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.

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.

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.

A new travel blogging platform – Planity

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Some months ago we reviewed BonJournal as a great tool to use for agent FAM trips. I’m still a great fan of Bon Journal and particularly like their IOS app for quickly being able to record moments when on the move. What is going to differentiate travel professionals of the future is their in depth knowledge and advise and clients will want to be able to see that you can demonstrate your knowledge via in depth blogs of places you’ve been. You can of course record these blogs on your own site, but the advantage of using external sites is that you have the opportunity to reach a larger audience.

Planity is similar to BonJournal – but has just launched and offers you another way to record FAM trips and other blogs online.

I like Planity – it’s main difference to BonJournal is that the map of the trip is more visible on reading the blog. Bon Journal’s map appears hidden away unless you are actively looking for it ( the ‘View Map’ link is at the bottom of the contents list for each trip when I think it would be better served at the top of the contents list). The upside of the bonjournal map is it is more interactive than Planity’s map, with the ability to have a full screen of the map and the places that are tagged also hyperlink back to the main article which is useful.

According to Tripadvisor research, 46% of travellers use blogs as an integral part of their planning process. These tools to help travellers record their travels will have a place in the travel research ecosystem of the future and can act as a potential inbound funnel for travel companies wishing to extend their reach

Online Giants Target Tours (and with a twist) – but can that replace experience?

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How many years have we all assumed that online booking of travel is for the younger generation? Recently we have all seen the over 50’s booking hotels and flights online, but we all believed that tours were going to be too difficult to do, there was going to be a piece of the travel industry that would not be made into an app.

When Expedia acquired Viator in 2014, it sent a message that tours were getting interesting to the online players. It would enable them to upsell tours to users booking their hotel offerings. Who would have thought that the first advert that they played would have featured not only an over 50, but a character approaching 70 – online travel has arrived and it is for everyone, regardless of age.

Is this the end of person to person? Does it spark the beginning of something new? Should specialists be worried?

I don’t think so. It actually just highlights that many tours and activities around the world are a commodity – just like booking a flight or a hotel room. That being the case it is a natural fit for booking online. We don’t need a travel expert to book us on the London Eye.

But the specialist travel sector does something different. They don’t sell a commodity, but something different, something off the beaten track, something to make clients holidays unique and personal service.

Of all the travel company personal videos I’ve watched online ( the ‘about us’ for the digital age) Cazenove & Lloyd stands out. Any user landing on their site can easily learn in 2 minutes what they are selling – it’s something different, something for the discerning, something you can’t book on an app – and there is a client testimonial to boot. This is very well done.

They are selling something different – a bespoke experience and they are expert at it. They will use digital channels to verify who they are and act as an inbound marketing channel for new clients. Of course there is word of mouth but when Expedia start to claim that they can book all elements of your holiday, specialist businesses will have to make sure that their online presence captures a users attention (and their differentiation)  because even if a recommendation comes via word of mouth, the new client will always check out the recommended business online first.

The future is digital, but as in the past, we are not all the same. The Expedia’s of the world make everyone work harder at what they do and concentrate on the specialist proposition. If a business cannot define why it is different/better than a machine, then the machine will win, we see that time and time again.

But online presence and marketing is about so much more than simply trying to compete against the big boys, it’s about expression, finding your niche, finding your tribe and showcasing it.

Finding your niche, your tribe, has never been easier to do that than in 2015 with online channels. That’s the yin and yang of the world we live in now. If you like a challenge, these are exciting times.

 

Is Insurance Selling an indication of how travel selling online may go?

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We live in a world of ‘Price Match’ from John Lewis’ ‘never knowingly undersold’ to walking into Curry’s and comparing the fridge you are buying with AO.com and have Curry’s match the price it seems that retailers are keen to price match. Travel is no different and most travel agents will try their hardest to either match or even beat quotes from competitors.

In the online world, travel is the most dynamic sector but when it comes to maturity, you could argue that the Insurance industry has carved the way ( remember when high streets were full of insurance brokers?) and is a step ahead and perhaps showing the way for how travel will be sold in the future?

Like many consumers, I have insured my cars through the same insurer every year. A few years ago I will have searched for the best deal and then renewed each year without bothering to price check ( I know !). In reality the premium either stayed the same or rose slightly and as a result I didn’t take as much notice as I should have. That was until my daughter came onto the policy for our 2005 Fiesta. Amy is taking a 10 weeks to travel to New Zealand and so it seemed sensible to take her off the Privilege Insurance as it was still over £1000 per year for the Fiesta as she is 18 and a young driver.

Calling Privilege we were advised that we would be charged an admin fee of £52 to take her off the policy and put her back on 10 weeks later and she would lose 1 year no claims as a named driver. It would cost us £80 net for the 10 weeks extra if we just left her on the policy and she would not lose her ‘history’ which helps premiums ongoing. More pertinent was that the insurance cost left with her off the policy seemed to be about £100 more than we used to pay pre her driving.

So we had a quick google, as you do. Shockingly we found that we have been overcharged by Privilege by £500 in comparison to other insurers such as LV. Not only that, our other car was similarly 1/3 over charged in its premium.

So a phone call to Privilege to establish just what was going on – surely we were valued customers? We have our cars insurance and house insurance with them and it feels that as a loyal customer we ought at the very least to be looked after and price matched ( even our electricity supplier writes to us when they find a competitor cheaper to let us know and have the option of changing).

What was the Answer from Privilege? You need to price match every year on a price comparison website. Full Stop.

OK – fair enough, we have not been on it. We will in the future. Will you however price match ?

NO

Really – not at all?

NO

So you are happy for us to leave you, with all our no claims history and take all our insurance policies with us?

YES

Really?

YES – we can’t help you.

So what has happened here is that the respected Insurance Broker has defaulted to the least cost price finder via GoCompare and the like online. They get paid for showing customers what policy they can buy and from whom for the cheapest price and the Insurance industry has decided to send even more business to them ( and pay for the referral) by not implementing any sort of retained customer loyalty programme.

Why is this? Why is Insurance the only marketplace where customer loyalty stands for nothing?

Perhaps it is the might of the online giants like GoCompare. Perhaps the Insurance market has worked out it is not worth the admin fee and internal resource to build a business model based on customer service and client loyalty? Perhaps it is just easier and more profitable to accept that GoCompare and the meerkats have sewn up the market and the insurers play second fiddle to them? It does look like a broken market from the perspective of the insurers. Since when has it been cheaper to acquire a new customer than keep an old one?

So how does this impact travel? Perhaps a similar thing will happen. Consumers, ever more reliant on their tech, will want quick answers to their questions and find the least expensive way to purchase their holiday? Will this make the online players stronger? Will consumers expect to be able to look at any travel website and search and make comparisons for holidays?

Travel is far more complicated than insurance to buy and sell. The broad nature of travel means that it is difficult to envisage a ‘gocompare’ for the whole of the travel industry ( although SkyScanner is achieving this for flights). Far more likely that consumers will have conversations with their existing travel provider and that provider/ travel agent, will value their loyalty and ensure that they do price match and go further to keep the customer. What the future does say though, is that anyone selling travel will need to have an online presence that allows consumers to search and find holidays from across their given speciality, whether they are based online or on the high street.

From an insurance angle – it’s not surprising that Compare the market as it’s tagline – easy for the consumer, but more importantly for them, simple model that Insurance companies have capitulated to.

Blogging – How to be effective at commercial travel blogging

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Blogging as a travel blogger ( e.g. – this example is a lovely travel blogger example –  https://www.junglesinparis.com/stories/borneo-s-last-blowpipe-specialists) is an art form. The blogger sets out to showcase expertise and in this example this boutique travel journal, run by brothers Oliver and Darrell Hartman, uses beautiful photography and short film to tell inspiring stories of craftsmanship, tradition, and extreme natural environments.

But – it is not very commercial and if you are a commercial travel business you want to be able to blog effectively so that you drive more sales to your door. By all means take lots of inspiration from the expert travel bloggers ( and even ask some to do guest posts for you), but work out how you can also monetise this whole activity ( there are only a certain number of hours in the day to run your business).

Blogging for Commercial Reasons….

Blogging is a relatively easy thing to do and WordPress is probably the World’s default blogging platform ( and means you can have a commercial website with say Holiday Search and Live Offers on the same platform as your blog) and is an easy place to start).

For anyone serious about showing their expertise online in travel you absolutely must have a blog ( because how else will anyone know you are the expert?) NB: You don’t need to have a blog as part of your main commercial travel site. Inbound marketing techniques allow you to easily use other Blog style apps if you feel these are easier ( e.g. BonJournal) to write your blogs

You need to plan your blogging activity and just as importantly organise your blogging so that any writing that you do is easily bookmarked for your users/readers to find. Like any good reference manual a blog needs to have sections so that readers can easily look into any section and find what they are looking for.

Sections/Categories

When publishing a blog use ‘categories’ to bookmark what your blog is about. Choosing your categories is the MOST important element of designing the structure of your blog. If you have not planned your structure then it will show through ( and make it difficult to navigate the blog for users) and just using categories such as ‘Africa’ ‘food’ ‘safari’ and other generic words, while they might describe the overall content of each blog post, are not much use to the reader ( have these as topics instead).

Of course there are plenty of great travel bloggers out there, but if you run a commercial operation and are building a brand, mixing the ‘independent’ nature of a blog ( blogs should never be out and out sales commercial adverts) with your commercial activity on your website is difficult.

WHO GETS IT RIGHT? 

 

As you would expect from one of the global leaders in travel, Abercrombie & Kent have nailed this recently and so are an excellent example to look at before you plan your blog.

The new style and structured blog as of July 2015 is only available to view on http://abercrombiekent.com/blog/ not on the .co.uk version yet ( although the content is available in the UK)
The new style and structured blog as of July 2015 is only available to view on http://abercrombiekent.com/blog/ not on the .co.uk version yet ( although the content is available in the UK)
Inside the Ampersand – So what does A&K get absolutely right ( apart from the excellent content)
THE CATEGORIES….

Main Categories allow the user to navigate easily to those blogs that would interest them. A prominant welcome from the founder personalises the blog to the section for ‘guest blogs’ of clients helps this blog space feel very personal but also expert.</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>TRIP LOGS - are a great way of putting professional writing of trips into a blog format. If you are a travel agent you will no doubt go on many 'Fam Trips' If you are a Tour Operator you will no doubt carry out lots of Fam Trips for agents and staff. Using these trips to document your destinations and then use them in the blog is an excellent way of getting deeper content, all branded as yours, onto you website in a non sales way.</p><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Keeping things simple - there are only 7 categories. This limits the choices of readers to start reading a particular category ( and also reassures readers there are only 7 categories to get through so making the task of delving into the blogs without thinking there is a never ending set of categories to wade through, an easier and more accessible one)

Main Categories allow the user to navigate easily to those blogs that would interest them. A prominant welcome from the founder personalises the blog to the section for ‘guest blogs’ of clients helps this blog space feel very personal but also expert. TRIP LOGS – are a great way of putting professional writing of trips into a blog format. If you are a travel agent you will no doubt go on many ‘Fam Trips’ If you are a Tour Operator you will no doubt carry out lots of Fam Trips for agents and staff. Using these trips to document your destinations and then use them in the blog is an excellent way of getting deeper content, all branded as yours, onto you website in a non sales way. Keeping things simple – there are only 7 categories. This limits the choices of readers to start reading a particular category ( and also reassures readers there are only 7 categories to get through so making the task of delving into the blogs without thinking there is a never ending set of categories to wade through, an easier and more accessible one)
POPULAR TOPICS

A good blogging platform ( such as WordPress) already has functionality to be able to measure how many times each of your blogs is viewed and then have a neat widget on the page that shows what your readers are finding interesting. It often shows the most popular destinations or holidays. It's probably no surprise to see Africa on the A&K hot topics but Luxury Expedition Cruises might not have been something that a user would have looked at and the mere fact it shows as a hot topic will make someone navigate to it

A good blogging platform ( such as WordPress) already has functionality to be able to measure how many times each of your blogs is viewed and then have a neat widget on the page that shows what your readers are finding interesting. It often shows the most popular destinations or holidays. It’s probably no surprise to see Africa on the A&K hot topics but Luxury Expedition Cruises might not have been something that a user would have looked at and the mere fact it shows as a hot topic will make someone navigate to it
SEARCH

Including a search button enables a user to easily navigate your blog without relying on categories

Including a search button enables a user to easily navigate your blog without relying on categories
In Conclusion

 

Don’t copy A&K ( or anyone else for that matter) – But take inspiration.

1. Know who your ideal client is and write for them. If you can’t write consider note taking and hiring a writer from great online resources such as peopleperhour.com

2. Work out the categories that fit your business and best describe to your readers what content you have for them to read. Set your categories and make sure that you post your blogs to the right category.

3. Consider documenting all your FAM trips/Staff Trips in any media – BonJournal, Instagram, Pinterest and link to all these channels in your blog

4. Blog interesting stuff – post your blog on social media channels and email your database with the latest blog ( or round up if you blog more frequently than you email your database)

5. Ensure that there is a ‘Subscribe to Blog’ button so that you can keep readers automatically updated on new blogs

…. and enjoy building your subscriber list and future sales