Building a well performing direct booking engine has numerous advantages for a Tours or Attractions operator. It allows you to bypass fees from Third Party sellers and OTA’s, meaning you keep more of your revenue, and it allows you to create a direct audience relationship with your customers that you can nurture over time.
This generally happens when a customer is searching for an experience online and books with you right on your website.
The mechanism to enable direct bookings is your online booking engine. A modern, API based engine can be easily coded into your existing website, reflect your brand and communicate with all other applications that run your business. In all communications with customers, make sure to link back to the engine with a call-to-action. Once this is set up, you have to find your customers online and excite them enough to buy directly.
The Direct Booking Flywheel
The best way to think about increasing direct booking is building a Flywheel of online marketing, coined by the expert team at HubSpot. The short explanation is that due to advancements in search and reviews, buyers are now significantly more educated in their purchase decision by online resources, to the point that they can go from casual browsing to completed purchase without any human interaction. If you are able to delight them with online content during their research phase, they are much more likely to direct book with you.
While each business has different characteristics, below are some suggestions for how to build your Flywheel with your customers purchase decision in mind, modified slightly to be more relevant to Tour and Attraction operators:
A family is searching online for interesting things to do, how do you catch their attention?
The base level requirement for attracting customers online is to have a well-designed, mobile optimized and SEO friendly website. There are standard protocols for your website’s code in order to be searchable which have been researched extensively over the years and should be known by your IT provider, however it is never a bad idea to periodically perform an SEO check on your site and look for opportunities to improve searchability.
The first place new customers will search is generally Google, so it is imperative to set up your Google My Business Account with your location and hours of operation, pictures and links back to your website and booking widget. Customers also rely on reviews, so it is worth the effort to encourage happy customers to post reviews to your Google page whenever possible.
Tip: Offer a small discount or gift for every customer who leaves a review. The investment will pay dividends over the years as you begin to rank higher in search. Collect customer emails and send a follow up requesting a review of their experience in exchange to enter for a prize.
They’re now on your site looking around and showing their spouse and kids. They ask “should I book it?”
Once Shoppers have found you online and are considering making a purchase, you want them to be met on your site with a fun atmosphere and a compelling offer!
Tours and Attractions are an exciting experience, which lends itself to many engaging forms of content creation. With a bit of time you can build out a Facebook and Instagram page and populate them with photos of your site and customers. For a simple online brand identity, you can tap the talents of your team designer or create an account with Canva and use it to make quick graphics of announcements - be it a grand opening, special event or discount that you can share out to all social media accounts.
To help with the purchase decision, engaging people on your site with a chat bot can help to answer their questions and alleviate any concern. Chat bots can be set up to appear when someone is scrolling through your home page with a standard note asking if they have any questions. Have customer chat bot messages route directly to someone in customer service to make sure you never miss an opportunity to help at this stage.
They’ve just come back home after having a great day at your location. The kids are asking “can we go again next week?” They would happily recommend you to all their friends at this moment.
If a customer has a great experience with direct booking, the goal is to get them to come again - and tell all their friends! You’ve done the heavy lifting of providing an experience customers want to share, in this stage you simply have to enable them by removing all friction to spreading the word.
Wherever possible, encourage people to follow you on social media and sign up for your email lists. Building an audience takes time, but pays dividends for years to come once you have the attention of a large and engaged audience. Encourage customers to share out their photos, tagging your attraction or using a promotional hashtag.
User generated content is a staple of the Rocket Rez system, as everyone likes to feel a part of something. Providing images of great experiences can truly enhance your customers sentimental affinity to your brand, as fun family kiosk pictures regularly are framed and put on the wall or mantle in someone’s home.
In the age of social media, parents share these photos of their kids and recommend their friends to do the same. In this way, you are building a network of free micro-influencers for your brand, simply by providing a great experience and enabling customers to share.
An investment of your time in creating the online assets that lead to direct bookings can pay dividends to your business for years to come.