By Matthew Newton (TourismTiger.com) — 17 Apr 2015
If you’re a custom tour operator, you’ll know that you have a unique set of challenges. You’re not selling tickets en masse to the same big trips each day. Instead, you provide a personal experience to people that gives them the experience of a lifetime.
Those companies that do sell tickets, however, have some distinct advantages. No customization, no hassles, much less responding to customer emails, few last-minute requests to change a random detail of an itinerary. This allows these companies to create process-driven, streamlined organisations.
Why not take some of those advantages and apply them to your own business? Too many custom tour operators are losing sales by being too custom! If mass-market tour operators can surf on the advantage of having a specific product, why can’t you?
It’s fine to bend to your visitor preferences, but if your website doesn’t give a clear itinerary of what’s possible, how will they ever know to pick you? Too many times I’ve visited a custom tour company – wine tour companies are especially guilty of this – where they say ‘we’ll just visit the wineries you want to visit!’ Great – what happens to the people who are not experts in that region?
Here’s some ways to generate more bookings by giving people a much clearer idea as to what you do.
I’m part of Generation Y. Groan if you must, but listen to me when I tell you this: most Gen Y members, me included, do not want to pick up the phone and call you to clarify anything. We don’t want to send an email requesting a booking. We especially don’t want to fill out a booking request and wait to see if you’re available.
There’s a growing trend of people leaving their tour decisions to the last minute and this is not JUST down to lack of planning. Many also want to see a weather forecast before booking, need to get a feel for a city before making decisions or might just be on an impulse trip! Back in the days, people had to book way ahead because the internet wasn’t around.
Your job as a business owner is adjust to this new reality. Make sure you have the systems ready to pick up this extra profit cream as it becomes available when people are looking for someone to help them at the last minute.
Those offering set itineraries bookable directly online are eating your lunch because of this. This doesn’t just come down to last minute bookings. When I’m planning travel, I will always take the online booking option if there is one. Back-and-forthing with a busy tour operator by email is not my idea of a fun time and I guarantee you that I’m not alone.
What do you do? Create a few different set itineraries and let people book them at their own speed. Winery tour operators might create a Boutique Winery Tour for those who love visiting tiny wineries and want to chat with the owner. Other visitors want to check out the wineries of the brands they already know and love – call it The Greatest Hits Winery Tour. Heck, you might even offer a tour focused on just one varietal.
Use your online booking software to make sure your vehicles and guides are being scheduled correctly and away you go. Just check out Scott from Sydney Tour Guide for an example of someone doing this in the wild.
If you don’t offer instant bookings, you can still create itineraries that are available upon confirmation of a booking.
If people like the idea of that tour, they can book it. If they don’t, it’s not too difficult to specify in the description that it’s just an example itinerary and that you can modify this for any group.
I’d recommend placing at least 4-5 example itineraries, but don’t call them ‘example’ itineraries. Make it look like a tour that they can easily book while emphasizing that the entire experience is customizable.
You do offer custom tours, so alongside your itineraries make sure that you have a specific section for custom tours. This way, those people specifically looking for a custom experience can have it.
Does your website have a line saying “We accept private bookings! Enquire below”?
This is a bad idea. Where’s the detail? What kind of private bookings do you and don’t you accept? Do you do weddings? Bachelor parties? What if they have a lot of people and your competitor specifies that they accept big groups? That’s one potential booking down the drain because someone else took the time to list their offerings in detail.
Don’t assume that people will have analyzed your site down to the ground.
Show photos of the various groups that have come out with you so people can get an idea as to the types of offerings you have. Many people are in too much of a hurry to read enormous blocks of text so give them shortcuts so they can understand what you mean.
We have already established that your tours are customizable. Great! How? You should have this information clearly available somewhere on your site.
Do you offer multi-day tours? Lunch? Gluten free? Limousines? Buses? Airport pick-up? Visits to both breweries and wineries? Get it all out. All the typical questions that people ask should be available as answers on your site.
So long as information is well laid-out, navigable and readable, there’s almost no limit to the amount of detail you can provide. You’ll save a lot of time from answering random questions and even better – you’ll increase your sales!
To learn more about websites, see Rezdy’s checklist of what every tour operator website needs.