Social media and online marketing were the focus of the discussions at the International Conference on Travel Technology (ICTT) India that got under way at the beach resort of Kovalam on Saturday.

As travel decisions become increasingly influenced by peer reviews and opinions on social networks, experts are advising businesses to factor in the Internet in their marketing strategies.

“Social media has become a constant presence throughout the traveller lifecycle – from decision and planning stage, to the actual vacation, to post-holiday,” said Selina Power, a social media specialist from Australia. “It has become our information network and our source of news,” she added.

Ms. Power said surveys show that more than half of the travellers revised their original plans if there was negative social media feedback about their chosen places.

Chad Wiebesick, Director of Social Media and Interactive Marketing for the tourism agency of Michigan State in the U.S., who spoke about opportunities in tourism marketing using social media commended Kerala Tourism’s use of Facebook to engage with customers, both existing and potential.

Firms should measure social media impact not simply by the total number of followers, but by the numbers that are actually talking about them and the demographics of the followers.

Blogs were also cited as one of the best tools for increasing visibility online. “A blog is the only social media channel you own. Facebook and Twitter change their algorithms periodically; so you need to keep up with it, but a blog is your own space.

Philip Calvert, an author and social networking entrepreneur from the U.K., spoke about the benefits of LinkedIn for travel professionals and companies. He advised business owners to have separate company pages on the website and to personalise requests sent out to other people to connect. The conference being held for the first time in the country is being organised by the Association of Tourism Trade Organisations, India (ATTOI).