So we're going to be writing a monthly article and this is the first output from it. It will be a monthly tour and activity operator focused post that will hopefully help in some way.
I thought I'd kick it off with 10 things we learned in the tours and activities (T&A) sector in 2019.
1) Tours & activities are still fragmented. Differentiation is your friend.
There are 200 verticals at least in the tour and activity sector. This is why in the past the tools have been very standardised and not necessarily very easy to use. Fishing charters, biking, hiking, events, cafe’s & restaurants, diving schools, safari’s, extreme sports, climbing, arts and crafts, music, golf, kayaking, sauna, yoga, massage to name a few. Each one has a different method of booking, each one different requirements so in the past it's been a challenge to provide a tool that can manage any type of service. Today Toristy has built a customisable system so any kind of tour or activity can be designed into a tailored approach.
2) Sustainability is your friend
It's not about whether the environment is being exploited by the world at large. It is. It's heating up and too much CO2 is the problem. Air travel is only going to get worse. We have to live in the real world. Systems and forms of transport need massive investment to make them carbon neutral. I read about a Scottish company that has built electric powered planes. Boeing and others need to be doing the same. Offsetting isn't the answer, though I acknowledge that at least airlines that do that, are trying.
However the biggest opportunity I feel is that the travel industry as a whole accounts for a lot of taxes all over the world. If bodies start lobbying governments on how to spend in partnership with "green key" and similar kinds of companies, the industry can make a huge difference. It's not only about prevention. We have to extract more CO2 from the air and only governments working together can do that.
3) OTAs are moving into doing tours and activities, direct service is your friend.
Get your guide, a company with over $500M in investment announced that half of its revenue would come from GetYourGuide originals in the next 3 to 4 years. In a move that is similar to how Netflix created it's content GYG has mined its data on customer preferences from having sold 25 million tours since its founding nearly a decade ago. It has now started rolling our tours and activities based on that data. This means that Tour and Activity operators have a potentially massive competitor on the ground and so differentiating the service you offer directly is more important than ever if you aren't going to become a commodity.
4) Direct bookings are your friend
In a world where some OTAs like GetYourGuide could be a competitor, other OTAs are taking huge amounts of commission and online channels like Google, Amazon and Groupon are fighting for your customers a direct marketing strategy has never been more important. The right mix of channels and partnerships is critical so that your business doesn't become unsustainable.
5) Reservation systems are your friend
Of course as a CEO of a reservation system I would say this, but reservation systems, channel management, partner management and automation I believe, are key to you doing what you do better than anyone else in the world. That is making your business unique and providing value to your customers no matter what vertical you are in. We want to help. Give us a try.
6) Google is your friend
Google are a strange one because on the one hand they're extremely expensive for a small T&A operator to do pay per click. The OTAs have the deeper pockets to take advantage of paid search. However Reserve with Google is one area that will very much help in destination sales and niche SEO can help you build direct relationships with your clients.
7) Facebook is your friend
Facebook is a lot cheaper than Google just now and has extremely good targeting. Don't get other people to do this for you, learn how to use it, its a key requirement in this day and age to be able to manage your own digital marketing. I have heard a lot of good things about the team at TMA and they have an upcoming workshop about how to utilise Facebook for the tourism industry.
8) Partnerships are your friend
Partnering with in destination channels is one thing that can boost your business. For instance, transport companies, hotels, consumer businesses in the travel sector in your area on and offline. They may not have a channel to sell your business on today, but encourage them and they will tomorrow. Make sure you have talked with and understand what your local/country DMO offers. Additionally you can partner with like minded companies to provide more services to help you combine resources and get those all important direct bookings. Toristy has an agent solution which caters for these networks online.
9) OTAs are can also be your friend
Define your OTA strategy based on how they really help you. The OTAs are often not popular with the T&A sector because they charge so much. However if you want to have your product or service in front of a Chinese user base then Klook or Ctrip are good go to places. Klook for instance whilst not translating the service directly talks about what the tour operator sells (in the Asian languages) and then provides the marketing and booking service. Toristy will be working with Klook to bring that to Finland in 2020.
10) Arival, TravelMassive, Peter Syme and TourPreneur are also your friends.
Finally I wanted to offer some shout outs to those I think are worth watching and learning from. Arival are a great resource for the T&A sector, providing research and reports directly to the sector. Travelmassive produce great content and events globally, usually very low cost. Toristy intend to bring those events to Helsinki in 2020. Peter Syme is a deep thinker around all things tour operator related, especially on how to conquer digital. Finally Tourpreneur run by Shane Whaley is a great daily briefing that curates the best of the news and developments in tours and activities.
If you got this far, thanks for reading. All that is left for me to say is Merry Christmas and a happy new year.