By Ricki Hudson — 9 Sep 2020
Recently, I wrote ‘The COVID-19 Recovery Starts Local Part 1: Your tour or activity reimagined 5 ways’. The article provided 5 concepts around your tour or activity that will help you stand out to local consumers in your destination, area, or region. If you missed it, you can read it here.
Reimagining your product for a local audience is just part of the solution. How do you get the word out? Especially if you’ve historically focused on international visitors. There are different strategies that apply. Some will be familiar to you, others are simply a matter of reworking your marketing and partnership efforts in a slightly different way.
Below are 5 key thought starters to get you tour or activity in front of more locals than ever before.
We’ve heard these stats time and time again. Only around 5-10% of tour and activity operators have a booking software depending on the market.
Why is that? Simply put, tours, activities, and attractions vary more so than most ‘like’ hospitality clusters like hotels, aviation, car rentals etc. The needs of a kayaking business are completely different to that of a walking tour, a winery and a fishing charters aren’t operationally aligned and there’s not a great deal in common with a whale-watching cruise and a hot air balloon ride.
I believe that there can be some trepidation around whether or not a booking software will cater fully to the individual needs of a tourism operation. The good news is that they generally do. While I’m fairly biased, before you get started on selecting a booking software, write a list of what you need and shop around. Most software solutions offer a trial. Be cautious around those that don’t offer a ‘try before you buy’ solution. Try a few for free for yourself, including us. You can start a three week no obligation trial with Rezdy here.
Why it matters:
The highest growth of any channel we have seen during COVID has been direct website bookings from domestic consumers. Locals want to support locals, and savvy shoppers will attempt to go to a direct website where they can with a ‘support my local economy’ mindset.
Beyond that, there’s less competition than usual. Large resellers are investing far less in paid marketing activities and some have even collapsed during COVID. That means that your direct website is more visible than usual due to less competition on platforms like Google for example.
If you don’t have a bookable website taking digital payments then you run a risk of being outcompeted by other tourism operators that have, and risk being left behind.
The golden rule here is: Don’t be afraid to ask. Let’s break this down into two components.
First, if your website has a ‘subscribe’ option, or you already use a booking software, you will have a bunch of past email contacts ready to talk to. Talk to them! If you understand where your email contacts are geographically, use this to your advantage. You have a unique opportunity to tailor new locally themed products to this audience, and you can be more personalised with your theming around localised events. For example, school and public holidays in your destination are now low-hanging fruit and an excuse to talk to these potential future consumers and get them booking.
Second, don’t forget your personal network. I bet you have 100s of people in your Gmail or Outlook contacts that would love to hear about a new ‘tailored-to-locals’ experience. This is also true of your personal social media accounts. Ask your team to get involved too. Remember, there’s a lot of people out there desperate to do something (where it is safe to do so). Your product could be just the ticket to get locals out of the suburbs and into your destination where travel allows it.
Why it matters:
Starting to engage successfully with locals in your networks, whether that be past customers or personal contacts, could form part of the basis of a new local strategy in the long term. When borders reopen and international travel resumes, having a local database alongside an international strategy will help you recover stronger and provide a future opportunity for incremental growth that you might not have considered.
There’s been plenty of movement in the online reseller space over a number of years with new OTAs popping up all the time. A lot of us have probably connected to too many as a result which will be hampering your margins.
However, COVID has changed things, and now is the time to look at who you’re connected to, consolidate, and select the right ones for your business at this time.
Traditionally large players have shrunk while others have shone during COVID. Reserve with Google, Groupon, and gifting sites like Red Balloon in Australia are doing well at capturing local booking demand right now. Do a stocktake to ensure what you have in place now is still working for you today, and consider a changed approach.
An easy way to tackle this problem is to think about it in this way. What am I gaining from this connection, and what am I losing? If you’re losing more margin than you could be gaining with a fresh approach then you might want to reconsider your relationship with a distribution partner.
Why this matters:
The truth is, you could be paying more commission than you need to by having too many distribution partners. If you’re paying 30% commission on 80% of your bookings, you’re losing margin that you could capture by redistributing a fraction of those funds into paid marketing like Facebook and Google Ads to get more direct bookings to your website while increasing your businesses visibility. And, in doing so, you’re the one in control.
Trial it yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results and it’s a great way of rethinking your marketing efforts long term.
I’ve mentioned this theme before. Connecting with your local community is such a powerful opportunity. We’ve seen genuine results from this approach when a region takes this concept and runs with it. South Australia initially comes to mind as a striking success story.
How do you tackle it? Start by connecting with your local chamber of commerce, the business community, and/or tourism bodies. It’s an excuse to reconnect with like-minded people in your area. In some instances, you may benefit from a new mutual referral scheme between your business and another.
And remember, you can invite other businesses like your local cafe, hotel, or pub to resell your services very easily through Rezdy Marketplace.
Remember when this pandemic started and all that we heard is ‘we’re all in this together’. That hasn’t changed. In fact, when we think about the economic recovery, this idea is going to become just as important as it was when the pandemic started.
People and businesses are wanting to connect again and help their local communities recover. Why not become a proactive ambassador in your region? Initiate conversations that will help you now to build stronger relationships, new forms of collaboration, and incremental avenues for future bookings both in the recovery period and further out into the future.
You may find it a bit cheaper to advertise through Facebook and Google right now. Why? Major brands are spending less on these platforms due to COVID as they reduced their marketing budgets.
Don’t do the same, especially if you have sessions available for booking at this time. Consumers are using social media and search a lot more at the moment as they seek information about various items that have kept the 2020 news cycle busy. Basically, more eyeballs plus less advertising competition means that you’ll be getting more bang for your marketing dollars.
There is a small note on this. Specific to Facebook, let’s use a hypothetical person called ‘Bob’. Bob likes kayaking, but he also likes video games. So, if a major video game comes out and that brand wants to target Bob with more marketing dollars during the launch of that video game, the costs of marketing your kayak business may spike. It’s possible that you may not be able to compete to get Bob’s attention at all depending on how much the retailers are spending.
What I’d recommend is to think of major online sale events like Black Friday or Click Frenzy and reconsider your ad strategy coming into these major sales events so that you aren’t outcompeted by big-budget retailers. Perhaps reduce or pause your activity during these times and ramp up when those events have passed.
Earlier, I mentioned rethinking your distribution strategy. If you decide to remove one or two, why not try shifting the commission you would normally pay into these channels. Depending on your approach (your ad content is a major consideration), you might see more bookings for less spend in this climate. And again, you’re in control.
A reminder, Rezdy’s ‘Book Now’ button integrates into tour operator Facebook pages so consumers can book directly from the platform. Also, Google Analytics is integrated with Rezdy so you can easily monitor your results.
The benefit of paid marketing strategies in these platforms is the control you have in terms of targeting. Both platforms allow geotargeting. You’re likely not spending to target international travellers at this time. Use this opportunity to redistribute your funds and create a highly visible localised campaign for less.
We hope you enjoyed this article. Remember that with all of these concepts, don’t limit these strategies to just this period. Having a two-pronged approach to attract locals AND international travel in a post-COVID world will not only help your recovery efforts but turn into an exciting area of new growth into the future that this moment in time has shone a spotlight on.
Written By – Ricki Hudson – Marketing Manager – Partnerships & Acquisition, Rezdy
Ricki has worked at Rezdy since 2018. Ricki has nearly 15 years of marketing experience, predominantly in the tourism sector. Ricki is passionate about helping the sector grow through strong eco-systems and networks to the betterment of the industry.