Got Something Special at Your Park? Flaunt it!
Evanne Schmarder is the principal at Roadabode Productions, a firm specializing in digital marketing strategy, consulting, and education for the outdoor recreation industry and is the co-author of “Unconventional Wisdom Works.” She’s also the host and producer of the “RV Cooking Show.” She provided the following Modern Marketing column for the August issue of Woodall's Campground Management. Evanne gets great satisfaction out of helping business owners maximize their marketing potential and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 460-9863.
Not one to be satisfied with rank and file lodging options when away from home – say the Marriott or Hilton – I’m a big fan of www.Airbnb.com, described as “an online marketplace for vacation rentals that connects users with property to rent with users looking to rent the space.” By the way, “users with property to rent” are both private individuals and businesses. I particularly like Airbnb because of the interesting and unique places offered and especially enjoy browsing the “wish lists” – themed collections of some of the most interesting listings. (Find them by going to www.Airbnb.com and scrolling down to the bottom of the page. Look for the “Travel” box on the left and click on “See popular listings”.) These wish lists are curated by both Airbnb and site users and typically have catchy names such as Trading Chores for S'mores, I Love Glamping, It Yurts So Good (one of the best listings I’ve come across on Airbnb: Malibu Yurt Retreat on Organic Farm: www.airbnb.com/rooms/900456), and Trees and Zzz’s, to name some that effectively tie in with our sector of hospitality.
After perusing the wish lists and with interest in fun and functional lodging making my mind run wild with possibilities, I took the next logical step. I Googled “unique accommodations” expecting to be tempted with an array of must-visit outdoor hospitality properties. Boy, was I underwhelmed by the search results. Instead of oodles of listings touting yurts and tipis, solar cabins, boatels, Airstream alleys, Holiday Huts and more, only one result representing our industry appeared on the first page, KOA, and kudos to them.
I decided to qualify my search a bit so I modified my search term to “unique camping accommodations” and this time the results were primarily individual KOA parks interspersed with state visitor center links. After some minor digging, I came across a link for a Camp-California press release titled Unique Accommodations Available at Campgrounds. The release’s opening teaser talked about a park that offers overnight stays in covered wagons arranged in a circle around a campfire and quoted one enthusiastic guest raving that “the experience was off the charts.” Combined with the unique lodging, the park also offers activities that provide guests with an overall dude ranch vacation during their campground stay.
This guest didn’t just go camping. He and his Cub Scout troops had an experience. And today, in the highly competitive vacation market, experiences are what sell. But it doesn’t begin when the guest arrives at your park. Instead, in the wild world of the web and 24/7 research, purchasing decisions are based upon expectations you and others online set when vacation planning commences.
What experiences do you have to offer?
Whether you run a rustic campground or a themed resort, you have something special to offer your target market. Is it a back-to-nature, family park that offers an outdoor experience and nightly campfires and s’mores? Do you specialize in fancy tents that might even be looked upon as glamping units? Have you got a group of glammed up Airstream rentals or Holiday Huts that offer something out of the ordinary?
No matter what you have to offer, if you don’t make the features and benefits of your unique “experiences” obvious, folks won’t read between the lines. Easier said than done? Not really. Start by brainstorming what’s special about your lodging experiences and make a no-holds-barred list. Using your findings, I’d suggest reviewing and tweaking your website with the goal of appearing higher up and more frequently in the search engines.
• Keywords and Search Engine Optimization: One of the things that makes KOA so successful in the “unique accommodations” search results is the consistent and targeted use of keywords and phrases.
Pare down your brainstorming list to no more than 20 words or phrases that best describe what you are selling. Working with your webmaster or digital marketing specialist, create a keyword/phrase universe using one of the many keyword tools available online.
Review the content of your website with a keen eye toward your keywords/phrases. Does your website call special attention to the lodging experiences you offer? If not, do you expect site visitors to search or might they simply leave and look elsewhere? Are there individual pages for each type of unique accommodation available? If not, are you at least pointing them out on a main accommodation page? Is the description appealing, does it paint a picture, do you have a call to action, and are you utilizing your keyword/phrase universe?
On the backend of your site, your webmaster will utilize keyword/phrase-rich descriptions, page titles, tags, etc. to bring your site higher in results for the search terms (keywords/phrases) identified and put into play.
• Images: These days everyone wants a visual. On each unique accommodation page make sure you have enticing images of “the experience.” Do you offer a safari tent with French doors and twinkle lights? I want to see that up close. What are the covered wagons like inside? What do you mean when you say “boatel”? Don’t just tell us; show us in beautiful, well-done images.
Again, your webmaster will describe and tag each image with the appropriate keywords/phrases.
And don’t be stingy… share! Add Pinterest “pin-it” buttons to your pages allowing folks to curate and share your photos and your website.
• Make it social: Add the promotion of your unique accommodations to your content plan and make them a regular topic of conversation on your Facebook page, your blog, e-newsletters and blasts, Pinterest, and anywhere else you maintain a social presence.
The Experience Economy
As expectations rise and experiences are considered not just a nicety but also a requirement, make sure that you are doing everything you can to put your outdoor hospitality experiences front and center when a prospect begins looking for that perfect getaway. Take advantage of one of your most powerful sales tools – your website – by doing everything you can to help it find it’s way to the first or second page of your prospects search engine results.
Wow them when they arrive and give them an experience they’ll talk about long after the vacation is done. Give them a reason to sing your praises in online reviews, comment on your social media outlets, and tell their friends. Your product is something special, unique, and an experience that begs to be shared. Do your part to spread the word.