If you’re a tour operator and you’ve just run a new magazine ad, Facebook video or Instagram campaign that resulted in thousands of new views, that’s great! You’ve done a good job of raising awareness for your tours. But your job is not done until those views result in actual visitors who arrive at your website and start booking tours. In fact, if your marketing efforts don’t result in any physical visits to your destination then you’ve not only failed, you’ve wasted a lot of time and money in the process. Sorry.
Your marketing needs to convert. A conversion occurs when someone sees your content and clicks a link to find out more, submits a contact form, downloads a PDF, books a tour, or any other action that brings them from the dreaming stage through planning to booking. In fact, there are 5 stages to travel:
And your job’s not done until all 5 stages have been completed. So don’t stop at getting people to dream about visiting you, keep on converting them to the next stage until their journey and yours is complete. Here’s how:
Conversion Tip 1: Clear Calls to Action
A big button at the bottom of your Facebook post that says “Learn more”. A thumbnail of your PDF map with the command “Download me”. A simple form for name, email, query, and a button to “Contact us”. These are the kinds of clear calls to action that convert. Every piece of content you create needs to have a clear call to action. Think through what you expect people to do after viewing your content. Are they supposed to do a Google search, find your website and then contact you? Discuss your video with their spouse and then call you? Go to their favorite OTA and book a flight and hotel? Don’t leave it up to chance! Tell your audience what action to take after viewing your content. Just one action is best, no need to confuse them with options. At the bottom of your magazine ad tell them to call you. In your video description or a pop up tell them to click and learn more. Somewhere in your podcast tell them to subscribe to hear more episodes. Think of everything you do as building a funnel, funneling people to the call to action, and getting them to convert to the next stage.
Conversion Tip 2: Bring Them to Your Website
As a tour operator, the most powerful tool you have is your website. Nothing else in your toolkit can bring people through all 5 stages from Dreaming through to Planning, Booking, Experiencing and Sharing. That is, if you’ve got quality content (see our post on Tour Content and Translation Recommendations), and your website is not just a basic brochure site (if it is you’re failing, stop reading this and go fix it first!). Although there are now many great ways to build awareness of your brand, with innovative new social media channels launching every year, it’s virtually impossible to coax people through all 5 stages using those channels alone. You need to bring them from those channels to your website and you can educate them, interact with them to answer their questions, solve any problems they have, keep them coming back to your destination and tell their friends about you. So make sure to include a link to your site with a clear call to action and tell them to visit you. Doing this is also time and cost efficient because you can post the content on your site first then push it to social media channels with a link back to your website. This allows you to manage your content from a single dashboard on your website rather than logging in and posting from multiple places.
Conversion Tip 3: Nurture Your Leads
Effective tour marketing leads to sales. You need to think of yourself as both marketer and salesman. Your destination may, in fact, be lucky enough to have a business development team for this very purpose, in which case this tip holds true for both individuals and teams. Every contact you have with a person interested in your destination is a chance to develop a Lead, and it’s your job to nurture them through the sales pipeline from Lead to Opportunity, Closed Won, and Repeat customer. The terms used here are the defaults used by Salesforce, the market leader in customer relationship management (CRM) software. CRM software connects with your website to gather people’s information in an online database and allows you to easily manage the necessary actions to keep nurturing that relationship. Things like adding their email to your newsletter list so you can keep in touch with them, scheduling invitations to upcoming events, or reminding you when it’s time to give them a call and ask how their stay was. Marketing automation software like Hubspot, Marketo, and Salesforce Marketing Cloud allow you to automate many of these actions and are indispensable tools for small destination marketing teams. At the least, you should be using email management software like Mailchimp. Email is the second most powerful tool in your marketing toolkit next to your website for driving conversions. Even more powerful than social media.
Conversion Tip 4: Use Analytics Data
You’re probably already using analytics data like Adobe Marketing Cloud or Google Analytics to track traffic to your website and better understand your audience (if you’re not you should be). Tools like these are extremely helpful for understanding who is coming to your site, what kewords they’re searching for to get there, what content they’re looking at when they arrive and in what sequence, what they’re interests are, their age, sex, and other demographic data. However, despite being very useful and intuitive, these tools do not track conversions by default. It’s up to you to tell them what your conversion goals are by tagging them. In Google Analytics these are referred to as Events. Each conversion you want to track, such as a button click or form submission, needs to be tagged with an Event tag. Although this requires some work to setup it’s absolutely essential in order to properly track your conversion goals. Once setup these Event conversions will display in your analytics dashboard and reports.
Conversion Tip 5: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO refers to the technique of using search engines like Google and Yahoo to bring more visitors to your destination. At its most basic it means optimizing your content so that it displays at the top of search engines like Google for search terms (keywords) relevant to your destination. For example, if your destination is Kyoto then you want potential visitors to search for a term like “visit kyoto” and find your site listed at or near the top of the search results. In fact, you ideally want to be in the first 3 listings. A recent study shows that 33% of traffic goes to the top listing, 18% to number 2, and 12% to number 3. Number 10, the last listing on page 1 of the search results, gets only 2.4% of traffic. SEO encompasses quite a lot of different points, from technical aspects like website structure, server environment, and page load time to using search keywords to guide your content creation strategy. You can learn more about the technical details of SEO in our series on SEO for Destination Marketing Organizations.
From the point of view of making sure your content converts though, the primary thing to focus on is search relevance. This is simple. People search for something related to your tours, find your content listed at the top of the search results because of its relevance, click it, come to your call to action and convert. Most likely they’ll find your actual website, but not always. They may find an article you’ve written for another website, a Facebook post or a video (the second largest search engine in the world is YouTube). The important thing is understanding what keywords people are searching for that are relevant to your destination, creating content relevant to these keywords, and getting it out across all your marketing channels. As per Tip 2 above you then want to pull them into your website where you have the best chance of converting them through all 5 stages.
You can get info on what keywords people are searching for by looking at your analytics data. To get the best keyword insights from Google Analytics you need to connect Google Search Console. This is a free tool which gives you a bit more insight into hidden keywords. Searches drive strategy. Remember that. Using your analytics data to understand the keywords people are searching for, then writing your content accordingly is called data-driven decision making. Data-driven decision making takes the guesswork out of what blog post or article you should write next, and what content should go on your website home page and at the top of landing pages. No need to guess, just write about what people are actually searching for.
Conversion Tip 6: Think Mobile First
With the increasing usage of mobile phones by travelers all over the world, it is absolutely essential that you make sure your website is mobile friendly. According to this Google report on the Traveler’s Road to Decision 84% of leisure travelers rely on search engines via smartphones to find local information. If your site isn’t mobile friendly travelers will be frustrated and give up. Only 23% of visitors will push on and continue with a non-mobile friendly site.
But what exactly does mobile friendly mean? Starting in 2014 Google made a change to their search listing algorithm which favored sites that can be easily viewed on mobile devices. They called these sites “mobile friendly”. This is similar to responsive design, where the text, images, and page layout are automatically resized to fit the user’s screen, whether they are viewing on a PC with a large, widescreen monitor, a tablet, or a smartphone. The advantage of mobile friendly sites is that they can be easily viewed on smartphone’s smaller screens. Google further emphasized the importance of mobile friendly sites with their April 21st, 2015 mobile friendly ranking algorithm which determines whether your site is mobile friendly or not on a page by page basis (this is an on/off algorithm, with no degrees of mobile friendliness. It is pass or fail). Simply put, if your tour site is not mobile friendly then the search engines will penalize your site and show it lower in their search results, meaning inbound visitors will have difficulty finding and using it. To learn more about Google’s requirements visit their guide here.
Conversion Tip 7: A/B Test
A/B testing is a method of comparing two versions of your content against each other to determine which one performs better. This could be in the form of a headline in your newsletter, an image on your website, the size and color of a call to action button, or a more comprehensive page layout design change. The variations are shown to people at random, and statistical analysis is used to determine which variation performs better for a given conversion goal. Running an A/B test that directly compares a variation against a current experience lets you ask focused questions about changes to your website or app, and then collect data about the impact of that change. Testing takes the guesswork out of website optimization and allows you to make data driven decisions. By measuring the impact that changes have on your metrics, you can ensure that every change produces positive results.
There are many tools that allow you to do A/B testing across various channels. The leader in website and app A/B testing is Optimizely. Optimizely is a great tool to use if you are managing a larger destination with the budget for enterprise software tools. For destinations with smaller budgets VWO is a less feature rich but adequate tool, and for landing page A/B testing Unbounce is very popular. Most marketing automation software and email campaign management software like Mailchimp will let you A/B test newsletter headlines and email content. And social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram will allow you to do A/B testing (split testing) on ads.
A/B testing is an essential component of conversion optimization. It lets you try out new ideas without risk, by testing them first, and confirms which of your ideas are currently working. Before undertaking a complete content or website redesign, first run a series of incremental tests, introducing one new component at a time, to make sure you’re on the right track then make course corrections as necessary. Use your test results to make informed data-driven decision making rather than leaping out in a new direction completely blind.
Conversion Tip 8: Work With Influencers
The term influencers probably brings to mind celebrities, pop-stars and actresses who are active on social media. While having Kylie Jenner, an AKB48 member, or whoever the latest over-sharing star is post about your destination would likely bring a huge spike in traffic, they’re most likely out of your budget range. Also, they may actually be too popular, as their followers would be of low quality for your destination, which is to say the majority of them would not be the right target market for you. Once a social media influencer reaches a critical mass of followers, audience engagement actually begins to decrease. A survey of 2 million social media influencers by influencer marketing platform Markerly showed that for unpaid posts, Instagram influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers have a like rate of about 8 percent, while those with 1,000 to 10,000 followers have a like rate of 4 percent.
Rather than try to work with big name celebrities it is usually more effective to identify micro-influencers whose followers are a good fit for your destination. Micro-influencers are social media users who work or specialize in a particular vertical and frequently share social media content about their interests. Unlike traditional celebrity influencers micro-influencers usually have around 1,000 to 10,000 followers, but their audiences are highly engaged. Look for influencers who have around 10,000 followers on platforms like Instagram (the most successful social media platform for destinations) and reach out to connect with them.
Also, don’t forget that every one of you fans is, in fact, an influencer, even if it’s only of their own family, friends, and co-workers. Never miss a chance to engage with a fan who’s followed you on Instagram or liked one of your posts. Keep these fans happy and encourage them to not only passively follow your content, but to actively share and recommend it to their friends. By encouraging each engaged fan like this you can develop your own micro-influencer network.
Conversion Tip 9: Involve Stakeholders
Your stakeholders are the local business owners, managers, and residents who benefit economically from tourists visiting your destination. They may or may not be a member of your CVB or DMO. They are not only the obvious businesses like hotels, tour providers, and transportation providers, but also the local street vendors, little ramen shops, convenience store staff, and all the other people visitors are going to come in contact with as they walk about your destination. One of the most important parts of your job as a destination marketing manager is to work closely with these stakeholders to understand exactly what they think of inbound tourism, what they want from it, and to educate them on the opportunities to benefit from it. A failure to do so can be very dangerous, as it can lead to a negative impression of your destination. If stakeholders don’t understand the benefits of tourism – if they don’t see visitors bringing benefit to their destination, especially economic benefit in the form of money in their pockets, they’re likely to see visitors as a nuisance.
That local ramen shop owner may be overwhelmed by foreign tourists popping by his shop unexpectedly, asking questions in English which he can’t understand. Out of a desire to maintain good service to his local clientele, he may put up a “No English” or “Japanese Only” sign, not realizing the terrible negative connotations of seclusion and even racism that such signs can imply. These incidents are a PR nightmare for a destination, especially if annoyed visitors post negative comments on social media. It’s your job to educate him on how to deal with these non-Japanese speaking visitors, provide him with tools such as English menus, and educate him on his role as an ambassador for your destination.
Furthermore, you need to be in constant contact with local stakeholders to ensure that your marketing efforts are in line with what they want. If your marketing focuses on attracting young, hip, single travelers, but every restaurant in town is a family restaurant, then your efforts are out of sync. Getting in sync with your stakeholders will ensure that your marketing is on point, you’re attracting quality visitors to your destination, and they are being rewarded with the experiences they desire.
Conversion Tip 10: Content is King
One of the main issues that our tour clients struggle with is creating, managing, and translating quality content. Content can take many forms, text, photos, graphics (such as maps and illustrations), PDF downloads, embedded videos, etc., with text being primary. It’s essential to write quality text copy on your tour website in order to get good SEO, encourage engagement on social media, referrals from other websites, and to keep people on-site long enough to convert. It’s important to post content that’s interesting, informative, and engaging. Content shared from your website to social media channels must be high quality in order to get people to like, share and otherwise engage with it, known as social media engagement.
Perhaps the most important aspect of content management for tour operators, especially those looking to attract international visitors, is translation management. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into crafting quality content if its translation into each target language is not also high quality. Here I must stress again to never, ever use machine translation! It is impossible for machine translation to achieve the level of quality necessary. Even if machine translation could accurately translate the meaning of your content (which it unfortunately, cannot do yet), it’s impossible to tell the story of your tours through a direct translation. What is actually required is not direct translation of your content, but localization into each language complete with all the cultural nuances and verbal imagery necessary to native speakers of that language, something only an experienced human translator/copywriter can achieve. To learn more please see our post on Tour Content & Translation Recommendations.
By implementing these tips you can keep your marketing on track, ensure no wasted efforts, and keep converting people through each stage until they become a visitor and your mission is accomplished. Good luck!