Cooperation 101: What Tour Operators Wish Destinations Knew

April 29, 2021

Challenged, troubled, and pummeled, tour operators ached this past year, but they are anything but down and out as travelers look to brighter days. Yes, revenue is down, but hope is high even if recovery will be stretching into 2022. With conversations already swirling about the role of tour operators and COVID-19 testing, their cooperation in the future will be as important as ever, and destination marketers need to understand the conversations that tour operators are having.

Even in pre-pandemic times, cooperation between tour operators and destination marketing professionals needed improvement. Now as we rebuild, we need to do it smartly. Even if tour operators aren’t sending the usual numbers of packages around the world, destinations need to keep them in the loop and realize that the industry will return stronger and more quickly with a more united approach.

DCI works with destinations and tour operators alike to understand the ever-changing needs of tourism professionals. Destinations will want to listen up to ensure that tour operators are the strongest allies possible over the next few years.

1. Cue tour operators into new campaigns

It seems obvious that when a new marketing campaign for a destination rolls out, communicating it will be top priority. Unfortunately, tour operators are often left out of the loop, without even a hashtag to share with prospective clients. Be proactive and don’t let them find out about a new campaign by accident on Instagram or Twitter. A little cooperation goes a long way.

DCI’s managing director of travel trade marketing, Amalia Meliti, stressed the importance of bringing tour operators into these conversations. They are mediators between target audiences and destinations, so prepare a specific webinar or email to inform them of your new campaign.

Share the campaign before it goes live and give them some time to prepare. The more informed they are, the easier it will be for tour operators (and agencies) to tailor their offers and prepare packages that align with your destination’s goals.

2. Provide cooperation on media plans

For destinations setting out new advertising efforts, it’s useful again to pull tour operators – at least the biggest ones – into the conversation. You have shared goals, so working together to achieve them could save you both time and advertising budget.

Imagine a tour operator and a fellow destination both target a certain publication and negotiate an advertising opportunity. It might seem powerful to have two magazine spreads for the same destination in one magazine, but it just might actually just be an expensive repetition.

Talk. Communicate. Share. And make sure that your media plans are clear and transparent with your most important tour operator sellers. Again, working together might sound cliché, but it’s a cliché we are really hoping destinations will lean into this year.

3. Offer social media and marketing content

Along with campaign and media transparency, providing tour operators content and assets is an easy way to collaborate without having to do much more than share a folder. As destinations create social media posts, images, and videos to share, make them available to tour operators. Give them access to some – or all! – in order to create more buzz and to maintain consistent messaging.

We’ve seen this work all throughout the pandemic, and tour operators were forever grateful to those destinations that made such assets available. Remember, tour operators aren’t content creators, nor do they all have the resources – especially now – to hire external providers to produce creative content.

“Destinations need to look at travel trade as consumers, since they are using social media platforms as well. We want to keep them on point for destination messaging, so it’s a smart idea to create the tool kit to help them do just that,” Meliti said.

4. Consider a platform for tour packages

Not every destination doing travel trade marketing can consider this option, but for those who can provide access points onto your destination website, it’s time to carve out a place for tour operators. Showcase them on your site and, if possible, let them provide their packages directly to consumers.

It’s more than just simple cross-promotion. It’s incentive for tour operators to keep pushing their offers and working with your destination. It can create friendly competition among companies vying to sell your destination and will only help amplify your messaging.

Some destinations can’t offer tour operator packages on their sites, but finding creative ways to engage with and promote those companies who are selling your destination is still important to operators. They want to know you recognize them! It’s been a long year, so a little pat on the back can go a long way.

5. Provide access/FAM trips that are all their own

Meliti also stressed the importance of reimagining the FAM trip of the past. Tour operators need time to explore on their own and evaluate a destination. They want you to give them some room to do just that.

“They aren’t going to want to go on a group FAM, especially not with COVID. They want to develop their own itineraries, take their time, get comfortable, inspect everything, see it through the lens of their customers,” Meliti said. “Remember, tour operators are not travel advisors. Their roles in the travel marketplace are often different.”

Destinations, take heed. It may be a bit more expensive up front, but working directly with product managers at tour operators to develop FAM trips on a more bespoke basis is key. Meliti said that it’s also reasonable to discuss splitting costs, allowing both sides to invest mutually. If destinations and tour operators have shared goals, they can share the investment in achieving them!

These points are just the start. Knowing what tour operators want and, more importantly, need, will guarantee successful cooperation between both parties. These operators are on the front lines of the tourism industry, and having them on your side moving forward is non-negotiable.

Destinations need to listen to their tour operators, and DCI is pushing cooperation constantly. Get in touch with Amalia Meliti at [email protected] to learn about working together on travel trade marketing for a better future as tour operators ramp up their work on the road to recovery.