You’ve probably heard of Airbnb; the short-term rental company started by the team who created the holiday rental platform Airbnb.com. Since launching in 2010, Airbnb has raised over $20 billion from investors and grown to be one of the world’s most popular travel platforms with over 1.7 million listings in over 200 countries.
From humble beginnings, Airbnb grew rapidly. By 2018, they were valued at over $30 billion and claimed to have facilitated 1.7 million travel experiences for their guests.
If you’re an organization that connects travelers to travel experiences, then you can utilize the growth of short-term rental platforms like Airbnb to reach more people.
In many ways, Airbnb is the antithesis of a traditional travel agency. They own and operate every aspect of the traveling experience, starting with the airfare and ending with the recommendation of a local guide. As a result, Airbnb has attracted the interest of traditional agencies who are looking to gain a foothold in the short-term rental market. One of the approaches is called online bookings marketing, or OBM for short.
What is OBM?
Like many marketing techniques, OBM is a tool that helps businesses connect with prospective customers. In this case, the customers are people who are researching and interested in a travel experience but don’t know where or how to begin their search. OBM lets marketers drive traffic to websites, landing pages, and apps that offer the information the audience is seeking. So, if you’re an organization that connects travelers to travel experiences, then you can leverage OBM to generate leads for your business.
Identifying the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
If you’re unfamiliar, a key performance indicator (KPI) is a metric or measurement used to gauge the performance of a business. For example, if you’re managing a hotel operation and want to know how well you’re doing at generating revenue, you might look at the number of rooms sold versus the number of hotel nights billed versus the amount of revenue generated per night. These are all key performance indicators used to measure the success of a hotel operation.
Since travel agencies and tour operators rely heavily on the quality of their key performance indicators to measure the success of their business, they often struggle with the consistent and accurate collection of data. The inconsistent collection of data makes it nearly impossible to accurately determine the true performance of the organization. In order to combat this problem, many travel agencies and tour operators use software to automate the collection of key performance indicators. This helps eliminate errors and provides a clear picture of the success of the operation.
OBM Strategy: SEO, Conversion Rate, and More
Like most marketing methods, OBM has a strategy behind it. Just like traditional marketing, such as radio ads or television commercials, OBM uses paid and organic means to get the word out about a product. However, OBM takes the strategy one step further by having the user actually perform the action the product or service is promoting. On the surface, it might appear that paid search ads are simply an extended form of traditional marketing; however, when you dive into the strategy, you’ll see that paid search ads are implemented with the explicit goal of converting that click into a booking.
To start, search engines like Google and Bing place ads on relevant websites. When a user clicks on one of these ads, they’re directed to a landing page where they can learn more about the product or service being advertised. SEO (search engine optimization) helps ensure that these ads are relevant to what the user is searching for.
Once the user clicks on the ad, they’re taken to a landing page where they can learn more about the product or service. This is known as a conversion funnel and it begins the marketing journey from the very first click to the final booking. Within this page, the travel agency or tour operator aims to convert the user into a paying customer by offering compelling reasons to take action and closing the conversion loop by providing an easy and satisfying way for the user to make the booking. This isn’t always easy, especially since many users have lots of travel options and are actively searching for the best deal. The goal of the conversion process is to get the user to choose your product or service over those of your competitors.
Use Personal Branding to Build a Rapport With Your Audience
Branding is how an organization creates a unique identity that will separate them from competitors and attract customers. Like many industries, travel agencies and tour operators have seen an uptick in personal branding in recent years. Why? Because customers have more power than ever before in the travel industry. Thanks to the sharing economy and the rise of online booking resources, customers can comparison shop and learn about the quality of services offered by different agencies and hotels. As a result, your audience is more likely to trust your recommendations because they know you’ve vouched for them.
If your goal is to grow your travel agency or tour operator business, then the key to doing so is by building a rapport with your audience. To achieve this, you need to stand out from the crowd by providing value beyond what others are offering. One way to do this is through your personal brand. Why? Well, everyone knows what a brand is, so there’s no need to explain further. However, you should consider the following:
Branding Is More Than Just Logos and Monikers
When someone thinks of a brand, they usually think about the familiar logos, the colorful characters on packaging and more. While these are all associated with branding, you must remember that branding is much more than what you see on the surface. For example, when you think of Google, you might immediately think of their search engine or Gmail service, which are all highly relevant to your everyday life. However, did you know that Google also owns and operates the YouTube platform? Or that YouTube is the second most visited website worldwide, just behind Google? These are all part of Google’s branding strategy and they serve a very important purpose.
When you establish a personal brand for yourself, you’re not only using logos and slogans for advertisements. Instead, you’re creating a presence that will resonate with your audience, proving that you are an expert in your industry and that you know what you’re talking about. Additionally, you can use social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, to find and connect with experts in your industry. This is a great way to gain credibility and develop a relationship with potential customers who might one day become paying customers. It also makes you that much closer to having a successful travel agency or tour operator business.
Find Out What’s Working And What Needs Improvement
Every business, big or small, has room for improvement. Thanks to software, such as Google Analytics and Hotels.com, you can track the progress of your travel agency or tour operator business in almost every area, from marketing to conversion to financials. This type of software makes it easy to pinpoint what’s working and what needs to be changed. For example, perhaps you noticed that some of your landing pages convert better than others. With Google Analytics, you can track the performance of each individual page and identify which ones are performing the best, attracting the most traffic and making the most money. You can then take these results and apply them to the rest of your website, resulting in a more profitable venture.
In addition to page analysis, you can use conversion rate optimizers, also available in software packages, to track the success of different marketing tactics, such as social media and paid search, in getting users to the point of making a purchase. In this case, the user would be a hotel guest who has clicked on an ad or landed on a comparison shopping page where they’re making a purchase. When you use these types of software packages, you can clearly see how much each marketing effort contributes to the whole, which allows you to accurately determine the return on your investment.
Ultimately, everyone in the travel industry, big or small, is working to make a better customer experience. This is why you’ll see innovative ideas like virtual tour guides or luxury concierge services.
The Bottom Line
Generating bookings and leads through online channels is a necessary evil in this world. However, just like any other facet of running a travel agency or tour operator business, generating these leads and bookings requires a solid strategy, the right marketing mix and, of course, a little bit of luck. When it comes to online marketing, the general rule of thumb is, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. With that being said, with some time and patience, you’ll be able to improve your travel agency or tour operator’s online presence and gain much more interest from the right audience.