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In the past 6 months, we’ve seen the devastating effects that natural, political, and health disasters can have on the tourism industry. From protests in Hong Kong and Latin America to COVID-19 and the Australian wildfires, I think it’s safe to say it’s been a pretty tough start to 2020. 

The tourism industry has lost billions through cancelled flights, cruises, hotels, and tours, and although I hate to say it, this is just the beginning. The businesses which have borne the brunt of these situations are desperately looking for an escape and to get themselves back on track. But the million-dollar question is how? 

Although marketing at the moment is an uphill struggle against the media discouraging tourists from carrying out their travel plans. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, for example, Australia is using the situation to their advantage and investing heavily in advertising campaigns, marketing themselves as a safe haven from Coronavirus. What’s the alternative for smaller tour operators?

Coronavirus mania has got people avoiding planes at all costs since they are now being seen as hotbeds for the virus. As a result, those guests you had coming from abroad are most likely cancelling their trips. During the months of political protests in both Chile and Hong Kong, we saw big supermarket chains refusing to open and as a consequence people turned to independent local stores for grocery shopping. 

So, as a tour operator why not take the same approach and adapt to the changes in the industry? Instead of tours by locals, think tours for locals.

How to Attract Local Customers

Although more unpredictable, these problematic situations have lots of similarities with low season slumps. Accordingly, we can apply similar tactics to change strategy and adapt to the unexpected. The first step is to reconsider your target audience, who is going to be looking for activities and tours in your area in these situations?

Know Your Market

Two key groups to target in these times are school children and those looking for a staycation.

Schools and governing bodies have expressed growing concern over the anxiety these difficult situations provoke in young children. This opens up a perfect opportunity for tour operators to offer the ideal distraction with tailor-made educational or recreational trips. From neighbourhood tours, where you encourage kids to get to know the local area, to outdoor activities like trekking, these can be a great alternative for teachers struggling to keep their students engaged in these abnormal times. You don’t have to be a professional educational tour company, but definitely check some out for tips.

Alternatively, you could market to those looking for a staycation, people who want to unwind from their stressful lives, but travel or budgetary restrictions prevent them from going abroad. Maybe it’s a frustrated parent struggling to keep their children entertained or a couple looking for a romantic getaway. People don’t always have time to plan due to various distractions, so by providing them with the perfect package, a cosy chalet in the forest or an afternoon of kayaking, you offer up the perfect alternative to the chaotic reality of 2020. 

Many of us living in cities have never visited the key tourist sights. Think about it, when you travel to different countries or cities you try to see as much of the city as possible. But why is it that we never visit the sights on our doorstep? Tour operators can create campaigns on encouraging locals to be tourists in their own cities.

No matter who you are marketing to you need to keep one thing in mind: people are anxious and need reassurance. Use an authoritative voice and facts in your content to restore their confidence in getting out of the house and getting involved in tours and activities.   

Tips for Attracting Local Customers

Once you’ve decided who you want to market to, you need to adapt your marketing strategy to the local market. Check out the following four essential tips to get you started:

  1. Local promotions are a tried-and-tested way of bringing in customers from the area and encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations.
  2. Take advantage of your local media platforms, newspapers, blogs or even contacting local influencers to widen your reach.
  3. Partner with other local businesses, you are not alone out there! By coming together on a campaign to address people’s anxieties and encourage them to take part in activities you create a more compelling message and again, extend your reach.
  4. Lastly, a basic point but one which is often overlooked, include your location in your keywords! If people start searching for tours and activities in their area, you need to appear on those searches. Do some research and find some keywords that could work for you. Or if the world of SEO is too intimidating, contact us!  We know the ins and outs of keyword functionality and can provide you with essential, performance-enhancing material.

Local doesn’t necessarily mean your city or 10-mile radius, it can be your state or in small countries, even the whole country. Travel industry specialist Peter Syme has spoken about the high numbers of tour cancellations from tourists travelling to Scotland by plane, but not amongst those arriving by train or car.  

What can you take away from this? Don’t be afraid to adjust your strategy! These situations won’t last forever but it could have serious effects on your business if you don’t reassess your target audience for the time being. If you can, stay local. Make the most of people sitting bored at home and wanting a bit of escape from reality. Use your local network and website content to reassure people and let them know you are open for business. Offer them a complete package so the only decision they need to make is when to go. Use it as a challenge to explore different possibilities for your business and make sure you don’t get left behind.


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