9 Ideas Tour Operators Can Borrow from Luxury Travel Companies (At a Fraction of the Cost)

If you want to generate more bookings each season and grow your business quickly, don’t overlook proven business strategies that successful, luxury travel companies are implementing. Many luxury travel companies have a unique approach to customer service and continue to attract guests by providing unparalleled experiences. Even though they typically charge more—and have more resources—than regular tour operators, you may be able to use a scaled-down version of their same marketing and customer experience strategies for your own business.

Here are nine things luxury travel companies are doing that can help your business succeed:

1. Customized Itineraries

More travelers are showing interest in customized trips where itineraries are designed exclusively for them based on their preferences and desires. According to Travel Pulse, Austin Adventures, an adventure company from Wyoming, reports 31 percent of their business is comprised of custom trips instead of packaged programs, while custom bookings were up 28 percent in 2014 over 2013. While the average tour operator may not be able to create a completely customized itinerary for groups, they can provide a more personalized experience by providing guests with options.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Provide guests with a choice of one or two destinations or attractions during a tour instead of completely preparing the itinerary from start to finish; use Peek Pro features such as Smart Reviews, to find out what customers are most interested in seeing or experiencing during their visit as they check out and create the tour based on feedback.

#2: Concierge Services

Many guests will be first-time visitors to the area or are busy making their own itineraries for an extended stay with your tour or activity as part of their visit. Many hotels, resorts, and luxury travel companies take the lead on offering concierge services to help guests maximize their vacation or getaway. For example, some offer luxury concierge services for guests that includes an airport welcome, hotel and transportation arrangements, and shopping services. Even though you may not be selling other activities in the area, you can make the entire experience for the guest memorable by offering tips and recommendations on other things to do before or after their tour or activity with you.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Take the time to ask guests about their travel planning and offer to help them plan the rest of their trip with local recommendations; provide a “destination cheat sheet” for download on your website or send guests a PDF via email as a complimentary service to help them get to know the area. Or, offer complimentary trip planning services as a value-added benefit for working with your company—connect guests with one of your travel specialists via phone or email to answer questions and make recommendations.

3. Special Surprises

Imagine how thrilled your guests would be when they learn that they are receiving complimentary beverages, snacks, or even a free meal just for joining you on the tour. Luxury tour companies often include a complimentary glass of champagne, gourmet snacks, or chocolate upon arrival as a courtesy to guests. Tucson Balloon Rides even goes as far as offering a champagne brunch after its Sonoran Sunrise flight.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Offer a free meal or discounted meal at an area restaurant that you have partnered with; offer complimentary snacks and beverages before or after the tour experience; provide guests with a menu of options, such as a healthy snack, free beverage, candy, or other sundries as their gift. With an online booking software like Peek Pro, you can even customize and include questions for customers to answer at checkout about their preferences, to personalize the experience.

4. Exclusive Celebration Experiences

Many guests will be traveling to celebrate a birthday, honeymoon, anniversary, or other special occasions. And luxury travel operators typically offer exclusive packages for these occasions. For example, Artisans of Leisure offers Celebration Tours for guests celebrating a personal milestone. While these are often customized and tailored for the booking party, you can offer something special for guests that are joining you on their special day.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Ask guests if they are celebrating anything during the booking process so you can make arrangements for a complimentary gift, offer a gift certificate to an area restaurant, or provide a discount on the current booking or future booking; make arrangements for complimentary snacks or a handwritten card from staff specifically for those guests to celebrate with them on their special day; offer private tour experiences at a higher rate for special celebrations.

Ask guests if they are celebrating anything during their booking process so you can make arrangements for a special surprise for them

5. Child-Friendly Activities and Experiences

A growing need in the luxury market: kid-friendly activities with traveling families, which includes complimentary childcare services or special activities for children as part of the trip.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Make recommendations for local childcare or daycare services for travelers that may need resources when traveling with the family—ask guests if they need recommendations for making arrangements during the checkout process; create family-friendly activities, itineraries, or experiences so guests can book with children in tow.

6. Combination Tours and Experiences

Some luxury travel operators give guests an option to “stack” multiple tours or add on another tour or experience for a truly memorable trip. For example, Butterfield & Robinson, a luxury biking and walking tour operator, offers a variety of “multi-activity” private tours to destinations around the world. These journeys may include everything from hiking trails and wine tasting experiences, to culinary tours and guided walks.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Give guests the option to book a second tour or activity at a discount to create their own package, or create multi-activity packages for guests that may want to enjoy two or more experiences in a single day.

7. Themed Experiences

From the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona to the world’s largest jazz festival in Montreal, many guests are headed to a particular destination to enjoy an event or festival and will have some downtime in between event activities. Luxury tour operators build itineraries around these events to encourage guests to enjoy the event with a customized experience that might include a private guided tour of the grounds or venue, behind-the-scenes access, or other perks. For example, Jazz Cuba offers a Just the Jazz Festival Tour, during which guests enjoy world-class jazz at the festival in addition to guided tours around Havana and learning about Cuban culture.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

You may not be able to set up exclusive access to event venues or festival grounds but you can create themed tours and activities to coincide with an event. For example, a boat tour operator at a destination hosting an annual boating or fishing competition might offer boat tours that include a ticket to the event and insider information about the history of the event. A snorkeling and scuba diving tour operator at a destination hosting a surf competition or annual beach festival might offer tickets to the event as an add-on to snorkeling or scuba diving experience.

8. Educational Experiences

Many guests book adventure tours and outdoor excursions specifically for the chance to experience something they’ve never experienced before or try something new — they are getting out of their comfort zones. Some of a luxury tour company’s offerings might include fun, educational experiences alongside the activity — cooking demonstrations, hands-on classes, and skill-building activities — to provide guests with an even more personalized experience.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Give guests a chance to go home with a new set of skills or learn something new alongside their adventure experience. For example, a zip line tour in the rainforest could include a jungle survival skills demonstration as part of the experience; a deep sea fishing tour could include a hands-on demo and tips for preparing fish for a meal. Think of ways to incorporate some type of relevant skill with the tour or adventure for a well-rounded experience.

9. Freebies and Souvenirs

Luxury tour companies typically have big budgets for gifts and other complimentary items that guests can take home with them—tote bags filled with bottled water, snacks, custom stationery, and other souvenirs. Gift baskets, welcome packages, and other gratis gifts are to be expected when guests are receiving the star treatment. For example, Just Spas and Adventures offers a variety of spa getaways with complimentary spa credits and allowances, and a welcome gift at select resorts and destinations arranged directly by the company.

What Regular Tour Operators Can Do:

Provide a welcome amenity or souvenir as a thank you gift to all guests. This could be something as simple as a pen and notepad with the company logo on it, a small tote bag filled with snacks, or bottled water with your logo on the label.

Creating unique guest experiences is always a high priority as a tours and activities business and there are several ways to deliver unforgettable customer service. Incorporate some of these approaches and strategies from luxury tour companies into your strategy to serve all of your guests in new ways.