Woman booking a Hawaii vacation

Converting Strangers into Customers: Understanding the online purchase process

Consider this scenario for a minute: You have a beautiful website, and online sales for your attraction or experience is slowly trickling in. You try a few ads, step up your social media game, and even add a few discounts to see if it would increase your online sales. Still the same trickle, week after week, and month after month. You scratch your head and ask your web and marketing people, “What’s wrong?”

This scenario isn’t uncommon at all. In fact, in today’s tech-savvy marketplace, competition is vicious, as you’re competing not only with your direct competitors but also with your indirect competitors for every visitor’s time and dollars.

But what if you understood who your potential customer is, and how they reach a decision to book tours and experiences online? That would be a very useful insight, wouldn’t it?

To understand your potential customer, you’ll need to understand how the online sales process works:

  1. Attraction/Interest
  2. General Online Search
  3. Gather Reviews and Opinions / Peer Experience and Influence
  5. Post-Purchase/Post-Experience Action


Simply put, attraction is the start of any purchase process. For us in the Hawaii tourism industry, it starts when someone decides to come to Hawaii for a vacation. This is the realm of airlines and hotels, which constitute what we call first-tier sub-industries in the greater Hawaii tourism ecosystem. They’re responsible for enticing people to come to Hawaii who will hopefully book their flight and hotel due to their advertising campaigns.

While this isn’t exactly important to us, it’s good to know where the process starts so that you can tailor your online advertising campaigns for what comes next, which is…

General Online Search

Because of TV, magazine and—now more increasingly—online ads from hotels and airlines (thanks, by the way!), we now have potential customer. This person just booked his/her tickets to Hawaii, has now also decided where to stay, and is now probably thinking about what to do while he’s in the islands.

The challenge of course, is how to let this potential customer know that you exist. So how do we do that?

This is where having a strong search engine optimization and marketing campaign will come in. It’s also where a good social media advertising and/or presence can also make a great impact in your customer acquisition efforts.

Keys to your success:

  • Make sure you rank well on Google, Bing and Yahoo for your target keywords.
  • Take advantage of Google Adwords and Bing Ads for keywords you can’t rank high for.
  • Get a few travel blogs to do a write-up about your company.
  • Write up a guest post for a travel-related blog about something you know.
  • Deploy a Facebook advertising campaign not for the purpose of increasing your fan count, but for generating DIRECT sales.

Reviews and Opinions Gathering / Peer Experience Consulting

Let’s say that you were successful in getting this potential customer to your website and he didn’t book anything just yet. Don’t worry; it’s all part of the process. This person is most likely looking at your competitors, checking out your reviews on Trip Advisor and/or Yelp, and maybe looking at your social media accounts to see what people are saying about your service or attraction.

This is the reason why it’s important to have a strong and engaging social media presence as well as a strong showing on review sites, particularly Trip Advisor. It’s also part of being pervasive in as many places as possible so that your brand is fresh in the potential customer’s mind for as long as possible.

Your potential customer is also comparing your offers with your competitors, so make sure that you showcase your company’s value-added or unique selling proposition immediately. Are you the best in the business because you’re highly rated on Trip Advisor? Great! Make sure that’s visible on your website. Or perhaps you’re the only company that has access to a unique location in Hawaii? Excellent! Make that as visible as possible. Maybe your tour goes to 5 more points of interest for the same price as your competitor? Again, make that a very visible element of your website’s design.

Keys to your success:

  • Have a strong and engaging social media presence. Don’t just share things from other pages or accounts; create your own and entice people to engage.
  • Showcase your Google, Facebook, Trip Advisor and Yelp ratings in as many places as you can, especially on your website.
  • Make sure you’re showing your efforts to engage and answer questions not just on your social media channels but also on Trip Advisor and Yelp.


Congratulations! Your potential customer is now an actual customer. But the work doesn’t stop here. Now it’s time to make sure that your customer is properly cared for, from the time he pushes that “Book Now” button to the time he leaves your property or your tour bus. Send e-mail reminders before his arrival, notify him of other excellent activities around your area, and if you can, entice him with a promotional offer to book another tour or experience with you.

Keys to your success:

  • Send e-mail reminders before your customer’s arrival or tour date.
  • Encourage taking photos while on tour or while they’re on your property and ask them to tag you when they share it on social media.
  • Send an e-mail about other great things to do around the island.

Why is this important? Read on for the last part.

Post Purchase/Post Experience Action

Technically speaking, the post-purchase part includes sending reminder e-mails and offering deals. However, this may not be possible for all types of activities and attractions, hence the reason why it’s included in this phase of the purchase process.

However, the most important part of the post-experience action is thanking your customer for their time with you. Offer another tour or activity at a discount if possible, and don’t forget to politely ask for a review on Google, Facebook, Trip Advisor or Yelp. This last part is perhaps the most underrated aspect of this phase and is definitely the most important as it feeds back to people who are still in the third phase of the purchase process (Reviews and Opinions Gathering / Peer Experience Consulting).

Keys to your success:

  • Thank your customer.
  • Politely ask for a review. Make it easy for them to do so by providing links to where they can write a review online.
  • Up-sell another tour or experience at a discount, or sell another activity provider’s products or services.

Where is your online marketing campaign lagging? Or is it doing really well? What are you doing that is contributing to your online success? Show us through the comments below!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *