Tourism Marketing Lessons from 16 Local Businesses
Tourism businesspeople are some of the most resilient, creative, and determined folks in today’s economy. The industry has never been an easy way to make a lot of money, and over the past two years they’ve had to effectively reinvent their entire models just to stay in business. When your primary source of revenue comes from travelers, and then travel is all but shut down, you’re up against a steep challenge.
One advantage that tourism businesses do have is their ability to collaborate, and more specifically, they have Destination Marketing Organizations that exist to facilitate that collaboration. DMOs for short, vary from place to place, but the general premise is that they pool resources in an area in order to create a greater collective impact than the individual businesses could on their own.
Here in British Columbia, Destination BC has been an industry leader, and has stepped up in many significant ways for their stakeholders. They were one of the first Provinces to take content marketing seriously, and built #ExploreBC into a multi-million post trend. We’ve been fortunate to partner with Destination BC on a variety of projects, including Remarkable Experiences – a series of IRL workshops, and the development of Tourism Digital Academy where they built an 8 week University-style course for tourism marketers. And over the past few months, at a pivotal time for our industry, when businesses are re-opening their doors and attempting to re-ignite their marketing efforts, they’ve stepped up again.
Power Up! was a digital mentorship program that connects professional marketers and consultants with the small businesses that power our Province to build high quality solutions that set those businesses up for success. Businesspeople had the opportunity to select the area where they would benefit most – from social media to SEO – and then worked directly with the experts that they were paired with over the course of the next few months. In this project, our role was to lead Digital Strategy, and Website Optimization and we were paired with 16 incredible businesses from around the Province. It was an absolute pleasure to work with these teams, and each of them presented their own challenges and opportunities. In the time that we got to spend with these leaders, we likely learned as much about their businesses as they learned from our recommendations.
In the spirit of collaboration, rather than keep all of this newfound knowledge to ourselves, we’ve compiled a set of the most significant, most common, and the most relevant digital marketing lessons that we’re taking away from this engagement:
- Visual storytelling as a differentiator
- Anchor content is under-rated
- Curiosity about email is at an all time high
Our digital presence is our new storefront. It’s how people become aware of us, and it’s the primary way that people build an understanding of what it’s like to visit/experience what we have to offer. At the same time, most tourism businesses are resource-constrained, however visual storytelling does not require a NatGeo-level photo shoot.
First, take a step back and consider the surface area where most people will be building their understanding of our businesses – for many of us that includes review sites, listings on our DMO or industry directories, and the 3-4 most important pages in our websites (Home, About, Booking, Pricing, etc.).
Next, we can plan and create the best quality photography that our resources allow to build a consistent visual story across those key touchpoints.
While there may be many digital opportunities begging for our time and resources, it seems clear that a high quality visual representation is the best, and first place to be making an investment.
Search engines have always been a bit mysterious, to the point that most tourism operators either throw their hands up and leave them to chance, or they pay for rankings in the form of search engine advertising.
The practice of creating high quality anchor content is widely used in other industries, but is largely overlooked in tourism.
Also known as evergreen content, anchor pieces are content on our websites that have high authority, and are so valuable that dozens, or hundreds of other tourism websites will want to link to them. Unlike more ephemeral posts, anchor content grows in ranking and value over time as it accrues more inbound links and more authority. The result is an asset that attracts traffic and new visitors long into the future without any additional investment.
Many people cite the seasonal nature of the industry as a reason not to create anchor content, but if we were to zoom out and look at the business on a multi-year time horizon, we’d see that those seasons repeat year after year. So, by creating a high authority piece on, say, Spring fishing in Northern BC, or Fall wine tasting on Vancouver Island, our content will have a head start each year while the competition is struggling to get their seasonal content published.
It’s no secret that we’re going to be pretty biased on this one given how much we love sending out The Brief every week. Our bias aside, we’ve been seeing more curiosity than ever from tourism businesses about the possibility of investing in high quality email marketing, and meanwhile the email newsletter industry in general has never been stronger.
The challenge, and the opportunity, is that great emails take creativity and originality. They don’t need the world’s greatest design, photography or copywriting skills, but they do need to have a compelling reason for people to open your messages every time that you send them out.
Large organizations can focus on deals of the day, and other price-based incentives, but for most of us, the opportunity is to build our direct relationships with our guests. Email is a way to increase the return rate of past visitors, fill shoulder seasons, and convert high value bookings who spend months, or even longer, considering a purchase.
The most successful brands publish regular content about the thing that their guests come to them for, such as surfing stories, skiing gear reviews, craft beer tasting notes, or animal updates from the farm. They convert by making announcements, or sharing offers when they’re relevant.
The formula for great email marketing that most tourism brands are missing out on is as follows:
- Have a compelling reason for people to sign up
- Build, and stick to, an editorial calendar
- Invest in your email marketing like you would any other appreciating asset
- Once you’ve earned those relationships, don’t be afraid to sell your products and services – just do it the same way you would to a group of friends
This all may sound like a lot of work, but when it comes to access to audiences, we can either pay to rent it by purchasing ads from places like Facebook, or we can invest in owning it, by publishing great content that earns us permission to continue to communicate with those people.
Alright, so we’ve got people to our website – the hard part is done. Now all we have to do is convince them that they’re in the right place, that we have the right offering for them, and then allow them to book, or to buy. Easy, right?
The problem is that most tourism business websites have become Frankenstein versions of their original intentions. What once started out as a simple sitemap has grown to include pages and links for every project, offering, content idea and partner.
Great tourism websites feel like a breath of fresh air because they are incredibly simple. Even if there are dozens of pages in the site, the user is presented with an easy to understand set of options on each page that clearly helps them to get whatever job they need done.
Simplicity starts by being bold – now is not the time to be modest. What are you the absolute best in the world at? What do people love about your business? Why should people be so excited about their next visit to your property? They came to your site because they want to be sold — so sell them.
Once you’ve made your bold declaration, your next job is to make it as simple as possible for people to get the information that they need, and then checkout. You can start the process of simplifying your site by answering the following questions:
- Why do we have a website?
- When people come to our site, what are they trying to get done?
- How does the content on our site help them to do that?
- Is it easy and obvious how they can do the most important thing that we need them to do (book/buy/etc.)?
Once you have your answers, then all that you need to do is remove anything that doesn’t serve your guest, and highlight the things that do.
One of the best parts about working in tourism is the collaborative nature of everything that we do. Just about every business in your community, and even in your industry is on your team, and you’re all working together to tell a similar story.
To take that even a step further, there are entire organizations that exist whose sole purpose is to support us in what we’re doing – our Destination Marketing Organizations, tourism Boards, and industry associations are hard at work every day telling the story of what we’re up to.
We’ve had the pleasure of working directly with dozens of those organizations, and one of the most consistent questions that we hear from them is: How do we get our local businesses to let us know what they’re up to?
Your tourism organizations regularly have content opportunities, media visits, influencer collaborations, travel trade bookings and other other ways that they can support what you’re up to. Below we’ve compiled a short list of some simple ways that we’ve found you can get more from your relationship with your local tourism organization:
- Share your seasonal or annual goals with them
- Let them know when you’re launching/announcing something new
- Use your regional hashtag/tag them in your content
- Subscribe to, read, and reply to their email newsletter
- Come to them with ideas, even if they might seem out of reach
DMOs in particular love creative ideas, and can often find ways to bring people together, or find funding sources for projects that benefit the region as a whole.
Our hope is that you’re able to put these findings to good use, and of course that our partners in the Power Up! project continue to push BC’s tourism industry forward. If you’re going to be traveling around BC this year and are looking for some amazing local businesses to support, we highly recommend checking out these 16:
- Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery
- Britannia Mine Museum
- Copper Cayuse Outfitters
- Early Bird Family Farm
- Armstrong Interior Provincial Exhibition
- La Frenz Winery
- Maverick Estate Winery
- Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures
- Nemiah Valley Lodge
- Okanagan Science Centre
- Pathfinder Camp Resorts
- Red Cariboo Resort
- Similkameen Wild
- Sulphurous Lake Resort
- Toby Creek Adventures
- Two Rivers Gallery
And, of course, thank you to our amazing partners at Destination BC – make sure that you’re following them on Instagram @HelloBC and use #ExploreBC as you’re out adventuring this year.