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Choose-Your-Own-Seatmate, Yay or Nay, Emerging Travel & Tourism Debate

27 FEB 2012
Career Path : Travel and Tourism

When news broke that Dutch airline KLM planned to let passengers choose their own seatmates via Facebook and other social networks, it ignited a major debate in the travel & tourism industry, a debate that students at travel school will no doubt be rehashing for years to come. Is this an example of travel & tourism innovation… or is it just creepy?

There is not yet a clear consensus for or against KLM’s so-called Meet & Seat service for long-haul fights. One travel & tourism industry website, tnooz.com, which provides tourism management teams with information on travel & tourism technology, described the new seating plan as “fun but potentially fraught.”

Branding Magazine raises one concern shared by many tourism management teams in the travel & tourism industry, that the service, which is being billed as a good networking tool for business travellers, will be abused by passengers looking only to sit next to the most attractive man or woman.

Other publications herald KLM for constantly taking new risks with social media. Says Nigerian social media expert, Yinka Olaito, in one blog post, “I am particularly thrilled with this new initiative.”

Some writers, like travel blogger Harriet Baskas of Stuck at the Airport, point out that Facebook-booking itself is not a travel & tourism industry first, that other tourism management teams had already beat KLM to the punch. She mentions Malaysia Airlines, which apparently has a program called MHbuddy that lets passengers book flights on Facebook – and check to see whether they have any “friends” on the flight.

Many bloggers wonder if we can soon expect to see this kind of service offered elsewhere in the travel & tourism industry, for instance, on trains.

The administrator of travel & tourism website Sky Today has a post about the program that mentions some of the privacy and ethical concerns raised by this tourism management decision.

But perhaps all of this is beside the point. Maybe the main goal of the tourism management team at KLM was to get the world talking about Meet & Seat, whether or not we embrace it with open arms.

In this sense, KLM’s decision to take a risk with social media in the travel & tourism sector shows how the simple use of social media – regardless of its reception – can create a buzz heard around the world.

One can imagine aspiring members of tourism management teams reflecting on this interesting use of social media in case studies for years to come. Where do you stand on this issue?

Contact the Canadian Tourism College for more information on their tourism courses.