How to Manage your Guests' Expectations: A Guide for Tour and Activity Operators

Being an international tour guide for ten years, I’ve learned a number of things about how to consistently create an unforgettable experience.

Over at the Be a Better Guide Project, I now spend a HUGE amount of time helping tour and activity operators grow their businesses by creating memories of a lifetime for their guests.

This is a guest post from Kelsey Tonner of Be a Better Guide, a premium online training solution for tour guides and tour companies. Visit Be a Better Guide to join their online community today!

There are any number of tips, techniques and pieces of advice that I could share – but I thought that for this article I would focus on one of the largest and most common mistakes in the industry. And that is: Improperly managing guest expectations.

A stroll through any tour company’s negative online reviews will reveal a lush jungle of unmet expectations, mis-communications and guest disappointments that all stem from this root issue.

And so it is my goal to help you avoid a similar fate. In this article we will discuss three different types of guest expectations, go over some real-world examples and touch on how to manage and shape expectations as a tour or activity business.

To help you with taking action, I’ve created a free, downloadable resource: Expectation Busting – An Action Guide for Tour Operators, which will help clarify what you are promising your guests. You can download the action guide here.

To begin, let’s look at three different types of expectations your guests bring along with them.

1) Organizational expectations

“Organizations make direct promises to customers through advertising, on their websites and marketing materials, in company correspondence and contracts, and in service guarantees and policies published for everyone to see.”

-Performance Research Associates, “Knock your Socks off Service

Organizational expectations are likely the ones with which you are the most familiar and make up the bulk of what your customers are expecting from you.

They include things like:

  • The tour will begin at 1pm sharp
  • The activity will end at 4pm
  • We will start/end at this exact location
  • We will visit/see all of the following sites
  • A coffee break will be included in the cost of the tour etc.
The most important part of great customer service is simply doing what you say you will do

These ‘promises’ are communicated to your guests via your activity descriptions, sales pages and website. You should also review your e-mail correspondence with guests, travel planners, flyers, sales campaigns and even your confirmation e-mails, as they too are shaping your guests expectations.

I coach businesses to break down these promises and descriptions into a discrete list of obligations you have to your clients. Once you have this list of organizational expectations, you are now in the best position to consistently fulfill all of the promises you’ve made.

This list will be especially important for your leaders, guides, facilitators or field staff. They need to know exactly what their guests have been promised and what they are responsible for delivering to the customer.

During this review of organizational expectations, you may also find some discrepancies within your communications. If there are any inaccuracies or promises you cannot consistently keep, then they should be removed immediately to prevent guest disappointment.

Now, let’s turn to the second kind of guest expectation.

2) Common expectations

Here is another quote from “Knock Your Socks Off Service” which explains the nature of common expectations:

“Your customers bring additional expectation with them to every single transaction. Based on their past experiences with you and with other service providers, customers make assumptions about what you can and can’t do for them. Failing to meet a customer expectation, whether you knew about it or not – even whether you helped shape it or not – has the same impact as breaking any other promise.”

In other words, your guests may have expectations based on previous tours that they have been on, previous experiences with your own company or even from experiences with the rest of the industry. In many ways, these guests’ expectations are shaped by forces beyond your control.

Let’s look at an example to illustrate this point.

These days, people are booking almost every element of their travel experience online, and often times through their mobile devices. Travellers book their plane tickets online, their accommodation and hotel reservations, they use review sites like Trip Advisor to research and book their experiences, and with the rise of companies like Uber and Lyft, they are now even booking their taxi services online.

If this new generation of traveller arrives on your website, but is not able to book your experience nor check your tour availability, then you will likely be disappointing them and likely losing a customer.

Even though you may never have offered online bookings in the past, your competitors and industry are setting the expectations that you need to manage.

Much in the same way, if you operate a tour in your local area, and all other experiences offer a pickup via shuttle, guests may bring that expectation with them to your tour.

Meeting your customers’ expectations is the fastest route to happy guests

So how do we find out about these ‘common’ expectations?

The best way is to talk to your guests and customers. Ask your guests about any frustrations or disappointments they faced throughout their experience with your company.

Do they have ideas on how the website could be more clear? Could the booking process have been improved? How did they feel about your pre-tour literature and communications? Was there any additional information they would have liked to receive? What might have made the tour better?

These types of questions will get your guests opening up about their experiences and sharing how you can better meet their expectations.

To get a sense of what is going on in your industry and region, I highly recommend shopping around for tour experiences in your area. Go through the whole experience of researching, booking and attending other companies experiences. Take careful notice of what is being promised and how they are managing your expectations.

You can also keep abreast of global travel trends with online magazines such as Skift and Tnooz or other publications more specific to your industry or country.

These types of expectations are the hardest to uncover and it takes real time with your customers to tease them out. However, by putting in the effort your company and brand will be in the best position to keep your customers happy.

Let’s now look at the last of the three major types of expectation.

3) Personal promises

These are quite simply personal commitments you or your staff make to your guests. Think of commitments made over the phone, while on tour or via e-mail.

“The majority of guest service promises come from you. These are the promises you make when you tell a customer, “I’ll get right back to you with that information” or “You should expect to receive a confirmation of your refund by e-mail” or “I will speak to the manager about this”

-Performance Research Associates, ‘Knock your Socks off Service

Expectations are created from you and your staff in the form of personal promises

You and your staff are underwriting these promises, and customers will hold you accountable for them. Disappointment can often arise in guests when staff are not familiar with your company policies and promise things that are not realistic.

To stay on top of these type of expectations, meet regularly with your staff (especially new employees) to go over exactly what your policies are and how activity leaders should handle various scenarios.

The last thing you want to happen is have your guests being told one thing by one member of your company and then another from someone else. The more explicit you can be with your staff and guests about your policies, the less likely you’ll face disappointed guests.

Here is a real-world example of how I have used expectation lists in the past.

When I was working for Backroads Tours in France, I was in charge of developing our Burgundy and Chablis weeklong bicycle itinerary.

I spent a season going through all of our guest and leader feedback and I noticed some of our guests were complaining about a particular visit to a chateau along our bike route. Most of them indicated that the tour was a bit boring and it was frustrating to wait for the entire group to arrive by bicycle. After I looked into the visit, I realized that our regular guide had changed and the experience was no longer something I wanted to include in the trip.

As I was planning a new version of the day I realized that the chateau had been featured in our travel planner, trip description, website and other sales materials that had already been sent to confirmed guests. If I removed the chateau from the trip, there was a chance of disappointing the many guests who were already expecting this visit.

Therefore, instead of removing the chateau entirely, I removed the group tour and created an optional stop in at the chateau. When the time came to update our sales page for following season, I removed all mentions of the chateau and was then able to safely remove it from the itinerary, sure that I would not be disappointing any paying customers.

Now there are of course situations where your tour needs to be changed for one reason or another and it will deviate from your tour description. This can be done – and in some cases should be done – but you must tread carefully.

Many negative online reviews of tours come from itinerary changes or last-minute adjustments to the activity that were not properly communicated to the guests. Even changing guides last minute can get you into trouble, especially if certain guests have read rave reviews about a particular guide and made a special request for that staff member.

If you need to make changes to your tour, here are some questions to think about:

Is there a way you can communicate to your guests about the change? How can you frame the change so it is not seen in a negative light? Are there extras or bonuses that you are offering? Are you prepared to offer a discount or a refund if someone asks for it?

Your answers will be different whether you are talking about major or minor changes, but you should have the answers ready.

Managing expectations

Now that we have a better sense of the various types of guest expectations let’s quickly look at a few more best practices for managing these commitments.

  • Always be as clear as possible in your tour descriptions (i.e. don’t be vague about important details such as the who, what, where, why and when)
  • Have a frequently asked questions (FAQ) section of your website (or for each activity/tour). This is a fantastic way to address some of the most common misunderstandings about your tour. Anytime a question keeps coming up over and over from your guests, be sure to add it to the FAQ.
  • Clearly state your cancellation and refund policies on your website, and be sure to send links to them in your confirmation e-mails
  • Ensure that the people re-selling your tour have up to date and accurate information about your experiences. If you find out your re-sellers are spreading misinformation, seek to fix this immediately! As far as guests are concerned you are responsible for making sure your re-sellers have accurate information about your tours.
  • Always be honest and upfront about potentially negative experiences or ‘downsides’ to your tour. As an example, I’ve heard from tour operators in Iceland who say they have to go out of their way to make sure guests are prepared for rain and variable weather. While photos on their website show sunny days, most Icelandic tour companies must emphasize over and over that there is a high chance it will rain on your tour. By being honest, up front and transparent, you show integrity and it gives your guests a chance to prepare for your experience.
A rainy day in Iceland can be enjoyed with the proper clothing!

By implementing these best practices you position yourself well should guests have inaccurate expectations about your tour.

You should always apologize for any misunderstandings, but you can point them to your FAQ page, your online policy information, AND the e-mails you sent them – all before they came on tour.

Misunderstandings will happen inevitably, but it is your job to graciously re-align any expectations that are out of whack with the reality of your experience.

Taking action

Once again, here is your free, downloadable resource: Expectation Busting – An Action Guide for Tour Operators to help you manage guest expectations.

By taking these steps now, you are setting you and your guests up for success. Simply by consistently meeting your guest expectations, you will be doing what so many tour companies still struggle to do.

On top of that, once you are safely delivering on all of your promises and your guests are happy, it is time to go one step further, and exceed these expectations. But that is another topic, for another time.

Good luck and I wish you many a happy and satisfied customer!

How to Prepare Your Tour Company for a Natural Disaster

Everyone knows how unpredictable the weather can be. Despite reports and warnings on the news, no one can predict the events that will unfold when mother nature is at her worst.

As a tour operator you are responsible for ensuring the safety of all your customers. Therefore, it’s important to have a disaster management plan in the event of a worst case scenario.

Would you consider your business to be prepared for the effects that can come along with extreme weather? If not, here are a few things you should do to ensure the safety of your customers and reduce any impact on your business that might be caused by these types of events.

Assess the situation

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The first step towards preparing for a natural disaster is to assess how bad it’s expected to be and what the chances are of it directly impacting your business.

Different natural disasters can impact your business in different ways. For example, if earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, fires, or tornados are all potential scenarios based on your location you should have a plan for each possible event.

Next, assess whether you are directly or indirectly affected. The steps you should take in case of an emergency caused by extreme weather conditions depends on how direct the affects are.

Being directly affected means that your business will not be operational during a natural disaster.

If that’s the case, there are two important things you must do, according to VisitEngland’s guide called, “Responding to Extreme Weather.” They advise:

“Your first priority is to contact any customers that have booked, advise them of your situation and offer them alternatives or refunds.

Your second priority is to assess your business (both in terms of damage and cash flow/future financial planning). Immediate issues around repairs and maintenance are critical, as is ensuring that your business can communicate with the outside world.”

Being indirectly affected means there is less impact done to your business due to extreme weather conditions. It won’t necessarily hinder you from conducting business operations, however, it may prevent you from offering or being able to deliver some of your services.

Examples of being indirectly affected include:

  • Unavailability of modes of transportation for customers to reach you
  • Affected tourist attractions in your area
  • Inability for vendors to deliver products and supplies to your business
  • Being short-staffed as some of your employees may not be able to get to work in such an event

Being aware of the situation helps you plan which actions to take in order to deal with the situation.

To do this, keep track of the latest updates on local and national news reports. Stay up to date via the traditional news sources like radio and television in addition to any news you can get from social media channels as well. To prepare, create a list of credible sites you can check immediately once you’ve received the news.

Working with People

In the event of a natural disaster, it is important that you know how to work with other people. They will be key to helping you get through the situation, as everything simply cannot be handled by a single person.

Travel Weekly mentioned something similar in a blog post about crisis management for tour operators. In it they said “Some of the keys to managing a crisis… are communication (between everyone involved: the company, the ground operator, the tour guides, the travel agent, the client, etc.); the ability to act quickly and efficiently in a fluid situation; and having some pre-established decision guidelines.”

The first call you should make when a disaster strikes is to your local tourism organization. Ask them for help, and ask about what information they have regarding the events taking place around your area.

During these kinds of events they are the best at crafting a response to any given situation since they are in usually in direct contact with local authorities and agencies responsible for emergency situations.

In addition to getting help with what message to communicate you can also learn a thing or two from them about communicating with your clients.

How are they dealing with the situation? How are they disseminating information? How do they communicate? Take notes.

Communicating with your customers

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Before you communicate, you need to figure out how you can reach everyone you need to connect with. An efficient way of communicating with your customers can save you thousands of dollars in additional labor costs because you won’t need to pay your staff to work overtime to answer phone calls from your customers.

A blog post by Leisure Group Travel recommends that you “collect everyone’s information… and keep it well organized and accessible… this should also include the traveler’s personal physician and any necessary information on medical insurance, allergies and other important medical facts about the person. Make up a quick questionnaire for your members to fill out… and you will have all the info in one spot.”

Now that you have everyone’s contact info you have to decide what is the best way of communicating with them.

What messages do you need to deliver? Here are some things to keep in mind when you are about to reach out to your customers:

  • Figure out what your customers might be thinking
  • Customers might be wondering, given the weather conditions, if your business is open. Is it accessible? Is it safe to visit? Will the quality of their visit be compromised because of the weather?

  • Craft your message
  • Now that you’ve thought about the possible questions running through your customer’s minds, you can then create the message you want to send to them. In these types of situations clarity is very important so make sure to tailor the message according to your business and speak directly to your customers.

    Some examples of what you might want to include in your message are, how long your business might be closed, your cancellation policy, travel or transport issues, tours and activities still available, and any other restrictions that may have arisen.

  • How are you going to say it?
  • Whenever communicating directly with your customers it’s best to always be honest and transparent. Try to positively position the message, though be sure not to sugar coat it, just deliver it in a way that is not entirely negative. You might feel disappointed and frustrated about the circumstance, but that doesn’t have to reflect in the messages you send to your customers.

  • Contact them
  • Inform your customers (both current and potential) immediately. Offer a genuine apology and use it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them.

  • Take advantage of the power of multimedia platforms
  • Given the wide reach that media can cover, using it as a tool to communicate gives you the ability to deliver your message to a much larger audience. Typically these kinds of messages are general in nature so it should not be used as an alternative for directly speaking to your customers.

Cancellations and Refunds

Cancellations and refunds are often unavoidable when extreme weather conditions occur.

If you have to cancel your bookings due to extreme weather, you’re bound to have times when your customers will demand that you transfer their booking to another date or request some kind of compensation. Having a process or a script for handling these situations can help you and your staff avoid customer service issues.

In general, customers are understanding and sympathetic as long as you inform them in a timely manner and offer them alternative options.

In the event that your customer is the one who cancels the booking, you should ask discovery questions to learn more about their reason for canceling.

If your customer wants to cancel within the time period during which you wouldn’t normally give refunds you can consider waiving any cancellation fees if you determine that their reason for canceling is due to the weather. By doing so you can use it as an opportunity to “wow” your customer and give them a positive experience so that they become a lifelong customer.

What happens after the extreme weather

If damage was done to your business, figuring out the next steps might not be easy. In this case it’s good to have a strategy for how to proceed.

If repairs are needed, now’s the time to review your budget and see if you need to reallocate money in order to fund repairs.

In addition to reviewing your budget take a look at the tours and activities you offer to see how you can add more value in order to attract more customers and earn more revenue.

It’s important that you keep an eye on your cash flow and manage your finances closely during this time.


As a tour company it’s vital that you are well prepared for a natural disaster in order to mitigate any financial losses that your business may sustain and to make sure that your customers have a positive impression of your brand.

Does your company have a strategy for dealing with these types of events? If not, download the PDF version of this blog post and share it with your team so you can brainstorm what to do if a natural disaster should impact your business.

How Social Proof Will Increase Sales On Your Tourism Website

What if I told you that you could increase the conversion rates on your site by 34%? Would you believe me?

Well you should. Here’s why:

An A/B test was done on a site that attracts over 500,000 users a month. They tested one simple element: the addition of three lines of testimonial. The testimonials were simple and to the point, “Good training for the work environment in Europe,” one said. Another simply stated, “Very useful for practice!”

This is a guest post from Andrea Appin, of TourismTiger, a web design company for tour and activity operators. Visit their blog for more great advice on how to market your business!

Then there’s Mat, the founder of Ship Your Enemies Glitter. Although the testimonials on his website may have been slightly unorthodox, they did help him generate $20,000 in 24 hours.

While both companies took on wildly different approaches when using testimonials, both examples highlight the fact that social proof is a game changer when it comes to increasing sales.

So what exactly is social proof?

Social proof influences our decisions. It’s the reason why we choose to enter a crowded restaurant over an empty one. It’s what convinces us to spend half of our paycheck on a pair of designer jeans. It drives our rationale.

And our rationale is backed by this: we are influenced by the choices of others. We assume that what others are doing is the best choice; the correct choice.

How can I use this concept to drive tour sales?

Although the ‘do it because everyone else is doing it’ concept might not always be the soundest of logic, it is a concept that tour operators can use to seriously increase sales.

And there are many, many ways that you can use social proof to encourage people to book more tours.

Here are some of my favorites:

#1 Testimonials

As you may have guessed from my introduction, I’m a proponent of testimonials. But not all work. In fact, some can be painfully bad (which will probably cause more harm than good when trying to reel in potential customers).

To ensure that you don’t go down this slippery slope, there are two main points that you should keep in mind when gathering testimonials for your tour business:

Make them resonate with your audience

Think about your target audience. How old are they? What do they look like? What are their interests? Once you get all of these details, pull testimonials from people that are representative of them. Why? Because people are more interested in people, places and things that resemble them. Basically, it rubs their ego the right kind of way.

Pro-tip: Use Google Analytics to gauge if your target audience is actually viewing your site. To do this, log into your account, click on ‘Audience’ and then ‘Demographics’ to get a general idea of the kind of people that are viewing your tourism website.

Make them authentic

In other words, use real testimonials from real people. If it’s been prefabricated, it will sound phony and insincere. And it will ensure that your potential visitors will book their tours elsewhere.

Photos and names help with credibility. If you can get some video testimonials made, even better!

#2 Ratings and Reviews

TripAdvisor and its branded sites reach 350 million unique visitors a month. Some visitors (myself included) spend hours painstakingly going through review after review. So if you’re smart, and have great TripAdvisor ratings, utilize this super powerful form of social proof to increase your sales.

While spending time on TripAdvisor and responding to every single review is vital to making potential customers feel more at ease, you can further leverage all of these great reviews by installing a TripAdvisor widget on your site.

Pro-tip: Don’t forget about the other review giants out there. A one star increase on Yelp, for example, has proven to increase sales by 5-9%.

#3 Social following

I’m not always a huge advocate of installing social plugins. They often go unnoticed and can affect your Google PageSpeed Score. And sometimes social sharing options can actually create a reverse effect by creating negative social proof — basically, if you have a minimal social following and little to no shares, you can create doubt in the viewer’s mind. However, if your tourism business has a great social media following, then you’ll reap all of the positive benefits of social proof.

Baja Bikes is a great example of this. They have a very healthy 5.7 thousand likes on Facebook. By including this large number of likes on their website, it will elicit the ‘what am I missing out on’ response. They also added even more clout to their Facebook ‘Like’ call-to-action by including pictures (and relevant friends of the viewer) that have liked the page.

Although your tourism business might not reach such a large number of ‘Likes,’ if it is reaching anything close to a thousand, you are doing better than most and definitely should highlight this on your website. (The same rule applies for shares, retweets, etc.)

Pro-tip: If you want to show off all of the love that you are receiving on social media, download Shareaholic. It’s a simple and free plugin that can be modified according to your needs.

#4 Proof in numbers

If you don’t have a large following on social media, but you have high numbers elsewhere, don’t be afraid to show them off.

City Sightseeing, for example, displays the amount of people that have viewed each tour on their website.

Likewise, if there are a significant number of people viewing your tours — or better yet, signing up for them — make this evident to the people checking out your site.

#5 Add badges

Marines, police officers, martial arts instructors — they all wear badges of sorts. And each badge or emblem is distinctly representative of their knowledge and skill level.

Their badges make them credible. They make us believe that the recipients know what they are doing.

The same can be said for your tourism website.

If you are a member of a sustainable travel initiative, add the company’s logo. If you are a member of an elite travel operators’ association, include that too. Or maybe you’ve received some travel awards. Those should be definitely displayed. If you have enough, you could even create a whole page dedicated to them like Abercrombie & Kent.

#6 Pictures of people having fun

Whether you’ve been in the tour game for a while, or you are only just starting to build up a name for yourself — pictures are key to making people feel comfortable booking tours with you.

Basically, people want to see pictures of other people having fun. This might seem like a fairly obvious tip, but time-and-time again, I’ve come across sites advertising tours without pictures — or even worse, including pictures of people that are having a very mediocre time.

Once again, keep your target audience in mind and display people that are representative of them. And because they are having fun, they should most definitely be smiling in the pictures that you present on your website.

Notice how Baldyga Group displays images like the one below for the tours they sell to make sure their visitors can envision themselves having a similar amount of fun on their tours.

If you really want to make a splash with your photos, make sure that they are of professional quality and they’re taken on a sunny day.

Pro-tip: Can’t afford a professional photographer? Turn to colleges. There are a lot of students out there who are developing a portfolio and could use the spare cash.

Start converting

A great looking website, backed up with some social proof, will undoubtedly turn all of those “maybe” customers into “yes” customers. Just remember to always test and double test your efforts with an A/B test. Or use HotJar — a free tool that generates heatmaps and screen recordings or websites — to see which forms of social proof your viewers are showing most interest in.

Dying for more information? Check out this great video about social proof. Wanna share this with your team? Don’t forget to download a printable version below.

14 Ways to Increase Your Direct Bookings [Ebook]

We often get so caught up focusing on how to get more traffic to our website that we forget to focus on how to convert the visitors we already have into customers.

This week we’d like to share with you our newest ebook for increasing conversions on your website. It’s packed with case studies from top ecommerce websites who have applied these same tips to convert more website visitors into customers. You’ll learn things like how to:

Ready to get started? Click the button below to download the ebook today.

Why People Abandon Online Travel Bookings [Infographic]

The travel industry has the highest rate of shopping cart abandonment among all industries.

This means that your customers are less likely to book your tours and activities through your website and are more likely to shop around with your competitors and resellers before making a decision.

Can you guess why?

It’s due to combination of things that all ecommerce websites struggle with but mainly due to one thing that is unique to online travel bookings.

So do you want to increase the number of bookings you receive on your website? Then you’ll want to understand why your customers are abandoning your checkout process in the first place. This infographic should help.


Reducing shopping cart abandonment and increasing your online bookings is easy if you’re able to identify what’s causing your customers to abandon the checkout process.

Do you have hidden fees in your checkout process or any one of the other red flags mentioned in this infographic? If so, you could be losing valuable online bookings to your competitors or resellers.

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7 Ways to Increase Your Revenue Per Transaction

One of the biggest challenges for any businesses is to acquire new customers, which is why most business owners often spend the majority of their time focusing on new customer acquisition.

Since finding and marketing to new customers can be time consuming and expensive, focusing your efforts on earning more revenue per transaction can be a huge shot in the arm for your tour and activity business.

In this week’s blog post I’ll share with you 7 pricing strategies you can use to increase your revenue per transaction. Each of these strategies is easy to implement and, most importantly, when applied will result in more revenue for your tour and activity business.

Let’s get started!


Up-selling is the most common technique used in retail sales. Essentially, it is convincing your customer to buy an additional product that complements the product they already planned on purchasing.

For example, a customer books a tour that doesn’t include a meal. Upselling is when you ask the client, “would you like to include a meal with your tour?

By offering your customer a meal they get a better experience, and you easily increase your revenue per transaction.

According to Marketing HQ, the key to doing this is to “provide an offer that is complementary to the original sale and increases the perceived value of the product to the customer.”

Increase Your Retail Price

While raising your retail price might seem like an obvious way to increase your revenue per transaction, it’s still important to mention.

Retailers often assume that just because their competitors are all charging the same price for a similar product or service it doesn’t mean that consumers aren’t willing to pay more.

Let’s take a look at how one retailer found success just by raising their prices.

In Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: Science and Practice, he gives an example of jewelry retailer in Arizona who was having trouble selling her inventory of turquoise jewelry.

One day an employee mistakenly doubled the price of the turquoise jewelry which, to their delight, caused all of their inventory to sell out!

So why was raising the price so effective? Simply because we’ve been socialized to believe that the more expensive an item is the higher its quality is as well. This psychological trigger is known as a judgemental heuristic.

Knowing this, why not use it to your advantage? Look at the tours and activities you sell and test to see whether your target market will accept a price increase without any increase in demand.

Bundle Offers

Bundling multiple tours, activities, or complementary products is a great way to encourage your customers to spend more and ultimately increase your revenue per transaction.

Online travel agencies such as Expedia are famous for bundling offers. You’ll often see them bundling airfare, hotel rooms, and even tours and activities into a single package to maximize the amount their customers spend with each booking.

Here’s an example of Expedia bundling hotel and airfare together into one package, nearly doubling the price of this transaction:

To do the same, create a bundled package that’s irresistible to your customers.

Not only will your customers feel like they’re getting the most value for their money but you’ll also give them a better experience because they won’t have to spend the time to put together a package on their own.

Add Deluxe Options

Offering your customers a deluxe version of each of your tours is a great way to boost your average revenue per transaction.

Typically, tour and activity suppliers offer a la carte upsells for their customers to purchase during the checkout process. While this is great for getting incremental revenue with each booking you might still be leaving money on the table.

For example, if one of your tours has multiple upsells why not create a deluxe version of that tour that includes all of those upsells built into the retail price?

Your customers will have a great experience knowing that they booked the best tour available and you’ll likely find that the deluxe option will consistently have a higher ticket price when compared to your standard tours which allow your customers to opt out of upsells.

Increase Product Awareness

Sometimes increasing your revenue per transaction is as easy as letting your customers know about the other products you sell.

If a customer is browsing your website make it easy for them to navigate to your product pages to find the tours and activities you offer.

If you’re curious how much of a difference it would make on your sales and revenue per transaction take a look at this case study on Bizztravel Wintersport. They were able to increase sales by 21% thanks to a small adjustment to their website which made it easier for visitors to find the ski tours they had available for sale.

As a best practice, all of the products you sell should never be more than a click away. To determine how easy it is to find and book tours on your website consider having usability testing done from a service like UserTesting.

With UserTesting you’ll get a recording of their testers’ interactions with your website and they’ll also provide feedback about their experience so you can get an expert opinion from a fresh set of eyes.

Remove Friction

Friction during the sales process can also contribute to lower transaction revenue. So what exactly is friction and how do you remove it?

Friction is anything that makes it hard for your customers to achieve their desired result when making a purchase.

For example, do you offer multiple tours and activities for sale? If so, make it easy for your customers to purchase multiple tours in the same transaction.

If the booking software on your website only lets your customers book one tour or activity at a time your customers will get frustrated and leave. Reduce friction during the sales process by making it simple for them to add multiple products to their shopping cart and build complex itineraries.

By allowing your customers to book multiple tours on one transaction you should immediately see an increase in your average revenue per transaction.

Price Anchoring

Do you have tours that you offer at multiple price points? If so, I’m willing to bet that you don’t sell as much of your most expensive tour as you do of the next most expensive one.

This is due to a concept called “Price Anchoring.” Essentially your customers are using the price of your most expensive tour to help them determine the value of your other tours.

By doing so your customers perceive your less expensive tour to be a bargain compared to the most expensive tour.

To put this into perspective let’s look at an example from retailer, Williams-Sonoma.

Williams-Sonoma offered their customers a breadmaker for $275 but unfortunately sales were dismal. Rather than lowering the price they came out with a bigger, more expensive model for $429.

The simple addition of a more expensive breadmaker caused sales of the $275 model to skyrocket! Doing so helped their customers “anchor” the price of the $275 model to the $429 model in their minds to see the value in the lower priced bread maker.

Curious how you can use price anchoring to increase your average transaction price?

Offer a tour or activity that is even more expensive and something your customers might aspire to purchase. This will help them anchor the value of your current most expensive tour in their mind to help them understand its value.


Increasing your revenue per transaction can be one of the biggest drivers towards helping you achieve your business goals. Fortunately, any of the 7 ways I’ve detailed here will help you get there and you won’t have to spend a single penny more on marketing.

Would any of these pricing strategies work for your tour and activity business? If so, I would love to hear about your results.

Oh, and don’t forget to download the PDF version of this blog post to share with your friends!

How to Increase Sales Using Urgency

Marketing your tour and activity business can be hard. While there’s no silver bullet when it comes to marketing there is one powerful strategy that has been used successfully for decades, urgency.

This simple concept can be incredibly effective when incorporated into your overall marketing strategy.

In this week’s blog post I’ll show you how you can increase sales for your business using urgency. We’ll also discuss:

  • The science behind why urgency is a powerful tool for increasing sales

  • The difference between real urgency and implied urgency

  • Specific examples of how you can apply this concept to increase your sales

Are you ready to learn how urgency can increase sales for your tour and activity business? Let’s get started.

The science behind why urgency is so powerful

The quote above came to be known as the Eisenhower Principle, a way for the president to prioritize his workload. While most of us don’t have the same workload as the President of the United States, many of us (including your customers) still prioritize urgent matters the same way.

In general, something that is urgent takes priority because it demands our immediate attention and the consequence of not dealing with them are also immediate. So as human beings, we are more inclined to respond to things that are urgent.

Urgency, when applied to sales and marketing, can grab your customer’s attention and force them to listen to what you have to say which will ultimately help you sell more products.

While that might sound like hard selling, let me explain further.

By positioning your products on your website in a way that creates a sense of urgency you reduce the amount of time your customers spend deliberating before they make a purchase decision.

Neil Patel explains this further in an article he wrote called “9 Ways to Use Urgency Psychology to Improve Conversions.”

In this article he goes on to explain that “urgency causes people to act quickly. Many of the problems that affect conversions are issues of cognitive friction–people think too hard, wait too long, or simply don’t respond to our calls-to-action. Raising the urgency level cuts through a lot of this delay to create a significant improvement to conversion rates.”

Be careful though, the simple act of creating a sense of urgency might not be a powerful enough driver to get your customers to make a decision.

In Help Scout’s blog post on consumer behavior they discuss some scientific research which was done with two groups who received brochures on the health effects of tetanus.

While both groups understood the urgent need to get a tetanus vaccination, the second group, who had clear instructions on how to get a vaccination, were 25% more likely to actually get vaccinated.

Their takeaway from this study was that while urgency is an effective motivator for people, it can be less effective if used incorrectly.

Ultimately, if you are using urgency to increase your sales, you should “tell people exactly what to do when the time comes and don’t be afraid to drive them toward specific actions.”

Before I discuss how to take advantage of the concept of urgency, let’s take a look at the two types of urgency you can create for your customers so that you can use this strategy effectively.

Real urgency versus implied urgency. What’s the difference?

Real urgency suggests to your customers a strong sense to act immediately considering there are deadlines involved. For example, you are offering discounts for your tours at 50%, and the offer will expire within 12 hours. After that, the offer will be gone forever.

Implied urgency on the other hand pushes you to take action by using words that suggest urgency. For example, the words “now” and “today” suggests a need to act now rather than later. No true urgency is involved because there aren’t deadlines or consequences involved, but the need to take immediate action is implied.

In general, real urgency works better than implied urgency because the thing that they are missing out on is more tangible. There’s a threat that they may lose something of value when they don’t make a decision quickly.

So which should you use? According to the ConversionXL, a popular blog on conversion rate optimization, “it’s hard to authentically implement real urgency into everything you do.” So in the scenario where real urgency doesn’t seem authentic they suggest making use of implied urgency.

Specific examples of how you can apply this concept to increase your sales

  1. Create Scarcity

  2. This is the easiest and most obvious way to imply a sense of urgency for your customers.

    This strategy can be implemented by imposing deadlines or displaying limited inventory. As long as you somehow make your product or service difficult to acquire, or position it as being finite, more people will make a purchase.

    Why does creating scarcity work so well? Mainly because most people suffer from a “fear of missing out.” This phenomenon means that consumers would rather have the assurance that they made a purchase than take the risk of missing out on an experience.

    In ActivityRez, creating scarcity is easy. By default customers booking on your website will always see a message similar to the one below if there are 5 or less tickets available for your tour or activity.

  3. Use Time-Related Words
  4. There are plenty of words you can add to your offer that will help create a sense of urgency. Words like “now”, “fast”, “quick”, and “hurry” can make your customers feel an implied sense of urgency thus, increasing the likelihood they will make a purchase.

    How can you apply time-related words to your business? Use them in your booking buttons instead of using the same old, tired call-to-actions like “Book” or “Purchase.”

    Here’s one example of how you can use a time-related word in your call-to-action:

    Image source

  5. Let them know about the competition
  6. According to Infinite Conversions, “once people realize that they are competing with other people for limited quantities of (something), their desire to win escalates. That translates into extreme urgency.”

    For example, it helps to display how many people are viewing an offer at the same time.

    By doing so, your customers will understand that they are not the only ones shopping for the same product. This increases their urge to buy because they know that other people are considering making the same purchase and if they wait too long it might not be available.

    In this example shows you the last time a particular hotel was booked. By doing so, they’re creating a feeling of competition among consumers:

  7. Remind customers of the pain of not buying
  8. People buy because there is a certain type of need that should be met, or pain that must be eased. Generally, pain is a better motivator than pleasure. This concept is known as loss aversion. For example, some people buy food because they want to avoid the pain of feeling hungry. Others purchase the newest iPhone because of the “fear of missing out” and having out-dated technology.

    The trick here is to remind people of how unsettling it is to live with these problems, and how their problems can be solved by making a purchase.

    In this example Terminix does this by showing you what could happen if you don’t use their extermination services:

    Image Source

  9. Raise your customer’s fear of a price increase
  10. Price is a major factor when people make a purchase. By clearly communicating to your customers that the current price is only available for a limited time you’ll create urgency because of everyone’s desire to save money.

    One Australian retailer does this by slowly raising the price of their products every second. The longer you wait, the higher the price:

    Image Source

  11. Present it as a rare opportunity
  12. When something is positioned as rare, it’s value instantly increases and therefore the urgency to buy increases. A great example of this in the tour and activity industry is whale watching season.

    Since whales migrate to different locations throughout the year, the ability to see them in a particular location while someone is on vacation could be considered a rare opportunity.

    In this example, notice how one tour company demonstrates that whale watching season is only available for a few months out of the year, thereby presenting this as a rare opportunity for their potential customers:

  13. Use promotions
  14. Another effective way to create urgency is through the use of promotions. Promotions give your customers the sense that they are spending money wisely because they are purchasing something of greater value for a lesser price.

    Retailers like Wal-Mart are famous for using this strategy during their Black Friday sales. In fact, they work so well that their customers have been known to camp out in front of their stores for days at a time just to make a purchase.

    In the example below see how Best Buy conveys a sense of urgency for their black friday sale by telling their customers that the price is only available for a limited time:

  15. Show how much time is left before the offer expires

Creating a deadline is another effective way of communicating urgency to your potential customers. The great thing about about deadlines, according to this blog post from CrazyEgg, is that “when a marketing message attached to a time, our urgency level automatically goes up.”

Online retailer, Amazon, does a great job of creating urgency using deadlines. In the following screenshot you’ll notice how they communicate to their customers shipping deadlines and the desired action the customer needs to take if they want to get their product shipped to them by a certain date:


As humans we tend to give higher priority to urgent matters because many of us have a fear of missing out. While urgency can be a great way to increase sales of your tours and activities, it’s important that you implement it correctly in order to get the maximum benefit from this strategy.

When deciding how you will create urgency for your customers I recommend asking yourself the question, “why do my customers need to take action now?”

Asking yourself this question will help you determine whether it’s better to convey real or implied urgency to your customers and the most effective way  to encourage your customers to take action immediately.

Do you think creating a sense of urgency will increase sales for your business too? If so, I recommend taking a look at your website to see how you can use the strategies I’ve mentioned above to sell more tours and activities.

How to Name Your Tours & Activities: A Data Driven Guide

How much thought do you put into naming your tours and activities?

If you have your hands full running your business I’m guessing it’s not high on your list of priorities, but what if I told you re-naming your tours could make you more money? You’d be pretty motivated to put in those extra few minutes before you click “save” right?

A well written tour name could mean the difference between someone reading your tour’s description or not. How many of your customers do you think booked your tours without reading the description first? Not many I’m guessing.

Now that we understand why tour names are so important let’s examine what makes up a great tour name (using data) and how you can consistently create excellent names for your tours and activities.

In this week’s post I’ll show you:

  • Why a well written tour name is so important
  • How to create tour names that convert visitors into customers
  • How to decide which of your tour names is a winner

Let’s get started, shall we?

Why a well written tour name is so important

In today’s world of smart phones and social media first impressions are more important than ever. Did you know that the average person has a shorter attention span than a goldfish? It’s true, and it’s the reason why you need to create captivating names for your tours. You only get one shot to convince someone to give your tours a try.

You can probably overcome a lackluster first impression due to a poorly chosen tour name with a professional looking website, but what if your tours are listed alongside your competitors’ tours on an OTA’s website? In this scenario it’s an even playing field so what else, besides a great name, will help you stand out from the competition?

While it’s nice to assume that every customer who visits your website reads your tour descriptions the reality is they probably don’t. Let’s take this blog post for example, after I hit publish I’ll share it on our Twitter and Facebook accounts. On average, 80% of people who see it will read the headline and only 20% of people will actually read the post itself.

Since blog headlines are similar to tour and activity names in the sense that both have limited space and both are designed to entice you to read more we’re going to dig into some data about what constitutes a winning blog headline and apply those takeaways to creating tour and activity names.

How to create tour names that convert visitors into customers

So how exactly do you create the perfect tour name? Unfortunately there’s no one size fits all answer because the perfect tour name can vary based on a lot of different factors like who your target customer is and what kind of tours you sell.

Remember, when creating tour names, don’t write them for yourself and don’t write them for your resellers. At the end of the day, it’s your customers that will be purchasing your tour so if you don’t speak to them it doesn’t matter what the name of your tour is.

So how do you ensure success when creating names for your tours and activities? Follow the tips below:

1. Analyze your tour name to determine its “Emotional Marketing Value” using this free tool.

Why is it important to create headlines that inspire emotions? In a study of the most shared content on Reddit, i.e. content that had gone “viral”, one thing was consistent across the board, viral content always evoked high energy emotions like surprise and anticipation. So by writing tour names that evoke these emotions consumers are more likely to share them which will lead to more sales!

2. To take it one step further, borrow words from popular headlines that have already gone viral. Kevan Lee from Buffer analyzed over 3,000 headlines from 2 dozen websites to create a list of the most commonly used words and phrases in headlines that have gone viral. Take a look and see if you could incorporate any of these words into your tour names.

3. Force yourself to write 25 names for each of your activities before you decide on one. Vero follows this rule in order to help themselves dig deep and come up with great names for their blog posts.

4. Try to keep your tour name under 6 words (if possible) since people tend to only read the first 3 and the last 3 words of a headline. By limiting your tour name to 6 words you make every word count!

5. If possible try to include colons or hyphens in the name. A study of 150,000 article headlines found that this increased click-through percentages by 9%.

6. Consider using numbers in your tour’s name. One study found that readers preferred headlines that included numbers in them.


You can achieve the same results with a simple tweak, try “2 Hour Kayak Tour” vs. “Kayak Tour” or “7 Stop Pub Crawl” vs. “Pub Crawl.”

7. Lastly, make the name of your tour crystal clear. Here’s a great tip by Matthew Newton of TourismTiger reminding us to avoid a common mistake businesses make when naming their tours.


How to decide which of your tour names is a winner

Now that you know what the elements are for creating a great name and I’ve given you some ideas for how to generate them it’s time to see which ones work the best. Here are 5 tips to help you determine if all your hard work has paid off:

1. If you have multiple agencies who resell your products consider creating different names for the same product and distribute them among your various resellers. One company which sells pool and waterfall cleaners did something similar by selling their product with multiple different names on ebay in order to get real-time feedback from the marketplace. By taking the time to do this they were able to find a name for their product which increased their sales by 400%!

You can’t sell your tours on eBay but you can sell them on Craigslist. Consider listing the same tour on Craigslist, but create a unique name for each listing. Give each listing a unique email address so you can track the number of responses you get from each.

2. With ActivityRez you can easily create multiple booking engines to integrate into your website. Use this feature to display two versions of your tours and use paid advertising to drive traffic to each version, then measure the results.

3. Speaking of paid traffic, you can simplify it even further by using Adwords to A/B test tour names. Create multiple ads, each with a unique tour name, and see which ads people click on the most to help you pick the best name. Tim Ferris used this exact method to come up with the name for his bestselling book “The 4-Hour Workweek.”

4. Get feedback from your customers and fans. If you’re wondering which names will get a better response from consumers, post both names on Twitter and Facebook. If one gets more clicks than the other you’ve found a winner!

5. If your website was built using WordPress you could use the Headlines WordPress plugin to automatically A/B test your tour names until you gather enough data to see which one people click on more.

6. On your website create a duplicate of the exact same activity but with a different name. Install CrazyEgg on your website to see exactly where your visitors are clicking. Once you’ve gotten a statistically significant amount of clicks keep the winner and remove the loser from your website.

These are just a few techniques you can use to determine which tour names appeal to your customers. There are countless ways to determine which names work best but what’s most important is that you get real feedback from your target customers.


There’s no one thing you can do to sell more tours. If you want to sell more, you’re going to need to execute on a number of different levels. Creating tour names that generate more clicks is just one small step in the conversion funnel, but it’s important nonetheless.

So if your job is to sell more tours why don’t you follow the advice I’ve given above? Take a few extra minutes to create fun, exciting names that your customers will love and the extra effort will quickly pay for itself.

3 Tips To Have Your Best Busy Season Yet

The summer months are upon us and this means the busiest time of the year for most tour and activity companies. Since a successful busy season can mean the difference between a good and bad year it’s important that you have a strategy to make this your best year yet.

If your business is in a destination that’s highly seasonal a strategy is even more important. For example some destinations like Uruguay and Croatia get as much as two-thirds of their visitors during the summer! It’s a well known fact that people love summer and this means the summer season is your best opportunity for growth. In fact a recent survey by Facebook found that 43% of respondents had goals of spending more time outdoors and 32% wanted to try a new activity.

In order to help you prepare, I’ve put together 3 tips to make sure this turns out to be your best busy season yet. Follow these simple tips and you’ll also have a blueprint to make sure each subsequent summer is better than the last.

Tip #1: Prepare


Firstly, if you want to have a successful busy season you’re going to want to make the necessary preparations. While this may seem obvious, there’s a lot that can go into preparing for your busiest time of the year. Let’s take a look what you have to do at a minimum to be prepared.

Goal Setting

We all know that it’s important to have business goals but did you know that having goals can actually improve our chances for success?

In a study of a group of Harvard MBA students, the students were asked if they had clear, written goals for their future. 13% of the students had goals but did not write them down while 3% had written goals. The other 84% didn’t have any goals.

Ten years after graduation the same students were interviewed and the group that had goals were earning three times as much as those who didn’t have goals. What’s even more amazing is the students who wrote down their goals were earning ten times as much as all of the other students combined!

Along with setting goals you’ll want to have a way to measure whether it was a successful busy season or not. Depending on what your goals are it could be easy or hard to measure them.

What metric will you use to define success? Sales? Customer satisfaction? Here are a few goals that you might want to set for your business as well as some ways to measure whether you’ve reached those goals or not.

  • Sales goals – Consider setting a goal to have more gross sales than you did for the same time period during the previous year.

This is probably the easiest goal to measure because all you need to do is compare your sales reports for the busy season to the same time period of the previous year. You can do this easily within ActivityRez with our powerful reporting features.

  • Conversion goals – Do you want to convert more visitors into customers?

You can measure what percentage of people who visited your website converted into customers by installing analytics on your website. If you have a brick and mortar location you can count how many people walk into your store and divide that amount by the number of transactions you have. To do this have an employee stand by the front door and greet your guests while using a manual people counter to measure how many visitors you have to calculate your conversion rate.

  • Revenue per transaction – A great way to increase sales without an increase in traffic is to add more products to each transaction.

Challenge your employees to sell at least two products on every transaction or sell higher ticket items. They could offer a souvenir as an add-on, cross-sell other complimentary products, or up sell the customer into an activity that includes more bells and whistles.

  • Customer satisfaction – Good business isn’t just about sales right? Set a goal to have a positive satisfaction rating from your customers so you can increase referrals and return customers year after year.

After you’ve fulfilled the activity for your customers ask them to fill out a survey on a card with a simple question about how they felt about their experience. If that’s too hard to do, email your customers afterwards using a free email service provider like MailChimp along with a survey that you can create using Google Forms, Google’s free service for creating forms.

Create a Strategy

Now that you’ve created goals for yourself, your business, and your team it’s time to figure out how you’ll reach those goals.

Your strategy can vary wildly based on what your goals are so when creating a strategy take a lot of factors into consideration. You should:

  • Figure out what each of your employees’ strengths and weaknesses are and set them up for success by putting them in roles that play to their strengths. If you need help in some areas consider hiring seasonal workers to help with customer service and other less specialized jobs.
  • Figure out a way to get in front of your customers that are most profitable and convert best. If this isn’t your first year then you already have a good idea of which type of customers are best to target. For example, is your cost to acquire a local customer on a staycation lower than a someone visiting from another country? If so, you may want to focus your efforts there.
  • Consider incentivizing employees with bonuses, gifts, parties, or paid time off. If there’s something tangible that your employees can look forward to it’s easier to get buy-in from your entire team. Here at ActivityRez we use for employee recognition. With your employees can reward each other for doing a great job which helps promote teamwork.


Since you’ve already made investments in hiring and keeping your employees happy it’s wise to invest in training them because there’s little room for error during your busiest time of year

Much like setting goals and creating a strategy you might feel like your employees are already well trained and you just don’t have enough time to get around to it. However, when you consider that the simple act of visualizing success can improve performance it makes sense to make the effort.

To give you an idea of what a difference practice and visualization can make let’s take a look at an Australian study that measured how well 3 different groups of students performed at free throw shooting if they either practiced free throws, did not practice free throws, or visualized shooting free throws.

Surprisingly, the group that visualized shooting free throws had a 23% improvement over the group that didn’t use visualization. The group that actually practiced free throws improved 24% over the group that didn’t practice or use visualization. So the takeaway here is that practice improves performance but visualization can be nearly as good as practice itself.

Check Your Processes

Hopefully, by now you have processes in place for making sure every aspect of your business runs smoothly. Now’s the time to double check those processes to make sure everything still works. To start with, here’s a list of things to check before the busy season arrives:

  • Make sure all contact phone numbers and email addresses on your website work and that the appropriate people are receiving them.
  • Complete a booking on your website to make sure the checkout process will work for your online customers.
  • Check that your employee contact information is up to date so if anyone calls in sick you know how to get in touch with other employees to help out.
  • Do you have a process for generating referrals from customers or getting repeat business? If you do, make sure it’s streamlined or if possible automate the process. If you don’t have a process, now’s the time to make one.
  • Ensure that every step in your checkout and fulfillment process is clear (including your itinerary and cancellation policy) so you can manage your customer’s expectations and prevent a possible poor experience.

These are just a few things to take into consideration. Since this list can grow pretty long I recommend focusing on things that will reduce friction for your customers to book your tours and activities. For example here’s a great tip from the Manager of eCommerce at Atlantis Adventures.


Tip #2: Analyze

Technically this tip will be more helpful once next year comes around but if you plan on following these tips each year it’s important that you give yourself something to work with from the previous year.

Earlier I mentioned creating goals and putting a system in place to track them. Once the busy season is over you will want to review those metrics to see whether you reached your goals or not. Whether your goal was to improve sales or customer satisfaction you’ll want to look at the data you collected and form a hypothesis about why you did or did not reach your goal.

For example, did you fall short of your goal to increase direct bookings on your website? If so take a look at your website’s analytics to determine what your conversion rate was. Was it lower than the 1.56% conversion rate that the travel industry is known for?

Your hypothesis about why your conversion rate was low could be that it was due to hidden fees that are added during the checkout process or maybe your website lacks a clear value proposition.

Write down your hypothesis and save it for later so we can revisit it

1. Choose the type of content you want to share

Finally you’ll want to apply everything you’ve learned from preparing for and analyzing the results from your busy season.

I recommend bringing your entire team together to do a post-mortem where you can discuss everything that did or didn’t do well. This is also a great time to recognize employees who did an outstanding job and celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.

Based on the feedback you get from your team during the post-mortem you can create new processes for next year. Also you’ll want to use the hypothesis you formed earlier to create next year’s strategy for reaching your goals so be sure to save it somewhere handy.


The busy season can seem overwhelming, but this is the moment you look forward to all year. In fact, the busy season might even be the reason why you got into this business in the first place.

So don’t let another busy season pass without a plan of attack. Prepare, analyze, and follow up to ensure your team’s success as well as inspire your customers to come back year after year!

Over to You

  • Is there anything you do to prepare for your busiest time of the year? I’d love to hear what works for you and your business. Let’s chat in the comments.
  • Don’t forget to download the PDF of this post below to share with your team so everyone is onboard for your best busy season yet!

A Simple Guide To Marketing Like An Online Travel Agency

Do you ever feel like there’s not enough time in the day for you to market your business properly?

If you said “yes”, you’re not alone. Email service provider, Aweber, conducted a survey and found that 91% of small business owners fulfill the marketing function for their company yet many of them spend less than 2 hours per week on actual marketing through their various channels.

If you feel like you’re in the same boat you might be happy to learn that you can get help with your marketing efforts by tapping into an entire network of marketers, and the great part is you only have to pay them when they perform!

It’s called affiliate marketing and with the right tools, getting started is easier than you think.

In the following paragraphs you’ll learn more about affiliate marketing, how it relates to the travel industry, and how you can leverage affiliates to sell your products for you.

1. Choose the type of content you want to share

Wikipedia defines affiliate marketing as “performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts.”

To be clear affiliate marketing isn’t a new concept for the travel industry though it may go by many different names. Technically, any travel agent who resells your products and services would be considered an affiliate.

The concept of affiliate marketing (as it exists on the internet) is relatively new. Originally introduced in 1994, it wasn’t made popular until 1996 when Amazon introduced their Amazon Associates program.

Today affiliate marketing is really hitting its stride. As far back as 2006 Marketing Sherpa estimated that affiliates earned 6.5 billion dollars in commissions worldwide. In addition, if you consider that in 2013 leisure travel sales (via digital channels like desktop and mobile) accounted for more than $126 billion worldwide the opportunity for affiliate marketing in the travel sector is huge.

How Does It Work?

Essentially your affiliates are given a unique way of tracking any sales they refer to your business. This allows them to refer sales to you at scale, rather than having to call, fax, or email you with each sale.

In order to track sales referred to you, you need special technology to attribute the sale to the proper affiliate.

Developing the technology to track sales from affiliates can be costly and time consuming so it makes sense to either partner with an affiliate network or use a reservation system that has built in affiliate tracking technology.

Should you decide to use an affiliate network it’s best to start with one that’s been around for a while. Here are a few affiliate networks that have stood the test of time:

The above networks are used by brands both small and large. In fact, online travel agency Expedia uses Commission Junction and Viator uses ShareASale for their respective affiliate programs.

Pros & Cons of Using an Affiliate Network

Vetting new affiliates, managing existing affiliates, building the technology to track their sales, and handling accounts payable can become a very time consuming process. For that reason many companies turn to affiliate networks to run their affiliate programs.

In exchange for managing your affiliates end to end they take a small cut of the commission for themselves.

The pros of working with an affiliate network are that you don’t have to do as much set up and maintenance of your affiliate program.

The cons are that it can be slightly more expensive when compared to managing your affiliates yourself. However when you take into account the cost of creating the tracking technology, and managing accounts payable, plus vetting affiliates the costs can balance out.

The biggest downside to working with an affiliate network is you really don’t have much control over how your affiliates are promoting your products and representing your brand. If an affiliate is over promising on the services you’ll deliver or using aggressive tactics it can hurt your brand more than it can help.

How It Works With the Travel Industry

Affiliate marketing and the travel industry actually go hand in hand since it seems like people have been reselling travel products since the beginning of time.

Consumers tend to prefer to purchase products directly from the brands that created them and they can sometimes be wary of purchasing from resellers for a variety of reasons.

Fortunately when it comes to travel products consumers are accustomed to the same product being sold by multiple resellers across multiple websites. In fact, consumers are so used to shopping around for travel products that in a recent survey 37% of respondents said the reason why they abandon their shopping cart is to compare prices on other websites.

Not only do consumers not have a problem purchasing travel products from resellers online but they also don’t mind purchasing them from travel agents as well. A survey by Consumer Trends found that 13% of escorted tours were booked through a travel agent. While this may sound small in comparison to direct bookings, keep in mind that consumers who booked through a travel agent took longer trips and spent more money.

Is It Right For Your Business?

When deciding if creating an affiliate program is right for your business you want to take a couple of things into consideration. Ask yourself, does it fit in with your overall business goals and marketing strategy?

Is your goal to be the biggest tour operator in your city? Or do you want to be the biggest tour operator in your region?

If you have goals of being a major player in your region you’ll need to include sales and marketing into your overall strategy. Fortunately, the best way to scale your marketing is with affiliate partnerships. Even with your own sales and marketing team you may not be able to see the benefits you would get from a team of affiliates who each have their own marketing skills and list of clients.

Likewise, If you’re happy with owning the market in your city then you might want to grow slow and steady. Focus on giving great service and rely on referrals from your customers and word of mouth marketing.

The last thing you want is to hurt your business’s reputation because you got more bookings than you could handle and you weren’t able to give each customer a great experience.

Should you decide to move forward with an affiliate program you’ll want to make sure you can dedicate some resources to managing and growing your affiliate business.

How To Get Started

There are a couple ways you can get started in creating your own affiliate program. You can partner with an affiliate network to manage everything for you, or you can manage your own program as long as you have affiliate tracking technology built into your reservation system. I recommend doing both as they will likely compliment each other.

If you decide to partner with one of the affiliate networks I’ve mentioned above it’s as simple as signing up on their website and setting up your account. You set the terms and upload any ads or special promotions for the affiliates on that network to use.

If you decide to manage your own affiliate program you can do this easily within ActivityRez. it’s as simple as creating a new company within our Marketplace and setting up the commission percentages that you’ll give affiliates from that company when they sell each of your products.

You can set up the user accounts for each of the affiliates within that company yourself or they can sign up on their own via your website.

Once they’re set up all they have to do is log in using the travel agent log in feature that’s built into your website and the system will automatically track every booking they make on your behalf.


Your affiliates can view their potential commissions and commissions earned at any time so it’s completely hands off for you. Each month we’ll automatically email you an accounts payable report so you know how much commission to pay your affiliates.

Ensuring Success with Affiliate Marketing

As with any other marketing campaign the amount of time and effort you invest in growing your affiliate program will directly correlate with the amount of success you have.

That being said here are a few basic things you can do to ensure the success of your affiliate program:

Offer competitive payouts – At the very least you should be paying a commission rate that is on par with the industry. If you’re not sure what’s a good commission percentage to pay your affiliates, sign up for the free affiliate programs that Expedia and Viator offer to see what commission percentages they offer their affiliates.

Keep in mind they are reselling other activity supplier’s products so their margins will be smaller than yours. This means you should be able to match similar commission percentages at the very least…if not offer higher commission rates.

Make timely payments – Create transparent payment terms for your affiliate partners and commit to a payment schedule. If your affiliates are unsure about when they can expect to receive payment for commissions earned or worse yet, they receive their commissions late, they may send business elsewhere.

For example, you could pay your affiliates 30 days after you have fulfilled the booking for the consumer, this will help minimize any potential losses you might have from cancellations or chargebacks.

Reduce friction – The easier it is for affiliates to promote your products the more likely they are to give you business. Help them with their sales and marketing efforts by doing part of their job for them.

You could:

  • Create banner ads they can use on their website or give them marketing collateral that they can use when corresponding with their clients. Here’s an example of how FreshBooks makes it easy for their customers to share their product (and rewards them for doing so.)
  • Keep your affiliates in the loop when you launch new products and special deals by sending out a regular email newsletter.
  • Create unique discount codes for your affiliates to use to create urgency for their clients to book with you.

Network – To grow your affiliate program you always want to be onboarding new affiliates. You can do this by attending industry events or events for affiliate marketers like Affiliate Summit or the USTOA annual conference.

Build relationships – After you’ve onboarded new affiliates take an active role in helping them succeed. Reach out to them regularly to find out if they’re having any trouble selling your products. Solicit their feedback and come up with strategies to help them drive more sales.

Show them that you genuinely care about their success and they’ll continue to refer customers to your business.


While this isn’t a comprehensive guide on affiliate marketing it should help get some ideas flowing about how you can leverage affiliates to sell your products for you.

By now you should have a good understanding of what affiliate marketing is and if it will work for your business. Most importantly, I hope I’ve shown you that it’s easy to get started creating your own affiliate marketing campaign and hopefully I’ve given you some ideas on how you can use this marketing channel to continuously drive sales for you far into the future.

It’s Your Turn

  • Have you found success selling your travel products with the help of affiliates? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.
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