Maybe you've hit the slow season for your boat tour operation. Or, maybe you're located in an overly competitive market. Either way, if you're not growing your customer base like you want, it may be time to tweak your marketing strategy and reach out to prospective guests in new ways.
For instance, personalization and customization in travel are among the rising trends in the industry, reports Travel Technology & Solutions. So anything you can do to make your boat tour a truly unforgettable experienced designed specifically for the guest could help you attract more loyal patrons.
Here are seven creative ways to sell more boat tours season after season.
1. Use visual media to your advantage
Photos and videos can be an immersive experience for prospective customers, helping to entice a guest to book and explore different options available. Instead of just reading a short summary of what the tour is about, guests can envision themselves on the tour and pique their curiosity about what's in store.
A short video captured by the captain or a crew member, some behind the scenes footage of the crew preparing the boat for a tour, or even a panoramic, scenic photograph or two of the boat mid-tour can attract attention and give a prospective guest a taste of the experience. You can post these next to your tour descriptions, share them on Facebook and Instagram, and maintain a blog with a series of media-embedded posts about the tour.
Another option is to send the video clip or photos to your email database of guests that have shown interest in the company but have yet to book—an amuse-bouche to whet their appetite. And be sure to include a "Book It" button embedded in the email to make it easier to complete a reservation.
2. Turn the captain into a local personality
The captain and his crew are the stars of the boating experience; why not turn them into local personalities that are eager to share tips and stories with all guests and site visitors? Hosting events where locals can meet the crew or an educational event with the captain can generate more interest in your business, giving you a competitive edge. You could capture a series of short videos of the captain introducing himself, sharing history or interesting facts about the vessels, and offering tips for first-time boating enthusiasts. Any type of informational and educational content that you create can be used as part of your marketing strategy to entice guests and prompt a reservation.
Captain Dan's Water Tours in Charleston, South Carolina, has a dedicated "meet the captain" page on their website with a short introductory video embedded from YouTube. Dana Wharf Sportfishing and Whale Watching, which offers daily adventures year-round in Orange County, has created a comprehensive website page to introduce all of its captains to guests.
And, don't forget about the power of social media to spread the word: Phocuswright reports that 73 percent of U.S. travelers using social media in the United States log on to a social network every day. Social media presents you a captive audience ready and waiting to tune in to what you have to say or share. Boat tour operators who post videos from the captain or drop links to a blog post related to their business may be able to drive more traffic to the website and secure more bookings.
3. Streamline the booking process
A robust online booking software program makes it extremely easy for an eager guest to book what they want, when they want it. Look for software with features that allow you to post a real-time calendar with available bookings and has one-click reservation features. Using an online booking software program means your staff doesn't have to spend extra time coordinating a booking and confirming the reservation. Just consider this: 13 percent of travelers abandon their purchase because the booking process is too long or the checkout process is too complicated, according to a 2014 survey from SalesCycle.
With an online booking software program, your guests simply go through a multi-step checkout process through a secure site and are entered into your customer database upon completing the reservation. This takes the guesswork out of the entire reservations process and gives guests the freedom to choose from several different options, or even enhance their experience with add-ons (such as an upgrade to a luxury vessel, one-on-one training sessions with the captain, or a complete package deal). This process also eliminates the need to make a phone call and share credit card or payment information over the phone, making it a bit more appealing for a customer to book.
4. Customize boat tours for special events and celebrations
What if you knew a guest was celebrating his or her 50th birthday, or a couple was booking a boat tour to celebrate their anniversary? Customizing a boat tour experience for those who are celebrating a special event may help attract more guests looking for an unforgettable experience to commemorate the occasion. Consider creating customizable packages to honor the guest in some way—complimentary champagne toast on board, photo opportunities with the crew, or even a complimentary meal during or after the boating event.
When you use an online booking software program like ZOZI Advance, you can ask the guest if they're celebrating anything or have any special requests at checkout. This is an effortless way to gather personal information about a guest to create a more personalized experience. Alternatively, you could include add-ons, such as a champagne toast for two, for a sunset tour or other types of tours.
5. Offer a surprise gift to all guests
Another way to deliver exceptional experiences is by adding an element of surprise to the trip. Treat guests to complimentary champagne, gourmet snacks, or a free photo op with the captain and crew as part of the experience. Ithaca Boat Tours, a company that offers boat tours on Cayuga Lake in New York, has created "summer series" packages that include a wine tasting event with a featured winemaker and a light meal. These are signature experiences that give guests a chance to interact with an area winemaker, sample something new, and enjoy a boat tour around sunset. Gansett Cruises offers harbor tours and sunset cruises with a complimentary "taste of Rhode Island," such as a free breakfast, local beverages, Warwick Ice Cream, or a champagne toast.
When promoting these types of experiences, within the tour or activity description, you could simply state that all guests who book a certain tour can look forward to a special gift or surprise, compliments of the crew. This is just one way to set yourself apart from the competition and create a more personalized experience for the guest.
6. Run promotions and special offers throughout the season
Considering that approximately 93 percent of shoppers use a coupon or discount code when making a purchase, it makes sense to run promotions, issue discount codes, and promote available coupons whenever possible. ChoozOn's Blue Kangaroo Survey on Marketing Emails finds that the majority of people will respond positively to an emailed discount, which means sending out offers to your customer database regularly may help you generate more bookings. Your promotions might include a "bring a friend for free" offer, first-time guest discount, or 20- or 30-percent off a reservation during slower times of the year.
Streamline the entire process by making use of online booking software programs that allow you to issue promo codes, keep track of redemptions, and send out customized emails with special offers.
7. Encourage guests to post positive reviews and share experiences on social media
Experts presenting at the Travolution Summit 2013 revealed that 50 percent of online users continue to search even after they've found something that fits their interests and preferences. The tipping point that turns that search into an actual booking: peer influence, according to a report from college search service Zinch. Many customers need outside validation to support their purchase. In the case of a boat tour, seeing glowing reviews from fans or even a testimonial by somebody in the customer's social network could be more than enough to prompt a booking.
Boat tour operators can take the lead on making this a frequent occurrence by encouraging all guests to post reviews and share their amazing experiences on social media, a personal blog, or other outlets. We shared some tips for asking customers for reviews without annoying them in this post. Implement some type of system to ensure every customer has the opportunity to share their experience and make it extremely easy for them to directly access your Facebook page and listings across major listing sites with a friendly email embedded with links to various sites. Offering an incentive or reward for participating, such as a discount off a future boat tour reservation, free upgrade on the next booking, or a complimentary gift from the captain can also help.
When you need to reach and exceed revenue goals with your boat tours business, keep that calendar full by offering several options and experiences guests simply won't find anywhere else in the area. Being creative with visual media, streamlining the booking process, and doing whatever you can to generate positive reviews can help to increase boat tour reservations in any season. Have other creative ways to increase your bookings? Share in the comments below.