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Finding interesting travel-related people to follow on twitter

(cc) mfilej
twitter (cc) mfilej

You may have heard it, or you’ll soon hear about it: Twitter is going mainstream and is one of THE online place to be for discussing and easily exchange with other people.
For us travel-oriented people, this is also a good place to get in the loop as well as showcase our posts, discoveries.

If you want to have “listening-people” notice what you’re doing, be aware that Tuesday is the day to raise your hand and speak on twitter land by using the #traveltuesday hashtag. A kind of advice though: don’t abuse the system.

Here are my few tips to get the most out of this #traveltuesday hashtag:
– first, tweet on tuesday. Obvious but be careful with timezones. You’d want to tweet while people are active on line. One way to verify the frequency of posts is to search for “#traveltuesday” on http://search.twitter.com
– recommend or retweet some other tweets you found useful. Remember you’re in the social media arena: it’s not always about you- be ready to share or retweet about others
– use URL shortners (bit.ly, tinyurl.com,…) to gain some “additional” characters. This is one of the features that I personally love with tweetdeck (a twitter application- that works great on almost any platform BTW- am using it on an ubuntu box)

Searching for the “#traveltuesday” hashtag is also a good way to discover interesting tweeterers to follow and exchange with.

So, are you ready to join the twitter ride?Share some twitter accounts worth following that you’ve found on the comment section

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How to have an online presence without a huge internet budget?

I often have some small Madagascar-based tour operators asking for advice on how to “have their own website” without having to pay between 2 millions to 10 millions MGA

Well, I usually answer that you don’ t necessarily have to setup your own website if your goal is only to publish some institutional informations (your contacts, eventually an online version of the content of your brochure…)

I know, this doesn’ t answer the question raised by the head title of this post.So here we go.

Option 1: you insist on having your own website

You can go for a local provider who is leveraging Joomla’s open source content management system. They will design and setup the features you want for “free” but you’ ll pay an yearly fee of aroung 500 000 MGA for hosting purposes (domain name and web space)- this is still a fair deal compared to the 2 to 10 millions offer that some web agencies will charge you for almost the same features- in order not to be perceived as giving free (or sponsored) publicity to the provider, I’ d invite you to drop a note in the comments sections if you are interested to get in touch with this provider..

Option 2: you want to connect with potential customers

I’ d recommend you engage into well-established social networks/forums where your customers go for asking questions/recommendations. Tripadvisor has an active forum for exchanging about Madagascar. Best of all, creating an account and actively using it will only cost you your internet connection fee.

Option 3: you want to be recognized as an expert in your field, or you want to update

The more you show/talk about your field of expertise (for example: trekking in Madagascar), the more interested your targeted partners/customers will be. My recommendation will then be to open a blog on wordpress.com (remember how Google-friendly tags on wordpress.com are? Use this blog for posting news /photos/videos as well as generate interaction with your readers

Option 4: you want to attract some abroad-based partner that will direct customers to you

Consider connecting and spreading your network on LinkedIn.com. Have your former customers recommend you through the LinkedIn network- this will give more credibility to what you’ ll say in your profile. Creating an account on LinkedIn.com is free, however some premium accounts can be obtained via some charges. Once you have a good profile, go and network with other peers.

Todays’ financial turmoil… does it actually affect tourism?

I am actually wondering if tourism in Madagascar will be affected by the current financial turmoil.

In times of general crisis, it is expected that most potential tourists will adopt the  “staycation strategy” (which is staying at home on holiday in a bid to save money),

On the other hand, knowing that most of DMO like the Office National du Tourisme à Madagascar mainly fills its budget gap from donor’s fund (main income is generated by taxes, out of which 50% is shared with regional tourism offices), and since the currently affected countries are also some of the main donor countries, it is expected that their contributions will lower.Does it mean that marketing efforts from our national DMO will also lower for 2009?

What’s your view on this?

New look

Looking at search terms that visitors of blog use, I found out that you need to dig deeper in order to find relevant information. Although the old theme I used on this blog is good, I needed a more structured theme where I can highlight some topics …

More columns, a feature to emphasize on the most popular post, and widget-ready sidebar makes this theme an interesting one for my wordpress.com

I’ ve also made some changes with regard to the category names as some were still in French.

Why your business needs to engage into Web 2?

Yet another advocacy for engaging your tourism business into Web 2 (and social networks particularly for this post). Here are (yet another) interesting facts from the New Media Review published by the European Travel Commission.

“Worldwide growth among selected social networking sites, June 2008 (total worldwide audience, age 15+ – home and work locations:
  • TOTAL INTERNET/TOTAL AUDIENCE: 860,514,000 unique visitors (+11% compared to June 2007)
  • SOCIAL NETWORKING: 580,510,000 (+25%)
  • Facebook.com: 132,105,000 (+153%)
  • Myspace.com: 117,582,000 (+3%)
  • Hi5.com: 56,367,000 (+100%)
  • Friendster.com: 37,080,000 (+50%)
  • Orkut: 34,028,000 (+41%)
  • Bebo.com: 24,017,000 (+32%)
  • Skyrock Network: 21,041,000 (+19%)

As we can see, compared to total internet, growth of social network is bigger (11% against 23%). We do admit that Facebook mainly contributed to it. Although Facebook may seem a bit “entertaining” than business-oriented, some people get their way on using social networks (including facebook) for business, and interestingly, they do not rely only on Facebook’s ad machine. A few social network analysis/description that are worth noticing:

Why your company needs to be on facebook? by Charlene Li from Harvard publishing (I deliberately choose this article, not only because it’s from Harvard publication, but because it’s full of pragmatism). I definitely like this quote “..ignore these new communities only if you believe your customers are not there“… Are tourists in those social networks? My answer is YES (fr), definitely YES (fr). (Charlene Li is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. ). This article is about facebook, but there’s a lot of social networks for your tourism business around

– If you think Facebook is still for teen-agers, take a look at another social media (LinkedIn) that is conceived with business in mind, whether you are a professional who wants to publish your expertise (and people can search for it), or you are a company looking for partners. Worth a try for your tourism business that is looking for partners abroad.

In fact, as Charlene Li rightly pointed out, we are already socializing on our day-to-day business (remember collecting business cards, attending workshops, going for a cocktail, …?), Web 2 is just an extension of those activities on the internet finally.

briserlaglace.com… Finnish tourism office initiative targeting french community

This post is one of a long series of post that deals with initiatives implemented by other countries/destinations to boost their tourism. The first post was about Philadelfia’s initiative. Why does this matter? Well, the idea is to bring to Malagasy operators some actual case studies that will help us conceive our own programs.

This post is mainly inspired by a detailed description of briserlaglace.com published by JournalduNet.

What is briserlaglace.com?

The national tourism office wanted to target young french potential tourists. The idea is to have one Finnish girl publish blogs/podcasts/videos that shows finnish-related topics. The main goal is to change the perception by French people regarding Finland.

The concept: one finnish student living in Paris feels homesick and tries to blog about what finnish things she wants to share. She is using a blog, podcasts, videos uploaded on youtube.

What lessons can we learn from this experience?

– First, this initiative definitely shows that it may be interesting to setup a new website for one action/campaign. In fact, Malagasy operators tend to think that being part of internet is equal to having only one website. Lot of initiatives (Philadelfia USA, ) show that national tourism organizations launch several online initiatives depending on their goals. So Madagascar can have different websites (preferably feeded by authentic users, not by the professionals) that only talks about different themes rather than having multiple websites (made by different entities that provide almost the same data: some Madagascar facts, a directory of professionals, sporadic news, …)

– second: things that interest tourists may not be what profesionals expect. For the case of this Finnish initiative, one of the most successful item was the video of a finnish recipe (downloaded more than two hundred thousand times from youtube)

– third: going Web 2.0 means that you’ ll grab nice comments, but you’ ll also receive some bad comments. The question is more about “how to deal with it”

– forth: the blog entries are written in a very personal way (as opposite to the commercial line for common websites)

So now, back to Madagascar, do we think that Madagascar will ever consider such initiatives for promoting itself as a tourism destination? Your comments/view on this are almost welcome

Annuaire du tourisme 2008: pourquoi une version imprimée?

Après les félicitations, revenons à des suggestions d’améliorations pour cet annuaire.

En fait, je n’arrive toujours pas à comprendre pourquoi les personnes qui prennent l’initiative d’éditer un annuaire de cet envergure ne prennent jamais la peine d’en faire une version en-ligne?

J’essaie d’en trouver des raisons:

a- on sous-estime l’efficacité de la présence en-ligne. Ils ont peut-être raison (si on ne considère que les expériences passées). Mais vu la tendance actuelle, je reste persuadé que c’est la voie royale pour atteindre un public ciblé et avide d’informations supplémentaires (par exemple: pour demander des compléments d’informations par rapport à un article publié dans l’annuaire, ou pour donner leur propre avis sur un site/endroit donné,… ). Considérez par exemple l’expérience de l’office du tourisme de la Finlande pour vous inspirer d’ un cas concret (une vidéo de recette finnois a été vue 200 000 fois) …

b- la version imprimée rapporte beaucoup plus financièrement: en effet, vu le nombre d’encarts publicitaires (qui se vendent au moins à 1 000 000MGA/encart), il est plus intéressant pour ceux qui réalisent l’annuaire d’en faire la régie publicitaire (je suppose que l’agence qui réalise l’annuaire se rémunère sur commissions via les publicités). En effet, faire de la régie publicitaire sur internet ne rapporte pas tant que cela pour les opérateurs à Madagascar. A mon avis, Ici, il faut que le donneur d’ordre ( le ministère?) choisisse clairement si on édite l’annuaire pour se faire des sous ou pour faire la promotion de Madagascar.

c- au niveau de la distribution:intellectuellement, il peut être plus gratifiant de distribuer personnellement les annuaires aux partenaires. Cela peut donner l’impression qu’on en ait distribué beaucoup. Alors que si on publie sur Internet, on n’a pas cette satisfaction intellectuelle vu qu’onn’a pas de contact physique avec le récipiendaire de l’annuaire. Ici encore, je doute que la distribution soit si effective que cela (je crains même qu’on ne se retrouve, après trois mois d’édition, avec une centaine d’annuaires non distribués, ou à contrario, on se retrouve en rupture de stock et il est difficile de rééditer par manque de budget). Ici encore, je ne vois que des avantages pour la mise à disponibilité sur Internet: la publication est quasi-immédiate, il n’y a pas de problème de lenteur dans la distribution, ni de problème de réédition. Et si le lecteur veut vraiment en imprimer, on peut toujour mettre une version PDF haute qualité à télécharger

d- on ne change pas les vieilles habitudes: dans ce cas, je pense que nous sommes mal-partis. Un peu de recul et une ouverture sur de nouvelles perspectives ne font pas de mal non? C’est un autre moyen de faire avancer les choses.
Je ne vois pas d’autres raisons qui aient pu inciter les gens à ne pas faire une publication en ligne.

Maintenant, voyons les bonnes raisons qui feraient que la version en-ligne aurait beaucoup plus d’impact.

D’abord les raisons évidentes (sans tomber dans un  discours de promotion de l’utilisation de l’internet):

– les mises-à-jour n’attendraient pas deux ans avant d’être publiées

– la distribution serait moins fastidieuse et aura une couverture plus élargie au lieu d’attendre les salons, ou de faire le tour des partenaires et autres organismes qui pourraient distribuer l’annuaire

– il est facile de “transporter l’annuaire” en mettant juste son adresse Web dans les divers outils de communication (cartes de visites, papier en-têtes, autres documents formels …). En version imprimée, on serait obligé de demander aux gens de s’adresser à une liste de librairies, ou de buraeux de représentations

– le mettre en-ligne illustrerait que Madagascar est aussi à la pointe de la technologie: de plus en plus de partenaires aiment correspondre via ces nouvelles technologies

– les statistiques de consultation (donc de distribution) sont précises. On saura même laquelle des pages est la plus populaire, de quels pays les gens auront consulté le site,

Puis les raisons moins évidentes dont les résultats résulteraient de l’appropriation du Web 2.0:

Plusieurs options sont imaginables:

* qui est-ce qui consulte le site et on pourrait même réagir très rapidement si quelqu’un émet des commentaires sur un article donné. Dans quelques cas, on aura même le contact des visiteurs,

* on saurait quels mots-clés ont été utilisés pour faire des recherches sur notre blog

* d’autres personnes qui ont connu le produit touristique peuvent compléter ce qui a déjà été dit, créant ainsi une plateforme de partage d’expérience qui, au final, bénéficierait au touriste …

Bref, en mettant en rédigeant, je me dis que je ferai mieux d’illustrer par des photos et copies d’écrans …

Hotels set the pace …

Interestingly, Madagascar-based hotels are more sensitive to the argument that being part of a community might actually boost their business.

Indeed, if we consider other operators (tour operators for example), we can see that there is a tendancy to act alone (even though the TOP and ONTM has their own website but it’s not as interactive as Web 2.0 platforms) .

For Madagascar hotels, we can at least find two initiatives that let those hotels join an already established network

– the FHORM (fédération des hotels et restaurants de Madagascar) is now considering a partnership with expediawhich is one of the major online player for travel booking. Expedia defines itself as “Serving many different consumer segments — from families booking a summer vacation to individuals arranging a quick weekend getaway, Expedia provides travelers with the ability to research, plan, and book their comprehensive travel needs. Expedia-branded Web sites feature airline tickets, hotel reservations, car rental, cruises, and many other in-destination services from a broad selection of partners”

World Hotel Link on Integrated growth pole project IG2P (Nosy Be, Antananarivo-Antsirabe, Fort-dauphin).Which means that you have one website (part of the global WHL website network) for each of the IG2P locations where travelers can find hotels.  WHL defines itself as “Looking for accommodation, tours or activities in destinations “off the beaten track”, or that you’ve read about and can’t find online? Looking for something a little special; a chance to really connect with the destination you are travelling to? Looking to book with people who really care about the local destinations; the people, cultures and environment? Then you’ve come to the right place.”. Although the websites are maintained by only one local tour operator (which is not actually consistent with Web 2.0), the fact that those websites belong to an established network help increase visibility of those operators that are featured.

Now, that’s a good move, but that’s not enough. Now begins the interesting part. As an hotelier, being part of these network is already a good thing but it’ll be more interesting if those hoteliers actively participate to promote their region and themselves within those networks. How? by posting reviews, by answering questions, by looking for feed-back … In fact by engaging with potential customers that participate into those networks.

Recommended further readings on strategies for engaging with Web 2.0/hotel 2.0:

hotel online’s Web 2.0 and hotel sales strategies

– interview of Ian Rumgay from tripadvisor (acquired by expedia) on how some hotels use Web 2.0

lot more readings other there … Just browse around for hotel 2.0, web 2.0

Knowledge sharing between local tourist operators

How come I’ m writing  in English on my blog? There are lots of reason, but that’s not the point for this post, so let’s just say that most interesting travel bloggers write in english… And I want to bring the experiences of these people on this blog so that it’ ll be used by my fellow Madagascar-based travel-related companies.

Now, back to my point: I’ m an advocate for Web 2.0 and  I really think that’s one way for Madagascar and Madagascar-based travel companies to get into the game of internet marketing and attract more targeted tourist. We are not yet there.

However, Web 2.0 means sharing, participating into communities, giving (free) advices … Now, my concern is: are we ready to adopt this state of mind of sharing while it’ s widely known that in Madagascar the one who has the information has the power… How willing are we to share those informations?

Jens Thraenhart from TourismInternetMarketingchallenged his blog readers to share their travel marketing secrets, and I was amazed by the answers and inputs he received. Lots of the secrets shared by the readers are non-standard/genuine topics that make sense, and are actually not-so-well-known advices.Can we replicate such collaborative knowledge sharing?

Back to Madagascar: an Island of 5000km coast, a biodiversity hot spot with poor/limited  infrastructure. I think it’ll help a lot if Madagascar-based operators share their experiences, places to go/to avoid, reviews … I think we’re not ready yet to collaborate this way. Though I turn back to fellow bloggers (though the english -speaking): do you have any experience from any other destination that tried to setup such knowledge sharing experience between local travel-operators? If so, what worked, and what didn’ t.How did they mobilize all the stakeholders to actively participate into this sharing experience?

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