It has been a long, hard winter for the travel industry and small tourism businesses in South Africa, but things are finally looking up after the national economic shutdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. International and interprovincial travel is once again allowed under lockdown level 1, the spring flowers are in bloom.
Given the fierce competition for the attention of travellers researching and booking trips online, companies in the travel industry need to be innovative in their marketing to stand out. As you reactivate your marketing, this is a good time to experiment with new creative tactics, and to start preparing yourself for the December holidays.
Here are five tips for using digital channels to market your guesthouse, restaurant, or tourism services and take advantage of the resumption of domestic tourism.
- Think about the user journey.
- Polish your Google My Business listing.
- Use social media to its full potential.
- Tap into user-generated content.
- Monitor and engage with user reviews.
Let’s take a closer look at our travel industry marketing tips.
1. Think about the user journey
To create a winning digital marketing strategy for your travel business, it can be helpful to map out the customer’s journey with you. This map can help you to target the correct messages and engagements to customers at every step, in turn allowing you to get better results from your marketing. We could break this journey into the following steps:
- Inspiring: The travellers’ journey begins consideration of prospective destinations and the attractions they offer. Here, your marketing goal might simply be to get them to consider your city or region as the place to go. You could, for example, use social media and your website to showcase the destination via stunning photographs and evocative descriptions.
- Researching: Next, your prospective customer will start thinking about when to go and refining their list of hotels and activities. Your goal is to get on their list as one of the preferred options, if not the first choice. Search engine marketing and your presence on key booking and travel portals will be key here.
- Booking: With a short list of choices in mind, the customer will begin to book flights, rental cars, and accommodation. Here, you need to think about aspects of the customer experience, such as setting the correct pricing, ensuring that the booking experience is quick and simple, and showcasing the unique properties of your offer compared to other tourism businesses in your area.
- Experiencing: At this stage, you can be offering value-added services to your customer. For example, you could use email to cross-sell a winelands tour or a dining experience to someone staying at your guesthouse. You could also monitor social media to see whether guests are having a pleasant trip and to respond to their reviews.
- Remembering: You can build relationships with customers that endure – your goal will be to be their first choice if they return to your neck of the woods and to encourage them to recommend you to friends and family. Encourage them to sign up for your email newsletter or to follow your social media accounts.
2. Polish your Google My Business listing
Your Google My Business (GMB) listing is one of the most powerful free online marketing tools at your disposal. It’s the business profile you will see on Google search or Maps when you look for a local business – the little box that shows the address, opening hours, a photograph and so on. You can almost think of it as a mini-website that people see when they’re in town looking for a pizza or when they’re researching accommodation in the town or city they’d like to go on holiday.
The power of GMB is that it allows small businesses in the travel industry to show up organically in page 1 of the search engine results without competing against bigger players that have large SEO and paid search budgets. If you offer accommodation, another plus is that you might be able to get some guests to book with you directly when they find you on Google. Cutting out a third-party booking platform can mean pocketing a bit more money per night or offering a more competitive rate.
Here are some tips for using GMB to your advantage:
- To claim a listing, register for a Google account for your business if you don’t have one. Then google.com/business, click ‘manage now’ or ‘start now’, enter your business name and follow the prompts to enter the relevant information.
- Once you have the basic information like name, address, and phone number (NAP), operating hours, and logo in place, spend some time polishing the profile. Add some attractive and enticing images, or some short videos.
- Look at the FAQs section and answer questions that come in from customers. You can also add your own frequently asked questions to cover the details that matter to your customers.
Tip: GoDaddy’s SEO tool makes it easy to set up and verify your Google My Business profile from your dashboard. No need for other add-ons!
3. Use social media to its full potential
The travel industry is about inspiration, and where better to inspire people than on social media? You can use your accounts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram to tell your story in a way that gets people excited. Post lots of photos and videos to showcase the stunning weather, the cuisine you serve in your restaurant, the inviting pool on your premises, or the local flora and fauna.
Posting images that take into account elements like framing, lighting, focus and (of course) your offerings (such as the activities you offer or your rooms and garden) is a fantastic way to boost your brand and your services. Experiment with natural light and try different angles — social media is a place where you can be creative.
4. Tap into user-generated content
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Tik-Tok, Twitter and Instagram let you engage with customers and potential customers in a warm and authentic way. But it’s not a monologue – it’s about having a shared conversation. Looking at what other users are posting about your area or your business can offer you a pipeline of wonderful content to share with your followers.
If your venue looks great in a photo or video shared by a social media user, share it! Not only will other users enjoy seeing their posts shared on your feed, their posts may also serve as a convincing endorsement for your business. Especially when it comes to an emotional experience like travel, people really trust and value recommendations from others.
5. Monitor and engage with user reviews
When the name of your establishment comes up as someone researches places to eat or stay or things to do in your region, they will invariably head to sites such as Google or TripAdvisor to find out what other travellers thought before they get in touch. Once they’ve experienced what you’ve got to offer, they may leave a review of their own. This means that user reviews have become one of your most important digital touchpoints in your journey with a prospect or a customer.
As a starting point, you need a review profile on the sites your customers might use. Adding accurate contact details and attractive photos on these sites can help you to market your business to your target customers. Even more importantly, having a presence on these sites will enable you to respond to customer reviews and queries.
Positive reviews are an opportunity to say thank you and build relationships with customers who love your business. Negative reviews give you a chance to set things right with disappointed customers and to gather feedback that will help you improve in the future. Calm, sincere and caring responses to negative reviews will reassure people who are browsing your listing. A lack of response or presence on the website may be more alarming, however, than any negative reviews.
Tip: You can cross-promote your positive reviews on your social media channels and your website to build trust among customers prospects