Is there any more confusing marketing decision than how to conceive, build and deploy a travel agency website? What information should be included? What are clients expecting? How to keep it updated? Should it have a booking engine? How much should the agency spend given the amount of business that the site generates? How should the site be promoted? Is the target market local or far-flung? It’s enough to make the hard working agent go screaming into the dark.
The options are many and the answers to the above questions are as individual as every agent. By the way, some of the best sites I have seen promote individual agents, employees and contractors, that work in larger agencies.
While in this article we won’t be able to cover the answers to each of these topics, we can look to a few principles that will assist in making good decisions.
Firstly, remember that you are not selling travel. You are selling your agency’s expertise, its knowledge and associations, its relationships with suppliers. Consider how best to relay your agency’s story in a way that give clients confidence in your brand. Emphasize the local accountability and service over the impersonal 800 #’s of the big internet brands.
That said, however, spend a lot of time studying major travel sites. Look at Travelocity, Budget Travel, iExplore and sites like Cruise Critic. Study other agency sites that you admire. One thing you will learn is that content is king. Good content keeps readers coming back to the sites again and again. That is one reason for the increasing popularity of blogs as a website format – every entry is new content, a reason to return and read. Look at the differing designs and layouts of the “big boys.” They have spent millions in research and development of their sites. You can leverage that investment by making a study of how they are using their screen real estate to market to the masses. You can obtain very inexpensive, professionally produced content from TRO’s sister company Voyager Travel Guides.
Decide what you want the website to be. Are you hoping for online bookings or just to open the door to the sales process? Who are your likely viewers…existing clients or those who are not familiar with your agency? Like a periodical, a website needs an editorial mission – a reason for being. A good website will reflect your agency’s story and tell it well. Far too many sites look like the Las Vegas strip, filled with logos and flashing lights with little to say about the personality of the agency underneath the clutter. For most local agencies, the best approach is veer to the personal side of their story.
Professional design is a must. Again… “do it yourself” is not a message your agency wants to communicate to the public. Get a good designer or a solid template and give your site a professional look and feel.
Cross-promote your site on all of your business collateral. Obtain your own domain name, and make sure your web address is on your business cards, brochures and marketing material.
Introducing a website into your marketing mix is a major decision. Websites require care and feeding if they are to serve you well. Here is a grouping of past articles on travel agency websites covering topics like search engine optimization, content, design and marketing.
Exercise – Spend some time studying the websites of major national brands and also of some local agencies. See if you can determine the editorial mission of each site and then note how well the content lines up with that story. Write down in a sentence of no more than 20 words what you want your site to accomplish. Decide how committed you are to the care and maintenance of a professional site – and decide what role the site will play in your overall marketing mix. If you have a site already, evaluate how well your site tells your agency story. Does it have personality? Is it selling your agency or is it selling travel?
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