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New year, same question: Should you list your tours on an OTA?

Long story short, Online Travel Agencies are still going to remain a huge part of the travel industry in 2022, and their preference among younger generations may mean that we can expect it to stay that way for the foreseeable future. As OTAs are likely not going anywhere anytime soon, make sure to consider a handful of pros and cons before listing your tours. 

OTAs are commonly portrayed as the villains of the tour industry, but there are some good aspects to them. 

  • First and foremost, exposure. People who don’t know you exist, aren’t going to book. OTAs are very popular and reach tons of potential customers. While your site may not get a lot of traffic from organic results, OTAs will – and chances are a percentage of that massive volume of traffic will find your listing. You can also use your listings on OTAs to expose visitors specifically to your brand. Make sure you use photos and succinct copy to portray what makes your tours better than the rest, and what makes your company stand out. 
  • The review frameworks on OTAs can also be a huge benefit to operators. People who search for tours include customer reviews in their primary filters when choosing which one they will purchase. OTAs do a great job of making it easy for customers to leave reviews, which means you can likely build up a good review library using OTAs. Once you have a nice library of reviews, you’re likely to see more attention and bookings. Reviews also give you a chance to interact with customers in front of a public audience. People love to feel acknowledged, so if there’s proof of you acknowledging both positive and negative reviews on your listings, you are likely to win over some more customers. 
  • Once you’ve got a beautiful listing and a good portfolio of reviews, another benefit of OTAs is the ease with which anyone can compare different listings. In one spot, customers can see who’s offering what, at what price, and with what quality and quantity of reviews. It simply makes it straightforward for customers to decide early on in their booking process to choose your company over the competition
  • Finally, listing is free on most OTAs. To type up a business profile and add some tours, the only cost you’ll incur is your  time.  Free exposure is a fantastic benefit – especially for new operators who have not yet built up a lot of organic traffic, or traffic from other channels like newsletters and ads. While these listings likely won’t do anything for your site’s SEO (look for this in the cons section), you’ll still get a chance to be seen by any of the millions of visitors that OTAs get to their sites. 

Unfortunately, not everything can be all rainbows and sunshine. OTAs have a handful of disadvantages to listing with them as well. 

  • While it’s free to list, OTAs are going to take a fee from any booking you get through their platform. There are fees ranging from 5-25% depending on the OTA! You won’t be charged if you don’t get any  bookings through their platform, but your profit margins on OTA bookings are likely going to be smaller than on direct bookings
  • OTAs can help expose your brand to customers, but in some cases, customers may confuse your brand with the OTA, which can hurt you in certain situations. For example, if an OTA charges a hidden fee while booking, customers may think that the fee is coming from you. Now, you’ve got to deal with a bad review about hidden fees that has nothing to do with your business! Another example is with OTA customer service. If a customer has any issues and needs to connect with their customer service, and then the OTA gives them a poor experience on top of that, it will reflect poorly on your brand in the end. 
  • There are a couple of drawbacks specifically related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). One of them relates to the backlinks you receive from the OTAs. When you list on their site, they will inevitably have a link going to your site, or a few links. Search engines (like Google) love websites with a lot of backlinks as it signifies the site’s relevance to any given topic, but the backlinks you receive from OTAs will likely be tagged as NoFollow. Basically, this means that search engines will ignore that backlink and it will have no SEO value. The exposure factor will still be there, but if you’re trying to build a strong link profile you should look elsewhere. 
  • When you list on OTAs, you’re now actively competing against yourself organically on search engine results pages (SERP). Start by thinking of your listings as additional pages on their website. Now, let’s say you are a tour company based in Boston. OTAs spend large parts of their huge marketing budgets on getting to the top of organic rankings for broad words like ‘Boston tours.’ While your site may also be relevant to that keyword, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to outrank a site that has hundreds or thousands of options that are relevant to that keyword. When you list on their site, you’re just adding pages to their site that are relevant to the same keywords your site is relevant to. Basically, when two pages are relevant to the same keyword, search engines will rank the site with higher domain authority better and most OTAs are going to have very high domain authority. TripAdvisor, for example, has a domain authority of 93 at the time this is published. Small tour operator sites tend to average between 20-30 domain authority, so it’s quite difficult for them to rank at the top for any keywords that OTAs target. 

Once you’ve put some thought into how the pros and cons affect your business, there are even some outside factors that can affect if and how you list on OTAs.

  • Does your site already have a good base of direct bookings? If you’re already getting a good base of traffic and bookings to your site, you may want to consider optimizing your site to expand on that base rather than listing on OTAs in search of traffic or bookings. 
  • Does your site have a successful blog? If you are great with a blog, and your posts attract a good amount of visitors to the site you may not need to seek business from OTAs. Blogs are perfect for attracting traffic looking for information. They may not be ready to book yet, but if you can provide them with trustworthy information, the key is to show them that you also offer tours related to the information they were looking for. Turning visitors from information phase traffic to booking intent traffic is not easy, but if you have a successful blog and find a proper way on your site to convert them, you may not need any additional business from OTAs. 
  • Do you have reviews aggregated on non-OTA platforms? The best example here would be Google Reviews. If you have a solid library of reviews with Google Reviews or other platforms, you may not even need the review library from an OTA like TripAdvisor. Another thing to think of here is whether these other review platforms allow you to interact with the reviews, though most of them will definitely have this. 
  • Consider the billboard effect. Use the free exposure and review framework of OTAs to generate awareness and interest in your tours. Basically, this effect happens when people see your brand on an OTA, and then go out of their way to find your website and book there. It’s a fantastic way to snag some commission-free bookings. While it can happen naturally, there’s a few tricks you can try to trigger the Billboard Effect and increase direct bookings. 
  • You don’t have to list every tour from your website onto an OTA. List a few tours on there to get great reviews – but for some of your more unique or premium tier options, try to get direct bookings. Think of this as similar to the Billboard Effect, but with a bit of a twist. If you can get people to the site to check out the tours you list on the OTA, make special callouts to these additional offerings that they won’t find on any OTA. For example, you list a half day tour on an OTA, it gets great reviews and a conscientious user is looking into the tour via your site. They then see that there’s also a full day option, or a half day option with more perks on your site. The trick with this option, however, is turning OTA traffic into direct site bookings.
  • It may not be easy to delist your business from an OTA. While this differs depending on OTA, you should look into how to go about unlisting before deciding to list. You don’t want to be stuck in a relationship that isn’t working for you. 

There’s a lot to think about when deciding to list your tours with OTAs, and there are a lot of OTAs that you can list on. Not every OTA is built the same either, so be sure to look into specific details of each one that you are thinking of listing with, and combine that with the factors above to come to a decision. If you’re wondering where to start your search of OTAs to list on, you can download our list of 95 Places to List Your Tours. The list consists of OTAs and other websites that are awesome sources for tour listings, but be sure to carefully consider if each one is right for you.

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