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FFresh out of London, Chad Shiver of TripAdvisor spoke about one of the world’s most successful and widely used travelling platforms. Launched in 2000, today TripAdvisor boasts a database of 5.2-million businesses worldwide, 375-million unique visitors per month, and 145 user submissions every second. Suffice it to say, engagement is exceptionally high.

As a business owner operating through TripAdvisor in South Africa, Shiver advised that you begin by registering with a management centre. After that, it is essential that you encourage reviews and, through this, your popularity ranking, which is based on the quality and quantity of reviews and how recently reviews are made. Shiver also strongly recommended responding appropriately to reviews, whether good or bad, posting your own photographs and videos, and being active in TripAdvisor’s many forums.

Looking more specifically into packaged tours, Christian Wolters of TourRadar, the established online marketplace for multi-day tours, emphasised the importance that business owners know their target market. “One size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “Different nationalities have different habits.” Catering to these individuals – on a case-by-case basis – has the capacity to make all the difference.

Alana Witte of Revinate, a company that helps hotels create personalised profiles of their guests, agreed with this absolutely and spoke about hyper-personalisation: “Knowing and understanding your customer must be the centre of your guest experience strategy,” she said. "It’s about talking to the right guest with the right message at the right time ... The benefits of [this kind of] targeted marketing – no surprises here – are astronomical.”

The social media heavyweights

“People now spend 127 minutes a day on their smartphones,” said Musa Kalenga of Facebook at the beginning of the session on social media at #etas15. “Ninety-eight percent of Facebook’s balance sheet comes from mobile users. One in every five minutes spent on mobile is spent on Facebook or Instagram.” The power of mobile, it is clear, cannot be underestimated.

Kalenga spoke about Facebook's significant footprint in Africa (59-million monthly active users in sub-Saharan Africa and 12-million monthly active users in South Africa) and of the platform's future growth. "Our business is fundamentally about people," he said. "Real people. Not cookies, not proxies. Real people … This is not something we take lightly.” With this in mind, Facebook has evolved to better cater for photographs and video, and is working on hosting augmented and virtual reality systems.

Sean Riley of digital advertising marketplace Ad Dynamo emphasised the three criteria that he believes sets Twitter – another major player in the social media space – apart: “It is live, public and conversational.”

Over 500-million tweets are tweeted every day, he said, and “those tweets for you as a brand represent conversations that you can get involved in.”

Other interesting statistics about Twitter include the fact that 68% of people who follow you on Twitter will visit your website, 53% will deliberately search for your brand, 30% will visit your physical location (excellent news for those in the tourism space, says Riley), and 53% will buy your product.

#eTAS15 concluded with discussions about creating innovative content that sets your business apart from others, as well as a range of additional digital marketing tips from #etas15 organiser Damian Cook.

An interesting point about #eTAS15 was that every single speaker used a video at some point during the course of his or her presentation. The world is indeed becoming increasingly visual. Where this goes to next – to augmented and virtual reality, perhaps – will no doubt be explored when eTAS returns to South Africa’s shores in 2016.

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