Travel Affiliate Programs – How to Make Money in the Travel Niche
If you were to listen to all the doomsday pessimists out there, then you may get the impression that it is overwhelmingly difficult to make money in the travel niche. They’ll tell you that the cutthroat competition is positively fierce. They’ll remind you of the innumerable lifestyle travel blogs that already populate the Internet, in addition to the very large and very well-established authority sites in the travel vertical. Coupled with recently closed destinations and ongoing world crises, it can sound impossible to be profitable as an Internet marketer focusing on travel.
They’re not completely wrong; they’re just going about it in entirely the wrong way. Yes, it may be true that there are plenty of life travel blogs on the Internet, but the majority of these are written and run by people who have practically no experience in making money online nor are they specifically interested in monetizing their sites in this fashion. They’re doing it to share memories and experiences, not to promote the best deal on flights and hotels.
If you approach the travel niche with a much more business-oriented mindset from the outset, rather than focusing on storytelling and personal experiences, you unlock a far higher potential for earning huge commissions on a steady and consistent basis. It just takes some legwork to tackle just the right audience with just the right sub-niche.
The Lucrative Numbers of Today’s Travel Industry
Still not convinced that the travel niche can prove remarkably lucrative? Consider the quick travel industry GDP chart below, then the many key points highlighted afterward. In short, the travel industry touched $8 trillion in 2015 and is well on it’s way to rising to almost $12 trillion a decade from now.
- Some people might tell you that the global economy is unstable and the threat of terrorism and strife is deterring travelers from going out to see the world. The truth of the matter is that outbound trips actually increased by 4.5% in the last eight months of 2015 and this growth trend looks like it will continue through to the rest of the 2016. Analysts are predicting an increase of around 4-5% in global travel this year. People are still flying. People are still booking hotels and renting cars. And there’s money to be made throughout this process.
- It is true that some travel destinations are closing or downsizing due to any number of possible reasons. The economics have changed. The political climate has changed. Some countries may not be as safe for travelers as they may have once been. Does this mean that the travel industry is shrinking? Not at all! In fact, many new destinations continue to open up, value-oriented vacations are proving more popular than ever. What this all means is that you capitalize on new opportunities with fresh destinations where there is still very low competition among affiliates and agencies. Tried and true destinations may be popular, but they can be saturated. New hotspots offer hot new opportunities.
- Fewer people are relying on travel agents and tour operators than ever before. Instead of going to the mall and booking a trip through a person sitting at a desk, travelers are far more inclined to do their own research online, booking their own flights and making their own arrangements. In fact, this demographic has grown somewhere between 15% and 24%, indicating that bloggers, webmasters and Internet marketers have access to a growing group of travelers anxious to spend money on their vacations. They’re booking flights, hotels, attraction tickets, car rentals, excursions and more.
- Second only to adult sites, more money is spent on travel through the Internet than with any other industry vertical. If people are spending more money, there is more money to be made as a marketer and affiliate.
- A large number of travel blogs are run by people who have next to zero experience in Internet marketing. They may have stories to tell, but their sites are not optimized for the purpose of making money. With the right promotion, the right content and the right destination focus, travel sites can prove to be a veritable gold mine in the right hands.
Of course, simply populating a travel blog with some content and throwing up some random ads in hopes of cashing in on this growing trend is not going to be enough. If you build it, they won’t come.
What you need to do is to monetize the site (or sites) by partnering with the right program.
Getting Your Slice of the Pie with Travel Affiliate Programs
A great example of this is the Jetradar affiliate program. Conveniently operated through CJ, for which you likely already have an account setup and ready to go, this program pays out generously for all the travelers you refer its way. You earn 1.25% on every airplane ticket sold with a 30-day cookie expiration period. This means that for every $1,000 that someone spends on flights, you get $12.50 in commissions.
Let’s say that a family of four wants to fly from Los Angeles to Hong Kong. A typical roundtrip airfare for such a journey is about $1,200. With four roundtrip tickets, the total is about $4,800, which would generate an affiliate commission of $60 for you. That’s no small chunk of change! And when you drive at least three total paid bookings within your first 30 days as an affiliate, you earn an extra $20 bonus. Just email email@example.com for verification.
As an affiliate of a program like JetRadar, you can easily incorporate travel widgets like the one below right into your site content.
The Jetradar affiliate program accepts traffic from any geographical location in the world and, as an affiliate, you gain access to a wealth of handy interactive widgets you can embed directly on your website. Through these widgets, visitors can search for their specific flights without ever leaving your website. For travelers with more flexible dates, the widget with low fare calendars can be particularly compelling, as can the special offers widget for the best deals available right now.
The widgets can be customized to fit in with the overall design and color scheme of your site, integrating seamlessly to provide the most attractive and most unified user experience possible. If you’d rather just send them to the Jetradar site directly, through your affiliate link of course, you can do that too.
Now that we’ve established that the online travel industry can be incredibly lucrative and we’ve identified a great affiliate program with which to monetize your travel sites, the next step is identifying the sub-segment of the market where you can make the most money. The balance here is finding a niche with good demand but relatively low competition.
Travel Niche Audience Targeting and Keyword Suggestions
The consideration here is effectively two-fold. You need to identify the right destination and you need to target the right keywords.
Some popular tourist destinations may immediately come to mind here. You might experience some personal success developing a travel blog that generates a good deal of traffic, but what if it doesn’t live up to its earning potential. A serious factor to keep in mind is that you want to avoid targeting destinations where the overwhelming majority of tourists are coming from tour operators.
These are the kinds of trips where the travelers will purchase a comprehensive package from a travel agency, encompassing their flights, hotels, transfers, medical insurance and so on. If most of the people who go on these trips are not making their own arrangements online, you’re not going to earn their business and commission. Instead, you want to target destinations where people are researching and booking their trips themselves.
At its most basic level, you can start with some rudimentary market research through Google. Queries like the following could lead you down a fruitful path:
- Top destinations for independent travelers
- Top travel destinations
- Most visited world wonders
- Value vacations 2016
- Best value vacations
- Travel trends in 2016
Reading up on some of the content you find online, you may see that your ideas start to coalesce around certain world travel destinations. Remember that you are going after tourists who are more likely to book their flights and accommodations themselves and not tourists who want a pre-packaged vacation.
In my own research, a great example of this is Bangkok, Thailand.
Some big travel sites named Bangkok as the number one destination for independent travelers and Bangkok showed up on articles about 2016 travel trends. Asia continues to be one of the fastest growing destinations, partly due to the improved spending power that European and North American travelers have in many Asian countries. Thailand is one of the best examples and Bangkok is likely the best-known city there.
After picking a destination, it’s a good idea to go through some of the travel comparison sites to look up some of the most popular hotels in the area. You can see recently booked hotels, how many times in the last 24 hours a certain hotel was booked, and so on. If a hotel is especially popular, it means you may have a great opportunity to capitalize with the associated affiliate program too. Always be on the look out for such opportunities.
Using Bangkok as the example for this post, we learn that it can be a very competitive niche. Many of the related keywords have very tough competition, because everyone is going after the most obvious keyword combinations. It’s going to be a waste of time for you to try and compete against much larger sites like Tripadvisor, Hotels.com or Booking.com.
Does this mean all is lost? Not at all! You can approach this situation one of two ways. You can look into an alternative destination that has medium traffic but lower competition. Or, with some deeper research, you can uncover some Bangkok travel keywords that have easy to medium competition but still a decent search volume. This positions you such that you can still make more money with less work and less monetary investment in paid traffic.
The ability to properly collect keywords is an invaluable skill to have in the world of Internet marketing and the travel niche is no exception. Yes, it is absolutely possible to drive traffic and make money without search engine traffic, like using social networks and running PPC campaigns, but even if you don’t count on search engine traffic as your main source of traffic, you still need to know what people are searching for in your niche.
The problem is that too many people go after the big, high-paying keywords with large search volumes. They’ll look for “cheap flights” or “vacations” or “travel insurance.” The problem is that everyone else is going after those keywords too.
For example, if you use the Google Keyword Planner in Google Adwords, you’ll quickly discover that the keyword phrase “Bangkok hotels” has remarkably high competition. There’s great volume, but you’re fighting against much bigger sites with much bigger advertising budgets. Unless you’ve got a lot of money to spend or you are a super powerful SEO wizard, it’s going to prove to be a losing fight.
The great thing is that you don’t have to compete in that space in order to be successful. You can go after the lower hanging fruit and attract the visitors in more of a tangential way. The beautiful thing about the travel niche is that many people are searching for more general information about their destinations even before they book. They’re looking for attractions to visit, good food to eat, places to stay, shows to see, and so forth.
Pull them in with that content. Remember that the Jetradar affiliate program has 30-day cookies, so if these visitors book their flights any time in the next 30 days, you still get credit for the commission. They’ll browse around your site to read more useful content and information about where they want to go, oftentimes reading 3 to 7 pages per visit. They stay on your site longer, you become an expert in their eyes, and they’re more likely to buy from you too. Offer a newsletter and you’ll convert that Google visitor into a long-term reader and fan.
What this all means is that you can start to target related keywords with lower competition.
Instead of going after “Bangkok” or “Bangkok hotels,” research other keywords that can draw in this target audience. In my research, I found some terms with lower competition scores but with relatively high monthly searches.
None of these keywords are aimed specifically at the action of “buying” or “booking” anything, but they are a lot easier to rank for because of the reduced competition. I like informational keywords, because they keep people on my sites longer. I can more easily upsell a product to these readers than to try ranking for much harder keywords, like “flights to New York city.”
Remember that the only time people are going to consume copious amounts of travel information is when they are ready to go on a trip. You might read the Huffington Post and TechCrunch every day out of interest, but you’re probably not on Fodor’s or Lonely Planet every day unless you’re actively looking into going somewhere. If someone is looking for travel information (and arrives on your site), they’re looking for a vacation. They’re looking for flights and hotels.
Another example might be people who are looking for an inexpensive holiday at a European destination. They might be looking at locations like Spain, Croatia, Italy, and Bulgaria. A terrific example is Greece, since it has great beaches, all-inclusive resorts, huge history, and good value for money for independent travelers.
You could go after the more challenging and more competitive keywords like “Greece vacation,” but that could prove expensive and ineffective. Instead, go after niche keywords that you can uncover using the Google Keyword Planner. Look at metrics like average monthly searches and competition to develop your list.
Expand the list by looking at keywords related to Greek vacations, like Rhodos, Crete, Corfu, Athens, Greece tourist attractions, Greece honeymoon packages, and Greek villas. Check for keywords that have relatively low competition but relatively higher search volumes. Go after long tail keywords, as they are easier to rank for and will give you good additional traffic.
Then, develop top quality and interesting articles that will keep visitors on your site longer, building trust and effectively improving your conversion rates. Catchy titles and strong meta descriptions improve your search engine performance, as do on-site optimization techniques like internal and external linking when appropriate.
Your Journey to Making Money in the Travel Industry
Making money from a travel affiliate site is nowhere near as difficult as you might think. If your blog looks good, you have proper content, you target the right keywords, you’re actively promoting your site and gaining valuable backlinks, and you partner with the best affiliate networks — like the JetRadar affiliate program — then you should not face any problems making a good income from the travel niche.
Travel is like any other business. If you take it seriously, think outside the box, and provide valuable information that people desire, you will succeed.
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