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Travel Businesses and the Fast-changing Customer Behavior

Having a website with beautiful, engaging images and attractive videos along with informative, well-written content has become the norm for tour operators across the globe to engage with their customers and generate sales. Tour operators must increase their online success to reach new customers. Today, online website builders offer relatively low-cost design options and with the use of social media platforms, online travel agents (OTAs), bloggers, and influencers as well, there are many opportunities to improve online effectiveness.

Why is online presence a must for travel businesses?; The Internet has become the most important tool for travel research across the world today, and it is estimated that 90% of travelers go online to research their trips. It is how your customers will find your company.

There are many good reasons to have your own website, all of which will help generate more sales in the short or long term:

  • Fostering trust amongst potential customers is the most important function of a website. An online presence and good design will lend credibility and engender trust amongst potential customers.
  • A well-planned and marketed website will help European tour operators decide whether they want to do business with your company.
  • For fully independent travelers, a strong social media presence supported by an informative website will help them make decisions as they research their travel plans online.
  • A website enables you to create your own brand and personalize your business in the way that you’d like to be seen. Having a strong brand is another way to generate trust and confidence amongst your target audience.
  • Through the information you promote on your website, you have the opportunity to present yourself or your company as an ‘expert’. This could be detailed information about places of interest in your area, the local culture and traditions and travel tips pertinent to your destination. The more you can present yourself as a specialized ‘one-stop shop’, the more useful your website will be.
  • A website gives you the opportunity to showcase the best images and videos about your destination, your trips and your experiences. Inspirational photos and stimulating videos attract attention and can be more convincing than text.
  • A ‘call to action’ such as an enquiry for more information or request to book gives you the opportunity to build a relationship with a potential customers

However, before you start creating a website you must perform a thorough analysis of your current business and research your target market. A good place to start is to understand how today’s major consumer groups use the Internet to research and book their holidays and trips.

However, before you start creating a website you must perform a thorough analysis of your current business and research your target market. A good place to start is to understand how today’s major consumer groups use the Internet to research and book their holidays and trips.

How different consumer groups use the Internet; The behavioral traits of the major consumer groups are well-researched these days and it is important that you understand how they tend to use the internet to research their travel plans before you start planning your website. This is key so that your website and social media presence targets the right groups.

Be sure you know your business; Before you begin putting together a plan to build a website, it is important that you conduct a thorough business analysis. Even a simple business and marketing plan will help you identify your organization’s SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and will help clarify who you are trying to target and the skills and financial resources that you may need to start a new website. Keeping your business plan up-to-date and current will help you generate more bookings and increase revenue in the long term.

Draw up a simple website development strategy; Your website strategy should be simple, easy to implement, and follow. A two to three-page document will suffice. The strategy should outline all the steps from planning, to the website going live, and onwards through monitoring:

Make your website SEO-friendly; Good content is the most important aspect to consider when developing a website, and the quality of travel websites is increasing all the time. This means the web is a very crowded place and you will have to work hard to get your trips and experiences in front of your buyers. Not only is good content what inspires your potential customer, but it is also crucial for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). SEO is the process of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic, or free, search engine results. Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo send out ‘crawlers’ (or ‘spiders’) over the web to identify the most relevant websites based on the user’s search request. The websites that score highly are those that appear on the first search page. Most users won’t progress to results beyond the first page. Well-written, relevant content with frequently used keywords, images, and videos all contribute to SEO. The infographic below shows how the process of making a website SEO-friendly works.

Plan good content for your website; Good content has to be visually appealing, engaging, inspiring and informative. If it isn’t all of these, the impact of the website will be severely diminished. When planning your content, these are the important considerations to factor in:

Gather images and videos; The travel industry is one of the most visual in the world and all travel websites use images and videos liberally. It is estimated that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual and it processes images several thousand times faster than words. Therefore it is essential that you invest time, energy, and funds, if necessary, into gathering the right imagery for your website. Your buyers will want to visualize the experience you are offering them, be inspired to make that booking, and feel confident they will ultimately enjoy the trip you are promising. Before you start gathering images, do your research. You may already have a collection of photos that you can use. Analyze them thoroughly and ask yourself whether they are truly inspirational and representative of the experience you are offering your guests

Write blogs and work with influencers; Blogs provide crucial content to a website. They afford the opportunity to showcase specialist expertise or provide detailed, specific information about a topic, or range of topics. The more blogs you can post, the better SEO you will be able to generate. However, the ability to write good blogs is a learned technique and if the skill does not exist in your organization, it may be worth investing in developing relationships with bloggers and/or travel influencers who will be able to help raise brand awareness, increase traffic to your website and drive your message to your target market. There are many of them around and you must find one that is a good fit with what you offer, particularly as they will bring with them a following that is compatible with your business. For instance, if you sell adventure trips to remote destinations you don’t want a blogger who usually writes about all-inclusive luxury holidays. Your blog strategy should be determined by what you want to achieve, for instance, specialist expertise, informative copy, or inspirational text, so choose your writers appropriately.

Put together a social media marketing campaign; Social media marketing is an essential tool for the travel industry today as it enables you to reach customers that are unlikely to know about your trips in any other way, as well as offering a direct route to your website. 

Create a ‘call to action’; A ‘call to action is what you want your potential customer to do when they visit your website. Your website might feature several different calls to action that range from liking a social media post, watching a video, sharing a blog, downloading a guidebook, making a booking, leaving a review, or signing up for a newsletter. Your content is key to how you create the most appropriate call to action at any particular stage of the traveler’s mindset. The diagram below shows how mindsets change throughout the process of choosing and buying a holiday (the sales funnel) and how different content generates the next call to action.

Take online bookings and payment; Travelers are increasingly keen on making travel bookings online. In 2019, more than half of all European travel bookings were made online, driven by the two largest markets of the UK and Germany. At the time of writing, this was forecast to continue to rise and Europe was set to be the dominant global market for online travel bookings. COVID-19 has obviously had a major impact on the tourism industry, but once tourism resumes, it is likely that online bookings will take the lead

Many local tour operators choose to list their travel products with OTAs and those that specialize in trips, guided tours and experiences have become one of the fastest-growing sales platforms for this type of travel product. The two major OTAs that offer travel experiences are Airbnb Experiences and Viator, which is part of TripAdvisor Experiences

Consider paid-for advertising; Organic, or free, search engine marketing will take time to build up and relies on excellent content. It may not always get you the results that you want particularly as the search engines (e.g Google) and social media platforms (e.g Facebook) regularly change the way they rank websites and share your social media posts. You should consider some form of paid-for marketing to supplement the hard work you are doing to generate good content. When you pay for advertising, it is important that you regularly monitor the performance metrics such as cost-per-acquisition and return on advertising spend so you can judge the success of the campaign.

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