When I lived in NYC, I used to start most of my Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays at Laguardia, JFK, or Newark airports.
That was just part of the deal every holiday season if I wanted to get home and see my friends and family back here in Texas.
But this was long before there was a Twitter or a Facebook where I could vociferously complain to the public at large about the cheapstake airline giving me an ancient, small package of peanuts while seating me next to Chucky the whining infant.
Flash forward... as in, to the present day. Despite the looming snowstorms and crowded skies and congested roads and expensive airfares, IBM conducted a recent analysis of social media sentiment, which suggests that Americans are increasingly optimistic about traveling.
I know, it's difficult to believe, but there it is.
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 1 (well, everyone except for those who are hitchhiking). To which I can only comment most of these respondents must not have any in-laws.
This delta represents a spike in positive sentiment nearly 12 times greater in 2012 versus 2011.
According to the IBM Social Sentiment analysis, there was also 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 possibly be attributed to the Cyber Monday deals that airlines ran this year ("Sit In The Baggage Compartment And YOUR BAGS FLY FREE!")
Positive sentiment associated with driving also increased 13 percent. That one, I completely don't understand. I don't like driving. I'd rather sit next to Chucky the whining infant on an airplane than have to drive anywhere
Why, you ask? Let me demonstrate via some basic math: 500 MPH versus 75 MPH. Does that clear things up?
So by now, you're probably wondering to yourself "why measure all this in the first place?"
Because, we have a bunch of really smart people inside IBM who need something productive to do as we get closer to the holidays.
But, we also recognize that 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 what they learn from social data to tailor their offerings to address fast-moving trends and real-time customer needs.
"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, vice president, travel & transportation, IBM. "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."
About the IBM Social Sentiment Index
The IBM Social Sentiment Index combines sophisticated 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 United States from the period of December 1 to December 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 percent in 2012 vs. 28 percent 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.
Additional insights from the IBM Social Sentiment Index for holiday travel include:
- Negative sentiment related to gas prices is on a downward trend, which will likely contribute to the number of people traveling.
- While only a small sample size, sentiment around travel providers' mobile experiences such as smartphone apps and websites is on an upward trend. The amount of those conversations increased 40 percent year over year.
- Conversations about the word "travel" during the studied time period increased 75 percent
- Measurement of sentiment suggested that fewer people are canceling their plans for the 2012 holidays, with a decrease of 19 percent in negative sentiment this year.
- The Index recorded a decrease in conversation volume from 2011 to 2012, possibly attributable to the additional weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year. Early holiday social chatter in December also suggested people were more focused on holiday preparation than travel plans.
The wealth of online content around travel -- from traveler review sites to public conversations on Twitter and Facebook -- has become very influential in how people determine their travel plans.
Understanding the positive, neutral, and negative nuances of their conversations and who is influential can help airlines, hoteliers, and other travel service providers market better products and services to their customers.
It might also someday earn you a bump up to first class... just don't hold your breath.