How Tour Operators Can Use Content to Get More Bookings

Avatar on Mar 14, 2017. 13 min Read

Are you responsible for driving booking inquiries at a travel company?

If you are, whether it’s as an owner-operator or a marketing manager, it’s likely you fit into one of two categories as far as content marketing is concerned…

You’re an Ad Hoc Travel Company. You don’t have a strategy in place, and if you do have a blog (what do you mean you don’t?!) then the publication schedule is sporadic and rarely delivers value to your sales. You might send the odd blast to your mailing list, but only when you have the time to do so.

You’re a ‘Buy Buy Buy’ Travel Company. You have a strategy, but the focus is all about driving sales right now, either producing blog posts that focus on new destinations, tours and discounts, or sending special promotion e-shots to your mailing list on a regular basis.

Do either of those sound familiar?

If you’re an Ad Hoc Travel Company, you’re in big trouble. Businesses that produce blog articles experience 126% higher lead growth than those that don’t, per Hubspot. And according to the Content Marketing Institute, 88% of marketers rely on content marketing to grow their businesses.

So if this whole idea really is news to you, go and read ‘Create the Luxury Travel Content Your Customers Really Want to See’ before you go any further.

But if you’re a ‘Buy Buy Buy’ Travel Company, good news.

(Not because you’re getting it right. Far from it.)

Because you’re about to get a whole lot of value from what I’ve got for you today.

You see, The ‘Buy Buy Buy’ Travel Company represents most successful tour operators, agents and other travel companies in our industry. They see content as a way to market to existing customers and maybe build some brand loyalty on social media as a side benefit.

This is an extremely short-sighted approach.

Educational and inspirational content marketing should be part of your foundational marketing strategy. The era of ‘interruption marketing’ is pretty much over.

As Jay Baer says, “Content breaks through the enormous clutter of messaging that we’re faced with as consumers.”

 

Content can help you create a steady stream of leads, bookings, and loyal customers.

And I’m going to show you how…

Taking a Funnel View of the Content Marketing Process

When we’re working with a customer at 10x Travel, we look at five main stages in the typical travel company’s marketing process:

  • Suspect — someone who has had initial exposure to your brand, fits the profile of your target customer, and is therefore a good candidate to become a customer at some point.
  • Prospect — a Suspect who has engaged the interest that brought them to your site by downloading an asset or becoming an email subscriber.
  • Qualified Prospect — you’ve started a conversation to begin understanding their needs, and recognize this person as a warm lead.
  • Opportunity — your Qualified Prospect has taken the next step, completing an inquiry or speaking to the sales team over the phone. You have a clear sense of their needs in terms of budget, departure date, and so on.
  • Customer — which happens once a booking is made and deposit is received.

The right content at every stage is really the key to conversion. I’ll show you what I mean.

Hey, are you a travel company owner or marketing director?

Then join How to Grow Your Travel Business With Content Marketing!

In this free 7-day email course, I’ll teach you how to improve sales for your company so that your focus remains where it’s needed most — delivering amazing vacations and holidays. Get my copy now.

Step 1: Initial Exposure

Frankly, it’s pretty easy to get visitors to your travel company’s website. You can:

  • Practice good SEO on your pages and posts to encourage organic search traffic
  • Push your post to your email subscribers, as described here
  • Promote it organically on your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Look for opportunities to share on other relevant platforms (LinkedIn, Quora, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, StumbleUpon to name a few)
  • Buy click from Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and other paid search networks
  • Harness paid promotion using Facebook — it’s truly the single largest opportunity for tour operators and travel agents in 2017, so make sure you read Why Your Travel Business Blog Never Gets Any Likes.
  • Some of the tour operators we work even use newspaper ads still, and this does drive visitors to their website.

And the list goes on….
So I think we can agree, then, that simply getting website visitors isn’t the problem.

What matters is getting exposure to the right visitors.

 

Say you’re a customer of ours, Bicycle Adventures. They sell cycling tours all over the world.

If that’s your travel business, then visitors clicking a ‘Cycling Vacations’ link on Google AdWords that land on your homepage are fine, sure.

But a visitor who comes to your site to read a specific piece of content that speaks to a real audience problem and identifies with a specific demographic is way better.

Quick example of what I’m talking about:

Bicycle Adventures’ Facebook posts usually register a fairly low level of engagement and interaction, but this post has over 700 likes and 250 shares. It accomplishes several important objectives:

  • It overcomes a pain point, showing customers and potential customers that preparing for a bike tour isn’t an all-consuming physical training marathon that will suck the joy out of their holiday before it even begins.
  • It gives them useful information about physical fitness for bike tours in general and 50+ riders (the target demographic) in particular.
  • It’s eminently readable and sharable, presented in a format that’s easily read and understood.

What I’m showing you here is that a visitor to a page like this trumps that visitor clicking a ‘Cycling Vacations’ link on Google AdWords.

The reason?

This type of visitor has already qualified themselves. By clicking on that article, he’s already shown interest in the problems that your product helps solve AND he’s identified that he’s the right demographic to become a customer.

This isn’t the only way to do it, of course. And there’s plenty more about this in ‘Why Your Travel Business Blog Never Gets Any Likes’, if you want to dive deeper into this.

The key takeaways at this stage are:

  1. The first step in using content to get more bookings for your travel business is to open up your brand to new people who don’t already know you exist.
  2. You don’t want to get exposure with just anyone; these people need to be Suspects i.e. they fit the profile of your target customer, and is therefore a good candidate to become a customer at some point.
  3. The best way to achieve this is to create educational or inspirational content that solves a problem for your target audience or stirs up needs and desires with emotional content.

A word of caution…

Moving suspects along the funnel takes a serious commitment to content.

It’s not a one-and-done approach, and you’ll need to create numerous touch points along the way in the form of educational / inspirational content on your blog as already described, splashy photos and interesting video on your social feeds, plus email campaigns that solve problems and create relationships instead of just selling your products.

Just take a look at this for an example…

According to Salesforce, it takes at least 6 to 8 touches to turn a suspect into a sales-ready lead. Let that sink in for a minute.

6 to 8 problem-solving, pain-point-overcoming, relationship-building touches before your target is ready to make a decision about considering your company for their next holiday.

And that brings us to the next step.

Step 2: Creating a Return Path

Once you’ve got people pouring into your tour operator website because of educational articles (ideally) or from newspaper ads or whatever, that’s the simplest step complete in terms of actually getting bookings.

A first-time visitor that comes to the site from a newspaper ad is just that: a first-time visitor who probably isn’t even close to making a booking decision.

The sad fact is that:

At least 95% of your visitors won’t make an inquiry on their first visit to your website.

 

So it’s likely that the hypothetical visitor in question will leave your site and never return without some way of turning first-time website visitors into repeat visitors.

It’s absolutely essential that you do this if you want to turn more website visitors into inquiries.

Perhaps you’re hoping they’ll remember you anyway when it’s time to book? Research throws some cold water on that too, because according to Expedia

The average customer visits 38 travel sites before making a decision.

In other words: having lots of website traffic is great, but if you aren’t turning them into leads and building repeat visits and trust, it’s worthless.

It’s going to take much more than one stop on your site to keep your name front-of-mind at decision time — you need to create a return path to keep your suspects coming back.

How do I turn first-time visitors into repeat visitors?

There are a couple of main ways to achieve this.

The first is retargeting (aka remarketing).

You’re probably already aware of AdWords retargeting, even if you don’t realise it. It’s that weird thing that happens when you visit an online shopping site, and suddenly ads for their products follow you around every other site you visit. You know what I’m talking about.

The basic concept of retargeting is that you install a pixel (a short line of code) on your website. This pixel tracks your visitors by saving a cookie to their device i.e. a record of their activity, the pages they visited, and so on. Then an advertising network like AdWords checks for this cookie when deciding which ads to show that same visitor on another website.

There’s a few different options for this in addition to Google AdWords, as covered by Kissmetrics.

Those definitely have a place, but for travel business purposes, retargeting with Facebook is a better approach. We use this for many of our customers at 10x Travel.

So with a 10x Travel customer, someone might watch a video we posted for our travel company customer on Facebook — nothing more. We will then pay to make sure they see sponsored posts for blog articles by the same company. This is retargeting before the click since that person didn’t even have to leave Facebook, which is still a pretty new concept.

Equally, they might click on a post and go to the site to read an article, and we’ll show them ads to more articles or use Facebook Lead Ads to show them ads for a free email course and add them to our email subscriber list.

Which brings us onto the second way to turn first-time visitors into repeat visitors, and the ultimate return path for your prospects…

Hey, are you a travel company owner or marketing director?

Then join How to Grow Your Travel Business With Content Marketing!

In this free 7-day email course, I’ll teach you how to improve sales for your company so that your focus remains where it’s needed most — delivering amazing vacations and holidays. Get my copy now.

The key to repeat visitors? Get their email address.

According to a study by Adobe Systems, email is truly where the average consumer spends his time — some 30 hours a week that doesn’t even include writing responses, just checking and reading:

So you really want to engage your target audience where they spend the most time — their inbox.

Did you know — [note: stats taken from here]

  • Email converts 9x better than social media.
  • Email is 40x more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.
  • Over 90% of email gets delivered to the recipient compared to the 2% of Facebook followers who will see your content in their newsfeed.
  • Across all industries, email averages an ROI of $38 for every $1 spent.

If you can get an email address from a potential customer, you’ve got a direct line to the place he or she spends the most time and attention.

See where I’m going with this? Email gives you an opportunity to create all the touch points you need to move your target audience along the funnel.

There’s more than one way to collect email addresses from the people already engaging with your brand. Facebook Lead Ads, as mentioned, is one of those ways.

But there’s plenty of other approaches and you should combine several of these if you want an effective strategy for building a list of prospects. To deep dive on this, check out ‘How to Capture More Leads for Your Travel Business: 10 Email Subscriber Strategies’.

The key takeaways at this stage are:

  1. At least 95% of your visitors won’t make an inquiry on their first visit to your website.
  2. Create a return path for the potential customers engaging with your brand by retargeting them with Facebook Ads (you can also use Google AdWords and others).
  3. Aim to collect the email address of your prospective customers, without requiring them to make an inquiry. This should be an indirect, value-based offer that lets them engage the interest that brought them to your site in the first place — like a free email course.

Step 3: Build Trust and Rapport Over Time

Once you’ve got the email address of your prospective travel customer, start ramping up those touch points.

Remember, we’re looking to create at least 6 touches to turn a suspect into a sales-ready lead. If they’ve checked out a video on Facebook, read a blog article and signed up for an email course (ours is here, by the way) then maybe you’ve already racked up a few touches.

That’s still some way from being ready for the sale.

Unfortunately, this is normally the point at which The ‘Buy Buy Buy’ Travel Company starts aggressively promoting its products. They see email mainly as a way to push sales content. And sure, there’s a place for that, but it completely ignores email’s real strength as a way to build a relationship.

Instead, your focus at this stage should be to continue delivering value instead of shoving special offers down the throats of your prospects.

Keith Krance of the Perpetual Traffic Podcast calls this “making deposits into the bank of goodwill.” I like that concept because it beautifully illustrates how content can be used to tie customers to your brand and keep you front of mind in their vacation-planning decisions.

When you send your subscribers relevant, entertaining and genuinely useful content, you’re making deposits of goodwill in the account you have with them.

And that’s important, because asking them to look at and consider a special offer is like making a big withdrawal.

If you haven’t taken the time to build the level of customer goodwill before you ask for the sale, your sales emails will land with a thud.

How do I deliver value by email?

At 10x Travel, we help our customers build goodwill by creating an educational email course that solves a specific problem for their target audience. It works because it’s tightly-focused, highly-relevant, and very low-key.

There’s no commitment implied in the course, and we’re not asking for the sale. At least not right away.

It’s like this —

Potential customers for our client Bicycle Adventures might visit their website to get information about adventure vacations, but they aren’t sure a bicycle tour is the right choice.

They want information about fitness requirements, the different options for a tour, how to plan and prepare for a bike trip — all before they’re even remotely ready to get specific information about a tour or talk to someone in sales.

So we created a six-part email course (plain text format from a leader in the company so it reads like friendly advice from an authentic and reliable source) that takes readers through all the topics they need to consider before taking a bike tour.

And so what happens here normally is that someone will come to the website, look around… and they won’t go to the contact page because they aren’t ready.

But they will sign up for the email course because it’s a low commitment that doesn’t mean ‘I am ready to book a vacation.’

And as soon as they sign up, they receive the first of six lesson-based emails that are tightly focused on the problem that Bicycle Adventures’ travel product solves.

e.g. ‘I want to go on some kind of active vacation and explore the national parks of the USA. But there are so many options. Where do I begin?’

It provides all the information the reader is looking for in a helpful, low-key way that helps build trust and rapport between your company and a potential customer.

Lots of deposits in the goodwill bank, if you will.

There’s plenty more on exactly how to do this in ‘Travel Companies: Here’s How to Use Your Email List to Promote More Than Just Holidays’, so if this is of interest then you should go and read that next.

And that lays the foundation for the next step in the process…

Step 4: Ask for the Sale

Now that the pump has been primed, so to speak, and the goodwill bank has a healthy balance, it’s time to make a withdrawal.

For travel companies, this can be achieved through a well-timed special offer or simply by presenting your product as the next step on their journey and inviting them to take the conversation to the next stage.

If you’re the type of tour operator that offers fixed-price, pre-packaged tours, this could mean sending them to an ecommerce ‘buy now’ sales page (perhaps with a special discount exclusive to your email subscribers).

If you’re not that type of tour operator, asking for the sale usually just means ‘ask for the inquiry’ — your customer is going to have questions about the practicalities and specifics.

So work on conversion-oriented email content that asks for the next step — making an inquiry or chatting with sales.

If you’ve done your job well to this point and nurtured your prospects, they should already know all the basic FAQs about your company.

Things like what you offer, where you go… the type of questions that usually drive your sales team nuts.

When should you ask for the sale?

Timing is difficult, but you can gain an edge with lead scoring technology, as explained by SalesWings:

“Lead Scoring is the practice of ranking your leads based on the value and attractiveness they represent to your organization. The main idea is this: the more interest the lead shows, or the better the fit of his profile for your solution, the higher the score that lead scoring will attribute.”

 

At 10x Travel, we use Drip as our marketing automation platform of choice.

The educational email courses we create for our tour operator customers measure the engagement level of people who sign up, giving them points each time they open and click on emails we send or return to the travel company’s website for another look.

If they hit a certain threshold with their lead score, they become a ‘warm lead’ — and this automatically triggers a series of sales-focused emails that asks for the sale and drives them toward an inquiry form designed specifically for your business.

It’s the logical next step for highly qualified prospects who are ready to be sold and it neatly ties up the loose ends in your funnel.

I’ll be covering in more detail how we use Drip and create inquiry forms on this blog in the weeks ahead, so follow us on Medium [LINK NEEDED] or sign up for my free email course How to Grow Your Travel Business With Content Marketing and never miss another update.

Putting It All Together

So with blog articles and email courses, you’ve got a complete sales cycle.

  • At the top of the funnel, you’re creating educational, inspiring articles to attract the right kind of visitors (potential customers) to your website — these are Suspects.
  • After that you’re using offering valuable content in the form of an educational email course to convert visitors into email subscribers — these are Prospects.
  • Then you’re drip feeding that content over time, building trust and using lead scoring to identify the most engaged ‘warm lead’ email subscribers — these are Qualified Prospects.
  • And at the end, you’re sending a targeted sequence of emails to only the warm leads, nudging them toward an inquiry or starting a correspondence with your sales team — these are Opportunities.
  • Finally, your sales team needs to follow up promptly and consistently with the inquiries you receive, offer a solution and price that fits their needs, and close the sale — these are Customers.

It’s a tidy end-to-end process for generating demand and securing new bookings for your travel business using content.

Sound like too much work to create all this in-house? Or just want some advice about how best to do it? If you’re a tour operator or travel agency, the 10x Travel team and I are always here to help you.

To find out how we could help your travel business get more bookings, let’s have a chat.

Are you using content to successful deliver bookings in your travel business? Share your successes (or frustrations!) in the comments below and let’s talk about it some more!

About The Author

Avatar

Co-founded 10x Travel in 2012 to help ambitious tour operator businesses get more bookings online with a consistent, automated sales process they could rely on.

    You'll Also Like