As we geared up for 2022, the outdoor recreation side of the house was anticipating another record-smashing year. American Outdoors members were surveyed, and only 8% predicted 2022 to have a slight decrease in demand compared to 2021. Coming off of a massively successful year in 2021, many outdoor recreation tour operators were optimistic about 2022. COVID’s clutch had loosened on the travel market and the most hopeful business owners were prepared for another banger year. For many, that wasn’t quite how things played out.
While it will forever be challenging to compete with the spike in demand and tremendous growth our outdoor recreation clients saw in 2021, we are proud to report that collectively our TOMIS outdoor recreation clients ended 2022 with 29% YOY total revenue growth, 17% YOY online revenue growth, and 22% YOY organic traffic growth.
We’re here to unpack some of the key obstacles that the 2022 outdoor recreation year presented and isolate some of the strategies that catalyzed success.
2022 Seasonal Shifts & Travel Trends
Weather-Related Tourism Impacts
We couldn’t talk about seasonality without including some of our operator’s most influential external forces. Unusually warm weather patterns and above-average water flows in the Rocky Mountains delayed spring bookings/departures and may have had impacts on consumer behavior throughout the late trip planning phase. As a result, those who were able to extend their season on the back end realized more revenue than typical for that time period. On the contrary, many operators who started their season early were left covering overhead expenses with fewer trips booked than in past seasons.
One of the most notable weather-related impacts during 2022 was the Yellowstone flood. The historic June flood caused massive damage affecting not only the park but surrounding tourism destinations as well. While portions of the park remained open to visitors under strict guidelines, visits were down 43% during the month of July. Tourists were left to decide if they should cancel their plans or change destinations. For many who were already en route when the floods happened, they chose to support surrounding local operations. This led to an immediate increase in bookings for some of our Jackson Hole and Montana rafting operators. But mid-late season impacts were felt for the remainder of 2022 as many families canceled their trips out west as a result of the flood.
Shift in Customer Personas
In 2022, we saw an evolution of the typical customer. As a result of tours being less available and travel being stalled in 2020, many people dove head first into their own self-guided adventures. People invested in camping equipment, hit the trails and rivers, and opted for tents and RVs over hotels and crowded planes. This renewed sense of independent adventure led to many customers looking for more challenging offerings coming out of the pandemic.
Multi-day trips were the top choice of previously single-day rafting clients. ARTA River Trips, a revered rafting outfitter known for its western multi-day rafting excursions, was one of the outliers in 2022. Their total booking value was up 45% in 2022, crushing their record-breaking 2021 season where sales were up 76% over 2020. On the contrary, Arkansas River, a popular single-day rafting destination in Colorado, was down -24% in total trips booked for 2022.
In addition to seeking out more technical offerings and longer trips, customers were also investing in their own equipment to further pursue their outdoor recreation passions. In 2022, we were able to help clients launch and optimize their e-commerce stores which brought in welcomed revenue during shoulder and off-seasons and helped sustain overhead for operators who had lower trip sales. Some TOMIS clients, Grizzly Hackle, for example, were booked through their peak season, and their online stores allowed additional revenue to come in when operationally they could not sustain additional trip bookings.
Economic Impact on Travel
Closing out the year with a 6.5% inflation rate increase in the United States was something that hit our outdoor recreation clients close to home. Airfare was up 28.5% and fuel oil was up 41.5% in 2022, making destination travel pricer than ever before. In addition to increased expenses, the airline industry faced many obstacles in 2022 that left travelers having to adjust their plans and at times even cancel trips. This undoubtedly had an impact on operators’ revenue goals for the year, especially those who enacted a more flexible cancelation policy as a result of COVID-19.
Another trend we witnessed in 2022 was the increased demand for tours nearby major metro markets. Travel over 5 hours created some hesitancy for trip-goers due to increased gas prices and the increased comfort in group travel after the pandemic.
One unique takeaway from 2022 was the economic insulation certain offerings benefited from. Higher-ticket guest experiences were, for the most part, safe from the negative economic impact. People who book more expensive offerings typically have more financial flexibility and an excess of expendable income.
Most expensive tour offerings are often multi-day experiences. The majority of multi-day trip bookings have a significantly longer booking lead time than their single-day counterparts. With lead times averaging around 70+ days for 2-3 day trips and 160+ days for 4+ day trips in 2022, these trips often see fewer customer cancellations as well due to the extensive planning and financial investment required. As a result, many operators who offered bookable multi-day experiences in 2022 saw stronger bottom-line revenue growth as well.
As international travel restrictions began to lift in 2022, the pent-up demand for international travel was almost immediately felt by destination-market outdoor tourism operators. Customers they attracted in 2020 and 2021 as a result of international travel being restricted, were now finally taking those bucket list trips. This meant fewer resources (time and money) to be able to travel domestically in 2022.
Our Canadian clients saw the positive impact of travel restrictions lifting making it easier for people from the United State to book their offerings, ultimately increasing their customer base.
Outdoor Recreation Digital Marketing Case Studies and Wins
It is important to highlight that without unique tour offerings, hard-working guides, and creative business owners, we would not be able to celebrate these same wins in 2022. We are fortunate to work with the best operators in the business and are continuously impressed at how they exceed the bar time and time again.
At TOMIS, we offer custom digital marketing packages to fit the varying needs of our clients. By leveraging multiple service areas, we are able to deliver strong results and elevate our clients’ overall digital presence.
Google Ads is historically one of the top revenue-generating services we offer. With Google Ads, we compete with your direct competitors as well as online travel agents to capture and redirect bookings to your own website. Direct bookings mean higher margins, ultimately leading to more money in our clients’ pockets and a more controlled branding experience from start to finish for their customers.
Performance Max campaigns were popular among operators throughout 2022. Launched in the end of 2021, Performance max campaigns are a goal-based campaign that allows advertisers to access all of their Google Ads offerings from a single campaign. For clients who added Performance Max into their Google Ads strategy, many saw stronger return on ad spend than in the past
Downstream Adventures —
Google Ads Campaigns Drives Bookings For New Client
Downstream Adventures started working with TOMIS at the beginning of 2022 with Google Ads launching in March. In nine months this Colorado-based rafting outfit saw over 10,000 website sessions, garnered 417 website conversions, and drove 182 online bookings all attributed to paid search efforts.
River Queen Voyages —
Google Ads Campaigns Drives Bookings For New Client
River Queen Voyages, a new client to TOMIS starting in June 2022, ran Google Ads campaigns both in-market and out-of-market. From June to December, the Nashville operator generated an 8x return on ad spend from 212 online bookings. The campaigns also generated 178 additional leads on top of that, giving them a total cost per conversion of $13.28 and a conversion rate of 5.1%.
Cabo Trek – Performance Max —
New Google Ads Campaign Type Performs Strongly For Clients
In 2022 a number of TOMIS clients adopted the new Performance Max campaigns and saw overall strong results. One client, Cabo Trek, generated an overall cost per conversion of $1.91 and a conversion rate of 4% through their Performance Max campaign!
Paid and organic social media are frequently at the top of business owners’ minds when it comes to thinking of and creating their comprehensive marketing strategy, and rightfully so. With over 2.91 billion active Facebook users, Instagram’s top demographic mirroring one of our outdoor recreation clients’ top age demographic (25-34), and TikTok taking the tourism industry by storm as the fastest-growing social media platform, the need to have a presence in these spaces is becoming almost mandatory.
Despite continued tracking and attribution difficulties as a result of privacy updates implemented by Facebook and Apple, we have worked hard at TOMIS to navigate these waters and provide value to our clients by utilizing additional tracking methods through our TOMIS App, UTM codes, and Meta’s Aggregated Event Measurement tool. These extra steps have allowed us a deeper look into the customer’s journey (when and where possible).
The reality of the situation is after the initial iOS update, attribution was and will continue to be limited despite additional efforts. To make sure we are providing the best possible service to our clients we leverage A/B testing, utilize newly implemented creative tools within Ads Manager, closely follow industry trends, and meet weekly with an Advertising Expert from Meta. We share wins across the department and are constantly improving clients’ graphic assets, ad headlines, and converting ad copy as a result.
Greatland Adventures –
Paid Social Increases Exposure for New Tours While Driving Direct Bookings
Greatland Adventures, a guiding outfitter based out of Anchorage, Alaska, showed continued paid social success in 2022. With strong years in both 2021 and 2022, Greatland Adventures was able to expand their operation into new cities.
Search Engine Optimization
Tour operators often turn to us when they need help increasing their website traffic. Operators know how to create an amazing guest experience, bring in glowing reviews, and oftentimes even do their own marketing. With a plethora of important on-page and off-page SEO optimizations and little time to dedicate to their own marketing efforts, many outdoor recreation clients turn to TOMIS to manage their SEO.
Through tried and true methods and keeping up with algorithm shifts and search engine trends, we are able to keep our clients relevant in searches, steadily climbing to the top of keyword rankings. With every move in the right direction in regards to keyword rankings, we are helping to send more organic traffic to our clients site, ultimately leading to more direct bookings and larger revenue margins.
Through utilizing tools such as WebCEO, Screaming Frog, HotJar, and our proprietary TOMIS App, we are able to keep a close eye on our clients’ overall SEO health and make needed optimizations to support their in-season and off-season business goals.
A Day in LA –
Local Pack Rankings Increased by Building Citations through BrightLocal
After implementing an SEO strategy that included building citations through BrightLocal, A Day in LA Tours, a bus tour operator in Los Angeles, saw a significant improvement in their local search rankings for multiple key terms as well as an increase in organic traffic and revenue. This resulted in an increase in visibility for the company on local search engines and a higher likelihood of appearing in the local pack of Google’s search results.
Solitude River Trips –
On-Page and Technical SEO Strategy Leads to Featured Snippet for Middle Fork Outfitter
Solitude River Trips, a rafting and fly fishing outfitter on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, gained a featured snippet on Google for multiple search terms for their main fly fishing trip page. The page increased in rankings and traffic after deploying internal linking best practices and additional optimized on-page headings.
One of the tactics we often implement to improve organic website traffic is keyword-rich blogging. Through creating engaging blog templates that complement our clients’ website’s keyword research strategy, we are able to improve keyword rankings and capture more high-quality traffic.
Not only do these blogs increase website traffic, they often rank in the top 10 revenue-generating landing pages.
Glacier Highline —
Customer-first Content Continues Driving Website Traffic
Outdoor recreation clients have continued to see changing customer demographics since 2020. In 2022, consumers traveled further from home than in previous years and looked for content to help them find their way. Using targeted keyword strategies these blogs performed well in search queries and attributed to over half of all organic website sessions.
With custom automations, monthly newsletters, CVB lead nurturing, and promotional blasts, email marketing has proven to be a great way to increase touch points with past and potential outdoor recreation clients.
In addition to trip promotions, we used email marketing in 2022 more than ever to showcase clients’ e-commerce stores. By linking to featured products, we were able to encourage customers to purchase items that would complement their experience with that particular outfitter or invest in gear that would allow them to adventure independently. As we mentioned earlier, as customers evolve to be experts in their field, creating opportunities for them to buy and rent gear proved valuable in 2022.
When looking to 2023, we expect email marketing to play a pivotal role during a time of economic uncertainty. Zero-party data is essential for successful marketing efforts with today’s data privacy restrictions. The segmentation and personalization that email marketing is known for allows tour operators to further connect with their customers to meet their needs and book more trips.
Grizzly Hackle –
Creating Additional Revenue Without Adding More Trips
Since the surge of outdoor tourism in the past few years, the Grizzly Hackle has nearly hit capacity on the number of guided trips that they can offer. As a result, we looked for other ways to grow their business in 2022 and achieved this through online retail sales and the use of email marketing.
TOMIS AI ChatBot
Our TOMIS product team built 25 new AI ChatBots in 2022. Collectively, the active AI ChatBots that our team manages brought in an additional $696,844 in online sales for tour operators. In addition to revenue alone, the evolving way TOMIS AI ChatBots are able to communicate with potential customers and even create new bookings gives back operational time to our tour operators.
Hiring shortages, while not as pressing as 2021 for most operators, were still something many of our clients struggled with in 2022. The AI ChatBots were able to alleviate some of the customer communication pressure they felt by putting their custom ChatBot on the front line.
Teton Whitewater –
AI ChatBot Continues to Drive Revenue and Decrease Phone Calls
As one of the top-rated whitewater rafting outfitters in Jackson Hole, Teton Whitewater’s staff used to deal with an extraordinary amount of phone calls and emails regarding general FAQs. Implementing “Jackson” the ChatBot in March of 2022 has given the staff more time to work on what they do best – providing world-class experiences on the Snake River. With a low 5% request human rate and a seamless transition into SMS Chat that allows the staff to answer from anywhere, the ChatBot booked online at a 349% higher rate than the all-website traffic average.
Cabo Trek –
Custom AI ChatBot Reduces Phone Calls While Bringing in Additional Revenue
With a small operations team and a variety of day trips and multi-day expeditions offered throughout the year, Cabo Trek came to TOMIS looking for a solution to minimize time spent over the phone and through emails communicating with customers. With over 2,000 customer messages handled by their new TOMIS AI ChatBot in 2022, clients were happy, the Cabo Trek operations team was able to reallocate their time and resources, and the Bot quietly brought in an additional $18.5k in additional online revenue.
Conversion Rate Optimization
Okay, so we’ve helped increase traffic to your site, but now how do you get all these new potential customers to actually complete a booking? That is where conversion rate optimization comes in. With a 17% increase in online bookings for outdoor recreation clients in 2022 over 2021, we were still able to increase online revenue despite the external obstacles we outlined above.
Not only do online bookings mean more direct revenue for our operators, but they typically mean less customer communication during the booking process which gives already busy operators a bit of their own time back.
As avid rafters, fishermen, skiers, and travelers ourselves, we pride ourselves in being able to see your site through your clients’ eyes. Combining our passions with data analysis, we are able to confidently implement a strategy that will support an easier, more streamlined booking flow.
Custom Website Leads to Improved E-commerce Conversion Rate
With a growing business and more online bookings, Defiance Rafting, was looking to maximize their SEO and CRO capabilities by building a custom site with TOMIS.
Looking Ahead to 2023
As competition continues to grow and external forces loom overhead, it is now more important than ever to have a solid digital marketing strategy in place to protect tourism operators’ businesses and grow their online presence.
At TOMIS, we are preparing for big changes in the digital landscape in 2023 including the introduction of Google Analytics 4, the expansion of paid social media marketing channels and placements, and the growth of AI chat…to name a few. We are investing in our TOMIS product and are excited to share updates with our current and future clients in the months to come, some of which include additional reservation system integrations, a unified inbox, and customer <> operator communication advancements.
We are expecting 2023 to bring its own challenges and opportunities for our outdoor recreation clients. If you are looking for a partner to help you and your business make the most of this coming year, we’d love to help! Our team is full of service area experts, digital marketing pros, and retired guides who have asked themselves many of the same questions current tour operators face. Shoot us an email or give us a call to get things started. Let’s make the most of 2023, together!