Marketing a New Tourism Business During COVID
When we began working with At The Water’s Edge Adventures (AWE), a new kayaking tour outfitter on Northern Vancouver Island, in mid-February, our job was to grow bookings in a very competitive market against several well-established operators. Only a few weeks in, COVID hit, and operations were shuttered. But owner Wesley Gibson was committed to staying the course, so we developed a new marketing strategy.
In normal years, the majority of bookings would come from US and overseas guests, something not possible as borders were closing. We immediately began aligning the product and messaging to COVID, with a new pivot to the local market, and private-only ‘bring-your-bubble’ tours, should the BC government begin allowing local travel. The majority of the competitors in this space offer ‘glamping’ style products with large mixed groups, base camps, hot tubs and use of covered power boats to shuttle guests around. All of these amenities now became disadvantages to AWE’s self-propelled, private, nature-based trips, so we emphasized this in our messaging, while stressing the importance of spending time in nature for mental health.
Building a Foundation
As a brand new business, AWE had no site traffic and virtually no Google rankings. On top of that, there were numerous website issues and suspended Google accounts, left by the previous developer. Our first job was to fix the website and unlock accounts.
With no budget for paid ads or PPC, our goal was to increase traffic and bookings with SEO. We created new long-form, highly authoritative blog content and optimized AWE’s online channels for the BC market. We also began outreach to the local and regional DMOs to build relationships with key contacts and to secure valuable online tourism listings. As a result of this outreach, AWE was invited to take part in a social media campaign and contest with Vancouver Island North Tourism and other local businesses, to further boost awareness of the new brand.
When BC’s Phase 3 reopening began in early June, AWE was the first operator on the water and was well positioned to take advantage of the BC market. We built a review funnel and further optimized AWE’s Tripadvisor and Google My Business pages.
With a focus on storytelling, we created several media-ready pitches and invited a high-calibre group of local journalists on a press trip we designed to further build awareness. The FAM trip yielded articles in BC Magazine and its email newsletter, Destination Canada’s blog, top outdoor blogs and several more articles and press coverage are slated for the coming months and into next year.
The press generated buzz, and increased site traffic and awareness of the AWE brand. Combined with the tourism SEO work we had been doing, AWE’s Google rankings began to improve dramatically, and several of AWE’s most important pages, including their ‘rentals’ and ‘outfitting’ pages are now in the top five Page One search results. Their ‘kayaking tours’ have reached the coveted Google My Business 3-pack.
As a result of our work, AWE is now competing successfully with its far larger and more established competitors, and booked out for the remainder of the summer. All of this was accomplished without any paid ads or PPC.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” Wes Gibson, Lead Guide and Owner
Development of a Media Program for a Remote Backcountry Ski Lodge
Keefer Lake Lodge is a high-end cat skiing operation located in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. We were brought in at the start of the winter 2018/2019 season to develop a PR program, where none had existed before. Keefer was a new business only a few years into operations.
We began with a deep strategy engagement to understand Keefer’s vision, values and voice. This involved interviews with the company owners to understand where they wanted to see the business going and with their ideal clients. We asked Keefer for a list of their best customers, the trip leaders who had been at least twice and brought groups with them, and set up phone interviews with them. The interviews gave us a good sense of what appealed most to this valuable clientele and also told us what media they consume, such as magazines, online publications etc.
Two big differentiators for Keefer, that came from the calls, were the ‘luxury’ aspects and ‘laid back vibe’. After some additional research it was decided that this value proposition would also be used to create story pitches. In the past, the cat skiing industry was seen and heli-skiing’s poor cousin, with mediocre accommodations and meals. The work Keefer had done was breaking new ground in the industry and worthy of press.
As the winter season was already getting underway, Keefer was receiving incoming pitches from ‘media’ requesting free ski trips. Many of these media were unqualified and Keefer had struggled with these types of requests in the past, so we immediately installed an evaluation system and trained staff how to grade these requests and when to refer them back to us.
We then began identifying Tourism and DMO backlinks opportunities. We reached out to Kootenay Rockies Tourism and discovered several sites where Keefer could post free listings and videos, in particular the Powder Highway sites. These consumer facing channels are funded by Destination BC and have strong social media components and high traffic so we began to create content for them. We also began to build relationships with key contacts within Destination BC, and in particular with DBC’s ski media manager, whom we supplied with pitching materials for international travel trade events she was attending and journalists she was meeting with.
Finally, we began a targeted campaign to ski media using story pitches that emphasized Keefer’s ‘luxury aspects’ and the new trends in snowcat skiing.
The DBC backlinks work immediately began to Increase site traffic. Keefer was able to eliminate bogus media trips, built new relationships with DBC and their regional DMO, and got on the radar of some top shelf ski media. Confirmed assignments by Snow Magazine, The Ski Journal and an upcoming trip by a ski writer from Outside magazine are planned for 2019/2020.
A New Adventure Tour and Media Exposure for a European Photo Safari Operator
Waterworld Adventure Tours is a high-end photo safari tour company based in Innsbruck, Austria. The company specializes in unique, off-the-beaten path tours to the far corners of the globe. Trips have included Antarctica expeditions, swimming with humpback whales in the Caribbean, scuba diving in Lake Baikal and Cocos Island shark diving amongst many others. Waterworld’s clientele are typically wealthy, age 40-plus professionals from Germany, Switzerland, Austria and more recently China, where they have opened a new office. The guests are keen photo hobbyists, often traveling with tens of thousands of dollars of professional grade camera equipment and are looking for experiences that cannot be found anywhere else.
We were contracted to develop and provide media coverage and support for a new Canadian based photo safari, to photograph spawning salmon in the interior of British Columbia. The project required logistical planning, location scouting, transportation and securing of necessary permits. Additional activities, such as helicopter flights and custom First Nations experiences not available to the general public, were arranged, further adding to the exclusivity of these tours.
The project involved considerable PR and media production, by our team and by working with visiting journalists. It was decided early on that all trips would host professional media who would produce magazine, newspaper, online and video content. Media coverage was subsequently used in travel trade shows, social media and on the Waterworld website and made up the bulk of Waterworld’s marketing for these tours.
The high quality press that was produced generated a buzz amongst Waterworld’s key prospects, who wanted to come and create for themselves the same stunning images our pro team had produced. Growth in bookings for Waterworld’s salmon spawning trips exceeded 450% and are now sold out more than a year in advance .