If you’re like most tour or activity operators, you’re already aware of the importance third parties play in creating exposure for businesses like yours. Now that online travel agencies (OTAs) have outpaced their brick-and-mortar counterparts to the extent that they’re the new normal in the tourism industry, you’re probably wondering about the advantages of partnering with them and how to get the most from their services. Here’s what you need to know about getting the most from partnering with an online travel agency:
Working with an OTA increases your exposure to potential customers as well as offers them convenience when booking your tour or activity. Because they follow a one-stop-shop business model, customers typically book everything from their airplane reservations to hotel rooms to tours and activities through an OTA. Other advantages include the following:
By the time a customer lands on an OTA’s website, they’re likely to have made at least a tentative commitment to visiting a specific area. They’re out of the research phase and ready to buy rather than simply browsing for ideas and inspiration.
As you already know, travelers often wait until they’ve arrived at their destination to book tours and activities, which creates uncertainty for operators. However, airplane and hotel bookings are usually made at least several weeks in advance. Because going through an OTA to book these reservations provides consumers with access to available services in the area they’ll be visiting, they’re more likely to book their tours when they make airline and hotel reservations.
OTA’s provide those who work with them with access to market data and analytic tools that help them get a clear view of their year-round performance and how they’re doing compared with their competition.
OTAs typically invest significant sums in marketing efforts, using a multi-tiered approach involving advertising on traditional venues such as TV and print travel magazines as well as on social media and digital publications. This provides your service with substantial exposure to the type of high-value consumer who’s searching for what you have to offer.
Other advantages of working with an OTA include
Here’s how you can optimize working with an OTA:
Before deciding to partner with an OTA, it’s essential to clearly identify your target audience — this will help you decide which agent or agents are best suited for your business. For instance, if you operate a river rafting tour that attracts younger, adventurous types, look for OTAs that cater to that demographic instead of signing up with one that focuses on luxury vacations for senior citizens.
Keep in mind that although there are many OTAs who take the same type of broad approach practiced by their counterparts of the past, many have niched down to target very specific consumers.
All OTAs aren’t created equal and come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, so be sure to do your research before making a commitment. You can get a feel for each one by looking at their websites. Are they professional and user-friendly, or do they offer the kind of clunky online experience that causes consumers to click away?
Another good way to get a handle on whether certain OTAs will be better for your business than others is to join forums and online groups for others who run operations similar to yours. You’ll be able to ask for recommendations as well as ask others for their experiences with specific OTAs.
Partnering with an OTA or OTAs will not have the desired effect if your website is amateurish. Potential travelers respond well to visuals, so include professional-quality photographs that help them imagine enjoying your tour or activity when they reach their destination.
Awkward wording and clunky descriptions also have a high potential to cause potential customers to click away, so be sure to craft compelling copy to keep them engaged. Don’t forget the power of social media to capture attention in a positive way.
A bad review here and there probably never sunk any business, but it’s still important to manage your reviews. Many customers peruse online reviews prior to booking, and some may consider a lack of response to bad reviews as a red flag. Respond to bad reviews and admit when you’ve made a mistake, and try to identify and address common themes so that you can make necessary changes.
Don’t forget to engage with those who’ve left positive reviews — this will make you come across as personable yet professional.
The old adage of not putting all your eggs in one basket definitely applies to tour and activity operators and OTAs. It’s not necessary to sign up with all of those available, but a good mixture of large, comprehensive OTAs and boutique, niche ones will provide your business with maximum exposure to the right audience.
Regularly reviewing your results will give you a clear picture of the benefits the OTA is providing for your business. If working with multiple OTAs, use this data to weed out those that don’t seem to be a good fit for your business.
Some OTAs may want you to sign an exclusivity agreement, which means you won’t be able to work with other OTAs. It’s also important to be clear about their refund and payment policies, so be sure to spend plenty of time looking through their terms and conditions.
Finally, some OTAs make it a condition that you enter availability manually, and as you probably already know, human error can cause overbookings and other problematic issues. State-of-the-art software allows you to manage bookings in real-time from a variety of sources, maintaining complete transparency and professionalism.
Please feel free to contact Junglebee for more information on getting the most from your partnerships with OTAs.