This article is part of our Travel Business Startup Guide—a curated list of articles to help you plan, start, and grow your travel business!
The travel industry is a growing behemoth with no sign of slowing down.
In 2014, the global economic contribution to the travel industry was 7.6 trillion U.S. dollars. Not only is the travel industry one of the largest in the world, but it encompasses a wide variety of business types and customer needs.
This makes the travel industry easy to break into, as there are plenty of niches to fill, but difficult to stand out in, as large players (think major airlines, hotel chains, and services like Uber and Lyft) dominate the market.
To help your travel business stand out and bring in more revenue, here are seven research-driven, data-backed strategies you can implement today—or plan for once you’ve got your business up and running.
1. Ask for referrals
Customer referral programs can be an effective way to increase revenue for your travel agency, if implemented correctly.
In an effort to suss out the actual statistical effectiveness of referral programs, Referral Saasquatch did a roundup of customer referral program statistics, and found that 65 percent of new business comes from referrals, and 92 percent of respondents trusted referrals from people they knew.
Sami Belbase, President of Encore Jets, listed asking for referrals as number one in his list of most effective strategies for improving revenue. When it comes to why he advocates for a referral program, Sami is succinct: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Now, the process of asking for referrals can be a bit tricky—in fact, Hubspot found that the discomfort employees often feel when asking for referrals was why many referral programs fail. To combat this, they compiled some useful tips and referral templates to help with the process, which can be implemented by your sales team.
2. Establish a strong social media presence
If your travel business isn’t using social media to its advantage, it’s a good idea to pick and commit to a few social profiles at the very least.
While each business will have a slightly different user base with different social media habits, there’s a good likelihood that your customers use social media for travel purposes. A report by Deloitte found that over a third of people use online booking for their vacations, and the same report indicated that most travelers will discuss their trip on social media sites as soon as the day they return.
Sami Belbase recommends a “multi-channel strategy” when it comes to social media, and attests that a well-executed social media strategy has been one of the most effective tactics for boosting revenue for his business, Encore Jets. “Each platform is slightly different and built for a different purpose,” he says. “Harness the benefits of each and compose a multi-channel strategy while keeping an integrated campaign in mind.”
If you’re looking for more information on how to best implement a social media strategy that works for your travel business, check out this article by Travel Market Report, which breaks it down by social platform.
3. Motivate your team members (especially your sales team) with great incentives
When it comes to increasing revenue for your travel business, your sales team is on the front line.
So, how do you encourage your sales team to work as hard as they can to bring in the most clients and book the most trips possible?
“The biggest boost in sales has been through the motivation of our sales employees through personal incentives,” says Emmelie De La Cruz, Digital Marketing Manager for Shofur. “Our top sales rep is going to be awarded an all-expense paid trip to the NBA finals if he meets his sales goals this month.”
The data backs up the success of sales incentive programs: Blackhawk Engagement Solutions found that when structured properly, sales incentive programs can increase employee performance by up to 44 percent. Not only that, they found that annual revenue increase was three times higher among companies that use tangible sales incentives!
“This kind of personalized approach to employee incentives is a much better motivator that commission, and helps to build team morale,” says Emmelie. “When our team is happy and excited about the work that they do, it translates into better interactions with our customers and thus, more sales.”
If you’re looking for creative ways to implement an incentive program, check out this article from Salesforce on great incentive programs you can easily implement.
4. Encourage your customers to leave reviews
We all know online reviews are of huge importance—how many times have you looked up a restaurant, only to be put off by negative reviews on Yelp?
The importance of good online reviews doesn’t just end with dining, however. “Real customer reviews are the answer to more business,” says Natasha Malinsky, Shopping and Lifestyle Consolidator for ShopNYC Tours. “TripAdvisor is golden, and customers treat it like a travel bible.”
But just how important are online reviews for increasing revenue? Studies suggest that when it comes to buying decisions, 90 percent of consumers are influenced by reviews, and 87 percent of potential customers will not consider a business with a low rating on review sites.
All that being said, how do you get your customers to leave you reviews?
5. Establish a personal connection with your customers
While revenue-boosting strategies tend to focus on bringing in new customers, don’t forget the importance of returning users.
Returning customers should be getting plenty of your attention: The likelihood that you’ll be able to sell again to an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent, while selling to a new customer is only five to 20 percent.
So, knowing this, how can your travel business make sure that you build a solid connection with your existing customers, to keep them coming back? Simon Harding from Theatre Breaks recommends reaching out personally.
“We contact those who have just booked, to make sure the booking process is okay, and we contact those who have just come back to make sure they had a good time,” he explains.
“It is really personal. We try to keep our own customers so that we establish a relationship with them,” says Simon. “Okay, it is a bit of extra work, but life in a travel agency has its ups and downs and we are finding it saves time because, by keeping up the communication, we know what the client wants to do next, earlier. So, no last minute rushes, and more chance of finding a deal.”
For Simon and Theater Breaks, reaching out to customers personally also has had the added benefit of increasing customer reviews and word of mouth, which has benefitted business. “While we are talking, we do now ask for official reviews,” he says. “We now have the opportunity to find out where customers are most likely to leave a review and help them to do so.”
6. Go where your customers are
While social media and other online marketing is certainly effective, there is something to be said for getting down in the trenches and actually going where your customers spend time.
David Feldsott, founder, and CEO of PanTrek, recommends just that. “We went out to find our potential customers, in the real world,” he says.
“Since we are an online travel agency that sells inter-city bus tickets, our target consumers are typically millennials (students, tourists, young professionals, and backpackers),” says David. “So, we went to hostels and hotels and told the staff about our website to make their job fielding questions easier, went to local universities and advertised to the students, posted on travel forums where tourists seek answers to common questions about bus travel, etc.”
PanTrek saw a marked improvement in their business as a result of actually speaking to their potential customers. “People checked out our product, fell in love with it, and our business took off via word-of-mouth,” says David. “We brought in new customers who didn’t know our service even existed and they spread it to other travelers they met along the road.”
This isn’t just one business’s success talking—word-of-mouth marketing is extremely powerful, with an estimated 500,000 conversations generated from every 1,000 customers. Not only that, but 92 percent of customers trust word-of-mouth recommendations over advertising.
7. Establish strategic partnerships
A strategic partnership involves your business coupling up with another business for an arrangement that benefits you both.
In the context of the travel business, this could look like an agency partnering with a hostel at their destination, where travelers get a discounted rate on a room.
Partnerships can be incredibly effective when it comes to boosting revenue. Just look at this case study from Kissmetrics, which details how one business’s partner network was responsible for a 1,983 percent increase in revenue!
Sami Belbase has had huge success with the partnerships he has established for Encore Jets. “The strongest way to partner with another company is leading in with the interest for a client,” he explains.
“[For example], when my client has a need to book at a high end property in, let’s say, St. Tropez, I will call a couple real estate firms, speak directly with someone in upper management, and discuss my client’s interest in their property. Immediately, a level of trust, and mutual interest will be stimulated between my agency and the real estate agency. Almost always they will propose a partnership moving forward as they have clients that need my service.”
For more information on establishing strategic partnerships for your travel business, check out How to Get Agents to Partner With Your Tour or Activity Business.
Ready to get started?
Maybe you’re still in the planning stages, and not quite ready to implement these strategies yet. If that’s the case, you’re in luck—we’ve done a lot of the legwork for you.
First, check out my other article, How to Start a Travel Agency. It’s filled with advice from entrepreneurs who have started successful travel businesses, and it covers the basics you’ll need to get started.
Second, make sure you check out Bplans free travel and tourism sample business plans, which will give you a framework for how to structure your own business plan, and maybe some inspiration, too.