Tour Operator Insight: How a Campaign Launch During COVID Generated Over 300 Inquiries By Educating, Not Selling.
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“Even if they don’t book at the moment, they will book. I’m getting these 300 inquiries and…as long as we keep engaging them, then when the pandemic is over they will start converting. They will come back.”
Alym Bhanji, owner of safari tour operator, East Africa Wild Adventures, creates bespoke luxury and ultra-luxury safari experiences in east and central Africa. Alym and his team make it a priority to build a relationship with each client so that they can understand their preferences and safari wishlist in order to create a trip that is truly unique, customized, and once-in-a-lifetime.
One of Alym’s biggest issues was finding a way to clearly communicate what the East Africa Wild’s brand represents. At the core of the travel company is Alym’s passion and in-depth knowledge of African safaris. Having been born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya his love for the outdoors – exploring the bush, tracking and identifying different species on safari – really crafted who he is today and what East Africa Wild Adventures encompasses.
Although many of their leads were coming from referrals, which is a credit to the level of service and experience they offer, the second challenge East Africa Wild was facing was obtaining quality leads through its website and inquiry form. They were using some marketing tactics, such as Google Adwords but struggling to attract their target audience.
At 10x Tourism, what matters to us is getting our partners exposure to the right visitors – targeting 100 visitors who match your ideal client profile, instead of paying for 1,000 visitors with no intention of ever buying from you.
The Solution: Educating Leads With High Quality Content That Solves Their Problems
Alym went through approximately 30 marketing companies before he came across 10x Tourism. None of the marketing companies quite grasped his business. East Africa Wild Adventures serves a niche part of the travel industry so he needed a company that understood that.
When Alym came across 10x Tourism, what really resonated with him was the importance we put on educating potential future customers through a strategy that allows you to be relatively “hands off”.
We understood that what was crucial to get across to East Africa Wild’s potential customers was the in-depth expertise and knowledge Alym and his team has. This is because most first time safari customers are unaware that the logistics of a safari can be complex. The countries on the continent have very few flights which means small prop planes are required at times to get to the lodges and cabins. It’s difficult for travellers to coordinate on their own, which is why the level of expertise of the East Africa Wild team is so valuable.
10x Tourism created a 6 part email course which gave Alym the platform to educate potential customers as to what an African safari could look like, address frequently asked questions and, ultimately, establish him as a trusted source of authority.
The Positive Results From a Campaign Launch During COVID
Having implemented 10x Tourism’s Get More Bookings® system, Alym was ready to launch his first campaign in September 2020 – this was still at the height COVID with global travel restrictions in place and before news of a vaccine had emerged.
Nevertheless, by implementing our tried-and-test system designed specifically for tour operators and the travel industry, East Africa Wild Adventures received over 300 inquiries in the first couple of months of the campaign launch.
“Inquiries are data. Data that can be used now or when this pandemic is over. It’s important to engage right now…You might not get the conversions that you would have got pre-pandemic….but they want to look into [booking] for 2021 – 2022.”
Alym strongly believes that emerging from this pandemic people are going to want to travel and the industry will experience a higher than usual demand for inquiries.
And there are grass shoots already to support this theory…
In November 2020, the good news that COVID vaccines trials had been successful with 3 pharmaceutical companies so far has resulted in Alym seeing a few inquiries move to negotiations already.
Of course, news of a vaccine has contributed to moving potential customers closer towards a booking, but Alym also attributes his success in turning his leads into bookings down to his mindset and sales process.
“The more inquiries you pile up as a tour operator are eventually going to turn into leads…you shouldn’t stop marketing right now (during COVID) because the “big guns” are marketing like crazy.”
His advice to selling tours and experiences during Q4 2020 whilst we are still in the midst of a pandemic is simple: don’t sell.
He believes that tour operators shouldn’t be pushing their prospective customers to travel right now, but to instead, engage with them and help them achieve their dream trip so that they feel confident, familiar and excited to book with your travel company, when they are ready.
“It’s important now more than ever to make sure a safari or any type of holiday after COVID is regenerative. It needs to regenerate your soul because we’ve gone through such a hard time…it’s taken a lot out of people.”
Building Customer Confidence & Dealing With Pushback From Accommodation Suppliers
Confidence in booking with a tour operator is also largely down to how safe a customer feels their money is.
To address this, Alym utilised 10x Tourism’s free fill-in-the-blanks flexible booking policy template that allows customers to cancel their trip at no risk to them.
Compared to pre-COVID where East Africa Wild were requesting a 30% deposit, they have adapted their business to increase customer confidence by reducing deposits to 7%.
Alym advises that if you’re experiencing pushback from your lodges or hotels, you must negotiate with them in favour of your customer or be prepared to change accommodation supplier.
“You have to be very truthful and transparent to your clients. Fight for them…back your client. Tell your client…what has happened with the accommodation that they want and`these are the options that we have now.”
By standing with their customers and being transparent, Alym says that this creates an open discussion and puts their customers in a position of control. If a customer wants to stay in a hotel that refuses any flexibility in their booking terms, then it’s the choice of the customer to either accept those terms, or Alym provides them with various other suppliers of the same standard who will adhere to the East Africa Wild flexible booking policy. Nine times out of ten, customers choose an alternative accommodation supplier who understands their need for flexibility during these times.
“It’s important that they feel you are with them and you would never align yourself with the accommodation suppliers. When you start to do that, you become more of an agent for the hotel or lodge rather than a curator for your client.”
Alym guarantees that the majority of accommodation suppliers will understand the need for flexibility and that this is a short-term solution until COVID vaccinations are available and the global situation improves. If they don’t accept, then you move on.
The Sales Process
“You don’t close on a phone call, you open them up, bring down their walls, tell them about yourself and the type of trip you want to curate for them. Have them do most of the talking.”
Week 3 of 10x Tourism’s Tour Operator Accelerator program is dedicated to analysing and mapping your sales process. It teaches how to automate the initial stages of educating potential customers and answering their questions with an email course and intake survey.
By installing these two crucial elements to the East Africa Wild website, Alym has seen a huge uptake in the number of quality leads they receive.
Alym and his team also incorporate 10x Tourism’s strategy of a multi-channel approach to follow ups. They tend to send a couple of emails and then follow up with a phone call. This is because Alym finds that he is able to put across who he is and paint a picture of what East Africa Wild encompasses.
His advice to tour operators who find their prospective customers shy away from phone calls is to be patient, but don’t give up. Continue to send them information so that once the COVID outbreak has declined, they might be more receptive to picking up the conversation again.
“They’re scared that you’re trying to sell them something so you want to bring down that wall. What I want to do is…see if I have a few itineraries that will get you excited. You don’t have to book right now but read them, send me questions.”
Due to COVID, Alym had to lay off all of his sales team in order to survive. He took his expenses down to almost zero, but maintained a small spend on marketing. This was important to get ahead for 2021.
For Alym, he used a range of strategies to get sales and marketing moving again for his travel business:
- Facebook advertising – cost per lead during the pandemic is at an all time low.
- Working with 10x Tourism to set up the Get More Bookings System. Learn about the system by signing up to the Tour Operator Accelerator Program for free for 7 days.
Downloading 10x Tourism’s free COVID-proof bookings policy – take advantage of templates and tools to move your business forward.
Itinerary Software: a Crucial Piece to the Sales Process
At 10x Tourism, itinerary building software is a tool we advocate for and teach in the Tour Operator Accelerator program. Alym agrees and has seen the benefit of using this type of tool with his safari customers.
Alym’s perspective is that a traveller is someone who is open to seeing different places whether that be through food and culture, wildlife experiences or topography. Travellers have a great imagination so it’s crucial for tour operators to provide an itinerary that captivates them.
“Post-COVID everything is digital…you have to find a way to sell where they get to see your personality on a descriptive itinerary…these itineraries can open as a PDF or opened on an App which is perfect while they are on safari.”
By using itinerary software it allows tour operators to be interactive. The ability to upload pictures, videos and link directly to the accommodation is much more powerful than a Word document.
Alym writes his itineraries from a first person perspective. By doing so, he’s able to bring the experiences to life for his customers through storytelling. Coupled with itinerary software, this adds to the effect of conjuring up imagery in the customer’s mind of what a safari with East Africa Wild could look like.
Whilst bookings are slow in Q4 2020, this is the perfect moment to be upgrading to itinerary software
Is the Get More Bookings® System Right for You?
Ultimately, Alym’s advice for those who are unsure whether 10x Tourism’s Get More Bookings system is right for them comes down to knowing what you want to achieve as a business and finding a company that will help you reach those goals.
10x Tourism is a niche sales and marketing agency for tour operators. It’s tailored and customised to the travel industry.
“10x has been fantastic in achieving a different perspective into the marketing of tourism clients. They don’t just put a bunch of conversions on your website. They use a very different approach.”
The crux of the 10x approach stems from the 3% Rule.
Too many tour operators try to ‘sell’ everyone who visits their website in the same way, at the same time.
But actually only around 3% of your market is actively ‘shopping’ when they visit your site…and this probably dropped down to just 1% during the height of the COVID pandemic!
Which means if you try to sell them right away without addressing their needs, you’ll lose 97% of your new visitors almost instantly – and they’re unlikely to come back.
In the Tour Operator Accelerator program, we teach travel companies a strategy to give each website visitor a genuine reason to visit your site again… and again… and again, without feeling pressured into making a decision before they’re ready.