Global tourism is constantly growing and is the leading trend in the hospitality industry, according to Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Bureau.

Local visitors are spending $1,000 on average per person, meaning that hospitality's contribution to the economy is significant, Stone commented on the sidelines of the annual Napa Valley College Wine Country Hospitality Symposium last month. The growth in worldwide travel creates the need for knowledge and the hospitality sector should be culturally highly skilled and capable of meeting the various tastes and needs of people, Stone said.

With potential visitors from all around the globe, social media is an important factor in the travel industry. The predominant trends in the industry tend to centre around content marketing and ways of measuring the return on relationship (ROR) in order to value the success of investments in social channels, said Melodie Hilton, director of marketing and PR for the Napa River Inn. However, brands should be careful, because simply building awareness is not good enough. Counting up likes on social media is only part of the picture, she says. Followers and fans may not present a potential business opportunity and may not even be criteria for growth.

Achieving ROR also requires brands to keep an eye on both online and offline customer behaviours to know what they spend, commented Randy Martinsen of Grgich Hills Estate Winery. The tools to manage and collect user data require a user relationship management platform that works at all stages of the customer-brand relationship, namely engaging, interrupting and educating users and offering and tracking the success of e-mails and other communications and projects, Martinsen commented.

Additionally, the growing power of social channels requires risk and crisis management planning, according to Andrew Healy, chief social officer of 3 Rock Marketing. He pointed out that once a post is shared the owner cannot control it any more. Even innocent posts by workers on their personal feeds can be linked to the brand they work for, so risk planning is necessary because such a move can ruin years of work on building relationship with customers.

To deal with these issues, companies need a strategy for monitoring who has access to social media accounts and a master login and password, Healy said. A social media manual for workers is a must, along with corporate training and clear guidelines on what is appropriate to post online, he concluded.

The need for well trained employees was echoed by Don Shindle, general manager at the Westin Verasa in Napa. The travel and hospitality industries rely on providing people with the best possible experience and this starts with skilled and empowered workers, Shindle argued.