Tourism, Bowen Island and other stuff that comes to mind

Attracting New Customers
April 15, 2008, 2:51 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Attract new customers for any travel business published in the Toronto Globe & Mail (pay particular attention to "what the experts say section:

Shifting a bike tour into higher gear

The challenge: Attract new, younger customers. The plan: Become an industry expert through media outreach. The payoff: A new generation of customers ready to travel


Globe and Mail Update – March 3, 2008 at 10:30 AM EDT

BikeHike Adventures, a Vancouver-based adventure tour company, has been organizing sports-themed vacations for its actively inclined clientele for more than a decade. Veteran traveller Trish Sare, BikeHike’s 42-year-old owner and operator, founded the company in 1994 after wandering the world for the better part of 15 years.

National Geographic Adventure magazine has recognized Ms. Sare as one of the best adventure tour operators in the world. In November, the magazine’s team of adventure editors and travel writers voted BikeHike the second-best biking outfitter on Earth.

The typical BikeHike explorer is active and outdoorsy, aged 25 to 55, with a disposable income large enough to absorb up to $3,000 for a two-week vacation (not counting airfare) that may well find them sleeping in a tent.

While Ms. Sare’s expeditions are physically challenging, she says her customers are “just regular mortals in good physical condition” who work out a few times a week.

bike inside The Globe and Mail

Still, it’s a safe bet that weak-kneed culture vultures won’t be signing up for BikeHike’s nine-day “high-energy extravaganza” (biking, hiking, rafting, kayaking and rappelling) in Brazil this year, or the coast-to-coast “muscle power” expedition in Costa Rica.

In the midst of Ms. Sare’s fairy-tale existence, a few storm clouds have appeared on the horizon. “Things are changing,” she says, explaining that she’s traditionally relied on word of mouth to bring her new customers.

“Our clients are getting a little older, and maybe they’re starting to look for a little more luxury and something a little softer.”

If she is going to keep her business going in the right direction, she needs to revitalize her customer roster with younger people who will keep coming back year after year, instead of relying on those loyal travellers who have been with her from the start.

While Ms. Sare doesn’t want to give up the adrenalin-based adventures, she has decided to change her business plan to include family excursions and “wellness trips” centred around yoga and meditation. “I wish I had an answer as to why we haven’t grown faster. I don’t have a business background, so I learn as I go,” she says, explaining that her bookings have plateaued at about 100 customer trips a year.

What the experts say

Hill & Knowlton Canada’s senior vice-president, Kadi Kaljuste, says Ms. Sare should mention the National Geographic award on every piece of paper BikeHike produces – be it pamphlets, letterhead or business cards.

She should also make sure her company’s voice mail mentions the designation to help entice first-time callers.

“Larger companies can simply order more letterhead,” Ms. Kaljuste says. “For smaller companies, it can be cost prohibitive to dump what you have. You can get stickers done to put on all of your printed materials – it’s a simple fix.”

Ms. Kaljuste also sees opportunities for Ms. Sare to reach out to younger travellers by becoming something of a celebrity. She says Ms. Sare should approach tourism authorities – national, provincial and municipal – and offer herself up as an example of a successful operator.

She should also seek out speaking opportunities, as a way of prospecting for new leads.

“She can offer herself up as the poster child of excellence in adventure travel,” Ms. Kaljuste says.

She should find other industry awards – why not try for entrepreneur of the year, Ms. Kaljuste asks – and do whatever needs to be done to ensure BikeHike makes it to the top of the National Geographic rankings again next year.

She warns that media hits have a best-before date. Ms. Sare did the right thing when she sent out a press release to let the world know about the designation, provided she had a good media contact list. She says every small-business owner should have a “living, breathing list” of important media publications, and know what is being written about them.

“It has to be sent to the right people – there’s the mainstream media, regional dailies, trade publications, blogs,” she says.

Maggie Fox, founder of Social Media Group in Dundas, Ont., agrees that Ms. Sare stands a good chance of becoming something of an Internet celebrity in her field. Thousands of potential customers are reading travel blogs each day, and who better to write one than someone who zips around the world non-stop?

“Most people talk on and on about the one trip they took last year, but this is her life,” Ms. Fox says. “She could have one of the biggest, most influential travel blogs on the Internet. She has the stories; she has the pictures. That’s a lot of interesting stuff to talk about that a lot of people would be interested in reading.”

Ms. Sare already has a blog on BikeHike’s website, but it’s only updated once a month. If a business is going to bother, Ms. Fox says there needs to be an investment of time and resources. If it’s done right, it should lead to more customers.

“You’ll never save on labour with social media because it takes time and effort to participate in online communities,” she says. “But if you’re comparing it to a media buy, it’s a lot cheaper.”

Essential to any website, Ms. Fox says, are assets such as photographs. She’s “shocked” there are so few images for prospective customers to look at when they visit the BikeHike site, and says it’s likely one of the easiest things to fix.

Ms. Fox also strongly encourages Ms. Sare to find bloggers who are already covering her industry. She suggests using Google’s blog search feature to root them out, and then checking them out at Technorati – a website that shows how influential a blog is by counting how many other pages use it as a link.

“Find those people,” she says. “Leave comments that are in context. Add value, start to form relationships with these people.”

Readers tend to place value in what their favourite bloggers write, so Ms. Fox says Ms. Sare should consider offering an influential writer a free trip.

The blogger would be expected to file regular updates to his or her site – a word-of-mouth coup that could lead to more business.

If she’d rather not let a stranger travel the world on her dime, she could turn to her repeat customers and have them file regular dispatches from their next trip.

“She’s not sending these people to Disneyland,” Ms. Fox says. “This is really interesting stuff that people will want to read about.”

Of course, things can go wrong online.

It’s essential that she not flood bloggers with advertisements or quick one-liners. If you annoy them, the effort could backfire.

“It’s like a conversation,” she says. “You don’t just walk up to a group of people while they are talking and say, ‘Hey, look what I am doing.’ It’s off-putting. It all has to stem from legitimate – and I’m going to emphasize that – legitimate relationships. She can’t spam them with content. She has to really make it a marketing effort to get out there and read that stuff and figure out who’s talking about what, and contribute.”


Become an expert

People browse blogs looking for expert opinions about things that interest them. Start a blog, and become the trusted source of information.

Tell your story

A website has to be more than a lot of text explaining what a company does. Use photos and video to present a realistic picture of what you are offering.

Know your outlets

Every small business owner should have their own list of relevant media publications that cover their industry.

Take advantage of awards

If you receive an important industry designation, make sure you tell people.