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Distribution Channels for Tour & Activity based businesses.

Aka “Where can your customer find you?”.  This is an extremely important question for all businesses but there are specific needs for this industry and behaviours of the market that should be taken into consideration for increased success.  With more online reviews and greater power in the hands of the consumer businesses must ensure that they come across as credible and trust worthy while also giving clear information and managing expectations. It’s also important to make the customer journey as seamless as possible.

Overview of where businesses are being found

And what you should consider about each

According to research by Treksoft (2016) direct online bookings via a businesses website are the best way to sell to customers.  In their research Tour operators came second, then Direct offline bookings followed by OTAs & Online Marketplaces and finally Local Point of Sales bookings.

According to figures from Ireland’s domain registry (IEDR)

37% of Irish small and medium enterprises have no online presence

while 91% can’t process online sales

There are great benefits to having a central website for your business even for customers who are finding you elsewhere because they will check the site to get a feel of your product or service and to answer any questions they may have.  One major consideration for all businesses now when developing their online presence, and in particular their website, is that it should be optimised for mobile.

Here are the more common ways people are finding and interacting with tour & activity businesses and some things to consider.

And for those too busy for the full article check out the infographic below for a quick overview.

1. Your Website

While a website does require an investment of time and/or money the return is clear for your business.  For providers that sell through their own website there are no commission fees to pay and they have full control of how their business and brand is presented to the market.  This allows for swift updating of packages or pricing (within reason) and means that you can tell your brand story as you would like to.  It is worth considering that people are far more comfortable with paying online and as so few businesses currently offer this option by going that extra step you are setting yourself apart from other businesses.

Remember to include reviews and testimonials on your website as a key role of this resource is to build your trust and credibility.

2. Google My Business

A seriously under utilised resource by many businesses that helps in bringing you higher up searches, particularly for local businesses.  Google my business is an application that helps business to avail of a free business listing on the Google search engine and to get a business on Google maps.  There is a straight forward verification process where a ‘postcard’ with a code is sent to your business address.

The free listing means that people can phone your business straight from the search results, can leave reviews which you can manage and there is a business page where you can enter business hours and photos and more.  Google are actively working on Google maps as a tool for people travelling and we aren’t far away from being able to book directly through their infrastructure.  Another Google initiative which has taken off is ‘Local Guides – Google’ where individuals are encouraged to review businesses in their area or those they use when travelling.  By having a well laid out listing you ensure that people can review you giving you an advantage over the businesses who aren’t using these resources.

3. TripAdvisor

All tourism businesses need to seriously put time and effort into growing their TripAdvisor listing.  We are in the time of customer influence and the hub of this influence in this market is TripAdvisor.  The first strategy in gaining a strong rating is to offer an excellent product, ensure that the customer is delighted from start to finish and to request reviews (in an appropriate way) from your customers.  For businesses who take this seriously there are great returns from this platform.  TripAdvisor offers some free resources to get you started, such as some business cards and graphics and tabs to include on your website and in your social media.

Choose your category wisely for your location and you could soon be Number 1 in your given activity/tour and locale.

4. Social Media

Social media is over whelming for even the most experienced.  There is good reason that people specialize in specific platforms as it’s possible to dive so deeply into each.  For most businesses choosing 2 platforms to focus on is a good tactic.  Think about who your customers are and where do they hangout online?  Social media is very much about experimentation, testing the waters to see what does or doesn’t work.  What might work for one business in a particular location with a certain offering might not work for you – but you must test before deciding whether it will or will not be successful.

Remember to include reviews – this may mean that you have reviews spread across Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor (to name a few) but that is the nature of being online.  Don’t be afraid to ask your customers if they can leave you a review in more than one location.  While this might be too much of a time sink for some, others could be delighted to help you out.  And when asking the word ‘help’ is key.  Explaining that you are a new business or a business looking to grow your online presence and that their help would be greatly appreciated can be more than enough to snag that valuable review.

One great opportunity for tour and activity providers is the work you do and how it translates well into picture and video.  Pictures and graphics are good to share but people are moving more towards video.  Remember, though, keep it short.  If you can tell a story in 30 seconds then do it.  We are all busy and people are less likely to sit and watch a 5 minute video rather than something snappy at around 1 minute.  There is much that can be done with YouTube and filming from a smartphone but for more focused marketing it could make sense to invest in a professionals services, remember look at the ROI.

5. Direct Offline Bookings

In this age of technology and connected people we are still picking up the phone or calling into businesses to make a booking.  For some it’s a matter of not having access to the website or having a poor internet connection.  For others they might want information that isn’t available on the businesses website, such as weather changes, or they want to get a better sense of the activity before they go.  If you see this as a pattern it could be worthwhile sitting down to write a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section for your site for questions that are simple to answer but asked regularly.

For other people they are going directly to the business because booking online isn’t available for that particular business.  It’s worth a businesses while to look into offering this option where possible.

6. OTAs – Online Travel Agents

Certain markets are more likely to book directly and others will use Online Travel Agents (will go into this in more detail in future posts).  Some OTAs to consider listing with are Viator, Expedia and GetYouGuide.  Things to consider are the commission and who your customers are and how are they finding you.  You may discover that your particular market prefers to book directly therefore OTAs are a poor investment for you or you might learn the opposite.

7. Other

There are many more ways that customers can find you but here are a few to consider:

  • Co-market with other providers – create packages between your businesses, list on each others sites, include information for each business in your newsletter, social media and on premises
  • Visitor Information Centers – while some tourist will have decided ahead of time what they are doing others wait until they get to their destination.  Leave marketing literature at your local Tourism Office and speak to the people working there so they know what you offer.  Having an open day to invite people working in tourism in your area and other businesses can be a great way of profiling your business and you can create some great champions for your business this way.
  • Destination Websites – there are so many great websites for various regions that people will use to research their holidays or days out.  Folio Digital will profile these sites with advice on what information to submit in future posts so stay tuned.  As part of your own website you can create a blog post that outlines things to do in your area that link back to these sites, in this way you are promoting your area and supporting these websites too.
  • Hotels, hostels and other accommodation – many accommodation providers are looking to add value for their customers and one way they can do this is by providing information to ‘things to do’ in their locale.  Marketing material can be useful but also talk to them about profiling your business on their site and offer to do something similar in return.  Providing packages with accommodation providers is another great tactic that reduces the work and effort on the part of the customer and can help to sell your product or service during off-peak times.
  • Restaurants and other local businesses – as with other providers or accommodation businesses there might be an opportunity to co-market where you can display your marketing material in local restaurants or other businesses and you return the favour.  Another possibility is to create packages including these businesses.  And remember the potential customers that you are wishing for might just be the current customer of one of these businesses, by networking with local restaurants etc you are getting word out there and people still trust word of mouth above other sources.

So what is your next move?  Let us know and lets continue the discussion on Facebook or Twitter @FolioDigital_eu 

Where can customers find you?  Infographic

Where can customers find your tour or activity business