Introduction to online marketing in tourism

Mastering online marketing is a must in tourism. As a tour operator it helps you connect with travellers, which can result in more customers.
Introduction to online marketing in tourism

What is online marketing?

Online marketing is a broad term about all marketing activities people execute online. Although, it is far from easy to become successful online as a tour operator. With the right knowledge and persistence, it will help your business thrive. Whether you are a small business owner, or work at a large travel business: online marketing is a must for all in the industry.

It’s essential because the internet is the place where travellers plan every step of their trip. From picking a destination, to arranging transportation, choosing accommodations and selecting travel experiences. If you play your cards right, you can be the go-to tour operator for every step in this process. Which is why, online marketing is a smart investment of your time and budget.

Benefits of online marketing

Implementing online marketing into your business has several benefits. In the tourism industry especially, as it helps you connect with your customers. It enables you to build long-lasting relationships, which can result in more (repeating) customers. 4 perks of online marketing are:

Reaching your ideal target group

When done right, online marketing helps you reach your ideal target group. By targeting specific demographics, your marketing budget is not wasted on people who have no interests in buying your tours.

Short and long-term purposes

You can use online marketing for short- and long-term purposes. Search engine advertising is suitable for short term goals. Whereas, search engine optimisation is better suited for a long-term strategy. Find more information on both types of online marketing activities below.

Low costs

Compared to more traditional media (such as print, tv or radio), it is cheap. Some online marketing activities even let you pay per action, for example a click or call. Because it’s easier to keep track of the results you’re likely to get a better return on investment.

Measuring results

As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to measure the results of your online marketing activities. By measuring results, you can drop activities that are ineffective and improve those that are.

What is online marketing?

Types of online marketing activities

In online marketing we can define different types of activities. We’ll describe the 4 most common types and explain what makes every type interesting in tourism.

1. Search Engine Optimisation

SEO, short for Search Engine Optimisation, is a combination of techniques to make your website rank higher in Google. Google uses algorithms to determine which webpage is most relevant, in combination with a specific keyword. With SEO, you try to get your website to become relevant in Google’s eyes.

To become successful with SEO, takes a considerable amount of time, energy, knowledge and persistence. Because of this, this type of marketing activity is best suited for long-term purposes.

Where to start?

A good place to start with SEO, as a tour operator, are your destination pages. These are the pages that promote a specific destination that your business offers tours to. Because each destination page has a clear subject, it’s easy to optimise these pages. There are clear sets of rules that help your website rank higher. Higher ranking destination pages help you get more website visitors, which allows you to:

  • Establish your brand name
  • Generate more leads
  • Grow your business
  • Save on advertising costs

2. Search Engine Advertising

The term Search Engine Advertising (SEA) doesn’t leave much to the imagination. This type of marketing activity lets you pay for a top spot in the search results. The most popular platform for SEA is Google Ads. This platform enables you to place ads in the Google search engine, based on specified criteria such as keywords, location and budget.

Google Ads uses a pay-per-click (PPC) system. Meaning, you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad. As opposed to SEO, SEA is best suited as for short term purposes. You can get your Ads up and running within a few hours (provided you have the proper knowledge).

Where to start?

Think about what exactly you want to advertise for. Create a list of potential keywords by using a keyword tool (for example Google’s keyword planner). It pays off to be specific. In general, the more specific your search terms are, the less you pay per click. Also, you’ll reach your ideal target better by using more specific keywords.

For example: if you offer several trips to Southeast Asia, pick one you wish to highlight. State your unique selling points in the headlines and description.

Google Ads example in tourism

To get you started with the practical side of Google Ads, I’d advise you to read into the practical side of it a bit first (or hire an expert if you’ve got the budget).

Want to read more? Follow this Google Ads step-by-step guide.

3. Social media marketing

Outside of search engines, social media are a great place to reach (potential) customers. With social media marketing you use channels like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube to:

  • Increase brand visibility
  • Engage with potential customers
  • Improve customers relations

To optimise your social media results, your best chances are to combine both paid and non-paid activities.

Where to start?

Travellers are frequent users of social media. During every step of their trip, they use social media to support their decisions. Thus, your business should be visible to your target group before, during and after their trip.

Learn more about their social media behaviour and how to interact with them in this video!

4. Email marketing

For a direct approach to more sales, email marketing is a great option. Even compared to social media, email has an enormous number of users on a daily basis. Email marketing offers you a direct link to your customers. Benefits of using email as a marketing activity are that it:

Email marketing is an effective way to connect with travellers. Position your business, convert leads and improve existing relationships.

Where to start?

To get started, I advise you to select an email marketing service. These services help you build a mailing list, design emails in a suitable format and measure data. Well-known services, which all have a free plan, include:

  • SendinBlue
  • OmniSend
  • Mailchimp

At the Good Tourism Institute, we decided to use MailChimp, as it serves our needs best. It offers an extensive free plan that allows you to send emails up to 2.000 subscribers. Also, you can create segmentations in your audience and send an automatic email to new subscribers. Once these options aren’t enough anymore you can always decide to upgrade to a plan with more features.

Want to learn more? Read our extensive article on email marketing.

Combining activities for a complete online marketing strategy

If you compare the types of online marketing activities, you’ll notice they overlap here and there. Yet, by combining these different types you can create a synergetic effect. With SEO and SEA, you’ll be able to lead your ideal target group to your website.

On your website you can try to turn travel website visitors into customers. Once you’ve collected their personal information, you can stay in direct contact with them on a regular basis via email marketing.

Next, you can inspire both potential and repeating customers to take their next trip on your social media accounts.

Content marketing tips

Want to put this into practice? Follow our tips on Content marketing for tour operators.


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