Sidebar: FlightCentre Takes off with User Generated Content
Business: Travel Agency
Until recently, FlightCentre was happy to be a brick-and-mortar travel agency with offices spread out across the globe, but it also recognized that without a strong web presence, it could get left behind. The company also realized that, as a travel agency, it likely had a good number of clients (and employees) that could generate lots of trip-related content including text reports, pictures, videos, even podcasts. Grant Waldeck, VP of marketing for FlightCentre, says that last summer the company began to take a serious look at the idea of user-generated content.
"We have a strong brick-and-mortar focus," Waldeck says, "but we are continuing to improve our flightcentre.com and flightcentre.au sites." In fact, according to Waldeck, the latter site is the top travel site in Australia and he found that people not only go to the site to book flights, they also go there to research travel. This is where the idea of starting a blog or wiki to maximize user-generated travel content was born.
FlightCentre recognized that they could make better use of trip reports filed by employees who went on test trips. These were typically submitted on paper and placed in a file cabinet, not shared internally or externally. Waldeck says that the company believed it could leverage these reports along with customer reports, which were usually sent by email. He says that company researchers found that travelers spent up to 40 hours researching a trip prior to leaving, and he wanted the FlightCentre site to get a piece of this research action to drive traffic to the site.
Last summer, FlightCentre began looking at several vendors and selected iUpload. He says that iUpload was able to assure him that it could meet the company's development needs. "They were quick to talk strategy and look at the big picture," he says. Waldeck wasn't all that concerned with bandwidth issues, preferring to leave that to iUpload. "We talked about these issues in a roundabout way, about how much is available, and I learned the types of sites they do host such as large newspaper websites. Through learning what they do, I was satisfied they could handle our traffic." He adds, he didn't really drill down in the technical nitty-gritty, but he was reasonably comfortable they could manage the traffic.
FlightCentre launched its first blog in Canada in December, and so far it's gone very well. Waldeck says initially all content is going through an approval process, but that could change over time. While he was pleased with how quickly the site was up and running, he says there are always some things you don't expect. In this case, it was the large taxonomy associated with a travel site. "When we put together the taxonomy, there are 200 countries [we cover] in the world alone, then drill down to region or city. All the places in the world where people could contribute to the blog can be pretty immense." He says, the size of the taxonomy has resulted in some speed issues, but he is working with iUpload to resolve this. In the future, he plans to add a video player and podcasts. To encourage users, the company will host contests for the best trip report, the best video and picture, and so forth.
FlightCentre took the leap into user-generated content because it felt it would provide a way for customers to share trip content and in the process drive traffic and business to its online offering. While Waldeck admits he never got down into deep discussions about iUpload's ability to handle traffic fluctuations brought on by this new type of content delivery system, he learned enough to feel confident that iUpload could deliver.
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