The backpacker sector is the most web-savvy of all the tourism sectors. Referred to as "digital natives", by the time this generation has turned 21 they will have spent 100,000 hours playing computer games, received and sent 250,000 emails, spent 10,000 hours on phones and watched 21,000 hours of television. The Internet has become simply ingrained in their everyday life.
Backpackers are digitally wired such that they use the Internet and, in particular, social media sites such as Facebook, to: communicate with friends and family; as a notice-board for staying in touch with one another as they meet 'on the road'; and as a tool for research and information gathering.
It's a horrible cliche - but it's true - fish where the fish are! Backpackers are on
Facebook, community question sites such as www.Travellr.com, travel planning sites such as www.travelgeneration.com, and blog sites such as www.travellerspoint.com. A sample of one crowded Internet Cafe from Khao San Road to Queenstown will provide more than enough evidence that the backpacker travel ethos is entrenched in collaborative Web 2.0 technologies.
Let's make one point clear - a point that is often overlooked - backpackers have always been social, collaborative, and opinion sharing. The hostel common space was just like Twitter - travellers sharing snippets of information and advice: "stay here in Rotorua"; "use this operator on the West Coast"; "get cheaper beer at this bar"; and so on. The hostel notice-board was Facebook. If you wanted to reach backpackers you went to the hostel bar and met them or put posters by the notice-boards.
The change in the digital landscape has only accelerated the speed with which these digital natives receive their advice, spread their opinion and communicate with one another.
Here is one example I randomly picked off Twitter:
...and 5 hours later:
If you had a backpacking business in Rome you would want to be there offering
Many commentators believe that the infiltration of social media will be the catalyst for everyday use of the 'mobile web'. Mobile phones and social media will be the primary medium that consumers use to interact and connect with brands. There is no doubt that the already Internet-enabled backpacker will be ready to embrace this technology.
Fair in love and war
Search engine optimisation is a war; rating higher in searches than your competitors is about always looking at what they are doing and what keywords they are rating highly for. Social media marketing is absolutely the opposite.
Ignore your competitors and listen to your customers. Ask yourself - "what do my customers expect from my brand on the web?" And as US social media guru Chris Brogan once said, "(they are) dialling the social phone (and you) better have some operators standing by".