Having a great web presence is an important step in effectively marketing your tour or activities business, but it isn't the only step you should take. The best website in the world will still only reach customers who are proactive about planning their itineraries. Other travelers land in a new city without a single plan.
The truly adventurous aside, most of those travelers will turn to the closest advisor they can find: their hotel concierge.
Concierges have high expectations to live up to. They need to be experts about their locales. Guests rely on them to provide recommendations for restaurants, activities, transportation, and practicalities. But they're more than human search engines. Concierges are also expected to snag difficult reservations, offer special perks, and know all the secrets to getting the best local experience possible.
It's a big job, and concierges can't do it alone. They need relationships with tour operators, activity providers and other local businesses in order to do their jobs.
That's where you come in.
Working with a concierge can be a mutually beneficial arrangement. You get business from guests who wouldn't have found your business alone, and that can be a huge boost to your bookings and your bottom line. Guests get directed to the exact activity they want to try without having to do their own legwork. They often enjoy special treatment in the process, too. And the concierge gets the pleasure of a job well done — along with a few other perks.
There's just one problem: experienced concierges already have relationships in the local tourism community. You might think your tours are the perfect fit for their guests, but how's a concierge to know that? Their reputations rely on solid recommendations, and they don't know you or your product.
So how do you stand out from the crowd and build relationships with local concierges?
Show Them What You've Got
The first step to building a relationship with a local concierge is to meet one. Arrange a meeting with the lead concierge at the property, and prepare to promote your tours or activities. If that's not possible, visiting a concierge desk for an impromptu face-to-face introduction is another approach, though not always a welcome one.
If you plan an impromptu introduction, prepare like you would for any networking opportunity. Bring an elevator pitch about your tours or activities and a brochure or business card so the concierge can reach you. You should also be prepared to offer a free space or two for one of your tours. This isn't a bribe or kickback — reputable concierges often want to try out experiences so they know exactly what they're recommending to their guests. For more formal meetings, you may want to prepare for a serious presentation, PowerPoints and all.
Consider looking beyond hotels, while you're at it. Shopping centers are increasingly offering concierge services, particularly in busy tourist destinations. Corporate concierges also need access to tour and activity suppliers from time to time for business retreats and big events.
To meet with concierges in a formal networking context, seek out local chapters of concierge associations. Many offer affiliate memberships that give vendors access to meetings, networking events, and even contact information. Some also offer sponsorship opportunities for association events, which might be worthwhile if you want to get your brand in front of the most eyes possible.
Sweeten the Deal
Once you've met with concierges and brought your product to their attention, you'll need to come to a formal agreement that lays out your responsibilities to the concierge and their guests, the limits of what they're willing or able to do for you, and any commissions or referral fees you'll pay for successful referrals.
There's a lot of confusion around concierge commissions, and with good reason: there isn't an industry-wide standard to rely on. Some hotels have formal commission agreements with vendors. Some concierges make arrangements with vendors directly. In some cases, commissions are expected but anything that could be considered a "kickback" is forbidden, either by employers or professional associations. In others, even commissions are barred.
For example, members of Les Clefs d'Or USA follow a strict ethical policy with regards to commissions and perks:
In Australia, however, Les Clefs d'Or members agree not to make recommendations on the sole basis of personal benefit, leaving the rest up to their members. Standards vary.
Generally speaking, it's safe to say that commissions and referral fees are a common arrangement between concierges and vendors, so you can expect the topic to come up.
Make Their Lives Easier
When you use booking platforms like Rezgo, you can create accounts for concierges so they can easily make bookings on behalf of their guests. Rezgo includes a host of features to make this easier, like security permissions that let you restrict concierges to only the parts of the system that will be relevant to them — no steep learning curve required. You can also use price sheets to set special pricing for concierges and to track their agreed-upon commission rate. Or, if the concierge prefers to book on your website or over the phone, you can track referral IDs and report on their referrals as needed.
Making the booking and referral process as easy as possible helps stack the odds in your favor when a concierge is considering which vendor to recommend.
Treat Them Right
Of course, good concierges have concerns beyond personal benefits and ease of booking. Once they make a recommendation, the guest's experience reflects on them — good or bad. Concierges need to know that the guests they send your way will receive the very best treatment. If you give their guests a premium experience, they'll have good reason to send you more business. If they can promise a perk just for booking through them, all the better.
What could that look like for your company? You might give those guests the best seats, offer them free add-ons, or even just give them a particularly warm welcome and extra attention during the tour. At minimum, you should ensure they receive the high-quality customer service any of your guests can expect, because a bad experience may well cost you future business from that concierge. Concierges talk, too, so burning bridges with one may mean losing access to others in your area.
Be a Good Communicator
Your hard work doesn't end just because you've set a relationship into motion. Ongoing communication keeps your company on a concierge's mind, but don't overwhelm them. Make sure your concierges know about any great promotions coming up for their guests. Give them the opportunity to offer feedback — that way, if their guests have a bad experience, they'll feel they have recourse. And of course, keep on top of any referral or commission payments. A vendor who can't keep up their end of the deal isn't a vendor to drum up business for, after all.
A concierge relationship is like any good relationship. Pay attention to what they need, make sure you're giving enough in return, and keep the lines of communication open. With that, everyone can be happy — and your business will rake in the benefits.