de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2010). Why Flickr is worth adopting. LMD. February 2010. Page 165. Volume 16, Issue 7. ISSN 1391-135X.
How hotels can use Flickr to market their properties by providing an independent visual endorsement.

There is a lot of discussion on social media in the international press. In this article I will outline a practical example of how I came about to using Flickr as a social media tool for marketing tourism. Flickr is now the largest social website where users can upload pictures to share with the rest of the world. To up-load images, one has to sign up as a user, which need not cost anything. However, one does not need to sign in to view images. This makes Flickr an easy site for people to use when they want to see what something looks like.

Imagine you are a Briton engaged in conversation with a friend and they mention a hotel they stayed in. You can search for this hotel using a search engine such as Google or Yahoo for information and pictures of it. Or you can go to www.flickr.com and do a focussed search for that particular hotel. This will pull out a number of holiday pictures taken by real holiday makers which show the hotel as it really it. The images here will be more believable than those commissioned by the hotel from a professional photographer. Herein lies the value of Flickr to hoteliers. Encouraging clients and serious photography enthusiasts to upload pictures of their hotel creates a backdrop of authentic publicity for their hotel and an important, independent visual reference.

I must confess I have been a slow convert to Flickr. I have known about if for perhaps ten years but I created an account only as recently as in 2009. However my team in a specialist wildlife subsidiary began to use it from around 2008 when we took two British photographers to the Talangama Wetland and Villa Talangama. The latter was photographed for a feature by Bronek Kaminsky whom I also took up to Warwick Gardens for a feature, yet again in Serendib, the in-flight magazine of Sri Lankan. The turning point for us was when the other writer and photographer, Faye Ruck-Nightingale, created a folder on Flickr for her portfolio of images of the Talangama Wetland and the Villa. Subsequently Faye also photographed Kahanda Kanda for Flickr and we have cross linked that onto the accommodation section on our web site.

We began to send the Talanagama link to prospective clients and photographers and writers so that they could see an independent visual endorsement of the site and villa, to complement the images we had put on our site. The feedback to Faye’s images were so positive that it in turn encouraged us to beef up the portfolio of images on our own corporate web site. Subsequently we even began to give cross links from our web site to folders on Flick to make it even easier for clients to check out an independent view.

I had been reluctant to create an account of Flickr as I had been worried about copyright theft. However I found that this is easily mitigated by opting for settings which prevents people from saving images. A further precaution is to not to upload images to the full resolution that they were taken on. I had also begun to notice from advertisements in British magazines such as ‘Birdwatch’ and ‘Birdwatching’ that birders were increasingly sharing images on popular social media sites such as Flickr as well as on more specialist sites for the wildlife community. It was becoming important to have a presence on these sites, but finding the time was difficult. After the British Birdwatching Fair in August 2009, facing what was one of the worst years for Sri Lankan tourism, I finally created a Flickr account for business reasons. I uploaded images which carried a copyright citation which included our corporate website. A birder who was planning a birdwatching holiday could now in theory search for images of endemic birds, find some of mine and become aware of our corporate web site.

My plans to adopt Flickr more overtly to market our hotels happened a few months later. I was having a discussion with Charlotte Lyngberg Pederson, who was in Colombo on an internship related to a Masters she was doing at the Copenhagen Business School. She confirmed she had booked four nights at Jetwing Vil Uyana after having seen the pictures. “Was it the pictures on our website from the link I sent?” I asked. She hesitated and diplomatically said she had looked at the pictures on our website. But she also told me that she had searched on Flickr for Vil Uyana. I could sense that the latter was the more credible source of visual reference for her. That got me thinking. A few days later, Hyacinth Gunwardana, the GM of the Jetwing Beach came in to the office. I motioned her over and we searched Flickr for pictures of her hotel. There was nothing. She liaised with my colleagues in the marketing team to plug the gap and a few days later Luka Alagiyawanna, a German arts student who aspires to be a professional photographer was hosted to shoot the hotel for Flickr.

I discussed this at the UK Country Planning Workshop facilitated by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and suggested that hotels are more pro active in asking clients to upload images to a Flickr folder. In some cases, hotels may also host amateur photographers not to provide a portfolio of high resolution images but instead to upload a portfolio of ‘small file size’ images onto a social media site such as Flickr. The hotel and tour operators who use the property can cross link their websites to this folder. The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau have already embraced Flickr and so have some of the smaller specialist tour operators in Sri Lanka. I suspect we will increasingly see more and more hotels following suit.