Tour Operator Online Marketing Challenges

Operating online is a beast of a subject in itself. There are companies that are solely dedicated to helping you websites, getting them to the top of Google, advertising, email campaigns, and more. Yet as a tour operator or experience provider, you're in charge of all of this yourself.

I find the Dunning-Kruger knowledge curve very relevant here:

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Those who think operating online will be simple are disillusioned. You don't know what you don't know. Yes, you can put up a website and leave it there. But actually driving results takes a lot of work. As you become more accustomed to the various aspects of online marketing (email strategy, advertising, SEO, websites, social etc.) you realise more and more each subject is a science in itself.

We've outlined below some of the key challenges for online marketing, split into two sections - 1) getting the basics right and 2) online marketing

Tour Operator Online Marketing Challenges: Meeting the basic 'hygiene-factors'

Before investing time and effort into marketing campaigns, make sure your website is good enough to be marketed in the first place. The money, time and effort you're about to invest in marketing, may be better spent getting the basics right with a website upgrade. Here's some things to look into before deciding to go down the route of online marketing to get your brand out there further.

  1. Website speed and performance: Over 50% of consumers won't wait for your website to load if it takes longer than two seconds. You can send all the visitors in the world to your website but if it doesn't load quick enough there won't be much point. Make sure you check your website speed. This doesn't have to be any technical or expensive work, simply downloading your images from your website, and putting them into an image compressor could make a big difference. Get started by putting in your website URL into here and see where you may have any issues: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/insights/

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2. Richer content expectations: With the popularity of instagram and 4k video streaming becoming standard, the expectations for quality content are firmly set higher than just a couple of years ago. A picture paints a thousand words, but a video shows a thousand pictures. If you're not sharing engaging content, expect limited results. Within travel and tourism, consumers are booking for the experience. We need to show them what they can expect when they come on the tour or activity. The more we can make consumers see themselves in the video doing the experience. Making it fit their lifestyle choices and the image they want to present of themselves. The more we can connect and drive more customers to book with us.

3. Convenience and ease-of-use: Attention-spans are reducing, or rather consumers are valuing easier to digest information. Make sure the content being shared uses an information pyramid, with key pyramids and take-aways first, with content being developed throughout. It's estimated millennials have a 12 second attention span before they'll click off your site if they haven't found what they want. And GenZ attention span is deemed to be just that of 8 seconds. Spend time getting messaging right and consumable before pushing it out further.

4. Website Navigation: Simple and easy to navigate website structure is vital to help visitors explore your site. Limit menu options to layers of 6 which is the number a consumer can quickly browse and make a decision on. Have more than 6 menu items? Consider moving less popular categories into sub-categories.

5. Responsiveness across devices: constantly test your website across multiple devices to ensure it's easily accessible across platforms. Don't leave this to your web company to manage. You should constantly be testing and using the site to get a feel for any flaws and areas of opportunity for improvements 6. Being available: One of the biggest challenges tour operators/activity providers face is being able to pick up the phone or answer emails. The longer it takes to get to emails and phone calls the more time consumers have to look elsewhere to book with someone else. While it's not always possible to be near the phone when deliver courses or trips, at least by managing expectations that you'll get back to them within 24 hours. Or having someone else man the phones or emails for you when any questions come in.

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Tour Operator Online Marketing Challenges: Getting the word out there.

Online Marketing Challenge 1: Breaking through the noise It's a crowded marketplace and one of the main challenges is how to get the word out there when others are constantly doing the same.

Whatever the marketing campaign you intend to run, there's one constant to always keep in mind. No it's not remember your google analytics tag. Or to ask your colleagues to share across their channels. It's much more than that...

The goal of your marketing campaign is to tell a story. Why? Well in short:

Story telling = emotional reaction = memory creation

A good story creates an emotional reaction, which in turn generates memories, which means the next time someones thinking about where to visit, your marketing campaign, destination and website are remembered. If your marketing campaign doesn't spark an emotional connection with you, your friends and your colleagues, then switch it up.

Online Marketing Challenge 2: Advertising online

Advertising online is a great way to make sales quickly (once the above 'hygiene-factors' have been accounted for). There's a few challenges though: Which advertising channel to use? There's so many channels to choose from to advertise your trips, from Google display network, search or video (YouTube); Facebook, instagram, twitter, membership websites such as your local tourist board etc. The general rule of thumb - advertise where your customers are likely to be looking. Google is a great route to advertise to people who are specifically searching for your services. Facebook and social media channels can be a more coast effective method to send people to your website, but this is an interruptive form of marketing. I.e. you're interrupting them from what they were previously doing, so you have to have very strong content and offer to attract people and it can take multiple touch points and advertising campaigns to make this channel effective. How to make it cost-effective? It can be challenging to make advertising cost effective online. It often requires a good investment of money to see what works and to optimise campaigns before the channel starts to work for you. And many can back-off after a few hundreds points. If you're going to do it, make sure you have a good size budget for the initial testing and don't expect to start advertising and for it to work immediately and be cost effective. Like anything, advertising, the right messaging and placements require work! How to overcome the technical obstacles? Many advertising platforms are set up for marketing agencies that do this for their full time jobs, so they can be incredibly technical, especially for those who spend more time delivering tours outdoors than on these platforms. It's very easy to lose money by not correctly setting up campaigns and so many opt for providing 15%+ of their budget to an agency to run the advertising campaigns for them

Online Marketing Challenge 3: Social Media and building a following!

Social media is constantly changing. Facebook used to be a great way to send people to your website, but have since become a 'pay to play' platform where, if you want to share external links, you have to boost posts for them to get the same visibility they once did. This is because Facebook wants to keep people on their platform, so they can make more advertising revenue! By understanding what platforms are good for, how they're changing and how to adapt, you can use them to your advantage and work smart, not just hard!

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Online Marketing Challenge 4: Using third-party platforms A common misconception in the market is that it's a zero sum game to work with others I.e. you can't work with third parties as they'll be stealing your customers, or giving you customers you may have got anyway. Often working with others to promote each other attracts more customers from a wider pool of people you may not have other-wised reached. The biggest challenge for a very valid channel for partnerships and use of third parties is the commissions they can often charge when sending you bookings. There are multiple ways to overcome this:

  1. Is it cost effective: Look at your costs for getting one more customer if you advertise. Often it's greater than 10% of the total value, so working with marketplaces like Beyonk offers a cheaper route to market. If you can get customers for under 10% of the sale value, then you can decide whether to work with others or keep it in house
  2. Make it cost effective for you: Offer bespoke trips for third-parties that offer something slightly different from your own website and have a mark-up which represents this slightly different offering. E.g. instead of a day out canoeing, it can be a day out canoeing with lunch and a pint. By adding something different, you're able to offer a different price that can account for commission
  3. Understand how third party platforms work: Each platform provides different results based on your offering. E.g. Airbnb works very well for some, whereas for other professional activity providers they may be competing against consumers with no insurance, premises or staff, who offer lower rates. In which case, Airbnb is less useful for some professional outfitters in some scenarios. Learn how their rankings work - Beyonk ranks companies based on 1) the number of available dates they have and 2) preferred partner status i.e. if they're using the Beyonk booking software which gives confidence of real-time availability. Use your knowledge of how they rank businesses to get yours to the top

Want to chat through some of the challenges or get more info? Drop us a message and we'll be happy to help! For all the providers that use us for online booking, we offer free website audits and help with marketing and sales.

Want help overcoming some of these online marketing challenges? We support our booking system users with website audits and sales and marketing support. Learn more about our online booking system for tourism operators