10 Off-Season Marketing Strategies for Tour and Activity Operators

November 20, 2019, Kyla Steeves
Off-season marketing strategy. Red kayak in Antarctic ice field.

Most tour and activity operators have slow months due to the heavy influence of weather on tourist traffic. During this period, you might be tempted to lock up and take a much-needed break, but the off-season is actually the perfect opportunity to pick up momentum.

That’s because you finally have time on your side. You’re no longer busy running around, managing staff, greeting guests, and putting out fires. Instead, you can tackle your back-log of things to do. Or better yet, get a leg up on the competition with an off-season marketing strategy.

So before you turn off the lights and post the Gone Fishing closure sign, take a look at what you can do to make the most of the quiet:

1. Modify your offerings for the season

Other tourism businesses may shut down, but that doesn’t mean you have to as well. Tourists might visit your destination still, considering many bloggers promote off-season travel. So it’s possible to make a year-round profit by filling a market gap. 

For example, I wanted to explore the Bohemian Paradise in the middle of January. Upon arrival, the visitor information center told me the trails were closed, impossible to trek during the winter. Thankfully, I decided to see for myself and discovered the path was clear after all.

It turns out that the locals enjoy cross country skiing. If the town of Turnov had a rental shop for cross country skis or snowshoes, then tourists could experience a winter activity while admiring the sandstone rocks, too — making the region a winter destination as well. 

Seasonal marketing strategy. Two cross country skiers skiing through the mountains.

Learning from the above example, your destination might also have an untapped opportunity in the off-season. You just have to be a little creative, such as offering kayak rentals in the summer and ice skates in the winter. 

2. Take online bookings all year long

Of course, you might get too few visitors to warrant opening in the off-season. And that’s understandable. Why tend to the front desk if no one’s going to walk through your door? However, you can continue to take bookings for a head start on next season.

With an online booking system, website visitors can check your availability and reserve their spot without your help. Think of it as passive booking. You’re not actively involved in the process, but you’re still driving sales. 

You only have to set up exclusive availability dates and automated booking notifications, then let your booking software handle the rest. In doing so, you’ll never miss an opportunity for a new booking while maintaining your online presence. It’s a win-win!

P.S. Checkfront Flex makes it easy to take bookings in the off-season because it doesn’t cost you a thing! Apply for Flex today.

And if you want to go the extra mile, you can always run an early bird campaign. But rather than offer insane discounts, try adding value to the experience. An exclusive tour or activity with special extras will be more than enough to reward those who book ahead of time.

3. Host a special community event

There’s another way to entertain guests in the off-season besides running your tours and activities. Hosting an event at your location — holiday-themed, charity-focused, or niche-related — can do wonders for your business. 

Overcoming seasonality in tourism by hosting a holiday-themed event, like this Christmas market.

Whether it’s a large scale event or small gathering, you can increase brand exposure and loyalty, outside of and including the community. How so?

  1. A successful promotion captures the attention of your audience, competitors, locals, other businesses, and potential investors
  2. Having face time with attendees leads to new connections and long-lasting relationships while humanizing your brand
  3. It provides insight into your brand mission and values — from the event experience to your team’s involvement
  4. Those who purchase a ticket already show a level of commitment and loyalty you can nurture at the event to drive more repeat bookings
  5. You can give back to the community with a giveaway, donation, or just by showing everyone a good time

Although hosting an event can be a massive undertaking, doing something special for your guests and community in the slow season will pay off. Good karma goes a long way.

4. Promote your gift certificates

Along with taking online bookings, you can try selling gift cards on your website. In fact, running a gift certificate campaign is a great seasonal marketing strategy. That’s because you can tailor your digital gift cards to whatever holiday lands in your off-season.

For example, many tour and activity operators in the northern hemisphere close down around December. But that’s a prime time to promote gift certificates. Holiday shoppers are on the hunt, and right now, experiential gift cards are trending. 

Every annual holiday — even random ones like National Cat Day — presents an opportunity to sell gift cards online. No matter the season, this marketing strategy gives you a chance to make money all year long, especially since most gift cards go unused. 

5. Give your website an overhaul

If your site has been looking out of date for a while, the off-season is the perfect time to do something about it. A typical website takes approximately fourteen weeks to complete — which includes searching for a qualified designer and making modifications before launch.

Unless you go with Site Builder, which is ready-made for tour and activity bookings, start your free trial today.

You may consider putting this task off for another year, but I highly encourage you to think twice. Investing in a beautifully designed and optimized website will benefit your business in many ways — such as:

  1. Helping you rank in Google with higher security, faster page speed, mobile-friendliness, technical SEO, and more
  2. Giving your visitors a better user experience that leads them successfully down the booking funnel
  3. Polishing your online store with a professional look that builds trust from the get-go

While you’re at it, don’t forget to update your website content. Take the extra time you have to research trending keywords and work them into more engaging and compelling copy.

6. Continue to create exciting content

Just because your business shuts down temporarily, it doesn’t mean you should go dark. If you want to stay top of mind throughout the off-season, it’s best to keep the lines of communication open. You can do that by maintaining an active presence on social media and the blog.

Of course, this will require some work on your end; however, the benefits far outweigh the marketing efforts. For instance, sharing past photos and videos will give your guests a cheerful throwback, and responding to comments will boost engagement and encourage more follows.

Two travelers peering over edge of cliff to ocean below for exciting social media content for the off-season.

As for the blog, Google rewards fresh and consistent content. In other words, regularly publishing articles, even in the off-season, tells the algorithm that your blog is still relevant to your audience. And if you don’t have a blog yet, the off-season is a good time to start one.

That said, you can always use customer relationship management (CRM) software to automate some of the work involved in creating, delivering, and marketing your content — which brings us to the next point.

7. Adopt necessary business software

If you’re drowning in work throughout the year, especially around peak season, then it might be time to look for a helping hand. I’m not talking about hiring an assistant or extra team members but instead adopting software tools that will make your life so much easier. 

For instance, Airtable is project management software that breaks up big projects into smaller tasks to keep your team on track. Or there’s email marketing software, like Drip, that nurtures leads with pre-made email campaigns. And of course, Checkfront helps you take and manage your bookings while integrating with your other software tools.

P.S. Checkfront now works with Zapier, so that you can automate many of your routine booking tasks. Create a workflow today. 

But searching for new business software often takes time, not to mention the hours required for set-up and adoption. However, if you do this in the off-season, you won’t need to rush through the process. Plus, you’ll be well-prepared to train your team on the software when opening day rolls around.

8. Plan your business strategy for next year

If your off-season happens to be at the end of the year, then naturally, it’s a good time to start planning for next. While you reflect on what went well, and unfortunately, what did not, you can also come up with some realistic and achievable goals.

Two hot cocoa mugs on lodge balcony in winter mountain village for seasonality in tourism.

Not familiar with year-end strategic planning? Here are the questions you should go over:

  1. Where are you now? Before diving headfirst into the future, revisit your mission statement and core values to make sure nothing has changed. Also, evaluate your SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) to get a sense of your strategic position, which will help with the next steps.
  2. Where are you going? Use this opportunity to dream — think big and long-term. Ask yourself: what’s your competitive advantage? What makes you better than the tour operator down the road? And, what’s your vision statement? These answers will give you a jumping-off point for where you want to be in 5-10 years. 
  3. How will you get there? Once you know where you’re heading, you can start to carve out a plan of attack. Figure out your strategic objectives, short-term goals and priorities, action items, key performance indicators (KPIs), and execution tactics.

9. Get the ball rolling on new partnerships

You’re not the only one with an off-season; other local businesses might be winding down, too. And since they probably won’t be overly busy to miss your email or forget to call you back; there’s no better time to reach out for a potential partnership.  

Similar to any relationship, the best business partnerships take time — which you’ll have plenty of during the break. So if you get a few bites from your outreach, use the time wisely to assess whether the partnership will benefit both parties for the long-haul.

Keep in mind; it might also be an excellent time to message a travel influencer — if you’ve been thinking about working with one. While they’re planning next year’s trips, you can entice them with a sponsorship to visit your destination and add your tours or activities to their bucket list. 

Have you worked with a travel influencer before? Download 3 email templates and increase your chances of winning them over.

10. Kick up your feet and relax

What’s the best part of the off-season? The self-care time, of course! Sure, it’s important to pursue one or all of the above off-season marketing strategies, but everyone needs a vacation at some point.

Instead of working non-stop, initiating the best holiday marketing campaigns, you should also spend time with family and friends, travel somewhere new, visit the spa and mineral baths, discover a new hobby, and even, go fishing. That way, you’ll feel refreshed and ready to take on the busy season.

Want more marketing tips outside of the off-season?

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Related Articles: What Exactly is Omnichannel Marketing for Tours and Activities? | Is Your Booking Software Company Really There For You? | Why Google is the Best Review Platform for Tour Operators | How to Team Up With Local Tour Operators and Thrive | Are Your Guests Craving Hyper-Personalization? | Why Digital Waivers Are a Must-Have For Your Business |

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