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Growing Local Tourism And Travel Visits Through Digital Paid Advertising?

The Basics of Digital Advertising

Digital advertising, and especially its components Search Engine Marketing (‘SEM’) and Social Media Marketing (‘SMM’), is a logical next step for local tourism operators and travel companies wanting to further grow visits and revenues. The next step after first fully optimizing the offering, website and local marketing/SEO. Which costs near to nothing.

Digital or paid advertising may be needed at certain stage to boost the numbers and interest of a company’s potential audience. It can be an efficient way to reach a larger audience. And to market and sell products or services on different media and in multiple channels.

Tourism (including hospitality) and travel have been and still are most affected by and benefiting from developments in digital marketing and advertising.

Large travel companies like airlines and hotel chains were the first ones to implement digital advertising methods. To sell flights and accommodation. This completely revolutionized their industry. Not so long ago we needed travel agencies to go to to buy tickets and find hotels. Now thousands of parties, online travel agencies, hotel chains, airlines, rental companies fight for attention on Internet. And for that they use online and digital marketing tools.

For those companies, online marketing and digital advertising have become a mandatory part of their business’s promotional strategy. No campaign is complete without representation on the internet. Leaving out this medium means for them giving up customers to their competitors!

And local tourism operators and other location-based businesses targeting visitors can learn a lot from such large travel companies.

Local tourism and travel operators are late in joining the online marketing revolution

Local tourism businesses and local travel companies did not immediately jump on this bandwagon. They felt protected by their local tourism boards, or destination marketing destinations (as they are called nowadays). Who always took care of the destination promotion.

Or they just did not have the time or money or know-how to start with online marketing.

But, especially nowadays, it is much easier for local small to medium tourism and travel operators to also profit from this kind of online marketing. And they need to invent new ways of reaching their audience. Especially since visitors less and less visit the local tourist websites and other traditional marketing methods do not work anymore.

Most importantly, Google, Facebook and other parties have made it extremely easy for anybody to benefit from the online marketing revolution. From blogger, ‘mom-and-pop’ small tourism operator to large, multi-location tourism business.

By providing (often free) tools to engage audiences online. Making sure customers have the best possible away-from-home experience. Allowing also small tourism businesses to fight for a share of the customers’ attention. Together with the large travel companies with which they can now compete.

The digital advertising channels nowadays available online make things much easier. Some of them are free. Some are free, some need to be paid. But the good news is that many tools and channels are reasonably priced. And even better, digital marketing comes with analytic tools to measure performance. So you can see what you are doing. And immediately see whether your money is well spent. But should local tourism and travel businesses always consider to go for paid advertising?

Should local tourism and travel companies always go for paid advertising?

For small to medium tourism and travel operators paid marketing methods (such as the pay-per-click (‘PPC’) method – see later) can be expensive. A local tourism and travel operator must always take a look at the budget before choosing any (paid) method.

Local tourism and travel companies often do not have large digital marketing budgets. Nor the staff, nor the time available. And in addition, even if they have the money and time, local tourism and travel businesses should not start with digital advertising without some forethought.

They should only revert to paid advertising if they have exhausted all other (often free) solutions to improve growing visits and revenues. Or if they see opportunities to grow further by strategically using paid advertising campaigns. Or if they need to fight off their competition using paid advertising.

Before starting with paying for leads the following activities have to be in place (in that order):

  1. The product or service or experience provided to the audience are perfect. No marketing promotion or branding, nor paid advertising or other online marketing activity works if people do not like or buy what you offer; and
  2. You are receiving positive word-of-mouth and especially adequate numbers of positive online reviews; and
  3. The website and local marketing/SEO (search engine optimization) is optimized.

The Digital Marketing Plan

Not all local tourism businesses or travel companies may like – or are used to – setting up and monitoring business plans. But it really helps to first set up a ‘lean’ digital marketing plan. ‘Lean’ since budget and time are limited for many small to medium travel and tourism operators.

The plan should be based on solid return on investment assumptions. Paying for marketing needs to lead to revenues.

I see too many small to large businesses and (destination marketing) organizations in tourism and travel doing marketing and spending huge amounts on promotion, branding and paid advertising without measuring anything. They have no clue whether all efforts actually lead to desired results. And whether their marketing investments actually lead to more paying visitors being attracted to the locations or destinations.

Invest tactically in digital advertising

Also local tourism and travel companies should always invest in paid advertising tactically.

A good method is to only invest in digital advertising in areas if and when all other (free) methods seem to fail. So if they still do not give you the desired results. Even after upgrading the offering, getting more and more positive word-of-mouth, online reviews, optimizing local marketing/SEO and such). And despite all, your company is still consistently showing up under the search results of your competitors. This may be the right moment to decide some money on paid advertising.

Also it is important that whatever you decide to invest, it should be friendly to your available budget. What this means is that if you do not have large sums of money at hand, paid advertising may not be an option. And you should consider to go back and see how you may be more creative in improving your offering. Or increase your local marketing/SEO efforts.

Digital Advertising not needed at all!

Finally, some companies are so popular or so well-known or receive so many positive reviews that they do not need to pay anything for online advertising. They have reached the ultimate and highest marketing goal you can reach in this 21st century. Their customers have become their marketeers!

The ultimate and highest marketing goal you can reach today is that your customers become your marketeers! 

But if there is a good strategic plan, the returns on investment look good, your offering and web presence are in order, and tactics require you to invest in paid advertising, you can start with digital marketing.

With this and next articles we want to show you when and how travel and tourism companies can or should set up digital paid advertising. Always focusing on how to boost visits and revenues further.

SEM and SMM for Local Tourism and Travel

The most important digital advertising strategies that can work for local tourism and travel operators and which we shall discuss here in this guide are:

  • Search engine Marketing (‘SEM’): this refers to the increasing you website’s visibility in the search engines using paid reach (paid advertising) and organic reach (SEO); and
  • Social Media Marketing (‘SMM’): this refers to promoting your business on social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Together with Local Marketing/Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Affiliate Marketing, Email Marketing, Content Marketing, etc. they are ‘Internet, online or digital marketing’ strategies.

Online marketing or digital advertising are often used as synonyms for Internet/Web or digital marketing or similar forms of digital marketing. In my posts I use all these terms but to mean the same: promotion and sales of goods and services on the internet.

Digital advertising makes use of the Pay-per-click (PPC) model (also known as ‘cost per click’  or ‘CPC’). The advertiser pays a publisher when the ad is clicked. The publisher is typically a search engine, website owner, or a network of websites. In this case you as local tourism or travel business would be the advertiser.

Search Engines and Social Media Channels Offering PPC

The most famous search engines offering this model is Google (see Google Ads) and Microsoft’s Bing (see Bing Ads). With these search engines, advertisers typically bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target market. PPC ads will display an advertisement in search results or as banners on third party websites when a keyword query matches an advertiser’s keyword. Or when a content the advertiser’s site displays relevant content.As soon as the site visitor clicks on the add, the advertiser has to pay Google or Bing. This is called ‘Search Engine Marketing’.

Social networks such as FacebookLinkedin and Twitter have also adopted pay-per-click as one of their advertising models. this is called ‘Social Media Marketing’.

Digital Marketing as Part of Your Tourism and Travel Marketing Mix

Digital marketing can and often should be one of the core parts of your marketing mix (the 4, 5 or 7 Ps remember?). Finding newer ways to reach customers and markets that would be interested in what you have to offer.

In addition to or replacing traditional mediums like brochures, newspapers, and TV spots traditionally used in travel and tourism. Or depending solely on getting leads from the central website of your tourism board, destination marketing organization (DMO) or online travel agency (, AirBnB). Which is becoming less and less effective in the case of DMO websites. Or remains expensive in the case of online travel agency fees.

Search Engine Marketing (‘SEM’) for Local Tourism and Travel Operators

the Basics

The search engines are the most important tools of the Internet to get information. Not so long ago the local tourist office (never open in weekends when you needed them), Yellow Pages, phonebooks and brochures (often outdated) were for visitors the only sources of information.

Other than information you could get from friends or relatives. Which still. and even more so today, together with online reviews, is still the best and most reliable source of information available.

In the past two decades we have come to rely completely on Google, but also Safari, Bing or any other search engine websites, online travel sites (like and social media giants like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to collect knowledge and information.

We search almost daily for locations where we are or want to go to. Shops, restaurants, hotels, destinations, things-to-do, attractions, etc. etc. We enter any word in the search bar and the search engine returns with numerous search results almost instantly.

The goal: getting in top of Search Engine Results Pages (‘SERPs’)

As a local tourism or travel business you want to show up as high as possible in the top of the search engine result pages (‘SERPs’).

One of the ways to do this is by promoting on Google and other search engines and in return, these businesses get closer to the top result. Business do this with ‘SEO’ (search engine optimization).

Or, nowadays even better and more effective, Local Marketing/SEO. This has become extremely important for companies working in local tourism and travel. And I will spend many more articles on this in my posts and guides.

Or increasing the number of websites that connect to your web page. Setting op a Google My Business listing. Getting as many positive reviews as possible. And tracking everything with web analytics tools. Finding out how the users find your website and which pages they visit.

The next step in your marketing strategy is to push your local tourism or travel website even higher into the top with Search Engine Marketing (SEM). In the following posts we will show you how this works for local tourism and travel businesses.

But first some words on the other digital marketing strategy that can work for local tourism business and travel companies: social media marketing (or ‘SMM).

Social Media Marketing (‘SMM’) for Local Tourism and Travel Operators

the Basics

Today, business without social media is not even an option. Over 90% of internet users are present on at least one social network.

This means that every local tourism and travel business can reach a majority of users can in fact be reached through social media. You just cannot risk losing all those customers who are present in social media.

Social media provide everything desired by their users. Meeting friends, engaging in conversations, looking for (local) businesses, finding hotels and restaurants, reading reviews or even asking for recommendations and more.

Business pages on social media

Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn started to provide pages to represent a business. the business can thus connect with its customers and promote and sell products and services, engage customers in lively discussions, build a brand etc.. Large travel companies, like airlines, use social media for their customer service. A great example is KLM.

Social media offer a direct and personal platform to connect with a company. Therefore, customers are more keen on seeing a business on these forums rather than visiting a website.

With the usage of social media at an all-time high, successful businesses have shifted their promotional and sales activities to online platforms that are visited by thousands of users on a daily basis.

If you decide to invest in paid advertising (see above), no marketing and promotional strategy is now complete without a sizeable budget and room for social media marketing.

The next step in your marketing strategy is to push your local tourism or travel website even higher into the top with Social Media Marketing (SMM). In the following posts we will show you – in addition to SEM – how this works for local tourism and travel businesses.

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