Algarve surf school boat party

Why it’s surprisingly easy to market a surf camp (plus some tips to get you started)


Marketing a surf camp is essentially pretty easy assuming you’re already running a friendly fun place that people love.

I’m going to talk about the Algarve Surf School in Portugal where I helped define and implement a marketing strategy during Spring/Summer 2015.

FYI: The majority of bookings especially for those just travelling through as part of a longer trip will come through hostel booking sites like Hostelworld so ensuring you’ve got great reviews on there by providing a great service is often the first priority. All done? Ok let’s look at what to do next.

Define your audience and their sharing behaviour

The age range for those staying in the Surf camps is typically between 18 – 35  and almost all guests are highly active sharers across social media in some way, shape or form.


The camps tend to be in idyllic locations like Lagos and Sagres with fun activities like surfing, kayaking, boat parties, eating out, nights out all ingrained into daily life. All of this is inherently ‘shareable’ content for a generation more than happy to live their portrayed lives digitally.


Why do people actually choose to share?

Before looking at the specifics we of how we should set up our camps for successful sharing lets’s take a deeper look at the reasons why people share from this New York Times study on the psychology of sharing . We can see that three of the five reasons it mentions are very likely to apply here.

  • To define themselves to others.  68% of respondents said they share to give others a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
  • To grow and nourish our relationships. 78% of respondents said they share information online because it enables them to stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  • For self-fulfillment. 69% said they share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world.

In terms of an initial platform to work from then a surf camp has almost all the ingredients required for a successful marketing campaign. Often times their friends and friends of friends are likely to be the target audience for future bookings.

As well as direct bookings you’re also going to see increased social activity having a positive impact on SEO through more references to the site and a greater chance of the domain being featured across other blogs, travel sites etc… this brand awareness in turn helps people decide on where to make their final booking. This is especially true if they’re undecided on which school to go with and they’re visiting for a week or more.


Make yourself visible, everywhere

It’s often a good idea to add a custom branded watermark to your images as they are likely to be shared and re-uploaded in several places beyond your control and so even when the images leave the confines of your social pages and into more one on one settings like Whatsapp they are still hard at work boosting brand awareness.

Why you should get a pet

It’s perhaps worth noting that a pug or any cute animal is like a secret weapon. This piece in Digital trends discusses the online evolution of pets into celebrities and this pug known as ‘lula’ (Portugese for Squid) will often garner more likes than a group photo or idyllic sunset. If you happen to have a cute pet around, don’t be afraid to feature it in your social activity. As an added benefit it’s also a great initial talking point for guests and helps to put them at ease around the camp.

lula lifejacket
Lula “thrilled” with her new life jacket

Optimise your on-site SEO with relevant terms

One of the first technical changes we made for the Algarve Surf School was work on the relevance of the website from an SEO perspective by optimising titles and content on the page. This relatively small change had a significant impact on relevant traffic to the site in 2015 compared with 2014. An initial piece of keyword research based on popular terms being searched for allowed us to refine the site and make it more discoverable both by humans and Google.

SEO traffic

Extending the site <title> for instance was a key move from just the brand name to a title which mentions a few of the key search terms as well as location information.

A great quick way to see what people are searching for is to actually use Google suggest which is always going to show what people are looking for in terms of popularity in near real time. Check out this starter guide if you need a few pointers as optimising your SEO will help you to bring you a steady flow of traffic and potential bookings to the site throughout the year with very little effort.

Don’t be afraid to bring in external talent

Running a camp or hostel and keeping guests happy is more than a full time job. Don’t be afraid to bring in external talent in areas you need help with like web development, PR, marketing, photography, video editing etc…

Often those working in these positions may have a certain amount of digital freedom and will be able to work remotely from your camp. In exchange for their services you can offer something valuable to them but relatively cheap to you like accommodation or an activity which you may be able to provide with much lower overheads than if you were simply paying for their time directly. Both parties are then happy and you’ll often get a much better working relationship. The manager of the Algarve Surf School Jose Paralta really understands the benefits of setting up an approach like this.

I was offered a role last year whilst on a holiday to come back and assist in return for for food, accommodation and a few surf lessons at a perfect location in Sagres where I could also keep working remotely on my other projects.

Another example of where they brought in some talent was with photographer Robert Douglas. Together we created a really effective piece of branded content for the camp in the form of a boat party video.

The concept of the video was to really capture the energy and scenery of the event from a partiers perspective. To achieve this we gave a few guests and staff GoPro cameras whilst also setting up a few more professional shots from Robert on a Canon 5d.

The video has amassed over 15k views and prompted huge engagement across its various postings on Facebook channels, Vimeo and YouTube. With pieces of content like this that naturally perform well you can even boost them to those interested in surfing from your target countries on facebook and share them in specific groups which already have thousands of members like London Surfers.

Empower and trust your employees and selected guests to be active brand advocates

This should be done with some initial supervision and guidance but overall you want to instill creative freedom so they can capture moments at the right time in the right place by setting them up with access to relevant accounts like facebook,  instagram, snapchat etc…

As an example the camp sets up the head of surfing Mr Ale Rista with instagram so he can capture plenty of beach and surfing shots throughout the day, those managing the shop can photograph new stock and products and some of the volunteer breakfast helpers and house managers can can capture those special baking moments and relaxed, fun camp life and parties.

Beach shot Amado

Remember that your social profiles may often be the first point of contact for potential customers so make the most of cover shots, profile pictures for your branded pages. You can even try some calls to action like this one below:

facebook cover photo

Think about seasonal fluctuations

It’s all well and good ensuring summer bookings happen in the camps but your costs are often spread out over the year so putting on special events and reasons for people to visit during the times you’re typically empty can be really beneficial.

An event focused around spending New Years in the camp was created alongside some supporting pieces of content such as this one on winter surfing in Portugal. In terms of best practice if you’ve got a blog on your own site i.e. then host the articles there for SEO purposes.

However if you’re developer is away or you don’t have a blog then sites like Medium are great for creating quick, easy and beautiful socially shareable articles. You can also look again at optimising your social profiles and cover photos when trying to push booking for a certain event.

New Years surf event
Facebook cover photo for New Years party

Another great idea is to tap into your email marketing list if you have one here using a free service like MailChimp as it can really push the idea to the front of peoples minds at the appropriate time of year and encourage them to make a booking.

I would love to meet you guys if you’ve found this useful and would also like to add that I’m setting up my own coworking space in Portugal you can check out the trailer video here:


I’ve also been applying the same learnings from the above article to this new project and we’ve already had multiple bookings months before we’ve even opened our doors.


I hope you find some of these tips useful. Do remember to share and comment.

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