Typically, direct bookings are the core focus for hotel marketing directors and owners around the world. However, travel agents continue to bring a reliable, low-hassle flood of guests through the doors of many hotels, resorts and lodges each year.
Of course, it doesn’t stop with hospitality companies. B2B travel sales contribute important business to airport transfer operators, tour and activity operators, function centers, entertainment agencies and so on.
In many cases, this array of hospitality and “providers of experience” are controlled by a much larger destination management company, who typically specialize in group travel. These DMC’s often rely on bookings made by travel agents to keep their beds, tours and restaurants full.
Being Less Direct
If there’s a recurring theme from my conversations with directors of remote lodges, camps and DMCs, it’s that they aren’t looking for more B2C direct bookings.
Instead they prefer to deal with travel agents that can set expectations for travelers. Often when a guest contacts them directly, they will be referred a local, trusted partner agent.
This way, guests are better educated about the region they are visiting, how the weather can impact their stay, wildlife and other exciting situations that may await them, creating a better guest experience.
Whether you operate a lodge in Botswana, run heli-ski tours in British Columbia or run a DMC in Nepal, you’re in the minority if B2B travel sales aren’t of interest to your company.
These travel agents have a wide inventory of products available to sell. When a retired couple visit their chosen travel agent to book a trip to Madagascar and Mauritius, the agent is spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation options. The same goes for flights, tour operators, restaurants and so on.
It’s rarely a problem to find new agents – you already speak with hundreds, if not thousands over the year at trade shows. The challenge is in keeping existing connections alive.
In this article I’ll run you through some key marketing methods you can use to keep front-of-mind for your agents.
Part of the challenge of selling “to” travel agents is also selling to their customers. It is the agent’s job to make the sale but if they don’t have a deep knowledge of your product, it’s going to be hard for them to paint the perfect picture for your future guests. If you don’t have the supporting material they need for them to make a sale, chances are they’ll move on to the next product they can sell.
When it comes to B2B – your travel business blog is the perfect way to:
- Generate new leads for your travel agents
- Provide reference material for your agents, which will often be passed on to their customers to close a sale
Your activity, DMC or hotel blog may be aspirational, but that doesn’t mean it only has to be top-of-funnel.
Blogging is a great way to tell the story that is the experience your future guests will have (not to mention improve your SEO).
Middle and bottom-of-funnel content can be a great way to generate sales qualified leads for your agents and this content is great in supporting them when it comes time for them to close the sale.
Email Marketing 2.0
Most companies prioritizing B2B travel marketing already have a strong focus on email and rightly so because email marketing done well can be very effective.
Unfortunately, these efforts are often fall short by setting up a newsletter, subscribing a bunch of travel agents and calling it a day. Newsletters can be great, but they have a fundamental flaw; they don’t take into account where your agent is in their knowledge of your product.
Consider the travel agent you met for the first time at a trade show last month. They loved the photos and your pitch, but are yet to visit your continent, let alone your remote lodge.
There’s a lot they still need to learn before you can “keep them up to date” with the latest, much less have them sell an experience on your property.
The solution many companies have come up with in the past was to send this new agent a single email with:
- policy documents,
- seasonal rates,
- sales material,
- and so on.
These same travel agents tell me it is information overload and they rarely actually learn about the product they’re meant to be selling.
The “get them on the newsletter” mindset is frankly, lazy.
Drip Feed This Information
This is why we regularly recommend travel companies consider a “drip email campaign” as part of their B2B travel marketing.
Drip email marketing campaigns ensure your agents don’t miss out on any key information, answering your most common questions up front (saving you from having to answer the same question over and over to each new agent individually).
This may mean an initial introduction email on the day of signing up, another email 3 days later, then weekly emails for the following month.
Over this time they can learn about your products, see the experiences their customers will be treated to, read testimonials from past guests, understand your policies and so on.
Key information is relayed to your agent in digestible chunks, then you can pass them on to the less frequent, but still important, newsletter updates.
If this sounds impersonal – you’d be pleasantly surprised. Done correctly, follow up emails can stop, or change based on the actions (such as replies, clicks, opens) the agents do, or don’t take.
Social Media Remarketing
After your email drip campaign has finished and your agents move to a monthly or quarterly newsletter, you’ll want to do something else to have them connected with your business and keep your products front-of-mind.
Social media can be a great and very affordable way to stay in touch, so long as it’s done correctly (for a deeper look into this, see our post Luxury Hotel Social Media Marketing Techniques).
All of the major social media networks will allow you to build a list of agents’ names and contact details on their platform. Consider this your “agent audience”.
Now, rather than advertising to anyone and everyone that may be interested in your travel products, you can focus on keeping your message coming to your best sellers.
Your messaging on this channel will depend on your product, but may include:
- Improvements to your property
- Latest weather affecting guests
- Sightings of local wildlife
- New team members
- Special offers
- Upcoming trade show attendance
- Fam trip opportunities
Traditional print ads have trouble competing in today’s world of digital attribution, where it’s becoming easier and easier to show a direct link between ad spend and revenue.
When the boss asks “How much did we make on your $2,000 Facebook Ads spend?”, so long as you are set up correctly, you’ll be able to bring up the report that shows $39,614. Print just doesn’t have this same level of reporting available.
Historically, outside of an address and name, print was missing any real personalization. This is where tech comes in again. By using integrations between your CRM or PMS and a print agency, you can custom print letters and postcards in a personalized manner to continue to stay in touch with your best agents.
Sales & Marketing Work Hand in Hand
These methods work hand in hand with in-person visits, fam trips, trade shows and regular sales calls. Your agents are worldwide, and it’s unlikely you have the time or budget to stay in regular one-on-one contact with all of them. This is really where your B2B travel marketing can shine.
Of course, you should never contact those who haven’t opted-in to your marketing campaigns. It’s important that you abide by all relevant laws corresponding to your campaigns. Most importantly, your marketing campaigns should be helpful and ethical, otherwise it’s either going to waste your money or hurt your brand.
These B2B travel marketing methods may appear to be more work, but they aren’t. While it may require some extra effort in their setup, if correctly automated using systems such as Segment and Zapier, they won’t take up any additional time. In fact, they should free up plenty of your day while keeping your property high on your agent’s mind.
Need help with the SEO portion of your marketing strategy? We’d love to help! We specialize in giving you the foundation you need to get new business from Google and other search engines. Learn more about our agile SEO process or contact us today!