Direct bookings should be your primary source of growth for your business because you control the reins. You receive full-margin sales and own the customer data, so you can maximize cross-selling, upselling, and remarketing opportunities because you have complete control over your brand’s impact on the customer. It’s the golden ticket to building customer trust and loyalty for a lasting (and profitable) connection.
There are countless opportunities to improve your direct bookings, so we compiled a list of 81 tips from our 7-part video series, Grow Revenue through Direct Bookings, to help you improve direct bookings for tours, activities, and attractions in an easy-to-digest format so you can start implementing these strategies and tactics into your business.
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Follow these four sections to start maximizing your direct bookings today.
A. Building A Direct Booking Strategy
Let’s start with a strategy to help you create a framework to increase direct bookings.
1. To win direct bookings, you have to win at all the phases of the funnel—including awareness, consideration, and conversion—not just one or two phases.
These example scenarios show when all three stages of the funnel aren’t working together.
2. There are a few outside factors you have little or no control over to consider when trying to win direct bookings.
3. Three things should drive your booking strategy– your customer’s behavior, your competitive landscape, and data.
4. You have to know who you’re selling to. One fun way to do this is to simply imagine your target customer as a real person you’re writing to. Imagine who they are, their pain points and problems (what solution are they looking for), and what objections they may have to choosing your brand as a solution.
5. Address your customer’s pain points and problems in your direct channels (on your website copy, social ads, and marketing materials). This will make your customers feel seen and validated by you and your company.
6. Talk to your customers to better understand what their needs are.
7. Understand their digital behavior – how they search for tours and attractions and what search engines and tools they use.
8. Read customers’ reviews—good and bad, and let them influence your product.
9. You can learn so much from your competitors. Their wins can become your wins. And their losses can be something you learn from and avoid. We’ll look deeper into tools you can use to observe what the competition is doing and how to apply those learnings to your product and your direct marketing channels.
10. You want to make sure your data is good. A lot can go wrong if your data tools aren’t set up correctly.
11. To make it actionable, you want to bring life to your data. There are many ways to do this. We love to visualize KPIs and goals using Google Looker Studio. There are other ways to do this, but the key is to make it actionable.
12. Apply your direct booking strategy to your key direct channels. According to a study by Arival, search, your website, and social were the top channels.
13. There is usually a limit to how much revenue/bookings an OTA can drive. We’ve found that Facebook and Google advertising are much more scalable in filling excess capacity—and at a similar ROI to an OTA. As well, customers are booking direct! So you get all the data we’ve been talking about.
B. How to Use Search Marketing to Maximize Direct Bookings
Direct bookings start with building a search marketing strategy. Creating your plan begins with using data. You have unlimited free data to create a successful direct booking plan grounded in real insights. You will use this data to understand consumer behavior, how to map out your competitive landscape, and how to turn the data into actionable insights for good search marketing campaigns that will help you achieve direct bookings.
Here are our top tips:
14. Place a good amount of emphasis on Google, as it is still easily the strongest platform for search, with over 84% market share.
15. Bing is in easy second place to Google, but searches on Bing are growing. Make sure you don’t just focus on one platform.
16. It is essential to understand the customer’s travel journey for how they plan and book tours, attractions, and experiences. Without this understanding, you cannot persuade customers to your brand and see them through to the bottom of the funnel (a purchase).
17. Look at a user’s journey to purchase “things to do in destination” vs. where to stay or how to get there. This information will help you understand just how much time they spend searching.
18. In-destination travelers use search engines to book experiences. This means that nearly every other time someone takes out their phone to find something with Google, there’s an opportunity to get in front of them—for free with Google Maps.
19. People trust Google to give them good information, so make sure you give accurate information on your Google My Business profile. Ensure the information is always current, including hours of operation on holidays.
20. “Near me” or “Close by” searches have grown 6x in the past two years–so now, more than ever, it is important to work to show up in these local queries.
21. You can measure relative demand by activity for ziplines, adventure parks, road trips, camping, etc.
Relative demand can be measured by location, location, and activity, as well as by location and broad “things to do” searches. This information helps plan your marketing efforts when customers are looking for things to do in your location.
22. The Blend Tourism Search Trends Report is an easy tool to help discover current search trends for common categories.
23. The Blend Tourism Search Trends Tool also taps into Google Search Trends data, but this tool allows you to see a year-over-year comparison of search demand for a term you specify.
24. Use Google Trends to compare your search terms within your specific region.
25. Get a leg up against the OTAs by having and maintaining a listing on Google Maps. OTAs can’t be listed in Google Maps.
26. Consider using Bright Local. This software collects data that can help you understand how you are ranking in local search, and it includes tools to help improve your rankings.
27. Using Bright Local, you can map your local rankings, string together a series of these reports over a year, and see how your rankings have changed.
28. You want to be visible within Google’s search results. Semrush is a valuable tool with helpful data points to help to see how your business is performing.
29. Using Semrush, three data points are measurable to see how you perform vs. your competition, OTA, and DMO. Your search visibility, estimated traffic, and average position are especially helpful because OTAs are hard to beat. Knowing where you stand can help you determine your next steps.
30. Using Semrush, look at the Auction Insights Report account wide or by campaign to see the overlap rates between you and the OTAs.
31. Identify your most important channel and check your conversion rate. Most of the time, this will be your Google Business Profile. We usually see a 10-30% higher conversion rate with this channel vs. your other organic channels.
32. If you have a bad Google Maps listing, it can massively affect your conversion rate. Make sure your map listing is up to date, clear, and enticing–visually with a good description written from the customer’s perspective.
33. Identify your best-performing organic pages regarding conversion rate and revenue. It is important to know where you are succeeding and where to improve.
34. You can use the Google Search Console to learn how visible your revenue-driving pages are.
35. Focus on what matters. In the graphic below, the top right is where you want to be, and the top left and bottom right are where you should spend your time.
36. Start the process from the previous point on the top of your second page of revenue-driving pages.
37. Keep a pulse on how people are finding you so that you know where to look and how to reach the most potential customers.
38. The data found on Google Ads by clicking through to Google Ads > Campaigns > Columns > Modify Columns, can help you understand missed advertising opportunities.
39. Start building a core presence or focus on a set of keywords that have the highest conversion potential. And as you succeed, expand outward and increase your volume and potential reach.
Note: As friction increases as you go higher in the funnel, the conversion rate will decrease. So you have to know your targets throughout the funnel, and how much you can expand that makes economic sense.
40. Local Ads (Things to Do & PMAX) are rich with information and provide multiple click-through opportunities. They are the perfect weapon to show up for “near me” searches!
41. Google Things to Do is starting to take the place of organic spots, dominating the SERP, and will continue to display more prominently. Take advantage of it! Not sure if it’s right for you? Check out our detailed post about Google Things To Do.
42. Google Things to Do isn’t the only tool in town. Performance Max (PMAX) is a great tool to launch you to the top of the map pack! Learn more about PMAX.
43. A prerequisite to creating a successful organic search direct booking strategy is having a great product that your guests love and having built equity for your brand that has given you the leverage to charge what your tours are worth. If this doesn’t describe you, this is where you need to start.
44. Focus on getting into the Local Pack. This is important because 46% of searches are local, OTA’s can’t penetrate this space, local traffic converts, and this is often impression #1.
45. To get into the Local Pack, ask these three questions– How relevant is your listing? How close is the user to you when they search? How popular are you?
46. Utilize these winning principles to get and stay on the Local Map Pack. Help Google do its job, write for users first (be helpful, always), and be prolific–like overdo it.
47. Identify your “Must Win Keywords.”
a. Make sure there is commercial intent.
b. Filter your top revenue pages, sort by impressions, and harvest the keyword gold.
c. Use Google Ads Keyword Planner.
d. Use related search.
48. You don’t have to spend money to learn whether your search campaign is working. Run predictive campaigns.
49. Optimize for organic clicks by improving title tags for CTR. Do this by matching them to on-page content, using unique selling propositions, using primary keyword themes, and using 65 characters or fewer.
50. Strive for a healthy traffic mix.
C. How to Use Social Media Marketing to Get Direct Bookings
To generate direct bookings from social media marketing, it starts with a solid understanding of how people interact with your business and businesses like yours on social media. You can use the data you already have about customers and learn from your competitor’s use of social media. Here are our top tips!
51. When approaching social media marketing, you must go through the same process to get to an actionable strategy. You have to identify your customer’s behavior your customer’s landscape, and gather and access your data.
52. Identify whether your customers interact actively or passively with your social platforms.
53. Know where your competitors are on social media and keep track. A simple spreadsheet works well for this.
54. Pay attention to the responses that your competitors are getting. Are they positive? What do they like? Are they negative? What do they dislike?
55. Look at what the influencers are talking about and see if they could be a good fit for your brand.
56. Pay attention to who’s advertising and for what. Are they running an offer? Source ideas from what they are and aren’t doing.
57. Know if your competitors are tracking their data. You can use LinkedIn and Facebook Pixel Helpers to find out.
58. If you’re running ads, assess how competitive the auction is compared to normal.
59. Know the industry benchmarks.
a. The costs we typically see for a click on Facebook and Instagram. A bit higher than Google Display Ads. You can influence these numbers by adjusting frequency and targeting.
b. In general, your CTR should be higher on discovery than remarketing if your approach keeps frequency very low on discovery and high on remarketing. However, this changes for many destination markets when you want a high frequency of discovery for the people traveling in the area, whether they get into your remarketing funnel or not.
c. TikTok is right in the mix as well, but with a far more limited data set.
d. TikTok ROAS has been very low so far, as it is proving to be more of an impression channel than an action channel. However, this is one of the platforms where we’ve seen some success with influencer marketing, so we’re thinking about that channel a little differently. (Update: We’ve seen TikTok performance improve fairly significantly for some clients in 2023.)
60. Assess what you are seeing in your Facebook audience insights.
61. When looking at your Facebook audience insights, exclude paid advertising!
62. Organic posting tips:
a. Develop a persona for each platform.
b. Posts should be social, NOT selling.
c. Use data to inform what to post about.
63. Internal ownership of your social platforms is key. Someone in the community and directly involved in the business will be able to create the best content.
64. The goal of advertising is to drive certain behaviors and actions. This happens at the intersection of motivation, ability, and prompts.
- The x and y axis here inform your targeting and timing strategy. Find people when their motivation is high and their ability is high (targeting).
- Your “prompts” are messages and offers. Prompt them in the right moments with the right prompt = driving the desired behavior.
65. Create your paid social ads according to the season. Include seasonal photos based on the current season.
66. Create weather creative based on the forecast. Spend more advertising when the weather is good and less when it’s bad.
67. Know your target audience. If you are trying to target people traveling in the area—prompt with messaging that meets them where they are.
68. Target people with birthdays coming up. Remember, continuity in messaging and visuals is key.
69. Adjust your target based on the time of the year– target couples when school is in session, families during school breaks, and have holiday messaging over the holidays.
70. Advertise to people who previously went into the checkout but did not complete the purchase.
71. Ask your DMOs to share their audiences with you! They are there to help you grow too!
D. Optimizing Your Website For Direct Bookings
Your website’s ability to convert is a crucial element of any direct bookings strategy. These are many of the top tips that we’ve seen make a real difference in conversion rates for tour, activity, and attraction websites.
72. Use Microsoft Clarity. It will show you where people are confused, what matters (language, how far they scroll, etc.), and gives you some quantitative data that Google Analytics can’t.
73. To test site performance, use Google’s Core Web Vitals Test. It shows how your pages perform based on real-world usage data (sometimes called field data).
74. Focus on site speed. If your load time is slow, people will leave your site quickly.
75. Use your cancellation policy to create confidence in your company. Make sure it is at least as good as the OTAs’ policy and aim to make it the best in the market (if possible). Once you’ve done these things, leverage your policy by making it visible on-site and in the booking process.
76. Compare your cancellation policy with the OTAs.
77. When you’re done writing your policy, ask 2 questions: Does it sound like this company’s employees will be delightful to interact with? (Or does it sound like they want me to come?) If I were the customer, and if I were only 85% certain that I want to do this, would I book it if it were me?
78. Look at the conversion rate by location.
79. Look at the conversion rate by device category.
80. Quantitative data doesn’t show why. You need answers to these questions, and there are tools that can help you get them.
- Discovery: “Imagine your traveling, use Google to find something to do.”
- Your Site: “How would you describe this experience to a friend?” (Don’t tell them it’s your site.)
- Your Site: “Is there something that would keep you from doing this experience?”
81. Make changes to your site and your messaging depending on the answers you get from using these tools. It can reveal weak spots in your photography, messaging, and the site’s overall appearance and function.
For more detailed information about Direct Bookings, check out our 7-part Direct Booking Video Series.