Coming off the inevitable high of 850 driven travel professionals convening for 4 full days of brainstorming and adventure at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Anchorage, Alaska at the end of September, I’ve been doing some heavy reflection on the inspiring and thought-provoking discussions that took place. These discussions were fuelled by hundreds of small business owners with one shared passion – delivering life-changing travel experiences.
Among small-to-medium-sized and often owner-operated tourism businesses (inbound tour operators/adventure specialists, lodges, B&Bs, etc.), the discussions at the Summit inevitably turned to: How do we strategically and effectively grow our businesses? In terms of sales, there are two options – going the direct-to-consumer route through direct marketing, or exploring the myriad of opportunities that travel trade offers, known as B2B marketing.
Both avenues can be daunting in their own way.
Pursuing the end consumer these days requires a laser-sharp focus of who your target market is and how to reach them. Without this, you risk not seeing maximum results for money invested (that dreaded acronym – ROI). Online may be the best way to reach a wider market, but spreading investment piecemeal over a multitude of platforms like social media, Google leads, pay-per-click, SEO, etc. dilutes your efforts. You end up communicating a little bit to a lot of people and never gaining enough critical mass to make an impact.
On the other hand, once you establish partnerships with travel trade such as tour operators, travel agents, and high-end custom trip designers, the direct-to-consumer marketing is done for you. Your only ‘marketing’ role is to manage those relationships and ensure your partners have everything they need in order to sell your destination or product.
So, why go down this path?
1. You reach an exponentially larger audience with similar investment of effort. If you put the same resources into building trade relationships as you would direct marketing, and as a result become the preferred inbound operator or lodging option for a handful of outbound operator, you are now receiving revenue for each client they send your way – opening up many more sales channels and multiplying your ROI.
2. One established relationship brings revenue for years to come. We like to call these strong partnerships ‘legacy clients’. The amount of effort it takes for an outbound tour operator to switch preferred suppliers in a certain region is high, so keep your trade partners happy and they will keep bringing you business.
3. Diversified sales channels. The more sales channels you have, the less business risk you have. Enough said.
4. Allowing you to enter new markets more easily than you could on your own. As an operator in Indonesia, do you know how to effectively reach American travelers? Trade partners are essentially your sales channels in your target markets who understand the cultural nuances of your target guest.
Indeed, as I mentioned before, working with the trade can be daunting in its own way.
Here are some tips for what you need in order to succeed in your B2B sales efforts:
1. A well-thought out strategy with a geographical focus. Different regions of the world have different client requirements. Do not try to be everything to everyone at the same time. Also, decide whether you’re interested in targeting tour operators or travel agents – both these markets have different needs.
2. An understanding of trade requirements. Partners will be looking to you for marketing collateral such as high-resolution images, inspiring itinerary ideas, and more in order to actually sell the destination or product to their clients. Don’t forget pricing; trade expects NET pricing or commission and will not sell something the client could get at a lower price direct through your company.
3. Flexibility. The way trade adds value to their own clients is by offering them exclusive experiences they wouldn’t otherwise get on their own. You have to be prepared to go beyond what you think is possible and get creative for your partners.
4. Responsiveness. In my experience, the largest measure of success with travel trade lies in responsiveness. The ability to be in the same time zone (or close) as your trade partners, respond to requests efficiently and effectively, and plan in-person meetings as often as possible, are key to maximizing your partnership.
In keeping with the idea of diversifying sales channels, we are by no means suggesting focusing only on this unless the goal is to be a B2B-only provider. A healthy mix of direct-to-consumer efforts and travel trade might just be the way to go.
Want to learn more about what it takes to effective managing travel trade relationships? Get in touch with Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.