Tourists surfing at a beach in Bali
For a long time, tour and activity operators in Asia have known a simple truth: team up with other businesses that complement yours for greater success.
Winning collaborations can take many forms. It’s the beachfront restaurant in Bali that gives the surf instructor a discount for daily business from students. It’s the Chiang Mai operator that commissions agents who pull in travellers for elephant rides.
The math is simple. The more complete end-to-end experience you can offer, the more bookings you’ll get and the more revenue you’ll stack. In the past, operators had limited options when it came to getting partners. Recommendations from trusted friends and colleagues were the safe bets.
But today, forward-thinking brands will tell you that it’s the web or bust. There are more ways than ever to build your own interbusiness formula for success online. So in no particular order, here’s a list of tech mechanisms you can leverage to cultivate a strong B2B network.
Identify key online-only partners
In many cases, new and powerful B2B partners operate solely on the internet. With this in mind, no meaningful conversation can be had on this topic without first bringing up online travel agencies (OTAs).
It would be foolish for operators to not look into getting hooked up with top OTAs in the region (think Traveloka, Booking.com and more). In case you’ve been living under a rock in recent years—and are somehow unaware—modern travellers are going to these platforms to book everything they’ll need. Many opt to book flights, ground transport, hotels, tours and activities all in one go via a preferred OTA.
By working with an OTA, you’ll get visibility to an audience you otherwise would not reach. Commissions per online booking can vary, but the volume of bookings you’ll process will likely make the partnership pay off. Holding hands with an OTA gives you the option of letting your activities get included in bundle packages. This makes booking with you all the more convenient for travellers. Sometimes, direct bookings on your site can even come as a byproduct of just being visible on an OTA.
Daily deal sites are also not to be ignored. Famous names like Groupon and LivingSocial have paved the way for all sorts of hyperlocal daily deal players in Asia. These sites offer discounts on all kinds of lifestyle products and services, and can include your tour or activity.
Offering an e-voucher via a daily deal site is also a great way to generate more awareness about your brand in general. It encourages large party bookings and makes it super easy to know if you’re getting a return on investment from the partnership.
Treat blogging as an arsenal
One of the hardest parts of maintaining a flock of out-of-house travel agents is arming them with all the right knowledge. If they’re not up to speed on your offerings, they can’t effectively sell. If you do not provide a wealth of material for them to pull from, they’ll likely focus on selling other brands in their lineup.
One elegant way to solve this problem is by having a blog and being very serious about it. Treating your company’s blog as if it’s a digital media company in its own right (e.g. posting interesting content daily and having an ace social media team to bolster it) can accomplish great things.
With respect to your B2B network, not only will your existing agents have loads of reference material to help them sell, but you will likely also attract new agents.
A boy releases a floating lantern in Chiang Mai
Remember: The best content marketing teams know that running a blog means telling stories, not hard selling. Make the blog paint an authentic picture of the happiness your customers will achieve if they go in for the experience.
Run B2B emails right
B2B email marketing has withstood the test of time for a good reason: it works. But many operators think that maintaining a strong B2B network starts and ends with getting partners loaded into your e-newsletter roster and calling it a day. This is wrong.
The main problem with e-newsletters is that they fail to consider how far along each one of your partners is in terms of education. Long-running agents do not need to go through orientation each week and newcomers will surely not understand the more nuanced sales announcements for veteran partners. At the same time, you don’t want to overload your new partners by giving them dozens of dense documents to digest all in one go.
B2B email marketing works but needs to be done right.
One good solution is to implement different email marketing campaign ‘sequences’ for different groups of partners. You’ll want to divide your partners up into multiple categories (e.g. ‘newcomers,’ ‘novices’ and ‘veterans’) and make sure to appropriately deliver bite-sized chunks of useful reselling information a couple times per week to their inboxes.
Tip: Make sure you have a system for knowing how long members have been in a certain group. Bump them up to advanced levels once enough time has passed and they’ve been drip fed all relevant information.
Capitalise on software
If experiential travel brands in Asia are going to be serious about nurturing B2B partnerships via the web, they’ll quickly discover the need for a digital hub to manage everything. The right software helps keep resellers up to date and in sync with fluid business changes. It should also be a place to process inbound bookings from multiple sources and manage a variety of channels.
Some traditional operators may see the digital shift as a daunting and uncertain gauntlet to navigate. Luckily, when it comes to building and grooming strong B2B networks online, there are several great tech solutions providers out there with just the right offerings and know-how. Some even have their own agent marketplaces for offline travel agents.