I love marketing almost as much as I love traveling. The idea of using communication to create value for a company is something that I connected with at an early age. When I founded Solimar, I wanted to apply my love for travel and my passion for marketing to help small and medium-sized tourism businesses located in undiscovered destinations reach the North American market. I quickly learned that the problem with that idea is finding a model that works for the client and works financially for us.
In 2001, the only marketing options that worked for tourism companies were earned media through public relations or distribution through tour operators and travel agents. Websites were thought of as digital brochures.
Doing these types of activities effectively is a full-time job, something that many small travel businesses are unable to finance. This forced me to abandon the original business model and shift to selling travel as a travel agency and later to turn Solimar into a sustainable tourism consulting firm that works in international development. I love the work we do at Solimar, especially the impact of our work, but I still long for a way to help businesses and destinations with travel marketing.
This past year, Solimar won a contract to help the Namibia Tourism Board develop and implement a global online marketing strategy funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. When we started developing the campaign, we knew the tactics – blogging, social media, SEO, online advertising, and content creation – but as we started doing this, I began asking my team the same questions I knew our client was going to ask us: What is the value of this? What is the return on investment ROI for online marketing? How are these activities putting “heads in beds”? We started falling into the same trap as many of today’s digital marketing companies -talking about the importance of likes, sentiment, engagement, brand loyalty – the terms that make us sound smart and important – without answering the question about how online marketing delivers visitors to a destination.
So I did what anyone does when you have a question, I turned to Google. I spent hours researching online marketing tactics and models for showing online marketing ROI. As I did this, I kept stumbling on great content from guys like David Meerman Scott, Gary Vaynerchuk, Paul Roetzer, and a company called Hubspot that provided answers to my questions. As I continued to search and ask different questions, I kept finding more content from Hubspot that answered them. Even better, I started getting emails from Hubspot that answered questions I hadn’t even thought about yet and directed me to more content. One of these guides was about blogging tactics and offered an opportunity to demo their all-in-one inbound marketing software, including a blogging platform. After an initial consultation, I signed up and went through eight hours of inbound marketing consultation from a fantastic inbound marketing consultant, Nick Sal.
I am not sure when exactly the light bulb went off, but I knew that we had stumbled upon a marketing movement called inbound marketing and a fantastic company that provided a tool to enable us to not only do online marketing more efficiently, but also to quantify its impact. We could now show the value of an individual blog or social media post, especially when we layered the traditional travel purchasing model of dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, and sharing over Hubspot’s sales funnel approach. This gave us an understanding of what type of content we needed to create and how we could cultivate leads and pass those on to our trade partners to bring travelers down the travel sales funnel.
So how does inbound marketing work? It’s pretty straightforward and follows a process that is proven and works for thousands of businesses.
Step 1 – Define your business or destination’s goals. This seems obvious, but it is amazing how overlooked this step is. Destinations and travel businesses need to identify quantifiable goals that are realistic and time bound. This is how you are going to measure the success of your inbound marketing campaign.
Step 2 – Develop a travel inbound marketing plan. With goals understood, the next step is to develop a plan that identifies your target, the content offers you will create, the keywords you will focus on, and the way you will nurture leads and convert to customers. In addition to laying out a calendar that focuses your efforts, you also need to analyze who will do what to implement the plan, what can be done with your in-house staff and what you will outsource and to whom.
Step 3 – Drive more visitors to your website. By creating compelling content that answers travelers’ questions and promoting that content through SEO and social media, you can increase the number of your website visitors. Think of your website visitors as the top of your sales funnel. What content will compel them to visit your site? What questions are travelers currently using Google to answer about your destination?
Step 4 – Convert website visitors to leads. This is the most important part of inbound marketing. It’s not enough to get more visitors to your website; you need to convert those website visitors into leads. Anyone who has exhibited at a travel trade show knows that it doesn’t matter how many brochures you distribute; it is how many quality leads you develop that matters. The same is true for your website. It’s great that visitors find your site and look at your site, but what are you offering that will motivate them to give you their email address or phone number? Don’t expect a simple “contact us” form to do the trick.
Step 5 – Nurture leads and convert to travelers. Once you convert a website visitor to a lead, the sales process kicks in. If you are a tourism business, this is pretty straightforward. Provide content around context. Know everything you can about your leads and give them information they need while explaining why they should trust their vacation experience to you. If you are a destination, then this is when you can pass leads to your trade partners to help close the sales.
Step 6 – Measure everything. The beauty of travel inbound marketing is that you can measureeverything. You can track what blog entry or social media post created a lead and converted it to travelers. Keep doing what works and change what doesn’t.
So if you are a travel company or destination marketer reading this blog entry, congratulations! You just discovered the secret recipe of travel inbound marketing. Time to convert your knowledge of your destination into a tool to get found and grow your business or destination.
If you need help or would like to learn more, please contact us at [email protected] to request a proposal for your business or destination.