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.
[Get to the bottom of the post and we have a link to a FREE ebook ’10 Digital Marketing Tips for Travel Agencies and Suppliers’]
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 to 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.
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 profile ssuch 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 as Facebook 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 a social media strategy with an agency before you set about posting, tweeting and pinning.
Follow and learn from some of the successful tourism operators. Photos and videos generally work a treat so you may want to look at Instagram and Pinterest as potential platforms.
Part of your social strategy might include social media advertising. Facebook and Twitter advertising is a great way to broaden your audience reach, drive email subscribers, and generate leads.
Email Marketing – Start building your database
Your email database is one of your most valuable assets. Encourage your existing database to subscribe to your email newsletter and then put in place a strategy to start expanding that database. Adding a subscription form to your website should be your first step – Your far better to get a visitors email address than to let them browse and leave, never to hear from them again.
Then sign up to an email newsletter service and build a responsive email newsletter template. Outline your strategy – How often will you send? What will you include in the newsletter? Just make sure it remains a valuable proposition to your subscribers as it’s all too easy to ‘unsubscribe’. A great newsletter will drive traffic to your site, encourage social shares, and generate leads.
Mobile marketing – get onto it
According to figures released by digital consultancy Nucleus in August 2014, 43% of all traffic to travel websites in June 2014 came from a mobile device, whilst smartphone booking value is up 198% year on year.
In other research, it was found that a quarter of all online corporate travel bookings will be made by a mobile device by 2017.
Mobile transactions are becoming mainstream in the travel industry – can you afford to ignore this space?
SMS might seem a little low-tech or old-school but little technology provides the penetration that SMS does. Consider that 96% of SMS are read and of these 90% of them are read 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.
You should also be aware of the mobile payment developments. In particular this has become a big deal since the iPhone 6 came with ApplePay.
Online Advertising – Google Adwords and Retargeting
Traditional banner advertising can be tough. Getting on high traffic sites can be expensive and click-through-rates ridiculously low. But done right, Google Adwords and Retargeting will provide you with a positive ROI. Why?
Google Adwords is only advertising to people who are actively showing intent. So advertise to them when they are looking for your product or service. But Adwords is competitive in the industry so you have to do it right otherwise it can be a dreadfully expensive exercise.
Retargeting or Remarketing (Google’s spin) is again more effective than traditional banner advertising because you are advertising only to people who have already visited your website. So there’s interest.
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 STA World Traveller. 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.
Don’t just stop at blogging either. Look into a broader content marketing strategy. Understand your customer journey and how you might be able to be of assistance ensuring you establish goodwill and help to convert more leads.
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. Here’s that ebook we promised 10 Digital Marketing Tips for Travel Agencies and Suppliers‘.