There’s a lot of chatter across the travel and tourism industry right now about capturing the local market and pivoting your business to attract more local bookers. We shared reasons why people travel locally as well as creative ways to appeal to the local booker in this Compass guide. Once you are ready to grab a slice of the metaphorical local pie, you’ll need to put together a local marketing strategy. Many of the marketing tools you already rely on to promote your tours, activities, and attractions — such as email, social media, and more — still apply when reaching locals, with a modified approach and message.
Creating a loyal local clientele base is part of any well-rounded marketing strategy, and it will prove particularly important as we come out on the other side of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, as well as any other unforeseen crises that come our way in the future. Even before the pandemic, 80% of U.S. disposable income was spent within 20 miles of the home (Moz). The best way for tour operators to quickly resume business will be to market tours and activities within their local communities. This guide focuses on local marketing strategies you can work on right now in preparation for resuming your operations.
Home, Sweet Home
Although many travelers still dream of visiting far-away vacation destinations, nothing sounds more appealing, safe, and affordable right now than exploring new activities in their own backyard. Hence the dawn of the “staycation,” a mini vacation in one’s hometown. Now is the time to capitalize on those who always intend to participate in local activities but haven’t found the time to do so in the past — Colorado locals ready to book that white water rafting trip, New Yorkers who finally decide to reserve a spot on an exclusive culinary tour of their city, or coastal locals committed to taking that fishing, snorkeling or sailing excursion.
Pro-tip: A local booker does not have to be limited to someone in your immediate city or town. Those travelers who can participate in day or weekend trips are an ideal target demographic — they are close enough to drive or take the train in for a visit, without having to book accommodation or pay for other common trip-related expenses. A real win-win!
Appealing to local bookers transcends just creating additional marketing touchpoints to drive bookings. It also requires finding ways to stimulate and engage those within your community. Staying involved in your community allows you to develop trust and loyalty organically. Network with other business owners in your area, join your local chamber of commerce, attend local events (when it is safe to do so), and consider sponsoring local charities and causes.
Pro-tip: Think about what you love most about the community you live in and the kinds of things that would motivate you to support another local business. Use this as your guiding light when crafting your own local messaging and identifying opportunities.
Local SEO, Google My Business & Website Optimization
From a technical standpoint, working on local SEO is the first step to building your local marketing strategy because it increases your online visibility. Search engines understand that searchers want results that fit their query as it relates to three main facets: relevance, proximity, and prominence, with proximity driving you to show up in results for searchers near you. Get a quick hit of the best ways to leverage local SEO to grow your business in this short 7-minute video.
- Relevance – Does the business do or sell what the searcher is looking for? Google gauges this by looking at your on-site content, GMB info, and more.
- Proximity (a.k.a. location) – Is the business close enough to the searcher to be considered relevant to the query?
- Prominence – This is how established Google thinks your business is based on reviews, physical visits (if you have a physical location), and to some degree, citations.
According to Google, you can improve your business’s local ranking by optimizing your Google My Business profile. Google My Business (GMB) is a business listing that displays important information about your company like contact information, location, hours of operation, and business category. Including full and accurate business information will help your business show up in the Local Map Pack in Google results. Additionally, keeping your GMB profile up to date is essential during times of change when customers need to know if you’re open or how to reach you. Once you’ve made your account, follow these steps and best practices in our GMB checklist to ensure your account page is fully set up.
When appealing to the local booker, one of the most important areas to focus on is review management, whether centered around existing reviews or new submissions. Keep in mind that although GMB will likely be delayed in posting any new reviews or responses during a crisis, you don’t want to be caught ignoring reviews. With 90% of consumers looking for a review before they visit a business (Bright Local), you can’t afford to fall behind when it comes to responding to reviews.
It’s also essential to optimize your website for mobile because a considerable percentage of local traffic comes from mobile devices. According to a study by Statista, mobile usage accounts for about half of worldwide web traffic. More compelling, however, is the fact that 75% of local searches become in-store/in-person visits (Acquisio-LSA). You can check the traffic sources and percentages for your website in Google Analytics. When optimizing your website for mobile, consider the following.
- Ensure your website loads quickly (no more than 3 seconds).
- Adjust your font to make it larger for better readability on mobile.
- Be concise. Make it easy for people to find information about your tours without having to scroll or click on a series of links.
- Include only the necessary content and images on mobile.
Pro tip: Take your website’s mobile experience one step further — look into optimizing your website for voice search. It’s estimated that about 50% of all searches this year (2020) will be voice searches according to comScore.
With the capability for increased personalization, email marketing still tends to be one of the highest converting and ROI-yielding marketing tactics. And what’s more personal than emailing those in your own community?
Use email marketing during this period of downtime to plan future events and invite new prospects or returning customers. Promote things like the anniversary of your business, your grand re-opening following the pandemic, or other special holidays. Use emails to spark an interest among locals in your area. Consider offering a discount to those in your area if they bring a family or friend along. Locals are sure to appreciate the perk, and it can help bring in new customers.
Pro-tip: Use your FareHarbor dashboard to pull a contact list of locals, filtered by zip code, to send to those in your area. Learn more in our Help Center.
Don’t forget about your email subject! Aside from segmenting your list to send your communications to the right group of people, writing attention-grabbing subject lines is the best way to get people to open your emails. Think about how many emails you get every day and what induces you to actually click on the email and open it. Your subject line is the elevator pitch to get your audience interested in what you have to say. Incorporate your business location in your email subject to communicate the “local” focus right away. For example, your subject line could say something like “Hey Floridians, don’t miss out on this bucket-list experience!”
Use social media to connect and build relationships with your local customers. Facebook Reviews & Recommendations is Facebook’s review platform that now allows users to ask for recommendations based on their specific search criteria. It all starts with a simple question posted by a user on their status asking for a local tip, e.g. places to eat, things to do near them, and more. Based on the responses they receive from their Facebook friends in the comments, the feature pulls up the exact locations of businesses mentioned, like yours! By asking existing and potential customers to leave recommendations and reviews for your business, you increase your chances of showing up in these discussions.
Use Check-Ins, Tags & User-Generated Content
Another simple way to generate buzz around your business is to encourage customers to interact with your business on their own social accounts.
A check-in allows your customers to inform their friends on social media that they are currently at your business and are enjoying your services or products. Explore ways to have new customers check in when they begin your tour by offering an incentive like a discount on a future tour, photos of their experience, or other perks.
Similar to checking in, tagged and user-generated content (UGC) are fun ways to interact with customers. When posting on your social media channels, use the tagged location feature! Social media platforms have increasingly evolved to become their own form of search engines, and this feature allows you to show up in their “searches”! User-generated content is essentially content or photos taken from customers who enjoyed their experience and shared it on their own networks. Repurposing and re-sharing it on your channels showcases a level of authenticity and connection that can turn customers into advocates for your business. Much like the power of online reviews, posting positive images or photos of your guests’ experiences validates the experience for someone else.
Pro tip: Want to take UGC to the next level? Identify and connect with micro-influencers to discuss how to create a content plan that promotes your tours and location.
PPC campaigns can be tailored by geography and demographics (among other things) to attract local bookers specifically. When it comes to local advertising, cut down your budget by focusing on local-based targeting. Generally speaking, the more targeted your advertising is, the higher likelihood you have for conversion and a better ROI. Start by targeting your ads to the people who are based in your area, their interests, and some other demographic details, which can be found in the Audience tab of Google Analytics. Just getting started with Google Ads? Check out our PPC checklist.
Get even more specific with hyperlocal marketing, the process of targeting prospective customers in a highly specific, geographically contained area — sometimes even just a few streets/blocks away. The goal of this is to take advantage of the “near me” searches. Why is this important? Not only are these types of searches a sign of proximity to your business, but they also signal a higher intent or likelihood to purchase as people are looking for something specific close to their current location.
Adapting your Google Ads campaigns for hyperlocal marketing is straightforward if you follow these steps:
- Go to one of your campaigns, visit the settings, and click on “Advanced Search” in the Locations tab. Select Radius Targeting and designate the max distance you’d like to target — e.g. a 20-mile radius around your business.
- Add any neighborhoods/cities/counties outside of your radius into your negative keywords list.
- Update and optimize for relevant keywords for hyperlocal searches. This can include adding the name of the city/neighborhood to your existing keywords, or adding the term “near me” to those keywords as well.
Generate Local Support
One tried and true way to connect with locals in your community is to support other local businesses. You may find that the other businesses in your area foster not only an entrepreneurial spirit but a collaborative one as well. Of course, you can start in the traditional way of cross-promoting businesses through printed collateral found in brick and mortar locations (business cards, brochures, pamphlets), or you can digitize that process by joining the FareHarbor Distribution Network (FHDN). Resell other tour operators’ activities and have yours resold online through other popular channels.
Remember, in this time of great industry change, we can draw strength from our communities. Consider adapting your marketing efforts to create a significant impact within your area and reach out to the customers who know you best. For more ways to improve your marketing strategy, check out our digital marketing guides.