Travel restrictions are easing, but the challenge is by no means over. Tour operators are facing new guidelines and a crisis of consumer confidence, both of which threaten to put a huge dent in bookings for the foreseeable future.
Effective marketing is more important than ever, but so is tightening the purse strings. That's where affiliate marketing can help.
Read more: (Re)Start Travel Post COVID-19
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a form of performance-based advertising, which means you only pay when you get results. As a tour operator, you can arrange for influencers or publishers (also known as affiliates) to promote your brand and pay a commission only when you make a booking.
Because you only pay for valid conversions and commission rates are agreed in advance, affiliate marketing can deliver guaranteed return on investment.
You can learn more about the basics in my affiliate marketing guide for merchants.
Benefits of affiliate marketing for tour operators
Affiliate marketing opens doors to advertising opportunities that would otherwise be risky or unaffordable. If you can offer an attractive commission while protecting your profit margins, you can work with leading travel influencers and publishers without any upfront cost and without risk.
There are countless affiliates who can get your brand in front of the right audience, from travel bloggers and vloggers to voucher sites. You can even arrange display advertising through an affiliate programme, paying only when someone clicks and converts. (And, don't worry, you won't have to pay if they cancel later.)
Commission rates are flexible and can be adapted to suit your needs. Perhaps you're willing to pay a bigger referral fee for family bookings, for example, or want to decrease rates during peak times. This means you can guarantee profits and maximise them, too.
Read more: Managing cancellations and refunds for tours and activities
3 tips to help your affiliate campaign succeed
1. Keep your messaging up to date
Many consumers are having trouble keeping up with the latest travel rules and regulations. If you want them to have confidence in your brand, it's crucial to keep your messaging up to date, both in advertisements and on your owned media.
For example, you don't want to advertise countries under travel bans or mention closed attractions in tour itineraries. There's a lot to keep up with but taking stock of what information you have, where it’s posted, and updating it as necessary will be well worthwhile.
It's also crucial that booking systems are properly updated and synchronised. The last thing you need is customers setting their hearts on unavailable slots.
Read more: Benefits of the TrekkSoft booking system for tour companies
2. Get more customer reviews
Customer reviews can be one of the biggest factors in travel decisions, and the effect is likely to be amplified due to the nervousness caused by coronavirus.
So, now is a great time to get in touch with previous customers and ask if they'd be willing to give you a rating or write a testimonial. Take advantage of the fact that customers are likely sympathetic towards the industry right now and possibly keen to reminisce about their travel experiences.
Think about ways to encourage future customers to leave reviews, too. For example, it's good practice to email attendees the day after a tour, asking them to share their experiences on TripAdvisor.
Finally, consider recruiting brand ambassadors through your affiliate campaign. It's a case of finding relevant influencers, inviting them on one of your tours, and asking them to share their experience through their platforms (along with affiliate links). These reviews are great for quoting on your marketing materials.
Read more: 7 reasons customer reviews are important for your tourism website
3. Focus on retargeting
Different audiences are responding to the coronavirus crisis in different ways. What were once high-quality prospects may now be unlikely customers. So, it's important to understand new behaviours and evaluate your marketing accordingly.
One of the best things you can do is focus on retargeting. People showing an interest in your tours, especially at these early stages of recovery, are much more likely to convert.
Setting up affiliate marketing with TrekkSoft
TrekkSoft users can easily set up their affiliate links on publisher websites and track bookings that come from these publishers.
The first way is by setting up a tracking link with Google Analytics and using Custom Campaigns to monitor performance. Use this Google campaign builder to set up a tracking link. Once this is setup, you can monitor the traffic referred to your website from the publisher. It’s a good idea to direct browsers to a specific tour page where they can book a tour, rather than your homepage.
The second way is by setting up an Agent account with the name of the publisher, then generating a “Book Now” button code to add to the publisher’s site. When generating your booking button, make sure to select the right activity to be displayed, and assign the right agent to the booking widget. This lets you track the number of bookings made by users on the publishers site.
Learn all about our Agents feature here