Stepping out to look at bighorns with SunDog Tours near Jasper Alberta Canada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Stepping out to look at bighorns with SunDog Tours near Jasper, Alberta, Canada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

(Update March 2015 – we expanded on this topic in our latest Tourism Currents newsletter and blog post, Social Media Marketing for Group Tour Operators.)

Some of the best advice we’ve gotten from the SOBCon business conference was to think about the response email that is automatically sent when someone signs up for our Tourism Currents newsletter.

Rather than the default “Thanks, you’re all set,” we were encouraged to think about crafting a more personal message, so we edited ours on MailChimp and added an invitation for new subscribers to tell us a bit about themselves.

What’s cool is that sometimes, they DO hit Reply and talk to us, and we learn what’s on our prospective customer’s mind.

We’re starting to pick up more subscribers who are group tour operators, so I thought I’d share what we sent back recently to a new tour operator based in the eastern U.S. who is just starting to think about a marketing strategy that includes social media.

Here is our advice about getting started….

“Think through your market(s) and where they are online; that’s where you will need to be.

Take a look at how other tour operators are marketing on Facebook, to start. For ideas see these:

**  USTOA (U.S. Tour Operators Association) Facebook Page (lots of photos)

**  Go Collette (they are very responsive to comments)

**  G Adventures (which tends to draw a young, adventurous crowd)

Keep in mind that Facebook has made it much harder for brand Pages to get organic (unpaid) visibility, so once you are up and running on the platform, you’ll need to budget a little money for some carefully targeted sponsored posts and to attract new followers. Start with making sure that your personal Facebook network, partner businesses, and previous customers know about your Page – their Likes don’t cost you anything.

You can also consider selling tour tickets directly from a tab on your Facebook Page; check with your current ticketing provider to see if they already have a setup, or look into one like Eventbrite.

For your own professional development and networking, you may also want to find helpful social outlets like a tour operator Group on LinkedIn; this NTA (National Tour Association) LinkedIn Group seems pretty active.

Part of your marketing process – the fun part, we think! – will be to share the comments and photos from the people who take your tours. Make it easy for tour guests to post before, during, and after your tour and make sure (with mentions by tour guides plus signage) that they know how to tag your company when they upload.

WiFi on your coaches may become a necessity for this to work unless your destinations/routes have decent smartphone data rates, or several stops have WiFi. This is especially important for international guests; they want to avoid roaming charges in the U.S. so they often will not post on social media unless they can use WiFi.

Obviously, connect with the CVBs, DMOs, Chambers of Commerce, and other tourism organizations in your target markets; many are quite social-savvy and can help you (I included links to Discover Lehigh Valley and Visit Bucks County as examples within her region.)

What other ideas would you have for a tour operator who wants to increase sales with social media marketing? Please share your thoughts down in the Comments.

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