As the leisure tourism industry continues to digitize, it’s more important than ever to align online sales and marketing. Gone are the days when a billboard along a busy highway could be the main source of customer acquisition. Ticketed attractions that sell online via an e-commerce platform must also now be marketed online.
This article takes a closer at the various digital marketing channels that resorts and attractions should at least consider as part of their online marketing strategy. It’s worth noting that every business is different and that, based on factors such as competitive landscape, geo, and target audience, some of these channels may perform better than others.
Before getting into the details of online acquisition channels, let’s first look at the mechanics and metrics behind any solid online marketing strategy.
The basics behind customer acquisition
The optimal digital marketing strategy involves multiple acquisition channels. An acquisition channel is any tactic intended to attract “eyeballs” and drive traffic to the website, specifically to complete a purchase and generate a conversion.
Before beginning an acquisition campaign, it’s important to determine the maximums that the attraction or resort is willing to pay to acquire a sale. The cost per acquisition ‘CPA,’ or customer acquisition cost, ‘CAC,’ is the amount a business pays to gain a single new customer.
Factors influencing the ideal CPA include the frequency the business expects a new customer to purchase over a period of time and the likely value of their purchase, or average order value (AOV). More frequent purchases with higher AOV means a business can likely maintain a higher CPA.
For example, if your overall AOV, or ticket yield per transaction, is $100 then, all things being equal, you would expect your CPA to be less than $100 in order to realize an ROI positive campaign.
If a business is savvy enough to have a measure of their average customer lifetime value (CLTV), then this can also be factored into CPA and ROI calculations.
This is where pricing and revenue management intersect with marketing. All acquisition channel performance needs to be tracked, measured, monitored, and optimized in order to understand channel performance and maximize marketing spend for the resort or attraction. The marketing manager and revenue manager need to work hand-in-hand to ensure marketing dollars spent yield real results in revenue. This collaboration needs to happen with diligence and on an ongoing basis, not on a casual basis. Minor tweaks to channel allocations – or even to efforts within a channel – can alter results substantially.
Anytime a new marketing effort rolls out, it should be considered experimental – a learning effort. Allocate the minimal dollars necessary to try something new and then monitor it closely. Expect some efforts to fail and some efforts to produce surprising results. Be ready to cut losses. Acquisition strategy, especially at the outset, is a moving target. The overarching goal needs to be to ultimately hit the target and be able to repeat that over and over again.
7 e-commerce acquisition channels to consider
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Often described as part art and part science, Search Engine Optimization is a combination of on-page and off-page factors that influence where a site’s content ranks in organic search engine results. ‘Organic’ in this case means that a business is not directly paying Google or another search engine to rank higher on the page.
For example, a Google search for best-hidden gem family ski resorts yields the below results as of the time of this writing:
Basic on-page factors that affect organic rankings include metadata (data about the HTML, such as the author, and important keywords that describe the document), such as title tags and meta descriptions, which should be unique for each page. Each page should also have a prevalence of the keyword phrase for which it wants to be found, and frequently updated content. Note, this does not mean stuffing a page with repetitive keywords. This is called ‘keyword stuffing’ and is frowned upon by search engines.
The single most important ‘off-page’ SEO signal is links from other authoritative and relevant websites. For example, obtaining a link to a ski resort website from an article in USA Today on the topic of ‘where to ski this year’ would help boost that site’s rankings, all other things being equal.
Search engine crawlers called “bots” or “spiders” visit the code of websites, looking for these elements, and the search engine algorithms generate the search result page rankings. SEO is not a ’set-it-and-forget-it practice.’ Ideally, a website’s CMS, or content management system, has built-in features that enable the marketing team to optimize SEO on the site on an ongoing basis.
SEO is a long-game tactic, too. Results do not happen overnight and compound over time. SEO should be considered a long-term investment and part of any resort or attraction’s marketing toolkit.
2. Paid Search Advertising (“SEM,” “PPC,” and “Google Ads”)
Unlike SEO, paid search advertising comes with a direct cost to the business that is realized per each click. This form of paid search advertising is sometimes referred to by acronyms such as “SEM” (search engine marketing), “PPC” (pay-per-click, the model on which most search engine advertising is based) or, “Google Ads,” which is Google’s main advertising product.
Many people know Google’s PPC ads as those that appear at the top of search engine result pages (see image below), but the Google Ads program can also place graphic ads on other keyword-relevant websites through its Display Network.
PPC ads are considered “performance-based” in the sense that the advertiser only pays when the ad gets clicked. Because these are paid placements, results or failures can be seen rather rapidly. These results can be useful to inform the SEO strategy, and keywords that perform well may need to be added to the list of SEO keywords to employ. Ads placed on a PPC basis can be extremely cost-effective if well-managed toward the CPA objective.
3. Paid Social Advertising
Similar to Paid Search advertising, social media channels also offer pay-to-play advertising options to help get marketing messages quickly in front of consumers. Many of these opportunities are pay-per-click types of opportunities, too.
Each social media platform has nuances to its ad programs, so it’s important to spend some time researching to determine which platforms are best to achieve campaign goals. Target demographics should also be heavily considered when advertising on social media.
For instance, while a fine art museum might attract an older clientele and find Facebook to be most beneficial for acquisition, a zipline operator might better appeal to a Gen Z crowd via TikTok.
Here are links to the ad sections of the dominant social networks:
- Facebook (Meta) Advertising
- Instagram Advertising
- Snapchat Advertising
- TikTok Advertising
- YouTube Advertising
4. Content Marketing
Content Marketing is an organic form of marketing that uses a variety of text and visual formats to attract a targeted audience. Attractions and resorts can use content marketing to lure prospective customers to their website, retain them over time, and convert them into buyers.
Content marketing can come in many forms, such as blog articles. This article is considered content marketing, for example.
Other forms of content marketing that attractions and resorts may consider include:
- Virtual events and online classes
- Downloadable PDFs
- Online reviews
- Shareable graphics (cartoons, memes, quote of the day)
- User-generated content (UGC) such as snips of social media mentions, videos recorded at an attraction or resort, and reviews or testimonials
These content marketing campaigns can live on the business’s website, or they can be placed off-site such as on social media feeds or on partner websites. Content marketing is also a powerful SEO tool as it helps the website’s content remain fresh for the search engine spiders. With consistent efforts, content marketing can produce quick wins but also results over time.
5. Email Marketing
Email marketing is a ‘push’ form of marketing that serves multiple purposes. Push marketing is any messaging that disseminates outwards from a company to an audience. Conversely, channels like SEO are considered ‘pull’ marketing, since they attempt to attract customers to a website. Email marketing can be utilized as a means to capture and re-market to consumer prospects who visit a website but don’t convert on the first try.
This application of email marketing is considered a latent acquisition tool because the expectation is that a percentage of prospects will ultimately convert into real buyers over time. Email marketing is also a retention tool, acting as a means to remind past customers that you exist and to communicate what new offerings you have to give them a reason to come back.
Email marketing is even more critical in today’s times when the third-party cookies that have traditionally driven the targeting of other kinds of advertising are going away. This means advertisers need to build their own first-party databases, and capturing email addresses plays a huge role in that.
6. Affiliate Marketing
A performance-based customer acquisition tactic, Affiliate Marketing incentivizes a third-party source (website) to promote an attraction or resort business in exchange for some kind of referral fee.
That referral fee could be something nominal, pay-per-visit, but typically affiliates are compensated only when the traffic they refer converts into a sale. Typically, these pay-per-sale fees are based on a percentage of that sale, and only if the customer is a new customer to the attraction or resort. Once in place, affiliate programs can generate quick wins in a very cost-effective manner.
Affiliate marketing can be difficult to control, track, and manage so for optimal revenue management, companies often turn to outside solution platforms specializing in affiliate management.
7. OTA Programs
OTAs, online travel agencies, have been around for decades and have recently started to expand and specialize in the Things To Do space. They could be considered part affiliate partner, part paid advertising opportunity, depending on how an operator chooses to engage.
Most OTAs charge suppliers like attractions a percent of the sale. Typical OTA commission rates range from 15 – 30% of the sale. The main difference between an OTA and a traditional affiliate is that the OTA is the one processing the sale and collecting the revenue for the purchases they drive. The supplier then must collect the agreed-upon revenue balance by billing back the OTA upon redemption of their customer’s ticket.
For suppliers on their platforms, many OTAs also offer promotional programs designed to elevate the visibility of an attraction or resort. These programs, such as Sponsored or Featured listings, run outside and in addition to the base commission rate and are often priced more like traditional digital advertising.
Some popular OTAs that cater to attractions and resorts include:
When resorts and attractions choose to distribute their products via OTAs, it is important to monitor pricing to ensure OTAs are not undercutting direct channels.
Wrapping it all up
When considering an e-commerce acquisition strategy, consider what you are measuring in terms of online marketing metrics. Among these popular channels, ask which ones seem both likely to convert and be within the team’s capabilities to execute. Diversification of immediate results and longer-term plays should also be a channel selection consideration factor.
Initially, the acquisition strategy can just be a few channels. Keep in mind the involvement of the revenue manager in this entire process and as initiatives are rolled out. The revenue manager and marketing manager team working in harmony is the key to e-commerce acquisition success.
Catalate is a full-service SaaS solution that offers customized pricing strategies, an e-commerce platform, and opportunities for enhanced distribution. It has processed more than $1 billion in transactions and manages 50 million price points for customers. Get in touch today.