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Why You Need a Website

In today’s world, many consumers decide what to eat, what to wear and where to go based solely on their impressions of a company’s website. Googling an unknown company is the first step for many people when hunting information.

If a company doesn’t have a website, many consumers worry the organization is not legitimate. Or if they see a website that is out of date, they will often wonder if the poor quality of the website reflects the company’s low standards.

According to a 2019 study by HootSuite, average internet users spend more than six hours a day online, and the pressure has never been greater for travel professionals to not only have a website but also have one that stands out in the crowd.

Why a Website?

In the past, group travel leaders and small tour companies have been able to capture the attention of the senior market without much of an online presence. However, with boomers and younger travelers entering the group travel market, websites are a must-have rather than an optional addition to a travel program.

You should consider your website a virtual storefront for your travel program. The website introduces your company’s contact information, helps market your program and builds long-term loyalty for your brand.

Some travel planners simply provide their members with links to the webpages of the tour companies they do business with. But this isn’t nearly as effective as having your own website. And when your travelers start looking at those tour companies’ websites online, they’re more likely to start booking with those companies directly instead of traveling with you.

You should use your website to show your program’s personality, specialties and qualifications. Use inviting travel photos, professional website templates and engaging content. You might not be able to fit your company’s list of credentials into a quick face-to-face pitch to a potential client. But you can lay out your program’s superiority point by point.

Potential travelers unsure about your company can feel more confident in purchasing after they review your group’s previous itineraries, travel photos and testimonials. Easy-to-use website widgets also allow potential clients to book trips with you 24/7 rather than having to find time to call you by phone.

Choosing a Platform

Just 10 years ago, small businesses considered creating a website either too expensive or too  technically intimidating. Today, people can create websites with relative ease and for a fraction of the cost after making a few key decisions.

First, decide which you will invest more of: time or money. The more time you put to setting up the website yourself, the less you will end up paying.

Third-party travel agency websites such as Voyager Websites and Passport Online provide a mostly hands-off way for travel agents and other travel professionals to construct a website. For these options, you will have little control of the site’s design and content. If your site has content that also appears on other organizations’ sites, it could lower your search engine optimization (SEO) ranking, which determines where your site shows up in online search results. But if you know you won’t have time to write website content yourself, this might not matter. For those with the least amount of time and a larger budget, these platforms can work well.

Another option, website builders, offers easy-to-use templates with modern designs and more flexibility. Wix and Squarespace can help those who are less tech savvy create a website that has a unique look, without the duplicate content. These platforms don’t require any previous coding knowledge. Wix even offers templates specifically for travel agencies that can be altered for an individual look.

For those wanting full control of every aspect of the website, a Content Management System (CMS) option like WordPress or Drupal will provide the most cost-effective website. If you are up for a challenge and create a CMS website yourself, you will pay only around $10 a month for hosting services. However, you may need to purchase plug-ins for certain functions, such as the ability for visitors to buy tours online.

To craft a professional website that looks and functions the way you want using a CMS, be prepared to learn some code and spend a lot of time tinkering with the website on the back end of the site. These platforms also have template options with travel themes, which cost extra.

If you have the budget, you can hire a designer to create your website on a CMS platform to your exact specifications. This will save time, though you may have to continue to work with a developer to update and change the website.

Website Makeover

To ensure that your virtual shopfront makes a positive first impression, think through your website’s design. Start by looking at websites for similar travel, and make notes on what you like and dislike about each.

Once you have a few ideas, think about how to incorporate the style of your tours into the design. For example, if you offer luxury tours, you’ll want to choose fonts, colors, photos and text that reflect those types of tours. Budget-conscious tour companies should highlight the travel deals.

No matter your program’s travel type, understanding some basic design techniques can help your website shine. Start with color by choosing two or three hues to focus on, ideally using at least one color from your logo.

Novice designers will sometimes use too many contrasting colors, like blue with orange to make web pages pop. However, more subtle color combinations, such as multiple shades of the same color, flow better on the page. If you can’t figure out a good color scheme, online resources such as colorcombos.com can help generate coordinating colors.

Show restraint when choosing fonts for your website. Though it may be tempting to use only a calligraphic-type font and other exciting styles, legibility should always be your first consideration. Some designers choose a variant of one font family for more visual interest, without making the page feel cluttered.

Captivating, high-resolution photography can often sell a trip better than words. Ask for high-resolution photos from travel providers before a trip, take photos during the trip or ask for photos from your members after the tour.

Once your initial site design is complete, gauge its accessibility to visitors. Ask a few people to browse the website for feedback. If they have trouble finding something, move the information to a more obvious place.

One of the most front-and-center pieces on the website should be a call to action that prompts the user to sign up for either a mailing list or individual tours. Keep these call-to-action links in noticeable locations or create a pop-up that asks website visitors to register for more information.

Nuts and Bolts

Though you can throw together an attractive website that functions well, an understanding of analytics and SEO can elevate your website’s usefulness. Sign into Google Analytics to determine how many people have visited your website, your bounce rate, how many pages were viewed per session and the average session duration.

Each piece of information reveals how visitors interact with your website. For example, if your bounce rate is higher than 50%, that is an indicator that people aren’t willing to stick around and explore your site. You can dig into why that bounce rate might be high by reflecting on your site’s ease of navigation, slow page loads or irrelevant content. Sometimes there isn’t an easy answer to why analytics show a particular number. Test different website changes to see if they help or hurt your analytics.

Another helpful metric to check on Google Analytics is how many people view your website on the desktop versus the mobile phone. Many websites that read well on a desktop fail to impress on a phone. Check your website on your phone to see if your website reads well or if it needs some visual tweaks.

Besides regularly checking your Google Analytics, a basic understanding of SEO will aid your website’s searchability on Google and other search engines. A perfect website is useless if no one can find it. SEO can become complicated quickly, but a few basic tips can enhance searchability.

Writing original quality content will always raise your site’s SEO standing; duplicate content can harm it. This is one reason some travel planners choose to create their website’s travel content despite the time involved.

Finding keywords and title tags that relate to the topic can also help Google categorize what each of your webpages are about. To include these keywords, ask yourself what words you would type into a search engine if you were looking for this information online.

Though this only brushes the surface of SEO development, you can read many other tips online.

Keep the Content Coming

Running an effective website requires you to create good, original content such as articles and blog posts on a regular basis. The purpose of this content goes beyond increasing your site’s SEO. Providing pertinent information to your members promotes your image of authority, generates new traffic to your site and increases loyalty to your program.

Refrain from only posting articles that try to sell something. The reader will quickly loose interest in your website if that is all it has to offer. Think of your website as a long-term strategy to share information about yourself, your company and other tidbits that might interest your customers.

To start, think about what your members might be interested in. If your travel program is part of a larger organization, like a church, post about a Bible passage that stood out to you, or spotlight a mission organization your church supports. Posts like these can be integrated into your website and sent out in monthly emails to encourage more traffic to your website. Anything that keeps your company on travelers’ minds will benefit you when your clients start to think about their upcoming travel plans.

You should also post on travel topics. Posts relating to destinations and travel tips can solidify your image as a travel expert. These types of posts are more personal in nature and might live on a blog section of your website. Blogs now integrate easily into websites and provide a continual stream of content.

A post of a traveler raving about a recent trip can make a significant impact on potential customers. Words of praise about a recent tour will have more weight if they come from someone other than you. Though they take some planning, testimonial posts on your website create positive content and are virtual word-of-mouth recommendations.

Ensure that your customers can easily access your website posts by emailing monthly newsletters with links to the articles, posting the links to social media and allowing easy ways to sign up for more information.

The thought and work you put toward a new and revamped website will repay you threefold in time. Your customers will feel even more confident when clicking on your latest tour after visiting your sleek, easy-to-use, up-to-date website.

Eliza Myers

Eliza Myers has worked for The Group Travel Leader since 2007. She is the online editor and associate editor for Select Traveler.

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