While travelers are perfectly comfortable booking their holidays online (including on their mobile devices), that doesn’t mean the Internet is the only way to reach new customers.
Travel planning is a complex and serpentine process, with people gathering inspiration and ideas from multiple sources -- long before they hit that “book now” button. To win more business and improve your sales conversions, look for ways to reach prospective customers higher up in the sales funnel.
The earlier and more frequently a traveler encounters your brand during the dreaming and planning phases of booking, the better your odds of being their choice provider when the time is right.
And since your customers have real lives in the real world, marketing your travel business offline can bolster your overall efforts.
Offline travel marketing idea #1: Events
Having a presence at an event attended by your target audience is a great way to introduce them to your brand.
When I say “event,” I don’t just mean travel expos. Any event that caters to the interests of your target audience could be an opportunity for you. You might consider wellness industry events for your yoga retreat, animal welfare events for your wildlife tour, or surfing events for your beach resort.
And you don’t necessarily have to participate as a vendor with a booth. You might pay for the chance (or occasionally get hired) to speak at a conference. Or you could sponsor an entire event in exchange for having your branding included with all of their promotional materials.
If you’re not sure where to start, try going to a few events as an attendee. Treat it as a networking opportunity by walking the floor, meeting people, and giving out your business card. While you’re there, get a feel for whether it’d be worth increasing your participation in the future.
Offline travel marketing idea #2: Direct mail
Direct mail is a way to get your marketing message literally into people’s hands. Sending a letter or postcard can be an extraordinarily cost-effective way to reach your audience.
One way to use direct mail is to send promotions and reminders to your existing customers. For example, you might send out birthday cards, holiday greetings, or coupon codes.
To reach a larger audience, you’ll need a list broker. That’s a company that has compiled lists of names and addresses either through their own business practices or from third parties (an example is the credit bureau Experian). You can either rent a list (paying the broker to send mail on your behalf) or purchase one (in which case, you get a list of addresses so you can send mail yourself).
When choosing a list, consider the geography, demographics, or interests of the customers you’d like to reach. For example, if you’d like to get more locals to visit your attraction, you might send a mailing to everyone living within a particular postal code.
Offline travel marketing idea #3: Newspapers
While it’s true that newspaper circulation has been on the decline for ages, newspaper advertising isn’t dead...yet.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of print advertising is that readers are more likely to actually see your ad. Internet users are prone to ignore anything on the screen that they think might be an ad (it’s a phenomenon known as “banner blindness”). Newspaper readers, on the other hand, are more likely to take their time and absorb the entire content of the page, including your ad.
Local newspapers are also among the most trusted of publications, with their ads enjoying a higher level of trust by association. Plus, local papers are less expensive than those with large circulations. So if you’re looking to attract travelers from a particular region, placing an ad in the local newspaper may be the way to go.
Offline travel marketing idea #4: Magazines
Compared to newspapers, print magazines have done remarkably well in the Information Age. The key to their success has been catering to highly selective audiences (think Golf Digest, Better Homes & Gardens, or National Geographic). This niching down of the market works in your favor as you can send highly targeted messages.
As with events, you’ll want to choose a magazine that aligns with the interests of your ideal customers. Then, tailor the message in the ad to that interest. For example, using imagery and words related to family travel in a magazine like Parenting.
Since this form of marketing is about building brand awareness, a single ad in a single issue won’t do the trick. Plan to advertise with the magazine consistently over a period of time.
Offline travel marketing idea #5: Radio
Given the popularity of podcasts and digital music downloads, you might be surprised to learn that radio can be a highly effective form of advertising. People tend to keep the radio on in the background while engaging in other tasks (working, driving, or doing housework). And radio listeners are less likely to channel surf during the commercials compared to television viewers.
People are more likely to remember a radio ad compared to a print one, particularly since radio ads tend to be repeated frequently and can make use of sound to help trigger both memory and emotion.
Radio stations know what demographics they reach and you can choose one that matches your target audience. For example, you might choose a pop music station if you’re trying to reach young, energetic travelers to stay at your hostel. Or you might choose a talk show about financial markets if you’re looking to attract more affluent travelers (who are more likely to have capital investments).
Offline travel marketing idea #6: Television
Travel is a business that lends itself well to a visual media like television. Images of stunning vistas and people having a good time are highly compelling.
The advantage of TV advertising is that it puts your brand in front of a lot of people, quickly. That’s because watching TV is still among the most common of all leisure activities. As for whether or not TV advertising is effective, just look at how much some advertisers are willing to pay for it. A 30-second ad airing during the Super Bowl costs upwards of $5 million.
Not all TV ads are that expensive, of course. Prices vary depending on viewership, airtime, geography, seasonality, and even supply and demand (a station may give you a great deal on a spot they have been otherwise unable to fill).
As with the other forms of advertising mentioned here, you’ll want to choose where to advertise based on what your audience is going to pay attention to. For example, you might advertise your hotel’s banquet hall as a wedding venue during a local cable show about relationships.
Offline travel marketing idea #7: Charity sponsorships
If you want your marketing dollars to do good in your community, consider sponsoring a charity. Charitable sponsorships give you publicity, build your brand, and generate goodwill.
Charitable sponsorships don’t always have to come in the form of monetary donations, either. You could offer your services up as a part of a charity auction. You can offer your space as a venue for a charitable event. Or you can offer goods you have on hand (toiletry kits from your hotel, food from your kitchen, or t-shirts from your gift shop) to those in need.
Look for charities that align with your brand values (environmentalism, animal welfare, social justice, etc.) and contact them directly to find out what sponsorship opportunities are available.
Offline travel marketing idea #8: Media relations
While advertising in a publication is the most surefire way to get your name in front of their audience, it doesn’t carry nearly the weight of being mentioned in one of their stories.
Many businesses send out press releases in hopes of getting free publicity. But journalists and editors are bombarded with press releases all day long. If you want to get your business in the news, you need to do something that is newsworthy. Newsworthy stories are timely, interesting, and relevant. Examples might include the opening of a new location, an upcoming event you’re holding, or charitable work that you’re doing.
Another way to get mentioned in the news is to serve as an expert source. Journalists look to industry insiders to comment on and provide context for all kinds of stories. They might ask a hotelier for insight into the new work-from-anywhere trend or a PADI Divemaster to describe what they’ve seen regarding the bleaching of corals. One place where journalists solicit such expert opinions is on the website helpareporter.com.
Offline travel marketing idea #9: Affiliates/partnerships
Word of mouth is the oldest and still the most trusted form of advertising. Developing professional relationships through partnerships or affiliate programs is a way to put your word of mouth advertising on steroids.
Partnerships are relationships you build with complementary businesses. For example, you might befriend the concierge at a local hotel to get them to recommend your tour. These professional relationships tend to be mutually beneficial and can be informal, or formalized with some sort of contract.
Affiliates are people you pay in order to recommend your business. Common affiliates are social media influencers, travel bloggers, and travel agents. You’ll want to formalize your affiliate program with standards for who can join and what commissions you pay. Look for software that can help you track and manage your affiliate program.
Ultimately, the decision of where and how to market your travel business (offline or online) comes down to what your customers pay attention to and how best to reach them. To help you determine that, consider downloading my Customer Profile Worksheet for Travel Brands.