If you’ve spent any amount of time scrolling through Instagram and other social media platforms, you’ve probably noticed just how much content is available about active and luxury travel. There are over 280 million posts on Instagram alone using the hashtag #travel. This highlights the popularity of travel and the importance of developing an effective marketing strategy for luxury adventure travel companies and tour operators.
How do you break through the sheer quantity of travel-related content that is available online to engage your audience and gain new clients? SEO? Paid ads? It’s actually much more important to design your site around the customer experience first before ever spending any of your budget on off-page SEO tactics.
High-quality visual content and an excellent social media presence are essential to marketing in the active travel market. Social media and online content can now influence traveller’s decisions about their next holidays as much as, or even more than, traditional advertising. That means tour operators and travel companies must offer an online experience with high-quality content, carefully composed images and thoughtful visual storytelling.
Websites Must Do More
More people than ever plan their entire holiday through online channels instead of exclusively using travel agents. Even if travellers eventually book parts of their trip through an agent, they can come to the conversation with a very detailed idea of what they’re looking for. Agents themselves will often spend time online to vet their potential suppliers to make sure they know as much as possible.
Here in Australia, most tour operators get the majority of their bookings from a handful of inbound agents, who get their business primarily from outbound agents overseas. Add in the local travel agent in the home country of the traveller and you’ve got a very commission-heavy set of transactions before the traveller ends up in your hands. Relying so heavily on this structure is understandable to a point, but it’s at the expense of attracting FIT (free independent traveller) business.
Put simply, travellers need to easily be able to picture themselves as the hero on your website.
This drives many operators to just put up a basic, or at least unimaginative, website that conveys the nuts and bolts. The problem is, FIT customers, particularly active and luxury travellers, need more than a website you made with your brother in law on Wix. They expect great photography, tantalising copy and interesting stories – along with what to expect when they’re in-country.
As a consequence, travel companies cannot get away with budget websites that simply communicate basic information and/or that lack imagination. They must incorporate visual storytelling into their marketing and create high-quality web content that inspires and reassures travellers. Put simply, travellers need to easily be able to picture themselves as the hero on your website.
In the digital era, luxury travel first begins online where websites inspire FOMO (fear of missing out). Travellers are looking for photos, videos, and stories that draw them in and cause them to dream about the Instagram posts they’ll create if they book their holiday with you.
It’s hard to overstate how much your website defines your brand to both agents and FIT clients. You must know your target audience well enough to offer images and stories that appeal to visitors’ sense of adventure. It might require some testing and market research, but this is a worthwhile investment.
As a good rule of thumb choose images that highlight the place or the activity, rather than the actual people participating.
Remember to write content for humans – not just for search engines.
As an example, one client came to us with lots of photos of happy guests, looking straight at the camera with wine glasses raised, etc. That’s great for social media, but it’s not ideal for a convincing website. On the other hand, overuse of generic stock images of models pretending to enjoy an outdoor activity is equally useless if you intend to inspire. When in doubt, hire a photographer. It might be one of the best investments you can make.
Your web page copy must be great as well. Most operators are reasonably good at describing what they do but often fail to organise content around the traveller’s story. Yes, it’s a good idea to have pages that are written with agents in mind but the majority should be geared toward FIT visitors.
If there’s one thing that applies to all your content it’s this: Remember to write content for humans – not just search engines. Not only will your visitors much more likely to be inspired by it – your organic rankings will trend up because visitors stay on your site and dig into your content. The days of keyword stuffing and robotic sounding page copy are long gone.
Be Mobile Friendly
Smartphones are changing the travel industry. From the moment someone decides, “I want to get away,” they use their smartphones and other mobile devices to search for travel ideas and book their next holiday. Optimising your website and marketing content for mobile is essential.
Ninety-four percent of holiday travellers switch between their computer, phone, and other electronic devices as they plan their trip and they are increasingly making bookings on smartphones and tablets. Additionally, 85% of leisure travellers choose activities after they’ve arrived at their destination. Your website must be interactive and mobile-friendly. Your customers are likely to expect a seamless and easy booking experience across all their devices. right up to, and after, their departure for a holiday.
Optimising your website and marketing content for mobile is essential.
One Google study found search functionality and ease of the booking process were factors that were just as important as price in choosing an agent or operator. People simply expect mobile-friendly, single-screen booking experiences, and secure online payments. Instagram even introduced new “action buttons” on business profiles that allow people to “book,” “get tickets,” “reserve,” or “start order” within the Instagram app.
Offer Useful Content
A Nielsen research project found that travellers visited an average of 28 different websites to plan their holidays. Younger, affluent holiday-goers are looking for sites that serve as a trustworthy resource and guide throughout their holiday experience.
What kinds of content are travellers looking for? Blog posts about the weather patterns, packing tips for your location, tour write-ups, video blogs, social media posts, travel guides, infographics about the culture, Q&As, and other useful information.
Help get your clients excited about their upcoming holiday and answer their questions about the area in which you operate. Even if the content isn’t directly related to your product or service, useful information is vital to your online presence and marketing strategy.
Travellers report feeling more loyal toward travel companies that share information throughout their holiday that improves their experience. Providing valuable information also positions you as an expert on everything they might want to know about your area. For these reasons (and many more) travel companies must ensure their website is well optimised for mobile and offers helpful travel information instead of a list of the specific things you offer.
User-generated Content Is King
User-generated content (UGC) from your guests is an excellent source of organic and authentic web content. Potential customers will appreciate your visual storytelling but will also want to hear from satisfied customers about their holiday experiences.
Reviews are the least expensive, and most effective, advertising you’ll ever find.
UGC is becoming one of the most critical factors for people booking their next adventure. At least one study suggests that up to 70% of travellers value recommendations from their peers over professionally created marketing campaigns. The actual experiences of other travellers who’ve loved their time with you are the most powerful, and efficient, drivers of new business. Reviews are the least expensive, and most effective, advertising you’ll ever find.
Whether it’s a custom hashtag, a place for guests to share their Instagram-worthy photos, guest reviews, or an online guestbook, active travel brands cannot overlook user-generated content in their online presence.
Value Over Discounts
Affluent or active travellers tend to value unique and authentic experiences and are willing to spend more than most customer segments. Millennials and Generation Z consumers also tend to value “authentic” experiences over the perception of luxury. All of these groups are likely to view travel and adventure as an investment, rather than search for the lost cost provider. It’s essential that your marketing speak directly to their goals and expectations – at the expense of exclusively talking about yourself and your prices.
Instead of advertising cheap rates or discounted packages, focus on why your services are an investment…
Today’s travel consumers value the overall experience, and often eschew both products that fail to inspire their imagination. This is also true for travel agents looking at what you offer for the first time.
Instead of just promoting your unfilled capacity, or what one travel industry veteran has termed “your brown bananas,” focus on content that communicates the overall value of the experience. Instead of advertising cheap rates or discounted packages, focus on why your services are an investment that will meet their desire for lifelong memories.
Conclusion: Quality Content Is Vital To Your Success
To thrive in the luxury and active tourism market, you must rethink how you use content throughout your buyer’s journey. You aren’t just competing with other travel sites, you’re competing for attention in the social media realm where more than 2 billion photos are shared daily.
You simply cannot succeed in the travel industry without a great website and a constant supply of quality content that your clients need and want. This kind of content and online presence is no longer optional if you expect to compete.
There are no easy answers, quick fixes, or cheap shortcuts that actually work in the digital marketing world. That is why it’s important to develop an informed marketing strategy and stick to it, even when it gets challenging to wait for the results. Patience is a virtue, especially when waiting for your content strategy to begin turning a profit.
A well-conceived content strategy, delivered thoughtfully and consistently, is your sustainable path to growth.