Social media thrives in tough travel market

Travel used to be recreational (well, recreational travel, at least), but now even vacationers are finding ways to turn it into work. The latest report from travel research firm PhoCusWright, Social Media in Travel: Traffic & Activity, finds that the average vacationer is becoming more like the average blogger on a press trip. Travel reviews are written, photos popped onto the likes of Flickr and Facebook and personal blogs are peppered with opinions and observations. And, immediate reactions wind up on Twitter with incredible speed. All this content, straight from the horse’s mouth, is having a profound effect on the online travel market.

According to Douglas Quinby, senior director of research at PhoCusWright, “There continues to be a big gap between the enormous promise of social media and the current reality of realizing and measuring those returns.” He continues, “With our partners, we analyzed nearly 1.9 million traveler reviews and visitor referral and conversion traffic from more than 50 social travel Web sites, as well as general social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The result is the most expansive research into where and how online travelers are creating, consuming and acting upon social content.”PhoCusWright is staying a bit tight-lipped with the reports details, holding them back for people with skin in the game (and thus willing to foot the $995 tab), but one observation was released that shows just how powerful an impact the social media environment can have on the travel industry: despite the hit the travel business took last year, monthly visitors to social travel sites surged from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009.

The fact that social media is having an impact on the travel community may be obvious, but the extent is staggering.