Updated: Jun 17
Partnering with a tour operator/OTA has long been a popular and cost-effective way of marketing a destination or product. No other method enables you to inspire and influence specific audiences as they move through the sales funnel. Follow our unique 10 step guide to avoid the pitfalls.
1. Be selective
There are hundreds of tour operators and OTA’s out there who will be happy to take your precious marketing dollars, but it’s important to ensure that their objectives align with your own. For larger budgets, an effective way of doing this would be to release a comprehensive request for proposal (RFP). Through this document you can not only communicate what you are looking to achieve, but also request information to support your decision-making.
Objectives for a campaign will vary from one organisation to the next, but most likely you’ll be looking for an overall increase in rooms nights. To this end, understanding the recent performance of a partner is key, both overall and specific to your product. Additionally, you’ll need to consider the product they have available, the channels they favour for marketing and whether they can help you reach your ‘most wanted’ customer segments.
2. Get everyone engaged
This isn’t a gift, nor is it a bonus for selling your product. You’re partnering to increase business, and as such, you should do your best to ensure that all parties are invested in its success. You’ll be kicking yourself afterwards if you don’t.
Firstly, consider who your key stakeholders are – which people are most critical to the success of your campaign? Visit your campaign partner’s office or set up a Zoom call to meet with the respective heads of sales, marketing, product and any other departments your campaign will touch. You might already have a key point of contact, but putting faces to names and being able to communicate directly with others will help smooth the road ahead.
Secondly, request that your financial contribution is matched by the tour operator. Match funding is not only a great way to ensure your campaign is given priority status, but it will also ensure you get far more bang for your buck. You will also need to ask from the outset that a percentage of media is paid for (not the operator’s own channels).
It never hurts to ‘shake hands’ with the MD or CEO. You can guarantee that if they are supportive of your partnership, that will filter down through the organisation. Great things happen when everyone is on board.
3. Establish clear KPI’s
It’s important to agree ahead of time what success will look like for your campaign. Your combined objectives will help to determine this but be sure to use data from past campaigns as well as industry standards for engagement (including open rates, click throughs etc) to help build a robust plan.
At the time of writing, it is unlikely you’ll be coming off consecutive years of ordinary trading, so setting commercial targets will of course be a challenge. Consider the operators’ last ‘normal’ year (most likely 2019), look at their current performance, month to month, and agree ‘stretch’ targets to help deliver your requisite ROI. At this time, it might be shrewd to agree a more flexible, long-term partnership made up of multiple smaller campaigns. Whatever targets you're setting, insist they are challenging.
4. Leverage new product
There have been a great number of new hotel openings over the past 18months, so don’t be afraid to use your campaign as an opportunity to push for new product inclusions. You will never be in a stronger position to do so. Consider your target audience, what product mix the operator currently has available and make recommendations where appropriate. If you have multiple stakeholders, this your opportunity to make sure they are all adequately represented.
5. Test, test, and test again
It is essential that everything online related to your campaign is rigorously tested ahead of launch. Tour operators will take care of this, but there is no harm in doing your own due diligence; for peace of mind if nothing else. Check for availability on key dates, audit the copy on every hotel and destination landing page, and make sure all images are up to date and loading as they should. There’s no harm in checking back throughout the campaign, just to ensure everything is as it should be.
6. Train/upskill sales staff
If there is a human call to action, or if it’s possible that frontline sales staff will be handling enquiries generated by your campaign, it is critical that they are aware of it. Conversion will be exponentially higher if sales staff are provided with a brief on the campaign itself and given the requisite training to confidently sell the product. If you have a training program, build into any agreement that sales staff should complete it before the campaign launches.
7. Incentivise sales
There is no harm in supporting your co-op marketing campaign with incentives for sales staff. This is something we would positively endorse. Do make sure, however, that incentives align with your overriding campaign objectives. So, if you’re looking to drive room nights, incentivise room night production, not holiday bookings. This will help to sharpen the focus internally and generate more interest and engagement in your campaign. Your partner will be able to advise what kind of incentive prizes have been most effective in the past.
8. Schedule regular campaign meetings
You don’t want to become an unwelcome and overbearing presence, but regular campaign meetings are an essential way of staying abreast of campaign performance and heading off any potential challenges before they become major problems. Schedule these before the campaign begins and request that key stakeholders from sales and marketing attend. If some aspects of the campaign aren’t working, don’t be afraid to recommend changes.
9. Request a comprehensive campaign report
You’ll want to know if your campaign was a success, so establish from the outset that you’ll be expecting a campaign report. It wouldn’t be unfair to ask for this no later than 14 days after the campaign has finished. Most tour operators and OTA’s provide this as standard and will include all campaign activity, engagement stats and key metrics. We would recommend setting up a wrap-up meeting or call, so that they can walk you through the results and you can ask questions. Some partners may offer more activity or to keep the campaign running until your required results are achieved - this is always worth a conversation.
Things don’t always go according to plan. But don’t be disheartened. If you didn’t achieve your objectives, ask yourself why. It might be that this was the wrong choice of partner or the wrong time of year for this particular campaign. Maybe the messaging wasn’t right for your target audience. Whatever the reasons, learn from them and don’t make the same mistakes again. If the campaign was a success, then take some of that special sauce and apply it liberally again and again.