The trend will continue. It's estimated this industry spend will have fully rebounded from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic by 2023.
Many companies in the industry see the value in building the capability in-house to elevate their brand and acquire customers through direct digital marketing, alongside their traditional distribution channels like Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) or reseller networks.
The ability to target guests where they live, or where they’re visiting, with highly relevant offers built to increase conversion and build brand loyalty is valuable – and worth paying for.
The question is, why does this strategy have to end after the purchase? What other business goals can it help? Are operators using digital tools to add value at every touch point along the customer journey?
A new era of operators is breaking the walls down between digital and on-site strategies and services to build holistic relationships with their audience.
We like to call this The Infinite Guest Experience, where operators build a lifelong relationship with their customers offering them varied content, experiences, and products – and improving their offers based on the data they acquire. This allows them to transform transactional customers into members, brand ambassadors, and donor supporters.
“We want to become part of the decision-making tree for families to come to Maui. If we do things right, they will visit our brand several times before they physically come here. They sign up for newsletters, read blogs and follow us on social media. Then when they are here, since we know people spend an average time here of 7.82 days, I want them to visit the first or second day, and it will set the tone for their entire visit. We have a high rate of return visitors.” – Tapani Vuori, GM of Maui Ocean Center
The strategies to accomplish this are largely unchanged over the years, but the mediums have changed dramatically.
Cloud-connected software can deploy content, promotions, offers, and feedback opportunities that are hyper-targeted in audience and timing. Best of all, cloud-connected software is device agnostic.
In the era of smartphones, mobile communication presents massive opportunities for engagement and conversion.
This article will examine the innovative ways that operators can engage their audience before, during, and after their experience, and across multiple product lines, to drive incremental and net new revenue for their business.
There are more ways than ever to introduce your brand, send out offers, and use the data and feedback to refine campaigns. Digital marketing is the first touchpoint in your customer experience and should be measured with specific goals.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your online creative content grab customers’ attention?
- Is your online ticketing engine smooth and simple?
- Is your content shown on your guests’ preferred platform? In their preferred format?
- Are you taking the opportunity to communicate with them before and after they purchase a ticket?
All these factors combine to create the first impression of your business, which will last right through to after their visit, when they are likely to leave a review or refer you to their friends.
Here are some thoughts to consider as you look to enhance your guest experience through digital marketing.
Own your distribution, own your brand
Much like Apple building their own network of retail outlets, or Louis Vuitton insisting their stores stand alone in only certain neighborhoods, controlling your digital advertising gives you complete control of the path your customer takes to ultimately purchase a ticket.
Modern tours and attractions are growth-oriented and social media-savvy. More than ever before, these businesses are arming themselves with a team of elite performance marketers to build demand for themselves, and not rely as heavily on third-party distributors and marketplaces that own the customer relationship.
Benefits of a designated in-house or agency performance marketing team:
- No OTA commissions
- Control of your brand and checkout flow
- Own the customer data (name, email, opt-in, SMS)
- Own the retargeting ads (Meta pixel or Google Display)
- Detailed conversion tracking (Google eCommerce Conversions, etc.)
- Other tools (Abandoned cart, website heat mapping)
New to RocketRez are our first-party data enrichment rules. Privacy rules and red tape for iOS and Android continue to worry performance marketers.
With the RocketRez data enrichment tool, our customers see 90% match rates and increase online conversions by 20%. While OTAs and reseller networks can be great distribution partners, there are situations where they simply do not put your best foot forward.
It’s difficult to justify a commission when you’re in peak season and demand is at its highest. It can also be counterproductive to have an offer listed on a reseller site known for discounts as you are looking to increase your profit margins.
Going back to our metaphor, in both the above cases, think of Louis Vuitton being offered off the shelf at Walmart. With OTAs, you’re being buried among the masses. Your goal is to stand out, which is only possible by taking your destiny into your own hands and driving direct sales.
Content, measurement, optimization
What are the components of this “first leg” of your customer journey? This is a mix that you will put together based on where your customers live online, and the message you want to get across, which will dictate the content you serve.
Example Message Types
- Fun and visual
- Expert instructional
- Persuasive and viral
- Paid ads
- Email lists
- Social channels
- Short video
- Photo-story telling
- Customer video testimonials
- Written ‘How-To’ guides
- Reviews and social proof
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it never hurts to reassess if the path your customers are taking to find you include a logical mismatch across any of these components.
Many tourism companies are very visual, which lends naturally to social media. But for an audience that likes to “geek out” on their product or service, they may be missing opportunities in blogging and email.
Experimentation can go a long way in determining the correct marketing mix.
Marketing costs money, but what’s the ROI?
There is a cost to acquire any customer for your business, be it online or otherwise. However, this mentality sometimes holds operators back when they see a large price tag associated with their online ads. The key mantra to remember is – what is the ROI?
- What is the ad cost relative to the purchase?
- What is the ad cost relative to an OTA commission?
- What is the average order value (including upselling) of my online channels?
- What is it worth to me to have cash in the bank and customer information days (or weeks) before the event?
Follow the ROI to your highest-performing channels and product using Google e-commerce conversion tracking. Naturally, these are the purchases that give your customer the most value.
Check in on your checkout
Modern software gives you the unprecedented ability to customize your checkout to your brand and add upselling and cross-selling options to increase your average order value. But before you optimize for additional revenue, start by optimizing to reduce drop-offs.
A modern checkout with cart abandonment features, re-engagement options and a smooth and user-friendly interface can restore one in six purchases which would typically drop off due to a bad user experience in checkout.
Is this worth it?
Marketers, ask yourselves what the impact of the following factors would be for your business:
- A 20% increase in online conversions?
- An 11% increase in average order value?
- Tripling your lifetime customer value through repeat visits and membership sales?
- Saving 20% OTA commissions on a portion of your revenue?
These are some common outcomes that businesses experience when they focus on adding value at each point of their customer journey – beginning when customers are searching for things to do.
Once you’ve effectively got your customers in the door, the true omnichannel experience begins when you begin to blend digital services with your physical operation. This is where truly creative operators will set themselves apart.
It's a capability worth becoming great at because secondary spending on-site at an attraction will account for a large part of your revenue. Your customers have pre-booked and paid for their tickets. In their mind, the day of the event is a whole new set of transactions, and they are open to paying for the best possible experience.
Here are a few ways to improve the guest experience while your customers are on site.
The Omnipresent Mobile Device
There are a variety of opinions when it comes to guest experiences on the day of the event.
Some operators believe that times have not changed, and the best way to operate is to direct your customers to a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Others are looking into the future, believing that RFID wristbands and biometrics will provide a stunning guest experience, after a large initial investment. To be sure, many of these opinions are biased by the operator's preference, and the specific vertical they operate in (RFID is a must at water parks, for instance).
While it largely depends on the type of attraction (water parks are very different from museums) offering a user-friendly interface delivered through the visitor's mobile device that enables visitors and operators to interact in real-time is gaining traction among mid-market operators looking to provide a Disney-like experience.
This strikes a balance where customers get all the benefits of technological advancements, without having to wrap their heads around new or unfamiliar technology. You may see resistance to putting your payment info on a bracelet or authorizing a scan of your face to trigger a transaction, but we’re willing to bet that you won’t see any resistance to functions performed on an iPhone.
Particularly when delivery of tickets, payment links, booking tools, and special offers are delivered via SMS.
Consider the following statistics:
- SMS open rates beat email by nearly 5x.
- Response rates to SMS marketing are 7.5x higher than email.
- 64% of consumers think companies who text value their time are progressive and would recommend them to others.
The medium of mobile is highly effective in communicating with customers who are on the go. This is often the case with any live event, and certainly pertains to the tours and attractions space.
A mobile experience that augments the physical one improves the guest experience in several ways:
Operational tools to save time
All the benefits that customers receive from your online ticket sales engine versus your ticket booth, including the ability to research, reserve ahead, purchase simply, and store digital copies of all materials are also available on-site through their mobile device – the setting has just changed, and the value will be realized almost immediately.
Customers love to feel in control of their day, particularly when they oversee moving around your site with their family. Tools like a virtual queue, mobile food and beverage ordering, and a GPS map all complimented by push notifications and a chat operator on standby make guests feel that they have everything they need to plan a seamless and efficient day across the park.
Some functions guests can execute with a mobile app:
- Buy tickets, food, and retail items
- Buy and store tickets to access easily
- Access photos, fill out forms, and fill out surveys
- Study your Site Maps and stay updated on wait times
- Communicate with a chatbot for quick help requests
- Use one QR code for admission and payment on-site
Operational tools save operators time and money on customer service tasks while providing a great guest experience.
Upselling & Cross-Selling tools to drive revenue
Upselling and cross-selling strategies are only as good as their relevance to the customer. For this reason, sending a customer a targeted push notification with a special offer is more effective when it is done on the day of the event, to their mobile device.
Well-designed apps can transform guest mobile devices into digital wallets for the purchase of food & beverage, retail items, and additional ticket packages.
Data to make decisions & improve the customer journey
Best-in-class operators like Disney and Universal have been offering customers their proprietary phone apps for years.
Beyond being a fun tool for guests, it is a data and analytics engine which provides operators with consumer behavior insights including which guests are likely to spend more, which are the most satisfied, and where opportunities lie to provide a more personalized experience.
If your data shows that customers that come in before 11 spend twice as much at your quick-service food counter, or that families of four are three times more likely to purchase an item from the gift shop, you can confidently make some decisions about how to structure your operation to maximize sales and profit.
One of the biggest advantages that technology affords operators is the ability to communicate with guests after their visit to keep them coming back and get their referrals in the hands of their friends. In 2022 and beyond, the guest experience doesn’t end when the customer leaves. In a sense, it never ends.
Here are a few of the key methods:
It’s no secret that people love to share what they’re doing with their friends and network. In effect, smartphones and social media have turned anyone who is interested into a content creator.
Your potential customers are relying less on publications to let them know what to do in town, they are looking around at what their friends are doing. Reviews, likes, pictures and tags on social media, these fall under the umbrella of user-generated content, and it is one of the most trusted forms of recommendation a business can get because it is authentic.
Consumers today have a high bar for authenticity — which is reflected in the following statistics:
- Consumers are 2.4 times more likely to view user-generated content as authentic compared to content created by brands.
- A full 92 percent of consumers trust recommendations from people they know, and 70 percent trust online consumer opinions.
- Nearly 80 percent of people say UGC has a high impact on their purchasing decisions.
Operators must look at what opportunities they are putting forward to let their customers be their content creators.
- Do you have a photo booth, or a photographer on-site?
- Are the photos customizable? Is there an appealing background?
- Are they high-resolution quality, and worthy of a share on Facebook or Instagram?
- Do you have engagement campaigns like hashtags, mentions, likes and shares in exchange for a promotional offer?
There are many ways to enhance the guest experience by making it more interactive through user-generated content. People love to be the star of the show.
The power of reviews
One very powerful form of user-generated content for tours and attractions is customer reviews. Positive reviews aid in discoverability, conversions, and help to justify pricing decisions.
RocketRez has partnered with TourOppGo! to allow operators on our platform to build automated sequences to request reviews from their guests, via SMS, at the exact time they are getting home – while the magic is still in their heads. The result is staggering. TourOppGo! customers average 24 more reviews per month versus their existing solution, totaling 288 additional reviews per year.
This level of activity on your Google reviews will instantly shoot your search engine ranking up to make you more discoverable to potential customers in your area. Then, when customers are searching for you online, there is nothing more reassuring than reading tons of happy reviews from recent customers.
Turning visitors into members, and then, into donors
Many tours and attractions that RocketRez serves — including museums, galleries, zoos and aquariums — are funded significantly by donor contributions. On these balance sheets, contributed revenue is just as important as earned revenue.
For these operators, adding value beyond a transactional relationship with customers can yield tremendous results. On average, converting a visitor to a member increases their lifetime value 4.5 times more as a customer, and membership revenue is smooth, recurring, and often paid upfront.
Software tools can help you track, measure, manage, and communicate with repeat customers to show the value of memberships – and drive fundraising campaigns through donations from your most enthusiastic members.
The Customer Flywheel
All marketing, in any business, has the same goal. Create a money machine. For every dollar invested, you get three dollars out (or four, or more).
In the context of tours and attractions, RocketRez thinks of this effect like a flywheel, where data is the foundation that leads to great experiences, more great reviews, and more revenue with less money spent on campaigns or promotions. The world of customer data is changing rapidly, and technology is available to the more sophisticated mid-market, at affordable prices.
We recommend auditing your current process to see if you’re taking advantage of digital tools to increase your customer experience, before, during and after an event.