Category: Tourism Marketing

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 ScottGary VaynerchukPaul 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.


The quirky Bolivian town of Rurrenabaque is the ideal starting point for visitors wishing to experience some of the rich biodiversity, gorgeous landscapes, native cultures and friendly locals that make the Amazon so special. Whether tourists want to discover the ancient survival skills of the Amazon, visit the wildlife of the pampas, explore daily life on a Bolivian ranch, take a multi-day jungle adventure, go craft shopping, or just relax by a swimming pool in the tropical sunshine, Rurrenabaque has it all!

Nationally, Rurrenabaque has been admired for its Green Action Program, which showcases Rurrenabaque’s commitment to responsible business practices and the conservation of cultural and environmental resources. Solimar and its partners started the Green Action Program to help local tour operators develop and participate in more responsible business practices that emphasize community improvement and cultural and environmental preservation. Currently, the Green Action Program represents eight local tour operators.

Through the Undiscovered Travel Collection, Solimar is committed to help strengthen the marketing of Green Action members. In the travel industry, Internet marketing is one of he most powerfultools for an enterprise. In order to establish a sophisticated Internet presence, businesses must take into account several different marketing tools including websites, blogging, Facebook, twitter, youtube, to name just a few! The Undiscovered Travel Collection created a training program that would help these eight Rurrenabaque enterprises become more savvy in their Internet marketing. Solimar consultant Gianmarco Fiori conducted the six-part training course, which included the following topics:

1. E-marketing Introduction: The Basic Strategy behind Internet Marketing

2. Website Design, Maintenance and SEO

3. CRM and Sales

4. Facebook Basics: How to use your Facebook page for marketing and CRM

5. Trip Advisor and Travel Forums: How to use your forums & trip advisor page for marketing and CRM

6. Flickr and YouTube: Using Content sharing sites to complement other social media outlets and improve your marketing initiatives 

Each of the six lessons lasted two hours and consisted of a PowerPoint presentation and at least one in-class activity. At the end of the course, each participant received a handout of screen shots detailing what they had learned. Lectures were composed of presenting students with important definitions, concepts, tips and tricks, and most importantly detailed step-by-step slides illustrating how to implement these marketing actives.

Why Inbound Marketing?

So we know what inbound marketing is, but why is it important to the travel and tourism industry?

The travel industry has changed. Just look at the numbers: 85% of travel research is carried out via search engines, 49% is done via online hotel reviews, and 62% is done via online travel reviews and comments. It is clear that consumers are in the driver’s seat and have ample opportunities to be selective in their purchases, especially when it comes to travel. Marketers are quickly coming to the realization that the age of outbound marketing, which includes TV ads, direct mail, and telemarketing, is on the decline because in many cases consumers view these techniques as spam.

Not only does traditional marketing often get labeled as spam, but many consumers are never even exposed to it:

  • There are 200 million Americans on the Do Not Call list
  • 91% of email users end up unsubscribing from company newsletters
  • 86% of people skip ads on TV

Why spend money on techniques that don’t even make it to the consumer over 50% of the time? Why not focus on some of the inbound techniques that are working? Inbound marketing focuses on several unique strategies that are built around creating valuable content, joining online conversations and ensuring that you are present in all the spheres that your potential consumers inhabit. Engaging consumers by encouraging them to find your website and providing them with useful information throughout the entire sales cycle will help convert leads into sales.

Inbound marketing works. Here are just a few examples of how companies are acquiring new customers through inbound marketing:

  • 57% acquired a customer through their company blog
  • 57% acquired a customer via LinkedIn
  • 48% acquired a customer via Facebook
  • 42% acquired a customer via Twitter

These new inbound techniques are becoming even more crucial for the travel industry because of the increased importance of social media and review sites during the travel planning process. In fact, according to Google’s Five Stages of Travel, roughly 1 in 3 business travelers have posted online reviews of places they’ve been. In addition, EyeforTravel’s Social Media & Mobile Travel Report stated that 7 of 10 travel brands testify that social media has resulted in a large influx of direct bookings and significantly improved overall company engagement with customers.

Now here is the really good news: the cost per sales lead via inbound marketing is 62% less than via traditional marketing. According to Hubspot, 75% of inbound marketing channels cost less than any other outbound channel. Less investment + more consumers = a no brainer for any marketer thinking about incorporating this new technique into their business strategy.

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“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.”
Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets

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