With borders closed, planes grounded, the economy in tatters and the coronavirus still pummelling the planet, the tourism industry has not seen worse days. Yet economies are slowly reopening, people are adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and there’s pent-up demand for travel. As people slowly emerge from lockdowns, they will want to safely experience the calming aspects of nature, and avoid congested cities, crowded tourist attractions and large events. By the very virtue of their businesses, adventure travel operators are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this.
This summer (and probably next winter) it’s all about staycations, small-group, local and family travel. Large group and overseas travel are out. Being in nature, and partaking in adventure activities has mental health benefits, and helps people forget about the past few months and the uncertainties ahead.
First and foremost, you must have a COVID policy and protocol and clearly communicate this on your website and social media channels. Your guests must feel safe and trust you, before they’ll consider booking. The Adventure Travel Trade Association has been doing some great work on COVID health and safety guidelines for adventure travel businesses.
Do you currently serve your local market? Depending on your business, that might mean your city, province, state or even tri-state area. I’m pretty much talking about people that can reach you by car or a short-haul domestic flight. If so, are they the same type of people as your overseas guests? My hunch is there are differences. Before marketing to your local audience, you must clearly understand who they are and why they book with you. In marketing speak, we want to create some ‘personas’, or demographic sketches of these ideal customers.
If you’ve never done it, a great way to start is by interviewing them, ideally by phone or with a questionnaire. Ask them why they’ve booked with you in the past and how you compare to your competitors. Talk to your staff to hone in on what makes these guests unique and mine any reviews or other details you may have from them. It doesn’t take a lot, just a deep look at five or six of your best local clients could give you enough intel to go on. By the end of this exercise, you’ll have a clearer picture of who your ideal customer is, the types of trips they prefer and the right messaging to use.
I recently attended a webinar by the ATTA on opening up tourism, and one of the panelists was the marketing manager for a high-end eco resort on the BC coast. All of their bookings come from overseas, and they’re all gone. “We don’t want to cheapen our brand by discounting for the local market,” said the marketing manager. I think this is shortsighted. Instead of offering the same tours at lower prices, I’d suggest tailoring to a local audience with new tours and new prices.
Also, consider what staying closed for this season and possibly even next, would do to your business and staff. You may very well lose most or all of your key people, those staff members who’ve been there for years and intimately know your business and your customers, and provide the quality and consistency your brand is known for. I’m pretty sure that loss would do more to ‘cheapen your brand’ than a short term pivot to your local market.
If you’re not able to modify your current adventure tours for the local market, consider a brand new offering. For example, could your lodge be used for weddings, or private group bookings? If this is a totally new offering, I’d suggest partnering with someone in the new industry like a wedding planner or travel agent. Paid ads on Google or Facebook would be your best option for reaching new audiences here. Right now costs have dropped for PPC and if you’re only targeting local, this will further reduce your spend, so it could be a good time for paid ads.
Another important consideration here is local SEO. When someone searches for ‘your adventure activity’ Google will always serve up local results first, but only if you’ve optimized your site and online channels for that. Your Google My Business listing is key here, so make sure it is up to date and optimized for the local market. That way you’ll show up in Maps and in the coveted local ‘GMB 3-pack’. Also, make sure to add your COVID policy here and let people know you are open.
Another way to increase local rankings and traffic to your website for local SEO is to create ‘city-specific’ pages on your site, for example ‘your-url/your-city-your-cool-activity’. And make sure to fill these pages with relevant keyword optimized content for your audience along with that great messaging you created for your personas.
Email marketing is another great and very cost-effective way to connect with your local community. Ideally, your contacts should already be segmented by geo locations. Most email marketing programs and CRM’s can do this by IP address, so there’s really no reason to be sending the wrong offers to the wrong people. I can’t count how many times I’ve received email offers from Canadian tourism companies telling me how I need to take advantage of the USD exchange rate and ‘book now’ (I live in Canada). There’s no excuse for this. Instead, reach out with well-crafted email directly to your local market, letting them know you’re open, any special adventure travel offers and changes to how you operate.
Most Destination Marketing Organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic. Budgets have vanished and many have lost jobs. If you’ve previously relied on your DMO for marketing or co-marketing campaigns, you may need to do more on your own now. But it still makes sense to reach out to your DMO and find out what’s the situation on the ground. Is it safe to invite guests? What’s the messaging from the mayor and local community? You don’t want to invite guests to have others in the community tell them to go away. You also need to find out what partner businesses are doing. Your guests will want to know what else they can do, who’s open and who’s not. DMO’s can help with this.
This can also be a good time to reach out to local media for some tourism PR. I spoke with a journalist I know recently, who specializes in European travel, and she told me she had her entire year’s work cancelled back in mid March. She’s now pivoting to do more local stories. Many journalists are in the same boat, so if you have some good local stories, reach out to local writers, bloggers, and even TV stations and you may be surprised to find out they’re looking for stories.
Your new local market could continue to be a strong revenue stream even after things return to normal. This ‘tinkering’ with your product offerings and audience, could generate totally new and profitable ideas for your business. Your staff will appreciate your efforts with increased loyalty and adventure businesses that manage to stay open will be much better prepared for the future.
And if you need any help with any of this, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.