What’s happening to the other half of your lunch?

On the heels of my last blog about ineffective travel websites, this Marketing Sherpa chart speaks to budget allocation for emarketing funds. The first 3 items are directly related to your website with the 4th (email marketing) indirectly – by feeding leads to your site. If your site is dated and unkempt, all of these efforts and expenditures mean nothing.

In constructing the software to create our GTF newsletter that many of our customers use, we developed dynamic pages that keep the reader within the confines of the landing page populated with the agents’ coordinates. We developed this in order to encourage customers to book directly with the ‘sending agent’ rather than linking to supplier sites that may contain booking engines.

(By the way, I personally don’t think that’s necessary. If the relationship between you and your customer is strong, you have nothing to worry about besides; your customers are more than capable to go off to supplier’s sites all on their own.)

The underlying reason we took this approach when we designed the landing page is an embarrassment to our industry. We originally thought we’d prepare HTML landing pages and forward them to our agents to post on their websites. We’d then follow-up with our email campaigns built to drive customers to those pages. Problem! Most agents didn’t know how to upload pages and weren’t quite sure how to even reach the company that originally built the site for them. That’s how long some of these sites have been stagnating.

If you think I’m being hard on my own customers and the industry as a whole, I agree and hope its recognized for what it is, a heads-up to take notice that these ‘workarounds’ won’t be available forever and things need to change if travel is going to continue being sold through people, not machines.

This is not fear-mongering. In 1995, a few agents embraced the power the Internet provided and built online powerhouses; social media is quickly coming of age and you need to understand how to harness it to your advantage.

This morning I had a conversation with Cory Andrichuck from www.brandUcoaching.com, most of you will have come across his company and probably have heard him speak. In any event, if you believe that the internet stole half your lunch a few years ago then wait ‘till you hear what Cory has to say at the the CITC conference in Toronto next Thursday. You’ll hear what social media has in store for the other half of your lunch!

If you are in the Toronto area next week, take the opportunity to go and listen to him. It’s free; Cory’s speaking at the CITC’s 44th annual general meeting. His presentation is titled:

True or False? Will you be replaced with social media travel?




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Why most travel websites aren’t doing the job

Most in our business think in terms of replacement. Newspaper ads with email, Facebook instead of your website, twitter instead of a quick call. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s about integrating all these efforts into a cohesive brand experience and in the opinion of most marketers; it all starts with your website. If we look at the majority of agencies, websites are dated, contain static brochure-ware and insist on telling their prospective customers about items important to the agency not the customer. If I visit your site because I want to go on a cruise; I could care less that you service corporate accounts. If you are a reader of my blog, you’ve heard me repeat ad nauseam, it’s not about you, it’s about the customer!

To add insult to injury, most put out information without collecting any. Even if you haven’t been paying attention, you’d have to have been working on Mars to not have heard that it’s all about a two-way communication with your customer – take in as much information as you give out. Social media opens up the lines of communication.

In speaking with agents over the last year, most have come to understand that social media is here to stay and digital marketing has grown enormously. Even so, an unusually high number of our travel colleagues barely understand what is going on in these complicated spaces. So many are swamped with “traditional” marketing issues that they cannot take the time to educate themselves or to even figure out how to hire someone that understands.

Take some time to review your competitor’s sites (good and bad) and glean out what you can afford and make use of. Many of the top 10 Canadian travel sites do a great job of giving and taking. They are dead clear on what their customer wants and they provide content, videos, tips, games etc. Some, for example http://www.tripcentral.ca even go as far as to illustrate their expertise by giving you a list of agents that ‘have been there’. As a prospective customer, after seeing what they offer on their websites, I’d have no qualms about giving you my wishes, concerns and most importantly, my contact information. Even if you can’t afford a booking engine, you should be making your website the hub, the centerpiece of your business.

In 2012, whether you’re a one person shop or a large travel supplier, all must allocate resources to blend your marketing plan with social media. Even if your efforts fail, there’s so much to learn that you’ll still be ahead of the game. Waiting for it all to go away or to get easier is a fool’s game. Start with a plan. Build a website that responds to your customer’s needs and slowly add all your social media layers as you develop them; failures and successes! Websites were a fortune years ago, now you can get a good website built at a reasonable price but it’s the plan and the content that requires your effort and expertise – only you can address these questions. And remember, outsourcing is not a bad word.

If I gave you a plane to fly, would you trust yourself to fly it without taking lessons first or would you hire a pilot?

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The Argument Against Segmenting

A few days ago, I got a call from one of my accounts. They were wondering why I don’t have a questionnaire attached to the subscription form we provide all our customers; something that would request an address, define their interests and where they might want to travel to.

I wish it was that easy.

The sources for the argument against this are too many to count. Trust me when I tell you that extensive research has been done and without exception, results show that potential customers are willing on an impulse, to provide a name and an email address but subscription rates drop by a very high percentage when further info is requested without a relationship being established first.

There can only be one reason for this agent’s request and that is customer list segmentation. In my opinion, unless you are loaded with both tens of thousands of email addresses and lots of cash to buy sophisticated software and 3rd party demographic content, you’re wasting your time and worse, you’re risking potential sales and customer retention. To the typical travel retailer, the following scenario is much too common…

You receive a “Free Air for Children Sale to Florida” from a supplier. You rush to your client list and fire off an email to all recurring Florida travellers with children. Last time you talked to Mrs. Brown, she told you that her son was just graduating but you forgot, or didn’t have the time to check each customer file individually and now she’s opted-out of your list because it’s the 4th Florida special you sent this winter. She’s now in fact interested in a Med Cruise but she’s going to another travel agency because she thought you specialized in Florida.

When emailing content to your list, inspire them with several choices they may have never thought of. For one thing, it will generate a new conversation with that customer that may turn into yet another Florida sale but it will also get her thinking about that Med Cruise and when the time comes, she thinks of you because she knows you are able to fulfill myriad travel choices.

Email marketing done right is all about acquiring and nurturing client loyalty. Making sure that the client knows why they do business with you and why you’re their travel agent. Soft-sell, interesting, but most important, REGULAR messages work much better than alienating customers because of faulty segmentation and a knee jerk reaction to a seat sale. By regularly emailing your customers with the right message, you generate business by being top-of-mind when that particular customer wants to travel. Mrs. Brown will stay on your list (and probably one more to keep you honest) but most important; she will always give you the opportunity to compete on the booking when she’s ready to travel.

If you really must segment your list, the one solution that I would consider when selling travel is to differentiate between the budget traveller and the one with resources. If you have the time to generate two newsletters and diversify them by price point you’re lucky but be careful, a $20K Kenya Safari being marketed to your Cuba specials audience won’t bring you many sales.

Then… on the other hand if it never was about segmenting but about list growth, please refer to my November blog post, Mailing list growth for the Travel Agent


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It’s all about your travel audience, not you!

If you’ve been following my Facebook posts, you’ll know how much of a video fan I am for selling leisure travel. I have posted several articles about the rising popularity of video – over two billion videos are downloaded every day on YouTube bla, bla, bla…

But what does it mean to leisure travel – not as an industry but as a retailer? If you take a minute to imagine a scenario where your customer wants a particular resort or destination and you’re able to show them a 3 minute video, chances are a decision will be greatly accelerated.

However, the type of video you offer can make or break the sale. Show them a self-promoting, overproduced slick piece obviously created by an ad agency with a big budget and in my opinion, you’re only a tiny bit closer to closing the sale. Show them a 3 minute piece of you at the resort describing naturally what they can expect and experience and chances are if the resort is right for them, you’ll close the sale.

I know…you don’t think you’re photogenic, you’re shy, a bad hair day or you think this might get expensive. Excuses! It’s not about production value or about you personally; it’s about you having experienced something that makes YOU, the voice of authority. Long story short, buy a $300 video camera, open a free YouTube account and take the camera with you on every FAM trip and vacation.

So you think this may be a good idea but are wondering where to start. I’ve taken an excerpt from Eric Harr’s book (details below) to illustrate how easy and effective it can all be if you follow his 7 practical steps:

1. Keep it Short & Sweet.
People, particularly in social media, have shorter attention spans. Studies show that attrition rate after 30 seconds is roughly 82% (unless the video is compelling or celebrity-driven).

2. Start Strong.
A Jupiter research study found that people decide — in the first two seconds — whether or not they will watch the remainder of a video. It’s important to capture their attention in those two seconds, but not necessarily with stagecraft. Strive to be compelling and give them a reason to keep watching. Have you ever watched thoroughbred horses break out of the gates? It’s so jaw-dropping that we cannot help but keep watching! Break out of the gates in your videos!

 3. Make One Point (and No More Than Three).
Nielsen reports that humans can only process, and retain, three simple messages in a short span of time. Do not overload the viewer with granular facts and minutiae. You needn’t make them an expert. Just pique their interest. Pick 1-3 concepts you want to convey and use anecdote, humour and colour to bring texture to your videos.

 4. Entertain, Inspire, Inform—or, Ideally, Do All Three.
Frame messages in the interest of the viewer. The fact is that people care less about your product, brand or cause than they do about how it improves their lives. Stay viewer-centric and seek to leave them informed, inspired, entertained—or all three. Humour is powerful, engaging and effective—if you can pull it off.

 5. Produce Share-Worthy Content.
This relates to the point above, but it warrants its own coverage, because it’s essential to understand in this “word of mouth economy”: in a single click, people can share your content farther and faster than ever before. Here’s a litmus test: Produce content you’d be compelled to share with your family.

6. Speak From the Heart.
People have sensitive antennae in social media. These channels were created as a very refuge away from corporate marketing. People know contrived when they see it, and it can do more harm than good. Speak in a “human voice.” Mean what you say. If you’re interviewing someone, ask them to be honest (even if it means they aren’t uniformly positive; it will be more credible.). If you try to message people, you will never reach a wide audience. If you win people’s hearts, you can reach the world.

 7. Have a Clear Call to Action.
Ask yourself: “What do I want the viewer to do?” You need to move people to action, otherwise you may achieve non-financial outcomes (video views) in lieu of financial outcomes (conversions/revenue). Tell viewers what you want them to do. And, if it’s possible to edit the video with a graphical outro, do so.

You must admit, it is common sense and it makes sense. A video of you telling clients what, in your opinion, their vacation might be like is what makes you an expert and “my travel agent”.

I’m going on too long here but spend some time on YouTube and see how that video can get you NEW customers. If you find any videos that you think portray the 7 points above, please share them.

Have a great weekend and keep travelling!



Eric Harr is the new Social Media Expert for CBS News and the Founder & President of Resonate Social Media. His book: “The REAL TRUTH About Social Media: 8 Timeless Truths Uncovered & 8 Monumental Myths Revealed” is available online and in bookstores. For more information, visit: http://ericharr.com/.

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3 simple questions to determine if Social Media is right for your small business

I’ve read and been told that all the metrics to measure social media results are in place. Maybe… but it seems to me you need a couple of experts and a stats department to interpret those metrics. To small businesses, it’s a lot more like alchemy; you really have to believe and be satisfied with the occasional glimpse of something shiny.

According to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report from Social Media Examiner, 90% of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business. I don’t doubt its importance. I think that other than the large OTA’s that may have more insight, retail travel as a rule has a hunch that it works but simply doesn’t know how to measure it … simply!

I subsequently read an article on a recent MarketingProfs posting where writer Nichole Kelly, of Full Frontal ROI, does a great synopsis with “5 Tips to Prove that Social Media Matters”. Nicole’s first tip, as far as I’m concerned, is all most of us need to know unless you have that stats department I mentioned.

That is… “Social media isn’t a shiny new thing that needs to be measured in a “special” way. Trying to create special metrics for social media makes it far too complicated for “non-social media folks” to understand. If you want to get to the core of where social media is delivering value, translate its impact on sales (units), revenue, and costs to the organization. If you can’t measure social media’s impact on sales and revenue yet, you definitely can measure its impact on cost. Start there and build your way into the revenue model.”

Like most things, the KISS principle stands. To evaluate your Social Media plan, set yourself a timeline to determine if it costs more than what it generates. It’s a relatively new marketing tool that has yet to mature so give yourself a generous deadline.

Once you reach the deadline, evaluate the results by asking yourself these 3 simple questions:

  1. Are any of my colleagues doing this well? Research their tactics and see what works for them and critically analyze if this would work for your business.
  2. Should I hire someone to manage this? Weigh out the pros and cons, also consider control and industry knowledge.
  3. Is it the right tool to reach my clients? Heads up on this one, most agents will tell you NO up-front because it’s easy and saves you work, time and money. Fact is, you haven’t got a clue what your clients want. Did you know that there are still agents out there who believe their clients don’t want to hear from them on email? They think the clients will consider it SPAM. It’s a wonder they are comfortable with the phone!

You simply can’t write off social media because you don’t understand it or because you don’t want to deal with it. Unfortunately, many small business agencies are not giving this the college try.

Are you? Let me know what seems to be working for you.


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Who’s in charge of Marketing?

In my last post, I outlined recent changes we made here at Travelwatch and I hinted at how survivors in our industry need to constantly tinker with their business. In this post, I’m limiting my comments to the marketing aspect of running a retail travel business.

In recent history most agencies have had to move away from selling air for obvious reasons. Now, many are rethinking the packaged holiday business based on shrinking margins and discounting (although somewhat curtailed these days). There’s also a group out there that argue that packages have become a commodity that is best serviced in volume and with a strong online/phone presence. I’m not sure I agree, I think you can still make a decent living selling packages but your marketing has to be right.

So where does that leave the main street, independent owner/manager shop?

A common move for most is to join a group/consortium/association. This is an excellent solution as long as you’re clear on your objectives vs. theirs. For example, is your membership simply a tool to generate sales for the supplier/owner of the group? Or are you there to drive overrides to the umbrella company that promises to share them with you (only after all expenses are covered)?

Let’s for the time being consider only the marketing aspect to determine if you are associated correctly or for that matter, whether it’s worth associating:

  • What are the tools used – email, direct mail, traditional advertising and who is deciding on content?SWOT Analisys Travel Markleting
  • Is there an overall strategy and do they offer the flexibility you need to meet your objectives and target your customers, not just the group’s?
  • What is the target market of the preferred suppliers that form part of that group and are they in line with your clientele?
  • Are you sending disorderly email blasts or do you have a cohesive plan with a start, finish and measured ROI?
  • Are you getting relevant (to your business) simplified stats, marketing advice or do they offer a mentor you can chat with?

When I talk with agents about a marketing plan, most don’t have one, think it’s not necessary, it’s too difficult to build or becomes obsolete as soon as you write it. I beg to differ. If you belong to a group, review carefully what you can use from their arsenal. Do your research and arm yourself with additional tools freely available on the market.  Check out www.travelagentapps.com (I know, it’s self-serving but couldn’t resist)

There is nothing wrong with these business models as long as you understand how you fit, how you can tweak it to make it relevant to your business and leave you and not someone else in control.

I recently dealt with a group where less than 30% of the agencies belonged to their ‘marketing solution’. Once I reviewed what they offered and what the cost/value proposition was, it was a no brainer! Great Value! Why didn’t the other 70% belong? They didn’t bother taking the time to understand it.

The days of suppliers giving agents everything from marketing dollars to computers to training to fam trips are gone. It’s time to rethink your business and get aggressive because the guy next door is!

Thanks for reading and my best to you and your family for the holidays,



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When is the right time to reinvent your business?

Continuously. Always. Never-ending.  Don’t sit back like I did!

Six months ago, I got my butt handed to me by my accountant. I had lost two major accounts, one was leaving the consortia business model because it couldn’t make any money and the other was acquired by a larger player with their own emarketing strategies and tools. End result – a sizeable chunk of revenue gone in 10 days!

Plan A, Plan BSo, what to do now?

I went out to lunch with an industry buddy and as I was crying in my beer, he told me a story of a travel agent he was speaking with the previous day. The agent was droning on about low margins and how he’s making half of what he made 15 years ago. When my colleague asked what his sales were at that time, he stated the agency was generating 3.5M. Asked what he’ll sell this year, he said 3.5M.

That was the head slap I needed. Time to streamline what is working and reinvent what’s not.

So, in six months we:

  • Created a twice monthly agent-branded email campaign for only $50pm. It’s turnkey – 100% of the work is done by us. We had immediate success with several independent travel agencies and now, the TPI group has joined.
  • Simplified and lowered fees for Easy Email, our self-serve email generator.
  • By shifting the company focus to become a ‘Travel Portal’, we’ve been able to compile several exciting 3rd party (and in-house)travel agent apps that only focus on improving an agent’s business.
  • Built a new website to accommodate the portal concept and changed our logo to include our new tag line “Travel Content and Distribution” as part of our evolution.

As I look back on the six months, I’m amazed at the amount of work we got done. Thanks Kathy, Matt and Michelle! Couldn’t have done it without you, I promise not to sit back again.

If you get the opportunity, go to www.travelwatch.ca  or www.travelagentapps.com and sign-up (it’s free). We have several examples of travel agent software available now and more in the pipeline scheduled to come online soon.  Look around and let me know if there’s a product or tool you think might help you or your agent colleagues.

Enough about us!

Using the above agency as an example, a good place to start re-evaluating where your business sits is the revenue side of the P&L. Specifically, what were the revenue ‘buckets’ (leisure, business, groups, weddings, etc.) and how did they change over the years from 2007 to 2010? It’s a good place to start; the turmoil in global economies during this period is a good microcosm to illustrate the ups and downs. If you read the business papers, things might look like 2008 again soon.

I have a few other ideas that might help you focus on the right questions to ask yourself, specifically on the marketing side. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,



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