By Amy Johnson
With its varied landscapes and pristine coastline, South Africa remains a coveted holiday destination among international travellers. In February 2012, 677,674 international tourists arrived on the rainbow nation’s doorstep. They flocked to see celebrated attractions such as Table Mountain, The Kruger National Park, Robben Island, and the Cape Winelands. But, before any of these tourists arrived on South African soil, they did one thing – they planned their trip. And most of them did so online.
The digital traveller
The information age has bred a tech-savvy traveller. In today’s tourism market, you will very rarely find a holidaymaker who looks to a tour provider as the source of all wisdom on international travel. The modern-day tourist is switched on and independent. The internet is their first port of call and, more often than not, they plan their entire journey – from flights to accommodation – entirely online.
Online marketing tips for guest house owners
For guest house owners who want to expand their reach, the international market is anyone’s game. However, the playing field is almost entirely online. This should be viewed as an exciting prospect, since smaller establishments do not require an exorbitant advertising budget to promote their offerings. With some online marketing skills and a shrewd business mind, guest house owners can lay the “quiet season” to rest. Here are four tips to get you started.
1. Get to know your audience
If you are aiming your marketing campaign at retired leisure travellers, but your establishment is the equivalent of a hostel, you’ve missed the boat. Conversely, if you are aiming your marketing at young backpackers, but you offer five-star luxury accommodation, you need to rethink your strategy – or develop one from scratch.
One of the most important things you can do when marketing a guest house is establish your niche. Who is your target audience? If you own a backpackers’ lodge or hostel, you need to consider your typical young student traveller, making their way on a budget. They’re looking for value, not costly frills like gourmet meals and room service. Your leisure traveller, on the other hand, will appreciate these added extras. In fact, they will expect them.
When you know who your typical guest is, you can establish what they want, and then you can determine how to market to them.
2. Update your website
As a guest house owner, your website is the most important marketing tool that you have at your disposal. Not only does your website showcase your establishment, but it can lead to direct sales conversions. If your website allows for online bookings, you have already bridged the distance that exists between you and overseas travellers.
Of course, securing bookings is easier said than done. Potential guests will do a lot of research before they make a booking. On average, a traveller will compare four to five accommodation websites before deciding on a place to stay. What do they look for?
· High-quality images of the rooms and bathrooms
· Photographs of the exterior of the property
· Images of any other functional or leisure spaces
· 360 degree virtual tours
· Descriptions of the services provided
· Special offers
· Contact details
· Written reviews or testimonials
· Grading and endorsement programs (Star Grading or AA)
· Video footage of events or testimonials
If you have incorporated all of these aspects into your guest house website, consider the all-important “Book Online” link. Is it prominent, visible and above the fold? Visitors to your website should not have to scroll down to see this link. It is the crucial call-to-action, so ensure that it won’t be missed.
3. Optimise and strategise
Once you have a well–executed website, it’s time to optimise and strategise. Overseas visitors need to be able to find your website on search engines. Ideally, your website architecture will be optimised for search engines. However, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is primarily about content. Since Google favours inbound links, you should list your website on various business directories. Furthermore, start a blog on your website and write content that will be of value to your customers. As a guest house owner, you could write about attractions in your area or travel tips for your region. The text should contain keywords that your target audience would be most likely to search for.
If your guest house doesn’t have a Facebook page or a Twitter profile, you need to start socialising. These networks can add significant value to your existing and potential customer base. Once again, it’s about knowing your audience and offering them useful content. Overtly “salesy” content should be avoided at all cost. Rather interact with your following by sharing interesting content in the form of articles, videos and images. Utilise the various social platforms to ask questions and, more importantly, to reward interaction. Be accessible, and use these channels to link back to your website and blog content.
Online marketing makes all the difference in transforming your guest house from a numbered wall in a street to an accessible and popular travel destination. Your guest house has a unique selling point. Find it, package it and deliver it to your audience in the most accessible way possible. Use these marketing techniques to expand your client-base from those who drive past your guest house and notice your sign or banner, to a varied global market.
To break into the international markets consider attending the University of Cape Town Internet Marketing short course, or the University of Cape Town Guest House Management short course. Both courses are presented throughout South Africa in conjunction with GetSmarter. For more information contact Anique on 021 447 7565 or email@example.com. Alternatively, visit www.GetSmarter.co.za