This post was contributed by Lindsay Young, who recently hosted a webinar on getting SMART about digital marketing strategies.
I’m being completely serious when I say that there are hundreds of things you can spend your digital marketing budget on. And when that budget is a modest one (like most small business budgets are), allocating your spending can be utterly overwhelming. You’ve probably read so many articles on what you should be spending money on that you have more ideas than dollars, and you’re not alone.
Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. And focus. It’s time to cut through the noise and get smart about your precious digital marketing budget.
Taking into account the unique elements of marketing and selling tours and activities, including consumer purchasing patterns and preferences, here are three smart ways for tours and activities providers to get the most out of their modest digital marketing budgets.
1. A GOOD WEBSITEAt this point, two things are certain:
- You can afford to have a website.
- You can’t afford not to have a website.
The internet is the top source for travel planning, used by 74% of leisure travellers, meaning that if you don’t have an online presence, you’ll be missed by almost three-quarters of the leisure market. And since the internet’s share of the travel planning pie doesn’t appear to be getting any smaller, you really can’t afford not to have a website.
A basic website is all you need, and the good news? You can afford it. Sure, complex websites can cost a pretty penny if they have fancy features and a team of people to keep them running, but most small tourism businesses don’t need all that.
The truth is, all you really need is:
- A website host
- A domain name
- Some key information about your business and your services and products and,
- A way for customers to book or purchase your services or products
That last one is a big one. At this point in time, more than half of travel reservations are made online. Customers enjoy the convenience of booking online, evidenced by the 30 – 40% increase in bookings tour and activity providers tend to see after implementing an online booking system.
I can hear some of you saying that your tours and activities are available to book on other sites, like OTAs, so what’s the point in having them bookable on your own site? Well, not only will you not have to pay out a commission to the OTA, but 65% of consumers booking online do so on the brand’s own website, indicating that consumers prefer booking directly with the company. If you allow bookings on your site, not only are you more likely to secure the booking over an OTA, you’ll keep more of the profits.
Now, there are certainly many other features that make a great website, like a blog, but above are the fundamentals that every tours and activities site should have if they want to be on travellers’ radars.
2. HIGH-QUALITY PHOTOS
When it comes to travel, images are your image.
“Consumers rarely purchase something if they have not seen, touched or felt it. They must ‘experience’ the product before purchase. For example trying on clothing or a pair of shoes. In the online travel space, travellers are only able to see our products, they cannot actually ‘experience’ them. In travel, our products are experiences, so this is very important.”
It’s true: selling travel online is tough. It relies on consumers trusting what they see and read online enough that they want to purchase it. Generally speaking, you can’t try-before-you-buy when it comes to tours and activities (although VR may soon change that). For now, your best tool for selling your experience is a library of excellent images.
An excellent image is beautiful, eye-catching, and nicely composed, and for the purpose of travel marketing, an excellent image needs to be so illustrative that people can imagine themselves doing that activity, visiting that market, or standing at that viewpoint. By providing consumers with something visual to latch on to, excellent images make the experience you’re trying to sell as tangible as possible.
Excellent images are a great value because they have a long, versatile life. You can use images on your website, on social media posts, on brochures, in advertising (print and digital), on business cards, on third-party distribution sites.
The best way to get a library of high-quality images is to hire a professional photographer to experience your tour or activity and take photos. There are plenty of sites to help you out with that, or you could ask your network of friends and colleagues if they have any recommendations. Professional photographers can be expensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment when you’re starting out or when you launch a new product.
Can’t afford a professional? Seek out photography schools in your area and contact them to see whether or not any of their students are looking for opportunities to grow their portfolio.
3. PUBLIC RELATIONS
While not traditionally a digital medium, public relations has infiltrated the digital space and continues to provide value at low costs. I love it because it’s ‘earned’ media, meaning people care (because you’re doing something right).
The biggest benefit of public relations in terms of digital marketing is the potential for backlinks from high ranking sites, which is great for SEO. Getting mentioned and linked to in a newspaper article is something search engines like to see, and as these build up, you’ll get rewarded accordingly.
The second way public relations provide value is through exposure, whether it’s a mention in an article, an entire article focused on you, or photos shared on social media, your brand and products are being exposed to new, qualified audiences that you probably wouldn’t be able to reach on your own.
Be open to public relations opportunities with press, bloggers, and influencers who fit your brand and talk to the audience you want to talk to. Host them on your tour or activity or help them out with information for an article they’re writing (HARO is a great resource for keeping up with reporter requests). Thought-leadership is a growing trend in public relations and is especially budget-friendly.
Basic PR doesn’t have to cost you a lot, but it’s often considered to be one of the best ways to get a return on your marketing budget, and that’s a big deal when you’re trying to stretch those precious dollar bills.
Want to learn more about smart digital marketing? Check out the webinar on digital marketing strategies for small tourism businesses.