There is much you can do for little cost, but travel firms must get cracking soon says Digital Drums’ Steve Dunne

A flower is a weed – with a marketing budget. That’s how my first lecturer explained to me the importance of marketing to a business when I was starting out on my career many years ago.

A weed needs to attract bees for pollination, he explained, just as a business needs to attract customers to survive. So, to stand out, it has to project a proactive, desirable and compelling message.

I was reminded of this when I was asked to advise an agent about marketing their business a few days ago.

Given that most agents have little or no income at the moment, and short-term prospects look tough, why would anyone want to turn their attention to marketing right now? Add to the mix that most marketing initiatives seem to demand sizable budgets, or big swanky agencies to implement campaigns, and one can understand the reluctance of agents and operators to engage in any form of marketing activity at all.

But one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt in my career is that this is precisely the type of moment when you have to lay the foundations of your campaign to take advantage of any positive change in market conditions. Now more than ever, travel businesses need to be marketing their offering: establishing their credentials, highlighting what they do and promoting the benefits of booking with an agent.

Look at your diamonds

So, what can an agent or operator, with little or no marketing budget, do to market itself in this vital period of laying the seeds for the future pick-up?

Well, quite a lot actually.

The first thing is to look at what is known in marketing as the diamonds in your own backyard. And travel agents and operators have many.

Let’s start with customer database marketing. Every business, regardless of size, should have a client database. It would be madness not to be maintaining and mining it at every opportunity.

So how clean is your database? What is your strategy for growing each customer or enquiry? How do you capture the details of people visiting your outlets or website? Do you profile customers and match them with what you have to sell?

Make sure you initiate a constant-contact programme with a schedule that has you proactively working with customers so you keep your business front of mind with them. Creating a client newsletter with the likes of Microsoft Publisher or Apple Pages is easy. Pack it with advice, ideas and insights (all of which you have) about how to travel when travel comes back. You could curate content from your clients themselves on experiences and recommendations they have. People love to tell their story.

Film a video round-up

Consider doing a video round-up for your website or Facebook page. Even on a smartphone, filming and editing can be a decent standard.

With the lockdown growth of Zoom, a video chat or presentation is straightforward. Offer members of your travel club video talks on destinations, or types of travel.

Another area to explore is doing your own PR. Get to know your target media. Regional press and radio are very open to approaches by travel experts, as are specialist media if you offer specialist holidays around sports or interests. Offer to give advice to readers, viewers and listeners.

Speak to advertising departments of the publishers and ask for forward feature calendars so you can plan to contribute with a news release or quote.

Start a blog for your business. It gives you direct contact with customers, is brilliant for appearing in search results, is free and is easy to set up.

Then there is social media, the gift that keeps on giving. On Facebook, Instagram and other platforms, focus on creating engaging and inspiring content that gets shares or rides the news cycle by picking up on popular stories, films or TV shows. Publish interesting facts about destinations or distribute ‘how to’ guides in bite-sized formats.

There is much that can be done, and for little expenditure, but you need to get cracking soon. Now is the time to start marketing your business for when conditions change for the better.

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