Piia Mustamäki is one of the founders of www.1001worlds.com, a website which allows travellers to join group trips having had a chance to get to know the other members of the group through an online forum first. In addition to ensuring likeminded people get to travel together, the website offers the option of creating a more customised tour should the options already available not be suitable.

In the middle of planning a travel business with my best friend, I saw The Social Network, the film about Facebook and its beginnings. I saw it on a flight back home to NYC from Chile and I remember thinking: “If we want to enter the competitive field of travel, we have to have a brilliant new idea behind it, like the Facebook founders did.”

MAKE IT SOCIAL

So the brainstorming began. We knew all too well the truism of the travel industry today: people want experiences, not just sightseeing. We also knew that the most memorable experiences are the ones shared, and this doesn’t only apply to families. But a lot of busy, single professionals (or adventurous couples) don’t have holidays which coincide with their friends’, and yet they crave social travel experiences too. This same group seems to have plenty of time to share their thoughts on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, obviously getting a lot out of the social media experience. How then to combine the best of travel and social media and to attract this target group?

We realised the ‘social’ in social media is the key and decided to take this idea seriously. So we made the social experience as central an idea as the guided tour in our product: on our site, customers make a profile (like on Facebook) and get to check who else has already signed up for the tour of their interest. Somebody also into food and wine? Somebody of the same age group? Or from a country he or she would like to find out more about? By getting to browse the other participants, customers won’t end up on the same tour as people with whom they don’t have much in common, which makes all the difference to the experience.

www.1001worlds.com helps customers to enjoy the group trip experience but not lose the benefits of choice and control

MAKE IT INTERACTIVE

Another allure of social media is the users’ own input and sharing of thoughts. We integrated this into our product: we use flexible programming so that each of our trips – whether a city trip to Istanbul or winetasting in Georgia – has only a suggested itinerary, detailing the options available. The signed-up nomads, as we call our customers, discuss the options before the trip, on a private online forum called the Playground. This tool lets them have a say on the programme, as well as get to know their group and tour leader before the trip.

Customers also get to take the initiative in our Dynamo programme, which is mid-way between a tailor-made trip and a tour. If our selection of trips doesn’t satisfy the customer’s needs, there is an option to initiate his or her own group trip with a chosen name, theme and dates, using our existing destinations. We then do our best to find the perfect tour leader, book the hotels, and the dynamic person gets a discount for taking initiative. We of course also encourage him/her to spread the word via social media, to ensure the trip gets the required minimum of six participants.

MAKE IT WORTHWHILE

Having a social media based idea is just the first step. Marketing on social media is a whole different ball game and it takes a lot of time, well, just being social online. Following trends is another time-consuming effort, as one day you’ll hear that Facebook is dying and all the cool kids are moving onto Tumblr. Or that Twitter is giving way to Google+. Then vice versa two months later.

For travel social media all this is important to keep in mind, but you need to remember your target audience. Are the 15-year-olds keeping their diaries on Tumblr really worth pursuing? Or is it better to invest time on tweets that might catch the attention of your potential customers? While pondering over how to use your resources, bear in mind that patiently building a presence on your favourite social media is perhaps more important than trendspotting.

Yet in the end, it is wise to admit that nothing in social media is as certain as change. With the volatile travel trends added into the equation, you have to be willing to keep track of changes in two fields in order to effectively use social media in your travel business. But most of us travel and social media buffs are, of course, willing to do that, since that is what we love.

E: piia@1001worlds.com
W: www.1001worlds.com