Growing Awareness and Bookings For a High-End Adventure Tour Operator
Expedition Engineering is a luxury tour operator specializing in skiing, sea kayaking, hiking and surfing adventures to remote destinations around the globe. They had been shut down (due to covid) for nearly two years and were seeking to restart the business, grow the brand and increase new bookings, when we began working with them in late 2021.
Building the Foundation
We learned from the owners that many people enquiring about their trips assumed they were a travel agency and did not realize that they in fact designed these trips themselves.
Our work began by conducting customer research and ideal client interviews with past customers. We discovered that their affluent guests consider themselves ‘adventurers’ and that component is more important to them than traditional luxury. The quality of guiding and unique, one-of-a-kind expeditions were also key differentiators. Based on that we did a website refresh and created new core messaging that emphasized these attributes and spoke directly to their key personas.
Expedition Engineering had very little brand awareness and did not have strong Google rankings (SEO) for their more competitive tours and destinations. We focused our efforts on growing brand awareness through social media and public relations. But with their long customer journey, we did not want our PR efforts to be wasted, when someone searches for the trips they offer, so we had the twin task of also improving their rankings on Google.
We created several story pitches for their key audiences that emphasized Expedition Engineering’s unique adventure tours and destinations. We targeted mainstream, business and luxury media outlets, where we knew their audience was likely to be found, and our hard work began to pay off. We picked up press in Travel + Leisure, Luxury Travel Magazine, USA Today 10Best, National Geographic (UK) and Bloomberg Pursuits and we hosted a writer from Financial Times for a major heli skiing feature.
The press increased awareness for Expedition Engineering’s tours with high-value audiences. It also improved their authority and trust in their niche. Further, the PR has boosted brand awareness (and branded search) and the SEO work we did improved Google rankings, moving them onto page one for many of their most valuable keywords. The combined results from our work have enabled Expedition Engineering to sell out several of their most profitable tours.
Owner, Expedition Engineering
“After three months, we are seeing bookings and inquiries that are at pre-COVID levels. Darryl’s work has put us on the top page of google and in numerous high-profile magazines. His approach is creative, he believes in long-term thinking, and his step-by-step approach is systematic yet allows for the unique elements of our business.”
Turning 3% into 100%: A Product Pivot and a New Long Term Marketing Strategy for a Luxury Adventure Tourism Operator
We began working with Northern Escape Heli Skiing (NEH), a Terrace, BC-based adventure tour operator, in late 2020. Northern Escape has been in business since 2004, and provides high-end, small group heli skiing excursions to very affluent clientele from around the world. In 2020, they opened a brand new luxury lodge at a cost of $5 million, to further position NEH as an industry leader in the sport. However, with covid, the 2020 season was cut short and the new lodge received little PR and marketing.
Marketing New Tourism Products for Locals
Winter 20/21 would be a very challenging ski season, with borders closed and covid still raging. But NEH adopted new health protocols, and decided to open for private trips, for Canadians only. In normal years, nearly all of Northern Escape’s guests typically come from the US and overseas (Canadians make up about 3% heli skiing clientele), so to operate with a Canadian-only market, would require a major pivot. We worked with their team to create and market new, discounted heli and cat skiing products, specifically designed for Canadians. This involved market and competitor research, website work, SEO and Google and Facebook Ads.
Building a Long Term Foundation
Shortly after we began working with them, NEH’s president and GM, John Forrest, shared an email chain from a guest. This guest was considering Northern Escape and another competitor for a 2022 trip (these tours often book 12+ months in advance) and decided to book with the competitor instead of NEH, because they had ‘a more superior heli ski tour.’ This was a large overseas booking, well in excess of $100K, and the loss stung. Worse, the competitor’s heli tour was clearly inferior to NEH’s. This was also a marketing failure.
Up to this point, NEH’s ideal client was anyone who wanted to go heli skiing and could afford to pay for it. And their marketing reflected that, being essentially identical to their competitor’s and offering no clear point of differentiation.
We had our work cut out for us and began working on a new, long term strategy. Using the Duct Tape Marketing System, our first task was to begin ideal client interviews. We made over a dozen phone interviews with NEH’s top clients, the trip leaders who return year after year, and bring groups with them. We soon began to spot trends and key differentiators and by the end of this exercise, and with additional deep competitor and market research, we developed ‘ideal client personas’ and new core messaging for NEH.
Our new personas clearly defined exactly who NEH’s ideal clients were, the ‘benefits’ NEH provided them and a clear picture of their customer journey.
Armed with a detailed strategy, we began the tactical side of the marketing plan. NEH did not have strong reviews, despite having large numbers of very happy customers. Ratings and Reviews are not only a ‘trust factor’ they’re also a ranking factor, so we created a new reviews workflow that could be easily integrated into their operations, to prompt all happy guests to leave 5-star reviews and to deal with any problem reviews before they’re posted.
Core messaging was updated on the website and social channels to reflect those benefits most important to NEH’s ideal clients and we got to work on improving NEH’s Google search rankings (SEO).
A PR program was started and NEH’s key points of differentiation were used in Facebook and Google pay-per-click ad campaigns.
As NEH was concerned about the impact of their sport on the environment, we helped with a green, carbon-neutral certification and media outreach for this. Further, we began a social media campaign to get votes for a major industry award.
As NEH began incorporating our ratings and reviews program into their operations, their number of 5-star ratings on Google and Tripadvisor increased over 400%. We achieved several high-value press placements, and their Google search rankings (SEO), for their most important search term ‘heli skiing’ (US) moved from the bottom of Page Two up onto the middle of Page One.
Further, our Google Ads PPC campaigns began seeing strong results, with more than 5X better performance and CTR than NEH had achieved before working with us, and our social media campaigns helped them win the World Ski Award for ‘Best Heli Ski Operation’, a very prestigious award.
As a result of our work, winter 2020/21 was nearly sold out with 100% bookings coming from Canadians and winter 2022 was NEH’s most successful year on record, with nearly double the bookings and revenue of their best pre-covid season.
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 The Washington Post, 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.
Lead Guide and Owner, At The Water’s Edge Adventures
"The phone has been ringing off the hook!"
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 .