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The travel sector has been one of the fiercest online marketing battle grounds for some time. You can either put your tin hat on and wait for the dust to settle (that’s not going to happen I hope you realise. Ever.) or you can take advantage of the opportunities the web has and flourish.
So for travel industry businesses there are a whole host of challenges to overcome. Whether you’re a tour operator, travel agent, holiday add on firm or even a review site, chances are you have a fight on your hands. But you’ve never been in a better position.
Tour operators are seeing margins squeezed as average ticket values drop, added value in the form of booking incentives have now become de facto and second holidays are given up on or swapped for “stay-cations” in these austere times. This week the financial struggles of Thomas Cook were even seen as disconcerting for their major competitor, TUI.
Travel agents are becoming fewer in number as the snowball effect of less take up, lower average selling prices and smaller commissions take their toll.
The newer travel intermediaries, those firms operating around the holiday purchase also face the challenge of handling their brand in the transparent world of social media.
All three groups also have the looming fear of the next natural disaster, political unrest and insolvency hanging over them too. Repatriation is not an easy science to master, never mind a cheap aspect of business to allow for.
If you’ve read this far and were thinking of getting into travel you’d be forgiven for running a mile. If you’ve read this far and you’re already in the travel industry you’d be forgiving for trying to jump out of the nearest window. But fear not and stay with me, there is hope…
There are a number of follow up posts I’m planning to supplement this post so by no means will this post be exhaustive and I welcome input on the evolution the travel industry is undergoing. So put down the whiskey tumbler and think about how you can take advantage of what is right in front of you. Here’s a few thoughts to consider…
A quick search through the headlines sees foreign travel in the public consciousness almost on a daily basis – for both good and bad reasons. Customer service does form part of your offering right? Have you ever said my company offers exceptional customer service? Thought so. I’ve not read one service related strap line that professes “mediocre customer service but nice biscuits”.
Bad news story: Blog it. Add context and offer expertise whether via your staff or linking to relevant sites for further information. Share this via social media channels and encourage others to do the same. Include a call to action such as email sign up.
Good news story: Commentate, add your views and help shape the image your prospective site visitor is building. As above, always include an action for the visitor to undertake in order to derive some value from the effort you’ve made.
A blog or a weekly email newsletter is an effective vehicle to utilise. Blogs are not dead and are likely to be more valuable to a business if executed properly than page after page of “deals”. If everything is a “deal” or a “special offer” then nothing is really that special. Chances are for both positive and negative news stories; there’ll be some office chat that will likely reflect some of the things your audience is thinking and wanting more information on. Be the one to give it to them.
Have an effective link building strategy in place and with this sort of content you can benefit twice through improvements in inbound traffic and also by enhancing your authority potentially securing valuable guest posts with other industry sites because of your recognised expertise.
Conversations had over the garden fence about where your neighbours have been on holiday are now happening online. With more adding to the conversation. People love to talk about their holidays. They love to talk about how good a deal they got. And they love…sharing their pictures. Access to photo sharing has moved on from the days of Grandad having to rig up a projector in the front room. With a few clicks and a good wifi connection, there can be a whole photo album in one or more places for a whole network of friends and family to view. The point of this is that the real experience is shared. Not just the picture perfect brochure images.
Pinterest could be the perfect recruitment vehicle for your site given it’s visually rich and edifying content. Here’s our Tara with her introduction to using Pinterest for marketing;
You can take this to another level as demonstrated by Jetsetter in this post on Mashable.
By leveraging the appeal of their followers being seen as a source of information, Jetsetter asked their Pinterest audience to curate individual boards based on holiday themes. The result was a traffic increase of 150%. See the link for more, but the key stats for me were the 1100+ participants, the 40 images per board average and the not inconsequential 50k pins all securely branded through relevant Jetsetter tags and hastags. All that, for a measly $1000 voucher. Jubbers as a Koozai might say.
You may have got a whiff of SEO best practice on this site. In the aftermath of both the Panda (low quality content) and Penguin (anti spam) updates content needs to be written for the user at the forefront of your mind and the search engine, slightly to the back and on the left of your mind. So I won’t labour the point too much but the fundamentals any site worth its salt needs are;
Give your site individual title tags for each of your pages. Include the keyword you’re targeting and tell the search engines exactly what the page will display. Leave them in no doubt by also including your keyword in the header of the page, first and last paragraph. Script an effective meta description for the page that includes the keyword you’re focusing on, something about your company that no other can compete with that relates to the search and finally a call to action to prompt the all important click.
Provide both visitor and search engines with a clear sitemap each so that both can easily navigate quickly to what they seek.
Feed the eyes. There are not many more visually rich subjects than travel so vary your media and include images. Ensure you make them crawlable by the search engines by adding Alt Tags to them.
Be honest and question the quality of content that you’re posting. You wouldn’t put any old tat in that half page Saturday Mail advert and you should make every word on your site count in the same way too.
I’ll follow up this post in the near future and talk about specific examples of online marketing for travel but I’ll wrap up for now.
Travel is sexy; its newsworthy and new media laps it up. It remains an industry where service and differentiation are key. The products and service you offer may not be unique but the effectiveness with which you supply it should be. Understand your niche and be clear about what value you add and promote yourself.
Take the tin hat off and make it happen.
Colosseum in Rome, Italy via BigStock