Great question. Should you, as a travel or tourism operator, spend money and especially time (of which you already have so little) on paid advertising? To grow your business, visits and revenues? Online marketing is email marketing, search engine marketing (Google Ads) pay-per-click (PPC) lead advertising on social media (social media marketing), etc.
Well, first no. And then maybe yes. So it depends. At one stage you may need to spend some euros and dollars on one or more types of online marketing, like paid advertising, but not as a given. And you should take it all in steps.
So here we go. Should you spend money and time on paid advertising?
No, no need to spend money on paid advertising
It is not the moment to start with paid advertising, search engine marketing, social media marketing etc. to grow business and sales if:
- Your product or service offering receives no, few or not enough positive reviews.
- You have not fully optimized your website for (non-paid) organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
- You have not yet set up your local marketing (Google My Business etc.) (also called ‘local SEO’.
So the first step is to make sure that the experience you provide with your tourism business is in demand and appreciated by your customers. Part of your product is your website which is or will be the ‘hub’ or centre of all your online activities. Every single thing you could possibly look for and find is online. Your customers are too. That means that you should also have a dedicated web presence — mainly via your website. Make sure that your site is optimized (especially for search engines and mobile). There are many sites on Internt that tell you how to do this. If you are a beginner start with Google Digital Garage.
Then work on continuously improving your offerings (product and website) when and where needed. Ask for feedback from your customers and read the reviews to see what you can do better.
In parallel set up your local marketing (or ‘Local SEO‘). Start with setting up a Google My Business account if you do not already have one. The other actions to be taken I will explain in another post.
Your tourism products or services should receive positive reviewS.
In travel, tourism and hospitality the product or service offered is the most important factor in your marketing mix. This determines amongst other things how you can price your offerings. And it defines to what degree your promotion can be successful. No promotion can help you whatsoever when you are offering a low-quality travel or tourism product or bad experience in hospitality or service. And it will be your (ex-) customers telling you this. Only if you are lucky they will do that face-to-face when checking out or leaving. Or not at all, which also not good news.
But mostly they will do that in the reviews they leave about you. Reviews on Google, Tripadvisor, Booking, Facebook or in their social media channels. The online reviews today are the most important information source for consumers. Your (ex-) customer nowadays is your marketeer who can make or break you. So before spending any money on promotion or online paid advertising take a breath. First make sure you invest when needed in improving your products and services and improve your reputation and review rates. Read the reviews and leave a reply (also when positive).
Destination development Should Replace destination Marketing & promotion
The above also goes for tourist offices, convention bureaus and destination marketing organizations (‘DMOs’). Promoting the destination and marketing the tourism offerings in destinations has always been the core activity for DMOs. Traditionally such organizations were the parties taking care of promotion and publishing for all their tourism providers who left this to the DMOs. Especially the small tourism operators depending on them, since they could not afford the high marketing costs needed for traditional promotion. This has drastically changed and will change even further.
Also DMOs should not be spending money on paid advertising or online marketing, campaigns and promotion if there are too few tourism products or services offered in the destination. Or the offerings themselves are below par. By helping local tourism operators targeting travelers and tourists to improve their products, investing in new product development and involving nor directly tourism-focused companies creating new experiences for visitors, they can help growing visits to the destinations. DMOs can also help local tourism providers with providing training and coaching to optimize their websites, set up local marketing allowing them to increase their revenues.
Mind The changing behaviour of the traveler and tourist
Moreover, the consumers are anyway less and less interested in the ‘destination propaganda’ of tourism boards and DMOs. They do not want photoshopped pictures, always positive stories, paid influencer marketing and polished professional videos about a destination. The 21st century traveler and tourist is looking for authenticity, the raw truth and what their friends, peers and trusted online bloggers are saying and blogging in online reviews about your destination and products and services offered in your destination. They have become your marketeers!
Things are changing so much and so fast that travel and tourism operators, tourism boards and DMOs need to completely rethink their marketing. They should first focus on the travel and tourism products offered, then on optimizing their website and setting up a local marketing strategy. All of this will already tremendously help them in growing visits to their business and in increasing revenues.
And Some Tourism operators do not need to spend money on advertising At All
Many tourism businesses will probably not take the next step to start spending money on online marketing to further grow visits and revenues. Either they just do not need it and our happy with the number of visits and revenues gained. Or they do not depend on anything online. A phenomenon you see with many restaurants in France for instance. Old design (or no) websites, nothing optimized, no Google My Business account, let alone local marketing strategy etc., no or poor booking engines. But hey, they provide a great offering, are always full and you need to call for reservations at least one week before! Their customers are their marketeers,
The same you can see in the high-end of gastronomy. For instance in Capetown, South Africa with The Test Kitchen. They have a beautiful website with booking engine. But no need at all to do a lot of paid advertising or any at all. See how far down gthey show up in search results if you type in Test Kitchen only? Every quarter of the year on the first of the month they open the booking site at a certain time early in the morning to the public who then can try to online book a table on a date in the next three months. Even outside high season this is quite a challenge I can tell you from experience.
The reason: their success is having a great product leading offline to positive word of mouth marketing and online to people leaving 5-star reviews.
Maybe, you should invest some money in online marketing
The next step may be the moment for travel or tourism operators to start with paid advertising, social media marketing to generate leads, grow visits and revenues etc. if you have done all of the above but still want or are able to grow visits and revenues and:
- Traffic you your site and location is slower than normal, like in low-season .
- You end up too low in search results to be found by your target audience.
- Your direct competitors are continuously showing up above you in search results (because they ARE paying).
You need to Start with email marketing
One of the most effective components of online marketing is email marketing. Email is still one of the most effective marketing and communication tools out there. It is also one of the easiest tools to set up. Everybody is using email. And is still the number one tool used in any and all communications. Moreover, email marketing it is THE most effective tool to advertise and increase sales. Studies show people pay over 6 hours per day looking at their mail (work, online commerce and pleasure).
This also and especially goes for travel and tourism. Many of you are already using newsletters and sending out emails. There are many free tools which can get you up to speed. Taking it one step further, email marketing – including email automation – is the first area you should consider spending money on when moving to a higher level of online marketing. Even before thinking about investing in Search Engine Marketing or Social Media Marketing, spend your marketing money on setting up email marketing.
A few benefits of email marketing are:
- Low costs
- Save time
- Easy to get started
- Reach an already targeted audience
- Reach a global audience
- Generate leads and boost sales
- Easy to measure
- Easy (for audience) to share
- And more.
Search Engine Marketing (‘SEM’) for Travel and Tourism
After having put your email marketing in place this is also the moment to start experimenting with Search Engine Marketing (‘SEM’), Google Ads and other forms of paid advertising.
Search Engine Marketing is the practice of marketing a business using paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages (or ‘SERPs‘ ). Advertisers bid on keywords that users of search engines such as Google might enter when looking for certain products or services. This gives the advertiser the opportunity for their ads (also called ‘pay-per-click’ or ‘PPC’ ads) to appear alongside results for those search queries.
With SEM, travel and tourism operators can make sure ads appear is searches by motivated customers who are ready to buy at the same moment they are ready to make a purchase. They were already searching for something close to what you offer which makes SEM so effective to grow your business.
Social Media Marketing (‘SMM’) for Travel and Tourism
Social Media Marketing is similar to Search Enigine Marketing in many ways, except that you would now be paying for ads on one of the major social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat.
Marketing through social media is one of the most versatile and cost-effective strategies that small businesses can use to reach their target audience and boost sales over time. Since you can really engage and connect with your audience SMM is another effective way to boost visits and revenues.
My advise is to start with and focus on one social media channel first. I would then opt for Facebook or Instagram. At a later stage you should start looking at YouTube. As a travel or tourism operator, you have only limited resources to spend money or time on paid advertising so you have to make choices.
Yes, paid advertising is essential for your tourism company’s or destination’s success
It may be the moment for travel or tourism companies to start with paid advertising, social media marketing etc. if:
- You are looking for cheaper ways to advertise than with traditional methods of advertisement or tourism board/DMO memberships.
- You want travelers to book directly through your website, instead of paying high customer acquisition costs to third-party referral sources such as Booking or Expedia.
Ads in newspapers, on television and on the radio are per definition more expensive than any of the other types of online marketing mentioned above. The tourist of the 21st century is also not so interested anymore in (or actually hates) TV and radio ads. That’s why for TV the remote control was such a success. Anyway, niether of the three media can compete in reach, price and ease with online marketing and paid advertising models.
Also tourism operators have to ask themselves whether the fees of membership of their local tourism board or destination marketing organization, especially when used for destination branding or promotion is atually bringing them enough business or a good return on investment. In other posts I will argues that the days of destination marketing and promotion by central (semi-government) orgnaisations are over. Mainly due to changing customer behaviour, but also because of Google’s impact on the travel and toruism industry.
Make Sure Your Website Allows Online Purchasing and Booking
One of the first steps in promoting and selling your tourims products or services is to make sure your website is optimized to sell that offering and is able to accept online sales bookings or sales. As said in the bginning of this post, your website is the centre of your online universe and could become your biggest sales channel.
Your website should have all the key information about the offers you are promoting. They should be at the front (Homepage) and centre of your site. A visitor to your site should be able to easily access that information and understand what your offering is about.
But most importantly and since they may already be in a purchasing mode, they should also be able to buy or book online immediately if they decide that your product is what they are looking for.
So, as a travel or tourism operator, should you spend money and especially time (of which you already have so little) on paid advertising? With above overview I hope I have helped you to take the right road towards your end goals: growing visits and boosting revenues.