How to be a Successful Local Tourism or Travel Business

Successful local tourism and travel businesses understand that the most important component of marketing is the product or experience offered; not advertising, promotion or branding. They know that their ‘product’ or ‘service’ is the most important element in their total offering contributing to their success.

Running a profitable local tourism business or travel company, especially as owner, is hard. In my 19 years in the industry I have seen the full range of tourism business successes and failures. I have been in both places myself.

Many local tourism businesses are no longer in business. No longer sharing their offerings with visitors. They seem to come and go. Even more so than in other industries. But why?

In ‘mom-and-pop’ operated local tourism businesses often ‘mom’ and ‘pop’ retire and the kids do not want to take over. For other businesses it is as simple as not being able to charge enough to remain profitable. Or being too expensive. However, most often this is due to lack of a great offering. Leading to no demand and bad online reviews causing the customer demand for their product or service to decrease even more. The famous vicious circle.

Customers do not listen to you marketing promotion and branding anymore

As I will show with examples in this blog, local tourism and travel businesses do not go out of business, whatever the promotion and branding consultants or destination marketeers tell you, because of a poor slogan, branding, promotion or ineffective online ad campaigns. Or because the local tourism board or destination management/marketing organization (DMO) and the links on their websites are not helping enough.

For the simple reason, the consumer, today’s tourist and traveler, is not impacted anymore by your marketing messages. Also thee promotion and branding campaigns of your local DMO do not work anymore. They rely on their family and friends. They read online reviews, social media channels and multiple other sites when searching for information.

So what is it that makes a local tourism or travel business successful ? To at least support your families and staff with a good income and run a business you love.

Of those who are successful I see six following common characteristics with each of these businesses.

Common Characteristics of Successful Local Tourism and Travel Businesses

1. Their product or service provides a great experience

Experienced entrepreneurs in local tourism and travel understand that the most important facet of marketing is not only advertising, promotion or branding. They did not study or are even aware that there is a theory of a ‘marketing mix’. With its 4, 5, 7 or more ‘marketing p’s’. They know that having and continuously improving their ‘product’ is the most important element to be successful. Such businesses understand that the most important component of marketing is the product or experience offered

They know that by offering an exceptional experience that meets or exceeds the needs of their visitors and customers, they are creating the best marketing team that exists today. The visitors and customers are your marketeers! They are leaving reviews about you on Tripadvisor, Booking, Google Reviews, Yelp, Foursquare. They may be blogging about you. Telling stories about you and sharing the experience they had with their families and friends. They are contributing to making decision-making easier for others about where to go.

Successful local tourism and travel businesses know their customers. They look after them. They listen to them and make sure – by continuously improving their offerings – that their customers get such a great experience that they want to tell the world about their product or offering.

A great experience and positive word of mouth leads to more visits and revenues

And we all know this. If we hear from a friend of relative a great story about a hotel, restaurant, destination he or she visited we trust, the chance that we will go there one day immediately increases tenfold. And by the way, the marketing message of the hotel, restaurant or destination themselves we will trust the least. Moreover, we will completely skip them. Like we have trained ourselves to skip advertising on television with our remote control.

It is the product, service or experience and what people are telling about you which should have all your focus. Not the promotion thereof. So you have to know your customers

Local tourism and travel businesses can often ask more money from customers than their competitors. Whether you are a ‘mom-and-pop’ business or a large tour operator. Because their tourism offering is exactly or better than what their customers wanted.

2. They know their customers (as persons!).

To offer a great experience, you need to understand your customer. And you need to know what your customers consider to be a great experience. More importantly, you know that you have to focus specifically on those customers who (will) like your offering most. Ideally, they are the customers who will appreciate the value you offer and are willing to pay for it.

Successful local tourism and travel businesses know who their customers and what they are interested in. They actually spend time speaking with them and listening to them. In person and not as some fictional and inhuman marketing ‘persona’ created by the online marketing consultants. They want to understand their real (personal) needs, what can be done better. Which improvements in the offering they are willing to pay (more) for. What they consider to ve value for money.

They work on this part of their business themselves. And they do not leave this to marketing agencies or destination marketing organizations. Who do not know the customers, never talk to them.

So, based on deeply understanding your customers (as persons) and listening to their feedback you then improve your business. And adjust your marketing planning and investment decisions to further develop their products. Your customers will then even be more willing to recommend you and so become your marketeers.

3. They understand their customers are their marketeers

Word-of-mouth has always been and will continue to be by far the most important marketing tool for any local tourism or travel business. Especially in the age of Internet people when sharing sharing of their experience with your tourism or travel business has become huge.  

The successful local tourism or travel business knows that offering a great experience is the simplest method to get positive reviews. And if you look back yourself to the great experiences you had when you were a tourist or traveler yourself. High chance you heard about it from somebody close to you. A family member or friend. Somebody at work. In your sports team. Or this blogger you have been following some time now and seems to like the same products and always be on the same wavelength as you are.

And why was it such a great experience? Think back and you will see that it had to do with the product and service offered: the beautifully located and adequately equipped guesthouse with that great team. Who you at the end knew by name. And the friendly owner that made sure you had a great time and ran that extra mile when you needed something special. So it is the product, service or experience which is shared by your customers by word of mouth or in online reviews.

Encouraging online reviews? What about negative or no reviews?

Most customers nowadays do not have to be encouraged to leave online reviews. Especially when they were very enthusiastic about their experience they will spontaneously leave pictures, reviews, stories in all their favourite channels. Like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare, on the booking sites and nowadays more and more in Google Reviews. Also, you should be careful with asking your customers for online reviews. Not everybody appreciates this begging for good ratings. Again, if you know your customers, you know best how to deal with this.

Customers also us word of mouth and reviews to express their dissatisfaction. If they do this online you may not like this and this will certainly not help your marketing efforts. But the positive side is that you anyway get feedback where you can act upon. Unfortunately, and what happens most of the time with customers who were not (really) satisfied, is that people do not bother to spend time on leaving a review. Leading to less and less people finding or visiting you. Also this is a clear sign to again go back to the drawing board and see how you can improve your offering. By actively talking to your customers (in person) and encouraging feedback while they are staying with you. Increasing promotion, online ads or paying your local tourism board or DMO for more advertising will not really help, unless you have an unlimited source of funds.

Local tourism and travel businesses get a lot of offers from marketing agencies, website designers, search engine optimisation specialists, distribution platforms, paid advertising opportunities for brochures, magazines, other print, or thier local tourism board or DMO. However, successful local tourism and travel businesses rarely invest in such forms of paid advertising. They understand that offering a great experience, in combination with an effective website and optimized local SEO, they are making the most efficient and effective use of their marketing budget. They only ever consider paying for advertising when really needed. Due to competition, as part of a campaign or to specifically target a new group of customers.

4. They offer optimized, rich content websites with direct booking Functionality

Successful local tourism and travel businesses understand that their websites are the hub of all their online marketing and sales activities. They make sure that they know and learn how to fully optimize their websites for search engines (SEO). And they see the value of creating rich content (blog, images, videos) that can be shared in the customers’ digital channels (social media) and of calls-to-action’ on their websites. To attract more customers. To buy or book directly on the site. And grow visit and revenues. They build their own email databases, share relevant content in email, newsletters and on social media. They understand that the website is an important part of the product or experience offered

Successful local tourism and travel businesses know that they earn more money (profits) when their customers book direct. Because they then do not have to pay the steep fees they have to pay to online travel agents like Booking or other third parties. The large hotel chains have started this trend to move the customer away from the big online travel booking engines who were becoming too powerful and were asking higher an higher fees. The good news is that today’s online technology also allows smaller tourism and travel businesses to set up direct online booking facilities on their websites.

Local tourism and travel businesses will continue to work with large travel distribution parties, liek Booking, because their customers still require this. And by offering perks like discounts, a free breakfast, a voucher, or other reward they make it more attractive for the consumer to directly book with them.

5. They Understand and Apply Local Marketing/Local SEO Strategies

Successful local tourism and travel businesses understand local marketing/SEO (‘Local SEO’) has become and will continue to be very important for local business targeting customers on location. They understand their customers are using mobile when searching for nearby locations.

Of all marketing strategies a travel company or tourism business can deploy, local SEO is definitely the most effective one.

Successful local and tourism businesses optimize their web presence to connect to potential customers. Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the optimization of your online properties (your website, inclusion in listings and directories, links, keywords etc.) so you can be found in localized searches by (mobile) users.

They turn to Google and Google reveals as results the relevant company information in the area. The good news is that Google gives brands, including small to medium travel and tourism companies a free opportunity to advertise through Google My Business. Travel companies and tourism operators can build and optimize a listing in Google My Business that will be used to pull information related to users’ searches.

An important part of local SEO are also the Google Reviews ratings you get. Again showing why the most important component of your marketing is the product or experience offered.

Finally, getting your Local SEO in place will also help you to appear in Google Travel Guides (see post here).

6. They Build relationships within Their Community and With Other influencers

Local tourism and travel business understand that they are an integral part of the local community. These include their local council, visitor information center of the local tourism board or DMO, or local newspapers. But especially also the residents and the other local tourism and travel companies play an important role in creating the total experience of their customers.

Successful local tourism and travel businesses know how to build relationships with the local community to influence consumers to become their customers. They partner with other local business, develop new products together, involve residents (local bloggers!) to make the destination more attractive, grow visits and increase revenues. In some countries actively supported by local councils.

So local tourism and travel businesses understand the customer of the 21st century. And they know that they need to fully focus on their offering, including website and local SEO, to get positive reviews. Together they are the most important components to successfully market and sell the products or experiences offered.

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