How Tour & Activity Companies Can Use SMS Marketing

by Mia Steinberg

sms-marketing-for-tour-companies

Marketing is all about communication—you have a message, and you want people to receive it. In the tourism industry, tour operators and activity providers alike are trying to find better ways to reach their customers, and drive repeat bookings through familiarity and loyalty.

The first and most important thing to know about SMS marketing is that it is opt-in; your customers must provide their phone number and consent to receiving your messages. This is actually something of a blessing in disguise, because your messages will be sent to a group that is actively interested in your tourism business and more likely to engage with your marketing efforts.

How SMS Marketing Works for Tourism and Activity Companies

An SMS marketing campaign basically consists of two things: a keyword, and a short code. The keyword is fairly straightforward: it’s a single word that is related to either your business or to the messaging service itself (more on that in a moment). The short code is a 5- or 6-digit number which can send and receive SMS texts at high volumes. Rather than painstakingly sending your text to each person on your list, a short code will fire them off in batches of several dozen at a time. A participant will text the keyword to the short code in order to trigger an action; once they’re part of the subscription list, they will receive messages from that short code. Companies can rent a short code for a few months at a time; depending on your provider, you can get a random code (“450450”, for instance) or a vanity code (“52925”, which spells “KAYAK” on an alpha-numeric keypad). Providers may also have a single short code that all its clients share, and instead rent out the specific keywords that people will text to that code—Company A might choose the keyword “YOGAMAT” while Company B would choose “BOUNCE”, but customers of both would text those keywords to the shared code 323232. Shared short codes tend to be a cheaper option.

Along with the campaign-specific keywords, SMS marketing also requires that you use a few other keywords and messages in order to comply with wireless carrier standards—especially HELP and STOP messages. A customer must be able to text HELP or INFO to the short code in order to receive a description of the campaign and instructions on how to cancel. They can also text the universal keywords STOP, END, CANCEL, UNSUBSCRIBE, or QUIT in order to stop receiving messages. Many countries require that you send an opt-in message when a customer signs up, which includes the STOP and HELP instructions as well as the message frequency and a warning that message and data rates may apply.

Let’s follow a sample SMS campaign from a tourism company that rents surf boards and other equipment. They have signs at their shop and on their website that say “Text SURFER to 565656 to receive updates and discounts!” When the customer follows the instructions, they’re signed up for the SMS list and immediately receive the message: “Welcome to Beach Boys Surfing alerts! Msg&data rates may apply. 1 message per week. Reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel.” The customer receives weekly wave updates informing them of the surfing conditions, as well as exclusive coupons when the company has a promotion. The company may also hold a poll and ask their customers to reply back with certain keywords to cast their vote.

Benefits of SMS Marketing in Tourism

There are a lot of reasons why SMS marketing is a great idea for tourism and activity businesses:

High Open Rates. A solid email marketing campaign can expect an open rate of 18-25%; by contrast, a staggering 95% of text messages are opened and seen by the recipient! If you want to get your message out in front of people, texting is a great way to ensure that it’s seen.

Instantaneous. You don’t have to design a complex campaign or spend time printing out flyers; a text message takes almost no time at all to compose and is just as quickly received.

Eco-friendly. Believe it or not, text messaging is one of the least carbon-dependent communication methods—far better than email and light-years ahead of physical mail. So if you’re looking to make your company greener, SMS messaging is one way to do it.

Simple and Direct. People are seriously attached to their smartphones; they’ve permeated every aspect of our lives. A text message is very simple, and gets your message into their hands with no frills necessary. While emails might sit in inboxes unread, very few of us ever ignore text messages. Furthermore, text messages are only about 160 characters; your offers will be short and to the point, immediately showing value to the customer.

Personal. Our email inboxes get flooded with offers, newsletters, and spam; your campaign can be very easily lost in the crowd even if it does make it past the junk mail filters. In contrast, a text message is only sent to people who are actively interested in receiving it, and it’s relatively easy to personalize each message to make the customer feel important.

How to Be Successful in SMS Marketing

sms marketing tourism companies

As with all marketing campaigns, you must learn to walk the line between selling yourself and annoying your customer. Unlike email, you don’t have a lot of room in a text message to get fancy; you need to communicate all the important information very efficiently. There’s a certain etiquette in SMS marketing, which will ensure that your subscribers will remain interested, engaged, and happy.

Tip 1: Don’t Buy Telephone Numbers

You can buy tweets, Facebook likes, and email addresses; it stands to reason that you can also buy telephone numbers—but just like tweets, likes, and emails, it’s a universally bad idea. You may feel the urge to kick-start your list with a big batch of numbers, but that little boost to your ego will get you almost none of the engagement you actually want. Grow your contacts organically, by interacting with actual customers who are truly interested in what you have to offer.

Tip 2: Don’t Be Mysterious

You don’t have a lot of room in a text message, but you should always remember to include your business name or URL in each text you send. A customer may forget that they’ve signed up with you, and if you send a 10% off coupon they won’t know where to use it!

Tip 3: Have a Call to Action…most of the time

Almost every text you send should have a purpose—whether it’s a status update, a booking reminder, or a special offer. Be sure to include a clear call to action for your customers—a discount code they can use, a URL for them to visit, or a reply keyword. But don’t sell with every text; it can get aggravating. Keep the personal touch alive by sending greetings for the holidays, or wish your customer a happy birthday if you have that information—if you’d normally send them a card through the mail, you can text them for a fraction of the cost.

Tip 4: Offer Tangible Value

You don’t use your email list to send out cat memes, and you shouldn’t use your text list to pester your customers with jokes—unless you’re specifically offering that feature. Every text you send should have some value to it—an offer, a reminder, an announcement of a sale, or a piece of information that is relevant to your business.

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