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One of the strangest aspects of being a tour operator who works with Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) is the fact that they are at once both your partner and your competitor. While OTAs do partner with you to sell your tours, they also compete with you for the same search traffic, customers, and revenue. Getting more bookings from our website is always our number one goal at MaxTour(opens in a new tab). We use these OTAs to complement our direct booking strategy.

Having a direct booking strategy that works is a no-brainer. If you get $200,000 a year in bookings from OTAs and they are charging you a 20% commission rate, then that is $40,000 a year that could have gone into your bank account. I hear so many business owners say they don’t have the funds to invest in their website, marketing, and direct sales strategy when in reality they are losing money by not engaging in this strategy.

This post assumes you have a conversion-focused, mobile-friendly website. If you don’t or don’t know what that means, start by clicking here(opens in a new tab), it is one of the best investments you will make for your company.

1. Don’t get undersold

Travelers like to shop around for the lowest prices, so keeping the price lowest on your own website will help attract price-sensitive customers(opens in a new tab). We believe it is particularly important to have a lower price than TripAdvisor or Viator. They are still the most important source of travel reviews, and highlighting those reviews on your website is a great marketing strategy. If potential guests leave your website to check more reviews on Tripadvisor, you want to make sure they don’t see a lower or equal price and book there, you want them to come back to your website to book for the lowest price. And with TripAdvisor themselves raising prices on many tours(opens in a new tab), it is clear that they are no longer concerned about having the lowest prices on the internet.

Another note, we have never once had a guest upset because they paid a higher rate than offered on our website. You should strive to have your website be the best place to purchase your tour and this starts by rewarding your direct bookings by giving them the lowest price.

2. Mark Your Territory

A lot of our guests find us via the OTAs. Guests will see our product on an OTA, see it is run by us, check out our website, and end up booking with us due to our lower prices and great service. Considering most OTAs won’t put your name on their product, how can you let potential guests know that it is your company that runs the tour? We like to ask guests to leave a review on the OTA and mention our company by name. You can also add photos to your listing that show your vehicle logo, or have a close-up shot of your tour guides wearing your logo prominently. Doing this will lead to gaining some traffic directly from the OTAs.

3. Offer Additional Benefits for Your Direct Booking Guests

We want to provide great service for all of our guests, however, we want the best place to book our tours to be our website. To help persuade people who are shopping around, we offer some special perks for direct bookings. Some options include hotel pick-up and drop-off, better cancelation policies, and better tipping policy. We get a lot of guests contacting us to ask if one of the tours on an OTA is the same as a tour on our website. Having these extra benefits allows us to tell potential guests that the product is the same, but they should book with us because we offer better perks compared to the OTA. Unless the guest has a great promo code for the OTA, this will persuade them every time.

4. Don’t Add Extra Fees

Everyone hates hidden fees, particularly ones that come at the end of a long booking process. As we mentioned above, price is a huge selling point for a large percentage of guests. If you are lopping on an additional undisclosed 6% at checkout, you risk the guest abandoning their cart to search for a better deal elsewhere. According to Statista(opens in a new tab), 56% of shoppers will abandon their cart when presented with unexpected costs.

And guess what? All major OTAs don’t have any extra fees upon checkout. If a tour on your website has the same price as the OTAs, any extra fees you add will make a direct booking more expensive than booking via an OTA. By eliminating booking fees at the end of the booking process, you will lower your cart abandonment rate, increase direct bookings, and create trust between your brand and your customers.

5. Beat Them to the Punch: Invest in Google Ads

The major OTAs are spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Google advertising.
You may feel that you can’t compete with such a large budget, but with a very specific strategy you can absolutely take on the OTAs in the advertising game. You don’t need to spend a lot to test if these ads are worth it, we started at $3 a day 4 years ago when we started our company. There are plenty of blog articles and YouTube videos out there that will help you set up a Google Ads campaign, however, here is my advice. Choose 1 or 2 very specific phrases that your guests would use to research your company, for example, Sydney Kayak Tours, Antelope Canyon Tour from Las Vegas(opens in a new tab), or Best Pub Crawl in Dublin. Write 2 ads for each keyword, use phrases that can help you stand out against the OTAs, and their ads and marketing: locally owned, family-owned, small group tour, a local favorite, award-winning, etc. Make sure you set the bidding type to “exact match”, this will only show your ad when your exact keyword is searched for. You should start out with a very low bid, you can always raise it if you aren’t getting any results. Depending on how competitive your market is, starting at .25 cents a click is a great starting point. Send your traffic to your product or tour page. If you are seeing some results, there are a lot of next steps to take like customizing landing pages, conversion tracking, expanded budgets, more keywords, more ads, and retargeting. The OTAs spend millions on Google Ads but don’t have the liberty to do a deep dive on every market, so you can beat them by running uber focused campaigns touting your local knowledge and superior service.

If you want to get more direct bookings, don’t expect overnight results. Work hard and learn from your experiences. If your strategy is done correctly and direct bookings start to increase, it can be incredibly profitable and satisfying. Good luck and feel free to reach out with any questions in the comments.

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