How Online Reviews and Social Media Took My Travel Business From Blah to Boom

I love a blogging success story where a small business goes head to head with bigger businesses and wins, don’t you? So I got excited when I heard tour operator Sean Blocksidge talk at the recent Social Media Tourism Symposium.

Sean started the Margaret River Discovery Company and his tours are now fully booked thanks to the power of online reviews and social media. That glowing online reputation has made his business a success but it wasn’t an easy start for Sean. I’ll let him tell the story about how he started his travel business, his approach to online tourism marketing online and how glowing online reviews from his clients made his business into the raving success it is today.

Hi Sean, thank you for agreeing to share your online marketing success story with us.  Can you just introduce yourselves for those who don’t know you. 

I set up the Margaret River Discovery Company five years ago because I love the area and wanted to provide specialist tours to showcase the area. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or check out my blog and website. If you’re coming to the Margaret River I’d love to show you around and when I’m not giving tours you can find me mountain biking in the local area.

How Online Reviews and Social Media Saved My Travel Business

Can you tell us a bit more about your business and how you got started? 

I set up my tour business the Margaret River Discovery Company in 2008. The start of the Global Financial crisis. What a disaster. By the end of the first year I had lost nearly $100,ooo and was five days from going out of business. I’d committed to do my last few tours and close the doors it was that bad. And then suddenly my life changed overnight.

I know you credit great reviews for taking your business from blah to boom. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Somewhere along the way I’d received several positive reviews on TripAdvisor . I won’t say I didn’t know about TripAdvisor but I certainly didn’t understand the power of it. Those few five reviews appeared just before the start of the visitor season and the algorithms that sit behind it spun me up into the top position of #1 thing to do in Margaret River.

The next day my phone and email went nuts and I’ve been fully booked almost every day since. That was five years ago.

That’s a brilliant story. Do you really  think those five star reviews are what’s made your tours so popular?

Absolutely. The Margaret River Discovery Company has since gone on to be the #1 thing to do in Australia for two consecutive years. Outranking the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb and the National Gallery! It has held its #1 position in Margaret River every single day for the past five years.

Amazing. And are there any other successes that have come to you from that?

I was fortunate enough to win the best Tour Guide in Western Australia a few years ago and the 40 under 40 business award as a result of my success operating the tours.

How  has social media changed your business? 

It has allowed me to establish an online presence to an audience I may have never reached and connects me daily with my tribe (my resellers and previous guests). At no cost!

Tips for Getting Online Reviews

How do you get those reviews on TripAdvisor?

I never ask people to write reviews but I do share the story of how they completely changed my life. I think people only write on TripAdvisor to either have a whinge or share a special experience and I work on ensuring everyone has a very special Margaret River experience and they leave the region with the revelation of why Margaret River is the most consistent wine producing region in Australia.

How important do you think social media is for online marketing and tourism marketing?

I always say I started my business at the worst time because of the GFC but also the best time – the start of a social media revolution. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, TripAdvisor , Instagram all those things became really powerful in the past five years and started to influence the way people make travel decisions and share their holiday experiences.

These days I spend nothing on marketing and advertising. I put my efforts into making sure my guest have a great experience so they’ll leave great reviews, along with social media and word of mouth. The result is the tours are booked weeks, sometimes months, in advance.

Do you do anything to encourage people to leave online reviews about you?

I never ask anyone to write a review (but I do think it is okay to do so). I just share my story of how TripAdvisor changed my life and make sure people have an amazing experience that they also want to share and talk about.

Sean's photos of the Margaret River are all stunning but this handome fellow really caught my eye

Social Media Tips

What benefits have you found from using social media?

I’ve wasted tens of thousands on advertising. These days I don’t spend any money on advertising. I rely entirely on word of mouth, social media and my tribe of followers.

Which social media channels do you use and how?

I use Facebook, Twitter, my own blog, Instagram and TripAdvisor.

Facebook is my most effective tool. I post a photo of the day. Every day. Highly visual with great reach and interaction. This is my tribe!

Twitter – I’m a very lazy user. But I love twitter for the immediacy of information. I auto link this as an update to FaceBook. I use this to connect with the wine or travel industry. I use Hootsuite to monitor my feeds. Mostly what I love about Twitter is how it connects me to my heroes. It’s also very useful in emergencies but the best example of the power of Twitter was the New York Times picking up my wildflower image.

WordPress Blog- I post a picture of day and other news updates such as a Gourmet Escape government media release.

Instagram – I’m very new to this but it takes 10 seconds to post a picture and it’s free! Tourism Australia have reposted a few pics and I’ve doubled my fans each time.

TripAdvisor – As previously mentioned I LOVE TripAdvisor but it’s mainly my clients who do the posting there by leaving reviews for me.

What’s your social media strategy?

I use them daily. For me it’s about being consistent . They are all about building my brand. I’ll often hear people say “I don’t have the time”. Make the time! I spend literally 15 minutes a day on social media.

I’ll walk you through it. One minute take the photo. Two minutes to import, process and export it. Total of three minutes. One minute to upload to Facebook where it autolinks to Twitter (zero minutes). A few seconds to re-post in Instagram. I’ll occasionally do a post to my blog. So we are up to about five minutes total.

I’ll spend another three minutes going back several hours later and clicking like on the comments. Maybe add a comment. Eight minutes and I’m done.

That leaves seven min utes for watching mountain biking videos on YouTube. Seriously!

I know you’re a big mountain biker and love how you fit all that in so fast leaving more time for the fun stuff. Why do you think your social media strategy is a success?

I do it because I enjoy it. I don’t do it for the narcissistic appeal of how many clicks I get. I do it because I love sharing the Margaret River story. I also make sure I follow interesting people and it’s those people that really motivate me to want to look at my social media feeds.

I have to manage my time very carefully. I literally manage the minutes in my day. Hootsuite is a real godsend. Every day I need to be socially, culturally and politically aware of latest news.

I wake in the morning and check the ipad and I’m pretty much up to speed for the day.

I tag (#seeaustralia) and re-post onto major portal sites like Tourism Australia and they have the biggest audience. If they re-post that’s a giant ad for the Margaret River to millions.

My advice if you don’t have time for creating content would be to link up with a local photographer and develop a relationship to re-post their imagery. Win win.

Have you got any more social media tips?

1. Be consistent and regular in your use. Will you update hourly, daily, weekly? Whatever you choose, be consistent but do vary the times of day you use it.

2. Align it to your brand and make no exceptions. For example, you won’t find any political posts on my social media channels.

3. Cross referencing your social media channels is important. For example, links to your photos from your blog, tweets about your blog or photos.

4. Always think win win and work with other people, brands or companies who you can help and who will boost you.

5. Know what you want to achieve from your social media use. Have a strategy and be clear about this from the start. That will help you select the right channel, and guide how you use it.. For example, do you want to use it to build your brand and brand awareness, or do you want to be an ‘expert’ in your area.

6. Be very competent in your choice of channels before you create a company footprint. Use it as a personal user first. Follow other businesses and watch and learn how they conduct themselves in certain scenarios like negative feedback.

7. Follow great examples. For example the Western Australia restaurant Morries (check in for chicken wings/muffin updates!), Mountain Bike companies who are VERY good at this stuff and Go Pro who are the best. Follow good examples like those.

8. Include information about Facebook in your emails. Not just a link to you Facebook page but a call to action like “get a feel for the region before your holiday.”

9. Use exclamation marks! It seems to work for me.

10. Always remember your website is still the main platform. The rules and playing field for social media is always changing but you always have total control of your website.

Those are great tips. Do you have any specific tips for travel and tourism businesses?

I always say to people in the Australian tourism industry is that we could and should be connecting our Australian message with a much larger global audience. Our collective job is to encourage other tourism businesses to engage more with social media. Don’t be paralyzed. Use it. And let’s showcase and position Australian tourism as the best in the world.

Thank you so much Sean for kindly sharing your social media tips with us. You’re a legend! 

If you like these tips please check out Sean on FacebookTwitter or on his own blog and website and say g’day. His photos are spectacular so if you’re not hankering to visit the Margaret River already you soon will be.

Would You Like a Five Star Online Reputation Too?

Because online reviews are so powerful we’ve developed a new service called Review Marketing to help businesses get great online reviews, manage them and market their business using those five star reviews.

Review Marketing is going to be a game changer for anyone in the travel and tourism industry but it will also be a brilliant way for those in the health and well-being industry, construction industries and legal or financial industries to gain a competitive advantage and get more clients.

To find out more about review marketing or to get help with your digital marketing strategy just get in touch. Team Mucho look forward to helping you take your business to the next level.

Photo credits: MRDCo