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Your success in tourism is likely because you provide a familiar service but with your own unique twist. However, the route to becoming a leader in the industry doesn’t include you operating in an echo chamber. Collaboration with the right partners(opens in a new tab) can be key to making sure that your business has opportunities to grow and thrive.

It can be tempting to try and preserve a sense of independence as a tour operator. You have your own brand, and you don’t want to dilute it. Not to mention that relying upon other services — including at times other tour operators — is not always a comfortable prospect. However, the means to growth and expansion is not closing yourself off, but rather approaching partnerships mindfully.

Partnerships are certainly a prospect worthy of closer examination(opens in a new tab). Let’s look a little closer at the main areas you should be focusing on. Who should you be developing relationships with? What are the challenges, and how can you best overcome them?

Collaborating With the “Competition”

We’re going to begin here because it can be somewhat of a bone of contention. To many entrepreneurs, it will seem counterintuitive to team up with those businesses that operate in direct competition with you. On one hand, yes, it’s important to protect resources and practices that are essential to your way of doing business. However, taking an overly combative stance can close you off from building effective relationships. Working with your apparent “rivals” can, in fact, help you both to expand your business offerings(opens in a new tab).

So how can you do this while maintaining your brand independence? Well, methods include:

  • Service Exchanges. This is the most customer-centric approach. Particularly in tour companies, there are going to be some services that your competitor has access to that you don’t, and vice versa. By agreeing to exchange access to these services with your competitor, you both can meet more customers’ varied needs but also avoid directly competing on the services that you offer in common. The key here is to ensure there is a fair and balanced exchange. Certain booking software companies offer marketplaces to help facilitate cross-promotion or add-ons from other local businesses so be sure to check that out.
  • Strength Through Consortium. The tourism industry is filled with big players who can offer a wide range of services to customers because they have greater resources to diversify. We see this quite often with airlines who band together to dominate routes and offer loyalty services such as discounted hotels. Smaller tour businesses, including competitors, can band together as a consortium to share their resources, and provide a better, collective competition against these larger firms.

Capitalize on Everyone’s Expertise

Your business positions you as an expert in your field and/or geographic area. Tourists who are unfamiliar with the area look to you to navigate the space and locate the experiences they desire. As a local, or expert in your activity, your expertise allows you to help fill in the knowledge gaps of your consumers with anything from advanced bike techniques, to restaurant recommendations. The same applies to building relationships with other companies — you’re removing gaps in your toolkit by capitalizing on the knowledge and experience that your competitors have, while also contributing yours. If directly teaming up together with your competitors is not possible, developing business partnerships should still be an area for you to focus on.

It’s not always easy to approach this, though. You need to make certain that your partnerships are profitable for both you and the partner. This isn’t going to work if you simply use these providers as work for hire, paying the full price for their services while acting as their middle man! There need to be clear benefits on both sides — not all of these have to be monetary. A good example of this is with tour booking platform Rezdy’s partnership with sanitation firm SanSee(opens in a new tab). The latter’s discounted rate for its services results in more profit, and the former gets to benefit from improving customer confidence with association with industry experts. For these kinds of partnerships to thrive, though, each has to be cognizant of the other’s value.

This is where you can gain from applying the fundamentals of business to business (B2B) marketing(opens in a new tab). You are not pitching your service insofar as a partner is not a client, but you are trying to sell yourself and the benefits of partnering with you. Some tactics to emphasize your business credibility can include showcasing your awards or certifications on your website, or keeping a regular blog, vlog, or podcast in which you discuss industry-relevant topics, and share some of your experiences. This helps to solidify your expertise and raise your reputation in the industry. In the same vein, you need to put some effort into learning how to tell your story. This often differs from how you would approach this with direct consumers. It’s not just a matter of emotional text and testimonials, but also additional business tools such as infographics and charts. In other words, the difference between “selling” to customers and potential partners, is that you need also to have a firm grasp on your numbers for it to make sense as a partnership.

Build Local Relationships and Make the Most of Available Resources

One of the most valuable assets that any tour operator has to offer is native knowledge. We’re not just talking about language services — although that can be useful(opens in a new tab). Visitors don’t take tours to only see the same popular destinations as everyone else. They also want your local flavor, to feel as though they’re getting an authentic experience of the area. Your approach to building and utilizing partnerships should consider this.

This begins by getting involved with the local community(opens in a new tab) in which you operate. Get to know who the small business owners in the area are, and what is special about what they do. Have discussions with them about how you can work together to show tourists a part of the area that they wouldn’t discover with any other tour operator. Partner with the local chamber of commerce, they’ll have insights into not only small businesses but local events organizers too. By digging into the local landscape, you have the opportunity to diversify your offerings in ways that bigger businesses often don’t have time or inclination to.

When it comes to potential partnerships look beyond the experiential side of the tours or service, and also consider the practical. Cellphones are a presence throughout every tour; visitors want to take photos and share them on social media. But when travelling, not everyone wants to pay for roaming charges, offering free wifi(opens in a new tab) is a great way to provide a freebie to customers with a big impact. Do some research into local businesses such as hotels, bars, restaurants. Partner with them to provide discounted accommodation, meals, or drinks vouchers (and tours vice-versa). This gives tourists a reason to spend money at local establishments, boosts your reputation for catering to all their needs, and again contributes to your credibility as a local expert.

Conclusion

Some of the most successful and satisfying business experiences are the result of collaboration. By partnering with rivals and local businesses alike, you can develop a reputation for unique experiences and impressive options. The higher you raise your profile, the more opportunities for great partnerships will open up.


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