One of the benefits of working with hundreds of operators from around the World is the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t work in terms of structuring tour and activity offerings to increase online bookings. In the world of physical goods, a product’s attributes and availability are pretty much fixed. For services however, the experience that a potential customer might have including variations for the service are only limited by the tour operator’s imagination. But is it a good idea to try and offer more just because it looks good on your website?
For many operators, the lure of generating more revenue by offering a more complex or multiple tours may seem attractive. After all, instead of offering just one type of tour, why not offer two or three tours? The problem is not so much whether or not you can offer a variety of tours, the question is whether or not you should offer several tours. Here is a scenario, for example, that I have seen many times:
The first scenario I like to refer to as “Bigger than I am” syndrome. In this scenario, a tour operator (usually a sole operator) may have one vehicle that can carry a certain number of passengers. Instead of offering just one tour, the tour operator will offer 3 tours, each one is different. The catch however is that that the operator can only run one tour a day. When a customer books one of the tours for a particular day, the operator can no longer offer the other tours for that day. Any other customer who books a tour for that day doesn’t have a choice in terms of the tour they can take, they can only take the tour that was booked by the first customer.
Although initially it looks like the operator is offering three tours, in fact the operator is only running one tour. The problem with this structure, however, is that it causes a lot of extra administrative and schedule stress. The operator has to manage inventory across three offerings even though they are only really offering one a day. Realistically, if you as an operator have trouble trying to manage the availability of your offerings, the chances that a tour operator software will do it for you is equally unlikely.
A better option to the scenario described would be for the operator to offer different tours on different days of the week based on popularity. For example, if the operator knows that the weekends are busy, then offer the higher revenue tours, since it will likely result in a better margin. On slower days of the week, offer tours that are less expensive in order to reduce your costs and increase your margin on slow days. These might be tours that you can offer specials or discounts on as well. When the tour schedule is set-up in this manner, the operator can change the days of the week that a tour is offered without having to worry about blocking out availability on other tours offered on the same day.
Another common scenario is “Whatever you want” syndrome. In this scenario, the operator will customize their offering based on the customer’s needs. I’ve had a lot of conversations with operators where I have asked “So what tours do you offer?” and the operators have replied “We don’t have any set tours, we build them for the customer based on what they want”. That may work for a high end tour operator building a one week luxury package to somewhere exotic, but for a tour or activity operator doing a guided tour of a destination, it’s a recipe for administrative hell. Most travelers select a guided tour because they want to learn about a destination or experience something specific. If they already knew what they wanted to see and experience, chances are they wouldn’t have to pay someone to show them around. The other issue is that if you don’t know what you offer and you can’t describe it, then you will have a very hard time selling it. Choice is good, but too much choice will make the booking process cumbersome for your customers and result in lost opportunities.
The way out of “Whatever you want” syndrome is to be very clear about what it is you offer. Take the time to package it up, describe it, price it and market it. Once you start selling it and generating bookings, then you can use feedback from actual customers to fine tune the experience. Some operators I’ve talked to say that the reason why they provide a custom service is because they don’t want to be cookie cutter. In reality, you don’t have to be custom to avoid being cookie cutter, you just have to provide a service that is unique in the marketplace.
Remember that customers booking online have generally already decided where they want to go and they are now looking for things to do while they are in their destination. If they are new to the area, they will most likely be looking for tours or activities that are reasonably reliable and scheduled. If your tour or activity is well described, provides the customer with all the information they need to make a solid buying decision and is available during their trip, then the chances are good that they will book with you. As soon as you make the booking process cumbersome or raise any flags that may require a phone call or separate email, your chances of losing the sale increase exponentially. Keep your tour and activity products simple, well explained, and easy to book and you’ll see greater success and increase online bookings.