Working with OTAs is a great move for your business: they can increase your visibility online in front of your target market. However, it can be tricky working with them, especially if it's your first time.
Here are 10 tips for working with OTAs to make sure you end up on the winning side of the deal.
1. Do your homework (research, research, research)
What are other operators saying about this OTA? How do they treat their sellers? Do they have 24/7 support? Does it get you in front of the right audience? Which OTAs will get you closer to your business goals?
Before signing up with an OTA, make sure you've done your research. You can always head over to Google for help, or even join forums (like the one we run on Facebook) to ask others' for their experiences and opinions.
2. Don't rely on just one OTA, diversify
Don't put all your eggs in one basket, it's silly to do so because you become too reliant on one channel to distribute your tours. Diversify your marketing and distribution channels to gain more exposure. Sign up to sell on large OTAs, but also on niche OTAs to make sure that you're getting maximum exposure in front of your target audience.
3. Read the fine print
Steer clear of exclusivity agreements. If your OTA demands that you only sell your tours through them, create alternatives. Can you add extra value to an existing tour and sell it as a different product compared to what you sell on other channels? Say you want to offer lunch on a tour--will this addition be a massive headache operationally or would it be fairly easy to execute?
Also, look at other policies like their refund and cancellation policies. What are their terms and conditions like? What about payouts? How often are payments made? These are just a few more details usually covered in the fine print that you need to look out for.
4. Partner with an OTA that integrates with your booking system
Don't work with OTAs who still insist that you manually enter your availability. It's inefficient and mistakes can be made. To avoid overbooking and maintain your professionalism, partner with an OTA that shows you, your OTA and your customers your live availability.
At TrekkSoft, we offer a channel manager that lets you manage bookings from multiple channels in one place. We've partnered up with Expedia Local Expert, Musement, TourRadar and other OTAs to allow TrekkSoft's customers to get the most out of our booking system.
5. Build good relationships with your account manager
Remember that you're fighting with hundreds of other operators for the same pool of customers. At the same time, your account manager possesses unique market insights that can do wonders for your marketing strategy. Build a good rep with them and ask for intel and ideas to improve your visibility and exposure on the OTA's platform.
6. Ask for monthly reports
OTAs sell tours on a global scale and therefore have access to a lot of information about industry and market trends. Ask your account manager for monthly reports on how your business compares to other businesses in your area to benchmark your performance.
You might be able to figure out the strategies your competitors are using and adopt some of the more successful ones.
7. Don't pay excessive commission
The general rule of thumb is this: 10 - 30% and nothing more. The exact commission rate defers from business to business, and it depends on how well you are able to negotiate with your account manager upon signing up.
I would advise you to look at how each OTA is performing and contributing to your business at the end of the day. Give it at least 3 months and then analyse your sales and booking reports. Get ahead of the game by with a booking management system like TrekkSoft that provides you with accurate reporting, allowing you to cross-check the figures you get from your OTA.
8. Make sure your product descriptions are updated and embellished
You're selling your tourism products and for them to be attractive, you need to make sure that you describe your products the best you can. Tell people about the adventures they'll have on your tour, or the unforgettable jump off a cliff on your outdoor activity.
Use pictures and videos to appeal to your customers, and don't hold back.
9. Build brand awareness with this trick
From speaking to quite a few TrekkSoft users, I found that one of the main reasons businesses do not work with OTAs is because their brand or company name is not mentioned at all on the platform. Customers end up remembering about "the tour they booked on TripAdvisor" and not "the tour they booked with Nicole's Adventure Tours" (I apologise for the terrible example, but you get what I mean).
Work around this by putting up pictures of your tours and activities with your logo on the picture. Or use pictures with your guides in their shirts with your company's name all over it. Take pictures with your customers holding a flag or banner with your brand's logo on it, and then remind them to post those pictures up when they get home.
10. Experiment with package deals
Some OTAs offer package deals for flights and hotels along with tours and activities at your destination. Why not participate in a package deal like this? It could be beneficial, especially in the low seasons or even to boost your exposure on the OTA's platform.
Get your free ebook for more advice on how to work with OTAs.