10 New Year’s Resolutions for Tour Operators

January 3, 2019, Kyla Steeves
Tour operator giving a high five to a guest after reaching goal of hiking to a summit.

The start of a New Year is full of possibilities. Though last year had its ups and downs, you may be looking forward to what’s to come in the months ahead. And while establishing personal New Year’s resolutions can help shape a future you’re proud of later, you should focus on identifying your small business goals and objectives as well.

As you know, a lot is happening in the tours and activities space. In the last year, mobile bookings continued to increase, Booking.com and TripAdvisor acquired Fareharbour and Bokun respectively, and Google started rolling out Things to Do for Reserve with Google.

That means you might have to do things differently this year to keep up with the changes — which can be challenging to do. But that’s where mapping out your goals comes into play. By outlining your priorities now, you can position yourself for success in this fast-growing industry.

To give you an idea of where to start, we’ve compiled a list of areas that are affected by the above changes, as well as the current travel and booking trends. If you want to stay ahead in the game, then it’s best to implement or update the following goals as soon as possible.

1. Think mobile-first

Mobile usage is on the rise, and it’s not stopping anytime soon. Even travelers rely on their smartphones for all aspects of travel planning — from researching activities while in-destination to completing a booking, payment and all.

But being mobile-friendly doesn’t cut it anymore; you must be mobile-first now. Whether it’s designing ads to stand out on a smartphone or optimizing your website for mobile devices, you can significantly increase your bookings with mobile usability best practices.

2. Create an ideal booking flow

Thanks to the popularity of mobile bookings, travelers have come to expect a frictionless booking process. That means they want simple navigation, clear calls to action, and fewer form fields. And especially, they want an automatic confirmation email to know the booking and payment worked.

By designing a booking process that meets their expectations, you should see a drop in your cart abandonment metrics. With every step progressing naturally and quickly to the next, you won’t give them a reason to exit before the booking is complete.

Traveler making a booking on a tour operator's website.

3. Learn more about your guests

Personalization is key today for providing your guests with an unforgettable experience — travelers crave customization from beginning to end, from making a booking to receiving a thank you email. So to engage with them on a personal level, you must deliver relevant messaging, the right recommendations, and a unique experience across multiple channels.

That starts with defining your target audience — the demographic you want to connect with. Who are they? Where do they live? What is their age? What are their interests? To gather this information, you can analyze your current customer base in Google Analytics and your booking reports.

4. Show up in the right places

Search engine optimization (SEO) is still an integral part of growing your digital presence. But it isn’t the only way to get noticed. There are plenty of online business directories that travelers trust to find tours and activities in the area, too.

Apple Maps Connect, Facebook Local, and Yelp are just some of the prominent platforms you should claim a listing with this year. More than ever before, however, it’s important to create a Google My Business listing. That’s because Reserve with Google now makes it possible for its users to book Things to Do right in Google Search — which is another avenue for you to get more bookings.

5. Partner with a travel influencer

You’ve probably heard all about influencer marketing and the ways it can help you with branding your business, authentically. But have you taken a swing at it yourself?

If your answer is no, then now is the time to start. As more avid travelers notice this career path and work to become a full-time travel influencer, you have the opportunity to grow by proxy.

While they use various tactics to increase their influence on social media — like delivering relatable content, interacting with their followers, and networking with other influencers — your brand can stand out with every new connection made. And if you partner with them early on, your reputation and authority will mature and thrive as they do.

Travel influencer taking a selfie during a tour with partnering travel brand.

6. Strategize your OTA listings

Listing with an online travel agent (OTA) can be great for gaining exposure and reaching a new audience — especially when you’re just starting your own tour company. But we can all agree; their commission fees aren’t ideal.  And now that there’s speculation going around about TripAdvisor giving Bokun customers preferential rankings, you might even feel a bit of distrust. So what do you do?

Well, you just have to figure out a different plan of attack. Instead of relying on OTA’s to sell the majority of your tickets all year long, you should start treating them as another marketing channel. That means coming up with a strategy of when to list with them, and how to list with them.

For instance, you might want to know whether creating a low-cost offer on an intro tour is the best way to get OTA users to your door where you can upsell them later. Of course, the only way to find out is to test that method in the year ahead and track and analyze the results.

7. Make your tour green

Plastic straws are out. Compost bins are getting bigger. What are you doing to ensure your tour business aligns with environmentally-friendly standards?

One way to give your tour a green makeover this year is to become paperless. If you have stacks on stacks at the front desk from check-ins, perhaps it’s time to take these processes online. By making digital guest forms and waivers available via online booking, your guests can fill out their information and sign in advance — meaning they can jump right into the adventure on arrival, and you’ll have less to print and file away.

8. Select the best team

A tour guide can make or break the tour experience. Even if there’s just a little bit of arrogance, or on the flip side, lack of knowledge, your guests might walk away eager to write a negative review.

That’s why it’s so important to fill your team with qualified and passionate tour guides. Not only should they know and love the area and activity, but they should also be likeable, intriguing storytellers, and kind to everyone they meet.

So consider setting guidelines for your recruiting and interview process to guarantee a team that’s capable of delivering a positive and enjoyable experience throughout the season.

Tour operator team enjoying a river cruise with guests.

9. Get your team up to speed

As technology evolves and travelers adopt high expectations, it’s crucial to get your team up to speed. You are not the only one who has to keep up with the constant changes.

Anything new you introduce, you should give your team guidance on the most effective way to implement the change in their workflow. For instance, if you start using an online booking system, it’s best to show your team the shortest click paths to complete each task quickly, so they can get back to focusing on your guests in-person.

10. Choose the right booking software for you

Nowadays, there are plenty of different online booking systems to choose between. Some are commission-free. Some are independent. Some have advanced features. Some have 24/7 support. Whatever you need, want, and value, there’s likely a close match that’s just a free trial away.

So take time this year to assess where you want your tour business to go, and which booking software can help you get there.

Final thoughts

Sometimes, it’s a challenge trying to make your New Year’s resolutions stick. But when it comes to your tour business, these goals should surpass January. So instead of tackling them all at once, spread them out in the year — starting with the ones you think matter most. And once 2020 comes around, hopefully you’ll look back with pride knowing you accomplished everything you set out to do.

Want more tips on running your tour business this year?

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Related Articles: Is Your Booking Software Company Really There For You? | Why Google is the Best Review Platform for Tour Operators | How to Team Up With Local Tour Operators and Thrive | Are Your Guests Craving Hyper-Personalization? | Why Digital Waivers Are a Must-Have For Your Business | Is Your Booking Fee Leading to Cart Abandonment? |

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