiences on social networking platforms such as Facebook, Flickr or Twitter.

Apple’s iStore lists several thousand travel applications, which makes the travel category to the fifth largest category behind games, entertainment, books and education. Of course there are also many totally useless applications, but a great number of DMOs, suppliers and intermediaries have already developed valuable iPhone applications of high quality which are mostly for free (see screenshots below).


Travellers in the future will book their accommodation mainly on arrival because of the growing use of mobile phones, says Jeffrey Boyd, CEO of Priceline. (Source: Travelmole, Sep 2009). The consumer behaviour will change in a way that many people are travelling to the destination without having booked a hotel in advance, knowing they can book one on their mobile device at arrival and that they can get a good deal.

As you might have guessed by now, yes I do have an iPhone myself and it is certainly more than a well-designed toy for nerds. I have installed and frequently use the following travel applications on my iPhone: Tripwolf Travel Guide, weather report, AroundMe, Google maps, public transport time schedule, language translator (see screenshots).


Unfortunately, the high costs for data roaming remain for me the biggest obstacle for using the iPhone as a fully-fledged travel buddy abroad.

For more information on the market size, the future of the iPhone and various travel applications you can download the interesting PhoCus Wright article ‘The iPhone and Travel’ (July 2009)

If you have tried out cool travel-related applications on your iPhone then please share your experience with us!

Thursday, 8 October 2009

eDestination Marketing Secrets

What is a viable online strategy for destinations in the era of the social web? What channels and platforms are relevant to reach the target customers? And which are best practice examples that can be easily adopted by other destinations?

Martin Schobert, Head of R&D at the Austrian National Tourist Office (ANTO) in Vienna, shared his vast experience in eDestination marketing with Master students in my course eTourism today. These central questions are not only important for a National Tourism Organisation but for any Destination Management Organisation (DMO) likewise.

The way how web users utilise the WWW nowadays has also triggered a shift from a web of pages to an aggregated web of connected data and services in which content distribution and syndication will become more and more effective for creating brand awareness and brand affinity online (see also my post on Internet and TV Equally Effective for Video-Spots).

Martin suggests that the DMO's role should shift to content aggregators and content brokers, the latter meaning that online branding happens "off-site" on other websites which are used as communication and information channels by the target customers (see illustration below, click on picture to enlarge).


Martin identifies 3 tasks as most important for DMOs in the era of the social web:
  1. "Listening" to what people publish online (text, videos, photos etc.), i.e. monitoring and opinion mining.
  2. "Talking" to and with the Internet community, i.e. initiating a discussion and exhaust network effects for viral marketing.
  3. "Supporting" the visitors online by means of personalised information and quality online services.
Furthermore, destination managers need to be aware of that users in different markets also use different platforms and channels. Facebook for example is very popular in European countries and in the USA, whereas in Japan Mixi is the most popular social networking platform (10 million users and an 80% share of the social networking market). Thus market research and market monitoring are vital in order to find out what platforms and channels are the most efficient ones for reaching the target audience online.


Thanks a lot Martin for sharing the ANTOs eDestination strategy with us! Maybe other NTOs will follow your positive example and consider sharing their "secrets" and best practice examples with us, too!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A New Tourism Webportal for Holidays in Austria

A new Austrian tourism information portal with the somewhat unusual name www.urlauburlaub.at/ launched less than a week ago. I assume the reason for the iterative usage of the domain name urlaub (i.e. holiday) in the URL is that www.urlaub.at/ is already owned by a German based online travel company.

The objective of UrlaubUrlaub.at is to provide all the information needed for a holiday in Austria. The portal was initiated by the Austrian company Herold Business Data, in cooperation with Feratel, one of the leading developers and providers of information systems for the tourism industry. Herold is the publisher of the Austrian telephone directory and the yellow pages and the first impression of www.urlauburlaub.at is also that of an inventory listing of tourism businesses and establishments (see screenshot below, click on picture to enlarge).


According to a press release by Herold (source: www.tourismuspresse.at/, 5 Oct 09), www.urlauburlaub.at lists more than 128,000 Austrian tourism suppliers such as accommodation establishments, restaurants, bars and spas. Moreover, information about summer and winter outdoor activities, including descriptions of cycling and hiking tours, is also available to some extent.

The website providers claim that the "learning" website navigation adjusts to the individual visitor’s interests based on a substantial analysis of the search and navigation behavior, which will be used to “calculate” (sic!) recommendations for the website users. This type of recommendation system reminds me very much at the Amazon principle of “users who have bought book abc have also bought book xyz” (see screenshot of the recommendations below).

However, how the “personalisation” really works has remained a mystery to me so far, but maybe more visits to the website are required in order to find that out. The navigation of the website is mainly structured according to geographic areas (regions, destinations, cities and towns), and the points of interest further can be displayed interactively and geo-referenced on Google maps. The website also integrates the obligatory Web 2.0 applications and services (e.g. Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Qype) which is rather state-of-the art than a new approach. The business model of charging a fee for a higher ranking of otherwise free entries is also not as innovative and new as stated in the press release but rather favors less budget-restrained hotels and suppliers. And whether this principle is end-consumer oriented remains yet another question.

I have navigated through the website and have tried to accomplish the following 2 tasks:

  1. To book a single room for 2 nights in a a 3star hotel in Vienna near the Palace of Schönbrunn.
  2. To search for a 1 week skiing holiday (accommodation + ski pass) in Carinthia in December for 2 adults + 1 kid.

My résumé of www.urlauburlaub.at is that finding a hotel or any other supplier is easy by means of the geographic navigation (i.e. text based and map, filters). Checking availability and online booking is not (yet) included, you can only send an enquiry to the hotel or to the tourist board. Finding and putting together more complex tourism packages is not realised in a user-friendly way due to the lack of set arrangements or a shopping basket collecting components of the travel experience. The website is (consciously) very functional and does not convey emotions about the destinations. The usability could be improved by adjustable font sizes and a better scanability of the text paragraphs.
The biggest strength of the portal is certainly that two very experienced and successful companies have teamed up: Herold, which possesses up-to-date data of tourism suppliers and businesses, and Feratel, which provides back and front office technology and DMS for a great number of destinations and further operates hundreds of panorama cameras.

What do you think about the economic viability and sustainability of yet another tourism portal? Does www.urlauburlaub.at/ differ from existing portals and does it meet the claim to be “the most complete tourism platform for holiday makers to Austria”? Share your opinions with us!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Poor Usability Drives Down Bookings on Hospitality Websites

Over 40% of would-be bookers on hospitality websites failed to complete the booking process because of a usability problem with the booking engine or because of a technical or navigation issue, revealed the “Hospitality Industry Report Q2 2009” by iPerceptions.

The report analyses user-generated content from more than 123,000 visitors to websites of leading hospitality brands. Out of the 33% of the visitors who navigated to a hotel website with the intention to make a reservation (see chart below), 4 in 10 abandoned the transaction.


Whereas some visitors might have not proceeded with the booking because they simply wanted to compare the room rates or were only interested in further hotel information, the data suggests that the reasons for not making a reservation were more related to usability and technical obstacles.

The major barriers were problems with the booking flow and the site navigation (see chart below, click on chart to enlarge).

The report further gives evidence that 47% of the website visitors were onsite for the first time and thus not accustomed to the website navigation, information architecture and functionality.

The message is clear: hotel website designers and content managers should put more emphasis on usability issues. The term “usability” refers to both the ease-of-use as well as the usefulness of a website from the user’s (!) point of view, or in other words the visitor’s perception of the effectiveness (fit for purpose) and efficiency (effort and time required to use) of the website.

The American usability guru, Jacob Nielsen (Usability Engineering, 1994), has developed a usability framework which is composed of:

  • Learnability: how easy is it for first time visitors to accomplish tasks, e.g. making a booking?
  • Efficiency: once users have learned the navigation, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: when users return to the website after some time, how easily can they re-establish proficiency?
  • Errors: how many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: how pleasant and entertaining is it to use the website?
The findings of the iPerceptions report are corroborated by a survey carried out by Forrester Consulting, according to which a poorly performing website has an effect beyond any online transaction. Almost half (46%) of the survey respondents said they would develop a negative perception of a company following a dissatisfying online-shopping experience (source: www.newmediatrendwatch.com).

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Here, there … Tweets and Twitter Everywhere

What are you doing?” is the only question Twitter asks you when you log on. The answer to that question is limited to 140 characters, and to be honest I have always disliked restrictions in general and for text messages in particular as it can happen that I have a lot to say.

It might sound a bit strange, when Twitter states on their own website that “the answers to this question are for the most part rhetorical”, because users actually do not expect a response. So, whereas on Facebook you expect that your friends comment on or at least like your status updates, on Twitter it is mostly about following the tweets of opinion-leaders or other POIs (i.e. people of interests). In other words: I tweet - you read!

Whatever you might think about this micro-blogging service, it does make a lot of noise in the Internet world and also gets more and more attention in the tourism industry.

A Twitter-based hotel booking engine was launched only a couple of days ago. Inoqo (www.inoqo.com) describes itself a last-moment social media hotel booking engine which only publishes hotel packages available within the next 48 hours. Twitter users can follow the stream for a certain city and receive real-time hotel offers (see illustration below, click on graphic to enlarge).


The service is free for the travelers. Inoqo’s business model is to charge hotels with a commission fee for each booking. Inoqo claims to react with their service to the recession hit hospitality industry and offers an added value to business travelers in particular who often need to book a hotel room on a very short notice.

Further, Twitter has recently added geo-location features which allow location-based services, certainly an added value for travelers on the move.

Twitter is a typical example of social web start-ups. Founded in 2006, Twitter has no profitable business model but was able to raise more than 100 million US$ of funding and apparently the company value is up to 1 billion US$. Twitter with its 60 odd employees attracts now 54 million visitors per month, according to an article published in the New York Times.

Well, let’s only hope we will not drown in the information flow. But Twitter assures that users are very much in control of whose updates they receive, when they receive them, and on what device. For instance, you can schedule Twitter to automatically turn off at dinnertime.
And isn’t that great to have control over not being distracted from eating?