Thousands of travel entrepreneurs (agents, cruise lines, tour operators and hoteliers) have embraced the opportunity that social media marketing has offered their businesses. Most of them, regardless of technical ability, have attempted to jump onto each new social media platform and trend, and they have given it their best shot, some with a plan but many leaning on a combination of intuition and trial-and-error.
Certainly, they continue to face steep learning curves, as social media algorithms and best practices change faster than most of us can keep up with. But for those travel agents and travel trade marketers who have diligently soaked up every bit of training, advice, and experience available, there is big money to be made.
TMR's recently-released Social Media Outlook Study
Social media is being leveraged to attract and maintain new clients, as well as to uncover growth opportunities and areas for improvement within travel industry overall. With over 500 million active users on Instagram alone, it is no surprise that a vast majority of travelers are keen to consume travel-related content. What’s more, the opportunities for the travel industry to engage and convert this audience are unprecedented.
While the big online booking engines, large cruise lines, and mega hotel chains are able to put millions of dollars into paid ad campaigns and outsource niche agencies to run their campaigns, they fall short in their ability to create and nurture personal relationships with their followers. Instead, lesser known brands and solo travel entrepreneurs are able to take advantage of their smaller audiences by engaging in personal dialogue and seeking out ideal clients to connect with on social media.
For travel agents and smaller brands that want to win big at the social media game, there are three key strategies to use and perfect:
1. Conversion is key
Understand that collecting followers brings a certain social proof to potential clients, but there is nothing gained if there is no conversation. Simultaneously, building the number of followers a brand has is a second priority to engagement and conversion. Conversion goals may include clicks to a website; signing up for a mailing list; establishing contact through email or by phone; and, at the very least, becoming an actual follower on social media.
2. Have a formal plan
Travel marketers and agents must learn to strategize first and post second. This means taking the time to identify which destinations and experiences they want to sell and selecting preferred suppliers to work with. To control the sales, you must control the narrative of what is being posted. If an agent has a goal to sell cruises, be it river or ocean, they need to focus their posts on the destinations and experiences to be had in those chosen ports of call and onboard. Stunning imagery, descriptive and informative captions, and intelligent hashtags are essential for strong travel-related posts. Curated content not only strengthens a visual brand, but it also attracts the right audience.
3. Follow up and stay on task
If content is king, consistency is queen. Travel marketers and agents must post daily; and engage with their audience within hours of receiving questions or genuine inquiries. Social media is meant, by its very name, to be social in nature. The post-and-forget strategy just won’t cut it.
What you can gain
A thoughtful, intentional and consistent social media strategy can reap multiple benefits. In fact, two agents that we spoke to (both in their first year of business with less than 500 followers each), were able to close $25,000-$30,000 in bookings to Europe, including but not limited to air, land tour, river cruise, pre- and post-cruise accommodation, and travel insurance. Both bookings came directly from Instagram and were funneled through to a mailing list where the travelers received a regular newsletter. The content posted by the agents was aligned with the preferred suppliers that they had chosen to work with and also with a bigger-picture drip marketing strategy that included multiple blogs and a newsletter.
Another agent surprised herself with the results of her advent of using social media. At 64 years of age and with 20 years in the industry, she started posting to social media only six months ago. Helped by a keen grandson and with some professional coaching, she positioned herself as an authority in the ultra-luxury market. Her posts caught the eye of a local couple who booked and paid in full for a 160-day world voyage in 2020.
In order to effectively use social media to make big money in travel, agents must put in place a combination of strategy, content curation, and consistency. As 2018 comes to an end, this is the perfect time to formulate a marketing plan for next year that includes social media as a high priority. It’s also a prime time to take in some additional industry-specific training on the topic. Travel agent host agencies and consortia are a good place to start in learning about and developing a social media strategy that brings in new business.
For more information on how to use social media to your advantage, consult Travel Market Report's recent Outlook on Social Media
, sponsored by Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises.
Author Note: Sandra Cottam McLemore is a travel industry expert and TV host based in Los Angeles. She can be seen on inflight TV, cruise line channels, Huffington Post; and is often profiled in airline inflight magazines, travel websites, and lifestyle magazines as a world travel expert. She has worked in the travel industry for over 19 years for airlines, cruise lines, TV networks and media agencies. She consults with travel brands all around the world to correct their marketing and improve their revenue strategies.
Sandra also runs Village Girl Marketing, a media & marketing agency for travel brands specializing in content creation and design. She speaks regularly at travel industry events worldwide. In addition, she has plans to launch a new travel magazine and travel accessories collection.