Repeat customers don't just help keep your calendar filled, they also help your bottom line: 70 percent of companies report that it's much cheaper to retain a customer than it is to acquire a new one, according to econsultancy's Cross-channel Marketing Report 2013. So it's easy to see why "relationship marketing" — activities that help you stay connected to existing customers and help you maintain a positive relationship — is more important than ever.
Here are 10 ways tour and activity operators can get more repeat customers throughout the year.
1. Deliver Exceptional Customer Service
You want every customer to have an unforgettable experience and talk positively about your company. Research from NewVoiceMedia reveals 93 percent of customers will take action following inadequate service, and 34 percent would go as far as taking revenge by posting a review online. Take the time to train staff to handle all types of customer issues or guest complaints effectively so that you aren't working extra hard to do some damage control after a customer is upset or disgruntled. This might be something as offering a complimentary upgrade if the guest had problems booking their reservation.
To prevent customers becoming disgruntled during the booking process, put yourself in the customer's shoes as you walk through the booking process. Make sure they have everything they need to confirm a booking — a reservation confirmation and "thank you" email leading up to their trip can open up the lines of communication and help a guest feel like they are being taken care of. If you offer online booking options, make sure the checkout process is as seamless as possible so that you don't lose guests because of technical issues.
2. Offer Referral Bonuses
Encourage guests to be loyal customers by offering a discount for referring a friend. You can either extend a discount on a reservation for bringing a friend on the next visit, or ask guests to share who referred them to your business and send a handwritten "thank you" card or email to the referring guest with an exclusive discount or complimentary upgrade offer for their next visit. Upgrade offers might include an extended kayaking rental, for example, or an invitation to a class or workshop after a foodie tour. Make sure guests know that they can earn a referral bonus before they leave for the day and follow up with an email reminder to prompt them to share their experience with friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Guests who know they are going to get a gift or upgrade in return for referring you may be eager to re-book.
3. Host Private Parties and Exclusive Events
Even though many visitors will be one-time guests just trying out a new experience or activity because they were in the area, others may be locals or interested in coming back each season. Consider hosting a private party or other exclusive events for loyal customers. Locals, especially, may be interested in socializing with other like-minded travel and adventure enthusiasts or taking part in a group outing led by one of your lead guides. These types of events build rapport and may create a sense of community around your business.
4. Extend Exclusive Offers for Returning Guests
Maintaining digital records can help you identify which customers are most loyal and what their favorite activities are. Using an online booking software program, such as ZOZI Advance, allows you keep track of all customers in your database with details about their past purchases and number of visits throughout the year. Segment your customers for a separate email list so you can send them an exclusive offer as a loyal guest — not just those who refer a friend or bring someone along. You could offer a 10 to 25 percent discount on their next booking for a certain time period to fill up empty spaces in your calendar. Or, you could create a special seasonal package or offer to encourage them to book on their next visit.
5. Connect with Guests on Social Media
Maintaining an active presence on social media sites and making the effort to reach out to fans and followers, in the form of contests or by promoting a return guest discount, can encourage non-traveling guests to keep in touch with your company.
Make sure to share or retweet posts by guests that mention your company or photos of your activity — this not only generates goodwill between you and your customer but also allows you to subtly market and promote your business to both your fans and followers — and the guest's fans and followers. For example, Doolin Ferry, which offers cruises to The Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher, shared a guest's photo on Instagram and thanked them for the photo and visit within the comments. This is a great way to acknowledge a guest publicly and promote the company. Pro tip: Tag or mention the guest's username or social media handle to get their attention.
6. Send Postcards in the Mail
Allocating some of your marketing efforts, such as sending postcards, to existing guests can keep you top of mind with previous guests.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, more than 52 percent of customers report that they will read a postcard in the mail and more than 23 percent ill respond to the postcard if it is relevant to them. If you are putting together your marketing budget for the year, consider sending postcards to existing customers as a way to lure them back for another visit. You could attach a coupon or promo code to the postcard to prompt a booking or simply send a postcard about some of the latest tours and activities of the season.
7. Send Emails throughout the Year
Nurturing existing customers via email can be a very effective way to generate repeat customers. According to research by Gigaom, 56 percent of marketers found email marketing to be the most effective for customer retention in 2014. If you're using an online booking software program that automatically captures the guest's email address and contact information for its database, you can set up customized email blasts specifically for returning guests that invite them back for another tour or activity, share information about new packages, or to issue a discount code or coupon for their next visit. The goal is to keep the guest interested in all of your offerings so they think of you first when making their travel plans.
8. Offer Customization Options
No matter how unique your tour or activity experience may be, you want guests to walk away with the intention of coming back again soon. Customizing the guest experience can make you stand apart from the competition and keep guests interested in trying something new next time.
The experts at Fusion, a team dedicated to optimizing customer experiences, point out that customers want to buy more but will refrain to do so when it's inconvenient — your job is to present an offer that appeals to your guest and is also easy to take advantage of. Give guests the option to customize their experiences at every opportunity, whether that's by providing the option to purchase add-ons at checkout or upgrade to a premium experience.
You can set up this level of customization by using an online booking software program, such as ZOZI. The ZOZI Advance platform allows you to create add-ons for different tours and activities using a drop down menu so that it appears on the checkout page. You could also create custom packages for guests that may be celebrating a special event, such as a birthday or an anniversary during their visit.
9. Keep an Eye on the Competition
Whether your company specializes in boat tours and excursions or you offer ghost tours, keep tabs on what your competition is offering and their pricing strategy. Staying up-to-date on your competitors can help you stay one step ahead of the game when creating special packages and offerings for the upcoming season. Even if you are in a position where you can't offer exactly what they offer, you can take steps to emphasize the value you provide and focus on creating personalized experiences for all your guests.
For example, you could personalize your marketing efforts by sharing testimonials and reviews from recent guests. You could share a few words from the captain or owner in the form of a short video, or put together a gallery of behind-the-scenes footage from one of your tours to share on social media sites. This sets you apart from the competition and can pique the interest of former customers who are planning their next trip.
10. Send a Thank You Card by Mail
Even though it's easy to connect with guests via social media and email in the digital age, stand apart from other businesses with an old-fashioned approach — sending a "thank you" card via snail mail. Saying thank you is a simple way to show your appreciation for the guest and you don't eve have to extend an offer or promote anything at this stage. The Leaky Bathtub points out that handwritten cards have maximum impact. The goal is to show you care and sincerely thank the guest for their visit. It's a personal touch that many travelers will appreciate and most importantly, will remember you for.
From offering a referral bonus to connecting with guests on social media, there are several ways to generate more repeat customers for your tours and activities business. Use these tip and strategies to keep your booking calendar full season after season.