The travel and tourism industry has been one of the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The small businesses operating in the space are among the most severely hit. But the lifting of travel restrictions across India in the last few weeks has given a glimmer of hope to the industry. As they welcome tourists back, many travel small businesses are turning to Facebook and Instagram to connect with their users. With people spending more time on social media, it is the perfect place to educate their followers on the latest government rules on travel, talk about the precautions they are taking, post about unique experiences and destinations that could spark wanderlust, and also show up for the industry in these difficult times.
With travel gradually opening up, responsible travel is paramount and top-of-mind for everyone. Many homestays and smaller properties do not have websites, and rely extensively on the Facebook family of apps to connect with their guests and reach potential customers across India. “We’ve seen a trend of travel startups relying more on customised communication by using Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to keep guests updated on the latest regulations, and rules of visit and stay at their properties,” says Archana Vohra, Director, Small and Medium Businesses, Facebook India.Last month, the social media giant had announced that Facebook and Instagram have launched capabilities for businesses to drive discovery and sale of Gift Cards, which among other industries will be particularly beneficial for travel and tourism businesses that are heavily reliant on loyalty and passion.
Since the pandemic began, Facebook India has also taken several of their skilling programmes for small businesses online. With physical ad-shoots getting affected, they’ve also ramped up their creative support for small businesses, and this can be critical for a visual medium such as travel and tourism. “During the pandemic, we started Campaign Lab that has helped direct-to-consumer small businesses get creative support, and go live with mobile friendly creatives and strategy in under 72 hours,” says Vohra.
The country recently witnessed an example of how social media could help local businesses, when everyone came together to help a roadside eatery owner in Delhi. Speaking on how social media can be a catalyst for change in the present times, Vohra says that people are on social media more than ever before, and it has created gateways to connectedness in these unprecedented times for people, businesses, and communities. “In a country of 500 million plus Internet users, there are 400 million people who use the Facebook family of apps every month. We work closely with crowdfunding platforms such as Ketto, Milaap, and ImpactGuru that have done fantastic work in raising awareness and funds for some of the most pertinent COVID and non-COVID causes,” she says.
You can find many travel related causes as well on these platforms. On Ketto, there is a crowdfund for Vishnu, a tour-guide from Varanasi who has seen his income impacted because of COVID-19. Another cause is raising funds for an audio-visual travelogue of the Konkan region. A hiker, whose income has been impacted because of COVID, is raising funds for an eco-friendly trip to the Everest Base Camp.
An interesting trend the team at Facebook India has seen is that of small but mighty travel start-ups doing their bit to support other start-ups and the travel industry even in these times by using Facebook and Instagram.
Ithaka went from being a community-driven travel planning and social commerce platform to a community initiative to save small local travel businesses from COVID. They’re driving their efforts on Facebook by promoting lesser known homestays, by vetting them themselves, as well as talking about offbeat destinations. Their digital campaign #StandWithTravel is now a not-for-profit collaboration project between Indian travel startups. It's being managed and executed by volunteers from Ithaka's travel community, and supported by many travel influencers on Facebook and Instagram, who are helping identify and raise money for different small businesses and regions impacted by COVID.
Rahul Singh, CEO, Ithaka says that the crowdfunding initiative #StandWithTravel is aimed at supporting daily wagers in the tourism sector. “This has been a 100% social campaign and Facebook and Instagram have helped us raise INR 8.5 lakh and counting which will help hundreds of families dependent on tourism in remote parts of India,” he says. The entrepreneur adds that Ithaka has leveraged the reach of Influencers on these platforms and figured out a high conversion flow to create a unique revolution which has taken our message to more than 5 lakh Indians
Several leading travel influencers such as Shenaz Treasuryvala are supporting the cause, and raising the much needed funds for businesses and communities impacted by the pandemic.
TraWork is a small business that specialises in a service specifically designed for start-up founders, entrepreneurs, and freelancers, who would want to bring travel and work together. On Facebook, TraWork is profiling other travel start-up ventures to support the industry. They are endeavouring to help promote ‘Vocal for Local’ small businesses in the travel ecosystem through their handles.
“Since the pandemic has hit the world, social media has been playing a key role for us as a brand to bring our community closer. We made sure we use this time to engage better with our community and customers, to collaborate with other travelers and companies, and explore new opportunities, and social media has been our go-to platform for all of these,” says Vandita Purohit, Founder, TraWork.
“Social media also helped us establish ourselves in a better way as an experiential travel startup vs being just a travel company. We launched various campaigns and online events,” she adds. Purohit feels that social media has only brought her team closer to the different elements of the travel community. “We are collaborating with other travel startups and travelers and reaching out to our target customers with whom we had lost touch due to the lockdown,” she says.
Other budding startups are also making the most of social media platforms. ByondTravel, a leading community travel platform that helps travellers in discovering like-minded travel groups based on their interests and needs is keeping its followers engaged by sharing photos and information on unique properties and destinations that are now open on their Facebook page. They’re also sharing travel memes, asking followers to share their hilarious travel stories and running contests on Facebook and Instagram using the simple and fun poll feature. They’re also sharing images of lesser known travel destinations.
Another popular startup SeekSherpa that serves as a mobile marketplace connecting travelers and locals for local tours and insights has taken to Facebook and Instagram to talk about its specially curated experiences and workshops. For example, they promoted their Reverse Decoupage and Doodling workshops on their Facebook page.
They’re also building digital events and promoting them on their page. They’re also promoting their partnerships with food startups on their page.
Thrillophilia, which curates adventure-related experiences and activities at a pan-India level has been sharing fun adventure videos, and promoting homestays, and curated treks. Top news stories regarding adventurous travel destinations, such as national parks and forests, are also being shared by Thrillophilia to encourage safe travel.