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The long reach of social media

No longer just a way of keeping tabs on your friends, social media is changing the way tourism destinations operate

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Small business isn't the only one to take a cue from the success of online marketing tools. At Tourism Whistler, mainstream promotion strategies of the resort have been boosted, not replaced by the new alternatives. They've been active in the social space for three years, assessing strategy as dominant social media sites rose to the top. The new medium doesn't change what they're doing - their goal is still to promote Whistler far and wide, but now they have the ability to more easily tap into the memories of the customer experience.

"We've always known and our research has always shown that word of mouth has the biggest influence on customer purchase behaviour and I think social media has drastically changed the way people can do that, it's facilitated that," said Kirsten Homeniuk, senior manager of marketing services at Tourism Whistler. "There is no better way to showcase a destination or travel experiences than through pictures and videos so the ability to use YouTube and Flickr and have visitors share their experiences has been huge for us.

"We also integrate TripAdvisor reviews on whistler.com so that's how people are sharing their travel experiences, good or bad, and we know that's a significant piece in people's travel planning toolbox."

Tourism Whistler has been wary of the fine line between corporate push and customer experience, choosing not to offer deals and sales through social channels designed for non-market interaction after a few experimental promotions.

"The research shows and experts are saying that it's a place to engage and have real conversation with your consumers it's not a place for the hard sell and our experience supports that," she said. "We've heard the impression that Whistler can be a little bit corporate or a bit faceless and I think that social media really has the ability to say 'hey, you're speaking to me, a real person and I'm speaking to you, a real person and we're having this conversation' and we're really trying to use this social space to do that."