The Guide to Remarketing for Tour & Activities -Part 1

Jeremiah Calvino

You’ve worked hard to develop a high-quality website and online tour & activity business. You know you have a great product because you have many satisfied guests. Sadly, 97% of the people that land on your website are going to leave without booking. But that’s not the end of the story.

Remarketing is one of the most effective approaches to get more website viewers to book—improving your return on your marketing investment. There are many aspects to this ad strategy, and we will show you how it all works in this guide to remarketing for tours & activities brands.

In This Part 1 Guide to Remarketing, You Will Learn:

  1. What remarketing is and how it works
  2. The challenge with the gap between searching and purchasing
  3. How remarketing improves conversion rates 
  4. How remarketing improves return on ad spend
  5. Effective remarketing strategies for local audiences
  6. Why you need to watch out for remarketing from OTA’s 
  7. Who you can remarket to 
  8. Types of remarketing ads

What is Remarketing and How Does it Work?

Do you ever wonder how you could be browsing online for a travel wallet one day, and then the next day, you see ads for that same wallet everywhere on the web? You see an advertisement for that wallet on your local news site, or an ad pops up when you’re browsing Facebook or Twitter. You wonder, “how did ‘they’ know I like this product?” Those ads were enticing to you because you were familiar with the product, and the ad gave you a second thought about buying that wallet. 

This is remarketing—marketing to someone who has already shown some level of interest in your product, website, social media, or online properties. (This tactic is also called retargeting.)

The same idea applies to people planning their vacation online

For example, a young couple—we’ll call them the Bradys—are planning a trip to Niagara Falls. Like most people planning travel, the Bradys would choose a place to travel, then check out the airfare, and then book a flight. Then they would reserve their accommodation, followed by booking the tours and activities in Niagara Falls. These actions vary in time and could also be combined and intermixed with each other. 

According to Google Insights, two weeks or three months before a trip, the typical consumer like the Bradys will be searching online for tours 3X more than hotels and searching for activities and tours 8X more than air travel. The last couple of months before their vacation, they’re researching and deciding what to do when they are at the destination.

The couple is searching for all kinds of information related to things to do in Niagara Falls. They probably search Google and check reputable travel websites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, popular blogs, tourism board websites, etc. The Bradys are clicking away and seeing all kinds of activities to do in Niagara Falls: boat tours, museums, day trips, sightseeing. They land on tour company websites, look around and explore ideas, and look at pictures, videos, and tour descriptions. This research could result in hundreds of search queries. 

The Bradys decided to do more specific searches on a boat tour they found on Trip Advisor with a 4-star rating. They did a quick Google search and noticed that the same company comes up on the Top 3 “map pack” as a top choice on Google Search. This visibility prompts them to visit the the Maid of the Mist Boat Tour site to learn more. They like what they see. The costs look good. The Bradys will probably check out other boat tours to compare prices and reviews several months before the trip. As the trip gets closer, the couple will start to refine a shortlist of what they want to do.

The Challenge: Searching Doesn’t Mean Purchasing

In our example, our couple is searching for what to do in Niagara Falls. It doesn’t mean they are ready to book. They may be skeptical or uncertain; they want to read more reviews, don’t know what day they want to go on the tours, or perhaps they just got distracted and had other things to do at work or home. The possibilities as to why the Bradys didn’t book at this stage are infinite. So, there is a gap between their research and when they clicked the book button for that boat tour. 

The gap between research & purchase can vary immensely

According to a 2018 study by Arival, 48% of bookings happen once travelers arrive at their destination. To get to that point, travelers do significant amounts of research in advance. 

Additionally, Arival compared the time frame between research and booking by time frames. They found the following: 

  • 31% of people are researching and 22% are booking at least one month in advance of their trip.
  • Another 19% are researching 1-4 weeks in advance, and 14% are booking their trip in this time frame.
  • But as the trip gets closer; just 1-7 days in advance, both researching and bookings jump significantly. 44% for research and 36% for bookings.

The time frame for research and bookings are very different. The majority of those bookings are happening closer to—or even on—the day that they visit. Bookings are flexible and uncertain. The time frame could be 7 days before an activity starts, or 14 days, or even 30, 60, or 90 days. The time frame will vary by the consumer.

The gap between research time and purchase time is where remarketing comes in 

Remarketing ads help remind the traveler of what they were searching. It brings back familiarity and top-of-mind awareness.

The goal of remarketing is to keep your brand in front of your audience during their decision-making process, to ultimately create more bookings and lead higher overall conversion rate.

How Remarketing Improves Conversion Rates

Remarketing can’t be fully understood without looking at the impact it can make on conversion rates.

The average tourism website conversion rate is about 2-3%, which means 97-98% of the people coming to your website aren’t purchasing in that session. 

Now, you might have an excellent conversion rate already. Maybe you have the most amazing tour and incredible pricing. Everything’s perfect. Your business could have a 5% conversion rate. That’s an unusually high conversion rate for a tourism website, depending on market conditions. (We’ve seen 8% in unusual circumstances.) That means that even the most successful sites fail to convert 95% of sessions.

How can you convert the remainder of visitors not booking? 

You cannot simply hope that those people will remember you when they’re in your destination. We all live in a world of distractions, right? This is also where remarketing shows its power.

How Remarketing Improves Your Return On Ad Spend

Because retargeting is marketing to a warm audience—people who already are familiar with your website—your return on your ad spend is typically higher than advertising to a new audience of consumers unfamiliar with you.

For example:

  • You currently have 100 people visit your website, and only 3 make a purchase.
  • Then you decide to try remarketing ads to those other 97 people, perhaps on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Your ad campaign showed these 97 people 10 ad impressions over one week, equaling about 1000 ad impressions. 
  • The cost for those 1000 impressions was $14.
  • If just one of those people comes back and purchases, would it be worth it to your business? Or what if you could bring back 2-3 additional people to book your tour?
  • If you have a high-priced tour with high margins, such as a $100 zipline tour, and your average order comes out to $220 for two people, that $14 yields a good return on investment even with 1 incremental booking.

So if the Bradys were one of 2 couples from the campaign that booked that Niagara Falls boat tour for $70, the tour company spent $14 in advertising for $140 in incremental revenue—a 10% cost of acquisition. This ad campaign yielded a good return on investment. The Maid of the Mist Tour paid far less to convert warm customers than attract completely new ones.

Effective Remarketing Strategies For Local Audiences 

Often tour and attractions owners set ad campaigns to reach vacationers visiting their destination. One drawback of advertising to these groups is that once they are no longer visiting the destination, you can no longer sell to them.

If you run a scuba tour in the Bahamas and show ads to people who aren’t in the Bahamas, have already left, or aren’t planning to come there for a period of time, your conversion rate will be close to zero. Obviously, this is a complete waste of your marketing spend. 

However, if you have a product or service where repeat customers live within a 50-100 mile radius and have a tour or activity relevant to them for a weekend or getaway, then remarketing campaigns can be very effective.

For example, let’s look at Milwaukee Food Tours – a food tour company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You live around Milwaukee, and as you’re looking for something to do with a group of friends, you decide to look for food tours. You check out the Milwaukee Food Tours website and see a wide variety of tours. The Tacos and Tequila Tour looks like a great option for you, so you book it. Now the business can remarket to you, showing you additional tours that you might enjoy. They could do this right away, or wait a week, a month, or more.

Remarketing can work all year long with timely messaging

Timely messaging for remarketing campaigns play a role in your advertising strategy too. For example, you might visit the Milwaukee Food Tours website in the summer and you are looking at the Tacos and Tequila tour. The tour company could run a remarketing campaign for a seven-day window, continuing to show the Tacos & Tequila tour.

If you didn’t purchase it, Milwaukee Food Tours might stop advertising that tour. But if you live within 40 miles of Milwaukee, they may keep you in a 6-month or 1-year retargeting window, so that you see other tours such as their Christmas food tours later in the year. If the company gets 10,000 visitors to their website over a 6-month period, that’s a good-size, warm audience familiar with the brand, that serves as a great prospect list for other tours.

These 10,000 people are a better audience than an unknown list of people that live in Milwaukee because they are more likely to be interested in taking a tour.

So, the success rate of those people clicking on a Christmas tour ad and converting to a sale is much higher. Additionally, these website visitors are familiar with Milwaukee Food Tours, and there’s some recognition there. Thus click-through rate and conversion rate will be much higher than marketing to just a broad Milwaukee audience. 

Local remarketing is a highly effective strategy for tours and activities that operate year-round. Well-executed remarketing will improve your return on marketing spend. We find that return on advertising spend or ROAS is typically 3-5x higher for remarketing campaigns than marketing to an unfamiliar, cold audience.

Watch Out For Remarketing Ads From OTAs 

OTAs can make it very easy for customers to book their excursions. Online travel agencies like TripAdvisor run their own remarketing ads—sometimes with your brand and products. And if customers purchase on TripAdvisor, the platform takes a 20% commission. That’s 20% of your revenue that you could be keeping in your pocket. Running your own remarketing campaigns can significantly lower your acquisition cost of getting new bookings. Just keep an eye on your cost of acquisition. 

Who Can Your Business Remarket To?

In the previous examples, we’ve seen how remarketing works for consumers who have visited your website. However, not everyone will visit your website because consumers also spend a lot of time on social media as their main source of information.

Good news! You can remarket to consumers who engage with your brand on social media. If a person liked your page or post, shared or commented on a post, or went to an event, you can remarket to them. Remarketing works well with ads placed on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, and Snapchat using data from your audience.

A third way to remarket to people is using uploaded customer lists. A list can include a list of past guests, people who have subscribed to your email newsletter, or leads who filled out forms. Any information can be used, such as customer names, email addresses, or phone numbers which can be loaded into a platform like Facebook. Since Facebook owns Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp, this platform can use even limited data to match your customer list to their user database. 

If there is a match, you can show ads to those people. This is a powerful option because customer data can be used for someone who never saw your website. They could have come through an OTA, they could have walked in, or bought a gift certificate. 

Pro tip: A highly successful strategy for remarketing ads is to run an ad for a popular tour or attraction to your past guests. Re-engage with your past customers and reignite their fond memories of their vacation – even if it was a few years ago. Often, these past customers will reminisce about their holiday, share the ad, and comment because you popped back into their newsfeed with a happy memory they want to share. Customers will even tag their friends who could have interest in that tour.

Holiday ads marketing to past guests

What makes this strategy more powerful is if you run that same ad to a new in-destination audience who have never heard of you before, they will see the comments from your past guests who loved your tour. Here, social proof is working to endorse your business using the remarketing ad. 

The Benefits of Remarketing

From the above examples, remarketing can deliver highly-compelling benefits to your business including: 

  1. You can convert more people to buyers because you are advertising to consumers who have a higher probability of booking, because they are interested in your product. They are familiar with you vs. a cold audience who doesn’t know you and may not even be interested in your product at all.
  2. You will achieve a higher return on ad spend (ROAS). Your advertising is more efficient – you are sending ads to people more familiar with your brand thus, your returns will be 3-5X higher than other advertising strategies. You are paying less to acquire more bookings. 
  3. You just built a direct relationship with a customer, allowing you to bypass commission sites to get them to book the first or second time. 
  4. You also benefit from first-hand communication with these customers so you can promote future purchases and ask for referrals for prospective customers (assuming you are not relying on OTA remarketing campaigns to grow your sales). 
  5. You have several sources of customer data (not guessing) to create effective ads. Whether you use website visitors, social media fans, or customer lists, all these valuable data points can build robust remarketing lists to improve your booking conversions. 

Remarketing Ad Types

There are several types of ads you can execute for any remarketing campaign. Here’s a rundown of the options.

Banner Ads

The most common form of remarketing ads comes in several different sizes that run across a vast majority of the internet, and you can run them through several publishers to maximize your reach. A few of these publishers include Google Display Network, AdRoll, and Criteo. 

You can also build animated banner ads to grab attention.

Dynamic Product Ads

This ad type is ideal for companies that have multiple items within a product line. Instead of creating an ad for each variation of tour, you can promote dynamic product ads pulled from a database to automatically populate an ad template with images and details of items you wish to advertise. If you offer several tour or activity options, this might work well for you.

Sponsored Content Ads

Ads paid for by an advertiser but created and shared by another brand, influencer, or publisher are considered sponsored content. These include ads marked with tags such as “Presented By,” “Sponsored By,” “Partnered With,” or “Promoted.” An example would be Aaron Rodgers promoting Bose Headphones. Outbrain is one company that can publish these types of ads.

Social Media Ads

This popular ad type has endless options. These ads run on Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, Pinterest, Twitter, Linkedin, and more. Facebook and Instagram alone have 30-40 different ad units. If you’ve been on any of these platforms, you’ve seen remarketing ads in your newsfeed. Ads can be static images, video, or other ad types. You’ll sometimes see that ads that look like the rest of the posts and fit naturally with the rest of the content rather than interrupting the viewer obtrusively.

Video Ads

You can run video remarketing ads on Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. The video format creates some of the highest-performing ad units. 

YouTube offers pre-roll ads, a video advertisement played immediately before a featured video. A user can skip it after 5 seconds, so you want to have a solid visual message at the beginning to keep them interested.

Search Ads

These types of ads are a more advanced topic, but worth noting here to explain their power. These are ads provided primarily by Google—showing ads at the top or bottom of the results page. 

Let’s go back to the Bradys—our couple planning a visit to Niagara Falls—to demonstrate this.

A few weeks after visiting the Maid of the Mist Tour website, they go back to Google and type in “Niagara Falls” to continue their research. 

Typically these kinds of broad searches are not very specific and too early in the customer journey to convert to a sale for a tour or activity business. However, in this case, Google is going to show the Bradys an ad for the specific tour, which will jog their memory to think, “oh yeah, we looked at that tour, that looked great.” So here, this search ad has done the job to get Maid of the Mist back into the Bradys’ consideration set.

This type of remarketing ad can only be used to advertise to people who have previously visited your website or are prior customers.

More Tips and In-Depth Examples About Remarketing

There is so much more to share about remarketing, and we couldn’t possibly share it all in one post.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series. We will cover how to get your website set up to do remarketing and define your audience to maximize your ad campaigns effectively. 

If you have questions or would like to learn more about remarketing and how it can work for your tour & activity business, contact us. We’d love to help.

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About The Author

Jeremiah Calvino

Jeremiah is the founder of Blend Marketing. He loves helping tour operators grow their business and deliver great experiences.

Email Jeremiah

About The Author

Jeremiah Calvino

Jeremiah is the founder of Blend Marketing. He loves helping tour operators grow their business and deliver great experiences.