Some agencies hire outside help to create blog content. // © 2014 Thinkstock
In today’s competitive marketplace, travel agents are working harder than ever to acquire new clients while maintaining the ones they already have. This often leaves travel advisors with little time to think about anything beyond responding to client requests. But savvy travel agents know that in order to sustain long-term growth, some marketing — especially online marketing — is an essential part of any business plan.
Even as travel agents are beginning to add social media components such as company Facebook pages into their marketing mix, few are spending much time making regular updates to their website and fewer still are doing any form of blogging.
Agents need to reconsider adding blogging to their social media mix, as the numbers demonstrating impact are compelling. According to HubSpot, an online marketing platform, companies that blog get 55 percent more website visitors. More importantly, 57 percent of all businesses have acquired a new customer through their company blog.
What Is Blogging?
In the “olden days” — back around 2008 — a blog was essentially an online diary. The first blogs were date-sorted records of activities and announcements that could be updated as frequently (or infrequently) as a user preferred.
But blog software and platforms have advanced rapidly, and the definition of blogging is changing. Today, nearly one-fifth of all websites in the world are powered by WordPress, a hugely popular blog platform — although not every WordPress-based website considers itself a blog.
So What Is a Blog, Then?
Merriam-Webster defines a blog as “a website that contains online personal reflections, comments and often hyperlinks provided by the writer.” While this isn’t 100 percent accurate either — plenty of corporate blogs are neither personal nor reflective — at their core, blogs are websites that contain some form of dynamic, personalized, regularly updated content.
Still not sure if blogging is for you? Following are four of the many reasons you should consider blogging to support your business and marketing goals.
Enhance Your Credibility
It hardly needs to be said that the Internet is here to stay. Today, there are more than 7 billion global online users, including more than 353 million online users based in North America. Furthermore, various sources estimate that more than one-third of U.S. companies use blogs for marketing purposes.
In an era of online sites threatening to lure clients away with promises of cheaper pricing, agents and agencies that maintain a dynamic and authoritative online presence are at least taking steps to even the playing field.
Tonya Denmark is the blog content writer for LuxeTravel.com, an agency that describes itself as a virtual boutique travel company. Denmark has noticed multiple positive factors that stem from the agency’s site-exclusive content.
“While we do get traffic [from the blog] and we get clients from that traffic, the site also serves as a way to establish our credibility with the clients we are selling to,” Denmark said.
Promote Your Brand and Expertise
A blog can also help agents identify themselves as an authority in a particular subject, destination or niche market, which in turn can lead to increased client confidence as well as potential media attention.
Jaclyn Sienna India, president of the luxury travel agency Sienna Charles, spends about five hours a week updating her website at www.siennacharles.com. The agency has locations in New York City and Palm Beach, Fla. Although it is not a blog in the traditional sense, the site is updated up to three times a week and emphasizes the destinations India and her husband, Freddy Charles Reinert, have visited. India considers her site an important part of her marketing strategy.
“My website helps to validate my brand and expertise with current clients and future clients that come from referrals, as well as the press and people who find us online,” she said.
Sienna Charles has been featured in many of the nation’s top publications, including National Enquirer (her agency was recommended by reporter and talk show host Geraldo Rivera), Conde Nast Traveler, Brides, Dwell and The New York Times.
It’s difficult to determine if Sienna Charles would have obtained as much media attention without the website. But by establishing a site that accurately reflects her agency’s brand, India has certainly cemented her image as a provider of luxury travel for high-end clients.
Celebrate Your Favorite Suppliers
There’s no question that travel agents who are personally acquainted with the destinations they are selling offer more value to clients than agents who don’t have that firsthand experience, which is why fam trips are so important to many professional travel agents. But in the world of ever-shrinking budgets, travel agent fams are getting rarer, and seats on these trips are more competitive.
Maintaining a blog that features your agency’s favorite suppliers or recaps destination and product highlights from recent fam trips proves to travelers that you have indeed “been there, done that,” and also engenders an extra amount of goodwill with suppliers. This relationship can only help when it comes time to secure a spot on the next fam trip or when making a special request for a client.
The best reason to blog is that this form of marketing requires minimal cash outlay. In general, the basic levels of blog platforms such as WordPress are free to use. Travel agents can easily secure an externally hosted site such as www.nameofyouragency.wordpress.com. Other platforms like this one also require no initial cash cost and are a cinch to set up.
Agents looking for a more professional presence, however, should get a personalized URL (www.nameofyouragency.com), which requires just a bit more tech knowledge and minimal expenses, domain registration (about $15 a year) and website hosting (about $15 per month.)
Even so, for an investment of less than $20 a month, blogs are an incredibly affordable and relatively easy form of marketing that can help agents set themselves apart from the competition.
Both Jaclyn Sienna India and Tonya Denmark urge travel agents who have been considering starting a blog to go for it.
“Find a niche, blog and update often,” advises Denmark. “Connect and stay with your clients every step of the way and after their trip.”
India also encourages agents to find their own voice for the blog.
“I always say to be yourself, and don’t copy others,” India said. “We’ve had so many people just copy our site or the way we do things. You will never be successful unless you put your own touch and unique ability into what makes you special.”
Five Tips for Potential Bloggers Who Hate Writing
Hate writing? Wonder what you will write about on your blog? You’re not alone. But don’t let fear of penning your thoughts keep you from blogging. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.
Say It Out Loud
You probably spend your day answering the same questions over and over. How much do you charge? Do I need travel insurance? What are the best hotels in my destination? The questions you get asked a lot are an excellent source of content for your blog. Spend a moment answering these questions out loud, or better yet, record your response when actually talking to a client. Transcribe the response, give the copy a small edit, and voila, instant blog post.
Make Bulleted Lists
It should be no problem for the experienced agent to make a list of favorite things in a specific category. Whether its cruise ships, restaurants in Italy or places for a romantic walk, make a list of your five favorites in any category related to travel. Now add one or two sentences to each favorite explaining why this specific item made the list. Add a photo for each piece, and your blog post is done.
Use Press Releases
No matter the subject, there’s probably a press release for it. Do a Google search for your topic of interest and add the words “press release” at the end. If you find a press release covering the subject you’re interested in, feel free to use or edit the content as you like. (Just be sure the content you find really is a press release. The term “for immediate release” should be one clue.) PR pros are happy to see their content picked up, just as long as you attribute the release back to its source.
Promote Offers from Suppliers
If you’ve received notice of a special offer or promotion from a preferred supplier, ask your BDM if you can post the offer word for word on your blog. If the offer came with a marketing image, be sure to post that as well.
Hire a Content Writer
Luxe Travel Management hires a content writer to produce posts for its blog. To go this route, look for freelance writers by searching LinkedIn, posting an ad on Craigslist.org or by using a freelance site such as oDesk.com. Agencies with limited budgets can also work with local universities to find interns who can provide content in exchange for school credit. Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to dedicate more time explaining things to an intern than you would to an experienced freelancer.
5 Travel Agent Blogs
Seeking inspiration? Here are five great travel agent blogs and why we love them.
One look at this site and there’s no doubt that Sienna Charles is all about luxury travel. The posts are not text-heavy; the site lets the gorgeous photos tell the story. Better yet, every post includes a call to action, telling potential clients to contact Sienna Charles to design a custom itinerary and giving them a one-click way to get in touch.
Luxe Travel Blog
Luxe Travel Blog offers slightly longer form content, including a variety of list-style stories such as “Where to Sleep Like Royalty: The Best Castle Accommodations.” Many posts also highlight the travel agents on staff, such as “20 Questions With Jessica Kirchoff.” The agency, a Virtuoso member, also makes excellent use of various tools provided by the luxury travel network, including using downloadable “guides” that can only be accessed in exchange for personal data, thus generating client leads for the agency.
Vacations by Lindsey “In Transit” Travel Blog
On the “In Transit” blog, the content mix tends to be equally divided between fam trip overviews and agency updates. In particular, the long-form client testimonials feature numerous photos and do an excellent job of emphasizing just how much time and effort the agency takes in custom-tailoring itineraries.
Los Angeles-based Travel Store runs a colorful blog that equally highlights the company’s travel advisors as well as their favorite destinations. Advisors have their own “about” pages that include personal information about their interests, as well as an easy-to-find contact button. Posts — written by the advisors — include aspirational travel ideas such as “San Miguel de Allende: The Other Mexico,” as well as more newsy content and client testimonials.
Destinations by Amy
Destinations by Amy specializes in destination weddings, honeymoons and group travel, and the company’s blog posts are all targeted to those subjects. Content includes a fun mix of client testimonials, cocktail recipes and fam trip recaps.