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The 5 most common tour operator marketing mistakes

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posted December 8, 2020
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Marketing your tour business is no easy task.

The easy way out is to rely solely on online travel agencies, like TripAdvisor, Viator, or other popular options. But we know OTAs have their drawbacks. And that is why marketing is so important.

I believe that marketing is the fuel to your booking engine. Without it, the engine stops. And if the engine stops, well, then so do your customer bookings. Think about it. You wouldn’t stop filling up your gas tank and rely solely on hope, would you?

So marketing is a necessary function of business—much like operations and finance. But like anything else with plenty of moving parts, mistakes will happen. Let this guide serve as an easy checklist to ensure you don’t make common marketing mistakes.

Remember this one big idea

Before we get into the five most common mistakes, I want you to remember this: Marketing is all about building a strong relationship with your potential guests.

This starts before the purchase and continues after the deal is sealed. Before bookings are made, your prospects are watching videos and Googling for information about the destination or experience (and this practice has grown significantly, research shows). Not only that, more than half of them are begging for post-purchase engagement.

Always be in front of your guest. If you can keep this in mind, you will already be ahead of the average tour operator.

Now, on to the five common mistakes.


1. Neglecting content marketing

How do you build rapport online when you can’t be in front of a prospective customer? The answer is content. Why? Because it helps your guests understand who you are, know what you have to offer, and trust that you’ll deliver the goods.

Content is how you overcome buyer resistance—the conscious and subconscious objections that we all feel before plugging in those credit card details. It ensures you’re providing free value through education, demonstration, and entertainment, all of which will make you more memorable.

Do this instead: Record videos (yes, even on your phone) showcasing what you do best and what your guests can expect. Show them your unique genius consistently. Then take those videos and post them on your website, your social media, and on YouTube. Make that single piece of content work harder for you. According to Wex and CrowdRiff, 75% of travel followers are more likely to take action on video they see, share, and visit on a website.


2. Ignoring your online reputation

Here’s a little-known local search engine optimization secret: Google likes when you get reviewed on your Google My Business page, and they love when you respond to every review. (Yes, even the bad ones.) This signals to their algorithm that you’re the real deal—an authority—and they’ll reward you by showing your tour business higher in search rankings.

On a TripAdvisor survey, 78% of respondents reported focusing on recent reviews from their peers. So don’t ignore your online reputation.

Do this instead: Make online reviews a part of your ongoing marketing efforts. Encourage your guests to leave reviews, and respond to each one of them.


3. Relying solely on OTAs

While many small operators don’t use OTAs, the online big boys offer a great way to get bookings (if you can appear high in the listings).

However, if you only rely on OTAs to stay afloat, you’re putting the success (or failure) of your business in someone else’s hands. They own the customer relationship, the data, and all the leverage. They can increase their fees or decrease the amount of times your listing is shown, and you essentially become another item on the grocery store shelf among others.

These OTAs are beginning to feel the squeeze from Google as that company begins to offer its own proprietary booking services.

Do this instead: Use OTAs as a way to supplement your ongoing marketing and funnel guests into your world, your experiences. Don’t allow it to become your main sales channel. Learn how to generate bookings through your own marketing efforts. A good combination of content marketing, paid advertising, and email is a triple threat. This way, you control 100% of the success of your business, and you can’t be affected by competition in OTA listings.


4. Not testing new ideas often enough

Complacency is the enemy of success. Failure to test different offers, innovate with new products, or adapt to change will cost you. Growth and scale in business come from looking for ways to innovate in order to increase average order value and the number of returning guests, and also to get new guests.

Do this instead: Test. Test. Test.

Read up on “conversion rate optimization.” This is a great way to improve how many website visitors you can convert into guests. Then look at your best guest acquisition channel and apply the AMO alignment process. This includes audience, message, and offer—the building blocks of any marketing campaign.

Want to see what other tour operators are doing? Use the Wayback Machine to see changes in their individual website designs over time. For example, look at how their websites changed from pre- to post-COVID. What do you notice?


5. Failing to follow up

Fortune is in the follow-up. If you don’t have methods to continue getting in front of your prospective guests, then you’ll lose out to the tour operator who does.

Here’s the thing: 96% of first-time visitors to your website are not in the booking stage, leaving only about 4% who are. So staying in front of these prospects during the customer journey will be crucial.

Do this instead: Ensure your Google tag and Facebook pixel are on your website if you plan to invest in paid advertising so that you can retarget visitors with ads, message bots, or both.

Offer some sort of guide, checklist, or a small discount in exchange for leaving their email and phone number immediately on your website, and you can follow up with an email or a text later. We nerdy marketers call this a lead magnet.

By using retargeting, email, text messages, and messaging bots, you can bring your prospective guests deeper into your world by having them follow your social accounts, attend your webinars, view your YouTube videos, and read your latest blog posts or news articles. Essentially, you’re creating more touch points.


Steven Marin is a marketing consultant and owner of SparkPPC. His passion for travel, food, and culture—mixed with his love for digital marketing—allows him to better serve the hospitality industry.

Top photo ©Franz Pfluegl/AdobeStock

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