When designing an optimized travel website it helps to think like a restaurant manager. The way visitors find out about your tourism business, choose to learn more about your travel services, and decide to make a reservation is quite similar to the way tourists select restaurants while on vacation.
Let me explain the 4 step approach to how travelers decide upon a restaurant while traveling and compare it with the marketing activities of a tourism website. By thinking like a hungry traveler and acting like a restaurateur, you can optimize your travel website to get more bookings.
1. Finding a Restaurant is like Searching for Travel Operators
Restaurant: When on holiday in a new city, historic town, or seaside resort, there are many occasions when you need to find someplace to eat. Whether you are strolling on foot, driving in the countryside, or consulting a tourism guidebook, the goal is the same. How do I find the best restaurant given my appetite, preferences, and budget?
At this early stage and with so many options, getting your restaurant noticed is essential. That is why it is critical that places to eat are well location and have positive reviews. When people are hungry for your type of cuisine and category of establishment, your restaurant must be easily found and instantly considered a top-tier option.
Tourism Website: Searching for travel booking options on the Web follows a similar pattern except that your tourism website is the establishment that visitors need to discover. At this first stage travelers are using search engines, travel content sites, and social networks to determine which travel businesses should be at the top of their list.
Your tourism website must appear near the top for your targeted travel search keywords both naturally and by way of text or banner advertisements. Travel blogs and destination guidebook publishers are another source for quality traffic as visitors often rely on links to recommended hotels and tour operators. People searching for travel might also be leveraging a travel meta-search engine or online agency to view the list of popular and most often booked tours and attractions.
Travel Marketing Lesson: The take away for tourism operators is to focus on getting found as the first step of travel website optimization. Your website must be well-ranked and have a strong reputation in the tourism market segment you target. Getting listed in established tourism directories and online guidebooks is also a smart way to gain wide visibility. People researching travel options need to place your tourism business on their short list before moving onto the next step towards making a booking.
2. Reading the Menu in the Window is like Viewing the Landing Page
Restaurant: The next step for someone seeking the perfect restaurant to satisfy their hunger is to scan menus which are strategically placed in windows and along the sidewalk. Reviewing the menus of restaurants that appear to be good choices is how many people come to a decision on where to eat while on vacation.
The menu describes the cuisine served while at the same time conveys information on pricing and level of service. Other clues that a restaurant menu can offer is the philosophy of the chef, whether the place has won any awards, and daily specials that are on offer. Offering a special of the day is a common tactic to catch the attention of passers-by who will hopefully stop and take a look.
Tourism Website: The all-important landing page is where visitors should arrive when clicking on text and banner advertisements for your tourism business on the Web. The home page is still the most common entry point, especially for inbound links from social networks and partner travel content sites. Regardless of how they reach your “window,” the first time visitor wants to quickly learn what you offer, why you are special, and how much does it cost.
I am not advising you include everything on the home or landing page. It has to be just enough information to get visitors “inside the door.” Once someone is convinced that you are a suitable travel operator that likely meets their vacation goals, they will navigate into your website to learn more.
Travel Marketing Lesson: Optimizing the home and all landing pages is the critical task to convince visitors that are planning a trip to come inside and learn more. The goal is not to get travelers to make a booking at this stage. It is to promote your tourism business reputation so that visitors decide to view detailed information about your travel products and services.
3. Getting a Table is like Browsing Tours, Lodging, and Activities
Restaurant: Now that a holidaymaker has entered a restaurant, they must get assistance to select a place to sit and review the menu. Is the diner left waiting by the entrance or strolling around looking for someone to help them? That is the fastest way to get people to walk out and eat elsewhere.
Selecting a table involves making a decision as to location within the restaurant or perhaps sitting at the bar or outside on the patio. Table location within the restaurant also determines who is sitting nearby, the proximity to the toilet, and even the level of romance. Remember that after a “customer” has been seated, they still have the ability to change their mind and leave at this stage.
Tourism Website: Upon arrival to a travel website, a visitor has many options on what to do next so relevant content and appropriate navigation is critical. Is the visitor going to get lost on your site and fail to “get a table” when it appears that nobody is in charge? Is your travel “menu” lacking in detail expected by expert travel planners who know what they want and the “ingredients” they desire? On the other hand, is your list of travel offerings overwhelming for typical visitors that need assistance to narrow down their options?
As a reputable and trustworthy travel business, it is your job to lead visitors through your website so they feel comfortable, confident, and informed. Only by getting “the best table in the house” will they be ready to make a booking.
Travel Marketing Lesson: To optimize a travel business website for the “getting a table” stage, it needs to go beyond welcoming and act like a concierge or cruise director. Your site should be full of tour descriptions, itineraries, hospitality amenities, and the latest deals. At the same time it also must be well organized and anticipate the needs of visitors who want to confirm they have found the perfect place to browse and book travel.
4. Placing an Order is like Making a Booking
Restaurant: The best stage of both running a restaurant and tourism marketing is the ordering or booking stage. For a restaurant, placing an order is the moment in time when you have converted someone from potential customer to live customer. Even though restaurant goers don’t typically pay for a meal until after they have dined (and they could walk out in disgust), they are still to be treated like a paying customer.
Note that delivering on what is promised by a restaurant and as listed on the menu is beyond the scope of conversion optimization. All that matters is that an order has been placed.
Tourism Website: Similarly “taking their order” is equivalent to clicking the “Book Now” button. This is the point when a booking is completed and your visitor becomes a paying customer. Delivering the travel experience you promised online is of course critical, but again beyond the scope of this restaurant to tourism website marketing comparison lesson.
Travel Marketing Lesson: Asking for the booking is called closing the sale or in restaurant speak, coming to their table and asking what a party would like to order. Displaying a “Book Now” button in the right place and at the right time will motivate your prospects to buy your travel products and services.
I hope you agree that it is easy to appreciate the similarities between marketing and running a restaurant and selling travel online. At first visitors must find your restaurant (tourism website) amongst the many relevant, convenient, and popular choices (search engine results page, online ads, inbound travel links, social media likes, and printed materials).
Next they must view your menu (travel website home or landing page) to determine whether they want to enter (browse your hotel, tour, attraction or activity offering). There must be a reasonable match between their vacation wants and preferences and the travel products and services offered.
After they enter your tourism website they must seek out the best table (easy to find travel content and answers) by browsing and getting comfortable with your travel business. A professional travel website design with the right mix of content, navigation, and trustworthy information is key to getting visitors to make a booking decision.
Finally once they have found your restaurant (tourism website), viewed your posted menu (travel landing page), and sought out a place to dine (browsed travel and booking content), only then will they be ready to place an order (book now). Be ready to take their order and complete a secure booking when your visitors have reached this final stage. By applying these customer acquisition lessons from the restaurant world, you can optimize your tourism website to get more bookings.