How Do Tours & Activities Drive Repeat Customers? [Discussion]

14 Apr 2015     |    Taz Bareham

The great thing about social networking is that it allows tour and activity industry peers to connect and share ideas about ways to drive business. In particular, LinkedIn has proved to be one of the better sites to use for this purpose.

We reached out to group members in the Tour & Activity Marketing Group to ask how tours and activities should drive repeat customers.

The main objections around this are:

  • Many tours and activities are “novelty” experiences eg. parasailing.
  • Most of their customers are travelers, and they’re unlikely to come back.

We got some amazing responses, listed below (because the group is private, we have left the authors anonymous).

The responses come from tour and activity suppliers, as well as companies whose clients are tour and activity suppliers (marketing agencies and booking technology companies).

1) Referrals

One word – referrals. I come from a similar business where my window of repeat clientele is very small.

One practice we have instituted was handing flyers/business cards to our guests and asking that if they truly enjoyed the experience, to pass it onto another traveller they meet, or to a hospitality staff member in the city (i.e. concierge, restaurant server, bartender, etc.).

If you can’t get a repeat, you might as well capitalise on their positive view of your company while you have the opportunity. The more people in your market who hear the positive reviews first hand from real travellers, the better the chance they will refer someone to you.

2) Customer experience

I deal with many clients for whom the two objections Christabelle mentions are very real challenges. Few people want to do more than one tandem skydive. Few people will visit Milford Sound more than once … Hey: many people will visit New Zealand only once.

The trick is to create a customer experience that would drive repeat/return visits/bookings regardless of whether people are likely to be able to return or want to repeat an experience. A customer experience that will create brand advocates of all customers.

That means a customer experience that doesn’t end when the stay/experience is over and starts from initial contact with the brand. Things like:

  • (Should go without saying but …) Ensuring that your product is great and customer service is excellent first time round. Essential but easy to let slip if the assumption is people will only be here/doing this once.
  • Promoting the quality of the experience, the brand personality and the level of customer service online. Things like:

Being very active on social media

Don’t just promote to prospects; engage with them (follow people who express a relevant interest [set up social media searches to identify people], help with local info, advice on transport options, etc.) and be sure to respond to all mentions of your brand. And actively share people’s experiences of your product (assuming you have their permission) – e.g. retweet images, thank them for feedback, etc.

  • Encourage social sharing of your product … Just going to the trouble of asking people to review you on TripAdvisor can be very valuable.
  • Good testimonials are very valuable website content. But you have to ask for them!

Offering a blog

Offer a blog or newsletter to capture notable experiences and offer ways for people to stay in touch with you.

Following up

Follow up by checking in with people after they have experienced your product. For instance, sending an email a little while after customers are with you with a customer survey shows you care regardless of whether they complete the survey. That said: a survey is good way to collect testimonials.

Bottom line: Don’t assume that the fact that most of your customers will only use your product once means you shouldn’t treat them like potential repeat visitors.

3) Ongoing contact

A repeat customer is always worth it – usually book direct, so no “cost of acquisition”. The ongoing contact with customers is key here, starting with capturing their contact and then retaining them with content (such as paddling video), subscription and “take home” items.

We separate customers (end user) and clients who might be the same person, or separate (in our case, clients are the distribution partners which include DMCs and TOs that acquire our walks).

As we grow to offer more products, the challenge is generating enough content for each product, to retain the varied interests (activities vary from walking, diving, MTB, canyoning, dolphins, etc) through to wine and food, culture and botanical gardens.

Lastly, I do think there is an element of accepting that “we can’t capture all customers” – they are either not interested and/or the cost of converting them (preaching to the unconverted) is much more costly that to those that are seeking activities/wine etc. The challenge then is – how to capture people that are looking from our products, but are not aware this is available (or is this good) at this destination.

4) Local product

Another option is to create a product relevant to locals. For some businesses this may be tough but using existing tools one could create products that are promoted during the lower season which cater to different needs.

Our customer Escape Goat runs international trips and mountain biking training days during their down season. He’s in New Zealand right now actually on an international trip.

5) Send something home with them

I address this issue by asking myself

  • What can I send home with my customer, and
  • Is there anything else I can offer my customer?

I have a wine tour company so for me it was easy. I provide my customers with a 4 bottle wine tote bag with my brand logo stamped on the side, along with a packet they can take wine tasting notes in. Anything I can send home with my customers that they will keep, share and reference again increases their chances of coming back and/or recommending.

I am also in the process of creating a wine club they can sign up for any time before, during or after the tour where they will receive local wines on a subscription basis. Even if they never visit me again, I can keep them as customers in a different avenue.

I realize not everyone has a product they can sell to their customers on a subscription basis. But, say you have a paddle board tour or rental company. Attempt to sign up customers for your weekly newsletter where you send out written and video content all about paddle boarding. Anything to keep your customers engaged long after they leave your place of business will encourage a long term relationship.

Another great piece of marketing material is handing out post cards of your business. I offer my guests to fill them out and leave with me, and I pay postage and send them out. Likely, the customer will send them to friends/family who are interested in the service what you offer. I saw this at a bar in Maine.

6) Local media

The experience of your guests will determine how they engage with your brand on social media, review sites and recommendations to their friends and family. Continuing to engage with them allows them to act as brand ambassadors for you even if they themselves don’t return.

In larger cities repeat business can definitely be generated. Food tours, adventure experiences etc are as relevant to locals as to tourists. Engaging with local media and offering discounts in off peak periods will help drive this trade and has greater potential for repeat business.

Join in the conversation!

Participate in the discussion and get tips from industry peers by joining the Tour & Activity Marketing Group on Linkedin.