Tour Operator Website Copy Tips with Tourpreneur Podcast

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Recently, I had the absolute pleasure of being interviewed by Shane Whaley from the Tourpreneur Podcast.  This is a forum for tour operators from around the world to improve their tourism business. 

The mission of the podcast is to flatten the learning curve for the tour operator with actionable tips to apply to the tour industry. This is one of the most popular podcasts in the tourism industry and listened to in 110 countries and I’m a fan, I’ve learned a tonne about the industry for this podcast. Our interview was about a big topic: 

Tour Operator Website Copy Tips  

You can listen to the podcast directly by clicking below, or catch the key tips in the transcript.

Below are the tourpreneur transcripts and key travel operator tips

Shane: Hello, and welcome to Episode 106 of the Tourpreneur podcast where we flatten the learning curve for tour operators around the world. Today, we’re tackling a topic that many of you have written in asking for help with and that’s how to improve your website copy. Most of us know our grammar and our spelling, but we didn’t really get taught how to write copy and there are people out there that charge thousands, sometimes 10s of thousands of dollars to write copy for us. It’s quite an art.

There’s quite a science to copywriting. So today we are chatting with Dorene Wharton with the Head marketer and strategist at Travel Life Media. And she has some pedigree 25 plus years in marketing, particularly focusing on brand strategy brand communications website copy, SEO, and she has worked as head of marketing for Anheuser Busch. She’s worked as head of Canada marketing for Jim Beam brands, they make one of my favorite drinks Maker’s Mark. And on the other side, she’s also worked on marketing for visitor centers, and brewery tours.

Topics we cover in this podcast:


– Copy changes needed since COVID. 

– And what hasn’t changed in terms of effective copy

– Must-haves in your copy the importance of authenticity,

-Why good copy starts with your purpose.

– Finding the right balance of SEO keywords versus your brand voice.

Shane: We are here today to talk about travel and tourism, and how to improve our website copy for the tour operator. And this is something I hear a lot about from our listeners and operators where many of us can’t afford a copywriter. So we’re doing this on our own. And it’s something that we all struggle with, because it’s not anything that’s taught at school. And there are various courses online and everything else. But I’m really excited to talk to you about copy because it’s a subject that I’m really fascinated with. So what do you think has changed since COVID? And what hasn’t changed in terms of effective copy?

Dorene: Well, the interesting thing is that because of the heightened sense of awareness of our fear of health and safety, that obviously isn’t Really important point that we have to address with our consumers. Now, the adventure travel guys, they’ve been doing this all along because they have to address the safety issue. But we all have to do it now so pronounced because it’s absolutely on top of everybody’s minds. So that would be one.

But there’s other trends that were happening pre COVID that are just much more pronounced.

The rise of conscious consumerism and why it matters 

Now, let’s take for example, I like to call it conscious consumerism. Those are those consumers and in the past, they were millennials predominantly millennials who thought about this, that people buy products that they value, that don’t just make money, but they’re equally focused on improving the world in some way. 

The millennial generation started out because they were the most cynical, and they were the most untrusting of brands. And they use the word authentic, which is really where that word really started  to make a difference. Some consumers call brands real some call it you know, transparent, whatever the case may be.

Consumers want to support brands who do and say the things that we believe in.  – Simon Sinek

But what it really means is that as consumers we want to support brands who do and say the things that we believe in. So that was happening before. But now that we’ve got, you know, fake news, fake brands, we don’t know what’s true and what’s not. We’re getting more skeptical with brands, and what really the motives are. And it’s not just millennials, it is consumers, all generations, and it’s certainly consumers, global consumers, in fact, 87% I think the number is that of global consumers that look for brands that equally value, business interest, but society interests too.

Shane: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I know we went on a cruise in the Caribbean in January. And that was something I was really aware of when booking experiences that I didn’t want to go on an experience where animals were treated badly or not living in good conditions, and I was really scouring and I kind of hope because I booked all my experiences through the cruise line, that they had been vetted and I’m pleased to say they were all exceptional, but as a consumer that’s so I’m nowhere near being a millennial as you can tell, but it’s still something that’s on my mind. behind that, you know, I want to make sure that I’m taking an experience with an ethical company.

Shane: So what do you think are some of the, the must- have in copy in this new world? So we’ve got that conscience consumerism. And now of course, there is a major concern around safety. And I think we’re at this point where we don’t really know how this is going to play out. And I was saying to someone the other day that I’m not sure right now, even though I’m in this industry, if I’d go into a museum, or some kind of attraction, because you closed in, you know, you’ve got kids touching everything in there and whatnot.

I’ll book with a tour operator and go on a walking tour or biking tour or kayaking, but do I really want to go into this attraction or venue? And someone said, Well, I think it’s gonna change once someone you know, has been into that attraction and has come out and they didn’t get sick and we had a good time, this new normal, but what can we do in our copy to reassure people that the attractions Or the experience. So I’ve taken all the necessary steps on hygiene and safety.

Dorene: Okay, so let’s talk that because that’s this is on everybody’s mind. And fortunately, we’ve had a lot of good webinars even with Arival, And we talked about what really we need to do with opening. We got to talk to fears head on, it’s got to be really obvious by saying things like your health and safety are important to us to keep you and our employees safe. Like that would be kind of a thing you want to say very clearly on your tour operator website and very obvious. You also want to have a reliable source of Who are you are you looking at CDC? Are you looking at your city’s regulations in terms of that?

How to create great COVID safety copy for your guests 

Example of great Covid Safety copy: Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours – in British Colombia Canada.  

Why is this a great example?

-So they have two really big buttons on their homepage.

-One it says COVID one says safety pledge and I think they have a third one that just has an offer on it.

-They have their staff have masks on. And they say on their tagline, we’re ready for you. So it did you know, inviting.

-But what I really liked is when you hit those tabs, there’s two very significant pages.

-One, the title is what we are doing to keep you safe.

-And the second title is what we are asking you to do to help us. And it’s in clear bullets, very obvious, it’s actually in a big font. (use bigger font so your audience over 40 years old can read it) 

So that’s the first thing is obviously the health and safety and they were very clear with what they were doing and what they expect of their desk. And then of course, the other thing is the easy exit. So you need easy cancellation and you got to make it so darn obvious because I mean, you know, look at look at what’s happening now in Melbourne right now. You know they’re closing and so people are going to be asking for cancellation.  When you do reopen, don’t underestimate the power of a welcome back. Like that’s really powerful communication.

Shane: Yeah. And I was just reading about a depending when the show goes out, but there was a boat tour operator in Chicago and the mare is absolutely furious because she saw there was 100 people crammed onto the cruise on the lake. And I can’t see what the numbers were put there. The agreement was much less than that. And of course, that’s all over the news. So the public is seeing this and the thinking, yeah, these tour operators that they just want to cram us on. They don’t really care. They’re all saying they care, but they don’t. And that’s why copy and photographs are going to be so important going forward, isn’t it? Yeah, it’s establishes trust. It’s actually it’s, it’s doing a lot, both the copy and the visuals.You also said so copywriting is quite an art. I think it’s a ninja skill. Because there’s so many different things involve a copywriting. I mean, the way I look at is you really have to when you’re writing anything, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person who’s going to be reading that copy. And that’s tricky, right? When you think of two operate as you think it’s not just one, it’s not just millennials coming to my experience, it’s a wide mix of people. So how do operators think about writing for you know, other people?

Dorene: Well, first of all, it’s not easy. And I totally respect that. Because the thing about your website is you have a lot of different styles on there that you you’re trying to address, because you’re trying to be a little bit of a storyteller. And then you’re also you need to build trust, which we all hear about this all the time that you need to do that. But then there’s some sales copy, you want to try to convert people, so there’s like a lot of things going on. So it’s no wonder it’s kind of daunting.

You need to understand your target audience really well to write good copy.

But one of the biggest things they can do and we we’ve probably heard this lingo in marketing a lot is you got to do a deep dive into who they are. And there’s various, you know, pieces of terminology for that. Some people call it the guest persona, the customer persona, and that’s just simply interviewing your guests. reading your reviews. When you spend time with your guests. You get to know the lingo and the things that they’re saying. You get to really, like really understand what is it that they’re asking for? And what are the questions like your FAQs are a great way to do that. So those are like, you’ve got to know your, your consumer because those that’s actually you’re going to play back a lot of things that they say in your copy.

Shane: So let’s say I’m putting you on the spot here a little bit, but let’s say you are that whale watching tour up in beautiful British Columbia. And you’re interviewing me as a guest. And we’re a couple of standard questions you would ask me so that you could understand in my persona? 

Dorene: There’s a little bit of a read between the lines you have to do too. So I know sometimes people hear Oh, okay, well ask the Ask the guests what problem they have. Okay, well, what are they going to say? Like, oh, I you know, I lost my job or whatever. Like, how is that going to help you?

You can ask things like find out like, what is their lifestyle? Like, what do they love to do? What are their what lights them up? What are you most excited about? What are the things that bother them about traveling in our city, country, whatever. Those are a good place to start and say, what is it that what are the most important things that you want out of your vacation? Those are places to start. But then you start to read between the lines when you hear them answer the questions. And then the little things come up. It’s like, Oh, that’s interesting.

Shane:  What some of the best tour operator copy you’ve seen out there when it comes to travel? 

Your About US page is one of the top pages on your website –  personal connection matters

Dorene:  I like to look at different sections because I look at a website and I love the About Us page which is an essential absolutely It is your top, if it’s not your top three in terms of traffic, you’ve either not put it in the top end, you’ve not put your about us in the top navigation and you’ve buried it. But I would be surprised if it’s not. So I sometimes look at the About Us page, I look at the homepage, I look at the tour descriptions. And I find that like, there’s various different websites that I like different parts to it, depending on it is

Shane:  This is so fascinating to hear that because I agree with you about the About Us page is one of the ones I visit first, but then I often think is it just because I’m in the bubble? Um, because we do we work in this industry and marketing will do the general public, actually. So I would ask our listeners go check your Google Analytics and see if your audience are actually clicking on the about page and if not, we’ve got some work to do.Yeah, I mean, and there’s there’s a reason why they’re clicking on there because people care about either spending time with like, think of us being all locked up right now. Well, we’re not some of us aren’t locked up anymore, but the time that we spent to think about our business who wants  to spend time with who we actually want to put our money towards? You know, do we want to buy local? I mean, you’ve talked about, you know, the restaurant that you want to support in your neighborhood. I mean, those are the people that you truly care about what’s going on with them.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend my time with everybody. When I had limited time to see people. There’s certain people, it’s the people that inspire you. And the people that actually you have, you know, a connection with, those are the people you want to spend time with. So it’s no surprise that people go to the About Us page. I think, in fact, Neil Patel even said it was like if it’s not your top three, because again, they just want to see the people behind the business instead of the corporate business itself.

Shane: Yeah, it’s so true. Absolutely. I guess I need to get to work on my about page. I haven’t really touched mine.

Dorene: Your About Page is not a resume. That is a resume with a list of I’ve done this, I’ve done this. No, it’s not. It’s not that at all. It’s actually about writing in a way that it is about you and your brand, but through the eyes of your target. Yes. So you’re writing it like, Okay, I’m going to tell you about myself. It’s like I’m sitting with you. I’ve known you for 15 years chain. And there’s a lot of things I want to tell you about what I’m passionate about. But you know what, instinctively, you totally connect with it because you’re inspired by what I have to say, or you actually believe in what I say.

So it’s not a resume. It’s not about bragging, or don’t worry about that, because you can still put your credentials and your awards and things like that on it. 

It’s really about the personal story that you have so people can connect with who you are and what you stand for.Yeah, and I don’t think I really do that on the page. Well, I know why you should listen. 

Dorene: I’ll give you some specific examples of great about us pages with tour operators. What I love is that you actually included a mission It’s like, okay, what’s the mission? Here’s what happens is we spent too much time talking about what we do and how we do it. We don’t talk about why we do it.  Check out these great pages:  About Us Page from Impulse Travel  As well as Taste of Thailand Food Tours

What gets us up in the morning to do this job, why it’s so important to us. Eg. say, Shane, I met you at an event somewhere, and you introduce yourself and you said, Hey, I’m Shane Whaley. I run a podcast to help tour operators run successful businesses. That’s like, Oh, great. Yeah. Okay, cool. That sounds interesting. But if you set it differently and included your mission, call it your purpose, your belief statement, your mission, those are all generally the same things. You would actually include something different, you actually include the fact “Hey, I’m Shane Whaley. I run a podcast to help tour owners and operators flatten their learning curve to run successful tourism businesses.” Okay, that’s got way more power. Every time that you say flatten the learning curve. That’s like a signal in people’s head is like, Yeah, he’s, he’s on a mission. He’s helping people out and he’s very specific about what he’s doing. What he’s passionate about,

Shane: it’s good that you raise that because that wasn’t your original mission. It kind of was. But I didn’t know that. And it came to me some way into the podcast was like, yeah, each story here is flattening the learning curve. I’m not flattening the learning curve for people. But our guests who come on like you’re doing today talking copy. Absolutely. So that’s something that grew with a brand. And I realized that and I think that’s why we do need to be with to self reflect on what we’re doing and why we’re doing because sometimes that, you know,

Dorene: I’ll tell you another one, devour tours, they have a really great mission. So their mission is to connect curious travelers with local food and communities in a way that helps culture thrive. So it’s who they’re talking to what they do, and why they do it. It’s all encapsulated there. And in fact, they have a tagline that really that’s very similar that rings true with their mission.

Shane: So are there any exercises so I know right now money is very tight for operators can’t all outsource this to experts to or focus groups to come up with this. Are there any exercises or tips or anything that tour operators can do themselves right now to come up with an epic mission statement,any sort of copy type of courses are good, you know, to think of like descriptive words and things like that. But I’ll leave you with a bunch of examples of how how you can just generally improve your your copy. And actually, in the in the show notes, I’m happy to leave I have a pretty detailed blog post that shows you how to write an About Us page and talks about more tips that’s related to this, this topic. So I’m happy to leave that to, you know, it’s just doing little bits at a time. Let’s take for example, tour descriptions. When you’re looking at your copy. You really want to avoid the adjectives that are like stunning, beautiful, wonderful, they don’t help. They’re not really bringing it to life. And if I know anything about tour operators, you know, they’re really good at obviously telling their story when they’re in field.

So paint that picture with descriptive words you know, like turquoise waters or vast landscapes like don’t like those kind of things really help.

Use Verbs – to move your copy especially tour descriptions to action

And the other one is verbs. Verbs is a wonderful, wonderful way of moving to action. So like say for example, you do a tour description, start with a verb on your bullet, dive and do this, enjoy this eat hearty food at this restaurant, those things verbs really, really help get you grounded and putting the most important words at the beginning as well which, you know, because we’ve got scanners, we’re going to scan those details. Those are examples of how you can actually improve on your copy.

Shane: So you can’t see it cuz obviously is a podcast but next to me here I have a very thick thesaurus. Do you think that is something that is with luck because I will often go to my test services, okay, I keep using the word beautiful all the time to give you you know your example, or fascinating or fabulous when I’ll go to my festivus and try and find other words It’s repetitive, but they might be more emotional, for instance, more powerful words to use.

Dorene: Instead of that think about just how do I would How would I would describe that. It’s sort of like, wonderful is my opinion, but describe it like, is it blue? Is it large? Is it green? Is it Yeah, you know, Is it hurting isn’t? So there’s ways to do that.Shane: The thing that comes up a lot in sales and copy is features versus benefits. What would you say the differences are between them?

Dorene: I think there’s a role for both because we’ve got the people that are scanners and I know a number of our, our  Tour Operator Themes and WordPress templates and whatever other templates have, like why work with us, and there’s like the three bullet points of you know, we have experience guides, we have private tours. The reality is there’s people that are going to scan and they’re going to want to like okay, it’s not my checklist. I want a private tour, good to have private tours done.

I’m going to book but the benefits stuff is describing how people feel and let’s stuff that’s most important. The best visual example of a benefit is when you’re showing someone having fun clinking their glasses and watching the sunset. And it’s like, oh, I just want to be there. I just want to book that thing. Now, on a copy side, it’s a little harder to do because you cut you know, okay, I don’t want to be cheesy. I don’t want to totally romances, but you kind of do have to romance it up. 

And I’ll give you example, Luksa from Rewind Dubrovnik. They run boat tours in Croatia. He was on your on your podcast, his copy, he is really good benefit copy, and it’s on his About Us page. And he has this line.

His copy says: “we do our very best to make you feel like a movie star, speeding on the boat with the wind in your hair, having a cold drink, listening to good music, taking pictures and fully enjoying your vacation.” Luksa  knows his audience. Number one. He knows exactly what they want. They want to look like movie stars and just, you know, hair in the breeze and he actually he’s talking to them, and it’s totally benefit focused.

Shane: Yeah, I liked his way. I liked his photos as well that I just wanted to jump into a boat and can’t travel right now, but we won’t go there. So an English isn’t his first language. Obviously he’s in Croatia. So even more kudos to him for coming up with thatgreat copy. Yeah, he knows who his audiencesabsolutely will have to ask Lucas in the group, how he interviews his, his customers, how he came up with that.

Shane: What are some other writing tips you can share with two printers, maybe some do’s and don’ts,

Dorene:Calls to action. Those are important. I know, it seems so ridiculous that we have to say to people, for more information, call us or book it out or you know, read our blog to learn about this. But there’s this weird mindset thing that we have that there are people that are going okay, I’ll go do it. You know, when you ask people to like your page or comment on this, it’s just a weird psychological thing that we have to kind of tell people what we want them to do next. So that would be one the other one would be, which I think is probably the easiest thing for every choice. operator to do is to, to go and take all that beautiful copy that you’ve done.

How to make your copy legible

Make smaller paragraphs, reduce your copy, add titles and subtitles Just cut it up, put it into smaller bits, put some titles, put some subtitles, even change the fonts in some areas, it just makes it so much easier to read so much easier. and highlight the like the important points that you want to express. And there’s a lot that are doing that really well. But then then you come across a page and you just go wow, like this is so much copy. I like I’m kind of getting lost. 

Read your copy out loud

Guaranteed you’re going to pick up something that sounds a little funny.

Get feedback from your target audience – not your family

Don’t be afraid to actually don’t feel like you need to have perfect grammar. Because you don’t we always say oh it doesn’t sound right or or not a natural English speaker. It’s not going to be good. Well, you know what you’re talking to an audience and it doesn’t have to be perfect grammar and actually we don’t talk with perfect grammar. We don’ttalk and also

Shane: I Find I use the app Grammarly, which corrects my grammar as I go along, which is absolute godsend. Totally worth it. I wanted to ask you so one of the things that frustrates me when I write a blog post, obviously, I wanted to rank well in Google and the search engines. So I’m envious of journalists of the past, I could just write a beautiful story or a wonderful article, rather than when I’m writing now. It’s like, Okay, I need to get and I’m not keyword stuffing, but I need to get the SEO terms in and the keywords then I have the Yoast plug in and it’ll say not enough keywords or you don’t have this and that the other.  What’s the right balance between SEO keywords and our brand and our voice?

The balance of keywords and just good copy 

Dorene: I’m a little believer that if you’re doing copywriting you got to understand SEO and an SEO company that you work with has to understand copywriting. The best thing to do is do your keywords first and then write if you’re writing a blog post in particular, look at the keywords that you’re okay. You know, I want to write about boating in Croatia, look at those words first, and then you can more naturally put them in. As opposed to like feeling like okay, I have to use and sometimes it’s an awkward word. You say travel Croatia? Well, who says travel Croatia? They would say, you know, traveling in Croatia or Yeah, you got to be conscious of that. And also with SEO, you can also rank for secondary words. 

There’s an opportunity to rank for other words, and then maybe you might use that word that you didn’t use in a different post or in different places on your website. So I yeah, I try to you want to be as natural as possible, but I’m only view like, if something just doesn’t look right. Especially a title. Just don’t worry. Don’t worry about the keyword just make it sound like it’s interesting. I think it’s just a matter of using your good judgment. The error that you could make the most is if you truly have a title, that when you read the article, it’s like, oh, the title is not even consistent with the article is it’s just it’s completely off. Well, that’s what you don’t want to do, but You know, like three ways to do this or whatever, I mean, use your best judgment. But yes, like things that have a number and a title, you know how to use those things they do really well. But there are other versions of different titles and I I should probably do a blog post that shows like the different versions of titles that you could do that that might be a good project. So because especiallyfor tour operators who keep blogs and write blogs i think that’s that’s the tricky thing as well.

Get personal in your copy

They share what’s going on in their lives. They’re not afraid to actually get a little emotional. And that’s the number one thing that I see missing from a lot of websites is you know, what, we have a tendency of worrying about sounding so professional. And so then we kind of taught corporate with a corporate language.I think you’re spot on instantly that person that email I unsubscribed today because the sales that it was trying to sell me Bitcoin, I ain’t getting any of that. So I unsubscribed so I’ve gone. But to your point about emotion and personality, I think it is absolutely right. Especially for tours. Because if you have someone, let’s say that three or four whale watching tours in British Columbia to use your example, the personality is what’s going to get me and it might be a personality that I don’t like and I move on and that’s fine. Do you really want that customer if they don’t get your humor anyway? Or do you want to get someone to say I really like this person’s humor, we’re gonna fall on that boat. And it was something that I said to Chris Wilson, who runs typically Swiss tours, you know, you’re in his car for eight hours. I’m like this, your website needs more, Chris, because I need to know who you are. If I’m going to spend all that time with you on a private tour, I need to know I’m going to get on with you and that you’re not creepy as well because you know, he comes from Manchester so you know.

What is your brand tone of voice?

Well, and here’s the thing, if you’re not comfortable, you know, you got to figure out your brand voice so that that’s another aspect is okay. Do I is my brand funny? Or is it serious? Or am I, you know, talking more worldly or are educated in a longer blog post that I have, which I can share with you in the show notes, I actually have the words that you could use to kind of help you figure that out.

If you are worried about your copy, make a video, show your personality or do both! 

How to choose a good copywriter

Shane: How do you assess whether a copywriter is going to be good for your business? What are some best practices?

Dorene: Ask a perspective copywriter – do they know SEO too?  I think they need to understand your industry. I have worked, you know with businesses that are you know, kind of emotionally led businesses and take a look at their stuff. interview them, what kind of questions I would ask them would be, you know, what’s important to you? Also ask them how they create my copy? And if they’re not talking about like, if it’s if it’s very sales focused only and not, you know, emotional, and like with marketing and sales in mind, then I would say, maybe they’re not for you. But it always helps if you’ve got reviews, of course, and if you have takes a look at samples of their, of their, their coffee that they’ve done.

Shane: Yes, that’s a really good point. I guess I would say make sure they invest time in you, if you sign up with them, you know, ask them you know, how do you work? What do you need from me? I think that will tell you a lot about how thorough the copywriter is.

Dorene: You are going to know your business better than anyone. You’re going to know your consumer better than everyone. Don’t worry, like start doing your own copy and then you No, you can always hire someone to to polish it and make the tweaks. But your think about what you have at your disposal. And you know your copy is always going to change. You’re always going to do tweaks, you’re always going to do adjustments. So don’t worry if you don’t feel like it’s perfect, because you’re always going to adjust it.Yeah. And I think also there are words out there that that can repel us as well. 

For more in depth tips on how to improve your website copy you can find the details here. 

About the Author

Dorene Wharton is a tourism strategist, marketer, coach, copywriter and full-time traveler with a 25-year career working in all areas of marketing and sales. She left her corporate job with Fortune 500 hospitality brands to start Travel Life Media to help hotels, tour, attractions and event companies improve their marketing, and live their brand with purpose.
Dorene Wharton
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