This post was written by Josh Oakes as part of our Growvember series —focusing on ways to grow your business. In 2007, Josh and his wife started a day tour company in Melbourne, Australia. They had no experience in tourism, no business experience, no networks or support — and no funds. Fast forward seven years and they had grown their business to $2 million+ in annual revenue, before selling the company in 2017 for a seven figure sum. Josh recently launched www.thesunshinetribe.com — helping tour and activity operators and small tourism businesses across the globe build amazing businesses AND create awesome lives for themselves. Here he shares some of his best ways to boost sales — the “old-fashioned” way.
In 2018, if you’re not selling your tours and activities online, you’re probably going to struggle to grow your business.
Not exactly a ‘visionary’ statement, you may think. And you’d be right. I doubt there are many operators out there prepared to debate the importance of online channels —I’m definitely not.
I’ve seen plenty of superb tour operators grow their business to high six and even seven figures by concentrating on growth via SEO, Facebook and Google Ads, Online Travel Agents, and various other online channels.
As a tour operator, I knew online channels were critical to the health of our business, and we developed a strong online presence.
However, at a time when we were selling more than $2 million in tours annually, approximately 70% of our revenue came via offline channels.
So here’s a question for all those tour or activity operators that are currently smashing it out of the park online:
How good could your business be if you were complementing those efforts with some serious success through offline channels?
With that in mind, here are a few distribution channels you should consider utilizing —plus some tips on how to really make them succeed:
1. Travel Partners
Why should you consider selling your tours through carefully selected global travel agents, travel wholesalers, and inbound tour operators?
The international exposure you’ll receive for your tours or activities is next level.
The scope that resellers have often goes far beyond the reach of a single tour or activity operator. Good travel partners take part in multiple international trade shows, workshops and sales calls every year.
When they’re out there doing deals, meeting potential partners, pitching themselves and building relationships, they’re not only talking about their business.
They’re pitching the experiences they use — and they’re using their tourism expertise and experience to pitch your company to the right international travel partners that will love what you have to offer.
They offer a reliable source of income.
Once your relationship with the right travel partners is in full swing, you’ll discover that the ones you really connect with can deliver a super consistent and reliable revenue stream. This is something you can rely on year in, year out, and will give you the confidence to make smart business decisions.
I’ll give you an idea of how this tactic impacted my business. At the time that we were generating over $2 million in annual sales, our top five travel partners were bringing us $700,000 annually.
When you looked at our top 10 travel partners, they were worth over $1 million in annual revenue. This revenue had grown by between 11% and 14% for four consecutive years. The consistency in growth made it easy for us to make the decision to sell through these channels. And ultimately, it was a decision that helped propel our business forward.
Let’s take a look at the figures from this time:
There it is. The real revenue generated by each of our top travel partners over a one year period. Whatever your business size, travel partners provide an awesome opportunity to make some serious additional revenue.
This is the holy grail for a small tour operator.
2. Hotels and Hotel Concierges
In the very early days of our tour business, we knew that one of our long-term strategies would be a focus on travel distribution. But we also had bills to pay and we needed ‘quick wins’ that didn’t cost anything to start generating bookings, other than my time.
So we came up with a short-term strategy we could put in place right away — hotels.
We knew full well that generating bookings via traditional travel distribution channels was going to take time — time we didn’t have.
Hotel concierges were the solution.
So how did we do it?
The old-fashioned way. I pounded the pavement, I got in front of concierges, I made sure they would remember me and I built awesome personal relationships across the city.
Here are a few quick tips to get your phone ringing off the hook with hotel concierge enquiries and bookings:
It’s all about relationships. Make life easy for a concierge.
Make sure the answer you’re giving is ‘yes, yes, yes’!
If you can’t provide exactly what they’re asking of you at short notice, then come up with two or three things you CAN do as an alternative. Make a concierge feel special — ‘I’m only doing this for you’. Be flexible and be resourceful. Once you’re ‘in’ the rewards will come and the bookings will flow.
Every hotel is different.
Find out how they work. Don’t make assumptions about the way they book tours and educate their hotel guests on tour or activity options. Learn about how they operate.
Find out about their hotel guests — are they favored by more international or domestic clients? See if you can tweak what you offer to suit that market better.
Be consistent and reliable with your commission payments.
This one speaks for itself. Delays in payment could easily see you swapped out for another tour operator, so make sure you’re on top of all the necessary admin.
Expect that every guest experience will be fed back to “the desk”.
Make your guides fully aware of this. It’s often the concierge’s reputation on the line if they have pushed guests towards your tour. If there’s a problem, bring it to their attention. Don’t let them find out.
I always found that it’s the manner in which an issue is handled that matters, rather than the issue itself.
3. Corporate Clients
This market offers some massive opportunities for a tour or activity operator. Team building days, hosting international visitors, pre and post meetings and conferences, reward and recognition days. Christmas parties and end of financial year activities are also a huge market to tap into.
Some of the major benefits we found from selling tours and events to the corporate market were:
The way it complemented our seasonal tour business.
We went nuts with corporate Christmas parties every year — from December 1st right up to December 20th. This connected beautifully with our peak inbound travel season — which kicked in from December 21st right through to the end of January, meaning that December was a bumper month from start to finish.
Even if major corporate events don’t line up with your peak season, they can be a great way to boost your revenue during slow periods or fill up off-peak and mid-week tour slots!
They can be highly lucrative.
Not only are the sales commission-free, but generally the numbers you’re seeing are larger. For us, that translated directly into more revenue and more profits.
The market is massive.
Consider how many businesses in and around your city potentially have a need for what you offer. In larger companies, there is also scope for multiple annual needs from multiple departments. If you get ‘in’ with, say, one of the major banks, then you could find yourself running company-wide team building days, pre and post conference tours, reward and recognition days, departmental Christmas parties, end of financial year activities and more. So put yourself out there and starting hitting up the big corporate entities in your area.
4. Other Tour Operators
When aiming to grow your business via collaborations with other tour or activity operators,
I suggest you start with some basic research of your customer:
Where are they coming from? Where are they going next? What are they doing/what did they do in those places?
This can be done easily and informally by your tour guides and reported back to you.
Start reaching out to tour or activity operators in those regions or destinations. This will allow you to build up a network of tour operators of similar size and style. Start creating a community.
Then… be proactive! Take the lead and start collaborating.
Create something together with one operator — an agreement, a documented referral process, a collaboration or an incentive… whatever it is, once you’ve done this successfully the first time and have results to show, others will follow and be desperate to collaborate with you.
Be the one to make something happen.
Hopefully I’ve given you some inspiration in terms of how you can take your tour or activity business to the next level and reach the growth you’ve been striving for.
If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, please take a moment to download our ‘15 Steps to a 7 Figure Tour Business’ HERE. We’ll give you a look ‘behind the curtain’ into our step-by-step process that allowed us to turn a vague idea into a multi 7 figure tour company. Enjoy!
Want to hear more from Josh and other industry experts? Register below for Growvember – a 2 day online event featuring growth-focused workshops, for tour and activity operators like you!