In the world of tour and activity operators, direct bookings are considered the golden ticket. Operators are always on the lookout for more ways on how to get more direct bookings. These bookings — which are made directly to your business without the assistance of a reseller – allow you to sustain the majority of the total sale. 

What differentiates direct bookings from indirect?

The main difference between direct and indirect bookings is that no third parties are involved in a direct booking. This eliminates the need to have to pay any fees or commission rates to a third party, and you will have more revenue to use as you continue to grow your business. Indirect bookings on the other hand are bookings made through a separate channel — such as through an OTA or via a travel agent and usually involve added fees and commissions.

Indirect bookings are beneficial for many tour operators, as it helps tour operators broaden their distribution channels. However, growing your direct bookings will helps you nurture your customer experience and further understand your consumer’s behavior. With this insight, you’ll find ways to increase direct bookings, as well as returning bookings.

While a few travelers may still call to create a booking over the phone, most direct bookings today occur online. In today’s article, we’ll go through 8 tips on how to capture and increase direct bookings online effectively.

9 tips on how to get more direct bookings

1. Know your customers and your competitors

To become a successful tour operator, you need to first understand your target market and your business’ positioning. Understanding your customer’s make-up & behaviors will help you better shape your marketing strategies generating stronger results. By knowing your customers, you’ll know what to sell, how to sell, and where to sell your products and services to effectively gain their direct bookings.

On the flip side, understanding your competitors is also an important element in attracting direct bookings. By understanding what your successful competitors are doing right, you’ll be able to create strategies that will help you close the gap between your business and theirs. Performing a competitor analysis will provide you with the in-depth information you can use to create business strategies to make you the preferred operator.

2. Provide competitive pricing 

Your target audience needs to know that you offer the best possible prices through your website. Many tech-savvy travelers today assume that they are getting a deal when they use an OTA to book their tours and excursions. However, in most cases, the OTA pricing is going to be the same as the tour operator’s pricing. The difference is that you are getting less revenue per booking when your customers reserve your tours through an OTA (although they are ways to build margin and add value to your products).

Reminding your customers that they can book with you directly and get the same valuable price will encourage them to finish their booking on your website.

3. Optimize your website

how to get more direct bookings with an optimized website

To capture the attention of your audience and, in turn, increase direct bookings for your tour company, you will need to optimize your website so that you appear at the top of the search engine results page. According to Arival State of Tours 2022, more than 41% of direct bookings occur as a result of an organic search. 

Here are some tips to optimizing your website:

  • Ensure it’s mobile-friendly
  • Maintain a fast site speed
  • Select from a diverse range of payment gateways and integrate with the best-in-class
  • Utilize an easy-to-use booking software
  • Include powerful keywords throughout your landing pages and within your tour descriptions
  • Include quality content including photos and videos with alt-text that includes those powerful keywords
  • Display your customer reviews

Applying these tips to your website will help you not only create a more user-friendly experience for your customers but will also help increase your visibility online. When a search engine like Google can see that your website will satisfy the user’s search intent, your website will be prioritized in the search results. For more website tips, download our free website best practice checklist or find out more on SEO and how to be discoverable

Not sure where to start and need help in optimizing your website? Get in touch with TOMIS, the digital marketing experts for tour operators. They specialize in marketing services such as SEO, paid ads, web development, and conversion rate optimization. Furthermore, they can equip your website with marketing software such as AI chatbots, review generation, and CRM.

4. Provide great customer service

Getting the booking is the first step toward growing your business, but next, you need to deliver an incredible experience. When you provide excellent customer service, your travelers will continue to promote your business for you. 

One way to boost your customer service is by providing your customers with a token of appreciation. One way to do this is to capturee their “once in a lifetime” moment. For example, companies like Fotaflo allow tour operators to take photos of the experience, personalize it to fit their branding, and automatically distribute these photos to their customers. Not only will your customers appreciate free photos, but they’ll also be more inclined to post the images on their socials, which in hand will also promote your business.

Most tour operators are surprised to find out that one in five direct bookings come from word-of-mouth recommendations, proving that customer service is key in increasing direct bookings. Make sure that you capture those positive experiences by soliciting feedback in the form of online ratings and displaying those reviews on your website.

5. Partner with an easy direct booking system

Once you have your prospective travelers on your website, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to book directly with you. The best way to do this is to invest in an online booking system that simplifies the booking process by including innovative features, such as:

  • Real-time availability 
  • Secure payment processing
  • 24/7 online booking
  • Instant confirmation
  • Automatic email confirmation

Not only does an online booking system help you implement an easy booking process, but it also helps you grow your overall bookings. Reservation technology provides tour operators with tools to direct and indirectly increase their booking levels. 

Examples of direct ways online booking systems help tour operators grow their bookings:

  • Conversation rate optimization through payment gateway integration and efficient booking forms
  • Website and search engine optimization
  • Reporting tools that help operators create insight-driven marketing strategies
  • Broadens distribution channels
  • Promo code and gift card functionality

Examples of indirect ways online booking systems help tour operators improve their booking rate:

  • Advanced tools that automate their business to allow them to spend more time on more important areas of the business rather than admin duties
  • Improves the overall guest experience on your website
  • Access to support teams that cater to IT issues, general inquiries, marketing and growth support
  • Increases revenue per booking with features such as promo codes, extra add-ons, product recommendations.

Rezdy has all of these features — and more — making it a fantastic option for tour and activity operators in today’s competitive market.

Curious to see why Rezdy is the right fit for your business? Start a FREE 21-day trial and get a free demo of our features. 

6. Provide benefits for booking direct

As a further enticement to booking directly with your tour company, you can offer exclusive deals that add value to your overall package. Some benefits that you may want to offer your customers for booking directly include complimentary refreshments during the tour, free transportation to and from their hotel, or a promotional code for a future booking. Adding extras will add dimension and value to your customer experience. 

You can even promote these benefits within your marketing strategies to further entice and remind your customers of these incentives. Showcasing it on your website, social media, email marketing, or within your stores (if applicable) will help you get the word out there. 

7. Elevate your social media presence

How to get more direct bookings with social media

If you are a tour operator who wants to get the attention of the most motivated group of travelers, then you need to develop your social media presence and prioritize social engagement. Social media is becoming the main resource that travelers use to discover new places to visit and is a key decision influencer. 

According to Arival’s Path to Purchase 2021 report, 25% of travelers in 2021 researched for activities via social media platforms. Furthermore, in Arival’s State of Tours 2022 report, 12% of direct bookings made in 2021 were a result of organic social media search, and another 6% of those direct bookings came from paid social media advertisements. This goes to show that travelers are now turning to social media to discover and book new tours and activities.

As you enhance your social pages and improve your presence on the best platforms, be sure to include booking buttons that allow your followers to book directly from your profile. This will help you quickly capture customers during their decision-making process. For more social media tips, head to our free social media masterclass

8. Utilize email marketing

Email marketing is an excellent tool to use to establish, maintain and improve your customer relationships. It is one of the few ways that you can stay in direct personal contact with your customers, and there are many possibilities for personalizing communications — such as sending birthday promotions, custom discounts, or referral codes. 

Based on Arival State of Tours 2022 report, nearly 6% of direct bookings in 2021 came through email marketing, and although that number may not be as high as social media or search engine results, it’s an extra avenue of increasing your bookings levels and getting repeat bookings.

There are numerous ways you can capture email addresses and build your email marketing database. Here are a few ways:

  • Promote your newsletter sign up throughout your website
  • Offer free content such as articles, eBooks, and videos that are gated and require an email address to gain access to it
  • Incentivize email capturing by offering discounts or promo codes
  • Capture emails during the checkout process
  • Host contests

Once you’ve successfully set up multiple avenues to capture emails, you need to ensure you distribute engaging and useful content to get a high engagement rate. Doing so, it entices subscribers to want to open your emails and continuously engage with your business. Here are 4 email marketing strategies with text samples you can easily implement to get you started.

9. Reach a wider audience through paid search

If you’ve ever searched for something on a search engine and were suggested a few websites at the very top of the page with a tiny symbol that says “ad”, those are businesses that are utilizing paid search media.

According to Arival State of Tours 2022 report, operators with at least 10,000 guests in 2019 relied heavily on paid search to boost their direct bookings and reach that figure.

Now, while organic searches are beneficial — and less costly — there is value in paid search. Through paid search or search engine monetization (SEM), you are guaranteed a spot at the top of the results page, and in hand will allow you to reach a wider audience looking for specific tours. Follow our free advertising masterclass for more details on this topic. 

Conclusion

For many operators, their main goal is to find ways to maximize booking levels and increase their revenue streams. Being able to master both direct and indirect bookings is key to achieving those goals. 

While indirect bookings broaden your distribution channels, direct bookings allow you to nurture your overall customer experience. With direct bookings, you’re able to control your profits, communication, marketing strategies, and the overall booking process.

Using online booking software for tour operators like Rezdy, will help you capture more direct bookings efficiently, saving you time and allowing you to sell more. With Rezdy key features such as reporting tools, real-time availability viewer, automatic email communication, and integration with a diverse range of payment gateways, your business will be able to cater to an influx of direct bookings. What’s more? Rezdy has an excellent support team that can be reached via phone, live chat, or email and an extensive library of on-demand guides, video tutorials, and more. They’re here to help you succeed in every way they can. 

Ready to capture more direct bookings with Rezdy? Start a FREE 21-day trial or book a free demo today.

If you enjoyed this article then make sure to follow the Rezdy blog. There are a lot of marketing tools and tour operator tips designed with businesses like yours in mind.

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