Almost no industry has been more thoroughly disrupted by COVID-19 — and continues to feel the pandemic’s secondary effects — than travel and tourism.
Even though many people today are eager to travel, with ongoing economic uncertainty, it can be hard to get customers to spend their precious savings on travel experiences.
While travel always has been — and will always be — an industry subject to great uncertainty, one thing remains certain:
A strong digital marketing strategy can help you weather downturns and maximize returns during upswings, so your travel brand can maintain long-term profitability.
At Inflow, we’ve helped many travel and tourism companies navigate the challenges of the industry to not only make it through recent disruptions, but to also profit during them — and come out stronger on the other side.
In today’s guide, we’re sharing seven key tourism marketing strategies you can employ to do the same.
The Current State of the Travel & Tourism Industry
Although the travel and tourism industry took a pounding during the pandemic, recent years have helped it make up for the decline.
Overall, global leisure travel in March 2023 was up 31% from the same period in 2019, thanks in part to a 25% increase from 2022 to 2023.
But don’t count on this as a sign of full recovery quite yet.
Travelers increasingly cite concerns about crowding and delays as reasons not to travel. When they do travel, they are demanding more for their money. With reserves of extra cash (and empathy) depleted, more people are looking for bargains when it comes to travel plans.
Spending patterns are also changing. From 2019 to 2023, spending on things associated with travel only increased by 12%, but spending on experiences increased by 65% — demonstrating where today’s shoppers are finding value in tourism- and travel-related purchases.
7 Travel & Tourism Digital Marketing Strategies to Boost Online Revenue
At Inflow, we have helped many travel and tourism brands find long-term success through digital marketing. Typically, this is done through customized strategies reflecting each brand’s strengths, limitations, and goals.
However, many strategies apply equally well across travel and tourism niches, which is why we’re sharing them in detail below.
Today, we’ll lean on examples from our successful travel brand client, Shore Excursions Group. Operating within the hard-hit cruise industry, their team’s experience accurately reflects the rollercoaster ride many in the travel industry experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic and after.
Our work with them shows that, with the right travel marketing strategies, a business can remain profitable despite even the most unexpected challenges.
1. Be inventive and experimental.
2019 may have only been four years ago, but it’s an entirely different era for the tourism sector.
What worked for you back then likely won’t work for you now. In other words, you’re sailing in uncharted waters.
Advertising costs are up. Click-through rates are down. Algorithms are always changing. The social media landscape has gone through a major upheaval. AI’s fingerprints are all over marketing, from automation to content creation.
To make it through these choppy seas, you’ve got to read the winds and roll with the breakers.
Here’s an example:
When the pandemic destroyed demand, Shore Excursions Group paused their pay-per-click (PPC) marketing campaigns. And, when it came time to restart their efforts a few years later, that meant coming to grips with an entirely changed situation.
Keeping their historical data in mind (but adding a new grain of salt), we restructured their PPC spending literally port by port, all while integrating Google’s new automation tools, including Performance Max.
The approach paid off, increasing Shore Excursions Group’s profit margin by over 1,300% while simultaneously achieving a return on ad spend (ROAS) of nearly 19x — results we never could have achieved with our pre-pandemic strategy.
The moral of the story: Don’t get stuck on traditional marketing trends and strategies of old. Quickly (and intelligently) incorporate current developments into your approach, and don’t be afraid to take a completely unexpected plan of attack when necessary.
If you, like many travel companies, are finding it hard to make headway in the current market, it may be time to bring in an expert. Contact Inflow’s strategists today to learn how our digital marketing services can help your travel or tourism business.
2. Be seasonally smart with your marketing investments.
The travel industry is seasonal. Your marketing should be, too.
But that doesn’t mean your marketing should stop completely during slow seasons (or unanticipated stoppages like the COVID-19 pandemic)!
Just as a seasonal resort might try to do as much maintenance and as many upgrades as possible during the off-season, your travel business should be investing in long-term marketing strategies that will pay off when customers resume shopping.
Some types of marketing, especially PPC, are designed for rapid returns. You should pause these campaigns during slow seasons; they’re typically expensive and don’t justify the cost if they’re not bringing in typical returns.
Other types of online marketing, though, need time to work — and they offer value even if it doesn’t immediately register in the form of sales. This includes organic social media campaigns and search engine optimization (SEO).
In this client’s case, Shore Excursions took advantage of the pandemic slowdown to upgrade their website while working on SEO.
Their efforts helped to improve their search rankings, allowing them to capture a greater share of search traffic as people began looking for travel opportunities a year later.
3. Lean into user-generated content and influencers.
Even avid travelers spend more time dreaming than traveling. Beautiful images and amazing stories fuel these dreams.
To make sure these images and stories are yours, invest heavily in beautiful content marketing.
While you should invest in professional imagery related to your brand, the best content marketing for the travel industry will always be reviews and pictures from your customers’ user-generated content (UGC).
UGC may not be professional-caliber images, but they often capture a spontaneous essence of travel that can be hard to replicate with professional images. When people choose the images most meaningful to them, it’s likely to strike a chord in the hearts and minds of other travelers.
UGC also offers social proof. It’s not just you talking up your brand; it’s other people vouching for you, using their words and images to support your value.
People love making social media posts about their travel experiences. It’s just a matter of getting them to share it in a way that you can use.
Consider setting up a brand hashtag. If customers don’t pick it up, host a photo contest. The prize doesn’t have to be big; gift cards, discounts, and swag all work great in motivating UGC.
Use what people give you, and always remember to give proper credit.
Check out our complete guide to UGC for more tips and strategies.
Influencers are a special category of their own, existing somewhere between professional content and UGC. With their knack for making appealing images and stories, as well as their outsized followings, they can be a major help for your social media marketing efforts.
However, it can take a few tries to make influencer marketing work for you. Consider partnering with an agency that specializes in influencer marketing to find the right content creator for your audience demographics and chosen social networks.
4. Get specific with audience targeting.
Marketing to people who aren’t interested in your product or service isn’t just a waste of time. It’s also an expensive way to buy bad will.
Audience targeting can help you avoid pestering people who will never convert (and might report you, bumping up your overall ad costs) and focus instead on only those who are potential customers.
Modern marketing tools give you more than basic demographics to work with. You can build extensive profiles on your target audience to focus on prospective customers likely to use your service. For example, if you’re marketing an off-roading excursion, target people who have expressed an interest in off-roading.
Use industry research as well as your own historical data for travel destinations to identify where travelers are coming from, and then use geotargeting to focus ads in these places. Carefully evaluate your efforts, and update your targeting to build on success and minimize waste.
For Shore Excursions Group, this meant narrowing down our location targeting with our relaunched Google Ads campaigns. Instead of widely targeting all Alaska ports, we started by looking at individual cities and ports that had performed well in the past — and continued to build upon those that worked well in 2022 and beyond.
5. Invest in your branded online presence.
Another critical investment you should make during the slow seasons is in your travel brand.
We’ve talked multiple times about the wariness of travelers in the market right now. Trust is the antidote to wariness, which makes building a trustworthy brand an investment that will pay for itself many times over.
Brand awareness is the first step in brand trust. If you’re not well known, try spreading the word with typical PR strategies. Sponsor relevant causes. Host giveaways and contests. Be active (and interactive) on social media platforms.
Next, work on establishing verification that your business is what you say it is. Invest in local SEO and build a robust Google My Business page. Make sure you’re listed in relevant third-party directories.
Of course, you should always be encouraging reviews from customers, but also consider reaching out to industry authorities to get reviews, features, and even endorsements. Always balance the value of these listings against the cost in time, money, and product.
6. Build great email campaigns.
We’ve mentioned before how it’s important to make sure that potential customers get their dream fuel from you. Email marketing is a great tool for doing this.
Even more people have email than have social media accounts, and 99% of users check their email every day (with some people checking it as much as 20 times a day)!
This makes email a great strategy for reaching potential customers. It’s also extremely cost-effective with a high rate of return (some marketers report an average ROI of $36 per $1 spent).
There are a few keys to making a successful email campaign:
Give value to your potential customers that justifies their opening the email. Discounts, of course, are a great choice, but sometimes valuable content can work even better. Try a mix of evergreen content and trending topics to find the right balance for your list.
Remember to always be visual in your emails. This is dream fuel: People want to see beautiful travel images. That might be the main reason people open the email.
In light of that, be concise, too. Don’t waste words, but make sure you have multiple CTAs in your email so people get the message.
As with any of these strategies, keep an eye on the performance. A good open rate for emails in the travel industry is 20% to 40%, with a click-through rate (CTR) between 2% and 3%. If you’re not seeing that level of engagement, reevaluate your campaign.
7. Keep an eye on your competitors.
With an industry as competitive as travel, it’s important to keep a close watch on your competitors. If they’re outpacing you, you can learn a lot from the trim of their sails.
Competitor research isn’t as simple as a quick Google search. However, there are many tools that help you understand what your competitors are doing with their Google Ads, as well as identify your main competitors in organic SEO.
You can download our SEO Competitor Analysis Template as a place to start. We use this template (as well as ongoing competitor paid search campaigns) to monitor movements and strategies by Shore Excursion Group’s competitors, including other third-party tour providers, operators, and travel agencies.
Investigating your competitors will teach you some of their tricks, so you can add them to your own. This research will also help your brand stay on top of industry trends — and quickly pivot (even anticipate) major changes that will impact your business in the future.
Building a Foolproof Digital Marketing Strategy for the Travel Industry
If you’re still afloat in the travel industry, you’ve already weathered some major storms. There’s no guarantee it will be smooth sailing ahead, but with smart investments in long-term travel and tourism marketing strategies, you should be able to maximize the benefits of digital marketing to outpace your competitors and improve your profitability.
Creativity and flexibility are especially important in this competitive and unpredictable industry. But even more important? Your business team’s expertise.
Knowing the potential (and limitations) of modern marketing techniques and technologies can save you critical time and resources as you build and execute your brand’s strategy.
Don’t have that expertise on hand — or want another industry expert to evaluate your approach for you?
Our tourism and travel marketing experts are happy to review your brand’s current approach, identify opportunities for improvement, and implement a custom marketing plan to drive sales and revenue for your online business.
Request a free proposal anytime to get started.