Chris Torres has 26 years of experience working in brand development, design, and marketing, and he’s spent the last 13 years running the Tourism Marketing Agency. Chris is responsible for researching travel and tourism trends and has also written the first, and only, tours and activity marketing book. Available today, the book is titled ‘How to Turn your Online Lookers into Bookers’. The advice in the article below has been adapted from Chris’s book. Check out more details here.
In the world of tours and activities, reviews are one of the most important ‘marketing tools’ you can use to gain more potential customers and encourage them to make a purchase. But it can be a little overwhelming when you start to work out which platforms you should focus on. This blog will discuss the review platforms in general, then offer some advice and insight on why Google is the best review platform for tour operators.
Don’t be scared of review platforms
Many business owners are wary of review platforms because they don’t want to be criticised or rejected; they don’t want to deal with negative reviews and this is understandable as no one likes to open themselves or their beloved business to public criticism. However, given the obvious advantages of review platforms, I have a suspicion that business owners avoid using them because they know their tour or activity isn’t good enough.
Alternatively, the owner of a tour company avoiding review platforms may just be a perfectionist who doesn’t want to open their product up to reviews until they have ensured it is absolutely perfect. However, I would remind them that perfection is almost impossible in the tours and activities industry, as you can’t please everyone. Trying to make everything perfect will hold you back. Perfection is the enemy of completion! And look at it a different way: the only way you can be absolutely be sure you’re delivering an experience that your customers love is to give them a chance to offer feedback.
Negative reviews aren’t the end of the world
There’s no need to be terrified of bad reviews (as long as you don’t have too many). A few negative reviews can actually help your business. Think about it: modern online shoppers are very cynical and untrusting, so if they see a company with nothing but 5-star reviews they are more likely to think the reviews are false. But if you have a few moderate to negative reviews, and you have responded to these in a positive way, it helps show you are a real company and that you care about your customers’ feelings.
Why are reviews important?
A TripAdvisor study found that 93% of travellers say reviews are important in their purchase decisions. Reviews build brand trust, which is incredibly important in the tours and activities industry. Reviews in the tours and activity industry are arguably more important than with material goods (except technology) as people often plan their holidays weeks or months in advance. People also look forward to their holidays and put a great deal of importance on them being as fun/successful as possible — this is a big reason why they spend so long in the research phase before they make a purchase. Making a big impression with online reviews is key to being successful in the industry.
Reviews also have a positive effect on your SEO. It is said that reviews can account for close to 10% of your search ranking authority — meaning you can get a higher ranking on Google Maps and Search. So it is worth considering when choosing your review platform.
Adding reviews to your website
When it comes to adding reviews to your website, instead of creating your own system on your website, it’s best to use an external system like TripAdvisor, Feefo, TrustPilot, Yelp!, or Google. This is down to simple psychology as people trust external review platforms much more than custom-built review systems. This comes back to online shoppers being cynical as they suspect a custom-built review system on a site to be easily manipulated. So, with that in mind, which platform should you use?
Futureproof your reviews with Google
I would usually recommend that businesses go where their target customers are. However, if you’re looking for the platform that is truly futureproof, then Google is what you’re looking for.
Google reviews also have a positive effect on your rankings and most of your customers will use Google to some degree (it’s the biggest search engine in the world). It’s also important to remember that Google owns the second largest search engine: YouTube.
Reserve with Google
But the SEO benefits, the wide userbase, and the connection to YouTube aren’t even the main reason to focus on Google. The main reason is because of Reserve with Google. Google has gone to great lengths to integrate directly with booking platforms and ‘schedulers’ to allow customer booking from Google search results. This means that users can search for a tour or activity and book it without even clicking off the Google results page to visit the website.
There is a strong likelihood that Reserve with Google will put the control back into the tour operators’ hands. It also means that the high commissions that some of the online travel agents (OTAs) currently take from suppliers will be bypassed completely. Whether or not this is good news to you depends on how much, or how little, you currently rely on OTAs to sell your tours and activities.
Giving users the opportunity to book on Google Search and Maps can be a great way to add another touch-point between you and your customer. It can make it even easier for busy (or lazy…) customers to book your product without the added time required to click through one or two pages on your website.
Reserve with Google is also ideal for small businesses based in great locations, as the ability to book on Google Maps means that they can compete on Maps in a way they perhaps can’t compete for the top ranking on Google Search. For example, a small tour company with a great location 400m from the Colosseum in Rome can compete on Maps for customers with a larger company that is based further away. The smaller company could never compete on standard Google SERPs, but it comes out ahead on Maps due to Reserve with Google!
Google’s big changes have caused panic in many OTAs; is it any surprise that the likes of TripAdvisor and Booking.com have been acquiring booking platforms? They are trying to make themselves as big and influential as possible — transforming themselves into comprehensive tourism hubs.
Side note: The potential negative side to Reserve with Google
However, there is a negative side to Reserve with Google: things like TripAdvisor Experiences also have Reserve with Google integrations. For an OTA to integrate with Google in this way is a bad deal for tour operators, in my opinion, as Google will eventually update Google Ads to allow suppliers to have sponsored listings that will be bookable on the search engine results page (SERP). For suppliers hooked up directly through the likes of Checkfront, this is great news, but for those who rely on an OTA for most of their business, you are, in effect, paying twice: first for the cost-per-click for any Google Ads, then you’re paying the high commission to the OTA.
This, combined with operating costs and other outlays, means suppliers will be receiving even less revenue from the products they sell. This will almost certainly drive up prices for the end consumer, as this is the only way for suppliers to make enough to sustain their businesses.
More benefits to Reserve with Google
Another benefit to Reserve with Google is that it may do a better job at encouraging users to buy your tours than you actual website — this will be the case if your website is old or unappealing. This is a real advantage if your website’s design or UX isn’t as good as your biggest competitors; everyone’s Reserve with Google listing looks the same, so this evens out the playing field.
The best part about Reserve with Google is that it is free (for now), with no commission going to Google. It is highly likely that this will change in the future, so make sure to take advantage of it while it’s free.