With so many ways to promote your tours, it's worth putting some thought into your distribution channels. How are you getting your tours in front of your customers? What range of channels are you using online and offline, what free advertising options are there?
Online Travel Agents (OTAs) such as Viator & Expedia are key distribution channels, but should only be part of a balanced distribution plan to ensure your tour and activity business's sustainable future.
In our ebook research into distribution habits of tour and activity companies, 72% of respondents said that they plan to use more distribution channels, regardless of whether they’re already using one or not.
With just 6% of tour & activity bookings coming through OTAs, we expect to see large growth in online and offline distribution platforms to 'get a piece of the pie' that is a thriving industry.
To help you decide which distribution channels are best for your company, here is a rundown of what we consider to be the best channels for tours & activities:
1. Your website
In 2017, we asked tour operators 'What is most important to your tour and activity company?' According to our research, direct online booking is the most important distribution channel for the modern tour and activity company - And it's no surprise! By booking direct on your website, customers can get an insight into your tour offering and ask any questions.
By investing in a good online booking system, you can optimize your pricing safe in the knowledge that you have no external commission fees. You will also have 100% control over your brand and review. This is why at TrekkSoft we encourage companies to optimise the user booking experience on their own websites to ensure a high booking conversion.
2. Google My Business
Getting your tour company listed on Google is crucial. It's simple to do (click here to get started) and allows you to add your business, opening hours, phone number, and directions. Your listing will come up on Google Search which adds trust to your customers when booking. It will also appear on Google Maps which will help with customer directions.
TripAdvisor should be one of your top priorities as a tour operator. Phocuswright’s study prepared for TripAdvisor revealed that 53% of bookers would not commit to booking until they read reviews, and 80% would read between 6-12 reviews before booking.
4. Social media
Social media is an effective (and free) way to reach new customers, so it's definitely worth considering as one of your basic distribution channels. But rather than trying to succeed on every social media channel out there, it's worth working out which platform reaches your selected audience.
Where does word of mouth travel best for your company? If it's on Facebook, you could dedicate more time to it. Are your tours very visually marketable? If so, Instagram may well be worth the time investment. Your social media strategy should always be adjustable.
5. Media Attention
Do you offer something unique, or do you have an interesting story to share? The media is a great distribution channel if you have fresh and relevant content. Look out for something that's a bit different and then contact some local journalists for their opinion. If they are interested in hearing more then you can share the story even further.
6. Online Travel Agents (OTAs)
According to TrekkSoft research, only 41% of suppliers use OTAs to increase exposure, but 69% of those who do report an increase in bookings. Companies are working with an average of 4 OTAs and those using OTAs receive on average 20% more bookings per year than companies who don't.
TrekkSoft offer merchants to integrate with the below OTAs, so you can manage capacities and all bookings through your TrekkSoft account.
Viator (also known as TripAdvisor Experiences) is one of the oldest and more experienced OTAs. In our research, 41% of businesses choose to distribute their tours through Viator,
The world’s "biggest collection of things to do", GetYourGuide gives customers more than 30,000 activities at their fingertips. 24% of businesses who contributed to our research choose to distribute their tours through GetYourGuide.
Making tours and activities a priority with their Expedia Local Expert program, Expedia is leveraging their overall customer base and growing quickly. Expedia is a great choice if you only want to work with a couple of OTAs. 16% of businesses in our research choose to distribute their tours through Expedia.
Musement also allows travelers to buy tickets to famous attractions, events, museums and tours, all from their phone. 7% of businesses in our research choose to distribute through Musement.
16% of businesses in our research choose to distribute their tours through VELTRA. With over 1,000,000 members, VELTRA offers more than 13,000 different activities in 113 countries, making it one of the largest tour and activity marketplaces in the world.
TourRadar is "a Global Online Marketplace where travelers search, compare and book multi-day group tours". They currently offer 1 million tour departures from more than 500 trusted operators to over 200 countries around the world.
Compare Viator, Expedia, GetYourGuide and Airbnb Experiences in one place
13. Direct offline bookings
Direct offline bookings are still highly in demand, especially as most tour and activities are booked once the traveler is in-destination as they are often weather-dependent, or there is a lot to chose from.
Advertising and stalls in destination 'hot spots' are key to selling additional tours.
14. Sell through other tour operators and activity providers
Building a partnership and cross-selling tours & activities via the TrekkSoft Partner Network with other tour and activity companies could be a lucrative step for those on both sides of the deal. Can you recommend each other when full or if the customer requests something they don't offer? You could even bundle your complementary activities as a package, perhaps at a discounted price for guests.
15. Visitor information centers
If you have a local visitor information center, this can be a really valuable partner. A lot of VIC's are willing to act as an agent and sell your tours directly, and can do so easily with the TrekkSoft point of sale (POS) screen. They can take an agreed commission when they book tour and activities.
Also, check if you can marketing materials such as leaflets, brochures, or discount codes for your tours.
16. Your destination website
Is there a government-funded destination website you can promote your tours? This may just involve being on a list of suppliers but, increasingly, destination management organizations (DMOs) are acting as a marketplace and selling local tours and activities on their own website. If your local DMO is considering this move, it's worth being a part of it.
17. Inbound tour operators
If you have an established product with a good reputation in-destination, you should be in a good position to work with inbound tour operators (ITOs). They're looking for the best of your destination, and your business will stand above the rest if you're offering a unique tour with great reviews and value for money.
Do you have contacts in the tourism industry who would be willing to sell your tours for you? With the TrekkSoft Booking Desk, you can allow agents (depending on their user rights) to view upcoming trips and availability, book trips, sell vouchers/add-ons, and even generate widgets to use on their own websites. And you can view all of your bookings in real-time on one handy dashboard.
19. Hotel concierge
Guests want recommendations of the best local tour and activities, tour operators want the visibility, and hotels can benefit from the commission. It makes good business sense for both hotel and supplier. With TrekkSoft, concierges can book directly into your system and see availability in real-time – without risk of overbooking.
Often, but not always, visitors who stay in hostels can be more adventurous and open to activities with new people than those staying in hotels. Tour and activity operators can benefit from cultivating a special relationship with their local hostel.
This could involve a dedicated booking desk in reception, the option to book tours with the accommodation booking, marketing materials inside and outside the hostel (such as a board listing the next departure), or a dedicated departure time each morning from the hostel.
Are you on good terms with local restaurants? Are any promoting or reselling your tours, or partnering with you? Depending on your activity, it might make sense to package it with a meal provided by a local restaurant. For instance, you could combine a ski trip with a stop for fondue at a restaurant in the mountains. With TrekkSoft, it's easy to offer packages to your customers. The software also handles all payouts, invoicing and commission for you.
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How can you stay on top of so many channels?
Answer: with a channel manager
What is a channel manager? A channel manager allows businesses to manage multiple distribution channels (OTAs or other online marketplaces) from a single interface.
What are the benefits? Coupled with a live booking system, a channel manager can update your availability in real time whenever a booking is made. This reduces admin, prevents human error, and removes the risk of overbooking.
With a channel manager, each spot on your tours or activities is also promoted on your chosen range of OTAs simultaneously. This multiplies the opportunity to get booked by a customer.
A majority of business spend no more than an hour managing their bookings via OTAs each week, but a significant amount spend more than two hours per week. A channel manager is the best way to cut down on this admin.
“We are seeing a huge increase in last-minute and in-destination bookings on mobile. Channel managers are the easiest way for suppliers to manage this by enabling real-time sales on multiple platforms. They are still quite a young concept for tour and activity companies. We are looking forward to seeing this evolve and continue to impact the industry.”
Olan O'Sullivan, CEO of TrekkSoft
Connect your live inventory to distribution channels like Viator, Expedia, GetYourGuide plus your agents and resellers with TrekkSoft: