With borders closed, planes grounded, the economy in tatters and the coronavirus still pummeling the planet, the tourism industry has not seen worse days. Yet as economies slowly reopen, people are adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and there’s pent-up demand for travel. Emerging from lockdowns, they’ll want to safely experience the calming aspects of nature, to forget about the past few months and the uncertainties ahead. By the very virtue of their businesses, adventure travel operators are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this trend.
Staycations and Small Group Travel
This summer (and probably winter) staycations, small-group, family and nature-based travel are in. Large group and overseas travel, congested cities and crowded tourist attractions are out. People will travel with their ‘bubble,’ their immediate family and closest friends. But your guests must feel safe and trust you, before they’ll consider booking. First and foremost, you must have a COVID policy and protocol and clearly communicate this on your website and social media channels. The ATTA has developed some COVID health and safety guidelines.
Pivoting to the Local Tourism Market
Do you currently serve your local market? Depending on your business, that might mean your city, province, state or even tri-state area. These are people that can reach you by car or a short-haul flight. If so, are they the same type of people as your overseas guests? My hunch is there are differences. Before marketing to your local audience, you must clearly understand who they are and why they book with you. In marketing speak, we want to create some ‘personas’ or demographic sketches of these ideal customers.
If you’ve never done it, a great way to start is by interviewing them, ideally by phone or with a questionnaire. Ask them why they’ve booked with you in the past and how you compare to your competitors. Talk to your staff to hone in on what makes these guests unique and mine any reviews or other details you have from them. It doesn’t take a lot. A deep look at five or six of your best local clients could give you enough intel to go on. By the end of this exercise, you’ll have a clearer picture of who your ideal local customer is, the types of trips they prefer and the right messaging to use.
Creating a New Tourism Product
If you don’t have a product that will be a good fit, consider creating a new one. I recently attended a webinar on opening up tourism, and one of the panelists was the marketing manager for a high-end eco resort on the BC coast. All of their bookings come from overseas, and they’re all gone. The marketing manager said they were afraid of discounting for the local market because it would “cheapen our brand”. I think this is shortsighted. Instead of offering the same tours at lower prices, I’d suggest tailoring to a local audience with new tours and new prices.
Also, consider what staying closed for this season and possibly even next, would do to your business and staff. You may very well lose most or all of your key people, those staff members who’ve been there for years and intimately know your business and your customers, and provide the quality and consistency your brand is known for. I’m pretty sure that loss would do more to ‘cheapen your brand’ than a short term pivot to your local market.
Adventure Marketing for New Tourism Products
Paid ads on Google or Facebook could be your best option for quickly reaching new audiences. Right now costs have dropped for PPC and if you’re only targeting local, this will further reduce your spend.
Another important consideration is local SEO. When someone searches for ‘your adventure activity’ Google will always serve up local results first, but only if you’ve optimized your site and online channels for that. Your Google My Business listing is key here, so make sure it is up to date and optimized for the local market, add your COVID policy and let people know you are open.
Another way to increase local rankings is to create ‘city-specific’ pages on your site, for example, ‘your-url/your-city-your-cool-activity.’ And make sure to fill these pages with relevant keyword-optimized content for your audience along with that great messaging you created for your personas.
Email marketing can be a very cost-effective way to connect with your local community. Ideally, your contacts should already be segmented by geo-locations. Most email marketing programs and CRMs can do this by IP address. Reach out with a well-crafted email directly to your local market, letting them know you’re open, any special adventure travel offers and changes to how you operate.
Working with Local Media and DMOs
Most Destination Marketing Organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic. If you’ve previously relied on your DMO for marketing or co-marketing campaigns, you may need to do more on your own now. But it still makes sense to reach out to your DMO and find out what’s the situation on the ground. Is it safe to invite people? What’s the messaging from the mayor and local community? You don’t want to invite guests to have others in the community tell them to go away. You also need to find out what partner businesses are doing. Your guests will want to know what else they can do, who’s open and who’s not. DMOs can help with this.
This can be a good time to connect with local media. Many journalists who have focussed on overseas travel are also grounded and pivoting to local travel, so if you have some good local stories, reach out to writers, bloggers, and even TV stations in your area and you may be surprised to find out they’re looking for ‘staycation’ stories.
Change and Adapt
Your new local market could continue to be a strong revenue stream even after things return to normal. This ‘tinkering’ with your product offerings and audience could generate totally new and profitable ideas for your business. Your staff will appreciate your efforts with increased loyalty and adventure businesses that manage to stay open will be much better prepared for the future.