Partnerships are such a key part of the travel industry that most of us engage in them every day, sometimes without even knowing it. We partner with hotels by dropping our fliers in their lobby. We partner by cross selling our tours with large tour operators or attractions. We partner by being a member of our local tourist board or association.
To many this seems innate, almost a matter of course of doing business. Yet, if we dig a little deeper there can be a bit more to creating successful partnerships.
With that in mind the latest UK & Ireland TrekkSoft meet and greet took place in Edinburgh with a theme of finding ways to create and sustain partnerships in the local tourism industry. We had a diverse group, including experienced operators such as Peter Syme of Splash White Water Rafting, new travel startups and existing tour operators that are trying to grow their business.
What we learned is that partnerships are vital to your success as a tour operator. Just like relationships, finding the right partner can sometimes be difficult and it requires a lot of perseverance. You’ll find the right partners in time to come and they will bring you business for years to come without you having to spend a penny.
Here are our top 5 tips for creating successful partnerships.
A bit like dating, if you don’t go on any dates you’re more likely to be stuck on the couch than going to dinner on a Saturday night. Similarly, you can’t expect to find new business opportunities by sitting back and waiting for them to come to you.
This is where you need to devise a networking strategy for your business:
- Where do tour operators get together?
- Is there an association you can join?
- Can I start a local meet up for the local tourism industry?
- Does your tourist board or council organise events you can attend?
For example, TrekkSoft organises regular networking events all over the world to bring together tour operators to meet us, and more importantly meet each other. This is a great way to find potential partners or to just listen to the stories of others' and learn from them.
Why do you think TrekkSoft runs networking events? Because we want to add value to your business from the get go. We support these local networking sessions with lots of great free resources from our marketing team in the form of webinars, ebooks and infographics.
2. Offer value
A company that offers great value to their current and future customers is Hubspot. Before I joined TrekkSoft, I never used Hubspot, but I was very much aware of them. I had downloaded their ebooks on all areas of inbound marketing. They sent me great templates for creating and managing events, all for free. I became a firm advocate for Hubspot without ever being a customer.
TrekkSoft and Hubspot are adding value by saying “We know you might not be ready to purchase our product right now and we’re good with that, but to show we’re committed to building a relationship with you, here’s some free material that will hopefully make your life easier today.”
Take this attitude with you when creating new business partnerships. Don’t immediately ask: “What’s in it for me?” Can you facilitate an introduction, promote their brand on your social media channels or invite your potential partner to participate in your local association? Remember that it cuts both ways, people remember those who’ve helped them out.
When asked about his approach to creating partnerships, Cavid, the founder of GetGuided, said: “When building a partnership it is important to understand the other party’s needs before offering your products or services. Always ask first what they need and want and then you can make your offer, which will add value to them or solve their problem. Afterwards, you can find how they can bring value to you.”
3. Group up
As a tour operator, working collectively is a highly effective way to achieve your goals. As a single business your voice is not so loud, but as group you can pack a powerful punch. Whether it’s talking to tour operators, local government or your tourism board, you can achieve a lot more collectively than as individuals.
It’s even better if you can become a spokesperson for a collection of businesses. This can be great for PR, as you become known as the go to person for stories on a particular area or topic. Take Peter Lewis of Labicicleta Verde in Santiago, Chile. Peter is not just a bike tour operator, he is also the first man CNN go to when they want an on the ground opinion for a Chilean story. Anyone remember the Chilean miners?
4. Get political
Closely tied to grouping up is engaging with government. This can take many forms either via your national tourist board, local government support or simply lobbying your council. Like it or not: government is a key part of your sales strategy.
It is often frustrating when dealing with the multiple layers, particularly when they never seem to talk to one another, but it's necessary. Your national marketing organisation such as Visit Britain or Tourism Ireland have marketing dollars to talk about what's going on in their countries. You want to be part of these efforts - how else would you get such exposure?
Making yourself visible and getting yourself known to them is a great way to make this happen. Being the chair of a local association, appearing in the media or talking at conferences gives them the trust that you are a safe bet.
Locally, are there traffic restrictions which prevent you from accessing a popular attraction, inadequate litter services in your area or badly maintained roads? Stressing the importance of tourism as an economic driver for your town or region will put pressure on local government to respond to your problems.
5. Be creative
When the tourist season quietens, business can become alarmingly slow very quickly. Creating local festivals or special offers for your local market can be a great way to address this. Maybe you run a food tour or a historical walking tour. You could look at coming together with a collection of businesses promoting a food or cultural festival.
This could attract locals that would not otherwise be your customers and allow you to piggyback on the marketing efforts of the other participants. These could be restaurants, museums or food markets.
We learned that like dating relationships, there's a partner out there for everyone. 😊 You just have to work hard at creating successful relationships. You need to network a lot as Peter Syme of Splash Whitewater Rafting put it: "In partnerships the ratio is more like 95% fail, 5% work, but those 5% are a vital part of my business."
Working together is also a great way to maximise exposure and make sure your voice is heard over the crowd. And lastly, don't be afraid to lobby local government and your tourist board.
What do you think about partnerships within the tour and activity industry? We'd love to hear your thoughts.
Would you like to meet other like minded people and potentially find a great partner?