Email Marketing For Tour Operators – 6 Practical Tips To Maximize Leads & Sales From Your Email List
Email marketing is more important for tour operators than ever.
It’s still one of the most effective ways to attract, nurture and convert potential future clients into bookings.
And despite the explosion of social media channels, email still rules the roost in terms of bang for your buck…
According to Campaign Monitor:
Email tops the list of high-ROI marketing channels, with an amazing $44 average return on every $1 spent
And in the tour operator industry in particular, email is one of the best ways to consistently turn leads into sales that grow your business.
But email marketing has come a long way in the last couple of years, and will only deliver consistent results if you do it right.
You can’t just randomly blast your list with promotions and hope for a magical bump in sales – and yet so many tour operators still do this.
At 10x Travel we’ve seen first hand just how effective smart email marketing can be…
That’s why we’ve made it a core part of our process for helping tour operators achieve their revenue goals – from 6-figure businesses looking to make their first million, to larger operators looking to add an extra 7-figures in sales growth.
So let’s dive in to 6 practical tips ambitious tour operators can use to make email their most profitable sales channel:
#1 – Educate and inspire (and sell – at the right moments…)
First, it’s important to note that what some businesses call ‘email marketing’ is really just shoving their sales pitch into people’s inboxes over and over again.
This simply doesn’t work any more – because it makes them too easy to ignore.
These days people are used to seeing email offers and promos land in their inboxes all the time, so they quickly figure out who to ignore and whose emails they actually want to open.
So if you want to stay out of your subscribers’ junk mail and stand a chance of getting – and retaining – their attention, you need to do more than just sell.
Luckily, email is the perfect medium for inspiring, educating and building relationships with potential future clients.
Tour operators who share practical, useful content with their audience can establish their unique brand and ensure they’re at the top of their audience’s mind when it’s time to consider a booking.
Do this right and instead of ignoring or deleting them, your readers will actually look forward to your emails – AS LONG AS you cram them with value.
Digital Marketing expert Keith Krance calls this process “making deposits in the bank of goodwill”…
Every time you send your subscribers relevant, entertaining and genuinely useful content, you’re making deposits.
But whenever you try to ‘sell’ them on a special offer or promotion, you’re asking for a withdrawal of that goodwill.
So it’s all about balance…
It’s still important to draw attention to your tours and experiences with a strong call to action (more on that in a moment), but you need to give your subscribers a reason to care first.
At 10x Travel we use educational emails to help our tour operator partners connect with their ideal clients, and deliver helpful tips about researching, planning and booking the kind of tours they want.
Once a subscriber is in the frame of mind to make a tour booking, they naturally turn to the brand who’s been most helpful during their decision process – the one who’s made the biggest deposits in their ‘bank of goodwill’.
That’s when they make an inquiry – and because they’ve already learned about and built a relationship with that particular company, it’s an easier process to convert that inquiry into a sale.
We’ve seen this work again and again for our tour operator partners, and we recommend it to anyone looking to improve ROI from their email marketing.
The age of ‘interruption marketing’ is pretty much over
Subscribers don’t sign up to be battered into submission with the same old sales promotions. When someone gives you their email address, they’re asking to be educated and inspired (or at least entertained).
That’s a real opportunity if you’re able to help them. Too many tour operators are ignoring it however, at the cost of their reputation.
So, engage your email audience with how-to’s, tips, resource lists and specific content that gets them genuinely excited for their trip, and they’ll reward you with increased sales and inquiries.
It’s the first rule of sales and marketing for tour operator businesses: give first, and you shall receive.
Now let’s take a look at what your email content should actually contain…
#2 – Don’t try to do everything in one email
It can be tempting to see every new email address as a lead just waiting to be converted into a sale, and to go into information overdrive with your first message to try to make that happen.
Resist the urge!
According to SalesForce, “it takes around 6-8 ‘touch points’ to generate a viable sales lead”, because online buyers need more information to make a purchase decision – especially for something like a tour.
As our article on lead response times explains, the average travel booker now visits 38 different websites when researching a trip.
So the more times you can engage with them during their research process, the better.
One of the most powerful benefits of using email is that YOU get to decide when and how your potential future clients hear from you…
And it’s much easier for your reader to digest information if you deliver it in easy to read, bite-sized chunks – rather than turning on a ‘fire hose’ of info and firing it at them all at once!
That’s why tour operators who share useful content with their readers do it in a series of emails that establish their authority, instead of, say, sticking it all in an easily ignored PDF download.
By sending 5 or 6 emails mapping out the different things your ideal client should consider when planning the specific type of tours you offer, you can train your list to expect value from you.
This process increases open rates AND gets your emails read
So your subscribers actually look forward to hearing from you, and don’t just stick your emails in their junk folder with all the other promos and offers they get each day.
Plus, you can nurture new subscribers (who aren’t even thinking about booking yet, and really just want information) into becoming qualified prospects who are much more likely to make an inquiry with you.
With an email content series, you’re building trust, not rushing them into a decision…
As long as you provide regular value across multiple touch points, you can move someone who’s only just heard of you towards being an ideal client in just a few steps.
Find out how to create the authority building email series YOUR ideal client wants to read – schedule a call with us and we’ll walk you through how you can apply our proven email marketing process.
#3 – Use ONE specific goal for every email
It may sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many otherwise excellent emails ignore this basic rule:
Every email you send should have ONE clear action you want your reader to take. No more.
If you’re looking to make a reader aware of your latest offer, link to that offer alone.
Don’t give them a whole bunch of different links to multiple offers – make their decision easy, and you’ll be rewarded with more clicks through to the offer itself.
This is an important email marketing rule across all industries. It’s not because your audience is more easily distracted than others…
It’s simply because they get ‘decision paralysis’: when there’s too many options in front of us, we tend to choose the easiest one (doing nothing).
So if you send an email promotion for a tour, offer your reader one simple choice: click through to the promo, or don’t click.
If you’re asking for a reply, ask them to answer a specific question – don’t leave it up to them to have to interpret what information you need.
It’s ok to include your phone number in the email as a contact option, but don’t go crazy with other links and social sharing icons for instance – they simply increase the choices available, and risk reducing your response rate.
#4 – Keep your emails conversational
When you’re writing to someone you’ve not yet met or spoken with, it can be easy to slip into over-formality, and even forget what a normal conversation sounds like!
Emails from companies often get ignored and deleted because they feel like emails from companies – instead of from real people.
Think about the emails you like to open and read...
Chances are they feel like an intimate, natural conversation between two people. So write to your reader that way!
Use phrases like “just hit reply to let me know” instead of “you can contact us directly at…” to keep things natural.
Use personalization wherever possible to increase engagement (and boost open rates by up to 26%), so your reader feels like they’re reading something you sent just for them…
(If you want to make this even more effective, you can now send your subscribers uniquely personalized messages based on their engagement with your site and email content.
Head here to find out more about how we do that for our tour operator partners here at 10x Travel.)
And keep the formal, stuffy language to a minimum. Yes, you need to be trustworthy to make a sale, so professionalism is important…
But if your emails are dull and lacking in personality, they won’t get opened or read by potential clients
So be friendly and warm, the same way you would if you met your subscriber in person…
Don’t go on and on about your tours without including the reader – use plenty of “you” and “your”, and ease up on “we” and “our”.
Remember to sign off your emails as a real person at your company – and if at all possible, don’t use an anonymous sending address like “[email protected]__” or “[email protected]__” (or even worse: “[email protected]__”).
Another way to boost open rates and engagement is to avoid cramming your emails with images and logos – the kinds of things that your reader will mentally note as ‘promotional’ and which reduce the personal tone of your emails.
If you want your email to really connect, think of each message you send as a physical letter in their daily pile of mail
You don’t want it to look like a glossy, printed flyer from a local restaurant that screams ‘SPECIAL OFFER!’ and is destined to be thrown in the bin without a second glance…
Ideally it should look more like a handwritten letter addressed to your reader personally – something that speaks to them as an individual, and is from a real person.
#5 – Dare to be different
Speaking of being more personal in your emails…
Tours and travel experiences are unique, exciting moments in people’s lives, and they want to appreciate each one fully.
We’re in a business that values personal, potentially life-changing experiences that people look forward to.
Tour operators like you bring those kinds of experiences to millions of people of all ages, every year. It’s a wonderful industry to work in…
And yet so much tour marketing feels ‘samey’ and uninspired
With travel bookers now visiting an average of 38 different websites when researching a trip, it’s more crucial than ever that you stand out from the crowd.
You know that your tour operator business is different to anyone else’s.
And if you want to get noticed in a crowded market, it’s important that your clients and prospects understand this too.
They need to really feel the difference, and be able to picture themselves on one of your tours.
Email gives you a fantastic opportunity to communicate what’s unique about your tours, so you can connect more deeply with your ideal clients.
Every email you send is a chance for your company to establish WHAT you do differently, WHY you do it, WHO you’re here for specifically, and HOW they’ll feel when they experience your tours.
By including some of the unique flavor of your tours in your emails, you stand a much better chance of being remembered, and considered a trustworthy authority by your readers.
The thing is, you don’t have to be a great writer or ‘natural wordsmith’ to do this...
Because one of the most effective ways to showcase your tour company’s distinctive experiences is through testimonials.
Think about it:
The people your potential future clients most want to hear from are your past clients.
Because they want to know that other people like them had a great time on your tours…
They want to get a sense of what it’s really like to take the trip of a lifetime, or to see parts of the world they’ve always dreamed of…
And they want to be reassured that they can put themselves in your hands and have everything taken care of.
So by including some of your most powerful testimonials in your emails, you let your best clients speak for you – they become your best salespeople, because they’re living, unbiased proof that you can deliver.
Use testimonials that have specific details in them…
The ones that talk about the sights, smells and sensations of your tours – so you paint a picture in your reader’s mind when they read your email.
Positive but general testimonials that say “it was great, we loved it, thanks!” are ok in numbers, but the ones that really resonate tell a story or describe a feeling someone had, and bring their experience to life.
If you have testimonials like that, pepper them throughout your emails to attract similar clients
(And if you don’t have enough of those sorts of testimonials yet, 10x Travel can help you ask the right questions to get them. Head here and we’ll walk you through how we do it.)
There’s one more tip I’d like to give you, that can really help you take your email marketing up to the next level…
#6 – Measure engagement and automate follow-ups
As someone who works with tour operators every day, one of the most exciting elements of email marketing for me personally is that it can help you better understand your audience.
I don’t mean that in a vague, ‘marketing buzzword speak’ way either…
I’ve seen how when you’re able to track people’s engagement with your emails and other content, you gain valuable insights into the individuals on your list that can actually boost your growth.
The simple fact is:
Not all of your leads are as likely to convert as others. And some of them are naturally more suited to your tours than others.
So if you know which are more likely to convert to a sale, you can focus your energies on more of those, and help them make a booking decision.
That’s what lead scoring technology allows you to do...
And email plays a big part in that for many successful tour companies.
Tour operators using automated email courses can measure the engagement level of people who receive them, using a points system that changes every time they open or reply to an email or click a link…
Then, if and when their lead score hits a particular threshold, this ‘warm lead’ is automatically sent a different series of emails designed to strongly appeal to people at this stage of the decision process.
These personalized emails are more urgent, more sales focused and more persuasive – because the people who receive them have been identified as more likely to convert.
This makes tour operator sales teams’ jobs much easier, because much of the ‘pre-qualification’ process is automated
And readers respond better to emails which are appropriate to their specific situation.
So much good email marketing is actually quite hands-off, when you do it right, that it’s more like an automated sales funnel:
People arrive at the beginning, they automatically receive relevant, timely information based on their specific needs, and a percentage of them go on to qualify themselves as high quality sales opportunities.
Measuring engagement is like having a kind of X-ray vision...
When you can ‘see’ the people arriving at your site and opening your emails, you’re able to decide which ones to follow up with directly, and what information to give them.
That’s what 10x Travel’s partner tour operators are doing with the automated lead scoring and segmentation capabilities of our Get More Bookings sales system.
They’re taking their email marketing to the next level – and because it’s automated, they’re able to do it at scale, without investing hours and hours each week on their emails.
Everything you’ve read about here today is a component of that Get More Bookings sales system we’ve built specifically for ambitious tour operator companies.
And while they’re powered by the latest technology, these are common sense, tried and tested email marketing tactics that virtually any tour operator business can take advantage of.
If you’re interested in their potential, I’d love to walk you through how some of these strategies could work for YOUR tour operator company specifically.
Just click the button below to request your free one-to-one Strategy Session with me, and we can chat about growing your business with automated email marketing.