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How to have an online presence without a huge internet budget?

I often have some small Madagascar-based tour operators asking for advice on how to “have their own website” without having to pay between 2 millions to 10 millions MGA

Well, I usually answer that you don’ t necessarily have to setup your own website if your goal is only to publish some institutional informations (your contacts, eventually an online version of the content of your brochure…)

I know, this doesn’ t answer the question raised by the head title of this post.So here we go.

Option 1: you insist on having your own website

You can go for a local provider who is leveraging Joomla’s open source content management system. They will design and setup the features you want for “free” but you’ ll pay an yearly fee of aroung 500 000 MGA for hosting purposes (domain name and web space)- this is still a fair deal compared to the 2 to 10 millions offer that some web agencies will charge you for almost the same features- in order not to be perceived as giving free (or sponsored) publicity to the provider, I’ d invite you to drop a note in the comments sections if you are interested to get in touch with this provider..

Option 2: you want to connect with potential customers

I’ d recommend you engage into well-established social networks/forums where your customers go for asking questions/recommendations. Tripadvisor has an active forum for exchanging about Madagascar. Best of all, creating an account and actively using it will only cost you your internet connection fee.

Option 3: you want to be recognized as an expert in your field, or you want to update

The more you show/talk about your field of expertise (for example: trekking in Madagascar), the more interested your targeted partners/customers will be. My recommendation will then be to open a blog on wordpress.com (remember how Google-friendly tags on wordpress.com are? Use this blog for posting news /photos/videos as well as generate interaction with your readers

Option 4: you want to attract some abroad-based partner that will direct customers to you

Consider connecting and spreading your network on LinkedIn.com. Have your former customers recommend you through the LinkedIn network- this will give more credibility to what you’ ll say in your profile. Creating an account on LinkedIn.com is free, however some premium accounts can be obtained via some charges. Once you have a good profile, go and network with other peers.

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Why your business needs to engage into Web 2?

Yet another advocacy for engaging your tourism business into Web 2 (and social networks particularly for this post). Here are (yet another) interesting facts from the New Media Review published by the European Travel Commission.

“Worldwide growth among selected social networking sites, June 2008 (total worldwide audience, age 15+ – home and work locations:
  • TOTAL INTERNET/TOTAL AUDIENCE: 860,514,000 unique visitors (+11% compared to June 2007)
  • SOCIAL NETWORKING: 580,510,000 (+25%)
  • Facebook.com: 132,105,000 (+153%)
  • Myspace.com: 117,582,000 (+3%)
  • Hi5.com: 56,367,000 (+100%)
  • Friendster.com: 37,080,000 (+50%)
  • Orkut: 34,028,000 (+41%)
  • Bebo.com: 24,017,000 (+32%)
  • Skyrock Network: 21,041,000 (+19%)

As we can see, compared to total internet, growth of social network is bigger (11% against 23%). We do admit that Facebook mainly contributed to it. Although Facebook may seem a bit “entertaining” than business-oriented, some people get their way on using social networks (including facebook) for business, and interestingly, they do not rely only on Facebook’s ad machine. A few social network analysis/description that are worth noticing:

Why your company needs to be on facebook? by Charlene Li from Harvard publishing (I deliberately choose this article, not only because it’s from Harvard publication, but because it’s full of pragmatism). I definitely like this quote “..ignore these new communities only if you believe your customers are not there“… Are tourists in those social networks? My answer is YES (fr), definitely YES (fr). (Charlene Li is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. ). This article is about facebook, but there’s a lot of social networks for your tourism business around

– If you think Facebook is still for teen-agers, take a look at another social media (LinkedIn) that is conceived with business in mind, whether you are a professional who wants to publish your expertise (and people can search for it), or you are a company looking for partners. Worth a try for your tourism business that is looking for partners abroad.

In fact, as Charlene Li rightly pointed out, we are already socializing on our day-to-day business (remember collecting business cards, attending workshops, going for a cocktail, …?), Web 2 is just an extension of those activities on the internet finally.

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