Online Marketing 101 for Travel Agents

Years ago, travel agents did not have to focus much time or effort on marketing. Today, with so many people using the internet to search for things like information on their next big vacation, the emergence of online booking engines may seem like competition, but shed a different light on it and you will see a fantastic opportunity for travel agents to snap up new business. However, this means that you, the travel agent, must go online to get your prospects. And that does NOT mean relying upon your agency’s website with a little bio on you. It DOES mean that you need to have your own, personal website. The good news is that using online marketing is very cost effective, anyone can do it (including internet virgins!), and it can be a whole lot of fun if you understand what you are doing.

My goal today, is to get you to understand the big picture of online marketing. There are a lot of hot topics and terms that we are bombarded with on a daily basis like Facebook, Twittter, MySpace, SEO rankings, LinkedIn, YouTube, Keyword Research, tags, and the list goes on. There are so many bits and pieces floating around, it can make a travel agent”s head spin and feel so overwhelmed and intimidated, they want to give up. Don’t give up! This post is going to be immensely helpful to you. It’s going to show you how to use online marketing as a HUGE asset, rather than see it as competition.

Let’s go back to the old days for one minute, before the internet existed. If you were a travel agent back then, you most likely worked out of a brick and mortar location (and got paid salary, not commissions).

Today, there’s a good chance you work from home. Even if you don’t, you must think like you do, because you are in business for yourself. So nowadays, the only difference is that your brick and mortar will be your website. This is your hub, where people can learn more about who you are, how you can help them create vacations to last a lifetime and how to book their next vacation with you. Your website can be as quick and easy to set up, as a WordPress blog. Read my post called “Blogging 101″ to learn more about setting up a blog.

Once you have the websiteblog established, you have 2 simple goals:

  1. Get visitors to your website (AKA traffic)
  2. Convert visitors into buyers

Getting traffic to a website is far easier and cheaper than it sounds. This is how you can compete with any other travel planner. All of the social media outlets, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc, are simply ways to drive traffic to your website. In addition, they are powerful, effective and FREE. That’s how these outlets fit into the big picture. The reason they are so popular is because they are fast, incredibly effective and FREE. So, clearly, these are outlets worth paying attention to, if your budget is limited.

Converting your traffic into paying clients is the where the rubber meets the road. This is the piece that draws the line in the sand between success and failure. Anybody can drive traffic to a website, but if you are good at converting your visitors into buyers, you can make millions.

Some super clever internet marketers, in the 1990s, figured out a system that is very effective for converting website traffic and is called the “sales funnel.” In the next few paragraphs I will explain the “sales funnel” to you show you how to apply this clever marketing strategy to your travel business, resulting in a consistently full pipeline of high paying, ideal travel clients. It will be so easy, you won’t believe it.

There are three goals of a sales funnel:

  1. Build a relationship with the prospective traveler
  2. Filter out the people that would not be ideal clients (you don’t want them anyway!)
  3. convert them from prospective client to buying customer

The powerful part of the sales funnel, is that it works on auto pilot, in your sleep. That’s the incredible leverage of the internet! Even if you are a one-man shop, you can build an enormous database of awesome, high paying, ideal travel clients.

A sales funnel begins with an “irresistible free offer” on the home page of your website. Let’s say your specific expertise is luxury cruises. Many, many people search the internet on a daily basis trying to find the best deal on a luxury cruise. Because you have done your research on the best keyword phrases, and your website is optimized because of clever useage of social media outlets all directing traffic back to your website, this potential cruise traveler finds your website at the top of the Google search page. When they get to your website, they see an amazing offer to receive a fabulous FREE report called “The Top 10 Secrets to Saving Money on Your Next Luxury Cruise.” That visitor thinks, “Wow! That’s exactly what I was looking for.” In order to receive this wonderful and educational piece of information, he must complete a form asking for his name and e-mail address, and perhaps other contact details. If your website visitor bites, he has immediately taken one step closer to qualifying himself as an ideal client, and you collect his contact details in a database where you can begin establishing a relationship. It’s a win-win.

The name and e-mail address of your website visitor go straight into a program called an automatic responder (A/R). Here, you have set up a confirmation and thank you e-mail sent immediately to your prospect, and includes your free information. In addition, you will have set up a series of follow up e-mails that keeps your business in front of this prospect and continues with developing a relationship.

The sales funnel continues through correspondence with this prospect in your A/R. At some point, you will offer or recommend cruises that you have enjoyed, and detail how working with you maximizes the cruising experience. You might begin offering lower priced cruises, or specials which are not necessarily the bookings that will make you fortunes…but if you are only focused on selling the big ticket item, then you are missing an important piece of the sales funnel. For each response to your cruise special, your prospect continues to qualify himself and, eventually, may call you, inquiring about the special, but then talk himself into your big ticket item, without you doing a thing! In addition, the client will have learned so much about working with you, thanks to all the free information you continue to drip to him through your auto responders, that the booking process is shortened considerably.

I hope that you can see the power of the sales funnel and that I have clarified how it leverages the internet to build thousands of relationships, lets the client self qualify and even possibly puts money in your pockets, all while you sleep.

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