How To Create a Tourism Marketing Plan That Works

 
Brian Nicholson

I want you to be excited about the time and money you’re planning to spend on your marketing. That’s a tall order, I know; not a lot of people get excited about either “planning” OR “spending”—let alone both! But stick with me for a minute.

In this article, we will cover the following topics:

Marketing Planning Should Excite You. Here’s Why.

Imagine that you’re about to build your dream home. You found the perfect lot and location. You know what you want it to look like, and you’re dreaming about the features and functions. You’re about to sit down with the team that’s going to bring this dream to life. That’s an exciting moment, right? 

That’s how you should feel before sitting down with your marketing team to develop a plan. You’ve got a dream for your business, and this plan is going to help you get there. A good plan is going to be:    

  • Focused on achieving your business goals. It ensures that all your marketing time and money is working in lock step with your other initiatives. 
  • Holistic. It’s going to factor in products, pricing, operations, and market changes. Don’t get stuck thinking that your marketing plan is just your promotion plan. 
  • Specific enough to be a plan, not just data and ideas. When it’s done, your team should know precisely how to get started, because the plan is going to have enough tactical detail to free them up to take action. 

So how do you get there?

The Tourism Marketing Plan Framework

While this guide was written with tours, activities, and attractions in mind, many of the principles are also applicable to DMOs, other tourism organizations, and companies of all types.

Step 1: Set Company Goals

If company goals aren’t set first, the marketing team will be at risk of coming up with a lot of things that can be done—maybe even good things—but they may not be the things that are going to help you reach your goals.

Example:

Examples of how to set aligned marketing objectives for a Tourism marketing plan.

Step 2: Collect Information

As you collect information, you’re going to come up with several things you want to start doing, stop doing, or keep doing. You could maintain a Start/Stop/Keep list.

Examples of determining focus on your annual tourism marketing plan.

Mine Your Data For Insights

See what your data tells you about what’s worked and what hasn’t. An entire series of articles could be dedicated to how to mine your data, but here are a few sample questions to ask:

  • Is our website traffic profile healthy? Are we too dependent upon paid traffic? Do we have a good amount of referral traffic that converts at a decent rate? 
  • Is our website converting at a good rate? Are there opportunities to be aware of on a per-page basis? 
  • What advertising channels worked and didn’t work? ROAS is a good metric to watch, but sometimes you also need to look at call tracking data, cost per group form submission by advertising campaign, etc. For example, if our client placed a $1000 ad in a print publication, we’ll want to know how many calls came from that ad, and how much revenue came from those calls (both possible with call tracking services). It won’t be a perfect indicator of value, but it will be a useful signal. 
  • Where are the strong and weak points in our marketing funnel? Are we having difficulty getting people to our site? Getting people to start the booking process? Complete their bookings? Return as a customer? 
  • What was our churn rate, and how does it compare to previous years?
  • What was our cost of acquisition (COA), and how has it changed? 
  • What was our average order value (AOV), and how has it changed?
  • What is our lifetime value of a customer (LTV), and how has it changed? (This significantly impacts what an acceptable COA would be.)
  • How did each of our offers do this year? Which ones should we drop, keep, or modify? 
  • What was our gift card breakage rate, and how might that impact our gift card marketing in the future? 
Examples of metrics to review in your tourism marketing plan to ensure you create a great plan
Know your funnel stats to see where people are dropping off or it’s getting too expensive to keep them moving through the funnel. This funnel example pulls data from Facebook events.

Take Note of What’s New

Ask the following questions to ensure that you’re staying up-to-date.

  • Have we seen consumer behavior shift recently? How should we adapt our product or marketing?
    Example: When consumers are pulling back on spending, a zipline company may need to find a way to make a short version of their tour available at a lower price point. 
  • Has the competitive landscape changed? Are there new direct or indirect competitors in the market? Has a new opportunity or threat emerged?

Example: Your competitor was more aggressive with discounts last season, and you noticed that when their promotions were running, your ROAS and yield dropped. You’ll need to decide how to respond (and following their lead on discounting may be the wrong answer for your brand).

Take Stock of Your Company and Marketing

Your audience

This is fundamental and should already be well known by you and your entire team, but it’s worth keeping at the forefront of any planning. If you don’t have this documented yet, create a simple audience table, and keep it up-to-date every year. (You can also do this through personas, with much more detail.)

Adventure park example (with just one audience shown):

Examples of how to meet the needs of your target audience when you are creating a tourism marketing plan each year.

Your brand

  • Is our visual expression on-brand and compelling? This includes your logo, website, ads, photos, videos, etc.
  • Is our verbal expression on-brand and compelling? (Not sure? Shop the competitors like a prospective customer would. See what everyone’s saying about themselves, and ask yourself whether you stand out in the right way.)

Adventure park example:

Examples of how to evaluate your brand messaging for annual brand planning

Your products, services, and pricing

  • Is there anything we should drop (based on low margin, low demand, and/or logistical challenges)  in order to allow us to focus on more-profitable offerings?
  • Is there anything we should add? Do we have any holes to fill in our offerings that might appeal to our target market? Example: An adventure park with a current minimum age of 8 could add experiences that allow families with children as young as 4, instantly increasing their addressable market. 
  • Should we adjust our pricing? Does the market support price increases? Should we run any pricing tests this year? (Watch conversion rate and yield.) 

Your operations

  • What operational bottlenecks are blocking our growth? Staffing shortage? Cumbersome check-in process? Walk-in traffic making it difficult to predict staffing needs? 
  • What opportunities exist based on our operational strengths? (Example: “Jessica has been leading our group experiences, and she’s started structuring some activities to help address the needs of our corporate clients. Maybe it’s time to offer team building.)
  • Are there ways to increase profit per employee by streamlining operations? 

Your customers’ experience

  • Conduct a voice-of-customer analysis to find strong points and weak points. Look at survey results, reviews, complaints, questions, etc.
  • Consider customer journey mapping. This takes some time, but can be a powerful tool for identifying any weak points in the customer’s experience that might be causing friction or frustration, leading to a loss of revenue, reputation, or referrals. 
Example graph of customer journey mapping

Step 3: Create the Plan

You now know what you want to accomplish as a company; you’ve identified what’s been working; and you’ve surfaced several opportunities. Now it’s time to make some decisions and put them into a plan.

Goals → Objectives → Tactics (and KPIs)

This is one of your main brainstorming sessions. For each goal, identify measurable objectives that will support that goal. Then for each objective, create the tactics that will help you achieve that objective. (You can also tally costs for each tactic here, but we’ve removed that column for simplicity.) This example shows the start of the development of a single goal’s plan. 

As you get into this process, have your tactical backlog handy. We maintain a backlog (or “opportunities list”) of ideas that we’re constantly adding to. And because our backlogged tactics are already grouped by objectives such as Improve Conversion Rate, it’s very easy to pick from the list without feeling overwhelmed.

example of goals, objectives and tactics to address when creating a tourism marketing plan for the year.

As you’re doing this, you’re selecting the key performance indicators you’ll be watching, so you’ll be well-positioned to track your progress during the year (assuming your measurement system already accurately measures those KPIs).

Check The Funnel

During your tactical planning, this funnel grid can be useful to remind you of when and where your marketing can have an impact. This can be done on a per-audience and per-tour/activity basis. 

For example, you may find that you’re using ads effectively for driving awareness (discovery campaigns) and staying top-of-mind during the consideration phase (using basic retargeting), but you haven’t yet developed a campaign specifically for those who abandoned their cart. Or you might find that you’ve been addressing families with your social media posts, but not corporate customers. This exercise helps you ensure adequate coverage throughout your funnel.

Example of how to look at your customer journey funnel.

Build Your Calendar(s)

You’ll want to map out promotions, events, major campaigns, seasonal changeovers (e.g., seasonal outdoor adventure companies should update their website and Google My Business profile), etc. 

You may have multiple calendars, depending on your plan. For example, you may have a content calendar for blog posts, social media posts, etc. 

The key is that as you build out your calendars—as with every step of this planning process—don’t become untethered from your key goals and objectives. Even your content calendar should have clear connections to your goals and objectives.

Now Execute, Measure, and Win

There’s still a lot to do from this point forward. For example, if you decide to pilot a membership program, someone needs to figure out the pricing, terms, target audience, promotion opportunities, website landing page, etc. And I didn’t get into media planning, which is one of the next logical steps in many plans. But now you have a list of specific things you need to execute in order to reach your business goals, and you can confidently release your team to execute on those tactics. You know what you’re spending time and money on, and why; and you can track whether you’re reaching the targets you set. This clarity, and this level of alignment between marketing and business goals, will keep your marketing on track throughout the next season so that you create the outcomes you’re looking for.

Looking for help growing your tourism company? Contact us at Blend Marketing; we help tour and activity companies with $2-20 million revenue grow their businesses through a strong brand, good data, and smart marketing.

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About The Author

Brian Nicholson

Brian is a partner at Blend Marketing. He focuses on brand strategy, positioning, and analytics for the tourism industry.

Email Brian

About The Author

Brian Nicholson

Brian is a partner at Blend Marketing. He focuses on brand strategy, positioning, and analytics for the tourism industry.