Bringing a new meaning to the phrase – ‘checking in online’

For those of you unlucky enough to be one of my friends on Foursquare, you’ll know that I’ve just spent the last three weeks traipsing around Thailand and Vietnam. You’ll know this from the number of times I ‘checked-in’ to various restaurants, hotels and cafes that I visited along the way.

Aside from being a geek with such things, my main reason for doing so was to gauge the level of location-based networking that goes on in various parts of the world. Based on my very small, unscientific experiment and the fact that I was able to become the mayor of some very popular places with only a couple of checkins, shows there’s a still some way to go.
The potential that sites such as Foursquare can bring to the travel industry is huge both in terms of extra revenue but also in helping boost the ‘word of mouth’ recommendations that the industry relies heavily upon. While there are some that appear to understand what social media channels can do (hat tip to Four Seasons Bangkok in providing updates on the red shirt protests mixed in with reasons to visit the hotel), I found that many of the main local attractions and venues had virtually no social media presence whatsoever. This is merely an observation rather than a criticism as local-based social networking sites like Foursquare are still in their infancy. However amongst the smaller (and very often one-man band) tour and excursion operators, the spirit if not the tools of social media was rife. Everyone who approached me, ranging from those offering day city tours to week long excursions, had a notebook with hand written ‘references’ from other Brits (weirdly all from Manchester) saying how wonderful they found their trips, how safe they were etc. Now I’m pretty sure not all the ‘references’ were genuine and certainly not all filled me with enough confidence to go on them but it’s kind of world of mouth marketing that consumers are increasingly responding to.

Looking through PR eyes, the travel sector is blessed in terms of the visually appealing content it has at its disposal. And on the back of the economic hits the travel industry has taken from incidents such as the volanic ash cloud, many within the sector perhaps have no choice but to look at how social media can offer a fresh approach to attracting and servicing customers. Who knows, it might be that in a few years, online check ins won’t just be the preserve of the airlines