Digital marketing is an essential facet of success for any company, regardless of the industry. However, for the local travel business, it is a non-negotiable aspect of success. There is simply no way a travel business can survive without having an integral digital presence. However, remember to develop your local travel business brand before getting started with the marketing aspect.
Local travel businesses must create an online presence that is prevalent, visual, and very attractive. Without a well thought out digital marketing strategy, no small travel business can hope to succeed or survive in the highly competitive travel industry today, as most travelers make use of online websites to create travel plans.
Tip for all local travel businesses: A large part of your budget should be directed towards the creation and maintenance of a digital presence.
Before you create a digital strategy, incorporate these two aspects into your marketing plan.
#1 Create a Niche
The only way a small and local travel business can be successful in such a competitive industry is by creating a niche for themselves.
In a digital world where websites like expedia.com, priceline.com, and airbnb.com exist, it is hard for local travel businesses to envision a successful future. How exactly are they to compete with these million dollar businesses which are globally prevalent?
The best tactic for a travel business then is to focus on a specific area and to cater to a particular target audience. The fact is the new generation of millennials adore being unique, and if local travel businesses can manage to create a niche, they will be able to gain, and retain, a larger customer base.
#2 Sell to the Traveler, not the Tourist
Small travel agencies have to cater to the traveler, not the tourist, and create experiences which are off the beaten path.
Recently, I went on a family vacation to Jamaica. During the planning stage, I explored all possible options – the all-inclusive resorts, five star luxury hotels – but in the end, nothing on expedia.com or other similar sites made sense. I was traveling with another family, and we had four kids aged between 3 and 11 with us. Spending 10 grand on a luxury vacation therefore made no sense.
As I began to research and dig deeper into the Google search results, I found another option. A local villa that I could rent for a week, in a gorgeous setting, and with a housekeeper, cook, and butler. I chose a location most tourists ignore, in Port Antonio (where the infamous Blue Lagoon was filmed), and realized that I was saving thousands of dollars.
My experience in Jamaica was nothing short of awesome. We had a private villa, babysitter services, gourmet meals, and we avoided the crowds as well. The kids had a pool, they could make as much noise as they wanted, and there were glorious sightseeing spots at easy distances. It was, quite simply, the best vacation ever!
The website I used said: “Port Antonio is for the traveler, not the tourist” and that tagline I realized would be the basis of success for any local travel business. Sell your business in a way which suggests exclusivity and customized packages for the traveler. Avoid tourist traps, and create a vacation experience by partnering with other local businesses that the giant companies cannot hope to provide.
#1 You need a Custom Website.
Yes, you can create a website from a template but will it make people take your business seriously?
If a customer lands on that template-based website, would they be willing to spend hundreds and thousands of their hard earned dollars or be confident in your travel business when compared to sites like expedia.com? Not likely. You need a custom website that is state of the art in terms of technology.
Your travel website should be:
- SEO Friendly
- Extremely Visual
- User Friendly
- Easily Updatable
It is very important for local travel businesses to have a website that is regularly updated with new images and seasonal promotions, and is easily navigable. Learn to enhance your website with responsive web design – it helps you reach people via portable devices. Each page should tell its own story and be a landing page. There should be call to actions which lead the customer to call or to engage with your website in some way.
#2 You need to have a Paid Search Budget
I am a big fan of organic search engine marketing and try to have clients focus on organic rather than paid marketing. However, where the local travel businesses are concerned, I have to promote a well-developed paid search strategy. Travel traffic has high and low seasons, so businesses cannot create a yearly strategy with equal distribution of their budget. They have to spread their budget out according to the different travel seasons.
The paid search option allows small businesses to create a personalized marketing strategy that caters to their specific target audience. You can really marginalize the reach of the advertisements, and ensure the budget allotted is being put to maximum use. Through use of ‘local’ keywords, the paid search can help increase traffic that will convert.
#3 Create a Visual Travel Blog
Most travelers like to be certain of where they are going, and will pay extra to ensure that it is money well spent. A professional and visual travel blog where you can promote a city or region, its attractions, and provide personal anecdotes from travelers will go a long way towards attracting travelers.
#4 Create a Social Media Presence
What is digital marketing without a social media presence? For the travel industry, a visual strategy works best. Create your Pinterest and Instagram accounts, and post new images every day. Ask travelers and customers to join in and build a network of images which help promote your business. Use YouTube, Facebook, and Google Plus where you can use images to your advantage and tell a good story as well. You need to use social media in an innovative manner, as well as a professional one. You would be well served by hiring a professional social media expert.
#5 Focus on Email Marketing
The beauty of the travel industry is you will have repeat customers, and word of mouth promotions still work. You have to create a marketing strategy that integrates e-mail marketing. Have a newsletter that allows you to expand your database and encourage people to subscribe. The more responsive the newsletter, the more engaged your customers will be. Encourage social shares and create an easy subscribe and unsubscribe option. It will help increase traffic and also allow you to use the newsletter as a promotional tool.
#6 Mobile Marketing is a Must
Consider these figures:
- 43% of all travelers visit a travel website using a mobile device (2014 Nucleus Study)
- A quarter of all bookings will be made via a mobile device by 2017
- 90% of all SMS are read in the first 3 minutes.
- 82% of Negotiator app users book a hotel room the day they arrive at their destination.
Now think, can your travel business really afford not to be mobile friendly? The costs associated with integrating mobile applications to your own system may seem staggering. However, the reality is they are not considered costs, they are considered an investment. Invest now and ensure your business succeeds. Cut the investment and your travel business may be lost to obscurity within the first two years.
#7 Cater to a Global Audience
Your business may be local but your audience is global. Sitting in New Jersey, I booked a villa in Jamaica, and my kids came home singing Bob Marley songs, and using phrases like “Everything Kris?”
Local is the new global. In order to reach a diverse audience, you have to ensure the language and stories you choose to market have a global and heterogeneous appeal. Avoid possible cultural misconceptions even on social media. Use locals to ensure that the marketing is as close to reality as possible. Avoid glorifying. If a traveler expects a unique experience with bug bites and glorious views, they are more likely to have an enjoyable time. If they go in expecting a five star experience due to inaccurate marketing, they will not be happy troopers.
#8 Get Reviewed
Give the power to the customers by asking them to review your website, your business, and their travel experience not only through the online review sites but also through visual media. Ask them to make videos, provide images, and even write a small journal story you can promote on the blog. Reviews are the most powerful form of marketing today, and if you ensure you are proactive in receiving reviews, success will be just a step away. The best time to ask for reviews is the first 24 hours after the trip has been completed. So create a process that allows for feedback within the first 24-48 hours. Travelers will be excited and provide more positive reviews.
The Bottom Line:
Customize every aspect of your vacation packages. Avoid the cookie cutter vacations and create a relationship with every potential client. Ask them what they want and then provide their dream vacation. Most people take one vacation a year and if you can sell a vacation package that gives them what they are looking for – no compromises – you will succeed.