This is an updated version of my original travel marketing post published in September 2010. I am seriously humbled by the traffic and chatter the post has generated, so thankyou.
As the online travel industry continues to evolve, the opportunities for marketing can seem a little overwhelming; multiple review platforms, online booking engines and augmented reality to name just a few.
The best place to start is with the foundations, so here are some tips to set you on the right path.
Take a good look at your website…or build one!
Your website is the cornerstone of your marketing efforts.
Today it is easy to track what’s working and what’s not, and to promote new products almost instantly to a global audience.
Some agencies argue that they cater to an older client base, and have little no use for a website. This attitude is a little short sighted – how will you attract new customers and service tech savvy travellers down the track?
Others have a great website that few people see because they don’t understand how to drive traffic to it. There are a few basic things you can do to fix this:
Think responsive. We can no longer ignore the use of mobile devices when building or re- developing a website.With more and more people accessing information from their phones or tablets, it’s important to make their visit to your site easy and enjoyable.
The last thing you want is for your visitors to have to pinch and zoom their way around your site.
Use our responsive website test to check how your site performs from mobile devices.
Simplify Design. The most successful online brands favour minimal website design which makes finding information easy and takes visitors on a journey.
Ask someone to road-test your current site for you. Is it user friendly? Does it capture who you are as a brand and is there enough content and a strong enough call-to-action to convert visitors into sales?
Start Testing. Is your website doing the work you expect of it? Use some of the conversion testing software out there to to see if you can improve your conversion rates. Try Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer.
Make sure you understand what a 5% increase in site conversion will mean to your bottom line. Because such an increase can be achieved and will most likely be cheaper than any advertising you may have planned.
Integrate marketing efforts. Make sure you tie all of your marketing efforts back to your website. Entice people to sign up for your newsletter, include a travel blog (discussed below) and social media profile links. Encourage reviews and return visits.
Update regularly. Search engines love fresh content, and keeping it updated can drive your organic search engine ranking up. Assign a staff member to update the site regularly because a little effort will go a long way!
Social media – get it right
People trust recommendations from their friends and peers, and social media is a cost effective channel from which you can capitalise on this.
The number of social media platforms available to travel companies is steadily increasing.
Choosing the correct social media platform will depend upon your objectives and your target market.
In my opinion, Facebook remains one of the best platforms for travel agencies and tour operators. Facebook page apps are excellent tools for creating a more interesting and interactive fan page. Apps can be used to integrate feeds from your other social media profilessuch as Instagram; and can also be used to create contests, sweepstakes and newsletter sign-up forms.
Get a solid strategy in place. A poorly managed social media strategy can hurt your brand and dampen your spirits. Reporting facilities such asFacebook Insights will allow you to track, manage and alter your strategy in line with your goals. If you are time poor or want to delve a little deeper, nut out asocial media strategy with an agency before you set about posting, tweeting and pinning.
Follow and learn from some of thesuccessful tourism operators. Photos and videos generally work a treat so you may want to look at Instagram and Pinterest as potential platforms.
A good resource for articles and ideas is the Travel Market Report.
Mobile marketing – get onto it
EyeforTravel’s consumer research shows that 20% of bookings made in the USA today are via mobile, with this number set to rise.
Other research from PhoCusWright indicates that nearly one in five online travel dollars will be booked via smartphone or tablet.
Mobile transactions are becoming mainstream (link to Jac Mobile Blog – coming soon) in the travel industry – can you afford to ignore this space?
Did you know that in the near future, every handset will have SMS capability? Look into SMS marketing and be the first to reach your clients with specials, deals and updates. A key feature of SMS is the penetration – 96% of SMS are read, 90% of these in the first 3 minutes.
There are some other great mobile technologies you should be aware of including Augmented Reality (AR), Near Field Communications (NFC), and iBeacons.
AR is a great innovation for tourism vendors, as it will expand on a traveller’s experience and open up opportunities for people wanting to market to them.
NFC is all about close proximity communication. This is what your customers will be using when they make Paypass-type payments with their mobile devices. As a travel agency you could have NFC stickers throughout a customer’s itinerary to deliver a video to their mobile phone with special instructions.
iBeacons, involve transmitting geo-location triggered push notifications to people who have your mobile app on their phone. If your agency was looking at investing in a mobile application you could incorporate iBeacon technology and using travel destinations you could push notifications or offers that are relevant to their location. Of course you could work with the destination to offer something here.
Reading about travel destinations is one thing, but video brings a destination to life and can help your business go viral.
Set up a YouTube channel for your business. Get creative or outlay the funds to brand your videos. Encourage your staff to film snippets of holidays, run a video competition through your database and award a prize for best travel video. This exercise does not need to cost you a lot of money, just a little time.
A great example of an agency using YouTube as an effective marketing tool is the STA World Traveller Internship. Do a YouTube search for STA World Traveller Intern and the results speak for themselves. You don’t need to get this fancy, but it’s a great example of how a little creativity can go a long way.
Blogging – share your knowledge
If you’re time poor engage your staff members to blog.
Your blog entries don’t have to be long, just interesting and of value to your visitors. Use this tool at every opportunity to let people know where your staff have travelled, what their recommendations are and any tips they might have. Run a competition to encourage your clients to blog and then post the winner to your website.
Reviews and check-ins
The saying ‘reputation is revenue’ couldn’t be more apt. Olery reports that 81% of travellers find travel reviews important and 49% won’t book a property without reading reviews. You can increase sales and maximise revenue with travel reviews, but how?
Encourage your clients to leave reviews on sites like Trip Advisor and Expedia, on social networking sites and on your blog. The user generated content can help to boost your website ranking, while the review itself can increase confidence in your products and services, and boost conversion rates.
Also keep an eye on reviews that accompany check-ins on Facebook and Foursquare.
Most importantly – don’t forget to nurture reviews and respond accordingly if the need arises.
Get to know your Google Analytics
You should have a Google Analytics account linked to your website.
The data that it collects can tell you so much about your users and what it is they want from your site, how they find it, what pages they read and how they leave. If you can interpret the data and help your users achieve their objectives more efficiently, you will reap the rewards.
Leverage your suppliers
Nothing new here, but how many of you are not using your suppliers to their full potential?
Lock in information nights and ask your suppliers to present or supply marketing material. Push them for exclusive value-ads for bookings made within a week of the event. Wheel and deal for giveaways to share with your newsletter subscribers on a monthly basis.
This a lot of information to consume in one go. If I was to give you one thing to take away, something that you can do today, then it would have to be get on your website. Make sure you’re aware of the experience you provide all of your users, whether they visit you from their desktop, laptop, tablets or mobile. Understand your users’ intentions and how they go about finding what they need to on your website.
This basic tip will help you make your website an essential part of your business.
P.S. We have a couple of free tools to give you an idea of how your website is performing. Check how your website looks on a range of mobile devices with our responsive website tool, and get your website’s SEO score by using our free website audit tool.