2021 from the Outdoor Recreation Perspective
2021 was (for many of us) a year for the record books. When Q4 wrapped, it was like finally being able to catch our breath, before diving head first into 2022…but more to come on that later. Success in 2021 didn’t come easy. Regardless of the outdoor recreation industry vertical, every one of our clients faced their own unique challenges in 2020 that trickled into 2021. But if being in the outdoor recreation world has taught us anything, it is adaptability. We came together with our clients and collaboratively as a marketing agency, overcame obstacles, adjusted trip offerings, pivoted from original marketing strategies, and ended up discovering that being in the outdoor recreation industry comes with its own unique values and benefits during this unprecedented time.
With a collective online revenue growth of 183% and an organic traffic growth of 94% across our outdoor industry clients, it is clear that the demand for tourism, outdoor recreation in particular, skyrocketed in 2021. People became more comfortable traveling during the pandemic and acquired an understanding of travel guidelines and restrictions, which led to prioritizing outdoor recreation in their daily lives and when planning vacations with family and friends, or even solo!
In addition to the spike in organic traffic for our clients, that alluded to an increased interest and demand for outdoor recreation in 2021, we were able to confirm demand by analyzing booking lead times. On average, booking lead times for clients grew by 44%; meaning people were booking trips (day trips and multi-day trips alike) further in advance in comparison to 2020. Increased booking lead times can be attributed to a pent up demand for travel, ease and accessibility of online booking, and the success of year-round marketing initiatives.
A shift in average booking lead times was not the only booking-related trend we noticed in 2021. Online revenue grew by 183% for our outdoor recreation clients. 2020 forced operators to elevate their online presence and streamline their online booking process. That paired with our conversion rate optimization and search engine optimization work, led to significantly more online bookings in 2021.
There were plenty of roadblocks our clients faced that were outside of their control, including natural disasters, COVID-19, the national hiring shortage, and supply chain stressors. As new obstacles presented themselves, we worked with our clients to devise unique strategies to address and overcome these challenges.
One of our rafting clients, Defiance Rafting Company, suffered a mudslide during peak season of 2021 that blocked the primary highway entrance to their operation. Not only did this stop the majority of their customers from accessing their headquarters, but it also blocked and redirected the primary river they guide on. Thankfully, the city of Glenwood Springs, Colorado worked tirelessly to clear the slide debris from the road and river all while updating Defiance on progress. With Defiance’s marketing service mix, we were able to update customers on progress, shift marketing efforts to another river they guide on, and promote Defiance River Outfitters, their rental operations, to draw in revenue while the debris was being cleared. Overall, despite missing nearly two weeks of peak-season bookings, Defiance Rafting still had a strong year with YOY growth compared to 2020 and 2019.
So what did we learn from 2021? Keep scrolling through our outdoor recreation marketing annual recap to find out!
2021 Digital Marketing Trends for Outdoor Recreation
At TOMIS, we work with both urban recreation clients and outdoor recreation clients. While there were many trend similarities between the two for 2021, there were also unique differences. This recap will cover our marketing trends, findings, and insights for outdoor recreation in 2021. Be sure to check out our urban 2021 marketing recap as well.
Google Ads has proven year-over-year to be one of the highest revenue-generating marketing services for our clients. Not only do TOMIS’ Google Ads increase overall website traffic and brand awareness, but they are responsible for a large portion of online booking revenue as well.
Overall, Google Ads in the outdoor recreation industry in 2021 showed less competition and more demand when compared to 2020. Average cost per click was down 11% and click-thru-rate was up 143%. This is due to less competitors running ads and holding higher ad positions on the page. Our overall conversion metrics reaped the benefits as conversions increased by 37%. When compared to 2019, in more of an apples to apples scenario, CPC, CTR, and conversions had even more of a significant improvement.
As many digital marketing professionals know, 2021 proved to be a challenging year for paid social media advertising because of the Apple iOS 14 update. This update that focused on privacy for Apple users primarily impacted targeting capabilities and reporting attribution. We knew this update would be coming, and we worked hard to prepare our clients for a strong paid social media year regardless of the impacts their campaigns would face as a result of the update. As an agency, we followed Facebook’s recommendations, verified domains, prioritized pixel events, met weekly with an agency Facebook Marketing Expert to keep up-to-date on latest trends and updates, and maintained our best practice of using links with UTM parameters to further monitor and track campaign success.
Despite losing some direct attribution capabilities, 2021 proved to be a strong year for our clients, collectively. With an average of 6.54x ROAS and a higher than industry average CTR of 3.18%, our clients who took advantage of TOMIS’ paid social advertising service were able to elevate their business’ brand awareness and online booking percentages through website retargeting and brand awareness campaigns.
In 2021, we continued to explore TikTok paid advertising for our clients. In a lot of ways, TikTok is configured similarly to Facebook and Instagram: there is a daily budget, a pixel installed on your website to track events, and ad creative that is concise and captures the attention of your target audience.
But in other ways, the threshold for marketing on TikTok is a bit higher than Facebook and Instagram. On Facebook, you can get away with daily budgets that are as low as $1 per ad set, but on TikTok, you need to invest at least $20 a day, or $50 if you’re setting up your budget on the campaign level.
Similar to Facebook and Instagram, the power of retargeting campaigns on TikTok rely on website events that are being tracked by the TikTok pixel. However, for new brands looking to utilize their TikTok pixel events for retargeting efforts, it’s important to keep in mind that only attributed events can be retargeted. This means successful brand awareness campaigns prior to retargeting are crucial.
Clients who utilized TikTok advertising in their paid advertising strategy mix, were able to reach a younger audience, capitalize on current trends, and see additional online bookings attributed to paid advertising. Two case studies from 2021 showed that one client was able to attribute around $8,000 in additional revenue from TikTok and another client saw nearly an additional $14,000 in revenue in a four-month period.
Search Engine Optimization and Content Marketing
Search engine optimization (SEO) services proved to be invaluable yet again in 2021. Through both on-page and off-page SEO optimizations, we are able to increase website traffic for our clients, ultimately increasing direct bookings. OTAs (online travel agencies) continue to be the biggest competitor for direct bookings in the tourism industry. While exposure and bookings from these companies help toward overall revenue growth, they cut into revenue margins. With a percentage of each of these bookings going back to the OTA, tourism operators are losing more and more money as OTAs become increasingly competitive. In 2021, one of the top online travel agencies, Viator, introduced Viator Accelerate, allowing operators to fluctuate the commission Viator receives in exchange for better visibility of their booking options. This update elevated the competitiveness of Viator’s offerings, making improving SEO even more important.
One of the most notable SEO trends for 2021 was Google’s Core Web Vitals initiative. Core Web Vitals ranks the overall page experience using three different factors: largest contentful paint (LCP), first input delay (FID), and cumulative layout shift (CLS). Websites that score higher in those three value areas are favored by search engines, ultimately dramatically improving overall SEO.
We also noticed that featured snippets were easier to obtain in past years. Google’s algorithm update made achieving a featured snippet in the travel industry more difficult. This impacted a lot of high value content pieces. To work around this, we made sure to take advantage of structured data, reorganize on-page content, and include keywords in top placements throughout the page.
When we optimized our outdoor recreation clients’ website with Core Web Vitals recommendations and additional TOMIS best practices, we saw tremendous growth in organic traffic. In 2021, organic traffic was up 94% collectively among all our outdoor recreation clients.
Website Conversion Rate Optimization
In the age of online booking becoming more and more popular, it is imperative that tourism operators take advantage of conversion rate optimization (CRO) services. Having a streamlined checkout process makes for a better user experience and increases online booking conversion rates.
Unique offerings such as our mobile menu bar and TOMIS AI ChatBot with check availability have proven to be two of our most powerful CRO plays. We have found that clients who utilize TOMIS’s mobile booking bar see an increase in online bookings and that customers enjoy the overall mobile experience more too. The mobile menu bar is completely customizable, but most clients tend to feature FAQs, email, call, and a book now button like the New Mexico River Adventures example below.
Clients who invested in the TOMIS AI ChatBot in 2021 saw an average of $23,502 in bookings from the bot and an average of 2,795 customer questions answered by the bot.The TOMIS ChatBot was able to alleviate time spent in the office answering customer questions all while taking bookings that add to operators’ bottom line.
In the spring of 2021, one of our outdoor recreation clients, High Country Adventure, a rafting and tubing operator based outside of Provo, Utah, reached out to our team with a familiar problem. As they faced down their busy season, they were already finding themselves overwhelmed by an inbox of unanswered questions and never ending phone calls. We worked closely with the HCA team to create a custom AI ChatBot paired with our SMS Chat service, allowing guests to interact with the ChatBot first and fallback on live text support if needed.
After reviewing ChatBot insights for 2021, we found within just three months, the High Country Adventure ChatBot provided immense value to their team. In the first three months of launching, the bot handled a total of 4,531 customer messages, booked 185 tours directly within the bot, and generated $43,976 in revenue. Sean, owner at High Country, said, “I really like the TOMIS chat! Way better than Chekkit and better than Podium.”
With the addition of check availability, clients with integrated reservation systems are able to add booking directly through the bot. Meaning, if a customer is communicating with the bot, they can see availability for the trip they are interested in and book directly through the bot all at the same time, without changing landing pages.
Another pivotal CRO strategy we acted upon in 2021 were Google Optimize experiments. We utilized Google Optimize to test a trip duration time feature for one of our clients, Front Royal Outdoors, and as a result we were able to improve e-commerce conversion rates on that particular page by 54%.
Looking Ahead to 2022
At TOMIS, we pride ourselves in holistically creating our clients’ marketing strategies, meaning we leave plenty of time for data and trend analysis. There were many lessons we learned from 2021 and from those have gathered what we predict to see in 2022. Keep reading to see if you’ve predicted similar trends for your operation in 2022.
Continued Staffing Shortage
Seasonal staffing has historically come with its own unique challenges, but pairing that with the current Great Resignation has made the perfect storm.
- It will be important to integrate hiring campaigns into full-funnel marketing strategies for 2022.
- Be sure to highlight what makes your organization unique. Why would someone want to guide for you over your competitor?
- Utilize the TOMIS AI ChatBot to share that you are actively hiring.
- Become familiar with the limitations around employment advertising, or hire TOMIS to help you navigate the regulations.
- Optimize your employment landing page for a greater user experience and accessibility. Make it easy for candidates to apply.
Emphasis on Direct Bookings
As we mentioned above, OTAs are making it more challenging than ever before to increase direct bookings. There are more competitors and top OTAs are implementing new strategies that will allow them to make higher commissions on your trips. It will be important to promote your own bookings through multiple avenues to stay competitive amongst top OTAs.
- Invest in your own business by running Google Ads campaigns that direct traffic back to your website.
- Elevate your paid social advertising to increase your brand awareness and encourage people to visit your website to book directly.
- Keep up-to-date with current SEO opportunities and trends to ensure your website is optimized to garner organic traffic and compete with OTAs in SERPs (search engine results pages).
More and more reservation systems are interested in opening their API to integrate with our TOMIS App. These integrations aggregate your booking data and advertising data into one platform, allowing TOMIS clients to always have their finger on the pulse of their business data. Our two most recent integrations, that a number of outdoor recreation operators are on, include The Flybook and Arctic.
Curious if your reservation system integrates with our TOMIS App? Shoot us a message!
National Park Traffic
In 2021, National Parks throughout the country saw record-high visitor numbers. As a result, many outfitters just outside of National Park boundaries had an increase in bookings and customers as well. We are expecting this trend to continue into 2022 as we have already seen an uptick in early bookings and travel planning inquiries.
- If your outfitter is near a National Park, when was the last time you looked at increasing your trip prices? Most of our clients outside of National Parks are booked to capacity during their peak seasons and have benefited from a modest increase in trip prices. Not sure where to start? We are happy to consult.
Supply Chain Issues
After a few years of GDP supply chain issues, many operators are now facing lengthy delivery schedules for business essentials like vehicles, rafts, and infrastructure. We saw this in 2020 and 2021, and we expect these delays to continue well into 2022.
- Place your orders early, and consider the time that might be caught up in orders that haven’t been delivered yet.
- Can you order from a local dealer instead? In addition to supporting local markets, you might find that you have a better idea of the timeline for delivery.
Overall Trip Experience
The global pandemic shifted the way customers want to book and experience trip offerings. Now, more than ever, people are demanding a flexible cancellation policy, expect custom and small group trip offerings, and are closely monitoring reviews prior to choosing an operator to book through.
- Make sure you have enacted a flexible cancellation policy for your business.
- If you haven’t already, consider adding a custom trip offering for those looking for a more intimate experience.
- Gather more customer reviews. All TOMIS *clients have access to the TOMIS APP review generation feature. Upon completion of a trip, customers will receive a text asking about their experience and encouraging them to fill out a review through the platform of the operators’ choice. If you feel this feature could be of value for your operation, we’d be happy to share it with you.
* Clients with an integrated reservation system to the TOMIS App have access to Review Generation.
Contact us if you’d like to know if your res tech is integrated.