Attracting and retaining clients consistently remains the No. 1 challenge for travel advisors. Competing against the familiar brands and million-dollar advertising budgets of large suppliers who can sell direct, as well as online travel agencies (OTAs) trying to be all things to all travelers, small agencies need to remain hyper-focused in their marketing to remain top of mind, and convince consumers to book with them.
One key marketing tool is the travel advisor’s newsletter. Having one gives an agent one more opportunity to capture a sales lead’s first name, last name, and email address, and grants permission to the advisor to regularly communicate with the consumer to educate them and market offers.
However, travel advisors find newsletters a difficult marketing tool to commit to. In an informal survey of 145 agents this author conducted earlier this year, 68% of the advisor respondents said that they don’t have a monthly newsletter.
“I think it really gets down to the right vehicle,” said Anthony Cifelli, owner of Truevail, a travel newsletter publishing company that works with travel agents. “Most advisors will say they don’t have the time, but I’ve seen that with the right vehicle, they do find the time to engage.”
Cifelli started Truevail partly as a reaction to advisors saying they don’t have the time to regularly produce a newsletter. While his company will produce some or all of the content for his travel advisor clients, “a surprising number of new members are opting to contribute their own writing. So, they are finding the time. Why? I believe, the vehicle has freed their minds from the stress of having to organize it all. They can now freely tell their story.”
Truevail is an online, subscription-based, automated digital marketing platform for travel advisors. Truevail was launched in April 2019 to help travel advisors transform their businesses by supplying them with a stress-less, hands-free marketing solution.
Cifelli has started several successful businesses over the years using his skills as a marketer, and worked with a variety of companies and entrepreneurs, including Sir Richard Branson, whom I watched break all the rules of hospitality and marketing.
To combat the inclination to not produce a newsletter, Cifelli recommends five ways travel advisors can simplify their planning and editorial production.
1. Keep it Simple Silly (KISS)
“Less is more,” Cifelli said – for you, and for your clients. “Your clients’ day is already jam-packed with commitments of one kind or another, so limit your newsletter to a handful of sections, headlined with bold titles they can readily recognize,” and keep each article to no more than 300 words, he said.
“If they know that your email is one of the longest in their inbox, you risk losing them and seeing your ‘unsubscribes’ rise,” said Cifelli, who believes optimal publishing frequencies are 1-2 times a month. “Consider using the second monthly email to relay a short marketing message or to link to a blog post, so that you’re also repurposing content, and keeping things simple for you, too.”
2. Focus, focus, focus
Don’t try to be all things to all people, in your business, and in your newsletter. “Generally, people are attracted to people who look like them, so determine who your ideal client is, and write for that customer,” said Cifelli.
Whether you are writing about your latest fam trip, a client’s recent vacation, or a supplier’s promotional offer, keep your newsletter content narrowly focused on who you are trying to attract, their specific vacation style, and the experiences you want to sell.
“Become irresistible to the types of people that want your style of service and travel,” said Cifelli, who believes it is better to build a “small audience of dedicated, loyal followers, and not some massive newsletter subscriber base.” This will result in higher email open and click-to-open rates, drawing your subscribers deeper into your sales funnel.
3. Make your newsletter Instagram-worthy
In the spirit of keeping content creation simple, so that a travel advisor doesn’t fall off their newsletter editorial plan after a few months, Cifelli advises agents to always keep in mind how they can translate content from and to their social media handles.
“Your newsletter should be an instant source of content for your social media accounts. Do your newsletter posts have great photos you can use to tease your social followers into subscribing to your newsletter? Are you cross-promoting on Facebook the story of that fam trip to South America that you’re featuring in your current newsletter? Think cross-platform when mapping out your newsletter editorial calendars so you can see how stories can appear in Facebook, or your Instagram newsfeeds,” he said.
Cifelli also recommends newsletter templates that allow you to open it easily into a web browser for better viewing. “That link can be copied and dropped into your social media posts. You can usually see a short preview of the newsletter in the post which piques interest,” he said.
In reverse, what are your social followers talking about that might be great for your next newsletter. “If you are producing a monthly newsletter email, set time aside each week to monitor and note what your tribe is saying, and see how that fits with your overall business and newsletter strategy,” he said.
4. Find YOUR voice
“The point of your newsletter is to stay in front of your clients so that they want to talk with you about booking their next vacation. That means you shouldn’t merely reproduce supplier content in your newsletter,” Cifelli said.
Unfortunately, he said, “not everyone is a great writer, and not everyone becomes a good writer overnight. So write as often as possible. Practice by telling people stories about your travels, your clients’ travels. Tell those stories on social media, or in Word documents you save in a file on your laptop. Just write.”
Over time, with consistent practice, Cifelli said, “you will start to hear your voice, the phrases and themes that are distinctly yours. Craft your content to educate your clients about the value you create as an advisor. Make the process fun for yourself by writing about inspiring, life-changing trips you have taken.”
Part of a travel advisor’s “voice” is how their stories and advice take a visual form, Cifelli noted. Photos with vivid colors, and storytelling compositions will help draw customers back to your newsletter time and again.
5. Learn from reader comments and reports
Your email provider (e.g. Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc.) should provide reporting that shows a host of metrics that indicate who is opening your emails, and whether or not they are clicking on your content.
“Your followers are telling you about their likes and dislikes by how they respond to your emails. Don’t overlook this critical info,” Cifelli said. Open rates could indicate that your email subject headings aren’t enticing enough to get subscribers to pay attention. “All of the greatest content in the world, the most inspiring photos, aren’t worth the effort if no one is opening your email newsletter,” he said.
Similarly, the purpose of your newsletter is to win the hearts and minds of your readers so they become customers. Knowing who is clicking through to your website, to a landing page where you can glean more information about your readers’ travel interests, or a specific call to action, gives you more insight into how well you are targeting your ideal client, and that your content is working.
“This ‘digital feedback’ will tell you whether or not your newsletter is accomplishing your objective,” said Cifelli. “Learn to listen to these metrics, the same way you listen to your clients commenting on your social platforms. It’s just another form of marketing feedback.”