Americans Optimistic About Holiday Travel

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In spite of the factors that make holiday travel unappealing, Americans are increasingly optimistic about traveling, according to an IBM analysis of social media sentiment.

In particular, the "Desire Ratio" -- the proportion of positive versus negative comments -- indicates that people are "looking forward" to holiday travel by a factor of 26 to one. This represents a spike in positive sentiment nearly 12 times greater in 2012 versus 2011.

Measuring public sentiment can help travel industry chief marketing officers customize incentives and services to be more in tune with what customers are asking for, using data to tailor their offerings to address trends and customer needs.

The analysis shows an increase in the volume of positive conversations about flying, driving and spending time with family and friends, among others. For example, the IBM "Desire Ratio" for flying indicated that comments are roughly 2.5 times more positive about travel in the 2012 holiday season. This increase could be attributed to the Cyber Monday deals that airlines ran this year.

Positive sentiment associated with driving also increased 13%. Negative sentiment related to gas prices is on a downward trend, which will likely contribute to the number of people traveling.

"Measuring social sentiment has the potential to enable the travel industry to literally design travel offers and services tailored to what travelers are telling us," said Raul Arce, IBM vice president, travel & transportation, in a release. "Big data has the power to transform the travel industry for the airlines, hotels and other travel providers that can translate customer desires into irresistible offers that they will welcome."

The IBM Social Sentiment Index combines analytics and natural language processing technologies to gauge consumer public opinions from Twitter, blogs, message boards and other social media. In this instance, the Index was used to measure and understand consumer views around the holiday travel season in the U.S. between Dec. 1 and Dec. 10 in 2012 and 2011.

The volume of conversation about flying as the holidays approach is up 10 percent in comparison to last year (38% in 2012 vs. 28% in 2011). This enthusiasm is not limited to those who have confirmed travel plans. A possible window of opportunity exists for businesses to influence last-minute customer travel-related decisions. Anecdotally, around one-quarter of online holiday travel conversations suggested that an itinerary had not been finalized.

The analysis also surfaced insight into trends and topics related to flying this holiday season. Top of mind for travelers are airline loyalty programs and best ways to convert miles, possible fuel surcharges likely related to the price of fuel, and what to do with pets while on vacation.

While it might seem like "noise" that there is a cluster of social conversation around potential travelers and their animals, it could signal an emerging trend -- or niche demographic -- that pet-friendly hotels or airlines could capitalize on through additional promotional activities or special offers directly tied to the holiday season for pet owners.

"Airport Luggage Belt photo from Shutterstock" 

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