But the travel industry is no stranger to bumps in the road — and many operators are already working hard to adapt and fight back.
This is a crucial time for the industry to come together and share ideas. That’s why we’ve put together 10 best practices that we hope will be useful for tour and activity operators to help combat some of the effects of COVID-19.
You may not be able to squash the virus, but there are many ways you can modify and optimize your business to minimize its effect.
10 Best Practices:
1. Give customers the confidence they need to book
Did you know that the number one reason for the lull in bookings is fear of cancellation costs, rather than fear of coronavirus itself? Uncertainty around the impact of coronavirus means customers don’t want to risk making advanced purchases.
Ease customers’ concerns by implementing a clear, strategic cancellation policy. Offer cancellation insurance during booking to help curb fear of losing money. If you reassure customers that their money isn’t on the line, they will be a lot happier to book!
If your customers don’t end up canceling? The extra revenue from cancellation insurance will help give a little boost to your bottom line. And when they do, Peek Pro will always return the credit card processing fee.
Here are some more tips regarding cancellation:
- Check out this webinar by Delamon Rego, former COO of TOMIS Tech, that further explains the importance of cancellation insurance and discusses the details of putting it in place
- Delamon typically recommends charging 12-15% of your ticket price for cancellation insurance, which you can adjust if you have particularly low or high ticket prices
- Address coronavirus in your cancellation policies
- Ensure your policies are clear and transparent regarding coronavirus, and make this information public on your website
- If you’re looking for inspiration, check out Airbnb’s detailed ‘extenuating circumstances policy’ for customers affected by coronavirus
- Offer company credit instead of refunds
- Protect your short term cash-flow by rescheduling activities that customers want to cancel – chances are that if you reach out, they may be willing to push to a later date instead of opting for a refund
- Provide the option to change the name of the booking when it is rescheduled to allow greater flexibility for your customers
2. Finances are key
Given the current climate, increasing profitability is more important than ever.
Last week Josh Oakes, co-founder of The Sunshine Tribe, gave us his insights on how to manage finances and how his hacks helped him grow a million dollar tour business. You can watch the webinar here.
In his talk, Josh stressed the value in doing thorough audits of all of your outgoings and closely analyzing them. Josh managed to save $26,000 for his tour company by simply assessing the market for supplier prices and taking action. Here are some of his key tips:
- Do a full audit of your fixed and variable costs and see where you can make some changes
- Some of your largest expenses are salaries – provide your employees with the option to work part-time
- Make sure you’re making the most of your offices – rent unused space to other businesses or individuals
- Checkout the webinar for real examples of budget sheets to help you analyze your outgoings
- Reach out to your suppliers to open a dialogue about assessing costs
- Research the market rates, look outside your traditional vendors and let your suppliers know you’re price shopping
- Often large discount suppliers have the most competitive rates
- During the webinar Josh shared the email he used to get fairer deals from his suppliers
3. Use this time to grow your company
You may be finding yourself with a little extra time – this could be an opportunity to work on all those things you always mean to do for your company.
Take the time to invest in your business and get it ready for when everything is back to normal.
There has been talk on industry forums about the surge of bookings to come in the next half of the year. Once everything has settled down, people could well be jumping on the next plane to finally enjoy the vacation they had to postpone.
This is an opportunity; so make sure your company is ready to take full advantage of any potential surge.
- Ensure every part of your business is operating at its peak efficiency
- Follow these 12 optimizations to generate extra revenue with Peek Pro
- Checkout our growth webinar series, Growvember – all the recordings are on our blog
- Work on your brand – something tour operators don’t have time for!
- Upgrade your website content
- Do a photo-shoot of your experiences
- Create a marketing video for your brand
- Enroll on a course
- Take a marketing course to better advertise your business
- Learn a new skill to improve your offering
- Invest in management training to grow a more sustainable business
4. Give your customers booking flexibility
With all this uncertainty customers may be indecisive when it comes to bookings. Adjust your timetables to give them options and maximize the opportunities they have to book.
- Use Peek Pro’s Smart Cutoffs to leave your online bookings open right up until the last minute!
- The Smart Cutoffs feature allows bookings to stay open if the minimum number of guests have been met, allowing you to maximize capacity
- Increase the long term availability for your tours
- Open your availability up as long as possible to keep booking comings in
- This will also help you reschedule bookings for later in the year or next season
5. Pivot your marketing strategy
We can’t predict what travel trends will look like during the months to come, so it’s important to take action and invest in alternatives to help your business in both the short and long term.
“Staycations” are on the rise right now with many long-distance vacations canceled or on hold, and with many employees forced to work from home, more and more people are looking for things to do in their local area to blow off some steam. Harness this new demand by showing locals why they shouldn’t miss out on your activities.
By pivoting your offerings to attract a local-friendly crowd, you may be able to give them the experience they’ve been looking for. You have the unique ability to help people get out of the house, de-stress and keep the kids entertained — all while avoiding the risks of long-distance travel.
Attracting your neighbors is not just a quick fix, but a long term investment in a reliable customer pool. Here are some ways you can attract more local customers:
- Advertise how your products fit in around normal working life
- Showcase activities available at the weekends and on public holidays
- Sell your afternoon and evening experiences as great ways to wind down after work
- Feature family-friendly tours that are suitable for all ages
- Spruce up your experiences to entice local customers back again and again
- Outdoor adventures – look into new areas, different sections of rivers for rafting, or change up some of your routes just for locals
- If you run food tours, find new restaurants to collaborate with to keep your offering fresh
- Run boat trips? Why not rotate some different local bands for some unique live entertainment
- Showcase reviews and social proof from local customers
- Did you know verified reviews are the most effective form of marketing to increase conversions?
- Run social media campaigns that follow local customers enjoying your experiences
- Put a Reviews Widget on your website and highlight those from local visitors
- Remind customers to share the gift of your experience with other friends and family
- Pushing gift cards will boost your short term cash-flow and allow your customers to invest in your future – especially if you are unable to run tours or pivot to locals in the short-term
- Make sure to feature gift card buttons on your website’s homepage and encourage customers to opt for this route if they are concerned with booking right now
- You can customize all your gift card products in your Peek Pro account to get a higher conversion rate
6. Appeal to your community to support local businesses
Everyone is aware of the threat COVID-19 poses, and many sympathize with the unpredictability facing business owners at this time. Use this resource and lean on your community for support.
- Reach out to local newspapers and radio shows
- Record a podcast for your local radio show discussing how the industry is coping, and what your business is offering to locals
- Write an article about your experience for your local newspapers or magazines
- Collaborate with, and raise awareness for, social movements working to help those affected
- Find out what is being done in your area to support local business and get in touch to see how you can be a part of it
Checkout this awesome example from our partner, ‘Your Biker Gang’, in Austin, Texas:
Your Biker Gang have partnered with the Austin Community Foundation to help raise the funds needed to protect the small businesses feeling the effects of the virus.
“YourBikerGang.com wants to do our part to help our friends and neighbors during this time of need. Book any of our biker gang adventures that take place on March 13th thru March 21st with the code STANDWITHAUSTIN and you’ll get $5 off each minibike you reserve and we will also donate $5 for each minibike reservation to the Austin Community Foundation’s Stand With Austin Fund.”
7. Don’t bow to pressure to lower your prices
If your bookings have slowed down, it may be tempting to lower your prices in an attempt to boost your number of reservations. But don’t forget that your time is valuable — and your prices should reflect that.
At a time where you may be experiencing low cash-flow you don’t want to further decrease your prices. Have the confidence to recognize how valuable your time is and set your prices accordingly.
Discounts aren’t likely to work in this situation. A promo will not convince someone to jump on a plane if the threat of COVID-19 has already persuaded them not to travel.
Consider adding value to your experiences instead:
- Throw in a little something extra
- Include a complimentary coffee after a walking tour
- Offer free use of a GoPro while kayaking
- Feature a new photo opportunity with a great view
- Keep it unique and intimate
- Offer tours in smaller groups, if possible, to create a more special experience
- Avoid the crowds and regular hotspots to ease customers’ concerns and opt for more low-key settings where you can
- Include a lunch, a champagne toast, or another special moment to round out your tour and thank your guests for coming
“My opinion is as an industry we have underpriced what we do for years.”
— Peter Syme, Strategic Advisor for Tour Operators
8. Be a voice of calm amid the storm
Our society’s obsession with social media and the epidemic of “fake news” makes it easy for people to get caught up in often unnecessary hysteria.
It is your job to keep a cool head and be the voice of reason when it comes to your customers. Give your visitors access to reliable information and show them you are responding appropriately. Don’t pretend to be an expert – provide access to the correct information and let customers make their own minds up.
- Post a statement on your website detailing the precautions you are taking in light of the spread of COVID-19
- Be sure to train all your staff on the guidelines that you publish – everyone needs to be singing from the same song sheet!
- Post links to the local authority guidelines regarding COVID-19 and the latest travel updates
The impact of COVID-19 will be felt by everyone in the industry, so now is the time to come together. Get in contact with other tour operators to discuss the issues that are arising, how best to combat them.
Here are some ways you can join forces and help out your own business as well as others:
- Join groups for tour operators online
- Pool resources to save on fixed costs
- If you are receiving less tourists to the area, see if you can share some of your backend costs
- If you own or rent buses or other transport for your tours, consider sharing with other operators to reduce costs
- Market together to keep your destination buzzing and show locals what’s going on in the area
- Make use of any down time you have to blog and post on social media about your location, featuring other businesses in the area — ask them to do the same
- Bring your activities together to create new products and upgrade your experiences
- Take your customers for a hearty brunch before a kayak lesson
- Include entrance to a History museum for visitors to learn more after your walking tour
10. Get ahead of the game by figuring out the new market trends
With customers now looking local rather than abroad for their holiday activities, you have a new audience to understand.
Do locals prefer more niche tours? Are they more likely to upgrade their purchases? Do they still need transfers to activities?
These are the kinds of questions you need to answer to most efficiently sell to your new audience.
- Use Google Analytics to find out what this means for booking behavior
- Google analytics uses your data to show you the trends in your customer’s behavior
- You can design and download reports to help you answer these specific questions
- Invest in targeted Facebook ads with your new consumer data
- You can send the downloaded report straight to Facebook
- Create engaging, fun Facebook ads that allow potential customers to see you are open for business as usual
The next few months will be a test for many operators. But by sticking together, remaining focused on business optimization, and pivoting where necessary, the future could still be bright for one of the world’s most resilient industries. Keep up to date with updates and resources from travel and tourism experts by visiting this page. And as always, if you have any questions on how to further optimize your Peek Pro account, our Partner Support team is always here to help!
The Peek Pro Team