Many tour, activity, and rental operators experience ebbs and flows in their businesses. For some, these cycles are dependent on vacation seasons, and for others, slow periods happen on weekdays when target customers are at work.
Knowing how challenging these dips and spikes can be to navigate, we've asked several owners and advisors of tour and activity businesses to share their most creative and effective techniques for filling up spots. As temping as it may be to offer heavy discounts, the fact is that you're working hard to provide value and shouldn't need to cut into your bottom line. Here are some of the most valuable and out-of-the-box lessons that they've shared.
1. Approach new, unconventional, and untapped markets
Tip provided by: Eric Liguori, Vice President at the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship; Co-Director of the Entrepreneurship Education Project Professor at The University of Tampa
Rather than encouraging business owners to offer deep discounts during the off-season (and off-days), Liguori helps business owners tap into new markets. One that he often recommends: independent and assisted living facilities.
"Most tour operators overlook these captive audiences thinking that residents are not a good fit for the experiences that they provide," says Liguori. "While some assisted living, and certainly some nursing home residents, may not be up to day trips or tours, almost all independent living residents are very much up to going on the tour, and most of these facilities have busing to get their resident groups to and from your tour destination."
You can start by approaching these organizations' activity or facilities coordinators. Ask what types of activities residents might like to experience, and communicate how much your company can help enrich their lives.
"If you pitch a win-win-win situation where the tour company, resident, and facility benefit, it's an easy sell," says Liguori.
The bottom line is that you should cast your net wide to find new types of customers—assisted living facilities are one option, and you could consider exploring communities of freelancers, students, and other groups with flexible schedules.
2. Reduce your costs
Tip provided by: Aaron Evans, Director at Together Travel
There are two sides to any healthy business equation—costs and revenue.
Tour and travel operators may jump to assume that they only control that they have is over how much they're earning—it's why small business owners may jump to offer discounts as a means to increase revenue volume. As Evans points out, however, it's important to focus on the cost side as well.
"Negotiate better deals with your suppliers," recommends Evans. "Our business, which provides holiday tours for young people in Europe, finds cheaper hotel rates during the week."
With this approach, tour and activity operators can pass cost reductions on to potential customers. So you can offer a discount without cannibalizing your margins.
3. Become more visible
Tip provided by: Keshia Fisher, Founder at Glacier Highline Adventure Park
As a treetop adventure park that's based in Montana, Glacier Highline experiences its peak season during July and August—key summer vacation months. "Our area is so sensitively seasonal," says Fisher.
Rather than shutting down during off-seasons, however, Fisher explores new and creative ways to increase her company's visibility. She and her team have been investing in Facebook ads, in addition to local word-of-mouth campaigns—which she is accelerating during off seasons.
"We've been running specials for locals, for instance, to help bring them into and talk about our park," says Fisher. "We've been promoting our park as an opportunity for them to try something new."
In addition to leveraging channels like ZOZI and Facebook, Glacier Highline sticks to the basics of encouraging people to have fun and building a crowd. "One of our most effective strategies for drawing attention is to encourage our staff to get out there and play, even if we're totally empty."
It's this approach that has helped Fisher and her team attract customers during June.
Get creative to fill up spots
Resist the pressure to reduce your margins, and find new ways to offer value to your target audiences. Explore new local markets, generate new savings opportunities by cutting costs with suppliers, and build your visibility within your local community. The "how" is entirely up to you, and we'd love to hear how you've experimented with these tactics. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.