Incorporating Social Media into Efforts to Boost Tourism

brandWhile conducting research on Brazil this week and thinking of an upcoming trip, my thoughts turned frequently to the country’s tourism industry. Despite a high level of social media usage among its residents, and a visually appealing, content-rich online presence, Brazil’s official tourism efforts seem to make a limited use of social media at this time.

When planning a trip to destinations near or far, many travelers turn to the Internet for information first. Although guidebooks are portable and relatively compact sources of information, a few clicks and keystrokes can deliver a universe of information right to someone’s desktop or hand-held device in seconds. In addition to provider-generated content, sites such as TravelAdvisor, Frommers and Fodor’s have resulted in online traveler communities rich with user-generated content on destinations around the world. Travelers turn to these sites not only to get basic information about their destination and its attractions, but also to get the inside scoop from others on what a hotel or neighborhood is really like, which restaurants are not worth stepping into and what attractions should not be missed.

Social media tools add another dimension to this, with blogs providing more detailed insight into specific locations, photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Picasa enabling anyone to share their travel photos and Twitter enabling travelers to share real-time information about trip events.

The hospitality industry has taken notice, and government organizations responsible for tourism, such as Brazil’s Tourism Board (EMBRATUR) have taken steps to include social media tools as part of their strategy to boost tourism to their countries as well as internal tourism opportunities for locals. Unfortunately, this is not evident without some searching.

A series of videos produced as part of the Brasil Sensacional! (Sensational Brazil!) campaign showcase the country’s stunning beauty. In addition, the country collaborated with the Green Living Project (GLP) as part of the GLP’s efforts to document sustainability initiatives in selected locations in South America earlier this year.

Unfortunately, it seems to stop there and the connections are not readily apparent after a visit to the Tourism Board’s site. (If there are, they did not easily turn up on searches of Orkut, Facebook, Twitter or Google.)

As a potential visitor, I was surprised that I could not find much government-generated social media content beyond the videos posted on the Tourism Board’s YouTube channel, particularly considering the popularity of social networking applications in Brazil.

Brazilian site PoliTweets tracks politicians using Twitter.

Brazilian site PoliTweets tracks politicians using Twitter.

Although virtually unknown in the U.S., Google’s Orkut social network dominates the Brazilian market—holding 79 percent of it. A Comscore report shows that Orkut enjoys a 79 percent market share in Brazil. (Only 1 percent of Brazilian internet users are on Facebook, according to the Comscore data.) A June 2009 Sysomos study states that Brazil is the fifth-largest nation of Twitter users, with about 200,000 users. And it’s not just Marisa in Sao Paolo using Twitter—it’s also President Ignacio Lula da Silva, 17 senators, 46 federal congressmen, 11 state congressmen and 39 councilmen, too, according to Brazilian site PoliTweets. (Brazil also has the highest percentage of users of all of the non-English speaking countries polled in the Sysomos study.)

Comscore reported that Brazil has the world’s second most engaged social networking audience, after Russia. A study released by Deloitte states that Brazilian consumers spend an average of 19.3 hours online for personal use versus 9.8 hours watching TV. Approximately 67 million Brazilians (or 34 percent of the population) have internet access.

So, given the popularity of social media in Brazil, I was surprised to find so little official use of social media for tourism purposes. The posting of videos on YouTube seems like a step in the right direction, but as it seeks to expand and enhance its tourism industry, Brazil might find that travelers like that personal connection that other forms of social media offer.

Despite the high incidence of personal use of social media applications in Brazil such as Twitter and Orkut, and some references to Brazilian tourism in a handful of blogs, it seems as if there is still much room to expand. For example, the Brazilian tourism portal does not include links to Twitter (for something as simple as weather or event updates throughout the vast country), Orkut and Facebook (for internal and external fans and potential visitors to post feedback and photos) or a tourism blog.

For now, the country’s limited use of social media does not seem be hurting it, though.

Official Brazilian tourism website provides information for visitors.

Official Brazilian tourism website provides information for visitors.

In a statement at the Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Florianopolis in May, Tourism Minister Luiz Barreto said that more than 5 million foreigners visited Brazil last year, spending almost $6 billion dollars in the country in 2008, an increase of 16.8% more than the amount spent by foreign travelers in Brazil in 2007. Barreto stated that in addition to visits from other countries, that the country has potential internal market of 100,000,000 tourists, with Brazilians now sustaining 85 percent of tourist activity. (Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world, extending over 47 percent of the geographical area of the South American continent and a population of nearly 200 million.)

The country is investing heavily in its infrastructure (about $304 billion) and is paying considerable attention to its tourism industry, particularly as it prepares for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and seeks to host the 2016 Olympics.  Ample opportunities exist for infrastructure developers and those affiliated with the hospitality industry to not only expand their bricks-and-mortar businesses, but also to use social media to communicate about their services—and for the Tourism Board to communicate about activities and events in real or near-real time. Dispatches from Rio’s carnival or the World Cup, anyone?

Perhaps their future efforts to expand tourism include expanding their use of social media?

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4 Responses to Incorporating Social Media into Efforts to Boost Tourism

  1. Your post this week was really enjoyable to read as you looked at the travel industry and the lack of social media by Brazil to promote the country. There are indeed many opportunities to do this, and you do a great job of not just pointing out the lack of use, but also going further to offer real suggestions for what they could do to increase their usage and make it a more effective tool to sell the country. I’m interested to know what you thought of the Overmundo site your classmate talked about in another post. It wasn’t clear to me whether the Tourism board may have partially been behind it, but I believe I did note their logo on the site so it may be affiliated. Regardless, your point that any social media efforts they did do seemed far too difficult to find was well placed and likely true. (4)

  2. Shannon Barrett says:

    I really liked the topic of your post, especially how you backed up your claim that tourism can benefit from social media by providing data on current government social media activities. I also thought you did a great job of providing real recommendations – such as a tourism blog – opposed to just theoretical solutions.

  3. Keith says:

    Thanks for this very insightful article. It is also my impression that many countries’ or cities’ tourism bureaus do not make sufficient use of social media. I live in The Netherlands and though the country is one of the largest users of Twitter, I find the half-hearted efforts of the tourism bureaus quite surprising… though that of course creates wonderful opportunities for us bloggers! 🙂

  4. paulfbove says:

    Having written about South Africa’s use of social media, I enjoyed your research and insights into Brazil’s use. It’s interesting to see that Brazil is not doing much, but South Africa is. As you stated, perhaps the upcoming World Cup and Olympics could give a boost to social media use. World Cup was a huge factor in South Africa’s online engagement. Brazil would do well to follow suit. Considering the lucrative nature of the World Cup and Olympics, I have a feeling they will.

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