To prepare for the year ahead as a tour operator, 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?
We've talked before about the importance of a balanced distribution network, but it's worth repeating. In a rapidly-changing industry, a good balance of channels is one of the best ways to ensure your tour and activity business's sustainable future.
In our recent research into distribution habits of tour and activity companies, 72% of respondents said that they plan to use more distribution channels in the coming year, regardless of whether they’re already using one or not. We also expect more and more businesses to go online and adapt their websites for mobile use as this trend continues to grow amongst consumers.
But how many distribution channels should you be using to sell your tours? And which online and offline choices are there to choose from? Here's our rundown of the best distribution channels to consider using for your tours and activities in 2017.
We asked tour operators: What is most important to your tour and activity company?
1. Your website
According to our research in 2016, direct online booking is the most important distribution channel for the modern tour and activity company.
It is on direct online channels that companies are able to optimise margin and pricing, there are no commission requirements, and you can keep 100% control over your brand and reviews. This is why TrekkSoft encourages companies to optimise the user booking experience on their own websites to ensure the highest customer conversion.
2. Google My Business
Having your tour company listed with Google is crucial. It's simple to do (click here to get started) and it allows your business, opening hours, phone number, and directions on Google Search and Maps. Having this in place will multiply your chances of encouraging someone to browse your website or book (make sure you have online booking set up to increase conversions further).
There's no doubt about it: TripAdvisor should be one of your top priorities as a tour operator. Get it set up as soon as you can and keep moving up the rankings. Here's how to get closer to the #1 spot on TripAdvisor for your destination.
4. Social media
Social media is an effective way to reach new customers, so it's 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 where you actually get results. Here at TrekkSoft, we often consider the 80/20 rule (or Pareto Principle): 80% of our social media results generally come from 20% of the channels we use.
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. Direct offline bookings
Direct offline bookings haven't been displaced in the digital age; in fact, in our research they were ranked third most important to respondents' businesses.
As expected, offline bookings are especially relevant for outdoor and activity businesses. These activities are often weather-dependent, frequently in areas with less internet connectivity, and disintermediation might be a factor, where travellers prefer to go directly to a guide or supplier.
Some visitors also simply prefer just getting off the grid when on holiday, leaving their phone or laptop back in their room.
The OTAs to be working with
Online Travel Agents (or OTAs), such as Viator, Expedia, and GetYourGuide, allow customers to research and book their ideal getaways independently online. They're also increasingly important for tour and activity operators to adopt.
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.
The top OTA of choice, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, is Viator. In our research, 41% of businesses choose to distribute their tours through Viator, one of the oldest and more experienced OTAs.
TrekkSoft now offers merchants the opportunity to sync their tours or activities to Viator, allowing last minute sales through their marketplace as well as granting the possibility to manage capacities and all bookings through their TrekkSoft account.
The world’s "biggest collection of things to do", GetYourGuide gives customers more than 29700 activities at their fingertips. It's one of the biggest OTAs out there, and 24% of businesses who contributed to our research choose to distribute their tours through GetYourGuide. You can register here as a supplier.
Now making tours and activities a priority with their Expedia Local Expert program, Expedia is leveraging their overall customer base and growing quickly. Expedia has also acquired Orbitz and Travelocity among other brands, making them 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. Start working with Expedia here.
Musement has one goal: to allow travellers to experience a destination like a local. From providing curated "Top-picks" and "Must-dos" at each destination, Musement also allows travellers to buy tickets to famous attractions, events, museums and tours, all from their smartphones. 7% of businesses in our research choose to distribute their tours 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. You can add to that number by becoming a partner here.
TourRadar is "a Global Online Marketplace where travellers 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.
Other worthy mentions:
12. trip4real, recently acquired by Airbnb, wants to offer the world unique and quality activities created by local experts. You can list your tour or activity on the marketplace here.
13. CityDiscovery, now a VELTRA company, offers activities from city walking tours to cooking lessons, from multi-day packages to city passes, from coach tours to private tours. You can register as a supplier here.
Be better connected, sell more tours
Being successful in the travel industry has a lot to do with building connections. That means partnerships, in-destination collaboration, and working with agents.
14. Other tour operators and activity providers
Are you on good terms with other local tour and activity companies? Building a partnership and cross-selling via the TrekkSoft Partner Network can be a lucrative step for those on both sides of the deal. You could even bundle your complementary activities as a package, perhaps at a discounted price for guests.
15. Visitor information centres
If you have a local visitor information centre (VIC), they can be a really valuable partner. To start with, make sure that they understand what your business offers so they can best send visitors your way. Make a good first impression and keep building on the relationship.
Next, find out if you can share marketing materials such as leaflets, brochures, or discount codes for your tours. If they are willing to act as an agent and sell your tours directly, even better.
16. Your destination website
Is there a government-funded destination website you can promote your tours through? 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 an ideal 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 availabilities, 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 over the next twelve months.”
Jon Fauver, CEO and Co-founder of TrekkSoft
Take your distribution strategy further with TrekkSoft. It's the all-in-one tool you need to power your business.
Published by Lucy Fuggle
Lucy is Head of Content Marketing at TrekkSoft. She tries to read a book a week, travel solo every month, and share ideas on lucyfuggle.com. You can usually find her in Switzerland's Berner Oberland.