Traveling with a tiny budget doesn’t mean you have to resort to a tiny vacation. More than ever, budget travelers are tapping into the wealth of online travel information to find the best promotions and the most current information. And by foregoing brand name hotel chains, they have even more cash for activities, food and those irresistible last minute deals.

Traveling with a tiny budget doesn’t mean you have to resort to a tiny vacation. More than ever, budget travelers are tapping into the wealth of online travel information to find the best promotions and the most current information. And by foregoing brand name hotel chains, they have even more cash for activities, food and those irresistible last minute deals.

Hostels, with their incredibly social environments, are a natural meeting ground for these budget-savvy travelers. The hostels are cheap, they’re self-catering and best of all, they bring together like-minded people. And thanks to social media, helping out your fellow traveler is more than an “I’m renting a van and driving to France. Who wants to come?” kind of conversation. It retains its spontaneity, but has blossomed from travel tips swapped over breakfast to virtual communities, where past, present and future guests can easily exchange information and check out the hostel’s vibe.

Social media is much more than an information portal, though. For hostels, it becomes an extension of their ‘wow factor’. Let’s face it, hostels aren’t famous for their cushy beds and spotless bathrooms. They’re known for their insanely enthusiastic guests—the people who’d rather drop everything to go on an impromptu penguin-searching night hike than waste money on expensive (and lonely) hotels. They’re the ones who post the videos, create the photo albums and write the stories that tell the wonderful and wacky details about their location.

User-generated content is the best form of marketing available, especially for hostels, who don’t have huge budgets. It’s honest, it’s current and statistics show that travelers trust other travelers, who are doing more online travel research than ever before. It’s happening in real time, so travelers can stretch their budgets by taking advantage of last minute deals, contests and information. And if you’re traveling alone, there’s nothing more comforting than going online and seeing dozens of other travelers with the same interests (and worries).

For the accommodation industry, social media is more than a trend—it’s a necessity. Budget travelers have always been flexible, but the instant information now allows travelers to actually plan to be flexible, which means they require 24/7 access to the most current promotions and information. Currently, 40% of online travelers visit social networking sites for travel-related information. The 2010 World Travel Industry Report found that 40% of the travel and tourism industry views social media as a major opportunity over the next five years. Europe is touted as the top destination for 2010, and by 2015, 50% of European travellers will use Smartphones to find travel information and/or make reservations.

As Google’s Industry Director of Travel, Jane Butler has plenty of insight into the minds of travelers. When interviewed by Ruthanne Terrero on www.hotelworldnetwork.com, Butler spoke of the top 3 consumer behavior trends: an increased intensity in online travel research; a shortening of time between the travel research and the actual booking; and a demand for mobile access to this information.

She also had some interesting stats:

  • Travelers are searching more for local, point-of-interest-based information around a destination while planning for and during a trip
  • The average booking in 2009 took place nearly a week closer to the trip date than in 2008, fueled by the desire to obtain last-minute deals and promotions
  • Google has seen a 15 percent increase in site visits and 30 percent increase in search clicks prior to booking
  • 70 percent of searches on Google contain a local component.
  • Google has seen a 66 percent growth since 2004 in "Near +" and "Close To +" terms in the Hotels & Accommodations Category on Google.com

She also had some great advice for hostel owners. Travelers will track you down online, so make your information as relevant as possible, so they don’t have to dig. And, don’t be afraid to experiment. You know your hostel is awesome and your guests know your hostel is awesome, but does your social media reflect that?
 

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