The Year in Review from Xola University
This is the Editor’s cut of all the best content on Xola University: the business, marketing, and technology blog for tour and activity companies.
While we explored many topics in 2015, a few themes really stand out: marketing strategies, data analysis, mobile bookings, and business tools for tour and activity companies.
Here’s what you missed:
Editor’s cut: Our #1 goal at Xola U. is to teach tour and activity professionals how to approach marketing from a strategic vantage point. Too often we settle for trial-and-error marketing that lacks goals or direction. We let the latest marketing craze dictate our time and budget without asking basic questions first (e.g. “Why am I running this marketing campaign and what are my goals?”). These three articles will take you back to school when it comes to designing your website, encouraging customer reviews, and crafting a unique value proposition in a tactical way that’s sure to trump your competitors.
It’s impossible to understate the value of your website. Almost all of your digital marketing efforts will eventually funnel people to your site and it’s your job to make sure they don’t leave without becoming a customer.
How? Stellar websites stand apart from the pack because visitors enjoy spending time on them. They’re beautiful, relevant and informative, and easy to navigate.
That’s easier said than done, of course, so we asked the the leading website designer for tour and activity companies to help us with this post. It’s a 2-for-1 special with TourismTiger and Xola University!
This Editor’s pick takes a close look at the ingenious marketing strategy of Escape Room Niagara Falls, a live-action puzzle activity in Ontario.
After a year in the neighborhood, ERNF was a fan-favorite for visitors and locals alike. How? Instead of funding flashy and expensive marketing campaigns, owner Sarah Fenn Thomas discovered a free and strategic way to spread the word about her hot new escape room: customer reviews. Thomas implemented a company-wide system to encourage reviews and in just 12 months, she made it to the top of the charts in a competitive market. Better yet, she spent pennies compared to most tour operators!
ERNF proves that you can save money and get results by focusing on goal-oriented marketing initiatives.
Why would someone buy your tour and not your competitors’? Because you’re different, of course. It’s such a simple premise that we often don’t take enough time to contemplate exactly what about our businesses sets us apart. That’s a big mistake.
Your business success depends on your ability to communicate your particular advantages in a clear and compelling fashion. These form your “unique value proposition,” and it should be all over your marketing materials.
Learn how to craft a UVP that will have your competitors begging for mercy.
Editor’s cut: It shouldn’t surprise you that a blog so dedicated to marketing strategy would also harbor an appreciation for data. Conventional wisdom no longer dictates marketing–data does. Especially in this unique sector, do you really trust generalized statistics or vague marketing advice?
It’s crucial for tour and activity businesses to market from their own experience. You know your customers better than Joe Schmo at some marketing consultancy. Pair that with data and you can turn your instincts into successful initiatives. From Google Analytics to Facebook, more tools are making it easier to see what really works for your business.
But overall, we know it can be tough to find helpful data sets for tour and activity businesses. We understand that to get closer to true scientific inquiry, we’ll have to spend a while grasping at straws. This year in particular, we did a lot of that when learning about the zip line and challenge course industry.
It’s a sector that has been growing at breakneck speeds in the last decade, but data on it is practically nonexistent. So we dove headlong into one of the biggest repositories of free zip line data out there: TripAdvisor. It turns out that you can learn a lot from reading hundreds of reviews…
We’re by no means the only ones trying to make sense of things, either. At a couple industry conferences this year, we noticed other pioneers tracking numbers and looking at trends to paint a fuller picture of what the future holds. You can bet that this kind of data analysis will only grow more important in 2016.
Editor’s note: Looking for more information on zip lines? Read our marketing column in Adventure Park Insider!
We don’t have many pet peeves at Xola U. but this one makes the list: hearing other marketers claim to know the “best” time/frequency to post/tweet/email–it’s all baloney. The optimal anything varies wildly depending on your business, your product or service, and your customers.
Listening to overly generalized tips may work for you, or it could be wildly misleading and a huge waste of time. That’s why it’s best to hone your marketing techniques based on your own data.
In the last year, Facebook has made these insights more accessible to businesses. See when your followers are online and schedule posts to reach them at peak hours. Using this sort of tailored data will eliminate some of the guessing from everyday marketing.
If you want to keep a pulse on your sector, TripAdvisor holds a surprising number of insights. As we alluded to above, it’s not the perfect data set, but we were able to get a sense for many important factors such as average number of reviews for a zip tour, the average number of “Excellent” reviews, and how many zip tours make the top five in their location.
If you’re dying to know why zip lines do so well and how to get a piece of this action, read the article to learn more!
In September of 2015, experts from varying geographies and sectors came together to exchange perspectives on the zip line industry. Sponsored by Ski Area Management magazine, Summer Ops Camp, as the conference is fondly called, is a forum for candid discussion: what’s working and what isn’t?
This article recaps important conference insights about the growth and future of zip tours.
Editor’s cut: 2015 had mobile written all over it. Google sparked “Mobilegeddon” when it announced a new ranking algorithm that would bestow significant benefits for mobile-friendly sites.
That’s not surprising given the number of people using smartphones to get online these days. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center reported that two-thirds of Americans own smartphones, up from 35% just four years earlier, and 89% use their smartphones in part to access the Internet.
But as we mentioned in the Data Analysis section, these statistics signal the importance of mobile-friendly design but tour operators lack industry-specific statistics around tour and activity bookings made via smartphone. That’s where we come in.
We scoured as many sources as we could to come up with actionable insights for tour professionals. A brief sampling of TripAdvisor showed the tour businesses that have most adopted mobile-friendly/responsive websites (congratulations brewery tours and zip tours!) as well as those that haven’t (carriage tours and kayak tours).
Most surprisingly, we discovered that almost half of completed bookings come from a mobile phone or tablet. If that’s not a sign to get your mobile site on the rails, we’re not sure what is.
We loved the topic of mobile so much, we even wrote a whole Ebook on it! See what else made our editor’s mobile list.
Mobile matters. Almost three-quarters of travelers worldwide appreciate the ability to book online and 37% look specifically for activities on their mobile device while traveling. Nearly twenty percent of mobile travel users want to purchase something immediately.
Your tour or activity company needs to be up to speed on all things mobile, from data to design. Start with this guide, written in March of 2015, and look out for updated statistics in 2016 on mobile’s growing influence.
For all you visual and auditory learners out there, the editor recommend this video summarizing some of our biggest findings about mobile. Get a hearty helping of mobile design, SEO, and hear tips for how to get started all in under three minutes.
Our 3-minute marketing video series gives you quick insights popular Xola University. We hope to keep them rolling in 2016!
Editor’s cut: New technology can sometimes be scary but it’s vital if you want to stay ahead of the curve. The editor of Xola University just so happen to know a thing or two about technology, especially when it comes to software for tour and activity businesses. The same people that publish your favorite content on Xola University also build industry-leading booking software!
What makes us different is that we take our technical expertise and combine it with a deep understanding of your business. We’re curious people over here–hopefully you’ve noticed–so to build the best technological solutions for you, we need to understand your problems and needs as well as you do you. Naturally, when we write articles about business tools that can help tour and activity companies, we approach it with the same critical eye.
There’s no doubt about it, booking and marketing software is becoming a central tool in growing numbers of tour companies. Nevertheless, many owners and managers pull their hair out when it’s time to decide what software is right for their businesses. These two editor’s picks will help you simplify this important process:
This article was written in the spring of 2015 when many companies were frantically heading into high season and still shopping for booking software. For anyone that needs booking software in a hurry, this article is for you.
With these three questions, you’ll get a sense for both the speed and ease of the product and the organization within the software company. After all, both are key when you need a reservation system. A good product isn’t enough without a dedicated company to get you up and running. At the same time, an organized company can’t teach you a clumsy piece of software when time is of the essence.
Whether you’re in a hurry or not, the lesson here is to always go into a software demo with questions tailored to your business’s situation. When you come prepared with questions that reflect your priorities, you won’t regret your software decision.
It’s probably the biggest mistake companies make when shopping for booking software: they lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Imagine that you’re buying a house. Would you pick one over another just because the front door is painted your favorite color? No, you would decide based on big things like the neighborhood or whether the foundation is crumbling. Unfortunately, oftentimes that’s not what people do with booking software.
Your booking software essentially acts as the brain of your business. That’s why it’s important to evaluate your options first and foremost by the system’s fundamental strengths. Do all the platforms get A+’s in the core functions of managing your business?
In the article, we offer this benchmark: “Good booking software helps automate important aspects of your business to save you time, money, and improve your customer’s overall experience.” Make sure you’re not sacrificing anything in these areas in exchange for a feature you think is more valuable. In the long run, it won’t be.
The goal of this article is to help owners and managers remember what matters. That will not only make your shopping process simpler, but also lead to a decision based on substantial considerations and not trivial features.
Thanks for reading and following Xola University across a jam-packed 2015! Expect even more quality insights for the tour and activity industry come next year.
Don’t forget, to receive a monthly digest of Xola U. content, subscribe today by clicking the blue “Subscribe” button at the right edge of your screen. I promise it’ll be your favorite email in 2016 🙂
The content on Xola University seeks to empower tour and activity professionals. Our articles not only provide relevant information for the industry, but also offer actionable advice to help our readers succeed in their fields. In contrast to many other marketing resources, you won’t find empty platitudes in our articles. Instead, you’ll discover strategic, data-driven insights written specifically for your industry. Xola University teaches you how to easily market your tour or activity and avoid the expensive guessing game that many tour operators play.