Does Digital Marketing Really Matter When It Comes to Reaching Travel Advisors?November 20, 2019 | By: Karyl Leigh Barnes
You’ve heard it before – its all about the personal relationships. When working with travel advisors (nee travel agents), destination organizations and tourism boards often tout the impact of their special in-market networking events with travel advisors and the power of their FAM trips. And yet, the reality is, most of the travel advisors selling packages to your destination – you will never meet in person.
In fact, many of them will never engage with your brand in any location other than the digital space.
In 2019, Development Counsellors International (DCI), in partnership with Travel Relations LLC, conducted a study among 1,705 travel advisors across the U.S. and Canada to better understand the importance of digital marketing among the travel advisor community in an age when personal relationships are always the touted. Here’s what we discovered.
Finding – Make Sure Your Front (Digital) Door is Open…
If an advisor does not have firsthand experience with a destination, the tourism board’s website will often provide a first introduction and will greatly influence perceptions of the destination’s ability to meet a client’s needs. It’s important to understand your travel trade audience and make sure your website has the elements most needed to create a positive impression. Most importantly, make it as easy as possible for travel advisors to find the answers they’re looking for within your site, including up-to-date supplier names and contact details.
In some instances, a client will come to an advisor without a specific destination in mind.
Because of this, a destination will want to make sure that it’s top of mind. How do destinations stay relevant and in front of advisors?
In many cases, an advisor will not have the opportunity to experience a destination firsthand or have an established relationship with a destination representative. When a client raises a question, the advisor will turn to alternative sources for information. Their first move will be to turn to tour operators as well as to conduct a general internet search. Lastly, they will turn to the destination organization or tourism board for answers.
This statistic should be most concerning to destination organizations since there are staff positions dedicated to the engagement of travel advisors and facilitation of their needs.
So, we wanted to dive more deeply into the reasons that destination organizations are not consulted.
According to the travel trade, reasons for this lack of engagement include:
- Slow response time from destination organizations and tourism boards. Travel advisors understand that time is money. Tour operators, who are also seeking a sale, have much more timely response times than destination organizations. As such, they are more frequently contacted.
- Hidden contact details for tourism boards. Travel advisors reported that it is at times nearly impossible to identify the contact details for a tourism board representative. As such, travel advisors no longer allocate valuable time to even searching.
- High turnover rates in tourism board staffing. Even when a personal connection has been established with a tourism board, the frequent turnover rates of tourism board staffers versus tour operator staff make it challenging for travel advisors to maintain destination efficiency.
So how can destination organizations address this disparity?
The tourism board website should be the front door to a destination. Approximately half of travel advisors report that they do not regularly consult tourism board websites, but when they are seeking specific information or details on a destination, they will, in fact, turn to the website first. As one advisor explains, “If I haven’t been to a destination, I need to be able to get enough information from the website in order to answer my client’s question and appear credible.”
What are the most important features of a tourism board website? According to respondents, being user friendly and easy to navigate is key but specific information is critical for a “best in class” website.
- A detailed overview of the destination with breakouts by city/region
- “Can’t miss” destination attractions and activities
- Depth and breadth of accommodation information by price point
Second, make sure to include contact details of your staff on landing pages targeted to travel advisors. Since relationships are critical, we recommend you include an actual person as well as a headshot, title, email and phone number instead of a generic contact email.
When communicating with tourism boards, email is the top choice as it’s preferred by 59 percent of respondents. This said, nearly a quarter of respondents will pick up the phone to get answers. For this reason, a direct phone number and email address of a knowledgeable destination representative must be prominent on a destination’s website.
As part of your digital marketing outreach, you may be considering launching an email newsletter.
In general, e-newsletters are not a preferred method of learning information about a destination. One of the primary reasons is that advisors are overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of newsletters they receive. On average, respondents report receiving 26 e-newsletters daily of which 12 are from destinations. Given the time available, only half of those destination e-newsletters are opened and read by travel advisors.
To ensure that e-newsletter communications are as effective as possible, the goal of any e-newsletter communication should be to drive interest to the destination organization’s travel advisor landing page for further information. From this page, destinations will be able to retarget travel advisors through digital advertising, educate travel advisors on tour operator partnerships and active sales promotions, and refer business directly to tour operators (when sales referral programs are in place) through a hand-off program.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Respondents report that they utilize Facebook most often for business purposes followed by Instagram and LinkedIn. Having an account that is updated regularly and highlights new announcements is an effective way in staying in front of advisors.
So, what opportunities does this provide to destinations? Each social media platform requires a unique content marketing strategy. A rule of thumb is to be present where you have the resources and talent to dedicate to implementing, monitoring and engaging with content on the platforms. Conduct an audit on how your current strategies across platforms are helping to yield actional results from travel advisors. Which platform drives the most traffic back to your site? Where does your highest engagement with travel advisors come from?
While you can ensure that messaging and relevant offerings are highlighted on your destination’s social media platforms, other tourism boards are taking advantage of social media by creating online private communities for their top producers and experts. These exclusive communities, typically found on Facebook, give tourism boards the opportunity to share deals, useful selling tips, insights on how to address common client questions and concerns on a range of topics and direct access to other experts who might have additional insight to share based on their own personal experience. Other digital platforms to consider might include private Slack channels or LinkedIn groups.
We hope by now you understand the importance of advancing your travel advisor-facing website and digital marketing efforts. Interested in learning more about how DCI’s digital marketing team can help you advance your destination marketing among the travel trade? We’d love to explore how we might assist your destination marketing organization or tourism board.
About This Study
In the 2019 study (a replication of our 2014 study), DCI surveyed 1705 U.S. and Canadian travel advisors (also known as travel agents) to determine how destination organizations and tourism boards can best work with them to enhance destination sales. Of the respondents, 81 percent identified as U.S. travel advisors and 19 percent as Canadian travel advisors. To download the complete findings of the study for free, visit our website here.