A little extra prep time can make a big difference.
These are words of wisdom for a lot of things in life, whether you’re studying for a tough exam, practicing for a big recital or cooking up a Thanksgiving feast. And as a business owner in the tour, activity or rental industry, you know better than most that preparedness makes all the difference when it comes to delivering a top-notch experience for guests. So wouldn’t it be dandy if more customers booked a day, a week—or even a month—ahead of time, letting you know exactly what’s on the docket for the days ahead?
We compiled five tips to encourage customers to book in advance—leaving you more time to focus on big-picture items like staffing, budgeting, interacting with guests, and (most importantly) doing what you love.
1. Embrace The Internet
People want to do things online, on the go—and they want to get their tours, rentals and activities that way, too.
We live in an era where people can grocery shop, jam to Ed Sheeran’s latest album, and get a hot date for tomorrow night—all while waiting in line at the post office. People want to do things online, on the go—and they want to get their tours, rentals and activities that way, too.
Since the average Millennial or Gen Z kid won’t even consider calling to book a travel experience or activity, the first step to encouraging people to book in advance (or book at all) is creating a great website for your business.
Next, make sure your website is responsive—a.k.a., it “responds to” or resizes itself depending on the type of device it is being viewed on (laptop, smartphone, iPad, etc). Request this if someone is designing your website for you, or choose a responsive template such as WordPress, Squarespace, Webflow or Weebly if you’re building the website yourself.
Last, use a seamless online booking system so customers can easily browse availability, book, and pay on your website. People will feel more comfortable booking ahead of time online when they’re using a trusted payment processor, and scheduling will be easier on your end with an online calendar that updates in real time as customers book.
Choose an online booking system that allows the checkout flow to be directly embedded on your site.
2. Be Smart With Prime Real Estate on Your Website
Optimizing the booking button is one of the most overlooked tactics we see all time. Where and how often this button appears on your website—along with size, color, words and font—can make a significant difference in reservation volume.
Writing some persuasive copy on your website can also sway guests to reserve their spot in advance. For example, if your tours, activities or rentals must be booked at least a week ahead of time, consider stating this “above the fold,” a.k.a., the portions of the homepage that are visible without scrolling. Impart a sense of urgency with messaging that says something like, “classes fill up fast—reserve your spot online now!” etc.
Position important information above the fold on your website
3. Consider Your Cancellation Policies
Now that you’re thinking about ways to encourage folks to book in advance, let’s also consider one of the potential roadblocks: Cancellation policies.
No one likes hidden fees or unclear policies. Being transparent, fair and reasonable (to the extent that you can be) with cancellation policies, terms and conditions will give customers faith in the professionalism of your business, and make them feel more comfortable booking ahead of time.
Questions to consider when creating your cancellation policy:
- Can the customer reschedule if something comes up?
- Do you have cancellation fees, and if so, when do they apply?
- Will refunds be available all the way up until the redemption date, or only a few days after booking?
- Will you have a sliding scale for the amount to be refunded based on proximity to redemption date?
- How can the cancellation be made—online, through email or over the phone?
If last-minute cancellations from customers who book in advance are a concern for your business, implementing a small cancellation fee—and being upfront about it on your website—can help discourage people from backing out.
4. Posts That Pack A (Profit) Punch: Get Social Media Savvy
When it comes to selling an experience, showing is more powerful than telling. And what better way to “show” how awesome your activity is than by sharing cool photos on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter? Be diligent about posting on social media all year long. Even if you’ve got seasonal downtimes or close up shop during certain weeks, that doesn’t mean your brand building—or advance bookings—have to take a hiatus. A robust social presence helps keep your business “top of mind” for the folks who like to plan ahead.
How to use social media to encourage customers to book online in advance:
- Add the “call to action” button on Facebook: Quite frequently, people end up visiting your Facebook page before they find your website. By adding the “book now” button on your businesses’ Facebook page, you can fast-track customers directly to the checkout page on your website.
Make it as easy as possible for your customers to get to your checkout flow. Taking advantage of the call to action button on Facebook, like our partners at Moto Surf Co. pictured above, is an easy way to do this!
- Catch them when they miss you: For example, if you’ve got a boat charter business that only runs from May to September, dig through your smartphone photos and find a nice shot that you snapped in the summer when it was sunny and gorgeous. Post it on a day when it’s dreary outside and your customers are all bundled up. Seeing the summer fun that awaits will create anticipation, and keep your business top of mind when people are getting ready to make plans for the following summer.
- Prepare for holidays and special occasions: Post about seasonal or upcoming themed experiences (Halloween trolley bar crawls, Christmas Lights tours, Valentine’s cooking classes, etc.) at least a month ahead.
- Create a sense of urgency: Gently remind customers that slots fill up quickly, and update them on how many are left as they fill up. Knowing that the demand is high and opportunities are dwindling can encourage folks to act fast and book early.
5. The Price Is Right: Incentivize!
Fact: People love getting deals. Another fact: People are more inclined to buy things they wouldn’t normally purchase simply because there’s a discount. Use this oh-so-scientific information to your advantage and offer pricing incentives for early bird bookers. The easiest way to do this? Use an online booking system that lets you build customizable promotional codes, so you can set discounts to apply for specific days and time ranges. Customers can enter in a code at checkout and see their discount reflected.
Using promo codes to get customers booking online ahead of time:
- Incentivize people to book faster by setting a max usage number: “The first 20 people to book get half off their skydiving tickets!”
- Boost sales in your slow season with discounts over a period of several months: “Book a horseback riding lesson from January though March and get $30 off!”
- Drive repeat customers by putting discounts in follow-up emails: “Thanks for skiing with us! Take $20 off your next rental if you book now.” An online booking system like Peek Pro makes it easy to send automatic, customized follow-up/thank you emails.
Bottom line? It behooves you to get customers to book in advance. Not only does it allow for more prep time and help guide decision around staffing and budget, you’ll spend less time fussing over day-to-day particulars, and more time providing your customers with an awesome, memorable experience.