A beginner's guide to marketing your tours and activity business online

Leighton Cosseboom on 12 June 2018

For tour and activities operators around the world, there are many interesting stats to look at related to the space’s digitisation. As we enter an era in which mobility is more affordable and accessible than ever before, one of the most eye-catching projections is this one: Online tour and attraction gross bookings will more than double from 2015 to 2020, growing from 11 percent in 2016 to 21 percent in 2020.

This is true according to Phocuswright, an industry research authority on how travellers, suppliers, and intermediaries connect. Stakeholders have every reason to believe that this staggering double-digit growth projection is sound. As such, operators of all shapes and sizes have reason to be optimistic.

That said, the element that will truly separate the winners from the losers in this respect will be the adoption of -- or lack thereof -- online marketing mechanisms. Those who are able to effectively market their tours and activities online are more likely to thrive. Suffice to say, those who are unable to keep up on the web may struggle to remain relevant.

Despite the fact that it’s already 2018, it’s still not too late for non-digital tour and activities operators to catch the train. If you’ve already internalised the adapt or die motto for your business, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide for marketing your tours and activities online.  

Allocate your budget

If you’re an absolute newbie to digital marketing, the first thing you’ll want to do is decide how much your spend will be for the year. If you’re looking for a way to mitigate risk, one useful practise is to first evaluate what you are already spending on marketing. Decide what mechanisms or channels have historically underperformed and reallocate the money you would otherwise spend on those to digital (e.g. cut the cord on print ads and billboards if you’re failing to see a return on investment).

Naturally, your budget will be different from other vendors in your network, as different businesses will have different definitions of successful conversion. It’s not overly important to worry about ‘how much is appropriate’ for you to spend at first. Instead, the important part is to simply commit to the idea. After an inevitable phase of trial and error, you’ll find a system that works for your business.

If benchmarks are your thing, perhaps this can help you make your own rule of thumb: According to an annual survey of Chief Marketing Officers from a variety of industry sectors and firm sizes, for 50 percent of businesses surveyed, digital represents less than 40 percent of total marketing spend.

Build a conversion mechanism

Okay, so you’ve got your budget approved and you’re ready to rock. Not so fast. Before you start spending willy nilly on banner ads and search engine optimisation, you’ll first want to build a mechanism of conversion (e.g. the key page or web listing on which you want the customer to transact).

Depending on the nature of your business, this might come in a number of forms. Perhaps you want users to book and pay for tours or activities directly via your website. Alternatively, perhaps you want to direct them to the listing you’ve already set up with an Online Travel Agent. The important part here is to make sure you first have a proverbial ‘basket’ with which to capture online revenue and bookings.   

Don’t forget to make sure your conversion page is accessible on mobile. Tnooz says one key element that most travel websites have not fully understood is that the purchase cycle for destination services is different than for flights and hotels. The latter are booked weeks or even months before the actual travel date. Tours and activities, on the other hand, are mostly purchased merely a few days before the trip. This inevitably means some users will access your business via smartphone as the idea occurs to them last minute, likely on the go.

Channels and content

57 percent of businesses consider traveller review websites as their most effective marketing channel, says Phocuswright. If this is truly your first foray into online marketing, then it’ll be important to start with fundamental building blocks.

Have your digital team look into review sites such as Facebook Reviews, Google Reviews and ask them to consider what will be needed for your brand to climb the ranks. These sites are the ones that will serve as important anchor referral sites that will back to your conversion page. They are among the first discovered via Google search.

After you’ve got these crucial ‘rocks’ in place, then you can have your digital team start to look at more channels to scaffold upon them. This is where social media execution and maintenance will come into play, along with possible content marketing strategies such as running a blog for your company.

Instagram will also likely become a key component, as potential customers will want to see visuals of people having a blast while on your tour or participating in your activities (e.g. smiling customers holding up the fish they caught on your expedition or a youthful looking family enthralled with animals at your petting zoo).

Ask your team to map out how your brand’s owned media (e.g. blog posts and/or social media content) will then link back to your to your earned media such as the aforementioned ‘rock’ reviews and press mentions. The idea is to try to establish a digital journey that will take users from every piece of published content back to your conversion page.   

Partner up

For absolute beginners, these steps may sound daunting and scary. If that’s you, try not to let the fear take hold. Tour and activities operators entering the digital marketing realm for the first time can take comfort in knowing that there is a variety of tech and digital solutions providers out there waiting to be your sherpa on this front. Some even provide an end-to-end solution. All you need to do is get in touch.

As a digital rookie, the only thing you’ll need to bring to the equation is a positive attitude and willingness to try new things.

About the author

Leighton Cosseboom
Leighton Cosseboom is an American media entrepreneur in Southeast Asia. He is the former chief English editor of Tech in Asia's Indonesia chapter, and recently co-founded Content Collision (C2), a media services and technology firm serving brands and publishers in the region. He often writes about technology, travel, and business. He is a contributor to outlets like Nikkei Asian Review, Thomson Reuters, and more. Today, he serves as CEO of C2.