The long reach of social media 

No longer just a way of keeping tabs on your friends, social media is changing the way tourism destinations operate


In just a few years, social networking has rewritten the book on customer service, compelling the tourism industry to relearn their approach to client relations.

Social media mogul and founder of the Travel Blogger Exchange International Conference Kim Mance called the travel review side of the business a highly influential  "wild, wild west."

"Sites like Hotwire and TripAdvisor rank so high on Google that when someone searches for something - and we know that over 70 per cent of people are booking online -...they affect the results you see when you look for a hotel or a destination experience," she said during a phone interview from her home base in Colorado. "I think it's definitely here to stay..."

Both businesses and guests are active on the social media sites that relate to Whistler. Beyond keeping customers happy - and subsequently away from angry online reviews - tourism businesses are seeing an increase in business filter through travel sites aimed at providing a customer-experience heavy platform and booking options.

"We sell a lot through Expedia, TripAdvisor, Whistler Blackcomb...they have definitely increased bookings," said Jennifer Tice, public relations manager for Fairmont Whistler. "Guests are savvier and are looking for information in other places, and sometimes we have other deals with other partners and I think with sites like Trip Advisor and Expedia, they can see feedback from other guests and can compare them to other properties, they perhaps have other information that we don't have in that holistic sense of comparisons to other properties, compared to other prices that are right there."

According to Tice, bookings through third party sites that offer reviews help increase traffic to destinations like Whistler because prospective guests typically do a lot of online research before deciding on a resort, hotel and travel itinerary.

"We're definitely seeing a trend from guests either going to that site and booking or going to the site and perhaps booking through us and using that as a resource tool," she continued.

The tap-happy fingers of customers with Internet access and something to say heavily influence the tourism sector but companies aren't being left out of the game. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler monitors guest reviews and joins in the online discussion if it appears a client had an unsatisfactory experience. Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb do the same.

"We are playing in all the places we feel our guests are using and obviously keeping our eyes open for emerging networks as they come out of the woodwork," said Amber Turnau, media relations and social media strategist for Whistler Blackcomb (WB). "We're perhaps listening even more than we are broadcasting. It helps us gage the sentiments that people have about their experiences here. A lot of time we can get product feedback as well about the terrain parks or the bike park. When we're listening we're trying to see generally what people are saying and sometimes it's bad and we're open and transparent enough to acknowledge when it is that and communicate with people in the spaces that they're in."

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