Opinion: What tourism organizations can do today

Six digital marketing strategies travel companies can implement to prepare for the post-COVID market

Credit: Ryan Stefan/Unsplash

Seven digital marketing strategies travel companies can implement to prepare for the post-COVID market

COVID-19 sucker-punched Canadian tourism, an industry that supplies the country with 1.8 million jobs and $80 billion in annual revenue. Domestic travel will come back quicker than international, but what happens until then?

There’s a mix of reactions and emotions, but my favourite is from Marc Telio, owner of Vancouver-based luxury tour operator Entrée Destinations: “I’m focused right now on how to hibernate effectively so that I’m back and stronger when this is over.”

So do we sit on our hands and wait—or start preparing for when people are back to booking?

Here are seven strategies that tourism organizations can use to gear up to be a market leader when visitors and locals return to exploring our province.

Engage with your existing audience

Colin Simpson, director of Vancouver-headquartered wine-focused travel agency Into the Vineyard has been very active in this downtime, engaging with previous customers and showcasing their greatest trips of the past year with uplifting “wish you were there” messaging.

If there was ever a time to get people excited about travelling again, now is it. So keep engagement high and make sure people remember your business when they hit the road again. Engagement can happen across all fronts: social media, email, CRM, physical mail, review sites and video.

Build new audiences

The most obvious audiences to build are on social media—mostly Facebook and Instagram because of their reach. Depending where your target customers are, it might be time to expand to platforms like TripAdvisor, Twitter, Reddit and the world’s most downloaded app, TikTok.

Videos using the hashtag #tiktoktravel have been seen nearly 10 billion times. The TikTok audience there is very young, but it’s a generation of people learning about where to travel.

Improve your business

Simpson has been taking steps to strengthen his business overall.

“This downtime has allowed us to go over all the things we’ve been talking about for years and move them forward with real pace,” he says, adding that he’s motivated to build a system that will improve trips by getting the travellers to more-interesting areas.

“There are several regions that we believe are true gems but are hard to convince people to visit,” Simpson explains. “The Dordogne in France is so rich in culture and has absolutely beautiful scenery. It has wonderful food and wine. We look at regions like this and pair them with the famous regions on either side, Bordeaux and Provence, and showcase why the Dordogne is special.”

Improve SEO 

Canadians google “Airbnb” 1.3 million times a month and “flights” 240,000 times a month. It’s not news that Canadians use Google to book their trips. 

Although SEO is critical, it can sometimes take months to see the results of an effective strategy—a high search ranking. Well, now’s the time to get those strategies going. 

Improving SEO means finding out what people are searching for, building content for it and getting links to point to that content.

It’s a tough market, so focus on opportunities that are attainable. Tripadvisor and other large booking sites can make it next to impossible to rank in the top three positions for a search term such as “Victoria hotels.” The solution: carve out niche opportunities that others have missed, like “pet-friendly,” “with a pool” or “near downtown.”

Get to work by leveraging the info available in your free Google Search Console account.

Expand partnerships

Partnerships are a cornerstone of the tourism industry. One underused and mutually beneficial way that partners can band together is with guest posting. This approach can get big results if you help each each other get found on Google. Search engines love when strong websites recommend one another.

For example, Squamish could help Whistler rank for “skiing in the Rockies,” protecting them against Albertan destinations. In return, Whistler could help Squamish rank for “best gondola rides in Canada” so international travellers will favour that region.

Let’s camp!

Only Parks Canada and the U.S. National Park Service have bigger parks systems than B.C. There are more than 12,000 campsites in the province. 

Most destination marketing organizations (DMOs) aren’t too interested in promoting less-expensive options for travellers. Camping doesn’t bring in hotel or restaurant revenue, so there’s not a major appetite to support it. But in this new world of ours, will campers make up the majority of secured travel bookings? Will the feeling be that tents are a “safer” option? Are RV rentals going to be a more-comfortable choice? We’ll have to see, but tourism organizations should take the camping traveller a little more seriously.

The provincial response

When travel is safe again, Destination BC will launch a big domestic campaign targeting British Columbians. The government agency hopes to launch this effort in the summer and run it into the fall. Calling it a “significant investment,” Destination BC will shift its budget toward the campaign.

You can read Destination BC’s initial response to COVID-19 here. Until then, the entire industry will have to hold on and prepare for what hopefully will be a surge in short-haul tourism.

We’ll have to prepare for people to explore BC…later.

Josh Loewen is a co-founder of The Status Bureau, an SEO- and analytics-focused digital marketing agency in Vancouver. Since 2006, it has worked with organizations including Destination Canada, London Drugs, Telus Corp., the Vancouver Fringe Festival and Vancouver Mural Fest.