6 Tips for Tour & Activity Operators to Get More Bookings on OTAs that No One Will Tell You
Most articles on the internet talk about getting more direct bookings on your website. There's podcasts, webinars, and specialists that will tell you that they can help you with that goal. We also believe you should be spending some time doing that, but this article is aimed to discuss a less popular subject, OTA bookings. We won't get into the discussion of whether they are good or bad, or how reliant you should be on them. This is a practical guide on how to optimize your products to get the most out of this relationship and to how to beat the huge amounts of other tours and activity products that some of these OTAs might have listed in your destination. These are simple, yet very useful, actions you can take that we don't see enough operators using. So here we go:
1) Connect your OTA account to a booking / reservation system.
This is one of those things that OTAs won't announce publicly, but savvier suppliers and industry veterans know: The algorithms that most OTAs use favor those tour and activity operators that have an API connection in place. In other words, if you do this, your tours will likely rank higher in the OTAs' listings.
There are many reasons to use a booking system these days, but even if you still think you can manage everything on Excel or develop your own, ranking higher can make a big difference in the number of bookings you get. So it only makes sense to sign up for one of these reservation systems, even if you are not going to use its full functionality (yes, we've said it)! This doesn't even need to cost you money as some of these companies are offering free (0% commissions) on OTA bookings. Of course, then there's the factor that, if you operation allows, you can use this connection to offer a lower cut-off time and a more flexible cancellation policy. These two things will also affect OTAs' algorithms on how you rank.
2) Try having a personal relationship with your Account Manager
Account Managers (the actual name of this role might sometimes be called a bit different) at OTAs won't be speaking to the end customers, but they play a big role in how successful you are with that OTA (aka. how many bookings you get).
Account Managers will do a lot more than just approving your products or looking at its content. These people usually have sales quotas to meet so if they believe in your product they will push internally for it to succeed. How? Well, they can usually work with the Marketing Department to feature your products on marketing campaigns and they might even be able to manipulate some of those list rankings we mentioned before.
So if you can, try to get on a call with your OTA Account Manager, ask them how you can succeed, tell them more about your company and why your customers love you.
3) Get "in front of the customer" with low-cost products, then up-sell.
A lot of tour and activity operators might refuse to compete on a price basis. However, the fact is that, when customers are looking at a 200-product list on the OTA website, pricing is going to be, at least, a comparison factor. Most OTAs these days allow you to filter and sort your listing results according to price, whether you like it or not.
Therefore, one of the strategies you can use here is to get in front of your customers' eyes with a lower priced product (maybe a a "simpler" version of an existing product you have or one that doesn't include tickets or transportation). Once your customer clicks on your product to see the details of it the ball is now on your court. Most OTAs these days will allow you to publish different versions of your product and thus, once the customer is on your listing you can use that to offer the other versions of that tour. Try offering premium versions of your tour by including additional drinks, meals, tickets, etc. Even if that premium version does not sell, your original product will now seem more affordable from the customer's perspective.
4) Offer complementary products as "Combos".
As said above, the hardest part is to get clients to click on your product, so once they are there you want to make sure you make the most out of this attention span they will give you. Therefore, once a customer has clicked on your tour, you might want to suggest booking that tour in "combo" with a complementary product.
For example, if you have a tour that runs in the morning, and then a tour that runs in the afternoon, if your client is on the "morning" tour listing, create a version of that product that also includes the "afternoon" tour (as explained before, many OTAs will allow you to create different versions of this tour).
And then, if the OTA allows, you can create a stand-alone "combo" product that includes both, the morning tour and the afternoon tour. As is logic, having more products on listings will increase your likelihood of getting seen and clicked, but don't abuse this recurse as too many will create a counter-effect and you will be creating competition among your own products.
Extra Tip: Every single "version" of the product you create, and every "combo" product, will require to be tied to a different product on your booking system. That may sound too difficult to manage but many res tech companies today support resource or product dependency, which will allow you to solve this. What that means is that every time there's a booking on version A of one product, the availability of version B of that same product will be updated automatically.
5) Make sure the OTA is highlighting your USPs.
Most OTAs will ask you to either upload the tour or activity details (description, itinerary, etc.) on an extranet or they will ask you to send that so that they can upload the product internally. What happens after this is that most OTAs will try to curate that content you sent them for better SEO performance. That means that a lot of that content you sent will probably be edited.
This content curation is good, and most of the times, the OTA will send you notification when your product is up and live. However, most operators don't take the time to check how the product looks after such edition. Unfortunately, during this manual process the person who edited the product content might have left out some of those "Unique Selling Points" that make you stand apart from your competition.
Do you offer tours in small groups? Do you only use local tour guides? Do you visit a certain place of the city that no one else knows about? Don't take this for granted and instead make sure that this content reflects why someone should book with you.
7) Highlight your brand through pictures.
Most OTAs will not feature your brand in the product listing. They won't mention your name and they also don't allow any logos on your pictures (again, we are not in favor of such policy but we're not here to discuss that). However, there's a few subtle ways to highlight your brand through some of those pictures that you upload on the tour or activity listing.
Do you have a branded vehicle? Make sure you have a picture where it shows. You can also ask your tour guides to wear apparel (t-shirts, jackets, hats, etc.) with your brand on it and then upload pictures of them during the tour or activity. Most of the times, these pictures are enough for people to understand that the tour or activity is not actually operated by the OTA (yes, we've seen people who actually believe this).
There is absolutely no doubt that working with OTAs can leverage your potential to reach new markets and new customers. However, the "on-boarding process" of each partnership will require time from you and your team so you want to make sure that you make the most out of these relationships and ensure that your products become, what OTAs call, "selling champions".