When finances are tight, marketing is often first to fall to the wayside. Even as a small tour and activity operator, you might not give marketing the same priority as other areas of your business, simply because of the cost. After all, why spend more if you aren’t earning more? Or, what’s the point of keeping up with tourism marketing trends if you can’t afford to make a big impact like Contiki, Trafalgar and other global names?
Let me tell you right away; this mindset is flawed. No matter what your budget is, marketing is going to benefit your business today, tomorrow and in the long run. That’s because every time you put your brand out there, you make progress toward building a relationship with your audience across a series of touch points, putting you one step closer to a full omnichannel experience. So when they are ready to book, you’ll be top of mind over your competitors.
Speaking of which, you can also get a leg up on the competition by marketing through thick and thin. Just think, your competitors are usually in the same position as you, if not a little further ahead or behind. Whether it’s the off season or there’s an economic downturn, they are probably cutting back on promotional efforts as well. Meaning there’s less saturation in the space — making it easier to stand out.
That said, marketing doesn’t always have to break the bank. There are plenty of inexpensive marketing strategies that can generate a desired amount of buzz and leads. It all comes down to being creative and resourceful, which is the heart of small business marketing anyway, not how much money you can spare.
Here are some budget-friendly marketing ideas to get you started:
Inexpensive marketing strategies that work
1. Share expenses with your neighbours
Splitting the bill isn’t just for Friday dinners with friends. Rally up your fellow tour and activity operators and go in together on marketing campaigns. As a team, you can promote things to do in the area via posters, flyers, brochures, or even through a shared website and social media profiles — the start of a local business collective.
One idea that might work well is distributing tear-off flyers at popular intersections around town and other public spaces like coffee shops, office buildings, and residential complexes. While this may seem like old-school advertising, considering people have smartphones now to look up phone numbers, you can still revisit the idea by adding an amusing twist.
For example, you can pique the interest of passersby using the title, “What will your next adventure be?” and put all of the different experiences with their matching contact information on the back of separate tabs. Think of it like a fortune cookie. They won’t know what the experience is until they tear one off, making it seem like destiny to book.
Simply design a flyer on Canva — a free online graphic design platform — using one of its many templates. And then share the cost of printing with your partners.
2. Host a social media contest
People love giveaways — especially when the prize is a high-value experience they wouldn’t normally book unless for a vacation or a special occasion. That’s why social media contests are a guaranteed way to stir up buzz and excitement around your tour business. The only cost you incur is the loss of one or two paid-for seats, which is made up ten-fold in brand awareness and engagement.
If you haven’t hosted a social media contest before, there’s some good news. Facebook has loosened its restrictions on Facebook-hosted contests, meaning there are fewer hoops to jump through. So, you can go ahead and share a contest on your Facebook Business Page with the following contest rules:
- Acknowledge that Facebook has nothing to do with the contest
- Highlight what’s exciting about the experience
- Clarify the number of tickets to be won. Hint: two or more is always best; most people will hesitate to follow through with a solo experience
- Ask participants to like, comment, or like a comment for a chance to win
Now, you aren’t technically allowed to ask them to share the giveaway on their personal timelines or even tag a friend. But there is a loophole because if the contest is compelling enough, many participants will do that regardless.
Also, feel free to change up your social media contests. You can create urgency with a countdown, offer a new giveaway daily for a few of your offerings to encourage followers to check in several times over a week, or specifically target your guests by asking them to share photos of their experience with you.
3. Master the art of email marketing
You’ve probably heard that email marketing is dead, dying or outdated. Well, there’s no need to hold a funeral yet, because email marketing statistics say otherwise. Plus, there’s one thing marketers are failing to mention — it’s a low-cost marketing strategy and can even be free!
Already, you might collect email addresses from your guests at the time of booking. Well, you can put those emails to good use beyond just sending booking reminders and thank-you emails.
With Checkfront’s email opt-in booking form field, you can quickly build an email list by encouraging bookers to check the box to receive your newsletter and special offers directly in their inbox — just so long as you use the Constant Contact or MailChimp add-on.
Note: MailChimp comes with a free plan that has enough basic features to create beautiful, branded emails.
Here are a few email content ideas to try:
- A monthly newsletter with your favourite moments, featured tour guides and staff, as well as an update on what’s new or bigger projects underway
- A weekly list of upcoming events, and other fun things to do around town, which is best if you target mostly a local audience
- A simple ask — anything like referrals, reviews, or photos for user-generated content. You can always incentivize with a small discount or gift card (for previous guests)
- Promotions and special offers. Just remember, too much advertising can come across as spammy, so do it sparingly
4. Publish a blog, vlog, and downloadable guides
Hands down, it’s a good idea to start a blog if you already have a website. Sure, blogging is time-consuming, but it can do wonders for increasing your organic search traffic over time. You see, every post has a chance at ranking for new and relevant queries on Google, while also contributing to the overall keyword theme of your website. So, the more pages you publish, the higher your traffic potential.
Now, don’t get intimidated by the thousands of travel blogs already flourishing. There’s always room for fresh content on the web; you just have to think a little out of the box with your topics. As a tour and activity operator, your best bet is to:
- Educate with advice related to your niche and location. You’re an expert in your field. Give readers the inside scoop on your destination, share tips on how to get better at particular activities, inform them about the causes your company supports and answer the most common questions you get asked by your guests
- Engage with a behind the scenes look. Let your audience get to know you and your staff better. Trust me; people do want to read this. I once followed a hostel owner on Instagram simply because I wanted to learn more about his fascinating life of pursuing a unique passion in Nicaragua
- Entertain with stories from past tours. You probably have a library full of funny, shocking, and heart-warming stories, considering you deliver unforgettable moments on the daily. Share these on the blog, and guests who were part of the experience will likely share on social media, too (use discernment and ask for permission if necessary)
What about the vlog and downloadable guides?
If you already have a YouTube channel, consider embedding those videos at the top of your related blog posts. Videos make articles more enticing while giving visitors a reason to click and interact beyond reading. If not, you can always start vlogging to pair your new videos with your new posts. And there’s no need to go all out on pricey video equipment — a smartphone and free editing software will do the job.
As for the e-guides, you can create anything from self-guided tours to staycation itineraries. The idea is to solidify yourself as the local expert, tease readers with a sneak peek at your offerings, and provide bonus content they can receive by exchanging their email address — which helps to build your email list.
Again, you can use Canva to design a branded guide book, convert the PDF into a URL, and add a call-to-action button at the bottom of your blog posts. Check out these steps on how to create downloadable content, but first, here are a few ideas:
- An ultimate guide to Sunday Funday with the hottest spots around town
- The largest, craziest scavenger hunt in [your location] for family reunions
- A checklist for all the must-do hiking trails in the area
- Day trip ideas for the most unforgettable birthday party
Tie everything together, and you have a killer blog strategy. Seems like a lot of content to deliver? Enlist the help of your creative guides and staff; these are skills that will come in handy as they grow in their careers.
5. Play around with guerrilla marketing
Guerrilla marketing is the original budget-friendly marketing strategy for small businesses. Unlike traditional advertising, it’s out of the box, unexpected, and eye-catching. But most importantly, it drives foot traffic because it successfully captures attention from people walking by.
You’ve probably come across guerrilla marketing campaigns many times already — from clever street art to Instagrammable pop up scenes. Of course, this type of guerrilla marketing does cost money and poses a risk factor without proper permits, but you can take on a similar approach with smaller, yet effective tactics outside of your ticket office.
For instance, sidewalk chalk and sandwich board signs do the trick just fine. People naturally look down and around as they walk, so seeing your artwork or witty signage might stop them in their tracks. Plus, you can really get creative here.
Here are just a couple of ideas:
- Start your sidewalk chalk around the block and imitate one of your tours. Use arrows or footsteps to lead passersby to different drawings of places on the route until they reach your entrance. End it off with an X marks the spot and call to action like “Book the real tour here”
- Play on the fear of missing out by mentioning rare sightings from the most recent tour. This tactic works exceptionally well for getting last-minute bookings because people tend to think that might be their only chance to see the same things. “Spotted! 15 manta rays on this morning’s dive. How many will you count this afternoon?” Sign me up!
There are many other cheap marketing strategies you can try. From social media tours to optimizing your free Google My Business listing, the options are endless when you channel your creativity. See what works best for your tour business and budget — just never stop marketing.