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Sabah Karimi

Despite increasing competitiveness in the tours and activities marketplace, you don't have to dump money into marketing and advertising efforts. The key is to creatively use different platforms to engage your audience and generate more bookings each season. While the customer experience should always be a priority to generate the all-to-worthy word-of-mouth marketing, there are several ways to present your company in the best possible way online and encourage customers to book.

Here are nine marketing strategies that, if implemented, will help you grow your customer base.

1. Encourage customers to post positive reviews.

Research shows that 90 percent of customers say their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, according to data from research firm Dimensional Research. In your follow-up email, encourage customers to post detailed reviews of their experience to different sites, and include links to pages such as your Google+ or and other reviews and ratings sites. Also be sure to include a link to your Facebook, which is another place where travelers can post comments, reviews, share pictures, and give you a rating.

When a potential customer searches the web, these sites will show up on the top page of results, and the more reviews on these sites, the easier it is to make an impression.

And if you get negative reviews? Here are some best practices for handling negative online reviews.

2. Keep customers engaged with video-embedded emails.

Email is just one of several ways to connect with a customer directly—and a golden opportunity to make a great impression. So, with each email, offer an incentive to book immediately, or simply have the customer get in contact with you at a specific day and time.

While using strong visuals can increase user engagement, consider embedding a short YouTube video of one of your tours or activities to make the email that much more powerful. Even something as simple as a welcome message from the owner or a leading tour guide can make a lasting impression. Make sure to include the word "video" in the subject line to increase click-through rates. According to Experian's 2012 Digital Marketer Benchmark and Trend Report, this is a great way to capture the recipient's attention.

3. Get personal.

When researching tours and activities to add to their itinerary, travelers these days want a more personalized experience. A recent survey conducted by The Futures Company for American Express found that 83 percent of millennials value personalization and 85 percent prefer to have a customized itinerary over a packaged one. And even though you're not serving as a travel concierge, you can make sure every customer receives personalized attention.

Use Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) features with your online booking software program to keep track of all communications with your customers and to determine how to walk them through the booking process. The ZOZI Advance platform helps you customize and automate email reminders and review emails in a few clicks. You could leave notes next to a customer's details about their inquiry, who followed up with them, and what tours or packages they were interested in. This will make it easier for anyone who followed up with that customer to make appropriate suggestions or recommendations for their upcoming trip and ensures a more personalized customer experience.

4. Enhance activity descriptions on your website.

On your website, fleshing out the tour and activity descriptions, including descriptive copy, will help entice a traveler to book with your company. For instance, include bulleted lists with highlights of the tour or activity, indicating which tours or activities are your most booked or most-talked about, and include high-quality photographs alongside each description. Embedding a short video can also keep your customers engaged and eager to learn more about the trip or activity.

SS Tobias Snorkel & Beach Tours take travelers around the northeast coast of Puerto Rico and the owners have developed very detailed descriptions of each tour, complete with stunning photos and information about each beach and island visited on the tour. And example of one of their descriptions: "The snorkeling is fantastic with reef formations just a few swim strokes from the shore. The reef gardens are ablaze with the flamboyant colors of abundant, vigorous corals; some of them topped with waving sea fan coral, which swing impressively with the movement of the ocean waves." Adventure America Zipline Canopy Tours by Wildwater also provides comprehensive tour information, including a bulleted list of highlights of each tour, a short video segment, and the option to combine the zipline experience with a rafting adventure.

5. Increase social media activity.

Consider creative ways to present your offerings to all of your fans and followers on your social media pages. Make use of Instagram's video feature to post short video excerpts of a tour experience through the eyes of a tour guide. Post "behind the scenes" footage of a tour or activity on Facebook for prospective customers to get a better idea of what you offer.

Forever Florida, an eco tour operator in Saint Cloud, Florida, has a Facebook following of more than 19,000 fans and has taken full advantage of Facebook features such as videos and also running a giveaway. A simple, 15-second video showing some of the wildlife they encounter—a crocodile and peacocks walking together—was shared more than 300 times.

6. Build a brand presence on FourSquare.

Claim your listing on FourSquare so that you can add your company logo, update details about your hours of operation and business details, include social media account information and post special offers for frequent or new customers. FourSquare check-ins could help to promote your business with less effort on your part. According to data compiled by Stikky Media, 46 percent of travelers check in to a location using their mobile device while on vacation.

FourSquare also has a feature where you can post tips about events, featured tours and activities, recent awards your business has won, and other short details as "featured content" on your business listing. This is the perfect place to put the spotlight on a popular tour, share accolades, and tell customers why you're the best in the business.

The FourSquare listing for the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour in Winter Park, Florida, is loaded with photos, helpful tips from FourSquare users, and even has a recommendation from a complementary business—Gray Line Orlando—within their listing. It's a popular listing with more than 900 visitors and more than 1,000 total visits to date.

7. Offer free content on your website.

Free content can help to attract and entertain your site visitors while helping you stand out from the competition. Maui Sport Fishing Charters gets creative by posting its "Daily Catch Photos" on Facebook and also has an entire section of its website devoted to Hawaii fish recipes. The recipes include step-by-step directions and even videos completely free of charge. Live web cams can be another fun way to educate and entertain site visitors. Kai Kanani Sailing Charters posts live web cam views of Makena Beach in front of the Makena Beach & Golf Resort.

If you want to build your subscriber list or drive more traffic to your blog or main website, consider putting together a downloadable guide about key destinations or travel tips about your destination that is available free of charge. All the customer has to do to access the guide is provide basic contact information and an email address—the basic information you need to build your subscriber list to send email newsletters or an email-only offer in the near future.

See Also: How to Launch a Blog to Grow Your Tour or Activity Business

8. Develop a YouTube channel.

According to recent research findings from Think with Google, views of travel-related content on YouTube are up 118 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. This makes YouTube the perfect platform to capture a highly responsive market and help you build your online presence. Take a look at the series of videos from Expoza Travel, a travel video channel that shares inspiring and fascinating destinations around the world. Each video provides an overview of the destinations high-quality footage and 360-degree views of a destination. It's a great example of a video clip about a particular destination or attraction that would appeal to a wide audience.

The Nantahala Outdoor Center has uploaded videos on YouTube about different adventures and camps they offer throughout the year. Each video is only a few minutes in length and the description includes a direct link to the main website—a must-have item to encourage travelers to contact you immediately.

9. Use an online booking software. 

Perhaps the easiest way to increase your bookings - without the extra marketing cost - is to use an online booking system. With ZOZI Advance, you can let ZOZI do the back office work so you can focus on what matters — creating an amazing experience for your customers.