The Future of Tour Operators: 5 Predictions for 2020

May 28, 2019 Julia Manoukian

The Future of Tour Operators: 5 Predictions for 2020

It’s not easy being a tour operator today. 

You have to adapt to rapidly changing consumer expectations. You need to stand out.

And, often, the success of your business involves navigating travel agencies, travel agents and third party booking sites. How do you effectively market your sweet spot while turning a profit? 

The Rise In Experiential Travel

Experiential travel means trips where the location is the backdrop rather than the main attraction. Think custom tours like Cuisines of the Argentine Pampas, or Walks in James Joyce’s Dublin, or Southeast Asian Stops Along the Orient Express. The experience, not the destination, is the goal.

This year alone there’s been a 20 percent increase in food adventure travel, including wine tasting, restaurant tours and internationals cooking classes. Compared to the rest of the travel industry, as a tour operator, you’re in a good spot to tap into this trend—especially if you have an existing relationship with local operators, since these hybrid adventures require more than just knowledge of hotels and popular attractions. 

When it comes to gearing up your marketing for the rest of the year and beyond, what other key trends should you have on your radar? Keep reading—we’ve got you covered. 

Trend 1: Consumers Want Immersive and Personalized Experiences

Tour operators in the years ahead will be experience curators. 

“If you step back and just look at it from a consumer proposition, forgetting the category, it is experience,” said Dan Christian, chief digital officer of The Travel Corporation.

In a study by Google, 57 percent of travelers say they expect their next tour to be tailored according to their preferences, and behaviors and 36 percent are willing to pay a significant premium for that. Anyone can book a flight and hotel. It takes an expert to craft an experience that immerses the traveler in a different culture.

Takeaways for marketers: Bring your visual marketing strategy up to speed so you can effectively showcase the unique experiences you have to offer to each demographic. 

Trend 2: Include Travelers In Your Marketing Strategy

Owned media, meaning travel photos and images that have been commissioned, have long been one of the most influential conversion tools, online and offline. Authentic travel visuals by customers, now known as earned media or user-generated content (UGC), are growing in influence as a result of visual-first social media channels like Instagram and Pinterest.

A study by Northeastern University found that “every 10 percent increase in earned social media—based on brand fan following, or the number of Facebook “Likes,” Twitter followers, or YouTube subscribers—will lead to a 12 percent increase in brand awareness, a 3 percent increase in customer satisfaction, and a 6 percent increase in purchase intent.”

Include user-generated content in your marketing strategy: A study found that “every 10 percent increase in earned social media—based on brand fan following, or the number of Facebook “Likes,” Twitter followers, or YouTube subscribers—will lead to a 12 percent increase in brand awareness, a 3 percent increase in customer satisfaction, and a 6 percent increase in purchase intent.”

Takeaways for marketers: Consider the mix of branded and user-generated visuals in your marketing. Are there channels you can use UGC to create more engagement, like on social media or on your website?

Trend 3: Make the Booking Experience Fun

For many travelers, more than half the fun is getting there. The planning stage of travel heightens the significance and the anticipation, which is a big part of why people take vacations in the first place.

In the realm of online travel, people want to act on their desires while they are in the mood to make a decision. Yet today only 46% of tour operators with websites offer the service of instant booking. 

Only 46% of tour operators with websites offer the service of instant booking.

In the year ahead, look for more tour operators to add the functionality to book in the moment instead of allowing prospects to lose momentum.

Takeaways for marketers: Try adding CTAs to images that lead to booking portals. This helps capitalize on the desires travelers have in the moment when seeing an inspiring visual.

Trend 4: Greater Involvement with Local Communities

Travelers are more conscious than ever of the impact they have on local communities and environments when they travel. 

Sustainable Travel International reported that millennials, the fastest growing consumer segment in travel, are “active, adventurous, connected and socially conscious and want to engage with places they care about; they want to give back.” 

They do that financially: 90 percent say “trying local food is very important to them, often more important than museums, monuments, and the beach.”

Takeaways for marketers: Use visuals to teach potential customers you’re working with local communities and offering a unique set of experiences.

Trend 5: Ensure A Positive Experience for Mobile Visitors

People live on their phones today, and it this has become their primary method of accessing the internet. 

Sojern Global Travel Insights found that 26 percent of US travel searches began on a mobile device. For Europe, that rises to 47 percent and in Asia 40 percent.

For Giuseppe Matiazzo, head of Venice Tours, mobile is the immediate future. He said, “All of our customers are looking online, and more and more are booking last minute, and on their phone.”

Try using AMP, or accelerated mobile pages, to have pages load faster on mobile devices. Also ensure your website has a responsive design. This means your site is made to fit the screen of whatever device your visitors are using. No one wants to pinch-and-zoom to get the information they're looking for.

Takeaways for marketers: Make sure your website and booking experience is optimized for mobile. Use responsive design and AMP to deliver the best possible experience for your visitors. 

How To Become A Successful Tour Operator

  1. Offer personalized, immersive adventures 
  2. Give extra consideration to your visual marketing strategy
  3. Make the booking experience seamless and easy
  4. Coordinate closely with local operators 
  5. Make sure your site is optimized for mobile

Tour operators who take advantage of some or all of these trends, there is a great deal of market share waiting to be claimed. Differentiation is the key with powerful visuals that tell the story and careful measures of what travelers of actually looking for now.

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About the author

Julia Manoukian

Julia Manoukian is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at CrowdRiff, where she is responsible for strategy, execution and SEO. Every day, she looks forward to the challenge of creating educating and engaging content for travel and tourism brands. Julia has a passion for storytelling, travelling and tech.

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