August 2010
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Tourism boards eye online social media for expansion

Social networking Web sites Facebook, Orkut, Twitter and others are fast catching the fancy of national tourism boards. These sites widen the reach for promotion of destinations, and that too at minimal marketing cost, say tourism boards.

With low costs and unlimited Internet space, the boards feel sky is the limit when it comes to dissemination of information and networking with potential visitors. “The kind of information that can be spread through this media (social networking websites) is phenomenal,” India Head of Malaysia Tourism, Mr Manoharan Periasamy, told Business Line.

“However much I may put videos or pictures for promotion of Malaysia, people will not be able to relate to them as much as a real-life experience shared by someone. It begins an interaction about the destination.” said Mr Manoharan, impressed by the networking opportunities that Facebook and Twitter offer. The online social media is proving to be a more cost-efficient tool compared to the high outdoor marketing costs in India, he said, adding that they also have a much more “enormous” impact.

However, Mr Manoharan was quick to add that “hard selling” like putting up package prices is a big no. “It is all about sharing experience and information,” and in the process “create curiosity and demand” among potential customers about the destination.

Realising the impact of online social media, the boards that have not yet made their presence felt there, are also fast turning towards it.

Tourism boards of Switzerland and France, for example, have hired professionals to create digital presence for them.

The presence on networking Web sites is “important” as it would help track the interest level of potential visitors, said Switzerland Tourism's India Country Manager, Ms Ritu Sharma. “Being a tourism board we do not sell packages, but with the clicks we can keep a tab on the number of potential visitors,” she said.

Switzerland Tourism, though has a global Facebook page, is in the process of crystallising its India centric plans in the online media space. The board will go live with an India Web page in October, followed by Facebook, Twitter presence, said Ms Sharma.

According to the Director of France Tourism Development Agency in India, Ms Catherine Oden, while the board has not been active on networking sites yet, it has hired an agent for developing its Web site and relations with networking Web sites. “We are looking forward to this development,” she said.

However, what impact does online presence have on their visitor numbers is difficult to establish, said heads of the boards.

“It definitely expands the reach of our awareness campaigns about the destination. So, maybe not everyone who visits our Web site would go to Switzerland immediately, but the fact that he has spent time gathering information, would mean he may in a year or two,” said Ms Sharma.


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