If there’s one thing that the global pandemic has taught everybody is self-reliance. From individuals to businesses, everyone was thrown in deep waters in 2020 to take ownership and steer by themselves through the abyss. The tours, activities and attractions sector was no different – operators were left in a lurch as countries shut their borders and enacted nationwide lockdowns. Amid the operational void, several operators scaled back their internal and external initiatives, including sales and marketing. Naturally, distributors also shifted their attention to other active and profitable products in markets which reopened to travellers.
As markets return to some sense of normalcy and demand rebounds fleetingly, operators find themselves at crossroads – should they take the familiar path of rekindling old processes and partnerships or take a chance with the unknown approach that forces diversification, self-resilience, and ownership of one’s own destiny?
Out with the Old, In with the New.
As opaque as it may seem, times like these can define a business and its legacy. Operators should review aspects that could be handled in-house and limit reliance on third parties to drive operational and cost efficiencies. This is most noticeable in the case of sales and distribution. For decades, operators embraced distributors to expose their brand and increase sales by leveraging their global footprint, salesforce, and marketing budgets. Over time, operators also realized costs associated with third-party distribution and, more recently, a vacuum during the ongoing pandemic.
Now is the ideal opportunity for operators to shift their dependence away from distributors to create their own market presence. In doing so, the biggest challenge will be to bridge the gap to reach consumers directly. To meet this challenge, it is essential for experience providers to understand their vulnerabilities and then consider ways to gain control on what’s their own.
Distribution is core to any business, but siding with third parties may also dilute the brand promise and expectations. Operators are the proud custodians of their brands and have absolute knowledge of their products, any direct-to-customer approach would enhance the overall customer experience, build direct brand relationships, and boost brand loyalty. The question operators should ask themselves is at what cost? Is it worth offsetting these costs to manage direct-to-customer initiatives in-house or work with specialists, including distributors, who can get the job done?
Change is the new constant.
The travel industry is constantly advancing, and emerging technologies are altering standard operational practices. Undoubtedly, there are better opportunities for companies that keep pace with the latest travel trends and embrace new ways of doing business. Operators have a slew of solutions to choose from to manage their digital brand presence and deploy a budget to advertise across major social networks and search engines. A related obstacle is figuring out which is the most ideal and suitable solution for not only one’s business but also budget and skill sets.
Solutions that can enable operators to perform some degree of their brand-related initiatives already exist, including Google Search Console to understand website traffic trends and Facebook’s Business Manager to manage ad-spend on business accounts. Even website management platforms such as Squarespace, WordPress, and shopping platforms such as Shopify enable novice users to update websites effortlessly, including incorporating content, SEO, images, products, schedules, pricing, etc.
Operators don’t need to look beyond the travel industry for references for those treading in uncharted waters. From airlines to hotel chains, car rental companies to cruises, the industry has seen numerous suppliers take charge of their brand presence and distribution online. Any industry veteran would attest that the initial transition may be shaky, prove expensive, and appear out of the realm. Still, it is the will and investments in own’s brand that operators can realize the transition benefits in the long term.
The Three E’s to Redemption.
The three strategic areas operators must focus on to improve their online presence are the three E’s to redemption: Education, Enablement, Empowerment
- Educate to accelerate the digital presence. Those capitalizing on digital tools naturally lead their peers and competitors.
- Enable direct bookings to have direct access to your consumers. Operators would benefit directly from closer ties to their customer's direct communication about new products, updates, and promotions. Ultimately, operators are brand custodians, and it is integral for their stories to come directly rather than third parties.
- Empower to be the champions of your content. There is no one better than the individual business that holds complete knowledge of the product. Thus, aligning to emerging online trends based on what consumers want will be much more accessible by establishing a more substantial base for your own business and taking complete control.
What’s Next for Operators?
Ensuring that one’s brand or experience and offering are unique is the heart and soul of the tours and activities industry. This gets buried or subdued amid hundreds and thousands of listings on distributor websites. Operators must strive to maintain their uniqueness, whether it is through their website, social media or search engines. It is this unique aspect that consumers are looking for.
Coming out of the crisis, experience providers must answer important questions about growth and scalability. The factors that matter most will be the ability to embed emerging trends in decision making and creating a learning platform for knowing the business better. The pandemic has exposed many vulnerabilities in our industry, thus restraining from being overly dependent on third parties and ultimately aiming to be the champions of your own business is the best possible road ahead.