The social network for guests and hosts

Almost in the same period in which Mark Zuckerberg laid the foundations of what was to become the most popular social media platform, another group of students was developing a bold concept called Couch Surfing, which is now the biggest community of guest and hosts from all around the world. At a first sight the idea that gave birth to this revolutionary project might sound crazy – “people anywhere would want to share their homes with strangers”, but at a closer look the strangers may turn into as the founders like to call them “friends you haven’t met yet”.

Let see what it is really about – is basically a social media platform where people add friends, build profiles or send messages all for free, but for more credibility users can pay a fee to be verified. Besides this, the experience that the project aims to offer is not limited to having a place to stay, but also to get to know a new culture, to have a local as a tour guide and to make friends all around the world, benefits that applies also to a host (which you have to become at one point).

The first question that comes into our minds when we hear about Couch Surfing is ‘Isn’t it dangerous?’. Well it is not the safest, but is probably the cheapest and considering safety measures that the platform provides it might be suitable for an open minded traveler. On the website you can choose the type of host and find out more about them from their public profiles and from the ratings and comments from other guests. The value that stands at the foundation of this concept is the trust in friendship and as Lauterbach, et al.(2009) claim the safety in CouchSurfing is based on the high degree of interaction and reciprocity among participants, which is enabled by a reputation system that allows individuals to vouch for one another.

At this moment the Couch Surfing community gathers more than 7 million people from more than 100,000 cities. Local communities of hosts regularly organize events to keep in touch with each other and also to share their experience with the new joiners. These groups are usually managed by volunteers known as ambassadors, who guide couchsurfing’s members after the values of the project.

If you want to find out more about the experience of couch Surfing you can check their YouTube channel ( or their official blog ( for more information about how it works and other stories from both surfers and hosts.



Lauterbach, et al., 2009. Surfing a Web of Trust: Reputation and Reciprocity on Computational Science and Engineering, [e-journal] 4, pp 346 – 353. Abstract only. Available through: Google Academic <> [Accessed 9 April 2014].

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The border between holiday memories and UGC

Holidays are usually that moment expected for several months, planed in advance and visualize every morning when the alarm clock goes off. But when it comes it seems like is too good to be true and you try to capture every single moment, to keep that feeling alive until the next vacation.

Nowadays we are living in a digital world based on mobility, which means that the chances for our holiday memories to end up just on our personal computer desktop background are really low. Usually we were used to share our experience with our families and friends, but now due to the expenditure of the social media networks we are sharing our photos and videos with a large audience and sometimes they become User Generated Content (UGC), which is actually a good thing as long as we know what we are doing.

While visual social media is becoming more and more influential in tourism, marketers working within travel orientated business spotted the opportunity and start to use User Generated Content to diminish the promoting costs while gaining consumer trust.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are focusing more on facilitating the uploading and sharing photo and video content and also trying to create links between users content through hashtags. This increased attention for visual content is due to the massive success of photo sharing platforms like Instagram and Flickr, but also because of the benefits of UGC.

A good example of using visual social media for tourism marketing is the project implemented by Stockholm international airport which aims to create local travel guides by using Instagram. Users can see the live updates from locals living in one of ten cities (Amsterdam, Bangkok, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dubai, London, New York, Paris, Prague and Rome), mark the places they want to check out and save a guide composed of the selected locations.

So User Generated Content is a great source of inspiration and creativity, leading to innovative marketing strategies. Personal holiday pictures might become the best advertising campaign for that amazing location that you visited or for that hotel with a breathtaking view. The only thing that matter from a tourist point of view is if you want that to happen or not and if you don’t, you have to be careful when using social media for sharing your holiday experience and use you privacy settings.



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YouTube channels the new format for travel guides

A few years ago we assisted to the shift from print to digital and more and more publications had to adapt to the new trend, while people gave up their daily newspapers for digital media. Nowadays we can distinguish a similar shift, but now the one affected is cable TV, which losses popularity to the good of on demand TV or video sharing platforms.

This trend was seen as an opportunity by people working in tourism, who took advantage and start to promote destinations and tourism services through YouTube channels. This practice has replaced the expensive and not so effective travel TV shows and also added new approaches, such as vlogs, videos focused on activities and local experience and of course the now popular tourist generated content.

One of the most popular channels of this type is Lonely Planet, a business which started with travel guides and now has expanded and it gathers the whole package for a perfect holiday. The YouTube channel includes videos presenting different destinations from all around the world, divided into playlists for each continent. Besides images and information about the destination you can also find tips for traveling, accommodation, transport, food or activities. So the content is not very different from the TV shows, but the amount of material and the segmentation on clips around 5-7 minutes make this new approach much more popular than traditional media.

Another kind of YouTube channel is a more personal one, and here we are talking about travel vlogs. They are not as comprehensive as a big company’s channel but they are creating a closer relationship with the audience and in the same time they correlate their image with the truthfulness of the content by filming their own experience. The travel-vlog videos can be made as part of a channel with a wide area of content or they can be part of a travel focused channel, which might turn into a successful business, like “soniastravels” channel.

Even if you are looking to go on holiday and you want some more information about the destination or you just enjoy watching beautiful images and find out more about different places around the world or you just to enrich your “to do list”, travel YouTube channels are a great source of quality information gathering a wide variety of content.

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Travel Apps – statistics

If earlier I presented the specialists selections regarding travel apps and it can be notice that the market offers a wide range of tools that ensure a carefree trip. But considering that there are many more types of apps designed for travel purposes, the question is ‘what does the public want?’, in order to establish why some of them are becoming the best digital friend of a tourist and other are classified as useless.

So, to find out what tourist are looking for when it comes to mobile apps we are going to analyse a research conducted by  Dan Wang, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management – Temple University USA, and Zheng Xiang, School of Merchandising and Hospitality Management – University of North Texas USA. The aim of their study was to answer two questions:

  1.  What information services and designed features do smartphone apps possess to support travel?
  2. How do users evaluate them?

Their study was focused apps that are available through iTunes store, considering that iPhone was part of the first generation of smartphones and in the same time “over 33 million iPhones have been sold worldwide” (Dala-Ali, Lloyd and Al-Abed, 2011 cited in Dan Wang and Zheng Xiang, 2012). First there were classified 300 apps after major information and then they were categorized using “automated text categorization” a function of Wordstat, finally they used several methods of analysing data, including phrase analysis and reviews.

Based on the major information there have resulted eleven main categories of apps and the most popular were the mobile tour guides for cities, apps for searching and reserving transportation/ hotels, apps for translation and apps providing travel tips. The report also presents a short description of each category highlighting things like price, main characteristics and design features.

After analysing the reviews, for information service, it revealed that users prefer services that are only available on mobile platforms, such as real time recording, photo analyses or the “shake” function. Regarding design features customers prefer intuitive interface and user-interaction design. In the same time users seem to avoid apps that serve just as gateways for websites and those that have technical issues.

Therefore, the results of this study match the selection of the most popular and useful presented earlier, which means that this type of digital media starts to influence tourism behaviour and tends to became an important part integrated marketing for tourism industry.


Source: Wang, D. and Xiang, Z., 2012. The New Landscape of Travel: A Comprehensive Analysis of Smartphone Apps. In: Fuchs, M., Ricci, F. and Cantoni, L., ed. 2012.Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2012. Mörlenbach:SpringerWienNewYork. Available through: RGU Library website <> [Accessed 26 April 2014].

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Travel Apps – 2

After you planed your trip, packed wisely and arrived safely at destination, you are going to need some help in order to experience the best from your chosen location. Of course there are many apps that guide you through the city, advice you about the best places to visit or to spend your leisure time, but here are some basic apps that should not be missing from any tourist’s smartphone or tablet.

Maps With Me – from this category probably Google maps is the most popular but in order to use it you need some sort of internet connection which when you are traveling might be an issue due to roaming service and also the high costs. But Maps With Me works as fast as any other app of this kind and requires just GPS signal. Beside this it is compatible with almost any type of mobile device, being available in App Store, Google Play and also Amazon Apps.


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The Converted by Ideon – Traveling to a different country usually means a different currency and you might lose money by exchange if you are not well informed. This map is not just a currency convertor is an all-in-one convertor covering also measurement units temperatures, distances or weight.



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There are so many apps designed for tourists and the majority of them are focused on essential needs such as the ones that are presented above, but on App store and Google Play you may find some apps that are not as useful but they are definitely original and promising ideas.

101 Things to do before you go abroad – is a Facebook app by Visit England which aims to encourage the English people to visit their own country before going abroad. Personally I don’t know how effective this app is going to be in achieving the objective, but is certainly an appealing and interactive platform and also good source of information for international tourists.


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Pivo – when you are visiting a new country you want to have an authentic experience and learn a bit from the local culture. So what can be more useful than to learn how to order beer in the local language? This is what Pivo is designed for, gathering the way of ordering beer in around 60 different languages with correct spelling, phonetic pronunciations and supporting videos from native speakers. And if you consider that it is not useful at all, think about the situation in which you are in a pub and none of the locals is speaking English. 

This app is also selected by Matt Long a travel blogger who defines his blog as “not your ordinary travel site” where you can find a much more comprehensive selection of unusual travel apps. 



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Travel Apps – 1

A few years ago we were amazed by the shift from traditional maps to GPS, from friends’ recommendations to reviews from tourist all around the world or from the endless hours spent on airports for buying tickets and check-ins to just a few minutes now when everything can be done online from the comfort of your own house. But at the moment we are assisting to another revolution in travelling smart – mobility.

Smartphones and tablets are becoming more and more popular which means that people don’t need to wait till they can access their laptops or rely on a Wi-Fi connection to use different online platforms, they can do it on the go. This is why nowadays smartphones or tablet travel apps are a most have for a smart tourist, managing in this way to turn his gadget into a personal assistant and in the same time tourist guide.

There are many apps on the market and each day new ones appear, but there are some essential tools that must be on each tourist mobile device. First, there are the booking apps and here we have to include hotels, restaurants, flights or any other transport means that might require advance planning. You can choose between a complex app which includes all the bookings that you might need or you can go for a more specific area such as just flights or just hotels. Here are a few examples of some of the best travel apps selected by CNN Travel and Jill Duffy for PCmag.


Hotel Tonight -This app is different from the usual booking platforms such as or which of course have their own apps. This is because Hotel Tonight is focused on last-minute bookings for one or two nights stay offering the best deals on unsold rooms from more than 150 cities in 16 countries from America and Europe.


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Kayak – is an app, extension of the booking website, which you can use to book hotels, flights and also cars, providing the possibility to plan your whole trip. But the fact that is user friendly makes it really popular among users, incorporated easy to follow maps, travel time estimations as well as the possibility to keep track of your trips.


Photo source:,2817,2422245,00.asp


Organizational apps are another category of apps that are a must-have for tourists, even if you are a beginner in traveling or this is your profession, you will definitely need some help to keep track of all your bookings, documents and maybe some advice for the essential things that you have to pack.

TripIt – is an organizational app that connects to your email accounts and compiles all your travel information: confirmation numbers for your flights, hotels, restaurants reservations. In the same time, it shows the dates and times of your bookings working as a proper travel agenda.


Photo source:,2817,2422247,00.asp

Packing Pro – is as the name says an app that helps you pack, and is not designed just for inexperienced travelers who don’t know what they need in their journey but also for frequent travelers to keep track of journeys and the essential things that they need for their trip.


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Geo-tagged photos used as data source in tourism.



When we hear about data and especially in tourism we usually think about number and profile of tourists, the money that they spent or the reviews about services that they post. But now, when the main data source is represented by social media networks, every online activity might become a source of information for tourism marketing.

For example a very interesting study conducted by tree professors from Kyoto University, Japan, shows how can by analysing the activity from photo-sharing platforms such as Instagram or Flickr it can be determined which is the major tourism attraction from a certain area.  For this research they analysed the dataset consisting of GPS trajectory and the photographic history of foreign tourists who travelled in Kyoto area in Japan.

To understand how this research was been done we have to take a look at the data that any photo that we share on social media might provide. “The shared photo has a photo ID, a photographer ID and a geo-tag that indicates the shooting location (latitude and longitude) as metadata. Shared geo-tagged photos can be assumed as a sequence of the photographer’s trajectory.”

By correlating the data extract from tourist smartphones they realized a top ten attractions in the Kyoto area.


As they claim, one of the key elements in realizing this type of research is the photogenic factor, which is used to describe those characteristics that draw tourists’ attention so as they usually take pictures. As an example they used Fushimi-Inari Shrine’ and ‘Todai-Ji Temple’. “Todai-Ji Temple is famous for the Great Buddha statue, and many deer are roaming about in the park. The tourists take many photos of deer. Fushimi-Inari Shrine is famous for many Shinto vermeil gateways, called Torii, and   the scenery is very popular among foreign tourists who visit Kyoto. We estimate that these objects are ones of the elements of photogenic factor.”

This research is not especially important by the data that it provides, which can be as well obtain by other sources, but by fact that it shows the possibility of using photo- sharing platforms as a reliable source of data. This proves one more time that social media platforms are first of all a database for market analyses which is starting to change the way marketing has been done by now, particularly in expanding areas such as tourism.      



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Social media research in tourism related business

As any promotion strategy social media requires investments, maybe not implying huge costs, but certainly it requires time and effort. So it is really important to know what you are doing, what do you want to achieve and which are the best means to use. Thus, as any marketing plan, when using social media you should develop a specific strategy designed for your target audience and focused on achieving your objectives.

Track and analyse your audience

Tourist behaviour is really hard to understand and keep up with being usually in continuous changing, but social media may ease the process of choosing the market by analysing simple information such as age, current city, relationship status and another important aspect in choosing the audience is how active are the users, so how receptive they can be to your message and how influential they can be among their own group of friends. In the same way, it is very important to analyse your own activity on social networks and found out which are the strengths and weaknesses of you approach.

KLM – the surprise marketing campaign

At the end of 2010 KLM decided to give something extra to its passengers who were about to board their flights. Using social media platforms such as Twitter and Foursquare they identify passengers checked in and search their social media accounts to find out what gift would suit each of them. While the passengers were waiting for boarding KLM flight attendants bought gifts and give them to 40 of their customers. This campaign generated a major impact on social media and it was repeated several times after that. Also it represented a source of information for other companies who adopted the strategy for the holiday season.



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Country branding and social media

Not long ago tourism was associated with people traveling, hotels, restaurants or transport providers. But nowadays, when mobility and communication at a global level are no longer an issue, the tourism industry has taken on a whole new meaning, gathering many more types of services and a lot of marketing approaches.

After these changes, another marketing approach has been developed in segment called country branding. This approach aims to shape and associate an image with a certain nation, promoting the main tourism characteristics and activities that are defining the region in order to attract the interest of tourists, especially from foreign countries. Country branding appeared from the necessity of correlating a nation with a favorable image to avoid perceptions based on stereotypes. This kind of problems are frequently found in small and less known countries, which took the opportunity and developed complex branding campaigns, but also big nations such as U.S.A., UK, France or Australia developed marketing strategies to attract tourists towards less known regions of their countries.

At the moment the country brand is a very important parameter for a nation considering that there has been developed a rank to classify countries according to the complexity and efficiency of their tourism brand. One of the four variables taken into account for the scoring of each nation is the digital position, analyzing the efforts they made to be visible in social media.

According to Bloom Consulting Country Brand Ranking, U.S.A. owns the best country brand followed in top 5 by four European countries including United Kingdom. Yet, one of the most appreciated social media campaign is the one developed for Australia’s country brand, also a country well positioned in this rank, in top 10.



Tourism Australia started using social media promoting in 2010 and by 2012 95% of their content was user generated, showing the level of engagement that the campaign had among users. The strategy gathered a multiplatform approach, sharing various types of media content. One of the strengths of this campaign was also the quality of the visuals, considering that the most liked tourism photos on Instagram come from Australia, and the always updated content.  Here you can check an article about how successful the campaign is along with some more photos ( ).





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Tourism marketing and social media


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Since the process of planning a holiday moved almost entirely online, it is obviously that the main target market for tourism related businesses is present on different online platforms and they are most likely social media users. This means that also the service providers should be present on this type of medium, which implied a shift similar to the one that took place in the media field, the so called shift from “analogic to digital”. The change implied a marketing strategy less focused on brochures, printed materials or outdoor promotion and more focused on online advertising and interaction with the tourist.

Top benefits

The most important element in achieving success in a tourism orientated business is, as basically in any type of business, the target market. Understanding the expectations and the behavior of your audience as well as receiving a feedback is even more important in this field considering that is represented mainly by service providing business, which means that the relationship with the consumer is essential.

The biggest advantage of using social media networks is the fact that they provide a lot of information about your target market without imping important expenses. Also this type of data is updated in real time making it easier to follow the changes in tourists’ behavior.

Also, communicating with the consumer can build and maintain long lasting relationships, the loyal tourists, which can develop into the most valuable type of promotion – the word-of-mouth creating the so called brand advocates

In another train of thoughts, if we look at the offer in tourism, we can notice that it is a really competitive market, and the success of a business can be influenced by multiple factors. In this case, social media has a significantly impact, allowing entrepreneurs to understand and to keep an eye on the competition. In this way they know what to expect and also how to exploit the opportunities for new ideas.


Managing the communication process

Using social media marketing it can bring lots of benefits to your tourism business, but it is a big challenge and if it is not done properly can create more harm than good. The biggest threat is that people treat it superfluous, considering that is not that hard to manage a Facebook account, but what they do not realize is that the main image that social media transmit is reliability, achieved by maintaining a constant flow of communication, which requires time and perseverance.

 Another dangerous factor present on social networks is the negative reviews or comments, which can create irreparable harm to your business. This reflects not just how you manage your marketing strategy but also how you run your entire business, from employees to customers or collaborators, all of them can damage your reputation through social media. So using this type of promoting your tourism orientated business can bring huge benefits but it also brings big responsibilities, not letting room for mistakes.       

Success due to social media

Most big brands use social media as a tool to maintain their reputation and to expand their market, but the actual difference social media does is when we are looking at small business. With low budget but perseverance and good strategy Leslie Saint McLellan, director of marketing and tourism in Lake Arrowhead, a picturesque location just 90 miles east of Los Angeles, had managed to compensate the cuts from tourism promotion budget and she also achieved the impressive performance of 15,000 tweets in one weekend after implementing a hashtag for the 4th of July celebrations.

You can check her story at:



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