After research and analysis to decide the objectives of your destination marketing plan, your task as a DMO is to define the marketing strategies that will build your region and drive tourist traffic.
Most national, regional and local tourism bodies have tight budgets, which makes it even more important to have a smart approach to your marketing. Here are the strategies that we’ve found have the highest return on investment for destination marketers across the board.
1. Realise if your website needs a refresh
There’s no doubt about it: destination marketing organisations are judged by their websites. You can’t turn a blind eye to your website if it’s looking outdated, especially not when other DMOs are doing such an outstanding job.
It’s also crucial to be mobile ready with a responsive website. Mobile bookings in travel have grown by 1700% between 2011 and 2015, moving from 1% to 18% of online revenues (Frederic Gonzalo, 2016). Once implemented, you can easily track the results of your mobile-optimisation by monitoring average time spent on page, bounce rate, and conversion rates.
I love Visit Finland’s website strategy: it’s fun, quirky (you can even “Find your inner Finn” with a Finnish name generator), and nurtured by someone who clearly loves the country.
2. Build a compelling and memorable visual brand
Collaborate with your team, contacts, and hired experts to map out your web design, the fonts you use, the photos you put on your homepage, and the overall brand they contribute to. First impressions of a website are formed in 0.05 seconds, meaning that the above-the-fold content on your website (what you see before you scroll down) is crucial.
Make your visual content marketing reflect your destination’s aesthetics and character, make it compelling, and make it worth remembering. This will infuse everything you do.
For greenland.com, the message conveyed by the visual brand is adventure, nature, and being a pioneer. It’s effectively done:
3. Build a collaborative local network of suppliers
As 83% of tour and activity companies still work with traditional methods for their daily management, this means that digital customers are not able to encounter the products in an online channel (Phocuswright, 2016). There is a need for this to change fast, and for suppliers to realise that their business needs to get online to keep up with the wider travel industry.
Your job is to provide a leadership role in unifying your region’s many assets to market as one. One effective strategy to take this further is to encourage the use of a standardised booking system in your region. Not only does this allow you to share best practices, but also, having chosen software like TrekkSoft, you can build a network of suppliers that can cross-sell each other’s inventory through the Partner Network feature.
4. Become a local marketplace
Go beyond destination marketing by accepting online bookings for local tours, activities, and attractions on your website. We’ve found that tour and activity companies generate up to 40% more bookings by opening up online bookings, and it’s profitable for DMOs and DMCs to follow suit, just as Fjord Norway and Visit Cornwall have done.
Read more about our partnership with the official tourism board of Fjord Norway and, more recently, Visit Cornwall.
5. Double down on Instagram
Instagram is where it’s really happening for tourism companies on social media. This is especially the case for Gen Z, with the number of Facebook users on a steady decline while Instagram adoption continues climbing (Sparks & Honey, 2014).
For many travellers, one of the first things they do in a new destination is to find out what the hashtag set by the tourism board to get their images shared. On a recent trip to Greenland, I used #GreenlandPioneer, while here in Switzerland we have #InLoveWithSwitzerland. Set a hashtag for your destination, market it, monitor it, and share the really high-quality visuals that are selling your destination at no cost to you.
6. Power-up your tourism content marketing campaign
Content is huge: we’re firmly aware of that here at TrekkSoft. We publish ebooks regularly and we have an intense posting schedule for our blog. We also focus on inbound marketing that provides our audience with information that helps them and gives them value at no cost.
Visit Cornwall does a great job of understanding what their audience wants to know and responding to this with the content on their website:
When it comes to your blog, also make sure to allow for some flexibility. Content calendars are great, but the power of random is powerful too when it comes to marketing your destination. If your content has a clear call to action - for instance to your website’s bookable inventory or that of your suppliers - monitor conversion rates and see how your ROI changes with a content strategy in place.
7. Design powerful customer experiences
It’s imperative that you understand your customers’ mindset and properly align their experiences and expectations into one seamless moment, as Tom Martin encourages. This needs to flow into every customer experience that you provide, online and offline.
“In the case of the person who purchases online and then wants to pick up offline, that experience expectation is grounded by two key psychological motivators: speed and convenience. Any experiential clue or activity that impedes convenience or speed reduces the customer experience enjoyment and throws the entire expectation vs experience equation out of balance.”
- Tom Martin, Converse Digital
Perhaps your team monitors tweets of people arriving in your destination, so you can welcome them and mention the resources on offer at your tourist office. Or you might think of the free add-ons you can use to add value to bookings. It’s import to align expectations and experiences and go beyond satisfactory customer service in your every action.
8. Drive website traffic with PPC advertising
PPC, or pay per click, advertising is useful for any business, but it’s especially effective for destination marketing bodies.
With Google AdWords, you can place ads within the searches that your target audience are making online, such as “Booking a trip to Switzerland”. And because paid search caters to a market that has high intent, search ads typically result in higher CTRs and higher conversion rates than other types of advertising.
You can also benefit from powerful Facebook retargeting, or showing ads on Facebook to those who previously visited your website. We explain the basics of Facebook retargeting here to get you set-up and receiving quick results.
Get data-driven insights, best practice case studies, and action points in our latest research report.
- Tourism Marketing
- Travel Trends
- Business Management
- Revenue Management
- Travel Technology
- TrekkSoft’s Covid-19 Guide
When you’re selling tours and activities, the most important way to compete in your destination is by offering the best product. But you can’t ignore marketing. To be a successful tourism business, you need to reach your target audience via the right channels – be it Google searches, through partners, on review platforms like TripAdvisor, or word of mouth. Here’s our marketing masterclass for tour and activity companies, compiling the best advice we have on the core pillars for businesses like yours.
The Travel Customer Journey
To improve your marketing, start by thinking about the core parts of your customer decision journey, or the stages your customer passes through before and after becoming your customer.
In the marketing world, this often consists of Awareness – Consideration – Conversion – Loyalty – Advocacy.
However, we prefer Google’s outline of the “micro-moments” that exist in travel:
- I-want-to-get-away moments (dreaming moments)
- Time-to-make-a-plan moments (planning moments)
- Let’s-book-it moments (booking moments)
- Can’t-wait-to-explore moments (experiencing moments)
We also add “sharing moments” on the end, for the crucial moment when your guests become brand ambassadors and generate word-of-mouth for you.
To better understand your customer journey and how to strengthen every stage, head over to A marketing guide for each stage of the travel customer journey.
Your website is the cornerstone of your marketing. It’s your online shopfront, brand, and strongest tool to inspire guests to book your trip instead of your competitor’s.
To improve conversions on your website:
- Make your product the strongest it can be and differentiate from your competitors. Focus on this before doing other actions to improve conversions.
- Improve the user experience on your website.
- Track your results and use A/B testing to make your conversions the best they can be.
- Plan ahead and optimize your website before high season kicks in.
- Booking Conversion GuideTo get more booked customers from your website visitors, download our Booking Conversion Guide. It comes with a printable checklist that you can print out for reference.Get your free e-book
To get your website found, you need to think about search engine optimization: SEO.
As TrekkSoft’s Nicole Kow writes in her article SEO in 2018: How tour and activity operators can drive website traffic, Google’s algorithm is way smarter than we think. It’s capable of understanding meanings instead of phrases, which is why overloading pages with keywords is no longer effective or relevant.
It means that we need to focus on the search experiences instead of figuring out how to beat algorithms. Key takeaways:
- Local search optimization is more relevant than ever
- Offer rich content experiences with great images and videos
- Focus on providing meaningful answers along the most important moments of your customer’s travel journey
In short, be there and be useful.
- Seo ChecklistNicole also recommends that you download our SEO checklist and run through it every 2 weeks to keep your website search engine-optimised.Get your checklist
Marketing your tours and activities is all about effective distribution.
Back in 2016, we ran our very first distribution survey. Of the 41.3% of business (out of 209 participants) who sell their tours on OTAs, Viator was the leading OTA of choice, followed by Expedia and Get Your Guide. Not much has changed since then.
Although marketplaces like Viator and Expedia were driving under 11% of all tour and activity sales according to separate TrekkSoft data in 2018, this is growing.
Phocuswright has predicted that the online reseller market share will double by 2020, as suppliers look to these platforms to expand into new markets and reach new customers.
In data from our 2018 Tourism Survey, we’re seeing the booking share rise for marketplaces. Here is the answer from over 750 tour operators on what marketplaces give them the best return:
Spotlight on Civitatis, the leading Spanish speaking marketplace
We compare two OTA giants: Viator vs Expedia Local Expert
Channel Manager 101: How to connect to online marketplaces to reach a larger market
Direct offline bookings
With an all-in-one booking system like TrekkSoft, you can manage all of your bookings in one place: bringing your phone, email, and walk-in bookings together with your online reservations.
Local point of sale bookings
With a Point of Sale (POS) Desk, you can seamlessly process walk-in bookings and also give your agents a tool to boost their sales on any device.
The TrekkSoft POS Desk interface consists of three simple tabs – Activity, Calendar and Last Bookings – making it easy for you and your agents to find what you’re looking for.
Think of the POS Desk as a professional terminal to showcase and sell your trips, whether at your store or via third parties such as hotel concierge desks or visitor centres. It’s fully compatible with your iPad or Android tablet.
Build a stronger distribution strategy by diversifying the channels you use: 21 distribution channels every tour operator should consider using
How’s your social media presence? Today, brand identity continues to be tightly tied to social media and user-generated content. To define your social media strategy as a tour or activity operator or destination, we advise looking to your consumer behaviour before anything else.
Which social media platforms are your customers using? Where do they talk about your business and your destination?
You need to ensure you’re active on these platforms, both in terms of sharing new content and engaging with people who talk about your products. For most tour and activity companies, we see them focusing on:
Facebook.For many tour & activity companies, Facebook is a key part of your online presence. It’s worth thinking about your Facebook profile as another shopfront for your business: it helps to define your brand, facilitates communication with booked guests and potential customers, and gives out credibility signals for whether you’re a trustworthy business to book with. Post regularly, share content of your tours and destination (including user-generated content), and engage with your followers. Over time, build up Facebook reviews by providing an exceptional customer experience.
Instagram.This is one of the best marketing tools out there to define and consolidate brand identity as a travel experience provider. Operators and destinations with well-thought-out strategies, originality, and regular posts are the ones standing out.
Among tour and activity providers, we don’t see as much focus on Twitter. However, if your customers are using the platform then it’s worth being there too – especially if you receive tweets with questions or last-minute communication about your activities.
Saying that, if you can’t stay on top of a social media platform and provide speedy answers: it’s not worth being there. Having a social media profile is a signal that you are open to communication through it – you can’t afford to miss messages.
For each social media page you have, you also need to be happy with the brand identity it gives off. Does your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter page match how you want to be perceived as a travel provider? If not, identify the issues now and make a plan to improve them. There’s always a chance your potential guests will check you out on social media before booking – or find you through it.
One final piece of advice for social media: it’s important not to spread yourself too thin. If there’s one platform that most of your guests use and which brings you most results, it’s perfectly acceptable to focus more on that!
Messaging Apps. For a more direct way to speak to your customers, messaging apps are becoming the fastest and most convenient way to connect and enhance their travel experience. According to Business Insider, the average smartphone owner uses 27 apps on their phone per month and the top four messaging apps (Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and Viber) have more monthly active users than the top four social networking apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+ .
Travel providers need to consciously manage their reputation online – guests can and will find everything! Saying that, you can’t hide bad reviews: the only real strategy is to provide incredible customer experience, accepting you’ll get the occasional bad review, and dealing with these quickly, professionally, and honestly.
For our Travel Trends Report 2018, we looked at the commonalities of the top tour & activity companies processing bookings with TrekkSoft.
No surprises here: the top twenty by revenue generally had excellent online reviews. These providers had:
- an average TripAdvisor rating of 4.81, with 60% boasting a perfect 5.0.
- 966 total reviews on average.
A good TripAdvisor ranking is the industry’s worst kept secret – but it’s not a quick fix.
It takes unwavering dedication to quality and excellence across the entire business at every stage of the travel customer journey: before, during and after the activity. Without prioritising your customer experience, you’re never going to reach the upper echelons of TripAdvisor glory – no matter how many quick fixes you try.
Half of your potential customers are likely to already be on site. So, how do you attract and convert the ever-connected and spontaneous travel segment in your destination?
A key part of the business model of SANDEMANs New Europe, the largest free walking tour provider, is their partnerships with accommodation providers in destination, especially hostels. Hostel guests can sign up for departures for the walking tour at the front desk – or just be in the lobby at the set time to be picked up by the guide. This is great news for guests, and perfect for unscheduled mornings where they want an easy way to see a city without hassle or advanced planning.
To tell if your marketing is working as a tour & activity company, you need to be looking at:
- Website visits
- Conversion rates
- Number of bookings
- Number of no-shows
An effective marketing strategy for tourism companies should focus on your customer and intentionally guide them throughout their customer journey. To see how effectively your efforts are working to move your customers along the journey, you can use specific metrics to measure your performance.
But don’t get caught up in vanity metrics. It’s fine to focus on just a few important KPIs, or key performance indicators, and leave it at that. You don’t need to check how many Facebook followers you have every day.
Each metric you track should be focused on leading towards a paid customer who turns up and has a great time on your tour or activity.