Social media for tour operators

Stepping out to look at bighorns with SunDog Tours near Jasper Alberta Canada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Stepping out to look at bighorns with SunDog Tours near Jasper, Alberta, Canada (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Some of the best advice we’ve gotten from the SOBCon business conference was to think about the response email that is automatically sent when someone signs up for our Tourism Currents newsletter.

Rather than the default “Thanks, you’re all set,” we were encouraged to think about crafting a more personal message, so we edited ours on MailChimp and added an invitation for new subscribers to tell us a bit about themselves.

What’s cool is that sometimes, they DO hit Reply and talk to us, and we learn what’s on our prospective customer’s mind.

We’re starting to pick up more subscribers who are group tour operators, so I thought I’d share what we sent back recently to a new tour operator based in the eastern U.S. who is just starting to think about a marketing strategy that includes social media.

Here is our advice about getting started….

“Think through your market(s) and where they are online; that’s where you will need to be.

Take a look at how other tour operators are marketing on Facebook, to start. For ideas see these:

**  USTOA (U.S. Tour Operators Association) Facebook Page (lots of photos)

**  Go Collette (they are very responsive to comments)

**  G Adventures (which tends to draw a young, adventurous crowd)

Keep in mind that Facebook has made it much harder for brand Pages to get organic (unpaid) visibility, so once you are up and running on the platform, you’ll need to budget a little money for some carefully targeted sponsored posts and to attract new followers. Start with making sure that your personal Facebook network, partner businesses, and previous customers know about your Page – their Likes don’t cost you anything.

You can also consider selling tour tickets directly from a tab on your Facebook Page; check with your current ticketing provider to see if they already have a setup, or look into one like Eventbrite.

For your own professional development and networking, you may also want to find helpful social outlets like a tour operator Group on LinkedIn; this NTA (National Tour Association) LinkedIn Group seems pretty active.

Part of your marketing process – the fun part, we think! – will be to share the comments and photos from the people who take your tours. Make it easy for tour guests to post before, during, and after your tour and make sure (with mentions by tour guides plus signage) that they know how to tag your company when they upload.

WiFi on your coaches may become a necessity for this to work unless your destinations/routes have decent smartphone data rates, or several stops have WiFi. This is especially important for international guests; they want to avoid roaming charges in the U.S. so they often will not post on social media unless they can use WiFi.

Obviously, connect with the CVBs, DMOs, Chambers of Commerce, and other tourism organizations in your target markets; many are quite social-savvy and can help you (I included links to Discover Lehigh Valley and Visit Bucks County as examples within her region.)

What other ideas would you have for a tour operator who wants to increase sales with social media marketing? Please share your thoughts down in the Comments.

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Posted in Facebook, LinkedIn, Tourism Marketing on the Web, General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Travel Post Friday: the closer to the ocean, the better. For the ions, you know.

Ocean view from the San Luis Resort and Conference Center Galveston Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)
Ocean view from the San Luis Resort and Conference Center Galveston Texas (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

If I can walk out onto a balcony, hear waves crashing and smell that salty smell, I’m a happy hotel/house guest.

Really, what else would you expect from a formerly seagoing Navy woman?

My husband Chris Fancher told me when we were dating (in the seaside town of Newport, Rhode Island) that “negative ions” from the sea act as a mood-booster. Since I was always in a good mood around him and we were often near the beach, it must be true, right?

During a recent trip to do some social media training on Galveston Island on the Texas Gulf Coast, I woke up to this view at the San Luis Resort and Conference Center. A basic oceanside hut on a beach somewhere would make me happy, too, but since it was late winter it was enough to sit on the balcony at the San Luis, wave at pelicans flying by and feel myself relax.

Combined with eating plenty of seafood – I liked Nick’s right on the seawall – it was a great chemistry experiment with the ions.

Tip: apparently you can get the same negative ions near a waterfall or even a shower, so don’t despair if you’re a long way from the ocean.

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The most important feature of my new phone

I’ve been limping along on a very old smartphone for a few years (a mid-range version of Gingerbread, for you Android OS geeks) but it was finally time to go into my T-Mobile store and retire the old gal.

After reading lots of reviews and having several good models in mind, I went with an HTC One primarily because of its excellent camera.

My old phone was an HTC, and its camera was better than my point-and-shoot in low light and especially in the close-up Macro setting (I’m a big fan of finding unique photo opportunities using Macro.)

The camera software that came with the phone also had some built-in filter options that I liked better than many of Instagram’s, and there are even more with this new HTC.

Your phone is not simply a phone. It is a publishing machine.

If you are a communications professional, that phone must be able to swiftly create and transmit content – photo, video, audio, text – across multiple social media networks, even while you are “out and about,” because that’s now part of what you do for a living.

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Carnival of Cities for 16 March 2014

Welcome to the Carnival of Cities blog carnival, where we tour the world in a single post, via submissions from a variety of different blogs, all about any aspect of one, single city or fair-sized town.

Submissions have been rather thin lately, plus my own business workload is increasing, so we’re shifting to publishing the Carnival once a month, normally on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. The next edition will be hosted on the Perceptive Travel blog.

You do need to register on the carnival administration website (it’s easy and free) to submit to this or any blog carnival. If you would like to host a future Carnival edition on your blog, please contact me as the Carnival organizer:  Sheila “at” sheilascarborough “dot” com.

Here’s more info and background about the Carnival of Cities blog carnival, and now….

Off we go!

Cities in the Americas

St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada   Lisa Walters confesses that this is The one where I gush about St. John’s, Newfoundland and tell you about a talented singer. posted at DAMSEL IN A DRESS, saying, “What life is like on the most eastern point of North America.”

Dearborn, Michigan, USA   Dominique King shares her Favorites at The Henry Ford posted at Midwest Guest, saying, “Some of our favorite treasures at The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan include the Rosa Parks bus, a 1952-vintage Wienermobile and Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion House.”

San Francisco, California, USA   I discovered Cheap but good food at a San Francisco mall food court posted at Perceptive Travel Blog, saying, “One of the best places for a quick, tasty lunch near Union Square is….a mall.”

San José, Costa Rica   Zhu photographes the People of San José posted at Correr Es Mi Destino, explaining, “San José is a city of contrast. On one hand, you have small sodas sell­ing basic set lunches of rice, beans and chicken, and on the other hand you have a plethora of for­eign fast foods such as Quiznos, Sub­way, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Carls Jr. and McDonalds.”

Venice, California, USA   Stacey Daprile explores A Manhattan in Venice posted at Positively Stacey – Blog.

Cities in Europe

Ashorne, Warwickshire, United Kingdom    Chris writes about his farming experiences in Mill Farm Ashorne Blog #1 posted at Farmers Review You’re never alone, saying, “With a larger acreage to consider, we wanted to cut our dependency on contractors for things like haymaking so decided to invest in our own kit. It seemed that the best way to justify the equipment was to buy bigger and use the extra capacity to help neighbours / local farms.”

Sochi, Russia   Mollie Mandell shows us around Sochi: Russia’s Sub-tropical Olympic City posted at unique family traveler, saying, “With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, I thought this timely article would be of interest to your readers.” [My apologies that I couldn't post this earlier.]

Istanbul, Turkey   Lisa Goodgame demonstrates techniques for Taming the ‘Bul (especially phone service) posted at Eating and Wandering.

That concludes this edition, and thanks very much for visiting and supporting the Carnival.

Please submit your (ONE, non-spammy, recent) blog post – once you’ve registered – to the next edition of the Carnival of Cities using our carnival submission form.  Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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4 tips to improve your CVB or DMO LinkedIn Company Page

Fredericksburg TX CVB LinkedIn Company Page highlights screenshot
Why the Fredericksburg, Texas CVB LinkedIn Company Page rocks!

It is your organization’s public storefront on the oldest and biggest social network for business, with over 277 million people in 200+ countries.

It’s a LinkedIn Company Page, and too many of them are sad, pathetic, ignored bits of online real estate.

In tourism and hospitality, marketers fall all over themselves to build up Facebook Pages, but its B2B and sales equivalent – the LinkedIn Company Page – is usually ignored. This is a major missed opportunity; meeting and event planners are quite active on social media including LinkedIn.

Fortunately, there is a sea change afoot as more and more CVBs (Convention and Visitors Bureaus,) DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations, ) hotels and others in the tourism and hospitality industries wake up to the extraordinary networking opportunities in social media for their B2B and convention sales teams.

If you’re ready to spiff up that Company Page storefront, take care of these basics:

1)  Add a nice big banner photo to your Page, plus use photos and video on each of your Products and Services sub-tabs. You could have one general video on the front page, then a different video AND photo for each of your products or services.

2)  Write a compelling business/organization description rather than leave the default one in place. Keep in mind that your text’s keywords will help your SEO (Search Engine Optimization.)

3)  Fill out your Products & Services sub-tabs. What do you offer as a DMO? How about meeting services? Destination weddings? Group tour services? A convention center? Each of these could be its own tab, complete with photos, video, descriptive keywords, links to the LinkedIn profile of the staff member who handles each area AND links back to the relevant landing pages on your website.

—->>  Update 20 March 2014. When LinkedIn introduced Showcase sub-pages recently, I suspected that they might replace Products & Services tabs because the recommended Showcase content seemed to duplicate what those sub-tabs were already supposed to do for a brand/organization’s Page.

In fact, as of 14 April 2014, LinkedIn is removing Products & Services tabs from all Company Pages, and they suggest that you use Showcase pages or targeted Company Page updates as alternatives. I’d recommend downloading your current Products/Services write-ups, photos and videos and use them as a basis for new Showcase pages. Carefully think through the natural subdivisions of your market and you may find that you need fewer – but still focused – Showcase pages.

4)  Put out Company Page updates regularly (just like you do for your Facebook Page) but focused more on straight news and things of interest to your meetings, events and tours markets. You can include links, photos, YouTube video URLs and SlideShare URLs. Your updates go out into the LinkedIn news feeds of all of your Page’s followers.

Bonus Tip: you can get more visibility in people’s LinkedIn news feed by paying for Sponsored Posts on LinkedIn that are similar to those on Facebook, with very good ad targeting, but they are expensive.

Some tourism-related LinkedIn Company Pages that do a fine job:

**  The Fredericksburg, Texas CVB. Proof that a small organization can have a rocking presence on LinkedIn.

**  Visit Buffalo Niagara. Nice work from upstate New York.

**  Our own Tourism Currents Page. Once we put real effort into it week after week, we started picking up followers regularly at about the 6 month mark, and saw our updates getting a lot more visibility and interaction.

**  Authentic Seacoast Resorts. Fine hospitality example from a small, independent resort in Nova Scotia that includes an inn, restaurant, pub, coffee roaster, brewery and golf course.

**  Visit Philadelphia. Recently started to put major emphasis on their Page for B2B purposes, and it’s coming along quite well (disclosure: I did some LinkedIn training for their staff.)

So, take charge of your LinkedIn storefront – here’s how to become an Administrator for your LinkedIn Company Page - and put it to work for B2B and sales.

Did I miss your favorite LinkedIn Company Page or tip? Please share down in the Comments.

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Posted in Hospitality, LinkedIn, Meetings and Conferences, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Everyday bravery for everyone

Sheila Scarborough speaks at Creative Mornings Austin on Everyday Bravery (photo courtesy Stacie Andrews for Creative Mornings Austin on Flickr)
Sheila Scarborough speaks at Creative Mornings Austin on Everyday Bravery (photo courtesy Stacie Andrews for Creative Mornings Austin on Flickr)

This was one of those presentations that becomes a turning point in one’s speaking career.

It was different from almost anything else I’d done before, I enjoyed the experience even more than I thought I would, and it gave me confidence to make my book The Elastic Waist Entrepreneur more personal and motivational rather than simply a how-to.

I spoke on the topic of bravery, for Austin’s version of the worldwide “breakfast lecture series for the creative community,” Creative Mornings. Thanks to a random taco-fueled social encounter with Ben Thoma, Austin’s Creative Mornings organizer, I ended up as the city’s November “Bravery” speaker.

Sure, I do lots of presentations on social media in tourism – and enjoy them very much – but never before had I been asked to speak on such a general topic in a way that would inspire, entertain and motivate a packed house (Austin’s Creative Mornings events are free to attend but tickets are snapped up very quickly, and there’s always a waiting list.)

The day of the event, I was chanting, “Be brave! Be brave!” to myself just before I stood up to talk about bravery.

I structured the presentation in three parts:

1)  Be inspired to be brave through the stories of heroics by ordinary people; I tell a few at the beginning of the video, to get you started.

2)  Learn physical bravery by challenging yourself athletically, even if you don’t think of yourself as remotely athletic. Why not? The Left Thumb Blogger does it; why not you?

3)  Work, test and strengthen your mental bravery and toughness via “deliberate discomfort” …. putting yourself deliberately into uncomfortable situations (travel to strange places, eat weird food, do stuff that scares you, get back up after failure.)

Huge thanks to Creative Mornings video production partner The Delivery Men for making me look good. :) Direct link to the Bravery video on YouTube in case you can’t see the embed box below.

Never forget, we’re all members of “The Church of Uncertain.”

Go out there and be brave!

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Trying LinkedIn Sponsored Posts

Similar to my past experience using coupons to experiment with Facebook advertising, I took a $50 coupon for free LinkedIn ads to build a small Sponsored Post campaign for our Tourism Currents Company Page.

We chose to show the post in the LinkedIn News Feeds of a very narrow group of tourism/hospitality-related people, in more than one country, and we paid only for clicks. The objective was to put our thoughts in front of people who might be interested in our work; gaining new Page followers wasn’t really a focus.

Sponsored Post results:

**  442 impressions (in addition to the organic ones below)

**  9 clicks

**  2 social interactions (Likes, Shares, etc.)

**  Picked up 2 new Page followers

**  Had a 2.49% engagement rate

**  CPC (Cost per Click) was about US$6.00 per click (ouch! I’m used to 20-25 cents CPC for our occasional sponsored updates on Facebook)

Organic results for the post before we made it Sponsored:

**  303 impressions

**  1 click

**  3 social interactions (Likes, Shares, etc.)

**  1.32% engagement rate.


**  Targeting continues to improve for LinkedIn ads, so unless you have a big budget and don’t mind blowing money with spray-and-pray, you need to take the time to set your Sponsored Post right down in the News Feeds of your perfect customer or visitor.

**  If you have markets outside of the U.S., don’t forget to include those countries in your targeting. We already have Tourism Currents followers and newsletter subscribers in South Africa, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and around Europe. Why wouldn’t we want to get in front of even more tourism pros in those places?

**  Prepare to spend some money. The days of social media as a big freebie are over.

**  I think that because Sponsored Posts are relatively new to LinkedIn, people are less ad blind in their personal News Feeds, so you get more interaction.

**  I never pay for sidebar ads; I only try Sponsored Posts on LinkedIn (Facebook too.) I want to be in the News Feed, not mixed in with all that side junk.

**  Interesting to note – think that LinkedIn doesn’t matter unless you’re B2B? Here are some examples of B2C/consumer-related networking on LinkedIn.)

In my view, the social networking site today that has tons of potential and not much competition is LinkedIn. Y’all keep ignoring it – I’m having fun doing business over there. :)

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Travel Post Friday: the City by the Bay

Red and White Fleet selfie in San Francisco Bay for eTourism Summit
Red and White Fleet selfie at sunset on San Francisco Bay for eTourism Summit

I took this photo on a Red and White Fleet sightseeing cruise that went all over San Francisco Bay – it was an evening social event during the eTourism Summit destination marketing conference.

Many years ago, I was stationed aboard a U.S. Navy ship that was homeported in the Bay Area, and I enjoyed the chance to live for awhile in the city that is now so UN-affordable (which is a real shame.)

I tried to make the most of my time living there but now in hindsight, I’m not sure I realized back then how truly magical it is….the majestic rust-orange Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin hills, the sunny side in Oakland and Berkeley, all the little unique neighborhoods, the endless ocean stretching to the west, and the hodgepodge of people who all seem to be from somewhere else but are drawn to San Francisco’s tolerant environment and gorgeous surroundings.

If I could afford it, I’d move there in a New York minute.  :)

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Following my own advice about New Year’s resolutions

Measuring data can help you determine whether you’re reaching goals that you’ve set for yourself or your organization.

No kidding, right?

Then why have I never applied that to my own goal-setting for the new year? Honestly, I could Xerox (or if you prefer, Save As or Command C) my goals from one year to the next because they were usually the same ones, over and over.

I’m all for “If at first you don’t succeed….” but this was ridiculous.

This Penelope Trunk blog post – The secret for keeping a New Year’s resolution: KPIs – is what is different about my own resolutions this year.

I’m going to set and then follow metrics for my resolutions, just as I advise and train tourism/hospitality clients to do with their social media. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is simply a fancy way to say metrics.

**  Resolution One: higher level of physical fitness.  The KPI or metric I’ll use? The number of days per month that I mark some sort of physical activity completed on our kitchen calendar. I’m making it stupid easy for myself so I’ll quit over-thinking.

Goal: 21 days marked at a minimum

**  Resolution Two:  better grip on finances and follow our own budget more closely. KPI for this is how many times during the year that we still have a decent amount of money left in our checking accounts the day before payday (actually my husband’s payday – mine is a US Navy retiree pension.) I totally swiped this from Penelope’s post because it was so sensible and clear, and I’m getting quite tired of the wild swings in income from the entrepreneurial life.

Goal:  A decent amount of money in the bank the day before payday, twice a month. A “decent amount” is defined as enough for a small grocery run.

**  Resolution Three:  Get going writing my book, The Elastic Waist Entrepreneur.  KPI to track is the number of words written per week, up to about 60,000 words, which is reasonable for a nonfiction book.

Goal:  2000 words written per week at a rate of 500 words/day, writing 4 days a week, with one day for organizational/outlining work and trying not to work weekends.

Would KPIs work for your New Year’s resolutions? Would they make 2014 the year you actually achieve the goals you’ve set?

Sound off down in the Comments!

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Why Snapchat? Because they’ll open it

Get the attention and droids you're looking for (courtesy Stéfan at Flickr CC)
Get the attention and droids you’re looking for (courtesy Stéfan at Flickr CC)

I’m the last person to advocate chasing after shiny objects in social media.

My first answer to the question, “Should my destination/attraction/hotel be on _____?” is always:

“Is YOUR market there?”

That’s why I hadn’t been paying much attention to Snapchat, a messaging app that shares photos and short video (“Snaps”) that then disappear/self-destruct in 1-10 seconds. It seemed like something that preteens and teenagers use for sharing private pics with a smallish network of friends (instead of dealing with drama on Facebook or broadcasting to the world through Twitter) but where was the relevance to destination marketing?

Turns out that I’ve been doing the forest/trees thing: focusing too much on the individual platform and not thinking enough about the implications of why people are drawn to a social media tool and how that might speak to broader communications trends and issues.

The most precious thing you can earn and keep today is your visitor or guest’s attention, and even once you earn it if you don’t continue to bring value, entertainment and helpful customer service, you’ll be Unsubscribed, muted, Unliked, switched off, Unfollowed and ignored.

The power of a tool like Snapchat is the power of having someone’s attention.

A Snapchat Marketing Example

A few weeks ago, I was intrigued to hear Katie Tang’s presentation for the Philadelphia Eagles NFL football team during a social media summit for regional tourism partners that was arranged by Visit Philadelphia, about how the Eagles are using Snapchat.

One of the reasons Katie gave is that through it, they can get the attention of their fans because “When people get a snap, they open it.

What are the latest open and click-through rates for your marketing emails? How’s it going for your Facebook Page organic views and interaction these days?

With all the digital noise, who is really paying attention to whatever you’re blasting out there?

Katie and Linda Thomas from the Eagles front office were kind enough to answer a short follow-on email Q&A about their Snapchat work:

Q. How does Snapchat fit into your overall marketing strategy for the Eagles?

A. “We want to meet our fans where they are, so in order to do that, we’ve placed a major emphasis on producing unique content and interacting with people on a variety of different social platforms. If you limit yourselves to just your website or Facebook and Twitter, you’re missing opportunities to reach your fans.

Snapchat is a great way to reach the 14-28 year old demographic and its popularity is growing, so we saw that as an opportunity to have some fun with our fans.”

Q. What sort of messages do you send out about the team?

A. “Our first posts on Snapchat were a frame-by-frame release of a comic that Marvel produced for us about how SWOOP became our mascot. We post fun pictures on there of our players and we’ve even broken news on there of a player signing with the team.

We’re also about to launch what we’re calling ‘The 12 days of Eagles Snapchat,’ so keep an eye out for that.”

Q. How do you measure whether your Snapchat activity is helping you reach your marketing goals?

A. “Snapchat is a little different than Facebook, where you can measure the number of ‘likes’ you get on a post, or Twitter, where you can monitor retweets or favorites. With Snapchat, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the amount of our followers. [After] launching [on Snapchat] a few months ago, we had 200 fans in the first hour, 1,000 after five hours and 7,000 in the first week. Now we are up to 8,700. So we can’t necessarily measure the impact like we can when a video gets thousands of views on our website. But we can certainly see that it’s growing, and that’s exciting for us because we’re always looking for opportunities to engage with our fans.”

What’s In This For You?

If your market demographics line up with Snapchat’s users, then the same visual short stories you’re telling with Instagram or Vine might work on Snapchat IF it fits your overall marketing strategy AND you have the resources to devote to yet another publishing channel.

If Snapchat does not make sense right now for your market, how could you get more of the attention of your visitors and guests through the social media that you already use?

1)  On your blog, make more of an effort to encourage subscribers by email or RSS; don’t just wait for readers to fall from the sky via search engines.

2)  On Twitter, there are lots of ways to rise above the noise:

a)  Participate as your brand in Twitter chats and hashtags tied to your market. Travel enthusiasts hang out on hashtags like #TBEX, #TTOT and #FriFotos, for example, and in chats like #TravelSkills.

b)  Get sorted! When someone has my attention on Twitter and I don’t want to miss what they’re saying, I add them to a column that I’ve named “Key Tweeps” in my personal TweetDeck dashboard. Those are the people whose tweets I monitor; I don’t listen to everyone I follow, truthfully. A simple version of that on web-based Twitter is Twitter Lists – tell your followers about Lists and ask to be added to theirs.

c)  Do the one thing that I consistently see brands fail to do – ANSWER when someone tags you in a tweet with your @ brand name. That’s someone already giving you their attention, but I can’t tell you how often I take the time to hunt down some destination, attraction or hotel’s Twitter handle, put it into a tweet where I’m sharing a photo or other info, and they never tweet back. Answer the social media telephone when it rings!

3)  On LinkedIn, participate in Groups where your market spends their time. For convention/meeting services people at a CVB or DMO, that means go to the Groups where the meeting planners converse (and people who drive location decisions for meetings, like association executives.)

4)  On Facebook …. well, to be honest, the answer right now for getting attention on Facebook seems to be to pay them more money through sponsored posts and ads.

What are your thoughts about Snapchat and getting people’s attention? Let us know down in the Comments!

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Posted in Mobile, Tourism Marketing on the Web, General, Web Communications | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments