Marketing Small Tourism Businesses Online

Jet boating near Queenstown

Goldfields Jet operate in the Kawerau River between Cromwell and Queenstown

The New Zealand tourism market has grown exponentially over the past several years and record visitor numbers have been seen moving through New Zealand airports. The international tourism sector is now worth a whopping $11.8 billion to New Zealand (as at March 31st 2016). With this in mind, it is important to consider how even as a small tourism business, you can get the most of this booming sector. The days of handing out promotional flyers have long been replaced by online or digital marketing, so it is important that you get on board.

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A marketing strategy should not be overwhelming or something you look at once and then file away. You and your team should be highly invested in the plan and the plan should be focused, flexible and something that you action as part of your daily routine. You have begun your business knowing you have an exceptional product or service that you are super passionate about. Now you need to share your passion with your ideal customers. Remember, you can’t be everything to everybody, marketing is about being specific and focused about how and where you communicate your message to get maximum results. Your marketing plan should help you to consistently marketing the benefits of your business to the right audiences for maximum return on investment.

Know your customers

When marketing your tourism business online, first and foremost, you must identify who your ideal customer is.  This will help you determine how your marketing strategy will develop. If your business has customers jumping out of aeroplanes, then advertising on a knitting website is unlikely to attract your desired customer base. If you aren’t specific, then your message will be diluted and your return on investment low.


If you are a small business, then chances are your marketing budget is low. This is ok; however, it is good to identify what you would like to achieve from your marketing budget. What is your ideal return on investment? This could be a dollar figure or it could be a percentage increase in customer numbers. Make sure its measurable so you can see if your marketing strategy is working for you. Start with your business objectives and the work backwards from there. Having a marketing calendar is a great visual aid, reminding you what and when each marketing activity is going to happen.


Know your business’s strengths. What sets you apart from your competitors? By truly knowing your product or service and believing in it enables you to communicate this convincingly to your ideal customers and is a very powerful selling tool.

Things to include in your online marketing plan


Allocate a decent amount of your budget towards your website design. They layout of your website is particularly important as this can influence the engagement and activity your site attracts. Your website should include

  • A clutter-free home page
  • Simple navigation and features
  • Large, fast loading images
  • Be intuitive
  • Be mobile friendly
  • Use unique, relevant and up-to-date content
  • Include landing pages that can generate leads

A 10% reduction in the use of desktop computers has been seen over the last 12 months and with this a corresponding rise in the use of mobile devices.  As you would expect, a large number of travellers use their mobile devices to plan their travel, so it makes sense to get your website optimised for mobile use. What this means is that your website is optimised so that visitors to your site experience easy navigation and reading across your site regardless of device, including desktops, tablets and smartphones. Google has recognised that only around 20% of people will purchase a product or service on a non-optimised website from a mobile device. Google now prevents non-optimised websites from appearing in search results on a mobile device. Having a mobile friendly website increases your chance of appearing and ranking well in search engine results.

Paid Advertising & SEO  

fiordland discovery milford sound cruise

The Jewel is Fiordland Discovery’s new luxury motor yacht.

An important aspect of your online marketing strategy is to invest in search engine optimization (SEO). This means building your website to be as search-engine friendly as possible. This is utilizing keywords or phrases in your website content that potential customers may use in search engines. This drives and generates traffic to your website.  Paid advertising on Google or Facebook can be great at increasing traffic to your website. They are cost effective because you can set a maximum spend and only pay when somebody clicks on the ad. Ads can be accurately directed at your target market for greater results. For instance, Fiordland Discovery recently launched a new luxury motor yacht to take tourists on overnight trips around Milford Sound. Currently, their Google Advertising is set up to only display for searches that relate to overnight visits to Milford Sound.

Social Media

If you haven’t signed up to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest, then this should be next on the list. Social media has taken off over the past few years and has revolutionised the way people socialise and communicate. It is estimated that over 75% if internet users are a member of at least one social networking site which translates to one billion users worldwide. Social media is hugely relevant for travel and tourism and it is important that your business has a presence on each of the major social media platforms. These platforms enable you to communicate to your customers directly without the costs associated with traditional forms of media. Facebook live is a relatively new feature which allows you to broadcast live videos to your Facebook followers. It is a great way to put a personality to your business or brand and allows for two-way interaction with viewers. Your video might be introducing a new member of your team, showing behind the scenes or even a live event or activity. People seem to love the fact the video is live and on average live videos are getting 10 times more comments then pre-recorded videos. A great way to boost organic reach.

If your target customer group includes people aged less than 30 then Snapchat is worth including in your marketing plan. Snapchat has seen massive growth over the last 18 months and is now one of the top four social marketing platforms. Snapchat allows “snappers” to take a photo or short video. For travel and tourism, the snap “story” feature and geolocation filters are a great marketing opportunity. A snap story is a collection of photos and videos over a 24-hour period. Your Snapchat followers can view your story, so this is an opportunity to engage your followers, to put your product or service’s best foot forward and to build interest in your tourism experience. Snapchat allows you to submit geolocation filters that you and your snap followers can use in pictures or videos. This is perfect for getting people to brand their snaps with your logo or name.

Directory Listings

Bay of Islands Travel Guide website design

The Bay of Islands Travel Guide website

There are numerous websites that allow you to list your business. Check out which sites are relevant to you and get yourself listed. Be sure to track leads from these sites so you can review your return on investment. TripAdvisor is one of the world’s largest travel listing sites, providing travellers the opportunity to post reviews about their travel experiences.  As at October 2016, 435 million reviews have been posted about 6.8 million different attractions, accommodations and restaurants.  What you should do is claim your business’s listing on this website, it’s free! By doing this you can ensure that the information provided is correct and up-to-date. Search engines almost always include TripAdvisor in the top 10 results, which is great considering it won’t cost you a thing. By claiming your business on this site, you are given the opportunity to reply to reviews, good or bad. You may decide to priorities your time and only reply to the negative reviews, which is a good option as ignoring a negative review is like ignoring a complaint letter that the entire online world can see. When your guests have had a great time, don’t be afraid to direct them to TripAdvisor, more often than not guests are happy to write you a review.

Smaller local directories can also be a great source of business. Just be sure not to pay for one that ranks poorly, has only been recently established or has few visitors. The Bay of Islands Travel Guide is an example of a successful local directory. It has been online for 20 years and consistently ranks highly, receiving over 30,000 page views a month.

Email Marketing

Email marketing can be a useful strategy if done properly. People receive numerous emails on a day to day basis and it is unlikely that they will read them all, so you want to make sure your email stands out from the rest. For starters, make the subject line exciting. If it appears boring, then people aren’t going to open it.  Have a brainstorming session, think about what it is that you want to include in the email and consider how you can word the email to be as enticing as possible.  People’s time is precious, so don’t send out long wordy emails, keep it precise and include some good quality pictures. Consider who it is that you are wanting to reach, a blanket approach rarely works. Emailing people about a special offer when they have only just visited or live in another city is going to be completely irrelevant. When setting up your mailing list consider asking the customer their post code and interests so you can send relevant, targeted emails with better open rates and sales conversion.

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By setting specific marketing goals you can develop a cost-effective strategy for accomplishing them. Online marketing is constantly evolving so be sure to keep up with the current trends. If your budget allows, enlisting the help of a digital marketing guru could be a beneficial investment.


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