Grow your tour and activity company by attracting the right kind of customers
There’s one main, distinguishing factor that differentiates great businesses from good businesses: Great ones attract and retain a network of high-value customers who not only seek out their services, but actually spark growth in the business’ customer base by spreading the word to other like-minded customers.
Take, for instance, Soma Surf Resort in Nicaragua. Its owner, Casey Morton, knows exactly who’ll get the most from a stay at her quiet, coastal surf-centered retreat. Her ideal customer is “well-traveled, educated, open-minded, and very curious—willing to take risks and to learn what this area is all about.”
If you ask business owners what constitutes a quality customer, like Morton, most can rattle off the type of people—from personality traits to income levels—that they hope to attract. But ask them how to attract them and, well, they’re a little less certain.
Whether it’s for your whitewater rafting company or urban walking tours, your high-value customers will share some common traits. And, chances are, they’re part of a continuously growing contingent of consumers who value experiences over material possessions. As a 2014 study found, “the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events relative to the total U.S. consumer spending increased 70 percent” since 1987.  A large swath of that segment of consumers: Millennials (ages 18 to 34), 78-percent of whom say they would choose to spend money on an experience, and 55-percent of whom say they’re spending more money on experiences than ever before. 
These types of high-quality customers participate in activities on a regular basis, and are thus a source of repeat business. They travel for leisure at least a few times per year, and, seeking authentic experiences, tend to prefer boutique or adventure accommodations. This new breed of traveler sees luxury more in the experience themselves, rather than in items and accommodations, according to a report from HVS, a London-based hotel consulting firm. As a result, they're more willing to shell out for experiences and activities that they enjoy.
A survey by the Adventure Travel Trade Association of adventure travelers—from novice to enthusiast—revealed that they spent between $338 and $354 per day on trips taken with tour companies, not including travel costs to get to and from their destination. This sets quality customers apart from less targeted customers, especially those seeking daily deals, who are more likely to try a small business only once solely because of the price of their product or service. That becomes even more clear when you consider that less than 3 percent of small businesses who tried to garner customers through sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial, witnessed repeat customers.
High-Value Customers Share Experiences with Friends
A customer's likeliness to share their experiences with others is a vital part of taking your business from good to great. With 60 percent of Millennials and nearly 50 percent of Generation X have sharing their events and experiences on social media in the past year, there's a huge opportunity to exploit. Word-of-mouth marketing—whether online or in person—will help drive more like-minded customers your way.
How so? Well, first and foremost, adventure activity customers look to one source the most when researching new experiences: friends and family. When these customers are satisfied with their experience, they'll pass on the good word. In one study, 80 percent of respondents said they recommended experiences to others who were likely to enjoy them.
Studies aside, this fact resounds in the real world. Customer buzz drove a lot of business to Soma Surf Resort. When a group of well-traveled graduate students from a prestigious business school came to her Nicaraguan resort to surf, they were looking for a unique experience. They had such an amazing experience at Soma that the group wrote about it for their school newspaper, along with producing a video of the experience. The effect: 30 or 40 customers from their referrals alone, according to Morton.
Word-of-mouth has also been a boon for Fitpacking, a company that offers weight-loss backpacking tours. “There's a network of people who have been on our trips," says Steve Silberberg, founder of Fitpacking. “Then they decide en mass to go on another and they bring their friends—it's the best way to get new people."
Another way high-quality customers can boost bookings: online reviews, especially with 72% of consumers saying positive reviews increase their trust in a business. Furthermore, luxury travelers report that online reviews have more impact on their travel purchases than traditional advertising and media. David Ramirez, the chief marketing officer of San Francisco-based Dylan's Tours, says that a significant portion of his customers rely on such research, and arrive at Dylan's because of reviews they've read online. “They'll even ask for specific tour guides that they've read about," Ramirez says. “They don't want to be herded around, they want the particular experience we offer."
Best Marketing Channels for Tour and Activity Operators
For budget-conscious tour and activity operators, knowing which marketing channel is most cost effective—and which attracts the best customers—is vital. One big question mark for tour operators: how much time and money to devote to marketing via social media sites. While Twitter and Facebook allows you to build and maintain customer relationships, customers "don't want to be sold on Facebook, they want to be social," says Daniel Logtenberg, director of Maui Marketing, which provides marketing services to a dozen tour operators in Hawaii. Of popular social media platforms, small businesses report that Facebook is the hardest to maintain. However, the ROI on social media can vary depending on the sites you're on, whether you use paid advertising and how well you execute your strategy.
Further complicating matters: The whole landscape of tour and activity marketing has completely evolved. For instance, when Dan Austin founded Austin Adventures 30 years ago, he simply went to travel trade shows to market his tours. Now, "it's harder because it's easier," says Austin, noting the myriad ways to get the word out about your business: buying advertisements, clamoring for press, or creating and distributing your own content.
And in trying to market to an overly broad audience, you can run the risk of focusing your efforts on less-than-ideal channels. As a result, you may attract customers who don't match your target market, making it harder to cater to their expectations. This will result in fewer word-of-mouth referrals and the possibility of negative reviews, which will put a dent in your reputation and cost you future customers, considering that 80% of consumers say negative information they read online changed their mind about a purchase.
How to attract high-value customers
1. Manage expectations from the start
Many tour and activity business operators stress the importance of giving people realistic descriptions and information about their excursion or experience before they become customers. On top of this anecdotal evidence, several studies cite the direct relationship between meeting customer expectations and customer satisfaction, the latter of which leads to repeat business, fewer negative reviews, and increased customer lifetime value. “Our sales team tries to pre-qualify people as best they can," says Austin of Austin Adventures, which educates potential customers about the activity level of specific trips, send them tips for trip preparation, and make sure their website offers an accurate description of each adventure, such as the massive elevation gain hiking the Inca Trail. This protects the customer from any surprises or ill-preparedness for experiences.
2. Identify the niches with your target customers
Determine where your best potential customers congregate—online and off. To do so, follow Soma Surf Resort's lead: Morton regularly asks her best customers how they heard about her resort, the types of travel guides they use, which sites they read, and who they trust for information. Once you find out where you can target these customers, focus your efforts there. For a tour company specializing in guided trail runs might connect with local running shops or running clubs, while a winery tour may find it invaluable to connect with high-end hotels or nearby restaurants. For a real world example, look at Fitpacking: Its founder joined a weight-loss group to offer ideas for getting fit and promote his backpacking tours.
3. Market more effectively with the right partner
Connecting with a marketing partner that's already targeting the customers that will bring the most value to your business will accelerate your efforts. Your marketing partner can do the work of attracting quality customers while you focus on continuing to provide great tours and experiences. One of many platforms that will bring you new, high-quality customers is ZOZI, an online marketplace for activities and travel experiences where merchants can reach more than 5 million highly active and passionate customers. If you're interested in learning more, check out ZOZI Advance and request a demo with a team member below.
You have the tools in place to become a great business. You know the in's and the out's of your industry. You continue to work tirelessly to provide once-in-a-lifetime tours and activities. Now, it's time to attract a new level of customers. The customers that when you meet them, you know instantly you're just what they're looking for. The customers that, because you met their needs so well, will spark your growth by recommending you to anyone that will listen. The type of customer that will help take your company from good to great.
Do you want to be a good business or a great business?
To explore how ZOZI can help you reach high-quality customers and make your business even greater, request a demo today at http://www.zozi.com/advance.
ZOZI Advance® is the fastest growing web-based bookings, payments and customer management software for tour, activity, rental, and event businesses. Thousands of businesses across 50 countries trust ZOZI Advance to power their passions. These businesses have access to ZOZI's member base of nearly 5 million customers who visit ZOZI.com® to discover and book local activities and travel getaways. The company was recently named #17 on Forbes' Most Promising Companies in America list of 2015, one of Entrepreneur Magazine's “100 Brilliant Companies" and one of America's Best Places to Work for four years in a row.
To learn more about how ZOZI can grow your business, check out our online booking platform, ZOZI Advance, and request a free demo today.
Casey Morton Soma Surf Resort firstname.lastname@example.org
 Millennials: Fueling the Experience Economy, Eventbrite
 A New Breed of Traveler, HVS, 2013
 Understanding the U.S. Adventurer Traveler, Adventure Travel Trade Association
 Small Business and Daily Deals: The Affair is Over, Bloomberg Business, November 2012
 Millenials: Fueling the Experience Economy, Eventbrite
 Understanding the U.S. Adventurer Traveler, Adventure Travel Trade Association (see attached)
 Luxury Travelers More Receptive to Online Reviews, Luxury Daily, June 2014
 Small Business Wellness Index Infographic, Manta, 2013
 Why Customer Satisfaction Is Important, The Client Heartbeat, 2014