Compared to large travel companies, many independent hotels and travel businesses have low marketing budgets. But if you run an independent travel business, there are plenty of things you can do to make your company stand out - and boost your bookings in the process.
Here are 3 things you can do right now to ensure growth and become a true contender. And while this advice is primarily for travel businesses, the lessons apply to any small business trying to get some market share:
1. Truly value your customers and their (emotional) experiences.
Small businesses in the travel industry have a leg up in that they can provide personalized experiences for their customers. Therefore, it's important to find your unique selling point. This could be your location, specialized tour packages, or even something unusual like rooms that cater to dogs and their owners. Whatever it is, focus on the special capabilities you have as a small business to make guests' experiences truly personal and sell it. Your business has the potential to make an impact on the memories your guests have of a particular trip or even geographical area.
Then, take a page from major brands who constantly utilize emotion to evoke consumers' feelings in advertising. See: Google's recent advertising shift, which was created to "make you cry," according to remarks made by Lorraine Twohill, VP for global marketing at Google, in a New York Times interview. This emotional tug is embodied in their popular commercial "Parisian Love". Although these large brands can be emotional, the good news for your small company is that they often fail to be personal. You, on the other hand, have the power to create nostalgia - which will guarantee great guest reviews and more bookings.
Finally, speaking of reviews, there is another reason for ensuring positive customer experiences: word of mouth. Follow this age-old advice: "It's easier to keep a client than find a new one." Travelers going to new places are more likely to rely on reviews and recommendations from friends or family. At the same time, consumers are more likely than ever to share negative experiences. In fact, 41 percent admitted they are more likely to share a negative experience via Twitter or by writing a review.
2. Start using social media well.
At a minimum, you should have a Facebook page and a Twitter account that clearly displays your brand logo and name. When competing with major brands that are well recognized in traveler's minds, a small business must take every opportunity to bolster their credibility. A 2010 study by Chadwick Martin Bailey found that consumers are 67 percent more likely to buy from the brands they follow on Twitter, and 51 percent more likely to buy from a brand they follow on Facebook.
But don't just let the accounts sit there. Use Facebook and Twitter to keep past and potential customers updated on changes in a very simple way. It might be very time-consuming and expensive to change or update an official website, but with social media accounts, an event calendar, photos, and other travel news can be shared with a large audience effortlessly.
3. Make booking/buying seamless.
If you run a small hotel — or any other business — and you don’t have online booking or buying capabilities on your site, you’re losing tons of business. Period.
Small businesses need to be able to convert website visitors into paying guests (or customers). But there are many factors that go into customer decisions, so to increase conversions, it’s critical that your business decrease the number of boundaries between the customer and the sale.
In other words, make it easy for your website visitors to act on their first impulse! If they visit your website and have to book a reservation via phone or email, they are less likely to book. My team developed a reservation system and widget for exactly this purpose called Dashbell; there are others out there as well. Bottom line? You need to find a seamless way to decrease the time you spend playing phone tag and increase your bookings. If you’re not doing it already, I think you’ll see conversions increase quickly with a good online system.