Identify Your Sub-Niche
Spend time thinking about and then identifying the niche that will be the focus of your business. Will you focus on exotic vacations for seasoned travelers who want something new and different? Will you focus on unseasoned travelers who are looking for someone to handle all of the details? Will you focus on cruises? Family-oriented travel? Singles travel?
One of the most important pieces of advice to travel entrepreneurs is this: pick a small niche in the beginning and one that you are totally familiar with. You can always expand your business later on. Trying to compete with the big boys by being a huge clearinghouse for “do it yourself” travelers will be a tough industry to enter successfully. Your goal is to personalize the travel experience in a smaller niche.
Example: Suppose you backpacked through Europe and, in your travels, you found many small, quaint towns and villages that captured the true ambiance of the culture. Your uniqueness in a travel business may be just that – offering travelers experiences that they will not find in the large metropolitan areas of a country. And your first-hand experience is a value that would-be travelers will not get from the large clearinghouses.
Example: Maybe you want to focus on one aspect of travel, let’s say just hotel accommodations. Your goal is to give travelers the best places to stay based upon their specifications and budget. One company doing this very thing and doing it very well is Travel Ticker. They focus only on accommodations, take customer specifications, and then do all of the searching.
“Our goal,” says Eimantas Balčiūnas, CEO of Travel Ticker, “is to do all of the grunt work. We locate the options, research all of the reviews, communicate directly with the facility, and come up with the top options based upon customer needs and desires. We only do accommodations, and that’s what makes us the experts.”
Now to the Marketing
Your next step is spreading the word – and spreading it where and when your target customers are online. Here are important steps and activities that will do just that.
Start with as simple a design as possible – you must focus your homepage on the benefit and the value of a visitor using your service as opposed to any others.
Everything you do anywhere else on the web must drive traffic to your site, whether it is to your blog or to sign up for your newsletter or to participate in a contest you are running that will give a traveler something free.
Go mobile. It will probably not be enough just to have a mobile version of your website. Get y our own business app. Mobile customers prefer apps. Get a good designer, and you will be able to use that app to send personalized messages (better than emails) and to customize those messages based upon target customer interests. No matter where a customer may be in your sales funnel, you can target them through your app that they have downloaded. And be certain to publicize that app on your website and all of your social media platforms, so it actually gets downloaded.
This is the place for you to showcase all of the great information and expertise you have. Post regularly and often, and drive people to your blog from your social media channels. Here is where you highlight some great stuff:
You have found three great hotels in rural areas outside of Amsterdam, which will provide travelers with a unique more authentic experience, and yet also offer excellent ground transportation into the city.
One of your customers has just returned from an amazing trip to the Galapagos, and there are phenomenal photos to share.
There is a great bed and breakfast in the mountains of North Carolina that few know about.
You have discovered Hopkins Village in Belize – a lesser-populated tourist area with some great diving, gorgeous beaches, and some amazing hotel deals. And there are even some eco-friendly resorts in the rain forests for environmentally-conscious travelers who are into wildlife.
Extra Tip: Many travel entrepreneurs house their blogs on their websites but also set up a separate stand-alone travel blog with specific keywords and keyword phrases related to their niches. That blog may pop up on searches, and the traffic can be driven to their website via that blog.
Who is the target market for your niche? This will determine which social media channels you choose to use. And as a startup, you probably want to select only two at first – you cannot maintain more than that if you are a staff of one or just a few. Facebook is a channel for all age groups, but beyond that, you will need to be more focused. Twitter and Instagram are great for millennial marketing, for instance.
Never post anything on social media that does not have a visual – photos or a video. Travelers especially want to see places, not read about them. And social media is the perfect place to advertise special deals, offers, and contests.
Once you gain even a small following on social media, you must create posts with great headlines and compelling content, so that small following will share and spread your brand for you.
Email Marketing – It’s Still Important
As a startup, you will have to spend time building an email database, and you must be patient. Every new email address you get has the potential to get you more, so nurture those subscribers often and well. Produce a newsletter that is fun, exciting, and entertaining; go after travel deals aggressively, so that you can then offer things of real value to your subscribers.
Ask for Reviews and Testimonials
There are some popular travel review sites that your potential customers will be visiting. You need to have a strong presence on those sites with lots of favorable comments and feedback about your service. When your customers are happy, ask them for those reviews – most are happy to oblige. Reviews are more valuable than anything you can say about your service.
Be Aggressive with Suppliers
Go after discounts and other deals from the suppliers you feature. They are usually more than willing to offer these in exchange for the publicity and the customer you throw their way. And if you use targeted advertising, especially on social media, this is the “bait” you will use.
Augmented reality and live streaming options such as Meerkat and Periscope hold may possibilities for the future of marketing. Begin to explore these possibilities now so that you can incorporate them as you grow.
The online travel industry is crowded. If you plan to “make it” in this industry, find your own niche within this industry, locate the target market for that niche, and consolidate your efforts on being found, offering big value, and then being recommended. Be patient, and plan on a solid year of work before you see the results of your efforts.
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