Uroš Črnigoj, Digital Marketing Manager for Ljubljana Tourism reveals how Ljubljana is selling experiences and what positive impact this has had on the organisation and local industry.
We are selling experiences on our website and they are selling really well. Lately, that transformed our whole approach to digital marketing. Since the end of last year when we upgraded the website with online bookings and payments, our sales have risen significantly. We might be a proof that DMO-based online bookings are not dead yet and we are totally excited about that.
• Guided city tours, carried out by our own tourist guide service
• Tourist boat rides on Ljubljanica river
• Day trips to major Slovenian attractions (such as Bled, Postojna Caves, Soča Valley, Piran etc.)
• A variety of organised activities (everything from historic re-enactments to bike tours, sup, rafting, zipline, fishing trips, tandem paragliding, a cooking workshop etc.)
How we got here
When we started out with this content section of our website in 2006, it was just presenting the tour options run by our guide services and various local travel agencies and leading people to their contacts (e-mails, phone numbers and websites). Including day trips into the mix was our strategic idea aimed at extending the guests' stay in Ljubljana. It proved to be an ideal addition to our offer, since Slovenia is small country with manageable distances.
It was not a very important part of our web presence then. However, this content proved to be very engaging quite soon. Sales of tours, trips and activities started to rise, so we introduced request forms and started processing the inquiries coming from the website in our sales office. In October 2014 we finally backed it all up with a "web shop of experiences".
The numbers are overwhelming
Here's what has been happening to our sales since that. The time frame is not long, but the increase in sales was enormous. The data below shows comparison of the first half of 2014 to the same period in 2015 (January to June). They are based on the number of credit card transactions made upon web requests in 2014 and upon online bookings in 2015. For us all of this is more than just significant, it's quite overwhelming.
• City tours sales increased for 108%
• Trips and organized activities sales increased for 53,2%
• Ljubljana Card sales (we remade its visual brand and landing page) increased for 120,9%
• Hotel package deals sales increased for 200%, but overall we didn't sell a lot of them.
The chart looks this impressive (we left out hotel package deals from it, just to be fair):
The number of credit card transactions is of course significantly smaller than the number of products sold overall. Tours and trips are often booked by groups, even quite large ones, and Ljubljana Cards are usually bought for everyone coming to Ljubljana together, for instance for the whole family.
What that did for our digital marketing strategy
Selling experiences online changed our digital marketing focus in a big way. From the content point of view, we have something great to offer to people traveling to Ljubljana beside the inspiration and information. That also means that a great deal of our PPC advertising became conversion-oriented and this way we can at least gain a little of our money back.
Empowering the local providers
Selling experiences is not a big source of income for us, to tell the truth, even though we do manage to make money. But money was not our main concern at any stage of this process. From the very start, we have been most interested in the role that great experiences play in promotion of the destination. Ljubljana doesn't have large scale attractions like the Eiffel Tower or Colosseum, but we can certainly be proud of its unique creative vibe and relaxed lifestyle. That translates in a big way into experiences we offer which visitors greatly appreciate.
Perhaps the most important outcome of our approach is the way we managed to empower the local agencies selling those experiences. We get new product ideas from them all the time and new experiences are constantly being worked upon. Our tourist guide services are inspired by all of this too, so we keep developing new, more engaging and inspiring city tours. Some of the recent additions to our shop include a hot air balloon flight, Ljubljana shopping and photo walks and a segway tour of the city.
Facing the competition
Everything sounds great, but things don't look so idyllic in the long run. If, some 10 years ago, we all witnessed the downfall of DMO-based accommodation booking services and global OTAs managing to conquer every inch of the market, we must now face a strong competition in the tours and activities segment too. Many of the experiences we are selling started appearing on Viator.com lately and, even though we still have the best offer for Ljubljana available, that might change in time. DMOs probably can't compete with big global OTAs in the long run, but this is still the early stage of this game and we can probably keep building upon the advantage we acquired so far. Even in case that stops, the success of our efforts won't be lost.
Experiences will always be an inspiration
Why is that? For tour operators, individual tours are quite a challenge to sell, but Slovenia is a perfect market for them. With our increasingly stricter focus on quality control and good user experience we managed to educate the local providers. Our role in developing the tours, trips and activities market in Slovenia is therefore crucial.
If someday our sales decline significantly, we may need to refocus our content, but not its substance. Unique and authentic experiences as well as day trips, offering an ideal chance to discover Slovenia, will always be an important factor in prolonging visitors' stay and also something that makes our city stand out from the crowd.
Even though we are becoming increasingly sales oriented in the last few years, inspiration (and not the sales themselves) will always remain our main focus. Luckily, the most inspiring digital content is always the one you can also experience offline.
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