Personalization and customization—two buzzwords in the travel industry and among the top travel trends of 2015.
Today's travelers are not only seeking out unique experiences but also want their options delivered to them in a certain way. Whether this involves receiving updates about the latest tour packages via email or keeping up-to-date with your company on social media, customer behavior is shifting with a demand for a more personalized approach. Cookie-cutter communications, such as a standard email newsletter that is sent to everybody that signs up, or maintaining a website with basic list of tours and activities, are no longer enough to attract and retain customers.
Today's successful travel companies need to take extra steps to engage and reach these customers in new and creative ways. Here's a closer look at how your tour and activity company can drive business with personalization and customization.
Customizing Email Distribution
According to the “At the Big Data Crossroads" study by Amadeus, four out of 10 travelers are willing to share data in the interest of personalization. The information they're willing to share could be anything from their categories of interest, how much they spend (on average) on vacation, and how often they plan to visit a certain destination in the upcoming year.
You can customize your email correspondence to cater to these travelers by segmenting your lists to target different groups. For example, a subscriber who shares they are planning a trip within the next six months and enjoys outdoor adventures might receive a series of emails every few weeks showcasing your outdoor adventure packages. For a subscriber who shares that they plan family getaways regularly and seek out deals and special offers, send a customized email every few weeks or every month with an offer targeted to the whole family.
If you have a subscriber base of less than 500 people, you could have a staff member send these emails manually and set up categories for your list—family travelers, planning to book within 6 months, single travelers, etc—so that you are sending a certain type of email to a certain type of subscriber. For larger lists, consider using a third-party email management program, such as OmnistarMailer or Benchmark, that allows you to segment lists automatically using certain criteria.
At the very minimum, you can and should divide your list into prospects and existing customers so that you are sending different types of emails to each group. Prospects would receive general marketing emails promoting your tours and activities, and perhaps an introductory offer on a certain tour or activity. Existing customers might receive emails that provide information about upcoming events in the area, customer appreciation events and invitations, and return visitor discounts.
Use an online booking software program, such as ZOZI Advance, with a built-in email customization tool. This tool allows you to set up templates for different types of customers so that you can segment your list directly from the customer database. As each customer signs up or provides personal information as they go through the checkout process, their contact information and details are stored in the database. Business owners and certain staff members can retrieve this data to learn more about your customer base and create targeted lists for email newsletters and email marketing sends.
Strengthening Social Media Relationships
This infographic about the impact of social media within the hospitality industry reveals that 48 percent of those who used social media to research travel plans stuck with their original plans and that 55 percent have liked a Facebook page specific to a vacation. These statistics tell us that almost half of all travelers are very active on social media—especially during the planning stages. This opens up several opportunities for tour and activity operators that want to stay at the forefront of these trip planners' minds during the critical trip planning process.
If a prospective customer has never visited your site before, they may be able to find you in another way: social media. Consider how many prospective customers are searching for interesting photos on Instagram with the hashtag #travel, #yourcity, or something you offer (e.g. #kayak, #hiking, etc). Or, Facebook users who see a post of a friend sharing a photo of themselves on a tour you offer with your Facebook page tagged in the post.
Anybody who sees these posts may be clicking back to your Instagram feed or Facebook page to get learn more about what you have to offer. Some may even start following you on social media just to receive more updates, which may translate to a booking if the follower's interest level is high enough. Interacting with these prospects—even though they have not become a customer yet—can make them more comfortable with your company and personalizes the entire customer service experience from the very beginning.
Focusing on strengthening social media relationships, whether you are active on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or multiple social networks, could help you stay in touch with prospective customers right at the time they are planning to book a trip. You could run social media contests to show up in your fans' and followers news feed with exciting news and to generate buzz about your company and offerings. You could also respond positively to customers who tag you in a post or share something on social media related to your location or venue. You could maintain a regular Facebook posting schedule so that your audience can learn more about you and even share something of interest with their entire social network. (We shared some best Facebook marketing practices here.)
Finding different ways to engage with these customers publicly helps you maintain a positive image in the public eye and may even generate some bookings when a traveler is in the mindset of making a reservation.
Boosting Revenue with Ancillary Sales
Any sales made outside of direct reservation bookings are ancillary revenue for tour and activity operators. Add-ons, such as souvenirs, equipment and gear purchases, or gift cards, are a few examples of ancillary sales. You can boost revenue per customer by giving your customers more options to make their booking unique—offering add-ons, such as a gift card to an area restaurant, souvenir purchases, or equipment to purchase instead of renting for the tour, can give the customer a chance to customize their visit at their leisure.
Charles River Canoe & Kayak, a company that offers kayak rentals and paddling classes, does exactly that with custom outing services. The company offers customized group tours where the customer can choose from a set of guided trips or head out on their own, order catering, or hire an expert instructor to teach for a portion of the trip.
Capital Cruises offers a unique experience with its bat-watching tours with the option to enhance the experience with live music, children's entertainment, or murder mystery and entertainers for groups. These add-on options give customers more opportunities to enjoy the general public tour in a new way.
Use an online booking program, such as ZOZI Advance, to configure add-ons on your checkout page. The software program is set up with easy drop-down menus for you to select different add-ons for certain tours and activities. Just make your selections and these add-ons will appear on the customer's checkout page.
Providing Curated Experiences
The experts at Tnooz point out how curated experiences and the chance to "live like a local" are some of the emerging trends in travel. Travel companies that can provide customers with a completely customized itinerary, the chance to learn something new, or expand the visitor's horizons in some way may be able to appeal to this growing market.
Bespoke concierge companies, like NINE, which cater to the luxury travel market, are thriving with a business plan based on this concept. Busy customers who simply don't have the time or knowledge to create an itinerary leave the task in the hands of NINE concierge service staff members to provide insider information about the area and ticket details for various experiences based on the customer's personal preferences.
Even though your tour and activity operator isn't serving as a travel agent or concierge, they can serve as an adviser by recommending complementary tours and activities, providing recommendations on where to eat before and after the experience, and tips on how to prepare for the experience. The idea is to connect with each and every guest in a way that makes them feel as though the entire visit was orchestrated and organized for them.
From taking the time to strengthen social media relationships to providing a curated experience, tour and activity operators have several options for personalizing and customizing the customer service experience. Use these tips to develop your revenue generation and marketing strategy for the upcoming season.