I sometimes get asked from tour and activity operators…
“How do I sell tours online through Expedia or Orbitz?”
“Do you connect with travel agent systems like Sabre?”
First of all it’s important to understand that the tour and activity segment is not as mature as the hotel segment. Online reservation systems like Rezgo don’t connect to GDSes (Global Distribution Systems) like Sabre, Amadeus, or Travelport. Not because we don’t want to but because these organizations have to see the benefits of opening up to live availability systems like Rezgo before they will invest the time and energy to making connectivity possible. When that day comes, of course, you will want to make sure you are ready. Connectivity aside, there are still ways that you (as a tour or activity operator) can work with these well known online brands. Here are some tips on getting yourself ready to enter a business relationship with the big players in online travel:
1. Get insured – All of the major OTAs (online travel agents) require that their provider partners be fully insured. This means business liability insurance that covers injury and loss. The OTA will require that they are named as an additional insured on the certificate. This is to protect the OTA from someone injuring themselves on your tour and then turning around and suing the OTA. Without this insurance, it will be next to impossible to form a relationship with any of these companies.
2. Have something interesting to offer – In almost all cases, OTAs are looking for something different and unique to offer their customers. In the case of Viator for example, they will only work with a few select providers in each destination. If your tour or activity is similar to one that they already offer, it will be unlikely that they will want to do business with you. You’ll need to make sure your offering is unique, interesting, and lucrative for the OTA. Take the time to visit each site and look at what tours or activities are already offered in your destination. If you find that there is clearly an opportunity for your to offer something new and exciting, then go for it.
3. Get your content ready – Although the OTAs will most likely rewrite the content you provide them, you need to be able to provide them with descriptions, itinerary information, things to bring, etc. Pretty much all the fields in Rezgo are fields that are required by all the major OTAs. There is a reason why those fields exist. If and when they are ready to work with you, you should be able to point them to your Rezgo account so they can get whatever content they need directly from your site.
4. Invest in great photography – When it comes to tours and activities, pictures are worth more than a thousand words. In a sea of products, your amazing photography will help to differentiate you from your competition. Not to mention, if you offer an OTA partner some really nice high quality photos, they may be more inclined to feature your products (all things being equal).
5. Get some professional video – If you have budget to put together a promotional video of your tour, I recommend you go for it. There are several providers of video production that offer packages specifically tailored to tourism businesses. For more details about getting started with a video distribution package, talk to the fine folks at ITS Video.
6. Show direct sales success – If you are expecting distribution to save your business, then don’t waste your time trying to connect. Distribution in the tour and activity space accounts for less than 12% of total bookings. That means that you need to be generating 88% of your business through direct sales to your customers. If you are not already working on driving more direct sales to your customers, then you need to focus on that first before worrying about distribution.
7. Remember that you won’t own the customer – One thing that many providers don’t realize is that they don’t own the customer in the case of distributed bookings. The OTAs make it very clear in their agreements that the providers are not allowed to solicit business from customers that are referred to them through the OTA. Things means that, in many cases, the providers are not allowed to email them after the tour or activity or reach out to them for reviews. If you’re not okay with this level of customer ownership, then you’ll want to rethink whether distribution is for you.
9. Set up for free sale or block allocations – The OTAs are not currently set-up to handle live availability requests. This means that if your tour has a limited capacity, you may have to accept a request for a booking and either agree to or reject requests when they come through a distribution channel. The issue is that live availability, especially for limited capacity tours or activities, are crucial to a good customer booking experience. Currently, on most OTA sites, if the booking has to be confirmed, the customer will make the booking and receive an email that says that the booking needs to be confirmed by the provider. If the provider cannot provide the tour, the booking is canceled and the customer has to book something else. Needless to say, this is a pretty lousy experience if it happens to a customer. Your best bet is to either accept all bookings from OTAs as confirmed (freesell) or set up a block allocation with the partner. A block allocation would mean guaranteeing a certain number of spaces on your tour for the OTA.
10. Be patient – Building a relationship with a large company can take time. Be patient as you go through the process with them. In some cases, it can take months for your tours or activities to show up on an OTA site. You must be able to maintain your business in the meantime through direct sales. Once you are ready to take the next step and consider reselling through these well established brands, you’ll want to submit your application. To save you the time and hassle of trying to find the links yourself, I’ve gathered them in one place. Be sure to bookmark them or just bookmark this post for reference later. Of course there are many other resellers out there. If you know of one and would like to add it, please feel free to leave a comment.