The travel trade paradox

Michael Herrmann, president and founder of TourConnect, discusses how we can all be better team players for the benefit of the industry.

I have attended travel trade events both as an owner-operated bicycle day tour operator, and more recently a tourism software company founder.

I hear much talk of collaboration at these events between organisations and within the industry in general. So why is it so hard to make this a reality once the event ends and we all leave?

Three ways we inhibit working together

1) Do it my way

Have you ever had to load an invoice into a system in order to get paid or log into someone else’s system to make or confirm a booking?

We all want to keep our labour costs down. But in doing so we have created a culture of “if you want to work with me, you have to do so on my terms”. I’ve heard companies say: “That’s their job. Why should I help them do their job for them?” Well, when that partner’s job is to sell your product, I can think of a really good reason to help your partner – it’ll help you both sell more.

2) We don’t need your business anymore

At a recent event I heard a large hotel chain directly tell one of their tour operators: “We don’t really need your business anymore.” I was dumbfounded by this – if you don’t need their business, then why are you even attending these events?

When there was a global recession and travel was down, I recall those hotels begging for business from the tour operators. I understand that business models change, but I wouldn’t be so quick to write off an entire industry that has been a large part of your business for many years.

3) You don’t need that information

There’s a culture of fear surrounding information sharing even among business partners. When I wasn’t told exactly who was selling my bike tours, I ended up with an army of agents selling but no idea what regions and what type of agents/clients my tours were resonating with. If I wanted to try to grow the number of agents selling my tour, I was back to blindly marketing.

Being afraid to trust your partners enough to share information can suffocate your business. It limits what you and your partners can achieve together.

Three ways we can work better together

1) Embrace standardization and technology
While I understand you asking your business partner to use a certain tool, I also understand why they might refuse. They are likely being asked to use a different tool or platform by every company they work with.

If every tour operator created its own automated invoice payment tool, a supplier would have to use a different one for every tour operator that sends them business.

The problem is that when every company tries to build their own solution to a common problem, we end up with 5,000 different solutions to the same problem.

A supplier that can use one invoice payment tool for all 50 of its tour operators is far more likely to use that than any of the 50 customised invoice payment tools.

2) Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

While we’ve been pushed into a ‘what have you done for me lately’ mentality in a competitive landscape, I would remind you to consider the impact your partners can have on your business.

In addition to the bookings the travel trade generates from a B2B sense, they are also marketing destinations and individual products in general. Travel trade has created a marketing eco-system that benefits everyone. If you don’t get a booking that you generated from your marketing efforts, you’ve probably gotten a booking off of someone else’s.

3) Share information and team up

You have to trust your partners. It’s that simple.

I am not under any misguided belief that a large tour operator is putting tonnes of resources into selling my little bike tour; however, simply sharing the information on who is buying my product would allow me to grow sales myself and earn that tour operator commissions just for taking and managing the bookings.

I’ve heard many success stories of DMOs or suppliers working together to create unique offerings for tour operators, and then working with tour operators to market those offerings.

Working together as an industry means we remain competitive long-term, we become more efficient, we reduce costs, and we see more profits for everyone.