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Marketing and e-business for the tourism industry Add to ...

With increasing competition in the tourism industry, successful entrepreneurs know that a good marketing plan is vital to success. Here are some ways to use the electronic medium to boost sales as well as increase client satisfaction and retention.

Stay front-and-centre with existing customers and attract new visitors through online marketing campaigns

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Tourists and enthusiasts have quickly adopted the Internet as a preferred means of shopping for excursion and destination venues which allow them to quickly compare accommodations, aesthetics, services offered, and prices.

An online presence provides a convenient way for new customers to find out about you and access further information. Here are some service guidelines to consider:

  • Promptness: People expect as prompt a response to a Web query as they would to a telephone call - a 24-hour response time is probably the maximum.
  • Quality: Since you are competing in a "hot" area of World Wide Web activity, good quality photographs and a professional tone to your site are essential.
  • Consistency: Your customer service and professional image must be consistent in order to meet these expectations.

That said, there are several popular avenues for online marketing:

  • E-mail newsletters and promotions: Consent of the recipient is essential - and the frequency should not be intrusive. There is nothing wrong with asking existing customers and new site visitors if they would like to receive periodic updates about your service or your region, as well as upcoming special offers
  • Build traffic through Web links with other sites: Ask tourism, chamber of commerce, or sporting associations with which you are affiliated if they will place a link to you on their sites in exchange for links to them from your site. Also, try suppliers and providers of complementary products or services. It's free targeted advertising. In cases where there is a fee, the cost may be worth it
  • Offer something free: A summer resort might offer an hours-of-daylight calculator while a ski resort might offer a set of tips for beginners. Hold a contest for those who book early. The cost involved buys traffic and builds recognition. Do everything you can to let new customers know that you are a source of knowledge in your area
  • Get involved in discussion sites related to your specialty: Any search engine or directory will soon find them, be it about fishing, golf, or hiking. Be subtle: it's a venue for impressing potential customers with your knowledge and hospitality, not for advertising. An e-mail "signature" - resort or location name, address, phone number, Web address, e-mail address, and one-line business slogan - indicating your affiliation will be advertisement enough

Simplify off-season bookings: offer online reservations

Visitors often consider simplicity in placing a booking as a value-added service. An automated online availability check and booking service can be an advantage, particularly with visitors booking during off-seasons when you may not be readily available.

Tourism operators may consider joining a travel or tourism "mall" to host their site to take advantage of this low-cost service. These malls offer resorts, sporting venues, and tour operators a turnkey entry into real-time e-commerce and many related services.

Extend the season through auction-style sales of fringe-season packages

One of the reasons travel and tourism have become such popular purchases for online shoppers is the travellers' desire to have some control over pricing - or "price transparency" in the jargon of economists.

Auctions provide precisely this bargain or best price potential, are an excellent means of extending seasonal operations into slightly less desirable months.

Bidding can occur over long periods, providing added activity to make a site more lively. Tourism operators can promote the sale through existing customers and by advertising in high-draw areas.

Increase a Web site's marketing pull: form a marketing ring of related operators

A ring works by forming a virtual online "mall" of similar businesses. The theory is that the power of the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For example, if an online customer is looking for fishing holidays, your ring will be more interesting and attractive if it offers a number of fishing camps. Avenues that are not selected the first time by a visitor may be chosen for a future excursion. With a pooled advertising fund, the ring can advertise its site more widely and in higher-profile media venues than a single operator could.

Generate more customer attention and create related product marketing opportunities: become a source of information on your area or industry

Small and independent hotels and resorts struggle for recognition amidst the major chains dominating the market. One solution is a "destination" Web site that is informative, catchy, and fast. Be more than a brochure and booking centre:

  • If your area has a fascinating history, get a local history buff to write it up and post it on your site. Get as many of those stories as you can
  • Compile a photo-directory of birds and wildlife in your area
  • Hire an expert to write some how-to-improve-your-golf/ski/tennis/fishing tips
  • Build a "What You'll Need" page for visitors, showing different camp gear, fishing or golf equipment, lures, outdoor wear, etc.
  • Show tide charts, seasonal weather (show averages and most recent season, for instance), charter/guide availability, etc.
  • Once you have started to build your information site, merchandising possibilities may arise: books, equipment, clothing, T-shirts, hats, and so on.

Reduce customer service costs through "do-it-yourself" features such as self-help functions

Customers who conduct their own information searches get exactly what they want because they get it themselves.

Do-it-yourself options:

  • A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list
  • Maps of location and other area attractions
  • Branch or chain locations - usually works by the customer entering his or her postal code
  • Local guides, histories, rental outlets
  • Area news and developments
  • Multi-language content

Grow profitability: analyze customer information to optimize marketing efforts

The philosophy behind customer relationship management (CRM) is that some customers bring in more revenue than others. The objective is to attract and retain highly profitable customers while cross-selling to increase revenues from lower-profit customers.

By asking a few simple and non-intrusive questions of site visitors or those making online reservations, it is possible to obtain important information. You can identify characteristics (location, age, or interests, for example) of high-value customers, guiding future marketing and advertising. Customer information can also prompt your site to automatically suggest certain amenities or services. For instance, if you discover, that a customer owns a boat, you could offer docking facilities or boat rentals, if they do not own one.

Customer relationship management is about retention, conversion, and loyalty. Possession of customers' personal information is a privilege, therefore gather it selectively and use it wisely.

Improve customer service: offer quick-turnaround e-mail response

E-mail has become the circulatory system for national and international inquiries and reservations used by most tourism operators, regardless of time zones. Responses should demonstrate the same sense of authority and fun as the Web site itself.

Customers increasingly view the Web as just another avenue to approach businesses, whether they are tourism operators or retail vendors. They expect as prompt a response to a Web query as they would to a telephone call - a 24-hour response time is probably the maximum. Post your response capabilities prominently on your Web site, but don't make commitments you cannot keep regarding turnaround. The key is to live up to your promise.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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