Thomas Cook Group has this week launched what it calls a “travel industry first”. Holidays to go! is a Twitter-driven offer engine that lets holidaymakers tweet at the company where they want to go and then, seconds later, receive back a list of offers to that destination.
Jonathan Roberts, the Group’s Head of Social Media, said of the new service. “Our customers don’t always have time to search for holidays, so we have made it very easy for them. People simply Tweet something like “Holiday deals to Florida” mentioning @TCOffers in their Tweet and in a matter of seconds they will get a tweet back with a link to our latest holiday deals to Florida. You don’t even have to follow @TCOffers to get your reply.”
The idea for the service came from the company’s analytics guru. It uses an algorithm to analyse tweets for the name of a destination and then automatically send back a deep link to the Thomas Cook website showing a list of latest offers. You can see the page of search results generated by a tweet asking for packages from Gatwick to Benidorm in September here.
Tweets that the algorithm is unable to parse are passed to the group’s @ThomasCookCares customer service team for a personalised response.
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Roberts says he does not see @TCOffers as a way for people to comparison-shop while they are in a high-street travel agent. “In our shops, the prices are very much the same as online. It really is just a quick way to see what our latest offers are,” he told us this week.
There is a team of 25 people who deal specifically with social media at the various Thomas Cook Group companies around the world, says Roberts, although they do have external support.
“In the UK, we use a specialist outsourced agency called Chapel Social. They have a war room running from 6.30 in the morning until 10 at night and they handle all our social media traffic. Anything that comes in relating to our 22 brands in the UK, they reach out,” he says.
Thomas Cook has a service level agreement in place with Chapel that means they must respond within 15 minutes of someone contacting them via social media.
Roberts says the @TCOffers feed will start to be used to develop promo codes and weekly offers for destinations where people have shown an interest.
“We will be rolling [this concept] out into our other areas but we wanted to start in the UK. The technology is new and we wanted to make sure it works well,” he says.
Roberts believes that the Holidays to go! service will demonstrate that social media channels can generate sales rather than just engagement with customers.
So is it a first? Twitter-based travel concierge services have been around for a while – used by tourism boards, hotels such as Hyatt, and airlines such as the socially hyperactive KLM (with its fares service @KLMfares) and CityJet. Among tour operators, this automated service is certainly innovative. Whether it will replace simply typing “#traveldeals benidorm” into the Twitter search box is another matter.