The challenges of the past year brought to light the importance of a balanced distribution strategy for tour and attraction companies. Many operators who relied too heavily on third party channels, such as OTAs, found it difficult to pivot during the pandemic. Conversely, those tour and attraction brands that owned their customer data via direct acquisition had an easier time promoting socially distant options like virtual tours and experiences. 

Now that the worst is behind the tourism industry, all signs point to a very strong spring and summer season. According to TripAdvisor, 67% of Americans are planning at least one trip this summer. As tour and attraction businesses begin their recovery, and consumers actively seek out your products and experiences, customer acquisition and distribution should be top of mind. 

Maybe your company already has a robust direct digital marketing strategy or perhaps you’re looking to develop one.  

Below, we’ve provided a roadmap for how to think about your direct acquisition strategy, beginning with organic channels as your foundation. 

Building your direct strategy

Many tour and attraction companies tend to favor paid channels, such as Google and Facebook ads. These platforms are relatively easy to set up and can provide immediate results. But results and ROI are two different things. If not carefully managed, paid advertising can quickly exhaust a marketing budget, leaving you with no scalable direct acquisition strategy. Companies then turn to and rely on third party distribution, which applies downward pressure on margins and profitability. 

This is not to say that paid digital does not have a place in your strategy. It most certainly does and we’ll touch on this in more detail below. However, for many companies, establishing a strong foundation built on organic channels provides a more sustainable strategy for long term growth. 

Here are some organic areas to focus on as well as actionable tips to implement immediately.

SEO

The world of SEO and optimization is vast. However, there are some relatively low effort actions you can take immediately to give your web pages the best chance of ranking highly in search results.

  1. Optimize your metadata

Metadata for SEO are elements such as title tags and meta descriptions. They tell Google, and users, what your page is all about. Be sure to use high value keywords in your title tag. Keyword usage is not required for meta descriptions, as they have no direct impact on rankings. However, a well-written meta description means a higher click through rate (CTR). 

Anatomy of an organic search result

  1. Prioritize mobile

Google now officially prioritizes your site’s mobile pages over desktop. This means if you have a fully responsive and lightning fast mobile experience, you stand a better chance of ranking highly on search engine results pages (SERPs). To get an idea of what Google thinks of your mobile experience, log into Google Search Console, find Experience and then Mobile Useability on the left hand menu. 

If you see all green, that’s good! If your site returns errors, such as text that is too small, you’ll be able to see those details below the graph. 

  1. Check your core web vitals  

Equally important as mobile experience is the new Google Core Web Vitals, which are part of your overall page experience signals. Beginning June 2021, Google will start to factor in areas such as largest contentful paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS) into their algorithm. 

That’s a lot of acronyms, but don’t fret! 

LCP measures how quickly a page loads. FID measures how quickly that page is interactive, and CLS shows how quickly the page stabilizes. 

Again, all of this wonderful feedback on your site can be found in Google Search Console under Experiences–>Core Web Vitals. 

  1. Know your keywords, and track them 

Yes, keywords still matter. No, you shouldn’t be blindly stuffing them into your content.

You likely already have a top keyword list. If not, this is a great place to start. Check to see what keywords your web pages are already ranking for. Then use a tool like Ahrefs to analyze the gaps between your current keyword rankings and other high volume keywords relevant to your products. 

Weave these terms naturally into your page content (more on this below). Finally, use a tool like Wincher to track your keywords and rankings over time to measure success. 

Content marketing

You can’t talk about SEO without also including content marketing. While content can take many different forms — podcasts, video, infographics — focusing on your blog can be a great way to engage your audience and increase organic traffic. 

Here’s a couple ways to make the most of your content marketing efforts:

  1. Make a plan 

A steady stream of valuable content is a great way to scale and engage inbound leads. Take a proactive approach to your content and create a simple calendar, with article topics and titles. Start with three months and build it from there. Every business is different, but it is recommended to publish fresh content at least every two weeks. 

  1. Write for humans, not Google 

This tip cannot be emphasized enough. Yes, it’s a good idea to have top keywords in mind when writing new content. But write naturally as you would want to read an article. Remember that you can use variations of the same word or term — Google is smart enough to understand synonyms and user intent. For example, if you’re an aquarium and are writing the article 10 Stunning Facts About the Great White Shark, Google knows that great white and white shark, are the same animal. 

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

So you’ve published a blog article and are ranking on page 1 and getting tons of organic traffic. Congrats! But, your work doesn’t end here. Double down on this topic and translate that valuable written content into an infographic, short video, or a series of Instagram stories. It’s all about showing your customers, and Google, that your brand is an expert on specific topics. Oftentimes, this can be accomplished by simply repurposing high performing content.

The role of paid

As mentioned earlier, paid marketing channels like Google Ads and Facebook should be part of any balanced direct marketing strategy. Knowing how to deploy these channels is key. 

Look at Google Ads as a supplemental channel to acquire traffic on terms where you aren’t currently ranking organically. If you’re tracking your top keywords as suggested above, this should be an easy exercise. Look for those top keywords that are commercially relevant for your business, but where your organic search result position is not high enough to acquire meaningful traffic. 

Take those keywords and use a tool like Ahrefs, SEMRush, or Google Keyword Planner to get an idea of search volume and approximate CPC (cost per click). 

Then set up your Google Ads campaign using tightly structured ad groups, with no more than 15 keywords per group. Remember to always A/B test ad copy to find the best performing ad. 

And don’t forget that you can integrate your Google Ads account with RocketRez to seamlessly track conversions as they occur. 

For tours and activities brands with limited budgets, consider using Facebook Ads to build your database. 

To capture customer emails, design an easy-to-enter promotion or contest. Make the offer something simple to understand, but hard to resist — like free entry to your attraction or an exclusive experience not available to the general public. Drive users to a dedicated landing page and only ask for minimal personal details, such as first name and email address.

Bringing it all together

There’s an old SEO joke that goes something like: the best time to start your SEO strategy is yesterday. The second best time is today.

While it does take some effort to build a sustainable direct acquisition channel, it is well worth the time in the long run. Knowing that your business has a proven and scalable way to attract customers means decreasing the leverage that third party OTAs might have over your sales and distribution model.  


Jared Alster is cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Wildebeest, a digital strategy and brand marketing agency focused on growing tourism and technology companies.