Different approaches to web marketing: visiting York

28 09 2010

This summer we went to York for two days (one night). Looking for a nice but cheap accommodation in the city centre we found a nice Hostel – The Fort Boutique. It was open from just three weeks, but there was a good amount of information on the web: facebook, twitter and a blog. It had especially a good rating on hostelworld and travellerspoint with many reviews. They’ve started their web marketing before it was open, starting from Twitter and Facebook accounts and posting pictures of the work in progress.
When we arrived we had to go at Kennedy’s bar, just beside the Hostel, to check in and drop the baggage (only a small one, but still..). The Hostel was very nice, still with some works on the way to be finished, but the welcome was warm from the Duty Manager, the cleanliness was perfect, the environment gave an idea of youngness and we were very happy. Until the night (!). The problem wasn’t what we were expecting (noise coming from the road –  as other comments reported online), but the bathroom in the room didn’t have a door (yet) but only a curtain and the fan in it was on for 1 hour after you’d switched off the light. Of course the first thing we thought was that, being the room an “artistic room” probably the artist arranged the toilet to be like that. But that wouldn’t explain how I could have scratched my hand on a sharp tile by the door frame. So definitely a door was in plan to be put there. Too much hurry in opening before the York Races going on that very week-end and the Hostel wasn’t finished.

Definitely the web marketing strategy the Hostel had was paying back. It was fully booked and had (and has) an excellent rating online. The blog is updated at least once a month (answering customer questions and complaints) and the facebook page at least every ten days (not much though).

To find something to eat for dinner that night hasn’t been very easy. Every nice restaurant we had advised on the guide (and checked online) was fully booked or with a table at 6 pm (too early for us) or by the toilet door (not a very nice place where to eat: I wonder why you place a table there!). But, while walking in the city center, we came across a nice looking restaurant Kuja Lounge. It didn’t look expensive and seemed to have a nice choice on the evening menu.

Problem: we couldn’t find any information about it online. Not even the official website was  coming up on Google.  Time was running low (around 5 pm – late to book a table in UK) so we decided to take the chance and book a table for two at 8.30. When the owner (or the manager, I don’t know) opened the restaurant diary it was pretty much empty. We were scared for sure. If a restaurant is good, in a week-end where York has about half a million visitors you expect it to be full. But we were wrong.

Kuja Lounge is a very nice restaurant where very good food is served and attention to details and to the customer are given. There were about 8 tables in when we arrived including a table of 10 people (noisy) and there were 1 bar tender and 3 waiting on staffs. We had to wait some minute before they could have taken the order but the waitresses were always kind and apologizing for the delay. Water came even before we could have ordered it, just to give us something for the waiting time (10-15 minutes… nothing!). We really enjoyed the evening.


Kuja doesn’t have a web marketing strategy and we decided to go there only because more popular restaurants (online and on the touristic guide) were too busy. It definitely has a good product and is in a very central position (even if a bit hidden). But its positioning online is poor and that affects the business. In the long-term I’m sure that the word of mouth will do. But how many customers has it lost during the years that it will take? When we went to Kuja it was open from just 3 months. But the hostel web strategy proved us that the customer relation is built even before you open.


Territorial Web Marketing: how destinations are promoted on Facebook

27 04 2010

Alright, I don’t like too much Facebook. But it is true that is one of the most important vehicle of information and it’s easier to keep conversations on it than Twitter (not than FriendFeed, but is not so diffused). And so it’s easier to stimulate UGC among tourists and residents.

This morning I was watching different tourism organizations doing their “job” on Facebook: Wales (from Visit Wales), Spain (from Spain.info), Italia (perhaps from the tourism ministry, but absolutely not sure, there are no links what so ever) and Riviera delle Palme (from the Tourism promotion service of Savona). First difference that comes to the eye is the language: English for Wales (“of course!” somebody would say, but is not so obvious), English and Spanish for Spain (!), English and a bit of Italian for Italia, and just Italian for Riviera dell Palme that of course have a smaller organization, but not less important I would say. There’s not much Welsh in the Wales page, there’s a lot of Spanish but almost everything is in both languages in Spain and there’s not much English in the Italia page, where seems that the most important thing is to catch fans and post pictures. And here comes another difference, definitely more interesting: contents.

Wales and Spain try to communicate with their “fans” (tourists, residents, lovers) not just telling them how nice is the country or what to do, but trying to generate contributes: a two ways communication, where the tourism organization listens to the stake holders and share their contribution. I really like it. I can see a nice picture and think “oh, I really want to go there” just like we all  do when we see a travel agency window, or I can read  what people say and think “I really like people from that country” and there, I think, I will go. Residents are one of the attractive factors for a touristic destination. There can be lots of shows, events fairs, but people make of a destination attractive. On both pages most of the pictures are from other people who not just comment but mainly contribute.

Italia  has lots of pictures on its page, and as far as I’ve checked, there’s no request of pictures, news, “what to do” to the followers, just “please add us as fan, and share it with your friends!”, that sounds really “spammy”.

Riviera delle palme is a small reality. The area that it represents is small compared to the others. But still is an area that could generate good flows of tourists and has lost attractiveness with foreign tourism. So publishing in english could be a good thing and definitely needs to focus more on the communication among tourists, more than advertise a single event like a new web site or the participation to a tourism fair.

Last difference that I’d like to mention is the connection trough the Facebook page and who manage it: Wales posts many links to their VisitWales blog or a specific VisitWales web page. Spain mainly to their website. Riviera delle palme sends its visitors to friends website, most of them related to events. I couldn’t find any link in the Italia page.

Now: I know we have the most beautiful country in the world (as it’s written 10 thousands times in the Facebook page) but what if nobody comes to visit it?! Just repeating it doesn’t make attractive. Pictures are nice, but not lived. They don’t show how nice can be to spend some time in Italy. Who has done it can.

Concluding: I really like Visit Wales work (not a big news!). I do like how Spain approaches the tourism web marketing. Riviera delle Palme needs to improve, but seems on the good way. Italia needs to show first who manages the Facebook page, then we can say what could be done.

Territorial Marketing: Parpaiun.org

25 04 2010

A small skiing area, shared between a few small towns, close to Ligurian Sea but in Cuneo region, a development plan that could bring here investments and more tourists. An area that put as its point of strength the small dimensions, the contact between residents and tourists and the lower prices. An area that wants to grow remaining “natural” as it is, where the difference is made by the people who attends these towns and live them. S. Giacomo di Roburent is the biggest town of this area, but, as appointed by the guys of the Parpaiun Association is the Area their focus point, because a town alone is not enough: together is the power.

The Parpaiun Association is a nice case of how people who live or share interests in a certain area can help its growth using internet as a vehicle of information, helping building a sense of belonging through all the stake holders would they be residents, second houses owners or tourists. Throughout this sense they can stimulate information sharing and User Generates Contents, increasing the brand knowledge.

I’ve been in S. Giacomo di Roburent in March, there was still a lot of snow (even too much, we couldn’t ski!) and I had time to talk with some shop owners. They were quite upset about the weather because happened more than a few times in the season that was snowing during the week-end, when would have been better to snow in the middle of the week and then be sunny when tourists were coming. Well, everybody knows you can’t have always what you want, but you have to try to get the best out of what you have. You can’t control the weather and that’s what makes having a business in a skiing area a pure bet. You invest money but if for a couple of years the weather is not good enough you might get in trouble. And here comes the need of diversify the offer of a mountain area.

If during the winter you have skiing tourism, you have to find something else for the rest of the year: second houses for elderly could not be enough, considering the low propensity to consume of that segment. Trekking, horse riding, mountain biking and all sorts of natural sports and leisure for families with kids and people of 30-40 year olds.

The Parpaiun Association could help this keeping the same effort they are doing during winter for the summer. Even more, considering how attractive is the winter for skiing compared to the summer. And, who knows, perhaps one day the summer will become the touristic pick of the year.

Why companies should start thinking 2.0 and Social Networks

22 01 2010

At the beginning was internet: a place where consumers were searching for entertainment, trying to make a deal and chatting with friends.

Companies on their side were trying to pull people to their businesses using websites, some banners and using internet just as a small percentage of their advertising strategy integrating it with old media advertisements (TV, newspapers, specialists publications, etc…).

Something start changing 15 years ago: people were reporting about their lives on online diaries. They weren’t much different from a normal website, but evolving tools to ease the production and maintenance of Web articles posted in reverse chronological order made the publishing process feasible to a larger, less technical, population (source: wiki).

Since than web usage is gone further: the number of blogs has risen (175,000 new blogs every day in 2008) and have been created new forms of interaction : Micro-blogging (and twitter is one of the best examples) and tagging (in 2008 more than 30% of people have tagged or categorized content online).

Social network has been the next step: groups of people with similar interests who use social networking websites to communicate, interact and share contents. Facebook the most popular of them today.

In the new media marketing era User generated contents (UGC) are what consumers are looking for.

Some stats to understand the trend

Internet has reached in 2009 more than 6 billionsusers in the world, with a 26% of penetration in the world population. In Europe the growth of the internet population has been of about 300% between 2000 and 2009, with a penetration of 52%. British users are the 11% of the European users, with the 80% of penetration (data from: internetworldstats.com).

More than 30% of internet population use English as their first language online. Social networks and blogs are the 4th most popular online activities online, including beating personal email. 67% of global users visit member communities and 10% of all time spent on the internet is on social media sites (from clickymedia.co.uk).

These results have been achieved during 2009: before then communication via social networks was the fourth best activity, done by the 42% of the internet population. It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners; terrestrial TV took 13 years to reach 50 million users; the internet took four years to reach 50 million people… In less than nine months, Facebook added 100 million users. If Facebook were a country it would be the third most populated place in the world. Twitter had about 5 Million unique visitors in December 2008 and one year after has reached almost 25 Million visitors. Online users like to spend their time on contents, such as blogs, and social networks and their number is increasing with astonishing rates.

Implications of the Changes

In 1999 Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto: the authors assert that the Internet is unlike the ordinary media used in mass marketing as it enables people to have “human to human” conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically (source: wiki). Companies who haven’t understood this and still talk about targets, missions and segments are going to die. People already talk about them, take joke of them, link them, they don’t wait. If companies want to catch the new acknowledgement of people they have to let humans talk, not fake a human voice: “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies” (from The Cluetrain Manifesto).
As proof of the right foresight a Nielsen survey in July 2009, the biggest of its kind (25,000 Internet consumers from 50 countries). has “revealed” that recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising globally.

As well brand websites – the most trusted form of advertiser-led advertising – are trusted by as many people (70 percent) as consumer opinions posted online (source: Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey – London, April 2009- pdf).

Wales Watersports: stimulation of the web 2.0 for tourism

17 11 2009

A small example of how Social Network interaction works and could produce good results for your business or your business area.
I received an e-mail telling me that Wales Watersports was following me on Twitter. All right, let’s see what kind of things does Wales watersport I said to my self: I check their twitter account and I see that they are looking for bloggers. Sorry? Looking for bloggers? Why is that? Ok, let’s check on their website. Mmmhh, is a website for the promotion of watersports and marine leisure tourism in Wales, and the company Wales Watersport International Ltd is appointed by Visit Wales (official website and a previous post) as its official marketing and promotional partner for the watersports and marine leisure tourism sector in Wales. They have a blog (still not very attractive, but I think they’re working on it: change the address –http://waleswatersports.blogspot.com/ – might be a good fist step) and a twitter account and what they’re doing is just look for people that want to share their experience so to create good content on the blog and (generally speaking) on the web. Good web responses, a good presence of an area and the activities offered can stimulate the demand and the touristic flow, operating at first on the brand knowledge (a problem for Wales as I’ve seen in my year here). That’s why actions to reduce the digital divide, to help people use internet and the social network to share their experience on the web are very important. The word of mouth power can be increased at the nth degree (Visit Wales understood that when they’ve opened Wales1000things, about three years ago).

Visit Wales and web 2.0: a public office working on Social Networks

10 11 2009

On Monday the 2nd of November I’ve been to the Third Tourism Summit, organized by the Wales Tourism Alliance. The summit was interesting for many different reasons, but I went there mainly because of the presence of the Visit Wales Digital Marketing Team. I followed from the beginning the experience of VisitBritain (here, in Italian) because it was a nice case of touristic promotion made by a government agency (considering how many problems Italy had with Italia.it), so I took the chance to see who’s behind Visit Wales, how they work and what they do. (here the explanation of what is Visit Wales in relation to the Welsh Assembly Government)

A big difference between VW ad VB is the domain .com. VW has changed his very first page in January 2009 to increase the usability and the content flexibility:
  • In VW.com the touristic offer is segmented in order to orientate the visitor to what he’s looking for: golf, walking, fishing, business, and the generic domain .co.uk. There is a section where people can choose the different languages (I might be offended because Italian is not present!) and great attention is paid to the social networks with links to the facebook, twitter and you tube accounts, even if there are no sharing links in the web-site contents;
  • In VB.com the page shows many countries’ flags re-directing the visitors to their language web-sites.
The first thing that impressed me when I’ve seen it was the simplicity, but is a shame that the same template is not available for the other languages. Perhaps this is because the best part of welsh tourism is from other UK countries (Usa and Canada as well I guess, considering the accurancy of the dedicated web sites). Apart from the German web site all the others are less attractive and structured. Wouldn’t be better to consider also other markets where the potential demand is high? As well the sentence in the middle of the page “For those looking for holidays in Britain, Wales has so much to offersuggests the subordination of the Welsh tourism to the British one.

Answering to the questions I wrote before, behind VW there are three functional departments, one of which includes the Digital Marketing Team. Lead by John Munro and Bethan Richards the orientation to the web2.0 is very high: a Facebook page with more than 47 thousands fans, a Twitter account with more than 15 hundreds followers, and a blog with topics about the holidays. Very important is the attention paid to the network they built: answers to the Twitter followers including documents from summits so to keep the customer loyalty and the web response high, increasing the brand awareness.
In the era of Social Networks the “word of mouth” communication has become “share” (just as the links you can find everywhere to post on FB, twitter, diggs, ect…) being there is important but much more important is to take part.. or share!
(more information on the digital team business framework, the action carried out by VW against the digital divide in the tourism promotion will follow soon)

Turismo e web: esperienza diretta in Wales

17 10 2009

Quando sono venuto a lavorare nel Regno Unito pensavo di lasciare un mondo (quello Italiano e Ligure nel particolare) arretrato in termini di relazioni tra turismo e web. Molte aziende turistiche, hotel in particolare, in Italia (e in Liguria, almeno per esperienza diretta) considerano ancora il web come un luogo dove essere presenti senza considerare però come essere presenti. Si limitano a costruire siti web qualcuno più carino con tanta animazione flash, altri meno carini, statici. Trovare un hotel che utilizzi i principi del web 2.0, che investa in questa direzione era, ahimé, cosa dura.

La cosa non è cambiata molto, nonostante sia ora in una nazione molto più aperta al web.
L’hotel per il quale lavoro è di proprietà di una famiglia, ma con una conduzione manageriale: i membri della famiglia sono nel consiglio di amministrazione, qualcuno di loro lavora nell’hotel come manager, ma per il resto tutto è mosso da un general manager esterno alla famiglia. La struttura organizzativa non differisce quindi molto da quella degli hotel che ho avuto modo di conoscere in Liguria (a parte per il modo di prendere decisioni, molto più aperto alla collaborazione di tutti i manager, rispetto ad un sistema unidirezionale come nella maggior parte delle azienda familiari italiane).
Ma parlare di web 2.0, di UGC, di social network è visto come uno spreco di tempo e risorse.
Ho trovato dei commenti online sull’hotel su siti di intermediari puri (non infomediari) e ho scoperto che né il general manager, né la responsabile del marketing (componente della famiglia) ne erano a conoscenza. Ma com’è possibile?
Una delle cose assurde è che perfino i membri della famiglia (per lo meno quelli che lavorano nell’hotel) hanno un account facebook, ma per loro il concetto di social network si ferma lì. Non ci sono link sul sito a nessun network di commenti di turisti, né delicious, né tripwolf, nessuno dei travel social network che potrebbero aiutare il turista (sia esso leisure o business) nella sua scelta (ovviamente avvicinandolo alla nostra struttura).
Da notare che questo hotel è anche l’unico 4 stelle della contea, una contea con un tasso di crescita economica tra i più elevati (almeno prima della crisi economica).
Percepire il web 2.0 come un rischio è stupido. Non collegando il sito a contenuti generati dall’utente non vuol dire che i contenuti non ci siano o non siano comunque facilmente raggiungibili. Il turista si informa prima di effettuare la sua scelta, anche se si tratta di una sola notte. Maggiore è la facilità a trovare commenti e maggiore sarà la propensione all’acquisto. I commenti on line devono essere gestiti come lo sono i commenti lasciati direttamente in hotel: uno spunto per migliorarsi e per stringere una maggiore relazione con il cliente. Molte aziende vorrebbero gestire il CRM in casa, di nascosto, senza considerare che ciò non è più possibile. Bisogna imparare a gestire la propria immagine usando la trasparenza.
Una delle paure maggiori è che i commenti possano essere generati da concorrenti con l’intenzione di rovinare il nome dell’azienda. E’ vero, potrebbe capitare. Ma non utilizzare i commenti come strumento di marketing non vuol dire far sparire i commenti, quelli continueranno ad esserci. Se ciò che fai lo fai bene, offri un servizio adeguato al prezzo richiesto e cerchi sempre di migliorarti, allora non c’è motivo di essere spaventati: aiutando i clienti soddisfatti a rilasciare commenti si controbilanceranno i commenti negativi, falsi o veri che siano (infondo ci sarà sempre qualcuno insoddisfatto, l’obiettivo è minimizzarne il numero).