It’s recently been confirmed that Angkor has seen a 20% drop in ticket sales! There have been a few theories floating about as to why many parts of South-East Asia are facing a slump, such as zero cost holidays, too much emphasis on low-budget, high-volume Chinese tourism and politics. Whatever the reason, many tour businesses and hotels are reporting a reduction in bookings.
To add to the pain, OTAs have made a pretty good job of snatching market share from local operators.
If you’re not getting the sales you need then don’t panic, some tour operators are still growing. You will probably need to adapt to survive though. The DMC industry is not dying, but the good old days are gone and customers buying the full package are becoming more of a small niche than they used to be.
Here are some of the things you can do to survive in the new South-East Asian tourism landscape.
Classic tours are down. Offering the same old stuff (a van, tour guide and a ticket to the same old tour attractions), might not be enough anymore. People are looking for something a bit more special these days.
Cultural immersion, homestays and local interaction are in fashion. Finding exclusives is great – it’s not easy as most things you can do can be copied – but coming up with a new idea and executing it really well will give you an edge.
Become a sustainable travel company. Responsible travel and eco tours are popular with western travellers and you should probably get involved. You will have to mean it too, being a responsible travel company means more than just writing a couple of paragraphs of fluffy text on your website. Your customers will see through that.
It will take some effort. No more elephant rides, visits to orphanages or single-use plastic for example. It takes effort to be sustainable but it doesn’t have to cost a great deal. In the long run it should actually save you money as well as boost sales. It’s what many of your customers want.
Loads of people are buying there South-East Asia trips al a carte these days. Hotels on booking.com, Agoda and Expedia. Day tours are being offered by Viator, Get Your Guide, Klook, and a load of others are cropping up all over the place. Some work, some don’t. The drawback with this method is the hefty commission they charge. 20-25% these days. They can get away with it because they have huge marketing budgets, they dominate Google and so can dominte the internet, making it hard for your potential guests to find you directly.
TripAdvisor used to be a fantastic way to get hold of day tour guests, but now they want a slice of the cash too and are gradually making it harder for you to generate sales without paying them their share. That being said, it can work well to use these platforms if you are already getting some direct bookings. It can be a good way to top up your sales and works particularly well with join-in tours.
Instead of relying on your partner agencies alone to send you business, you could try to reach out to the customer yourself. This Is tough as you will need a great marketing strategy. You might consider setting up a new brand and website for this and you’ll need to work hard as competition is fierce in most western markets, but you will have lower costs and have the price advantage.
Building trust will be a challenge. Telling stories through blogs, social media and original photography will be important, along with a very good website. It has been pulled off successfully by a few companies before and can work very well if you work in a niche like photography or cycling tours for example.
Product descriptions that are 8 years old need updating. Proposal documents should be professional. Be super responsive to requests as guests shop around and, if you delay, then they could get bored of waiting and book somewhere else.
One cultural difference between the west and South-East Asia is the use of Gmail addresses for businesses, but this is seen as amateur and unprofessional in western countries, where Gmail is mainly used for personal emails.
With all the online feedback we get these days you need to be very diligent with your online reputation too. Make sure your guides are on top of their game and do your best to avoid difficult transport suppliers. Review the hotels you use too. With internet feedback you will not be able to get away with delivering shoddy tours. Most agencies do a great job most of the time, but you need to keep satisfaction rates as close to 100 percent as possible, because even one bad review can really hurt your reputation.
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