The Ultimate Guide to Creating a Travel & Tourism Marketing Strategy
Creating a marketing strategy for your travel and tourism company can help set you apart from the competition! If you need some guidance on how to begin and where to reach new customers, continue reading!
The COVID-19 pandemic placed an extreme burden on the travel and tourism industry. Between government-mandated shelter-in-place orders and individuals’ reluctance to venture far from home, Forbes estimates that travel and hospitality businesses worldwide lost an estimated $935 billion in 2020. The OECD estimates that international travel revenue decreased 80%. Shoring up travel and tourism is going to take a multi-pronged approach of restoring travelers’ confidence, offering clear information to domestic and international travelers, and building more resilience into your business through diverse offerings and quality services. Another way your hospitality business can build back is through thoughtful marketing.
Preparing to meet the pent-up demand for travel and tourism means being ready with an updated travel and tourism marketing strategy. Why have one? Marketers with a documented marketing strategy are 313% more likely to achieve their business goals. Just as keeping a planner helps individuals stay organized, having a marketing plan maps out the inputs your travel business will need to achieve its goals and how to put them in motion to enjoy the success you dream about.
A marketing plan can also help you remain competitive. It will assist you with identifying target markets and understanding their wants. Marketing plans help you set measurable goals for sales and finances, and map out how you’ll reach customers and prospects with information about your offerings. In short, a travel and tourism marketing plan shows how you’ll tell the world how awesome your properties and services are.
In this guide, we offer a basic flow for developing a marketing plan as well as strategies and tactics to consider. With a little planning and creativity, you can market your travel business like a pro!
Step 1: Conduct Market Research Among Key Stakeholders
Before you can begin creating a marketing strategy, you need to understand the why behind your need for one. You also need to understand where your brand has been… where it currently is… and where you want to take it. To do this, you need to sit with key stakeholders and identify:
- What is your unique value proposition - the thing that truly separates you from your competitors.
- Who are your top competitors?
- If your brand were a person, what five words would you use to describe them?
- What are the top challenges you face when it comes to growing your business?
- Who are the dream clients you aspire to work with?
- Who are your advocates?
- What social media channels do your audiences hang out on? Are you on them?
- What is your goal for a marketing strategy? To grow brand recognition, gain clients, establish thought leadership opportunities for your executive team? All of the above?
You could find answers to these questions through focus groups, phone or online surveys, one-on-one interviews, or a combination of all. It’s best to employ a mix of quantitative and qualitative research when setting a marketing strategy for travel. Quantitative travel research will give you the “what” of your strategy while qualitative travel research will tell you the “why.”
Step 2: Establish Your 4 ‘Ps’ of Marketing
Having a marketing strategy means having plans in place to deal with both expected and unexpected situations. A marketing strategy helps you position your product to the right audience, at the right time for the right price. You should build your marketing strategy around the “Four Ps” of marketing:
- Product: The goods or services you offer.
- Price: The amount of money you charge for your product.
- Placement: Where or how your product is available for purchase.
- Promotion: What you do to communicate your product’s features and benefits to your target audiences.
Many variables affect your business success in the travel and tourism industry: competition, climate, current events. But you can control the four Ps.
Once you have decided on the four Ps for your product, one very important part of a marketing strategy that every business should establish early on are goals and key performance indicators (KPIs). What do you hope to achieve through your offerings? Increased sales? Higher volume? More frequent repeat business? And how will you know you’re getting there? KPIs are any metric that indicates success for your business. Ten businesses could designate 10 different KPIs for measuring their success and they would all be correct.
Spend some time creating meaningful goals and KPIs that will define success for your travel business before you start working on tactics.
Step 3: Know Your Customers
It’s imperative to be close to your data when developing a marketing strategy. In order to do this, you need a customer relationship management system (CRM). A CRM will help you accurately track your company’s interactions with a current or potential customer. Every phone call, email, and website page visit gives you incredible insights into who your customers are and what they are interested in. And with 80% of consumers more likely to purchase from brands that provided personalized experiences, you’re leaving big money on the table by not using a CRM.
What’s more, CRMs allow you to track the entire customer journey. There are five main stages in a typical travel customer’s lifecycle:
At each stage, a CRM can help you serve the customer through:
- Generating brand awareness
- Acquiring leads
- Converting leads into customers
- Providing superior support
- Driving upsells and referrals
Successfully navigating leads and customers through these stages results in more business and profits for you, and a more customized experience for your customer.
You’ll want to integrate your CRM with your other business tools. Connecting your CRM to your ticketing system helps you track orders and deliver promptly. Integrating your CRM with your content marketing platform helps you see what content is resonating best with your customer base and what knowledge gaps you still need to fill to encourage leads to convert. Joining your CRM with your phone system makes it easy for your call center agents or sales representatives to offer better customer support by having quick access to a customer’s purchase history or a potential customer’s journey through your sales funnel.
Step 4: Break Down Your Strategy Into Execution Channels
Marketing covers a huge span of online and offline channels. And studies show that having a strategy that covers multiple channels greatly impacts the bottom line. The numbers don’t lie:
- Brands experience a 287% higher purchase rate when using three or more channels
- Average SMS ROI of approximately 2755%
- The average order is 13% more per order with an omnichannel approach vs. single channel
- Customer retention rates are 90% higher for omnichannel vs. single channel
A website is a critical component to your business success. It’s the central hub where your guests find information regarding travel packages and services, booking and reservations, travel details, and more. It’s one of the main places where your prospects are going to convert.
Your website is a reflection of your brand, and you want to convey a friendly, no-hassle experience to your travelers in the form of aesthetically pleasing imagery, captivating copy, easy-to-navigate site setup, branding, and phone numbers to direct your customers’ questions to the right place.
Your website’s user experience (UX) must offer information that answers all sorts of questions your guests may have about your services: pricing, amenities, loyalty programs, housekeeping, shuttle service, meeting rooms, excursions, and more. Displaying those details on your website and keeping lines of communication open helps your guests have a better experience with your brand. To make your website stand out and attract customers, you’ll want to consider adding these features to enhance your ability to communicate all this information.
Real, Professional Photos
People want to see real, professional images of your product or service. It conveys authenticity and adds value. Your prospects can sniff out a stock photo from a mile away - don’t do it. Give your website visitors a real taste of what they’ll get if they book their stay or travel with you. Invest in a professional photographer to take photos that show off your hospitality and the beauty of your destinations in the best light possible. Update them for the seasons as your business grows. It will be money well spent.
Phone Numbers in Prominent Places
Phone calls are still one of the fastest ways to get specific information. And, it remains the most preferred method of communication. When talking with a live staffer, Newcastle Web Design notes that callers have a better user experience. They’re able to get urgent answers and can ask probing questions in real-time. And, posting a phone number on your website builds trust between you and your prospect.
Easily accessible phone numbers for guests to contact you about sales and support information is essential to a good experience. This is where virtual numbers add value, providing reliability, exceptional call quality, and little to no cost towards the consumer.
- Toll Free Phone Numbers. Guests can dial into your call center from one country for free.
- Vanity Phone Numbers. Similar to a toll free number, vanity virtual numbers can be dialed from one country but use numbers that are easy to remember or spell out a brand name.
- UIFN. A UIFN (universal international freephone number) is a global toll free number that can be dialed from multiple countries.
- Local DID + Caller ID. Establish a local presence and engage more with customers with two-way voice services plus caller ID.
People love chatbots on websites because much like phone calls, chatbots offer instantaneous answers to very specific questions, resolution support issues, updates to existing itineraries, reservations and bookings, etc. IBM estimates that chatbots can answer up to 80% of common questions.
Chatbots are great tools to integrate with your global phone system. They can save your business time and money by automatically handling queries to questions that would otherwise fill up your call queues and overwhelm the staff.
Similar to instant gratification phone calls and chatbots offer, an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page is a perennial favorite among travelers because they house quick answers to, well, the most frequently asked questions.
This common feature of websites saves visitors time by signaling where they can find digestible, short-form information on hot topics. FAQ sections also save your agents time by heeding off individual questions you hear all the time in the call queue - giving your staff more time for more taxing customer support and conversion activities.
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing is strategically curating written articles, visuals, audio, and video to encourage conversions for your business. Essentially, it’s the process of providing your customers value in hopes that it will keep them informed and trusting of your brand so they will eventually buy, refer, and repeat. It means using a combination of the tactics below to promote your business across a variety of channels and touchpoints. Let’s look at the most common travel and tourism content marketing tactics.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the activities you can perform to ensure your targeted audience can find your website via search engines. This includes search engine marketing, improving your website’s content, using specially formatted text or coding to communicate directly with search engines, creating online business listings, and working with other websites to gain inbound links.
SEO is important because search engines deliver a targeted audience to your site. People use search engines to find the information they need right then and there. The first page of search engine results gets 95% of all search engine traffic. Very few people click through to the second, third, or fourth pages.
You want to optimize your travel and tourism website to be discoverable by search engines and ranked highly for the keywords of your choice. Unfortunately, there is no easy formula for getting your site on the first page of search results. Google, Bing, Yahoo! and other search engines constantly update and tweak their algorithms that respond to search queries and deliver search results. But there are a few things you can do to make your site more search engine- and user-friendly that will always count toward a better search engine ranking:
- Make your site relevant with engaging, thoughtful content. Sites that contain original, organized content centered around a well-defined topic (like your organization and its activities) will always outperform sites that are not well-organized or thoughtfully written. Take some time to review the text on your site, and ask yourself: Is it understandable? Is it grammatically correct? Is it non-repetitive? If the answer to any of these questions is no, revise it.
- Use relevant images with alt text. Alt text is text that shows up in an image box when you hover your mouse over it or when the image does not load within your browser. This text tells search engines what the image is about, giving the engine a better idea of what your overall site is about.
- Make your site useful and current enough that other sites want to link to you. Although search engines no longer consider the number of outbound links you host when deciding how to rank you, they still consider inbound links – links on other sites that lead to your site. The best way to build your popularity is slowly, by encouraging related/similar sites to link back to you and by earning linkbacks through hosting updated, relevant content.
- Optimize your website for small screens. 79% of consumers used a mobile device in 2020 to make a purchase. Format your website to be more mobile responsive or risk discouraging visits.
- Localize your content. Make sure your NAP is consistent across all your organic channels. NAP stands for name, address, and phone number, and it’s essential to ensure that every major search engine can verify your company’s existence.
- Write useful page headlines. Having a clear page title is important for indexing and website equity. But, it also helps your visitors know exactly what they can expect from that page they landed on. When writing page headlines, consider how your page will be categorized by search engine crawlers and the actions you want your visitors to take. For example, travel and hospitality organizations might use the following page titles and call-to-actions to increase engagement:
- 7-Day Italy Adventure > Book Now
- Atlanta Hotels > Check Rates
- Europe Cruise Fleets > Learn More
- Flight Details > Shop Now
- Travel Restrictions > Stay Updates
- Track your website’s progress. Google Analytics helps brands track and report a myriad of website performance metrics. Coupled with call tracking software, companies can measure the reach and ROI of where their inbound calls are sourced from (direct website traffic or organic results) within Google Analytics or their VoIP provider dashboard.
Once you’ve figured out what you want your travel and tourism website to be known for, support your SEO goals with rich content on a company blog. Use your keyword research to develop and execute an ongoing series of blog articles - with written word, images, video, and audio content - that feature those top-level keywords travelers use to find information about their next travel purchase.
Getting content for your travel & tourism blog is easier than you might think when you view every marketing deliverable as potential content. Are you sending a promotional email to your contact database? Turn the email into a blog post. Have you created some print collateral recently? Pick content from those pieces to create several blog articles (and some even snappier social media posts). Everything and anything can be talked about from the right angle.
Testimonial & Reviews
Word of mouth remains one of the most effective marketing tactics. In addition to friends and family sharing recommendations, we now have sites like Yelp, Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, and Travel + Leisure where travelers can share detailed experiences and recommendations for travel. Even short-term rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO act as de facto review sites because of the public reviews guests leave for each property.
Be proactive about being visible on review sites. Ask your customers or guests to leave an online review about your business. Their testimonials will carry more weight than most, if not all, of your marketing. Place outstanding reviews in a prominent place on your website and within social media posts. Thank the people who offer a positive review and respond to any negative reviews with gratitude for their feedback and promise to do better going forward.
As tools like smartphones and video editing apps become more accessible, the popularity of video as a marketing tool is skyrocketing. Why use a still photo or words to describe your destination when you can show a viewer exactly what your destination looks and sounds like? As of last year, 86% of businesses used video as one of their marketing tools. Furthermore, among marketers promoting their business with video, 93% say it’s an important part of their strategy.
If you’re not using video, what are you waiting for? Nowadays, brand loyalists and casual customers alike don’t always expect a company’s videos to be polished and slick. People value authenticity in marketing. They don’t necessarily care that a video was filmed on a smartphone as long as they perceive the story the video tells to be genuine.
Some ideas for video marketing content:
- A tour of your property, cruise ship, leading travel destinations, etc.
- A walk-through of your services
- Interviews with internal advocates and customers
Remember to provide your viewers with a website domain and phone number at the end of your videos so they can reach out and engage with your brand.
3. Email Marketing
Email is one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to reach your potential customer base. Even with an estimated 306.4 billion emails sent per day, people still prefer receiving news and other messages via email. 58% of people check their email before reading news or social media, and 60% want to receive promotional information via email rather than through other channels.
Email is a great way to market your travel and tourism business because it allows you to send personalized messages. You can segment your customer list to send more relevant promotions and information to customer subgroups while allowing customers to segment themselves by signing up for certain types of emails they’re interested in. You can let customers control how frequently they hear from you by using automated email campaigns that run at designated frequencies.
To be really effective at email marketing, you’ll want to first build an email list. You should start with existing customers. Collect new contacts everywhere you have a potential customer touchpoint:
- Web-based subscription forms
- Gated online content and coupons
- Trade shows or expos
- Webinar registrations
What kinds of emails should you send? That depends on the exact nature of your travel business. In general, you’ll want to set up the following types of emails, many of which you can create in advance and tell your email marketing platform to automatically send when your CRM tells your email platform that a recipient has reached a certain milestone or completed a certain conversion:
- Welcome emails: when someone signs up to receive your emails.
- Follow-up emails: sent a few days to one week after someone signs up. These offer extended information about a topic or more detailed information about your offerings.
- Milestone emails: to recognize (sometimes with a discount) when someone has a birthday or reaches an anniversary of supporting your business.
- Newsletters: to keep subscribers apprised of what’s new with your business, how to maximize their travel, and how to discover offerings they haven’t yet considered.
- Informational emails: including product explanations, trip updates, and responses to current events that affect your operations.
- Confirmation emails: sent when someone makes a purchase or completes a conversion.
- Abandoned cart emails: sent when someone adds a trip to the online cart but then leaves your website without purchasing it. These emails should remind the recipient of the benefits of the service(s) they intended to purchase and offer customer service or tech support if needed.
- Thank you emails: sent when someone makes a purchase or converts.
There’s a lot to email marketing. Make sure that your email templates always point back to a relevant landing page to your website or customer support contact. For example, if you’re sending an informational email regarding new 2022 trips to Asia, be sure to include a CTA that links to a landing page where those newly-added itineraries live.
Paid Search Ads
When people are searching for specific information, one of the first places they go is an online search engine. Make sure your brand is included in their search results by bidding on paid search ad spaces. Paid search ads appear next to organic search results. They look similar to organic search links but are sold in instantaneous mini-auctions among companies vying for potential customers searching for related information. You only pay for the ad if someone clicks on it.
Your business can appear within search results about your niche of the travel and tourism industry when you run ad campaigns on search engine platforms like Google, Yahoo! or Bing. With the free training those platforms provide, it’s easy to set up an ad campaign that targets people searching for a set of keywords you determine. You can also target client lookalike audiences based on their past searches and general demographics. Be sure to establish a reasonable budget for paid search campaigns and spend some time refining a tightly-focused keyword list that describes the core of your travel/tourism business. With millions of people using search engines each day, you could easily blow through hundreds or thousands of dollars every day in paid search ad clicks. At the same time, you want to bid competitively so your ads actually appear high up in search results and have the chance for potential customers to see them.
Programmatic advertising is the use of technology and automation in the buying and selling of online media. Programmatic ad platforms track your site’s visitors as they surf the web, serving them ads in established display ad spaces relevant to what they’ve already viewed. These retargeted ads encourage the user to revisit past site pages and take action.
So say you had visitors who viewed your website’s destination page but didn’t convert. Instead of relying on them to come back to that page, programmatic or retargeted ads pull through on their most visited third-party sites and social media platforms. This is a cost-effective way to advertise online and remind customers of your brand and the services you can provide.
Once the bane of homes everywhere, direct mail is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Consumers are more accepting of direct mailers for products and services, with open rates landing at 90% and 39% of consumers purchasing from a new business that sent a direct mailer.
When creating a direct mailer, consider the shareability aspect. RetailWire has found that households collaboratively discuss 88% of key purchases, including travel. And it’s proven to be effective at generating sales: a study by Go Inspire Group found that people who received a direct mail piece spent five times as much on the advertised product as another group who only received emails about the same product. Even better, a third group who received emails and direct mail spent more than six times as much as the email-only group.
If you want to make direct mail a part of your marketing strategy, the U.S. Small Business Administration recommends these steps:
- Start with existing customers: Your customers remain loyal because they know the services you provide them. Two-thirds of people discard mail from companies they haven’t heard of. Don’t waste money on people who don’t care about you (yet).
- Target your direct mail: Beyond your customers, send promotional direct mail pieces to people potentially interested in your product. The USPS offers resident demographics through their Every Door Direct Mail program. You could also rent targeted mailing lists through a variety of list companies.
- Use thoughtful design: Mail pieces with interesting visuals, minimal, readable text, and a clear call-to-action perform the best.
- Extend a worthy offer: Speaking of calls-to-action, tell the recipient what you want them to do and make them a deal so sweet they can’t resist taking advantage of it. You’re already investing a fair amount of money in a direct mail campaign. If you want it to result in conversions, your offer must be great.
5. Public Relations
Public relations (PR) is the strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. It is about influencing, engaging, and building relationships with your key audiences across multiple platforms such as paid media (including advertising), earned media (media appearances), and owned media (like your website or social media pages). While PR has a reputation (and history) of being a bunch of spin, modern public relations is much more about telling your organization’s story in an honest way that responds to audience concerns so that your organization can succeed.
With that in mind, what stories about your travel or tourism company could you tell to respond to travelers’ concerns? What benefits of engaging with your company could you explain, and through which channels, to reach potential customers and get on their short list of travel-related companies to patronize?
To run a successful PR program, Aventur Marketing advises following a few key points:
Know Your Audience
Who are they? What are their demographics? What are their lifestyles like? What do they want from a travel or tourism company? Furthermore, where are they “hanging out” when it comes to the media? Do they watch television, or prefer to read newspapers and magazines? Do they frequent certain travel blogs? Do they congregate on Facebook, Twitter, or both? Meet your audiences where they are with your message.
Build Relationships With Key Travel Media Professionals
It’s not enough to distribute a press release about your new property or renovations and hope every publication you emailed will print it. Publishers receive hundreds of releases and media advisories weekly. They won’t pay attention to your press release unless it appeals directly to their readers, and they trust you to provide high-quality content.
Build relationships with travel writers and bloggers from a targeted list of travel and tourism publications you assemble that you know your audience consumes. Know what these writers enjoy writing about, and provide them with related, substantive content even if it doesn’t directly promote your business. They’ll come to trust you as a reliable source of information that makes their job easier. Then, when you do have an item to promote about your tourism company, they’ll be much more receptive to working with you to reach their audience.
Customize Your Pitches to Different Niches
You can’t pitch the same topic to every publication and expect them all to publish it. Customize your story pitch to the publication and medium. For example, your convention and visitors bureau’s (CVB) news about a new facility opening might easily win placement in your local newspaper because of the local business aspect. But to win placement in an out-of-state publication, you’ll have to explain why out-of-state visitors should stop at your shiny new facility.
Maybe it’s the free concierge services you offer for local attractions? Or maybe it’s the ticket discounts you can only get by visiting your new location? In addition, a travel-oriented Instagram account is going to want photos to accompany your written information. A travel sage YouTuber is going to want video B-roll, or the opportunity to visit and have your staff guide them around as they film for their YouTube channel. Customize the format in which you offer information to dramatically increase the chances different media will pick it up.
Get to Know the Local DMOs & CVBs
Speaking of CVBs, make friends with these staff right away! Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) and CVBs are groups whose job is to promote a local area to tourists, business visitors, and people thinking of relocating there. They know all the best information and movers/shakers related to travel and tourism in the area. If they come to know your business as an interesting, can’t-miss part of the local experience, they could provide very valuable paid or earned marketing for you that is backed by their authority in the local travel arena. They could also help boost your business by sending journalists assigned to cover your area to talk with you about your business. These connections can result in greater web visibility through increased SEO and exposure.
Again, travel publications receive hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches weekly. You have a few seconds to grab their attention with your email or phone call, so get to the point of your news quickly. One or two paragraphs is usually the maximum needed before a journalist or writer will decide to reach out to you for more information.
If you’re unsure about how to craft a winning PR pitch or how to start building relationships with journalists, check out Destination British Columbia’s excellent guide to travel media relations strategies and tactics.
Preparing for the New Travel Market
COVID-19 changed everything about the way travel and tourism brands need to market themselves to remain competitive as economies open back up. It's more important now than ever for CMOs of travel and tourism brands to reevaluate their marketing strategies to accommodate growing customer expectations. And a “wait and see” approach won’t help you make up for lost dollars as people begin to travel again.
We hope that this guide will help you to evaluate your current strategy and make the necessary changes that will help your organization thrive now and in the future.
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