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Updated 29 Feb 2020

Getting the word out

How to best leverage word of mouth marketing to promote your tourism business.

28 October 2009  Share  0 comments  Print

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Consumers are most influenced by word of mouth when deciding what (and where) to buy. This is according to the BIGresearch Study conducted in the USA in December 2005. Television was the second-most influential medium and direct mail the sixth.

This trend is particularly true for the tourism industry, where the diversity of the audience and the plethora of available marketing mediums makes it tough for SMEs to know where to focus their marketing efforts.

“Building relationships is the answer”, says Gail McCann, veteran of the tourism industry, project manager at the Tourism Enterprise Programme and, among many other things, the first woman president of FEDHASA. “When it comes to marketing a tourism business, I often advise SME owners to invest in a personal development course, such as communication skills, before spending money on an advertisement in a newspaper or magazine. People ‘buy’ other people before they buy a product.

Why are relationships so important?

Human beings are social creatures who value relationships. We like to interact with other people and feel that they in turn take an interest in us. The same goes for companies. Studies have shown that customers appreciate relationships with companies because:

  • it gives them confidence in you as the service provider – they know what to expect from your guesthouse, which reduces the anxiety associated with travel; and
  • you become their friend, someone they can trust for advice because you know their preferences. Your travel agency, for example, is more than a ticketing service – it is a place where their every need is taken care of without them even having to ask.

One of the most important and influential ways in which relationships impact on marketing, is called word of mouth. This is defined as the act of consumers providing information to other consumers; in other words, people telling other people about their experiences.

This form of communication is generally regarded as very credible because it is an opinion given without an ulterior motive (ie, they are not trying to sell you something).

Make word of mouth a marketing tool

Good word of mouth marketing strategies are about giving people a reason to talk about your business and making it easier for them to tell their friends about you. Here are some ideas:

  • Develop tools to make telling a friend easier, eg, a pamphlet about your B&B or a key ring with your shuttle service details on it.
  • Give people something to talk about, such as a surprise complimentary car wash at your conference facility.
  • Provide information that can be shared or forwarded, eg, an emailed thank you note.
  • Create your own fan club – host a small function where you introduce your loyal customers to prospective ones.
  • Identify people who can influence your target customers. Inform them about your services and encourage them to spread the word.
  • Research and listen to customer feedback. For example, put feedback cards in the rooms or send your guests an email after their stay inviting them to tell you what they enjoyed and what they did not.
  • Give your loyal guests sneak previews of exciting initiatives or upcoming special offers. Letting them see “behind the scenes” will make them feel valued and important. It also gives them a good story to tell their friends!

Networking is another way of marketing your business through relationships. When you are linked into a network, such as the Tourism Enterprise Programme or a local tourism association, referrals are likely to become a good source of business.

Use these three top tips to build up your network

Make a point of meeting the other tourism business owners in your area.
Understand what their businesses are about and how you can support one another.
When you receive an enquiry from a guest and you are unable to assist, make an effort to refer them to someone who can.

Beam me up, Scottie

Word of mouth not only happens when people meet face-to-face; it is an eminent feature of the virtual world. Email and the Internet make the sharing of information easy and almost instantaneous. The good news about your excellent service could be in Australia by the end of the hour, and the bad news probably even quicker.

The Internet allows people to share their opinions freely using tools like blogs, podcasts and message boards, collectively known as new media or social media. People use these tools to post praises, criticisms, questions and suggestions on the Internet, often leading to vibrant discussions and sharing of ideas. Give you guests enough good news to talk about, and they might do your marketing for you on their next blog.

Speak to your Internet service provider about how your business can take advantage of these technologies.

Did you know?

Tourism Marketing South Africa (TOMSA) is a trust account originally set up by the Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA), to provide additional marketing funding to promote “Destination South Africa” internationally. TOMSA funding is utilised primarily in the USA, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Kenya, Nigeria, China, Japan, India and Australia.

The funds are collected through a 1% consumer levy on tourism products in South Africa, with TBCSA acting as the collecting agency. To register as a contributor, visit the TOMSA website

Get listed!

Listing your tourism SME in directories, either online or printed, can be an excellent marketing opportunity, especially if the directory in question has a good reputation.

These are a few examples:

  • The Portfolio Collection benchmarks the best quality holiday accommodation in South Africa and Swaziland. There are three guides in the Collection: the Country Places, City and Safari Collection, the Retreats Collection and the Bed & Breakfast Collection. These are available online and in hard copy. See
  • Linx Africa provides an online tourism directory service with different registration options. See
  • The KZN Tourism Association publishes the KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Trade Directory, both online and in print. See
  • The South African Travel and Tourism Directory is an online directory and search engine that lists a variety of tourism associations, booking services and provincial and regional tourism directories.

It also lists individual accommodation establishments, transport services and other tourism-related services. See

Did you know:

Satisfied customers share their “good news” stories with an average of three people, but share bad experiences with about 11.

Great customer relationships translate into profit. The cost of retaining an existing customer is estimated to be about 10% of the cost of acquiring a new customer.

Everybody loves a winner

Why not enter a competition as part of your marketing strategy?

  • The annual Business Tourism Marketing Awards acknowledge and reward outstanding achievement, excellence and creativity in marketing business tourism. This includes meetings, events, exhibitions and incentive travel. Contact SA Tourism for more information.
  • The local Welcome Awards are designed to inspire and acknowledge outstanding contributions to the local industry, in an attempt to create role models for others. Contact SA Tourism (SAT) on 011 895 3000 or email [email protected] for more information.

Trap their imagination

A feature of tourism internationally, is attractions created specifically for tourists. Examples that spring to mind include the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, traditional music and dance shows, and villages that recreate a traditional way of living, eg, the Lesedi Cultural Village near Hartbeespoortdam in Gauteng.

Locals often view these attractions as “tourist traps” aimed at non-suspecting non-local travellers. However, they also create a focal point to convince tourists to stop off in an area that they might otherwise just drive through.

One example is the World’s Biggest Pineapple, at Summerhill Farm on the road between Bathurst and Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. Situated in one of the largest pineapple growing areas in the country, the pineapple “museum” has become a landmark for this part of the country.

It catches visitors’ imagination and convinces them to spend more time in the area than they might have planned to.

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