How Tour Operators Can Convert More Leads Into Paid Bookings

Avatar on Jun 19, 2019. 11 min Read

For most tour operator businesses, conversions are your lifeblood.

Because while it’s important to have a steady flow of leads coming in, and be actively attracting more potential future clients, you need to remember:

Those leads are only opportunities yet to be taken.

And if not enough leads actually convert into paid bookings, your business will struggle – no matter how many opportunities you generate.

At 10x Travel, we talk with tour operator business owners every day. And again and again, they tell us that consistently converting leads into sales is a huge challenge.

Many operators are getting plenty of inquiries, but are only converting 20% of them (or fewer) into bookings. Which means a lot of money is being left on the table.

It’s clear that many tour operator companies are still failing to convert the valuable opportunities their marketing generates into actual sales – often at great expense.

A familiar story: so many leads, not enough sales...

So what are the challenges facing ambitious tour operators looking to increase their conversion rates?

To begin with, too many are responding to inquiries the wrong way (or at the wrong time), losing potential customers to their competitors by not capitalizing on the work they’ve already put in to generate leads.

So they’re SPENDING money to attract people to their tour offers – but not only are they missing out on a lot of sales, it’s actually COSTING them time and money to do so.

If that’s a situation that sounds all-too familiar, and you’re not getting the conversions you want from your leads, read on to find out how you can change that.

At 10x Travel we’ve helped 50+ enterprising travel companies increase their sales conversion rates over the past few years, and have driven millions of dollars in bookings for our tour operator partners.

Now it’s time to pull back the curtain and share some of our lead conversion process with you…

How can YOUR tour operator business convert more leads into sales?

Let’s start the same way many of your leads first encounter you – with your website.

The moment someone completes an inquiry form on your website or sends you an email, the clock is ticking.

So it’s time to get personal, FAST…

Every minute a new lead doesn’t hear from you is an opportunity for your competitors to whisk them away by giving them what you haven’t: a response.

And with the average travel booker now visiting 38 different websites when researching a trip, you can bet that most inquiries you receive are from people who’ve also contacted your competitors.

So automating quick responses for every inquirer is one way to stay ahead of the pack.

Yes, it’s early days with your new lead, and as we’ll see in a moment, not every inquiry will be a good fit for you. But that’s no reason to miss out on the ones who are.

And if you want to increase your chances of converting a lead, you need to be more than just fast…

You also need to be relevant

There are a couple of ways you can do that for your responses to initial inquiries, and give your new lead the best chance of converting from the outset:

You can use automated email replies, which is something many tour operators are already doing…

But to take things a step further, you should also use conversational inquiry forms, like many of our partner tour operators do.

With a conversational inquiry approach – delivered through a form or chatbot on your website – you can give your site visitors a better experience than just filling out a ‘traditional’ contact form.

Conversational inquiry forms are:

  • More personal and engaging than flat contact forms – they ask one question at a time like a real conversation, rather than presenting an off-putting list of tasks to your site visitor
  • Less reliant on you and your team to have to ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ by responding immediately
  • More targeted to your specific tours – making it easier for your visitor to picture themselves enjoying what YOU have to offer
  • Focused on capturing actionable information (like their preferred type of tour, their budget and of course their contact details)

Collecting this valuable information about your potential future client allows you to choose which specific automated email response they receive. If they said they were interested in a particular tour, your automated response can mention it to increase the likelihood of conversion.

So instead of waiting around for one of your sales team to leap into action, site visitors from anywhere in the world can get an instant, personalized response to their initial inquiry, regardless of timezone.

By combining conversational inquiry forms with automated emails, you’ll be able to send your site visitors relevant, timely information which helps you to qualify those new leads.

Why you need a clear process for qualifying your new leads

For most tour operators, dealing with new inquiries is a demanding and time consuming part of day to day business.

Even when you’re overwhelmed with new leads, you can’t just ignore them – because some of them represent new clients who may spend thousands of dollars with you in future.

But which ones?

How can you know which new inquiries are a perfect fit for your tours and experiences, and which will just take up your time and resources?That’s where the importance of having a lead qualification system comes in.

Different visitors to your site have different intentions when they arrive:

  • Some are researching information about the specific locations you operate in…
  • Some just want to see if you actually offer a tour or experience close to what they have in mind…
  • And others will already have those answers, and are ready to consider making a booking

So your lead qualification process needs to treat each of these distinct groups differently, or you risk losing them. By giving each group the specific information they need to move forward, you can actually qualify them in the same process.

With automated conversational inquiry forms like I mentioned above, you can begin segmenting your leads into different, manageable channels:

Some leads your sales team can follow up with directly…

…some are added to your educational email series

…and some you can choose to take another action with, like directing them to a tour page on your site that matches their requirements – as long as they qualify themselves as part of that process.

For instance, we helped our tour operator partner Rowena at Reformation Tours to overhaul her website’s inquiry form, which was converting at just 1.7%.

Rowena knew she should be getting more qualified leads, and that her inquiry form was letting her down. So we built a series of 9 qualifying questions focusing on the visitor’s intent and budget.

The form now helps segment Rowena’s site visitors with questions like:

“Which of the following best describes your vacation plans?” (with a short list of multiple choice options beneath).

And “What kind of budget do you expect to spend per person on this trip?” (with 3 budget options listed, to help set expectations).As a result, her inquiry form completions leaped from less than 2% to 26.2% – a form conversion rate increase of 13x.

Can you see how this kind of segmentation process increases the likelihood of new leads becoming paid bookings?

By giving your new inquirers information that’s relevant to their specific situation from the outset, you improve your chances of converting the people who are interested in booking by letting them ‘qualify’ themselves.

But you can also start ‘nurturing’ those who aren’t ready yet, by giving them what they need too:

More information to help them plan their trip.

Which doubles up as your chance to educate them about your brand and what you have to offer with more targeted content marketing.

So you and your team don’t need to waste valuable hours every day trying to ‘convert’ people who aren’t yet ready for a sales conversation.

And your actual sales calls become more focused and effective too, because you’re only speaking to pre-qualified leads – not just information-seekers.

It’s a common mistake to treat every new lead the same...

But many tour operators are still doing this, even though it requires a lot of manual labour very early in the buying cycle – when there are MORE leads to manage and a far LOWER chance of conversion.

So the goal is to focus more of your team’s manual energy nearer the bottom of the funnel, where qualified leads are more likely to become customers.

The Get More Bookings funnel below demonstrates that:

The funnel outline shows how not every visitor to your website or content will become an interested prospect right away – and not every prospect will become a sales opportunity either.

But that’s all part of your lead qualification process – and having a repeatable system for doing this makes it much easier, instead of using an ad hoc approach on every prospect that’s time-consuming, unreliable and hard to keep track of.

For instance, one process we’ve helped many of our tour operator partners to implement successfully is the Sandler Selling System.

How a ‘Mad Men’-era progressive sales process is helping tour operators turn more leads into bookings

For over 50 years David Sandler’s Selling System has helped businesses of all kinds to close more deals without resorting to pushy sales tactics.

It’s a counterintuitive approach to ‘traditional’ sales:

A way of qualifying your leads by listening to them instead of trying to ‘close’ everyone.

It works because it allows you and your sales team to determine which prospects are willing and able to commit resources to your tours & experiences, and then guide those who are towards a common goal.

So it’s very different from the typical pushy sales tactics associated with salesmen of the past – it’s less “always be closing” and more “always be asking”.

The Sandler Selling System is about creating mutual respect and commitment between you and your prospect, so they see you as a trusted advisor, not just a salesperson.

Here’s an outline of the Sandler Selling System as used by some of our tour operator partners:

The first stage is to build and sustain a relationship with your prospect, demonstrating your desire to help them achieve their goal. The good news is:

Tour operator businesses are a particularly good fit for this trust-building process – because you’re never looking to ‘trap’ anyone into an unsuitable sale, but instead to help them enjoy the experience of a lifetime.

Your prospects will naturally have lots of questions about things like where they might be going, when is the best time of year to travel and how they should prepare. And with your in-depth knowledge of your specific area, you’re in the perfect position to help answer them and establish a sense of trust right away.

For prospects who demonstrate a willingness to commit to the selling process you outline, you then move onto stage two...

Now you focus in on their specific needs, their budget and their decision – again, qualifying rather than trying to convince anyone. You concentrate first on the fit between what you have to offer and what their goals are.

You can ask plenty of questions that help you determine this fit, find out exactly HOW your eventual offer will be judged, and importantly: by WHOM.

This part of the discussion is about moving your prospect forward when they answer ‘yes’ to the relevant questions, and disqualifying people who aren’t a good fit. That makes the all-important closing stages of the deal smoother.

In stage three you guide suitable, qualified prospects from stage two towards a yes OR no decision…

Creating a simple choice based on how they answer your qualifying questions and how you present your solutions to the specific problems they need solving (in other words, your offer of a tour or experience that matches their needs).

Throughout the process you’re only guiding your prospect forward as a qualified lead – or allowing them to disqualify themselves as an unsuitable match. When you do it right, there’s no reason for either party to go backwards.

Because of this forward momentum, sometimes the analogy of a submarine is used to illustrate the Sandler Selling System – where each passenger is guided through a series of safe compartments by the advisor, progressing towards the end goal with each compartment door secured behind them in turn.

Of course, this process will look different for every tour operator business…

Some will apply it primarily on phone calls, while others will do more of the qualification process through email, or live chat on their site.

Sandler Selling is completely customizable to your tour operator business, and represents a more manageable ‘paint by numbers’ exercise, giving you and your sales team a clearer sense of direction and structure as well as a proven method for qualifying and converting leads into sales.

Rinse and repeat: how you can utilise reliable sales templates to convert more leads

As part of our work with ambitious tour operator businesses, we also help them develop repeatable sales templates they can use at different stages of their process.

Customized templates allow you to scale how you convert leads into bookings, by removing some of the stumbling blocks from the sales process.

Most tour operators already use email as a sales tool – but often their emails are sent more in hope than expectation. If you don’t have a specific approach you can use at the various different stages of a deal, it’s difficult to know what works and what doesn’t.

Too many weak emails are sent to leads on an ad-hoc basis, and aren’t specifically designed to move them to the next stage of a deal, or uncover the kind of information which helps progress the conversation.

But by using a series of automated email responses, personalized in a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, you can guide new inquiries all the way through to the sales call or even tour booking stage without a lot of manual effort.

For instance, you can assign your prospects different labels such as Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) or Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs) – simple segmentation that helps you decide what action to take to help them with their decision.

Once you know what works for your ideal customers at different points in their decision process, you can figure out what email content to send and when, and use further personalization to ‘rinse and repeat’ the process.

The key is how you create and customize your various email templates:

So whether it’s an optimized reply to an initial inquiry

Or a timely follow-up to make sure a lead doesn’t go ‘cold’…

Or the perfect response to a specific common objection

By using templates instead of creating emails from scratch, you can save your team hours of work every week AND increase your chances of converting new leads.

At 10x Travel we help all our partner tour operators develop their own individual, customized sales templates for use alongside our CRM (or their existing sales management system), so they can connect with interested prospects in just a few clicks.

We also create a deal-making framework for each company’s sales team – including a handbook of best practices and practical tips for responding to different kinds of inquiries, qualifying leads with the right questions, and follow-ups.

Follow-ups can be particularly powerful when done right (and when done often enough) – yet too often they’re little more than a token effort, given up on after just one or two attempts.

But one MIT study found that it takes as many as TEN follow-ups to maximize your chances of getting a response, with SIX being the sweet spot. So don’t give up too soon!

Of course, for tour operators who generate hundreds of leads each week, that means a LOT of emails to send – which is why it makes sense to automate as much of the process as you can, and leave the manual work to where it can have the most impact: closer to the buying decision.

Summing up: a system for converting more opportunities into actual sales

For the ambitious tour operator businesses we work with, an optimized balance of digital automation and ‘manual’ sales expertise has become a more reliable way to increase their bookings.

We’ve helped more than 50 tour operator partners implement this process in the past couple of years, resulting in companies like Boat Bike Tours adding $1.4MM in new sales growth, and helping companies like Barcelona Guide Bureau develop professional sales systems that now convert leads into bookings consistently and reliably.

Here’s a quick summary of the key takeaways from this post, so you can begin implementing a system for converting more leads in YOUR company:

  1. Personalize your responses to initial inquiries – and begin a lead qualification process as soon as possible to stay ahead of your competitors
  2. Don’t treat every new lead the same way – use segmentation to deliver useful, relevant information to qualify leads and save yourself a ton of manual labor
  3. Establish a clear process (such as the Sandler Selling System) for moving each lead through different stages of the decision process and positioning your company as a trusted advisor
  4. Create repeatable, optimized templates for each deal stage, serving specific functions like handling objections and follow-ups – no need for your sales team to ‘reinvent the wheel’ every time!
  5. Implement automation throughout your process, to save hours of manual labor and focus your sales efforts where they’ll have the most impact

Want to find out more about converting YOUR valuable leads into tour bookings consistently and reliably?

Click the button below to schedule your FREE 10x Travel Strategy Session.

Our CEO Max Hardy will outline how some of the ideas in this article can work for YOUR specific tour operator business, and walk you through how our unique process can help you generate more leads and improve your conversions.

Discover How to Grow Your Tour Operator Business with a Proven, Automated Sales & Marketing System

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