Meetup Summary

This has been a challenging time for all tourism-focuses businesses and it can be easy to get caught up and bogged down by the stress of closed businesses, canceled tours and social isolation. But in the midst of this, there are positive things going on and great hope for recovery. Join us to hear Chris Torres of the Digital Tourism Show as he shares stories of exciting things that tour operators are doing around the world. 

Guest Speaker

Chris Torres of “The Digital Marketing Show

Video Recording

Key Takeaways

  1. Communicate (to your existing and potential customers)
  2. Create written and video content
  3. Search Optimization (website content, on-site SEO work)
  4. Offer Gift Cards
  5. Subscription Payments (i.e. payment plans for future tours/events with extended terms for more expensive tours)
  6. Focus on Staycations
  7. Early Bird 2021
  8. Don’t Cancel… Postpone
  9. Focus on Direct, not OTA
  10. Think Out-the Box

Resource Links

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Meetup Transcript

[Carl] All right, welcome everyone to the third Accelerate Tourism Marketing Meetup. Our session today is gonna be growth during lockdown, positive stories from tour operators around the world. So hope you’re in the right place. We welcome you all here. We’ve got a lot of new people today. So just want to introduce you a little bit to the meetup before we get started. So the whole goal of Accelerate Tourism is to be a virtual meetup for business leaders serving the tourism industry. We plan to hold weekly meetups during the lockdown period, then we’re gonna be moving to monthly once everybody gets out because you’re all gonna be busy running your tours at that point. Our focus is on sharing tourism marketing ideas through guest speakers and open discussion. So hope you’re all ready to join in on the discussion today. Just to help put this in perspective, again, our goal is to help each other, improve our businesses as we swap practical marketing ideas and strategies through regular virtual meetups. Just some quick ground rules here. Stay on topic, no promotions or sales pitches, be kind and courteous and respect each other’s privacy with the group both here and in our private Facebook group.

Topic Introduction

Alright, so just wanna introduce the topic here and introduce our guest speaker. Topic again, growth during lockdown. Positive stories from four operators around the world. I know right now it’s just a very interesting time. You, probably similar to me, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster here over the last few weeks, both just kind of being shocked about the situation and everything that’s happening and then a little bit of optimism, with at least here in the US, I don’t know as much about the other countries you’re from with government support and funding and just everybody rallying around together, I’ve seen a general increase in optimism. And then just here in the last 24 hours or so with some announcements about potentially elongated lock downs and some of the funding mechanisms being tapped out, I know it’s been even just an interesting 24 hours. But I’ve been encouraged by seeing tour operators just really rallying together, seeing the way that people are pivoting their businesses, or finding ways to create revenue, or at least keep their audience engaged and help each other out over these times.

And for this session, our whole focus is gonna be on like the title says, positive stories from tour operators around the world. I’d like to introduce Chris Torres from Glasgow, Scotland, he runs the Tourism Marketing Agency. He’s also the host of The Digital Tourism show, which is a very popular podcast. Chris has been working in marketing for close to 30 years now and specifically focusing on the tour and activity sector for the last 14, 15 years. I’ve been following him for a while. He’s got a lot of great information to share, he interacts a lot with people just like you guys all over the world. And I was particularly impressed by an article he published the other day with just 25 different stories of positive things that people are doing. And so I invited him to join us today, share a few of those stories and maybe share some tips and resources along the way with us, too. So, Chris, welcome.

[Chris] Thank you, thanks for having me. It’s an absolute pleasure.

[Carl] You bet. So Chris, my first question for you, I’m sure you’re kind of knee deep in interacting with your customers and tour operators, through other ways that you connect with people. Just tell us a little bit kind of how are the people you’re interacting with dealing with the situation right now?

[Chris] Yeah, it’s a good question though, it’s been a little bit of a mixed bag as you can imagine, though I, for those who don’t know, I opened up my diary to speak to as many tour operators and activity providers as I could, giving sort of free, I wrote consultations, so that is people other than my own customers, et cetra. So I just opened up because I wanted to help as many people as possible and get more of an insight to what they’re feeling and how they’re coping throughout this crisis. So as I said, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. There’s a lot of positivity out there and that’s what we’re gonna come on to later. But as you can imagine, there’s a lot of people really scared of what’s going to happen, uncertainty of what’s going to happen. And then unfortunately there’s a lot of businesses out there that just simply won’t survive. That’s just, it’s unfortunate, but the sort of position we are in at the moment. But there is a lot of businesses out there as I see who are taking the bull by the horns, as you say and setting up really good initiatives in terms of how they’re gonna come out stronger at the end of this crisis. We will all come at the end of the crisis. We just don’t know when that will be at the moment. Some of the stories I’ve heard from them have been truly inspiring and hopefully we’ll share some of them today.

Top 10 Tips for Tourism Operators

[Carl] I know when we spoke, you mentioned you’ve been sharing some, kind about you’d have like a top 10 list if you will, of tips that you’re sharing with the people that you work with. Would you mind sharing those with us?

[Chris] Yeah, the top 10 tips. So I’ll go through them briefly. And but sort of top 10 tips.

  1. First one is to communicate, and I mean communicate with your customers. One of the reasons why I mentioned that it seems like Kevin, but one of the reasons why I mentioned that, is some people were scared to even speak about COVID-19 to the customers. And that’s one of the first things you should really be doing in terms of reinforcing and re establishing those communications with your customers and giving them reassurance.
  2. And the second one is, this is no the team to be creating lots of good valuable content, and whether it’s through video or written content. Hopefully we never go through this again. But you have literally got a captive audience at the moment all sitting at home, all surfing the web, or looking for inspiration, looking for things that they wish they could be doing or want to be doing, once we come out of this. Give them something to read and give them something to inspire to or to watch.
  3. Search engine optimization is another thing to be doing just now. So a lot of people, a lot of businesses will just give up, and stop all forms of marketing. But if you keep producing lots of content and you keep optimizing your website, two or three months down the line when we come out of this, you’ll have a better optimized site, you might raise in the rankings and that will give you a stronger foothold going forward as well.
  4. Other things would be looking to try and generate money now, as informing our customers in terms of setting up gift cards and gift cards, certificates, or vouchers, that people can buy now, for the future. It’s a great way for birthday gifts and anniversaries. And remember people are going through this crisis, who are celebrating birthdays, who are celebrating anniversaries, who are just given birth to a baby, but are unable to celebrate that with family friends because of the lockdown. So this is a good opportunity to say to those people, well here you may not be able to celebrate now, but celebrate with us down the line. And so things like gift cards can help with that.
  5. And one of the other things we’re suggesting is subscription payments. So if you are a day tour company and, people aren’t necessarily buying now but you’ll be focusing on tour stuff next year. Set up subscription payments so they could pay over a longer period making it easier for them but giving you some extra cash flow as well.
  6. And maybe it’s come down to this a little later but focus on Staycations. The local market will be the predominant market for the next 12 months. And we’ll come more onto that maybe in a second.
  7. Early Bird 2020. Although I do believe things will pick up late 2020 and Early Bird for 2021 is think things you should be re-focusing on though. Just think there’s if 2020 is dead in the water. Think about for next year, and start promoting things for next year.
  8. Don’t cancel, postpone. It’s self explanatory. And if you can do anything to postpone bookings for later in the year or next year, do so and try to keep that cash flow going.
  9. Focus on direct. This is a big subject and that’s gonna be, I can’t go into everything at the moment. But I’ve spoken to lots and lots of operators who are unfortunately 60, 70, even 95% reliant on online travel agents. So they’re relying. They have no say on their cancellation policies. They are further away from the revenue streams, because the OTA’s are more in charge of that. So this is why going forward, you really need to start building direct channels. Without that you’re not gonna survive this crisis, or any other crisis, it’s gonna come up going forwards. And I think a lot of tour operators are starting to realize that though. So that’s why I say if you don’t already start to build on really strong dynamic channels, and thinking a little bit out of the box, and this is what we’ll come on to with some of the inspirational stories.
  10. And it’s thinking about what you can do to create new products, create new opportunities coming out of this crisis. And again, some of the stories are short label for highlighting that aspect as well.

[Carl] Great. Thank you, Chris. And just for, I think everybody on the call probably understands OTA’s, but online travel agencies things like TripAdvisor,, Expedia, as well as some of the more localized or niche agencies would be examples of that. And I think you make a great point there. Chris was focusing on direct. That’s one thing I’ve appreciated about you when I’ve listened to you is you’re not anti OTA, like don’t participate with them. But you’re also not let’s not become wholly dependent upon their platforms as well.

[Chris] Yeah, exactly. And I don’t understand why it happens. No, people use OTA’s get you up to a larger audience and get your products out there quicker. But what tends to happen is people fall into the trap of seeing the revenue coming in and everything is nice, everything is rosy. But then when something like this happens, they go all right, okay. I don’t have I say on my cancellation policies. I don’t have access to my customers data, especially the stuff that for the bookings are scheduled to happen further down the line. All these other things as well that you should get to staging your business where you have maybe 80% direct, 20% OTA, and be that a possession about on TripAdvisor or GetYourGuide was to shut down tomorrow, you would still have that business to operate. So this is where I’ve seen merging two operators, this is where they need to get to. But I understand why they fall into that trap.

Success Stories

[Carl] We mentioned you have some specific stories to share. And that was one of the things that inspired me to invite you on here, would you mind sharing a few of those?

[Chris] Of course, yes. So I’ve had the privilege of speaking to many operators as I see all over the worlds, some customers, but a lot not customers. And a few of them have really been truly inspiring. So one of the first ones I will speak about is a company in Auckland. And obviously they have been hit hard with the cruise ships and everything else so you can imagine what’s happening now. But local food adventures, a lot of ’em now has a great business. She does food tours, hence the name. And some of the initiatives that she has been putting out has been great. She’s creating one of the things I put forward to her, was why don’t you create a virtual tour online. And this could be something, it’s something like $10 maybe to purchase. It’s very low cost. But the one thing you’re doing as the restaurants and the establishments that she takes people out on tour with, and they’re still open in terms of delivering food to others in their local area. So why not use that facility to deliver food to people who purchase one of your tools locally. That food gets delivered to them, but then you can do a Zoom meeting, like we are doing just now, and delivering that experience online talking about the food that they’re trying, to talk about the establishment that the came from, and the history behind that. So things like virtual tours can be an optional revenue stream to provide. And though with more and more people creating Zoom accounts and being online, it’s getting easier to do something like that. But she’s also created like a food box. So people can actually pay for a food box again from the food from the different establishments, and that is delivered to her customers and within the local area. And one of the things that we’ve created for her as well is a cookbook. So again, people are stuck at home. They are maybe sick of staring at the same four walls all the time. So she created a cookbook of recipes, again, from all these different establishments to raise their awareness. So it wasn’t just for her. It’s for the partners that she she has as well, and helping those businesses and creating recipes from them. Those recipes are in the book. This will be available to download, I believe next week on the website. And then people could download that, try those recipes at home. And then she has a little competition in there where they’ve tossed up the photographs of the food that they’ve tried to create, even the disasters and having some humor wrote that as well. And that she all sent out a food box and a gift card, or you’ll be able to get a free tour further down the line once restrictions have lifted. So she’s trying to think a lot about how she can not just only help her business, and help her customers do something at home and still want to work with her business, but also help the partners that she has and the establishments that she has in that area as well. So it’s just a great little way of still been able to contribute to the chosen activities, and at a local level.

One of the other ones, which is just a truly inspiring company anyway, is a company called Invisible Cities here in Scotland. So for those who don’t know who the Invisible Cities are, she runs a company that helps homeless people become tour guides. So it’s really helping them to re establish themselves back into the local communities. And the tour guides actually create the tours themselves. So as tours round about the local area, giving history about the local area, et cetera. They are truly outstanding, it’s an amazing business. So she is creating a few initiatives in terms of helping her tour guides, because again because of the sort of fracture, or fragile nature that they may be in. So one is obviously creating something like a just giving page for fundraising. And she’s actually had quite a lot of donations on that and it’s all gonna the guides to help them throughout this crisis. But she’s also got some of the guides creating virtual tours as well, so people can buy into that. One of the guides will go into a Zoom call again, do a virtual tour online. There’s downloadable guides for children as well. So those information sheets are little bit about history and things that they can color in and do competitions with. So it’s trying again to bring in the communities in the local areas, and not just in Scotland, but in other parts of the UK to keep in touch with that brand, but also help the homeless guides that she tries to help out as well. So it’s really inspiring what she’s trying to do with that, as well as through gift cards and other initiatives as well. So Invisible Cities is of the ones out there who’s really taking the initiative and trying to do a lot of things online fortunately. As well as helping the guides that she helped, and the homeless people that she helps. And another one in terms of humor. Again, what we all can do with a little bit of humor at the moment and have a laugh.

There’s a company in Australia called Go West. As tour guides they had to obviously, we have a thing here where we can furlough our staff in terms of they don’t actually work for the company, but they get paid by the government. Although that’d be different from other destinations. So one of the tour guides just as a bit of fun decided to do a tour of his back garden, and create a video of that, it was funny. But I think it became semi viral, gets shared around the various platforms and social media, et cetera. So doing things like that just, adding a little bit of humor into people’s lives can help massively. Know more about your brand, keep people informed about your brand, but also giving them something to watch and see and do and laugh at, again, we’re all stuck at home. We’re all looking for things that we wish we could be doing. And things like this can just help massively with that as well.

And lastly, the other one I can think of is a company called Leon Wine Tastings. So that is a company, and that’s one of the worst hit places in in Europe. And what’s happening over there is just incredible. And it’s heartbreaking. But she offers wine tasting tours And again, what she’s doing is, obviously people can’t meet up they can’t try out the wine. So she’s saying, bring your own bottle. So anyone can bring their own bottle, tell her in advance what that bottle is, the wine, she will go off and do some research, find out what grape varieties it uses, where it came from, et cetera et cetera. And then again, doing a Zoom meeting online. Will talk about those wines as I’m tasting them. Give tasting notes, talk about the history, talk about the grape varieties, et cetera. But again doing it online. So this is what I’m loving about what’s happening in the industry at the moment. Yes, there are businesses out there who feel that they can’t do anything. They feel that they’re maybe stuck in a rut. But if you just think a little bit out the box, yes all these little things may not generate your lots of revenue and lots of business, but it may be enough to help you survive through this and allow you to kickstart your business again when we come out of this crisis. And the initiatives that some of these people are doing through food boxes, through virtual tours, and other sort of initiatives are truly inspiring, to be honest. And it’s great to see so many operators just trying to think out the box and seeing what they can do to survive this crisis. And there’s many, many other stories as you saw in that article of what people are doing, and it’s truly, truly incredible.

[Carl] Great. Yeah, for those of you as we transition into the discussion part of this, for those of you who are interested in hearing more of those stories, Chris published those on a blog article that we shared in our Facebook group. So I encourage you to check that out and be inspired by 20 plus other stories that we didn’t have the opportunity to cover here today.

[Chris] There’s actually one, if you don’t mind it just came to me very very briefly. It’s actually a company here, well down in London. And this is just a little bit again, thinking out the box, but not necessarily to their benefit of their own business. So it’s a company called Visit London Taxi Tours. And name suggests that they take people on tours of London within a black taxi, the traditional taxi within London. And so what they are doing is they have their tour guides and the staff who drive those taxis are actually taking NHS and medical workers out around the cities to take them to their various hospitals, but also circle around the city to make sure that homeless people are taken care of. They’re putting into temporary accommodation, and helping out without waste. So again, that that doesn’t necessarily affect their business and they’re not making money with it. But they’re helping the local communities. And that’s, that’s just inspiring to sort of see. They’re taking the time out, their putting their own risks, their lives at risks with getting the virus by helping the medical staff and taking people off the streets and putting them into temporary accommodation. So again, it’s I’m thinking a little bit out of the box, and what can you do? If you’re an operator who has a fleet of vehicles that are just sitting there doing nothing, is there something that you can do to help the local communities in terms of medical staff or getting food to people who are in need and can’t get out? Especially those that are maybe homeless or older, older communities who just can’t get out. What can you do to help your local communities in the long run?

[Carl] Yeah, that’s good. Our session last week, Chris was on social media and we talked about their, some kind of similar concepts of things that you can do to help your user base, or help other peers, or help affected groups like the healthcare workers, for instance. Those are one just opportunities to do good, but also opportunities to to get yourself out there in a non-promotional way. People really aren’t in a buying mode right now, obviously. But people are, as you said earlier, wanting to consume content. So those are some great- thank you for the tips and for the stories.

[Chris] Not at all, not at all

[Carl] Just an FYI. I did drop the link to that blog article in the chat. So if you’re interested in checking that out, you can either get it on the Facebook page, or if you want to right now, it is available for you to copy and paste in the chat.

[Chris] Yeah, and if anyone who reads through that article wants to get in touch with any of those companies, or any other operator, feel free. They will be happy to speak to and give you more ideas and thoughts of what they have done to get through this crisis.

[Carl] That’s great.

Open Q&A

[Carl] As we transition into this discussion part, Sam’s gonna be monitoring chat and pulling questions out from the group and he’ll be raising those questions here for us, Chris, and and for the group at large. In some cases that may be someone from the group that would be better to answer the question. So we just encourage you guys to type questions in chat. And then as we see your questions, Sam will either read them aloud, or ask you to unmute and read your question. While we’re getting ready to do that, I have a starting question for you, Chris. Which is I heard you mentioned in your stories and in your article a lot about virtual tours. And I’ll admit, I’m a little skeptical. I don’t mind admitting that, that there’s a lot of effort that goes into that. And it seems to me, I guess what I really want to ask you is are people really paying for those right now? Is that I see a lot of people doing a lot of video, which is awesome and you mentioned that. I’ve been curious though to hear. It sounds like you’re seeing people actually have success with selling those virtual tours.

[Chris] Yeah, they are. Again, all really depends on the content that you have out there. At the end of the day, you know people as I say, are, are looking for things to do, to read, watch, et cetera, while you’re stuck at home. And a virtual tour really doesn’t take much effort to set up. Anyone can set up a Google Hangouts or a Zoom or a Skype, or something like that. Give people the link to it and have people join, join them in that conversation. And whether that’s you do that for free or offer it for something like $10 or $20, or whatever you want to do. And it’s all about storytelling at the end of the day. In my opinion, the best storytellers in any business are the tour guides, the other ones who are doing this day in day out, normally day in, day out with your own customers. So they should be the ones who are experts, expert storytellers. What they’re doing in front of their customers, why can’t they do that in video form. It’s just like speaking to someone else. Unfortunately, they’re just not physically there, but just at the other end of the camera. But it’s the same principle. So it’s as long as you have a good story to tell, and it’s an inspirational experience that you can share online. I don’t see why anyone can’t quickly set up a virtual tour. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. Even if your booking platform doesn’t allow for picking up a virtual tour, set up a PayPal button, put that on the webpage and say virtual tour, click here buy now. Get people in and do it that way. You’d have a set date and time that you’re going to do it. There’s so many ways you can you can set up a virtual tour and it’s a lot easier than what you think. It’s just about you presenting yourself and sharing that story online.

[Sam] Yeah, so kind of let me interpret that a little bit. I think where that would really be a legitimate possibility would be people, who the idea of storytelling is huge. Because that is like you could just go to a destination and you could peruse it yourself, you could have a paper guide, but when you have that expert who cannot just, say here’s the information, you know, have fun, they can present it in a way that is super engaging, you kind of become part of the immediate story as they lead you through some sort of tour of an area of a museum, of something like that. Something where people would come. Like this would be okay, this makes sense for people, for businesses that people come to your location and you take them. They have to go through some sort of physical experience, where they’re looking at something, where they’re may be reading something, and they’re going from place to place to get some more information. I think in our area, one thing that really comes to mind is we’re near a pretty famous battlefield from the Civil War in Gettysburg. And I don’t think we have anybody from Gettysburg right now on on the call but I could see this absolutely being something that I would pay $5, $10 to jump on a Zoom call as they take you around the battlefield tell you little things and you actually get to interact with that person and whoever else is on the tour. So I think we have a lot of people on the call right now that they don’t necessarily offer that, where they’re going around and and giving a whole tour. But, maybe there’s some- I know there’s at least one or two people on the call who do literally that, but maybe some of our other people on the call with some tweaking and some real good, real creativity, they could create an experience that would be worth that type of value.

[Chris] Yeah, and if you don’t mind, I can add to that. I’m gonna go slightly off on a tangent here. But if you if you start doing virtual tours and you start getting used to that format, talking on camera with with with lots of other people, and this isn’t far away what I’m about to say. Automated tours and tour lists, or tour guideless tours in terms of automated vehicles and driverless vehicles are gonna be here within the next five years, and big time. So if you can imagine a place where you have a tour guide sitting in front of a camera talking to other people, and who are in all the other vehicles, where the vehicles are driving people around to take a tour, with one tour guide talking to every one of those people who are out in that vehicle. It’s similar to what we’re doing just now, it’s just that they are mobile. So this will get you used to the new norm, which will be in five years time when it comes to autonomous vehicles. So getting used to this type of thing now will set you up for when this comes comes to the floor.

[Sam] And I think that would be applicable for people who don’t even offer that now, but do have a knowledge. I know we have a lot of people here from local bed and breakfasts and things like that. And those people all have, it’s a hyper local area that they represent, and sort of the surrounding area too. But they are experts in what’s interesting around this area, and for you to be able to offer that type of experience, if you can begin to work that in for some of those things that would be coming down the road that would be totally appropriate. You become a guide, in addition to an innkeeper.

[Chris] Yeah. And if you think about it just now, if you if you were to launch a virtual tool, just now. And you had a tool that could be in families with young children. Though being a being a parent myself, me and my wife working from home and have a 10 year old and a four year old always wants to get attention or homeschooling and things like that, you’re always looking for things for them to do. To give you to give you a little bit of peace and quiet so you get on with your work for a little while. So if you can run a tour that can inform children and give them something to entertain them for an hour or so. I’m sure parents would love to spend $5 or $10 on that, just saying.

[Sam] Fair point, I would do that.

[Carl] Well, Sam, do we have any questions from the group?

[Sam] Yeah, so the first one I have here is going back to some of our conversation around the OTA’s. Well there’s kind of two questions. One is, there was somebody who mentioned I believe it was Brenda Miller. Brenda had a comment about they actually have- with the OTA’s, they have a condition in there where they don’t collect until their guest actually arrives on site. So that’s Brenda, I don’t know if you want to add anything to or say anything to the group here about that. I feel like that’s something if people don’t know about it, they probably should. And that’s something that they should review, especially for the future.

[Chris] So is this the customer details? They don’t get until the tour happens, is is this what the question was?

[Sam] Yeah, and Brenda, you were muted. I just unmuted you.

[Brenda] Oh, okay. Can you hear me?

[Sam] Yes, yes.

[Brenda] Okay. Yeah, I was actually just responding to Nicole. That we didn’t have to worry about reimbursements fortunately. Because we just we don’t collect until the customer actually comes. So that is an option that you can do through Expedia. And so that’s something you know, people can look at if they want to. But her comment was about having a hard time with the postponing tactic. Which, you know, we’ve tried to encourage guests to come back later. But at this point with everything up in the air, it’s hard to know a date that people could actually postpone till. So that was basically what I was expressing.

[Chris] I think it does depend on the type of product that you have. If you have a day tour, most people will be arriving at a destination for that specific time period. So a day tour is harder to postpone, because because they’re probably having to cancel the flights and everything else coming for that week or those few days they’re gonna be at your destination. But if you’re lucky enough, lucky enough to run a multi-day tour company, you have a better chance of postponement. We have a customer in Ireland, who as you can imagine, most of his customers come from America. And Americans love Ireland in terms of rich history there with, with families and heritage et cetera. And he has managed to postpone 95% of his bookings to follow down the line, so it can be done. It’ll be a mixture of when those dates are gonna happen, the cost place as products aren’t cheap. And people were still willing to postpone them and do them later. But also just know as the way he talks to customers and his sales online, he found every single customer, spoke to them on the phone, says no, if you want to cancel, we’re happy we’ll give you a refund but we could postpone you and bring you a date further down the line. And like I say, if I was actually 98 percent managed to postpone. And only two percent canceled.

[Sam] I think, and I don’t know if people see a difference in this, but I do see there’s an opportunity and if you want to call it postponing, that’s fine. But just instead of fully reimbursing, being able to reimburse in the form of a gift card or something like that, where they’ve obviously booked in the first place, that means that they wanted to come. I actually view it being able to help somebody, not just reimburse, which I feel like can sometimes be a knee jerk reaction, but if you can reimburse them in the form of a gift card, where they can come back and book anytime, and you can even give, I think one or two people mentioned something about offering some sort of incentives to to either rebooking.

[Chris] I was gonna say that.

[Sam] I think that’s a great tactic. If you can talk about that a little bit, Chris.

[Chris] Yeah. So I just noticed Justin here had a comment about giving incentives. So yes, exactly. No, I would rather see companies trying to postpone and offer added value to a product, even if it means you’re gonna break even on that product, just to keep that customer and keep that money within your within your cash flow and within your revenue. That’s what you need to do. Your customers will love you for it, they will give you great reviews when they do come over and everything else, you’ve added this extra value just to try and keep that customer and appease them. So anything that you could do to give additional incentives to that, and additional value to that product. Even if it doesn’t cost you lots of money, and you still make a profit from it, that is well worth doing it if it means that they’ll postpone. So any incentives that you could do, if that’s giving them an extra stop on a tour, or giving them a meal at the end of one of the days. or something along those lines. Even when it comes to gift cards, if you’re selling gift cards at the moment. If you’re selling, say a $50 gift card, sell it at $50. But make the value $80, $100, just to make people buy into that. And the thing about gift cards is a large proportion of people who buy gift cards don’t actually use them. So you still have that money.

[Sam] I think the average is about 50%, 30%.

[Chris] So by doing so you’re probably gonna give out the same amount you’re gonna give out anyway, because so many people use them. So add value on to things, don’t discount. I hate discounting. Never discount, as much as you can help it. No, that is not the thing to give a discount anyway. So add value to things, don’t discount.

[Sam] I think that’s a good tip. I know one of the questions that came up on our call last week was just kind of as we look to the future and things coming back, how aggressively are we gonna have to pursue people you know? Are we gonna have to lower our rates just to get people in the door. I think your concept of adding more value as opposed to discounting is an interesting one. If we can increase the true value or perceived value of the product then the price becomes a lot less of an issue to begin with. And I truly believe most people that are booking a tour, it’s based on an experience anyway. Not on the actual price.

[Chris] Exactly. And people like think- tend to switch off to 10% discounts and 50% discounts. I see it all the time. But if you actually say it to someone, I’m gonna give you this piece of value, and that value may be worth less than the 50% discount or the 10% discount. But it’s the thought of getting something extra is what people will buy into. That’s from my experience.

[Sam] I put your 10 tips up here Chris, just to see if we would remind anyone of questions that they might have. So just again, out to the group. What questions do you have, or what things have you seen that Maybe Chris didn’t touch on, that you think the group can hear from? They don’t have to be questions. It can also be ideas or just discussion questions that you want to throw out here.

[Sam] I’ve just seen a question, yeah. Can you talk more about subscriptions? Yeah, so subscriptions are again, more so of your vote today. But a few other product that’s of high value and it’s something, I can maybe come back on to that in a second. But it’s something that you can book something in advance whether that’s later in 2020 or next year in 2021. And it’s something of that higher value which most motivates your company’s price tag itself. So you can rather than having your customers pay, which normally happens as larger deposits and then they pay another one or two payments at various milestones, why not break that down into six, 12 months, monthly payments, make it more a subscription based model. What this does is- What’s gonna happen is when we come out of this, because of the way the economy will be, and because of people unfortunately being out of work or not being able to work or so forth, people will have less money to spend, but they still will want to travel and want to explore when we get out of this, they’ll just want to go somewhere, because they have been stuck in the locations and stuck in the homes for so long. So being able to have something to look forward to, and giving them the option to pay a small amount but over a longer period could benefit them, but also benefit you in terms of generating cash flow now, and regular cash flow for the next six to 12 months. And I don’t see why a subscription based model can’t work predominately for the multi-day tour companies.

So kind of just a jump off of that. One thing that we were talking about before we jumped on the call is the projection of what this is gonna look like as far as the process of getting back to 2019 levels. And we were talking about how what that kind of looked like for, and you’ve mentioned it already. You know, travel is gonna be restricted in some way. What that’s gonna look like we don’t know, we can only speculate. You know, whether or not in the states it’s gonna be restrictions between general areas, or restrictions between states, international, it’s definitely gonna be restricted in some way, shape or form. So that really leaves the opportunity for your local market, and the local market hasn’t always been the pure focus of a lot of people. Now, I think a lot of people on this call who are from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, or the general tri-state area, that might be a little bit different. But I think there’s always that, we feel like we can hit our local market pretty hard whenever we want to. Well, I think right now, that’s where the opportunity is. And we talked a little bit about how after this whole thing is over, we’re in this for a year, two years, as we go through the phases to get back to normal. Does, in the end, focusing on meeting the needs of your local market, does that end up being a good thing in the long run? Just thought we could talk about that a little bit on on the call with everybody else, Chris?

[Chris] Yeah, for sure. I’ll give you a brief overview of what I think’s gonna happen. And again, this changes week by week, month by month, but from what I’m seeing it from the stats I am seeing, I believe that most destinations by around July, August will be over the worst of this. But certainly from August, all the way through to middle of next year. The focus is gonna be on the staycation market. The local markets. Again, people will have less money to spend. There will be restrictions on flights, especially international travel until a vaccine is created. I believe that if you don’t already you need to start thinking now about creating products for the local market. What can you do on a local level to create tours and products for the local market. And we don’t mean within your immediate vicinity. If you are lucky enough to be in the States, where you have other states around you and coastline, those are your local markets. So think about what you can do. The set on the local market’s gonna be huge. Though you mentioned, the arrival and status on the index. Again this could change, but the index will be 2023 before we get back to 2019 levels. So it’s going to take two three years before we get back to where we were in 2019. That’s if Coronavirus doesn’t come back, or some other crisis doesn’t happen. We always have to plan for the worst. Anyone who doesn’t have a crisis management plan, the best advice is to have that in place. If the worst was to happen, how are you going to get over this. If that same thing were to happen, how are you going to get out of it. But you have to think, always for the next 12 months, the local market is certainly going to be the strongest market.

[Sam] Yeah, and I’m an optimist by nature. But a realist by necessity, I guess. So, I do think maybe in the long run, we are definitely talking about in the long run, I see if you can meet the needs of like you said, a lot of it in our area is the surrounding states, and a lot of us have really been focusing on that. But maybe there’s even more that we need to do. I was talking to one of our clients yesterday about- actually, well I’m gonna say giving discounts, but let’s just call it adding incentive or adding value. Adding value by discounting. Two literally geographic locations. There’s a pretty major theater in our area that actually has done this for a very long time. That if you are a Pennsylvania resident, you have the opportunity to show up at that theater a half an hour before call time, before roll call or whatever, and you can purchase a discount at a pretty heavily discount price. So I think those are the types of things that- adding value to that local market in a way that’s sort of a rallying call. You can kind of add that on top of it. The thing you might hear all over the place is we’re in this together. And I think that’s something that could really make an impact on people who are in your immediate area.

[Chris] Yeah for sure. I actually just noticed a question if you don’t mind from Justin about thoughts on staycations and how to encourage those. And I get it depends on the products you create, but I’m gonna give you two or three bits of advice of what I’m seeing just now, so. Create products for, or again it depends on the type of product you have. But some businesses create products for the older market, the thing that we’re finding out is more and more of the over 50’s, over 60’s market are creating Facebook accounts to keep in touch with families and friends because they can’t do day to day. They are going onto more Zoom meetings for example, and being more online. It was my sister’s birthday two days ago, and it was almost laughable to see my mother on WhatsApp video call which we thought would never ever happen before. So the older generation are being more connected. So again for future targeting on things like Facebook, that’s going to be more of that generation on things like Facebook. Another market to look at is businesses. Offer products for the corporate market, team building. Again, employers and employees are all being stuck at home, they’re not being able to interact physically and be there from a creative agency, being there to interact with your staff is actually an important part. Coming up with ideas and stuff. Yes you can do that over video, but it’s not the same. So reestablish, you can run team building tours and reestablish those connections between the employee and the employers. And getting everyone together and having a bit of fun especially when you come out of this, and creating products to show that, it could be foot tours or it could be a pop tour. I hate to use the word pop tour, but that type of thing. We are taking people out, axe throwing events, whatever you want to do. It’s to bring people together, and employees together to just reestablish those connections again before you go back into the offices, et cetera. That’s another opportunity that you can be looking at as well. And obviously, families. Kids have been stuck at home, they have- my daughter broke down in tears a few times already because she feels that she’s never going to see her friends again. Now kids are finding it hard to process what’s going on at this time. So get all the friends together, we’ll create a tour for families and friends and kids can get together and have a bit of fun and give the parents a little bit of a break as well. And things like that, so, families, corporates, even students. The moment students who normally, and I don’t like to paint the same brush for everyone, but students are normally spending money in bars, going to nightclubs, everything else. They are not doing that now, and what does that mean. They’re saving money. So give them something to do as well. Give tours so they can go out with friends, and family and go out and enjoy themselves. Even, and I have this one quickly, is people who have celebrated a milestone during the crisis and have not been able to celebrate out with friends. People who have had anniversaries, birthdays, have maybe given birth, and want to do a baby shower but have not been able to, do products where they leave marketing roads for people who celebrated during the lockdown. So they can come out and celebrate properly with their family and friends as well. There’s so many ideas that you can think of about creating products for the local market, to targeting various demographics.

[Sam] Let me package that a little bit, and use a term that we use in our company. We refer to ’em typically as small groups. It’s not just one or two individuals that could be the case, but Lancaster and Lancaster County, where our company is located, is a very family oriented destination. So creating those packages for small groups of just, lets say it’s three to eight people, or two to eight people or whatever you wanna call it, whatever’s going to adhere to your local social distancing guidelines. Probably will be in place for longer than we can anticipate. But it’s sort of taking the situation, leaning into it, and saying here’s what we can do. So if you do what you can do, we’re gonna add this value to bringing a group of eight or ten people. We have designed a whole experience around reconnecting families, reconnecting friends. We were actually just literally having this conversation yesterday for one of our clients. Actually I’ve had this for the past two days. I’ve had this conversation with some of our clients in the tourism industry, that it’s all gonna be about the message in telling people what they need to know about how you care about their current situation, how you care about how they feel, how you’re going to help them overcome that feel, and you’re gonna add value just by telling them it’s okay. Even to the point where it’s important that we communicate clearly that if you wanna wear a mask to our location, we totally get it. You don’t have to feel goofy. We understand. If you wanna wear gloves, we get it. We understand. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you feel like you need to wear a mask and gloves even though that’s not recommended, we welcome it. You know we could even provide a mask for you if you really feel like you need it. Just like empathy is the key word. And then designing packages for those groups around the whole idea of empathy and helping people just get past that fear that they have.

[Chris] I think that’s perfectly said. And the strange thing about what’s happening just now everyone’s in lockdown, everyone’s stuck at home, we’re not able to see our families and friends, but we’ve probably never been as connected in our lives than we have been at the moment. Through we’re probably speaking to our families more and making sure everyone’s fine. We’re speaking to everyone online. And being more connected online. So if anything, it’s actually brought, without sounding like a John Lennon song, it’s probably brought us all closer together than everything else. So it’s, if anything, we’re more connected, and I would hope if you mention empathy, that that will continue when we get out of this. And people will just have a little bit better understanding and hopefully make this a better society going forward. But again, I’m optimistic when it comes that that.

[Sam] I could do one last question here before we wrap up. From Jen Lewis, she mentioned that they are already seeing a push for staycations and Jen’s actually from the company that puts out, which is like a tourism promotion agency. They’re doing some pushes on that, but she has an interesting question. How do we suggest getting more locals to spend a night at local lodging properties? So if we think about, we’ve got a fair amount of bed and breakfasts and lodging properties on the call today who probably do depend more on out of local area people, customers. So I think that’s an interesting question. How could we encourage more people locally to stay.

[Chris] So very, very good question, and I don’t know obviously, the specifics of where that lodge could be. If it’s in a really nice surrounding area, if you get things to do, like maybe going for walks et cetera, the outdoor activities are certainly going to be a huge aspect going forward. People will just want to get out, explore again, and get some more fresh air, et cetera. So outdoor activities are gonna be massive. In terms of lodgings, I know here in Scotland we go to lodges or accommodation within the whole destination a lot of the time. My family specifically do that a lot, it happens. So if you can have a nice place to go to where you can relax, no worries, that has a hot tub so you can sit there in the hot tub with a glass of wine or whatever that would be. People will go to it. Especially if they can’t go abroad on international travel. What you’re typically probably find is there’s people who will still want to explore and still want to travel, even if it’s only short distances. And will want to spend the night in a lodge or something like that. If you want to entice them, to maybe even further, again depends on the cost price of what you can afford. But you can budget this in. It’s why don’t you have this for one night. They can come to that lodge and stay the night. But you could call them as well. You provide food, how about serve to them. How about deliver to them, or have a chef there to do the food for them So they have absolutely nothing to do apart from sitting and relaxing and enjoying themselves. So I actually think by default you’ll probably see an increase of people going to lodges within local areas. Just purely because they can’t go anywhere else internationally so they will want to travel out again, but it all depends on your surrounding areas, things to do within those areas, et cetera.

[Carl] Yeah, yeah. Yeah I think that’s a great point. People, you mentioned it earlier. People, if they’re not already, may soon feel just really contained by their own four walls so getting out in an area even just adjacentary as like, there’s several good tour destinations just within a half an hour to an hour drive to where we are for instance. And I know my family and I will very regularly stay overnight even if we could drive back and forth between the days just to kind of be in a different place and really get that kind of vacation feel, so that’s really good. Well thank you Chris for joining us. Appreciate the interaction with everybody in the questions and chat, before we close here today, just want to give you a couple things. One, just resources. Chris and his team have put out some great, completely free resources today. I know have been very helpful to us, I’m sure would be very helpful to you. There’s a podcast that has weekly and sometimes more than weekly additions out there called The Digital Tourism Show, Chris has all kinds of guests from all over the world on there. Tour operators, people from OTA’s, all kinds of different perspectives, he’s also recently written and released a book called How to Turn Lookers into Bookers. That’s available now as a free digital download. The link is there and we’ll put this in the Facebook group and the email we send out later with the notes. And then last but not least, a Coronavirus Marketing Battle Plan, is an E-Book that Chris put out based on some of the tips that he shared today, and others as well that’s out there.

[Chris] And if anyone wants to, sorry, if anyone to reach out and ask me any questions or anything like that, feel free to email me at and I’ll promptly get down to answering any questions anyone sends to me if you want any advice, happy to do that for you.

Closing Summary

[Carl] Great, thank you Chris. Onto next week’s topic, when we pulled the group for topics in our first week, one of the requested topics was how to get the most out of your relationship with your local destination marketing organization or tourism promotion agency. So we’re gonna be inviting a few representatives from some local destination marketing organizations onto our call next week, and we’re really looking for that to be a collaborative discussion both with the speakers that we’re inviting and with each of you. Really just to learn how do we get the most out of these great websites that are already marketing for the destinations that we live or work in, or that we’re trying to promote. There’s a real opportunity to partner on that, so I encourage you to join us. We’ll also be sharing some tips on how to really evaluate and hold your local DMO’s to the fire if you will, in terms of really evaluating your investment and making sure that’s a good sound investment. And last but not least, we do these each week, but there’s some good conversation and good resources that are happening in between on the Accelerate Tourism Facebook Group. If you haven’t joined already, we encourage you to do that. There’s a link here in the presentation. We will send that out in the email. You can also find it on Facebook by typing in Accelerate Tourism and clicking to join. So we’ll post the recording for this session on there later today, as soon as it’s processed. We’ll also post the notes and if you are just joining us today and haven’t joined us in the past, the recordings from our past meetups are there in the past Facebook group as well. Thank you everyone for joining, thank you Chris. Thank you for giving us your time today. And appreciate everything you’ve done for us.

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Meet the Author:

Carl Lefever

Carl Lefever, Founder & Strategist

Carl is the founder of Improve & Grow, LLC, where his primary passion is helping businesses grow by improving their online marketing. He leads the team and is involved in developing and executing internet marketing strategies for our clients. Carl's background is in continuous improvement disciplines, focused on sales and marketing operations. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He is a proud father of 4 girls and loves traveling and supporting missions work.