7 ways to apply the Science of persuasion to your travel business.

In 1984 Robert Cialdini wrote the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He became the leading authority on the topic and his thinking has informed many of the Internet’s best marketers.

The book has just been updated. It’s a monster at around 500 pages because it’s been updated.   There were 6 Principles of Persuasion and now there are seven. The Internet has changed some things forever. He has added one principal. So here is a summary of how to apply the principles to your business.

Reciprocity:  Giving a little to get something in return.

This is the easiest of the principals for travel business but it’s not used often.   Say you have a business offering bike tours of Paris. Providing help and advice for people considering this option is the first step in establishing the connection.   These might be tips for a day on a bike in Paris. Romantic bike tours for couples.  The 4 best things to do if you only have a day etc.   

We have created many lead magnets. These offer high value content in exchange for an email address. Establish the value and then ask for an email.   That is reciprocity.


Commitment:  People want to be seen as consistent with their values.

Once we’ve publicly committed to something or someone, we’re much more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment (hence, consistency).

So by asking site visitors to commit to something relatively small like a guide or lead magnet  we increase the likelihood these people will eventually see themselves as customers.  We are effectively making it easier to follow up with an offer for a paid service.

We have used webinars as an effective way to show people around a specific travel product.   This means people get to feel like they have had a one on one attention from the owner.   All their questions get answered and mostly that deals with the information needs of the other participants.   It’s very easy to follow up with an offer.

Social proof:   The proof that others like you are also doing the activity.

Cialdini defines this as people doing what they observe other people doing.    It’s likely to be the most familiar of his principles because it’s been well adopted by the travel industry.  This is about reviews, posts of your customers enjoying a trip, quotes from past customers.

The travel industry has mostly used Trip Advisor as the tool for this but increasingly Google is becoming more important. Everyone asks us about negative reviews but Cildini cites some research saying the most compelling scores are between 4.2 and 4.5 – a few not perfect reviews are needed to make the reviews more credible.

There are other ways of course. Indicating the most popular option is one way.   Booking.com does this with bookings i.e.  30 people have booked here today.   How might you do this for your business?

Authority:  Having the endorsement of an authority can be an important influence.   That is why people use celebrities in their advertising.

This is difficult for most operators but authority is also built by having lots of reviews.   Even Google sees reviews as authority and it’s one of the things that is applied to making up your authority score.    You can also gain authority with valuable content about your business, your location or your activity.  

This is part of the value of a comprehensive content strategy – become the expert and you will create a sense of authority from your site and social media media strategy.


Liking: The more you like someone the more you are persuaded by them.

We all know this.  We tend to do business with people we like.   We tend to like people that pay attention to our needs and who reflect our views and interests.  We know that when someone identifies they like something we do we feel more positive towards them.

So how can I apply this to your business?   One way is to make sure the About Us page reflects the similarities between your staff and the target audience.   So if you sell adventure tours to millennials using staff biographies and images the audience can identify as like them.  Post pictures of your activities with the target audience and try to reflect their views on the world.  For example we saw a brand new tourism product aimed at the environmentally concerned millennial.   They had targeted this consumer down to the vegan snacks they sold.  Who is not going to like that.


Scarcity:   When you think something is in scarce supply you want it more.

We have all seen this many times.  Limited edition cars, clothes on sale while stocks last and in travel “only 5 rooms at this price”.    This is a reality for most travel businesses but only really used by the hotel groups.

So how might other operators employ this technique.  Well say you have a tour with only 5 places – you should make that clear.   If you have a tour that is 50% full,  point it out because it means the opportunities are limited.   Cialldini points out that being able to say 50% are sold and then a week later 60% are sold etc is particularly powerful

Unity.  This has only just been added.   This is about people’s need to belong.   This principle is about appealing to the we – a cohesive identity shared by a group.

He says “It’s about the categories that individuals use to define themselves and their groups, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, and family, as well as political and religious affiliations.

A key characteristic of these categories is that their members tend to feel at one with, merged with, the others. They are the categories in which the conduct of one member influences the self-esteem of other members. Simply put, we is the shared me.

There are many ways to apply this to travel marketing – perhaps you sell tours for the LGBGQI community – identifying with this group is a powerful persuader.   Equally if your market is likely to be environmentally concerned you have many opportunities to make this clear and also to work with suitable groups to build authority.

None of this is the magic bullet.   Persuasion is earned and each one of these  feeds into the other. The time to address this is now.   Have a look at your offering and see if you can make any changes.   It’s going to be a challenging year and there is no time like the present to get started.