As though it were a new toy, you may have become hyper focused on social media, banishing other marketing efforts to the dusty corner of the shelf. One that you've likely been neglecting: email. But direct email marketing can be a powerful tool. Experian Marketing Services reports that, for the travel industry, "email provides a means for ongoing conversations with travelers across all travel categories." Another recent study from Silverpop finds that email open rates for the lodging and travel industry are almost 57 percent, the highest rate among all 17 industries reviewed in this study. What does that mean for you? That you have a better than 50-percent chance of engaging a potential customer.So it's high time for you to begin nurturing and maintaining an email list. Here are some of the most effective ways for tour and activity businesses to grow their email list:

1. Run a social media contest.

If you have a strong social media presence or are just starting to build a following on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, consider running a contest where entrants have to subscribe to your newsletter or join your email list as part of the entry. Whether you're running a giveaway of free tickets or extending a deep discount to new subscribers, take full advantage of social media platforms you use regularly to spread the word.

What You Can Do:

Implement an email subscription widget on your Facebook Page and direct fans to the subscription area at every opportunity. For instance, Hillarys Boat Harbour's Facebook page features a clean and simple newsletter signup widget that takes seconds to fill out. If you have a dedicated page on your website with a simple subscription form, drop links on your Facebook page, Twitter stream, and post about it on Instagram to encourage people to sign up immediately.

2. Ask for emails upon check-in.

Customers that may have booked over the phone or walk-in customers may not have had a chance to share all of their contact information, including an email address.

You will want guests to share their email address as part of the check-in process

You will want guests to share their email address as part of the check-in process, which will help you populate your database.

What You Can Do:

Place a tablet computer at the check-in desk and train staff to capture emails at every opportunity. If you prefer to use a paper method, make sure someone is encouraging guests to sign in with their email address when they check in so you can add them to the database later.

3. Confirm emails at checkout.

Take full advantage of the online booking process by including the recipient's email as one of the requirements for completing the reservation. The customer would simply need to include their email address alongside other contact information, such as their full name, address, and method of payment. You can send a transaction receipt to this email address and automatically add this customer to the database.

What You Can Do:

Invest in an online booking software program that requires the guest to provide their email address upon checkout. Create email or database lists to organize all incoming emails based on where they are with the sale — just registering as a user, already booked a tour or activity, or are coming back for another visit. This enables you to create customized and targeted emails to send out to each group.

4. Send a monthly or biweekly newsletter.

Even though email can be a valuable marketing channel for small business owners, you don't have to use it solely to share news about special offers and promotions. Consider sending out a newsletter with interesting information an avid traveler or adventure enthusiast might find useful.For example, a zip line tour operator can send a newsletter that includes highlights of a recent excursion, educational information about the rainforest, or rainforest preservation efforts in the area. A boat tour operator can share some insights from the captain, details about a new boat in the fleet, or provide a summary of a recent boating adventure. A real-life example comes from Reef Rainforest Dive & Adventure Travel, which posts newsletter content directly on its website in its "Brief from the Reef" series and also has a newsletter signup form at the bottom of its website. The goal is to share interesting stories and insights from the company's perspective to keep the subscriber engaged.

What You Can Do:

Pull together stories from tour guides, captains, and other key employees, or research interesting content about the area in which you operate to use in your newsletter. Consider seasonal themes, such as how colder or warmer temperatures affect your business and how travelers can still enjoy the experience.

5. Add social sharing buttons.

If you are investing time and resources into creating compelling content for your email marketing efforts, make sure you get the maximum exposure you deserve by giving subscribers the option to share the message with a friend. According to SocialTimes, emails embedded with social sharing buttons could boost click-through rates more than 150 percent. For example, if you're running a fall discount on boating tours or running a bring-a-friend promotion on ghost tours for a few weeks, encourage the recipient to share the news by posting the offer on social media. Placing social sharing buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram within the email make it easy for the reader to click and share without much effort.

What You Can Do:

Embed social sharing buttons within the email or post them at the bottom of the email near the recipient's name. Include a simple message, such as: 'Share this!' to prompt a click through to the social media site. You can use free tools like AddThis to insert buttons in the body of an email without any HTML or complicated programming.

6. Prevent unsubscribes.

Getting a site visitor to subscribe to your email newsletter or submit their email address for updates is only the first step of an effective email marketing campaign. You need to keep that subscriber engaged for a long enough period of time until they book — and possibly even afterwards for future bookings to prevent unsubscribes. TripIt has had great success with this strategy, focusing on engagement activities for the first 30 days. The company keeps the subscriber updated when new features are rolled out and after a year of joining, sends an anniversary email thanking them for being a member.

What You Can Do:

Implement a series of welcome emails that consist of sending the subscriber a series of introductory emails about your business, latest specials and offers available, and exclusive offers for first-time bookers. Include high-quality photos or even a video link as a teaser within the email so that first-time visitors can get a taste of your tours and activities with little effort. The goal is to keep subscribers engaged and interested enough so they don't unsubscribe.Growing and maintaining your email list is a high priority as a tour and activity operator since email continues to be a preferred method of communication for many of your guests. Use these tips and strategies to grow your email list and maintain a large list of happy subscribers.

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