Matthew Barker, chief executive of I&I Travel Media, last year launched Horizon Guides – a series of independent digital guidebooks each of which can be sponsored by a “travel partner”.
Barker, who has spent 10 years working with operators, says many smaller companies are being “crippled” by the increasing costs of online marketing, following changes to the way Google works and the rise of Facebook.
"Forget the idea you need to churn out content. We’re trying to steer people away from that. You really need one good quality piece of ‘evergreen’ content. You don’t need a massive blog..."
“It used to be about organic search results, but now operators are being funnelled out of that and into Google Adwords. That works on auctioning, so as the competition increases, so does the cost. Customer acquisition used to be free, but now it’s crippling for so many businesses.
“I’ve worked with small operators and agents for seven or eight years, trying to help them figure out how they can compete on their small resources.”
Using an extensive network of “a couple thousand writers and bloggers”, Horizon Guides commissions guides for more niche destinations. Guidebooks can be 20,000 words in length. In 12 months it has published 20 guides, which have been downloaded by more than 10,000 readers. Within 18 months, it aims to have published 65 guides.
Barker adds: “Some business owners are mind-boggled by content marketing. They need a strategy as what we’ve realised is that they have become overwhelmed by the pace of change.
“Forget the idea you need to churn out content. We’re trying to steer people away from that. You really need one good quality piece of ‘evergreen’ content. You don’t need a massive blog, you need one quality thing that will get [customers] into the funnel. We thought, let’s build a publishing brand and aggregate the audience building so we can unlock massive economies of scale.
"It used to be about organic search results, but now operators are being funnelled out of that and into Google Adwords... Customer acquisition used to be free, but now it’s crippling for so many businesses."
“Digital is central to their [agents] business, but they’re missing some expertise. It’s about knowing what to focus the budget on.”
When it comes to promoting the guides themselves, Barker says he uses “overlapping channels” to reach out. “We use Facebook advertising, Gmail adverts, retargeting, referrals, as well as organic traffic. As far as the consumer is concerned, Horizon Guides is a publishing company, and we’re acquiring all these audiences.”
The next phase
To date, Horizon Guides works with around a dozen operators, including Chimu Adventures, Ker & Downey Africa and Wilderness North.
The company is now expanding, and has taken to equity crowdfunding to raise £150,000. Crowdfunding is a method of funding a project by raising contributions from a large number of people.
The Horizon Guides crowdfunding campaign went live on September 4, 2017 and will be open for 45 days. Contributors can invest from £10 upwards into the company. Every investor becomes a full shareholder in the parent company.
Barker adds: “We’re getting profitability at the moment, but we’re at the stage where we really want to light a fire underneath it.”
Find out more at crowdcube.com/horizonguides and in the video below