A couple of weeks ago, I was Googling tourist board web addresses for work purposes, using phrases such as “[name of country] tourism”.
I was surprised by how many times the tourist board would turn up at the top of the search results. And not just the natural results – the paid-for results as well. I checked for other search terms, such as just the name of the country and “[name of country] travel”, and the tourist board websites were showing up at the top of the paid results there too.
This applied to roughly half of the tourist boards I checked – including Ireland,, , , , and – and usually the ones with a noted track record of using online channels to market themselves.
Such advertising will not be cheap, and it shows that tourist boards are prepared to spend significant amounts of money to drive eyeballs to their websites even though there’s no transactional benefit to be gained from doing so.
Many of these tourist boards are ones that have dealings of varying descriptions with bloggers and travel sites, so they’re clearly prepared to invest in promoting the destination to readers of travel blogs too.
It strikes me, however, that there’s another promotional method that should perhaps be considered. Many travel sites – including this one – will use affiliate networks such as Tradedoubler, Commission Junction and Affiliate Window. For the uninitiated, these allow you to sign up with advertisers who will give you a commission every time someone clicks through via a link on your site to buy something. The affiliate networks automate the tracking code so that the advertisers know which customers came from where.
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
FLIGHTS: Skyscanner (£) Kayak or Roundtheworldflights.com
CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
I tend to use these affiliates on a “may as well basis”. For example, if I’m writing about Virgin Atlantic (£) or Expedia (£) anyway, I may as well put the affiliate link to the relevant site in. It makes no difference to the readers, and it occasionally brings in a couple of quid – everyone’s a winner. I always mark such links with a (£) symbol for clarity.
On other occasions, an affiliate advert is actually beneficial to readers so I’ll put it in. A prime example is the Hotels.com searchbox I use next to the hotels section of my city guides (such as this one on Zurich). It enables readers to search for hotels in the destination – great. And if they happen to book a hotel through it, I get a bit of commission. Even better.
Most advertisers on affiliate sites work on commission per transaction basis – you only get some money if someone buys something. But there are a few that work on a pay-per-click model – which is the model used by Google with its Adwords ads. You know, the ones the tourist boards are shelling out not insubstantial sums on.
From the perspective of someone running an online travel site, my ideal advertiser on a page about Malaysia is Tourism Malaysia. It’s the most relevant choice for the reader, and in most cases the reader will benefit from clicking through and exploring the Tourism Malaysia site. It’s an ideal scenario of an ad being relevant, useful and unintrusive. Put an ad for a hotel site or flight site on and it’s obvious that I’m trying to shoehorn in something I can flog. An ad for the tourist board website is just a natural fit.
The same applies to Discover Ireland on a page about Ireland, Tourism Australia on a page about Australia etc. If these tourist boards were using Tradedoubler, Commission Junction and the likes, I’d go back through my posts about these destinations and add a link to the tourist board. Because I might as well.
Also, if I’m being honest, I’d prioritise writing up material about those destinations. I’ve got a world to choose from, but if I have to pick which stories to tell first – all other things being equal – I’ll pick the ones that can potentially bring in some site-sustaining income. That way, I can afford to spend more time adding more stories to the site.
From a tourist board point of view, there would initially seem little point in going through an affiliate network. After all, they’ve got nothing concrete to sell and give commission on. But they’ve not got anything concrete to sell and give commission on with the Adwords ads either.
The benefits would be as follows:
- Affiliate network pay per click adverts would be a darned site cheaper than the Adwords ones.
- The results would be directly measurable as opposed to hosting a blogger and hoping for some intangible benefits. Using the affiliate network rather than dealing direct cuts out the issue of click fraud too – the affiliate networks monitor that.
- Advertising to an audience clearly interested in reading about travel to that particular destination.
- Very little management is required once the affiliate site is approved. The individual sites just put the ads/ links on pages they feel they’re most relevant to. (ie. The ones about that particular destination).
- Offering an incentive to bloggers/ site owners to add coverage about the destination.
I’m sure there would be logistical problems – the obvious one being that it’s not possible to put a cap on monthly/ yearly spend this way – but I’m surprised that not a single tourist board has experimented with using the affiliate networks. Done right, it could be beneficial for all concerned.