What software tech do travel business owners need in 2018 to succeed?

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So when I woke up this morning I thought the world had turned upside down.

At the weekend, my butcher in the local farm shop told me he had invested £10,000 in cryptocurrencies. If cryptocurrency mania has reached butchers in farm shops I’m too late I thought…. stick with the £££’s

Then this morning I read a tweet that a VC firm I follow, incredibly well respected firm and very successful, had invested in https://www.cryptokitties.co/  –  a game centred around breedable, collectible creatures they call CryptoKitties. Because they are built on blockchain technology each cat is one-of-a-kind and 100% owned by you; it cannot be replicated, taken away, or destroyed.

OK I thought – so someone came up with an idea to sell virtual kittens and some people might buy them ( I still can’t work out why but then I’m probably too old to). It now turns out that the reason Andreessen Horowitz    invested is because people sell these kittens for a profit.

From techcrunch

” People are spending a crazy amount of real money on the game. So far about $1.3M has been transacted, with multiple kittens selling for ~50 ETH (around $23,000) and the “genesis” kitten being sold for a record ~246 ETH (around $113,000). This third party site tracks the largest purchases made to date on the game. And like any good viral sensation prices are rising and fluctuating fast. Right now it will cost you about .03 ETH, or $12 to buy the least expensive kitten in the game.

So now we have people using Ether, an asset with arguably little tangible utility – to purchase an asset with unarguably zero tangible utility. Welcome to the internet in 2017″

 

So what do Travel Business Owners Need?

If the margins were bigger, then maybe travel business owners would be interested in buying and selling and breeding cryptokitties. But for the time being, we recommend focussing on tangible technology that will help your business grow.

For this we mean:

  1. A responsive website
  2. Holiday Search – research shows that having a ‘tool’ such as a holiday search tool helps keep users engaged with your site and more likely to make an enquiry
  3. Email Marketing Software
  4. Marketing Automation Software
  5. a CRM – Customer Relationship Manager, to keep track of enquiries, create quotes and manage clients
  6. a booking system
  7. an accounting system ( because the booking systems don’t do the whole job)

 

Nelio – Content | A great editorial calendar alternative to Coschedule – & less expensive

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Managing your content creation and social posting strategy can be a headache! In fact, it can be a disaster if you con’t properly plan and manage your social post and content creation properly. Want to know why magazines are successful? It’s because they have a regularity to their approach. If The Travel & Leisure magazine only produced content sporadically and only printed a magazine when it felt like it …. it would not have a business.

(Note: back in the day when Travel Agents were gatekeepers and consumers had to book their holidays through them then this was not an issue – but all travel brands including Marriott have to be their own publishers now if they are to survive)

If you are an organised type and don’t like spending money then of course the free way to plan and manage your content creation is by using Google Sheets or excel to create a calendar and then type in the relevant planning content. Once you had posted your content you could then separately use your social media profiles to social post your blog. It’s time consuming but Free

CoSchedule has been the go to plugin for scheduling content and social posts and is a very good piece of kit. However, with that comes a price and the thing that keeps many smaller businesses is yet another monthly amount to pay for if they only produce say 4 pieces of content a month. The $30 a month price tag is expensive for this – making each blog post cost $7 if you only post once a week ( which is not unusual for small businesses)

Nelio Content  appears to be a new kid on the block. Not only does it do what CoSchedule does, but there is a free version with only one social channel connected ( so if your main social channel is Facebook then you can connect it to this ) but for $7 a month ( that’s the same as the cost for one blog post in CoSchedule in the above example) you get the Pro Version with 10 social profiles connected.

 

Why Travel Agents Need To Go Deeper On Content Strategy

We’re a Media Company Now’: Inside Marriott’s Incredible Money-Making Content Studio

Marriott associates work together in the live studio. Mariott Skift Take: While the term “content strategy” means different things to different organizations one thing is certain: brands need to be thinking beyond surface level content creation and marketing and dive deeper into the overarching strategy guiding these efforts. — Matt Heidkamp No matter the organization, there is a rising focus on content strategy as a key building block in marketing and business development.

Source: Why Travel Brands Need To Go Deeper On Content Strategy

Net Effect Small Travel Business View: Whether you are smaller travel agent or tour operator, adding content to your website now goes a whole lot deeper than simply writing destination guides. Your content strategy has to set you apart from the competition and so help define the reasons why people will buy from you. This unique selling proposition is not a young term, but now that the gatekeepers in selling travel have been removed, the fight is on to ensure that your consumer does not simply reach for ( in Marriotts case – Booking.com) and in a small travel agent scenario – any online site based on price.

Boost your content user engagement by using your own images and save hefty stock fines

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Tanjong Jara

Tanjong Jara Resort taken with iPhone 6, August 2015

Most travel companies will at some point or other have been whacked for using an image they should not have. Getty is particularly hot and apparently use ‘Waybackmachine‘ to find occasions when you might have made that mistake. That may have cost you £300 – £1500 per photo, ouch! Stock photos are also pretty boring and you can boost your content user engagement by using your own images and save hefty stock fines.

As your users are consuming more imagery than every before while browsing and reading less it is becoming more and more important to use images that your users will find interesting – AKA, not seen before. Let’s face it, we are all pretty tired of stock photos & hey, we are in travel so here is my advice on using images in your content.

  1. Use your own. You go on educationals and holidays so take your phone ( I use an iPhone which is how I took the photos on these pages – with just one click, I’m not photographer!). Personalising your content will boost user engagement and help them further down the sales funnel
  2. Sign up to a Google Photos account. This is Free for ALL your photos and enables indexing so you can always find the photo you are looking for easily. The clever smart phone app ensures that your images are backed up and so if you lose your phone then you will always have a back up of your photos. This App also lets you apply different ‘effects’ ( as per Instagram) and so you can take an ordinary photo and then apply effects such as the image here on the left of palm trees at Tanjong Jara.
  3. Use a computer programme like ‘Snagit‘ or your iPhone App to add text to personalise the photo
  4. Ask Operators that you work with to use their images. While they will probably ask you to attribute them, this can actually work in your favour as you can add a line such as “Image kindly provided by [Name of Operator], one of the many operators we have preferred terms with meaning you are guaranteed to not pay any more while using our services”
  5. Google ‘Free Images’ – there are plenty of sites out there that allow you to use images for free. Some of our favourites are
    1. https://pixabay.com
    2. https://unsplash.com/collections/460289/travel
    3. https://stocksnap.io

 

Above all, for most smaller travel businesses, just don’t be afraid of using a more personal approach to images. Consumers are looking for real connections and using non stock images will not only cost you nothing, but will probably boost engagement with your post.

Why your video content must reflect your travel brand image to maximise impact

In today’s socially connected world with everyone posting videos of themselves it’s easy to think that video is something that you should do to personalise your website and brand image.  It’s true, people connect with people and using video well is a very powerful way of helping convert users to clients. The fact that so much video is consumed now and that people are reading less online and watching more, makes it vital that your brand story is reflected in any video content you add to your site. But make sure that the content reflects your brand.

There are countless examples of bad video content out there – and fairly numbing that content is. For specialist travel businesses, with ‘recommended’ as one their most vital new sales channels, getting your brand image right is paramount. One of your clients recommending your services to a friend or colleague will absolutely mean that the referred potential client looks at your website. In many respects it is easy to produce a good looking website and logo and still work out of a trading estate unit or back bedroom without your clients finding out. But when you add a video to the site it turns the site into a success or failure – because the recommended user will almost certainly watch the video to find out whether you are the business for them.

Deciding on your ‘persona’ is the most important element and crafting the video is a skill. Typically using an agency to create a 3 minute video for you might costs £3,000 ++ ( and if you don’t have that money then WISTIA , our favourite Video hosting company, have tons of self help videos that mean you can turn out pretty professional videos. Help sheets like ‘Brand Voice‘ and how to put together a lighting kit for $100 mean that you can produce your own videos inexpensively and still get great results.

You’ll know your brand, your ID, your voice – make sure that your video reflects it or it won’t be worth having. In the meantime, let me share one of the best niched travel agent video intros from Cazenove & Lloyd. they aren’t a huge company, they provide extraordinary bespoke trips. There will be lots of travel operators out there that would claim the same but watch their video and see how effective they are at showcasing their expertise. It’s clear this is going to be an expensive holiday ( & I guess this suits the sales funnel for Cazenove and Lloyd by ensuring that those ‘timewasters’ don’t bother getting in touch), but if you have the budget, there is no doubt that you are in the right place. For an agent or operator out there selling high end bespoke travel – this is what you are up against. It is time to take video seriously.

Be the Travel Expert this Christmas

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Communicating with your audience online is not only about selling holidays and latest offers. They will become more engaged and hence more receptive if you strike up conversations that are about being the ‘Travel Expert’ rather than the ‘Travel Seller’. Social Media channels are the perfect platform for sharing your travel related expertise.

Festive ‘To Do’ 

I’ve done the hard work for you and demonstrated how you can use FaceBook Albums to share information/expertise in an eye catching visual way.

Simply share my album ‘Original Christmas Gift Ideas for Travel Lovers’ and personalise it by adding your own comment. e.g. Get a conversation started by inviting people to choose the travel gift they’d most like to find under the Christmas tree, either from the album or their own ideas

Festive Marketing Plan

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Whilst social media has increased the volume of daily communications people engage in, there is still no real substitute for communicating face to face. With late night shopping nights and busy high streets, Christmas is an ideal time to invite your customers in and spread a bit of goodwill and festive cheer.

The key to success is to plan well to maximise the opportunity and keep focussed on what you hope to gain from the event (e.g. collecting email addresses!)

 ‘To Do’ this month

Today’s task is to plan and draw up a ‘To Do’ list for a festive meet and greet. Here’s a useful link to help you get started. Click here.

Some further ideas to consider are:

  • Send out invites via Facebook, email and window displays.
  • Make sure you have a simple way for people to leave their email address with you so that you can continue the conversation after the event. This could be as simple as having a notebook and pen available, or entering them straight onto an ipad or computer as you chat.
  • If possible make a note of what type of traveller they may be or destinations they’re interested in so that you can target marketing efforts accordingly.
  • Make sure you have something with all your details (including web address and social media connections) ready to handout.
  • If your team have different specialist areas eg. Cruise or Adventure Travel or destination knowledge make sure customers know how to identify them to make starting a conversation easier.
  • Ask a Tour Operator to help support your event.
  • Make sure your shop is looking as attractive as possible and create a display area for any demographic/destinations you specialise in or want to promote e.g. Ski/Cruise/Adventure/over 50’s/Millenials. It could be a great opportunity to test interest in a new holiday type.
  • Take some photos of the event and share on social media
  • If you offer Gift Vouchers be sure to let visitors know in case they are looking for a gift idea for the special travel – lover in their life.

‘HELP! MY WEBSITE DOESN’T WORK!

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A question we sometimes get asked is “ Why aren’t people flocking to my gorgeous new Net Effect website in their droves?’ (or words to that effect 😉 . The simple answer is most likely to be because you aren’t telling enough people where it is! Companies spend millions of pounds chasing top spots on search listings but a specialist travel professional requires a more subtle approach to reach the right audience.

It is important to remember here that

1.  The travel industry is one of the most crowded spaces online, and

2.   your website is a just a tool. It requires operating to do its job and the more skilled you become at this the better it will work for your business.

Your website can be the most lavish looking affair, in this seasons colours and fonts and bursting with seductive imagery but without your hands on input, it’s as effective as a glossy sales brochure left in a drawer.

The good news is that this is something that you can easily change. And all for FREE! Your secret weapons are email marketing, adding content via a blog and of course Social Media. The really great thing is that Social Media puts the smaller business with its personal service at an advantage compared to its larger competitors. It is so much easier for smaller businesses to create a genuine social connection with their customers online than a larger corporate organisation. So time to strike up a conversation!

TODAY’S ‘TO DO’ : REVIEW YOUR GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE

But before we start, an important thing to remember is that being local is one of your strongest marketing cards so the first task today is to check your Google Business page is doing its job. A Google My Business (previously Google Places) profile is an essential for local SEO. It’s free and will enable you to appear in local search results for queries specific to your products or services and shows clearly you are open for business.

  • Check all the contact, location & opening hours details are up to date
  • Check your photos show you in your best light.
  • Make sure you have completed the verification process for your business.
  • You can also now collect and reply to reviews.

Click here for more info https://www.google.com/business/

Getting started with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) on your travel website

It’s true that very few commercial travel sites do SEO very well. Why this is depends on so many factors that I won’t go into in this blog post but will come down to the strategy that the business developed. As surprising though it may seem, SEO is not always the number one activity that owners of travel businesses want to spend their marketing money on.

There is no doubt though that the future of travel ( and we are not talking the airbnb’s and homeaway’s of the world here) is building niched specialist businesses. This is not confined to travel, the way that Google is heading, the only way to be able to build any successful business online ( unless you are VC bankrolled) is by being the expert. It will be the experts that win in the end.

Expert Travel Agents

I can hear your virtual sigh of relief at this point. For those of you having been in the travel business for sometime, the one thing that you will pride yourselves on is your expertise – indeed it is the very reason you exist and why  your repeat and recommended marketing works so well.

So this post is for all you experts with a niche to sell. SEO is the method used to get your content ( or expertise) recognised by search engines. We have a whole section on SEO in our whitepaper – Travel Agent Marketing BluePrint but it is also useful to see some external sources.

Rand Fishkin who started Moz.com is an authority on SEO – read their Beginners Guide here to start your journey to writing better SEO content

For those of you who don’t see why content matters – check out Jeff Bullas who compiled an excellent infographic which we share below. So before you do anything with SEO – start creating content and then follow the guidelines to ensure that your content works for keywords.

How will Virtual reality affect Travel selling in the future

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I’m in tech so I guess that I’m more used to terms like ‘Virtual Reality’ being banded about in business than my clients who are more concerned with selling holidays. I know that Facebook paid $2 Billion for Oculus Rift ( a VR company), but then hey, they have loads of money and need to be a little ‘futurist’ to stay ahead of the game. Who knows whether it will be worth the investment ( at the time). Investing in tech at that level is a waiting game and a gamble.

But this morning a guy I follow on various social media platforms – Robert Scobleizer, ex tech evangelist at Microsoft and now ex futurist at Rackspace announced he is joining Upload VR http://scobleizer.com a virtual reality company as entrepreneur in residence. If you haven’t heard of Robert Scobleizer then this won’t mean much to you and you were likely to skip it. But this is important to travel – why? because RS would not have made the move unless he thought that VR was worthy of a major part of his career. He must believe this is a game changer in the world.

OK – so by now your thinking that its in the future and won’t affect you. Sorry – it’s already out there and being adapted by travel companies. Marco Ryan, chief digital officer for Thomas Cook Group, was reported by Bloomberg as beginning testing VR content last year to boost sales. “The closer you get to the destination, the more excited you are to have that experience”—i.e., buy that experience. See the full article here: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-06-19/how-oculus-and-cardboard-are-going-to-rock-the-travel-industry.

Sales of an excursion marketed using VR jumped 190% – that’s right, potential clients that had a better and more real demonstration of what they might expect to experience were far more likely to purchase that experience.

What does this mean for Travel Agents?

This is a massive opportunity for bricks and mortar travel agents to use technology to up their sales. While headsets such as Google Cardboard and other cheap VR solutions are likely for some time the only way that the public will experience VR, businesses investing in Oculus Rift and headsets that allow an immersive experience are more likely to be able to sell that holiday or experience.

It’s going to be a long time until people decide it’s not worth actually going on holiday – after all, it is virtual reality, not normal reality and part of the pleasure of being away from home is getting away from all your jobs, so I don’t think that this is going to replace the need for travel companies. But for sure it is going to become part of the sales technique and those that embrace it and do it best, will be the winners.