Earlier, I came across an interesting article by Stephen Joyce of Rezgo that I felt it was worth responding to. While I would certainly agree with elements of what he says, I would be of the opinion that if anyone is serious about growing their activity/tour business, then OTAs must remain a critical part of your sales plans. Here are the key reasons why:
According to Phocuswright, 53% of suppliers have less than 5 staff with 64% generating less than $250K per annum. So what often tends to be the case is that a typical activity company is very good at tour guiding/storytelling/delivering the service, but they don’t have the resources that bigger companies have for marketing, SEO, tech etc. So if you cannot fill 100% of your own capacity, you MUST rely on third-party OTAs to at least deliver a portion of your customers.
Amongst hotels, there are a limited number of major hotel OTAs. For tours and activities, the distribution landscape is far more diverse.
True, you have a number of big players like Viator, Get Your Guide & Expedia, but rising in this space will be Booking.com, Airbnb & Klook on a global scale. Then you have quite literally hundreds of regional OTAs that focus on specific cities/countries/verticals. Additionally, you have non-OTA distributors fulfilling a similar sales role such as hotels, airlines, cruise ships, car-hire companies, in fact anyone with a meaningful tourism footprint. The list goes on. This is a very different booking environment to that of hotels.
So, while you may be dependent on OTAs to get your message out there, you do not need to be hijacked by any individual distributor. As a supplier, you have the power to decide how and where you distribute your product.
The key for any small-mid size supplier trying to grow their business is NOT to be dependent on any one source but getting the blend of platforms right to optimise your bookings (OTA or otherwise – Google can change its algorithm and you can fall from page 1 to page 5 overnight).
How to get the right blend of platforms to optimise your bookings:
- Have the best possible website you can afford to get direct bookings.
- Make sure it is optimised for Google.
- Have an online booking capability – with phone support (80% of bookings still happen offline).
- Make sure your website is mobile friendly (+50% of bookings made by international travellers).
- Connect to your local tourism community to support/cross-sell each other.
- Have a clear distribution plan i.e. make sure you are distributing through multiple relevant distribution channels.
So while I agree with much of the original piece, OTAs are going to be part of the tour & activity world for a long time to come.