The Ultimate Social Media Guide for Tour Operators

Explore our ultimate guide for tour operators on mastering social media marketing. Get insights on strategy, engagement, trends, and more

Social media marketing in tourism has evolved greatly over the last decade, with social media becoming one of the top avenues of discovery for visitors and guests. These digital platforms have made it easy for even the smallest of tour operators to leverage social media marketing to get in front of thousands (and even millions) of experience bookers.

Before social media, if an experience host wanted to promote their tours or activities to people overseas or even just the next state over, it would be a costly investment. But tourism social media marketing has made it easy to target travelers and turn lookers into bookers without breaking the bank.

The intersection of social media and tourism marketing has created new opportunities for businesses to reach a wider audience and engage with potential customers in meaningful ways. In this guide, we’re breaking down the essential social media marketing strategies that you need to know to enhance your tourism marketing. 

The Role of Social Media in Tourism Marketing

The role of social media in tourism marketing cannot be overstated, as it has become a crucial tool for businesses to connect with potential customers and promote their offerings.

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have several strong discovery features that can put your posts in front of people from all over the world. People can use the search as they would Google, Pinterest, or any other search engine. When the algorithm notices people engaging with more destination-centric content, it will show them more of it. Content from months or even years ago can gain visibility with the right hashtags and keywords. And with these social networks’ ‘save’ feature, travelers can bookmark experiences and return to them when they’re ready to book. 

@getupandgokayaking

Just your average manatee “hello” through the best window seats on the water! #jupiterfl #fyp #viral #clearkayak

♬ original sound – Clear Kayaking
This 2020 Get Up and Go Kayaking TikTok video of kayakers encountering a manatee still attracts plenty of attention four years later, with over 6.5 million views to date.

Strategies for Using Social Media in Tourism

Developing a strong social media marketing strategy for tourism is essential to maximize the impact of your efforts and achieve your business goals.

If you operate an activity, tour, or attraction, showcasing the features of your experience is of the utmost importance. And while many of the best practices and essentials we covered in this 2021 Social Media Primer for Tour Operators still apply, such as the 80/20 rule (80 percent of your content should be informative and entertaining, and only 20 percent promotional), a lot has changed in the world of social media marketing. 

Approaching your tourism social media marketing strategy creatively will go a long way in getting people excited to book your experience. This means showing up on social media with a big personality and a unique perspective on your destination. One way to do this is to embrace popular Instagram and TikTok trends so you don’t fall in the trap of creating overly salesy content. 

City Sightseeing jumped on a popular cat trend with this video which attracted over 160K views.

1. Leveraging Visual Storytelling

The beauty of a destination is what drives people to visit places all over the world, so it’s no wonder that the most popular tourism content on social media is showcasing highly sensorial features. Bold colors, unique architecture, vibrant dishes, majestic natural landscapes, these are going to ‘stop the scroll’ and get prospective travelers to pay attention.

But we know it’s not always easy for tour operators to capture high quality visual content during their experience. Christy Hunter of Photowalk Nashville gives some excellent advice on photography in our article, Beyond Selfies: Using Photography to Elevate Your Tours, and Jessica Dante of Love & London shares some insights on Mastering Video Content in Travel

Image of Love and London Founder Jessica Dante speaking at Arival 360 | Berlin 2024, sharing insights and tips on short-form video content for tour, activity, and attraction operators.
Love and London Founder Jessica Dante shares insights and tips on short-form video content for tour, activity and attraction operators at Arival 360 | Berlin 2024. Arival Insider Pro Access members can watch the session on-demand here.

2. Utilizing User-Generated Content

If capturing your own photos or hiring a photographer or videographer feels impossible, all is not lost when it comes to social media marketing for tourism! User generated content is one of the easiest and cost-effective ways to populate your social media feed. This means leveraging photos and videos created by tourists. 

Start by checking out social posts you’ve been tagged in recently – are they quality enough to repost? One of the best things you can do at the end of every experience is ask your happy guests & visitors to tag you or DM their photos to you. Always check to make sure you have their permission to share. And most importantly, be sure to tell a compelling story with the photo!  

Intrepid Travel focuses on showcasing authentic, sustainable travel experiences and often features user-generated content, like this post from a traveler on one of their Morocco tours.

3. Engaging with Influencers and Bloggers

Influencers can be one of your greatest partners in promoting your experiences and attractions. Like any business relationship, it’s important to find the right fit for you. And while we’ve already done a deep dive into influencer marketing, it’s worth reiterating here that serious influencers will often require a monetary investment to promote your business. 

Influencers should be chosen based on their values, the quality of their content and their following, and they deserve to be compensated for the value they deliver in your tourism social media marketing efforts. When you start working with an influencer, look at it as a partnership and even consider exploring what a long-term relationship could look like for you. 

Working with influencers can also help you reach a particular niche or target market, as in this post where influencer Ravi Round the World promotes an experience by Eric’s ATV Adventures to his audience of LGBTQ+ travelers.

4. Hosting Interactive Campaigns and Contests

Social media is not a digital billboard, it is an online interactive space. If you’re treating it only as a promotion-zone, then you’re likely not seeing the ROI from it. Inviting engagement is important, and you can do so through interactive campaigns (e.g., hashtag contests, live Q&A sessions, contests, etc.) 

Remember in 2020 when virtual tours were all the rage? Just because we’re back to in-person experiences, doesn’t mean you should abandon your online experience. These campaigns give prospective guests a taste of what your tour is like, boost engagement, and strengthen community ties.  

Social media contests like this one by TourRadar often encourage people to like and reshare posts, follow an account and tag their friends, thereby helping increase engagement.

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What Social Media Platforms Are Best for Tourism?

Tourism social media in 2024 is best focused on highly visual digital platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Pinterest. While the algorithm on all these platforms can make it feel like you’re a very small fish in a very large pond, don’t underestimate the power of a consistent, high quality content plan. Even if you don’t get post engagement that reaches the hundreds or thousands, people who find your website through Google or a friend will often check out your social media profile when deciding whether or not they want to book with you, making social media marketing crucial for tourism businesses.

Image: Social media's rapid evolution, with TikTok emerging as a key platform for discovery and trip planning among 18-34 year olds, according to Arival research.
Social media can change quickly — TikTok, for example, has risen quickly as a platform for discovery and trip planning among 18-34 year olds, even over the past year, as Arival research has shown.

How to Craft a Winning Social Media Strategy for Tourism

There are a few key steps to ensuring the success of your social media marketing efforts. A comprehensive social media marketing strategy for tourism should take into account your target audience, content creation, engagement tactics, and performance monitoring to ensure the best possible results. In order to entice travelers and increase your bookings, follow these steps. 

Step 1: Define Your Target Audience

This is the most important part of any successful digital marketing campaign. Getting specific about the demographic and psychographic aspects of your guests will help you determine how to speak to them, what values need to be communicated through your content, and what social media community conversations you should be partaking in. 

There are certainly some generational divides amongst the social media platforms, so if you are looking to target a more mature clientele, TikTok might not be the best place to spend your energy if you’re time strapped. If you know your ideal guest cares a lot about the future of our oceans, spend some time publicly engaging with accounts like the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, for example. 

This post from the Sustainable Ocean Alliance, illustrating the world “breathing” for a year, attracted over one million views.

Step 2: Create Compelling Content

Quality over quantity is often a good rule to follow in life, and the same can be said for social media. If your content is blurry, dark, uninteresting, and if your content lacks thoughtfulness and creativity, it can actually do more harm than good. The effort you put into your social media can send signals to your guests about the quality of your experience (whether or not it’s true). Aim for a variety of educational and entertaining content, and always include a call-to-action when appropriate. You don’t want people to think your content is from just another influencer, you want to remind people that they can actually book this experience with you.  

With your content you can position yourself as an essential part of your destination, a must-see attraction or must-do activity. Show how your experience fits in with the sense of place and culture of your destination, and even go as far as to partner with other (non-competing) experiences within your destination to create helpful destination guides for travelers. These collaborative efforts can help reduce your production costs if you’re working with professional content creators. 

Context Travel’s social media presence is centered around sharing educational content, travel tips, and behind-the-scenes looks at their tours, like this post on the “saucier side of Edinburgh history.”

Step 3: Consistent Engagement and Interaction

While responding to comments and messages is an important part of the social media community aspect, it’s just the beginning of fostering connection and loyalty. As mentioned above, you must find creative ways to extend your experience to this social realm. If you host food tours, could you have a weekly zoom cooking class where everyone comes together to learn how to make a regional dish from your destination? Social media is a spring board, don’t let it limit you. Find the common passionate thread that unites your guests and determine a way to engage them deeper. 

Don’t wait for people to engage with you, start having conversations with people in the comments sections. For example, if your city’s tourism board recently had a post that is getting a lot of people talking, jump into the conversation! 

Eating Europe strikes a nerve with this post about pineapple on pizza, attracting over 1,100 comments and counting.

Step 4: Monitor and Adapt to Feedback

After applying these strategies for several months consistently, it’s time to analyze what’s working and what’s not working. All platforms have important metrics you can look at. For example, which of your posts are getting the most saves on Instagram? That’s a great indication that you’re creating highly valuable content. A lot of people on social media are lurkers, so they may not comment or even like a post, but maybe they’ve shared it with a friend. Pay attention to these lesser-known metrics to determine how your efforts are fairing.  

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Navigate Your Path to Social Media Success

Tourism marketing would be a lot harder without social media, so while yes it can often feel frustrating with algorithms, it is still one of the most cost-effective and easiest ways to get in front of your ideal visitors & guests. Treat every post with the viral potential that it has, and don’t forget the point of these platforms: to interact and build relationships. Your bookings will begin to grow the more you put your story out there! 

Learn more by joining us at the next Arival, where we’ll explore the latest in tourism social media research and learn from experience operators, travel influencers and industry experts about how to leverage the latest social media trends to capture travelers’ attention and ultimately, increase your bookings.

About the Author

Samantha Hardcastle has been Arival’s Social Media Manager since 2022 and is the Founder of The Storied Experience and Amore Social, where she focuses on creative strategy for experiences industry. Samantha was a speaker at Arival 360 | Las Vegas in 2022: Arival Insider Pro Access members can see that session on-demand here.  

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