Social media marketing for group tour operators

This busy UK guide could probably use a social media marketing plan for tour operators (courtesy seligr on Flickr CC)

Busy UK tour guide (courtesy seligr on Flickr CC)


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The opportunity is waiting for you.

3 issues we see with group tour operators and social media: too many think their market isn’t using social, too many let themselves be overwhelmed by the idea of mastering a new skill, and too many market like they always have because they don’t know what else to do.

Social media presents a tremendous opportunity for even small tour operators/tour guides for the same reason that it’s an opportunity for smaller destinations, hotels, or attractions – it is affordable, it helps you connect with people around the world who like exactly what you offer, and it’s better than anything else for spreading word-of-mouth recommendations from customers.

When our co-founder Sheila Scarborough spoke recently at ETC in Boston (the Educational Travel Community conference for specialty tour operators, suppliers, group educational travel organizers, and destinations) she noticed that while some were confident in their use of social communications, many others were just starting or were not on any social channels at all.

Let’s address some of the issues and light some fires….

My Group Tour Market is Mostly Old
and They Are Not on Social Media

This is often one of the first misconceptions that we have to get people to move past – that “our market tends to be older, and older people are not on social media.”

Two problems with this.

1.) Yes, they are on social media. Of American adult internet users 65 and older, 41% are on Facebook, a number that has doubled since 2012. 65% of ages 50-64 are on Facebook. Go to Pew Internet Research for more social media stats. Seniors are one of the fastest-growing demographics on social media. They are also increasingly using mobile devices and smartphones to access those social networks.

So, why do tour operators need to be on social media?

Because their market is there.

2.) If the success of your tour business depends entirely on a group of people who (unfortunately) have a higher probability of dying or becoming too incapacitated to travel, your business is going to die off with them.

Younger people will take tours, but first they must know you exist, and then they must be able to communicate with you in ways that work for them.

I Don’t Have Time for Social Media
and Don’t Know What To Do Anyway

Social media is an unavoidable part of today’s travel landscape. It is imperative that tour operators figure out how to incorporate it into their communications and marketing efforts.

This means doing less of something else, or eliminating some things entirely. If you’re spending resources marketing tours “the way we always have,” spending gobs of time on print items and buying ads in the usual magazines, it is time to take a hard look at your organization’s goals, strategy, and marketing plan.

You may need to hire an additional position, or do more staff training….good thing that teaching you about social media is exactly what we do at Tourism Currents.

Need one sentence on where to start?

Begin with the one social media channel where your market spends most of their time (which is probably Facebook – you do NOT have to be everywhere) and make sure you’ve thought through how it will help support your specific marketing and customer service goals.

Need one sentence on how to start?

Integrate your marketing communications in obvious ways – start by making sure that your email list knows about your social channel(s,) and that you encourage your social followers to join your email list to get the latest tour information.

Need some examples to see what successful social looks like?

Take a look at G Adventures, especially their G Adventures blog, the lively communications from Collette Tours on Facebook, how the venerable European tour guide Rick Steves uses video, and Trafalgar Travel on Facebook (they also partner with travel bloggers.)

What Are Some Opportunities in Social Media
for Group Travel?

Glad you asked!

In one of the keynotes at ETC 2015, Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer Perry Hewitt, herself an enthusiastic traveler and social media user, wrote up a “Digital Opportunities Checklist” based on a group alumni tour she took.

Here is her list on one slide:

Digital and Online Marketing Opportunities Checklist for group tour operators by Perry Hewitt at ETC 2015 Boston

Digital Opportunities Checklist for group tour operators by Perry Hewitt at ETC 2015 Boston

Don’t wait until your tour group arrives to connect with them on social media; Ms. Hewitt specifically mentioned that few operators or guides take advantage of building connections during the post-booking “anticipation” phase before a tour.

Talk to your customers online before, during, and after your tour. Build a relationship. Show them through social media that experiencing a place with you is the absolute BEST way to travel.

Did we miss any of your favorite digital marketing ideas or tips for tour operators? Let us know down in the comments!

Update – we have a guest post for America Outdoors —>>  video marketing for outfitters and outdoor adventure tour guides.


At Tourism Currents, we help you and your tourism partners learn how to use social media and digital destination marketing to bring more visitors to town. Pick what works for you: our self-paced online course in social media for tourism, our coaching/consulting services, or our speaking and workshop services.

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Commenting area

  1. Bob Foley March 3, 2015 at 11:29 am · ·

    If I was a tour operator, I’d encourage the people on the tours to share their photos on the tour operator’s FB page or whatever social channels they may be present. They are all going to have unique perspectives and exciting experiences. The customers are the social media marketers in this case.

  2. Absolutely, Bob! Your happy customers will market your business FOR you – if you let them – and social makes their recommendations much more share-able and public.

    That’s one of the points that Perry Hewitt made at ETC 2015 about WiFi availability during group travel – if you want customers to spread the word about you online, they have to be able to …. get online. 🙂

  3. I honestly enjoy fascinating content like this. This is a great post. The points are presented in a special fashion and also the material is very nicely written. I genuinely loved reading this.

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