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Why Develop a Strategic Marketing Plan for your Tourism Operation?

If you think that in tourism developing a strategic marketing plan is something only the big, fancy hotel chains do, then think again. You CERTAINLY need one, too! It’ll help you better understand your business, your customers and your strategy for success.

In fact it even more important that you use your smaller and tighter budget in the correct way and in the correct direction. A scattergun approach needs a LOT of money to be effective. With your smaller budget you are going to be looking for needle point accuracy in each of your campaign to guarantee ROI. As little trial and error as possible is definitely the aim. A-B testing with large focus groups is just totally beyond most of our budgets!

Strategic Marketing Plans for SME Tourism Operators
Strategic Marketing Plans for SME Tourism Operators

Most tourism operators and hoteliers have a habit of thinking that “marketing” means advertising, PR, promotion or even Sales! In fact the oft used term “Sales and marketing” is mostly a total misnomer in tourism. Marketing professionals seldom complete actual Sales, and Sales don’t get down and gritty with the Marketing Analysis!

Your marketing and your marketing plan is so much more than just a jumble of ad campaigns, and includes everything including understanding your market (or indeed markets!) to which you’ll sell your products and services, to choosing the specific tactics you’ll use to reach that market (which is where things like the advertising come in – they’re simple one of your MANY tactics!).

Put in simple terms the Strategic Marketing Plan includes the following parts :

Executive Summary – NEVER longer than one page, the summary should briefly describe the business and the major points of the plan (always write it last)

Situation analysis – Where you are… a detailed assessment of your niche markets (one by one), your competitors in each niche, and the opportunities and challenges for your business, inclduing client demogrphics and source markets (geography)

Marketing strategy – How your planning on getting to where you want to be… This is your specific business revenue goals, as well as a strategy for tackling the market opportunities identified in the situation analysis. Comes from your Business Plan (you do have one right! lol)

Marketing tactics – the actual action plans for executing on the strategy outlined in the previous section. These get drilled down into individual Tactical Plans

Marketing budget and timeline – a final detailed costing for each campaign and ROI/payback expected, and the overall cost including a Cashflow analysis for planning the year

Situation analysis

Very simply, your situation analysis is the base foundation of your marketing plan, and gives a clear “lay of the land” for your market and business. Remember all of that market research and competitive analysis you did for your business plan? (eeek, please tell me that is up to date, or we go no further!) The great news? This is exactly what you did all that work for, you get to use it here! In your situation analysis, clearly define for each of your markets:

All your potential customers and clients, including current market size and projected growth

Your competitors, including current and projected market share, and product or market segment focus

Your realistic assessment of your own business, including both strengths and weaknesses, with a summary of your plan to overcome the weaknesses

Marketing strategy

When your tourism business was started, it undoubtedly found an unmet or underserved need in a target market somewhere, and your company felt that it could address that need. The marketing strategy section is where this is actually spelled out. How your tourism business is going to meet that need, by setting specific goals and high level strategies.

Start by setting the specific goals for your business, typically for SME Tourism Businesses these are for the year ahead. Normally done around the time of your rates review and publishing…

Make all goals realistic, achievable and measurable. There is absolutely no sense in ever setting yourself up for failure right from the start. Write them in as simple and straightforward terms as you can- for example, “Wedding Bookings will achieve $150,000 in sales of on site Weddings by the end of 2012.”

Wrap up the strategy section of your marketing plan by outlining the particulars of each of your business offering(s) – in marketing jargon, you’ll be defining what are known as the “four Ps“:

  • Product – description of the product or service, including features and benefits
  • Price – initial pricing strategy
  • Place – distribution channel for your product or service, i.e. where you’ll sell
  • Promotion – the methods and channels used to reach customers and let them know about your product or service (this is where advertising fits by the way)

Now I may (I am by all accounts!) a bit old fashioned in still using only the 4 P’s. Current Marketing Professionals are all the way up to 7 P’s (and some ven throw in 4 C’S!), but I think for us tourism operators without Marketing Degrees 4 is fine!

Marketing tactics

To take your marketing plan to the next level of detail, you’ll need to dream up some actual tactics to meet the goals you set in the previous section. Common marketing tactics include advertising (print, online, radio, TV etc.), trade show or event attendance/participation, public relations, grassroots and viral marketing campaigns and email marketing.

As you choose your tactics, summarize what it is, why you should use it, what you expect to get out of it, and how much it’s going to cost. This will drill down to specific Tactical Campaigns. Yes one for each campaign, gonna be quite a few!

Finally, set a specific, limited timeline for each tactical campaign and pick someone to lead and champion getting it done.

Marketing budget and timeline

This is the part where many SME Hotels and Tourist businesses fall down…. You now need to complete your entire marketing plan by summarising your costs and timelines from the previous section.

Check your marketing budget after each distinct Tactical campaign, and for sure at least monthly, and determine whether you’re getting the ROI (return on investment) you expected from each tactical campaign. It’s never too late to make some changes to your marketing plan.

Your marketing timeline can really help you understand if your tactics are driving any sales or are just spinning wheels. Compare sales during times when you’ve done some marketing activities and check for any growth to see if there was an impact.

At least Annually!

Writing a Strategic Marketing Plan should be at least an annual ritual for your tourism business.

Not to mention that it’s a good idea to revisit your Strategic Marketing Plan when you are releasing new or significantly changed products or services such as new menus or new hotel rooms openning up.

Remember that writing a marketing plan is time very well spent for any sized business, because it’s the process for thinking honestly and thoroughly through how you’re going to connect with your customers.

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