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8 tools and tricks to drive more direct bookings to your tour/activity business

From email marketing software to paid search marketing, in this guest post, Xola share 8 tips and tricks to boost your company’s direct bookings.


It’s no secret that Online Travel Agencies (a.k.a. OTAs) can help put your tours in front of more people. But at what cost?

While two out of every three travelers are now using OTAs to plan their trips, there are plenty of ways for tour operators to boost direct bookings.

Most tourism businesses understand the need to find a balance between direct bookings via their website versus third-party reservations.
One of the main reasons is that third-party booking platforms typically charge high commissions. Coupled with the lack of control over your tour listings — your tour will look like every other listing on the page — tour operators are steadily working toward gaining back their share of the market.

From email marketing software to paid search marketing, here are 8 tips and tricks to boost your company’s direct bookings.

1. Booking software
2. Email marketing software
3. Retargeting ads
4. Abandoned booking recovery
5. Paid search marketing
6. Website-only discounts
7. Mobile booking
8. Compelling tour descriptions

1. Booking software

A good booking software, like Xola, can turn your website into a 24/7 reservationist. This means your guests no longer have to pick up a phone or limit themselves to your business hours to make a booking.
They can visit your website, browse through your offerings, and make a decision whenever (and wherever) they’re ready.
Some booking software tools allow guests to view real-time availability, such as what time slots are available and on what dates. These are two factors that’ll help them make their booking decision, especially if they see that their desired time slot is almost filled.
More so, they can add their name to Xola’s waitlist feature if a specific tour is sold out.
Overall, your booking software should simplify a once-complicated process involving travel agents and phone reservations.
Pro tip: Make sure to look for key features like a quick and easy checkout and abandoned booking recovery emails — which we’ll expand on later in this post — to drive even more direct bookings.

2. Email marketing software

You can find your most loyal guests on your email list. These are the customers that keep up with company updates, and they’re the first to want to try your new tours or activities.

Email campaigns are a crucial part of every tourism business’s marketing strategy. Marketing emails can be especially useful for communicating seasonal offers and email-only discounts, both of which help drive direct bookings.

For example, you can use data from your digital waivers to send personalized offers to past guests — such as a birthday campaign that offers them a discounted rate on their special day.

3. Retargeting ads

Retargeting pixels allow you to track the people that come in and out of your website. Then, you can use this data to promote your tours to potential customers that have previously engaged with your company.

For example, you might choose to show your Facebook ad to website visitors who clicked on a specific tour page. This means you’re retargeting a group of people who have already warmed up to your brand. They’ve visited your website in the past and are aware of the services you offer.

It’s easier to sell your tours to someone who’s familiar with your company than to someone who’s never heard of you.

While Apple and Google recently announced new privacy laws that make it harder for brands to track consumer behavior online, tour operators can still leverage their own customer data, such as your email list, for retargeting purposes.

4. Abandoned booking recovery

Abandoned booking emails allows you to automatically reach out to customers who didn’t complete a purchase.

If you’re a tour provider, you know that customers sometimes start a booking yet abandon it for one reason or another.

When a customer begins the checkout process but does not follow through with the booking, it’ll be considered “abandoned” after one hour of inactivity.

Then, that customer will automatically be sent an email that invites them to finish the booking. Not only does this drive more direct bookings for your company, but it also rescues revenue that would have otherwise been lost.

5. Paid search marketing

Trip planning today starts with a quick Google search: “Best places to go hiking in October.” Eventually, the traveler will narrow down the search by specific location, dates, and so on. 

If you’re a hiking tour operator in their chosen destination, this is when you’ll want to start popping up on their searches. 

Paid search marketing allows you to do that. Through Google ads, for instance, you can appear at the top of search results for specific keywords in your niche. This allows you to target very specific customers that are actively searching for the experiences you’re selling.

Once these potential guests land on your website and see that you’re offering exactly what they’re looking for — let’s say a three-day hiking tour in Denver, Colorado — then they’re much likelier to make that booking.

6. Website-only discounts

Why would a guest book your tours through a third-party company if the best offer can be found on your website? A strategic way of driving more direct bookings is to appeal to price-sensitive customers with website-only discounts. 

This could be an offer like, “Book via our website for 10% off your tour.”

Every time a visitor lands on your website, they’ll be reminded of this discount. You could even advertise the offer through email and social media. When your customers see that they’ll be rewarded for booking through you directly, there will be no reason for them to book elsewhere.

7. Mobile booking

A mobile-friendly website is necessary if you want to catch travelers who book things on the go. 

Most travelers are already researching travel on their phones. With the rise of online bookings, booking a flight and hotel is as easy as switching from one app to another. Over 60% of leisure travelers in the U.S. are now finding flights, accommodations, and trip experiences online — and your tour company stands to benefit from this.

Google found that 48% of experience bookings happen when travelers arrive at their destinations, mostly through their mobile phones. When your website supports mobile booking, you’ll be able to tap into the growing number of travelers booking experiences in your city.

8. Compelling tour descriptions

This last tip isn’t so much a tool as it is a strategy to capture your guests’ attention.

Every tour description should provide the details, itinerary, pricing, and unique highlights of a tour or experience. But a great tour description doesn’t only inform the reader, it also convinces them to book.

A compelling description starts with a catchy title that appeals to your target customer. It features beautiful photos that draw them in, as well as testimonials that showcase the amazing experiences of previous guests.

The best tour descriptions also use storytelling techniques like descriptive language to highlight what makes it unique. Your tour description should make your guests so excited about the experience that they’re unable to click away from the page without hitting the “Book Now” button.

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It’s never been so easy — or convenient — for travelers to book experiences through their laptops or mobile phones. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go directly to your site to do so.

It’s time to introduce your guests to the best 24/7 booking platform out there: your website.