Marketing workshops for eco SMBs

Case study, Carpathian Tourism Project

Nine months, four countries, numerous marketing and tourism related workshops – meet the Carpathian Tourism Project, where local entrepreneurs exchanged ideas with industry experts. Here’s what can be learned by talking to 50 travel small and medium business owners.

Peter Balog – 8 minute read

Meeting the business owners of four countries is a huge opportunity for any marketer, and this is exactly what the Carpathian Tourism Project allowed us to do. Throughout the nine month project we got a unique insight into how tourism and eco SMBs see the world of digital marketing, what are their pain points, and what they need to grow their businesses. But before we got there, the challenge manifested itself on numerous levels.

First of all, how do you attract decision makers to a 3-day conference on eco tourism and digital marketing? Second, once the audience is there, how do you convey the gist of what marketing can do to business owners with varying digital literacy? And how do you do this all over again in four different countries?


This was a golden opportunity to learn more about what tourism and service providers have on their minds when it comes to digital marketing, so we had to take it.

The project included a visit to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, where in each location a three day mini conference was held. Participants here could learn from university experts on the present and future of the travel industry, participate in digital marketing workshops, and see living and breathing eco businesses by going on study trips. The project also offered one-on-one mentoring sessions for SMB decision makers with the onsite marketing and tourism experts, where they could ask for personal guidance. The final package also included a project booklet, where the most important points were summarised in an easily digestible manner.

Throughout the nine months assistance was provided with setting up PPC campaigns to increase participant signups for all four countries, a uniquely travel and tourism centered marketing course was designed, and personal mentoring sessions were held for SMB decision makers. Here’s what we learned through this process.

In a nutshell

The challenge
How do you attract decision makers to a 3-day conference on eco tourism and digital marketing? And once the audience is there, how do you convey the gist of what marketing can do to business owners with varying digital literacy? And how do you do this all over again in four different countries?

Work conducted:

  • PPC campaigns for participation signups
  • Designing a travel and tourism centered marketing course
  • One-on-one mentoring for SMB decision makers

The demand and interest is there

One of the most striking first impression with all four of the workshop groups was their interest in digital marketing. Decision makers of these SMBs were looking forward to the marketing workshops, and wanted to absorb as much information as possible.

All of these companies were travel and tourism related, and that cast a wide net of services like apartments, hotels, farm stays, cheese making, jewellery shop, pottery craftsman and more. Most participant businesses had some digital present, which usually included a website, one or two social media accounts, booking sites, and in some cases rudimentary PPC advertisement. The participants had a varying level of digital literacy, with some companies doing the bare minimum (having an outdated website from a decade ago), while others doing full scale marketing operations (good website, instagram account, facebook ads etc…).

Three examples of mobile friendliness showcased at a marketing workshop in Poland – photo: Judit Kocsis

They see what the competition is doing, they understand the opportunities that digital booking of services provide, and they want to get ahead in the game. As mentioned, most of these companies are already doing some or a lot in order to achieve this goal. They experiment, try new platforms and campaigns, absorb and learn from each other and from online courses.

However, they do face major challenges as well. It seems that most business owners would agree that there is, first of all, an issue in learning materials. Numerous participants expressed the need to learn, but failed to come up with platforms to learn from (learning resources, brands, websites). Simply put, they don’t know where to start, or even when they do find resources, they do not trust the provider’s expertise. SMBs decision makers want to learn, but don’t know where to start and who to trust.


Throughout the four weekends spent with these SMB business owners, it became clear that almost all of them see the potential in setting up a modern digital presence.

What is even more worrying is that most stakeholders in such businesses would agree that while they do see the potential in digital marketing, they do not understand the need for investment in assets (website, content marketing) and campaigns (social, advertisement).

Challenges and the competitive advantages of SMBs

The challenge for us marketers therefore lies in several areas. First and foremost, we have an educational and trust barrier to break through. When it comes to offering marketing services, in most cases SMB decision makers are in need of context, and not just complex technical terms.


Phrases like “conversion rates”, “user experience” and “reach” do not mean much, not to mention the nasty abbreviations that all marketers love, like CRO, UX, PPC and SEO, just to name a few.

However, this does not mean that these decision makers are not familiar with these terms. When the marketer (or workshop educator) translates these phrases to scenarios they know, it all comes much cleaner (i.e.: “conversion rate” = “maybe a hundred people walk past your shop in a given hour, out of those hundred, maybe twenty stop to do some window shopping, ten come into the store, and only five make a purchase. That five, out of a hundred, is a five percent conversion rate.”) This, in turn, generates trust as well. The key therefore is to establish a common tongue for a discussion between marketer and SMB decision maker.

Idea sharing between SMB decision makers – photo: Jutit Kocsis


A good example for a lack of global-local perspective was a hotel that lied right next to the Austrian border, but offered its website and services only in Czech.

Even when they do use several marketing channels effectively, most SMB decision makers fail to see things on a systematic macro level. Since they do not have adequate digital and marketing literacy, there is a lack of perspective. Other areas of improvement include a general lack of visual storytelling, language barriers, and a lack of global perspective. 

As for advantages, the good news is that most SMBs have the product side of things locked down. These service providers offer wonderful, memorable and amazing experiences for their customers, and whatever reviews they do gather on various digital platforms, they all are overwhelmingly positive in almost all cases. These businesses are bustling with unique ideas, touching personal stories, and valuable products of beautiful craftsmanship. They have got the goods, they just need the help to sell it in order to compete with major online providers.

Excercise for creating a mock brand identity – photo: Peter Balog

Project outcome

Learning experience design is an area that is often neglected when it comes to talking about marketing. But with SMBs it can be argued that education is one of the most important cornerstones of trust building between client and marketer.

Throughout the nine months of the Carpathian Tourism Project a comprehensive marketing course has been developed and was presented to SMB decision makers. The course modules were designed to give a quick bird’s eye perspective on what can be done via digital marketing, and to create a comprehensive and systematic understanding of marketing channels and tools. The modules touched base on marketing channels and funnels, marketing automation, customer satisfaction, email marketing, public relations and more.


“The marketing module included a lot of very useful tips and advice on how to improve our internet presence. Also, the final individual consultations were very useful.” – Participant via feedback form

The general feedback for all four workshops and mentoring sessions were overwhelming positive. Participants were also grateful for the sense of community they found in these workshops, where an environment of honest discussing and problem sharing was encouraged between these business owners.

SMBs are often hailed as the backbone of any economy, yet according to several studies both by the European Commission and independent auditors, they are slow to adapt to the changing nature of our digital times. These issues are often masked by the oftentimes double digit growth that the tourism industry has seen in the last decade in a lot of areas, but they are there nonetheless, and manifest themselves as missed opportunities. Most businesses that participated in the Carpathian Tourism Project are still likely to be in the green, but with a systematic and professional approach to digital marketing, could see their revenues grow significantly.

Project participants include: Visegrad Fund, Stowarzyszenie Ekopsychologia, Art and Craft of Stiavnica Civil Association, Tourist Authority of South Moravia

Free preliminary
audit for SMBs, worth €399.