10 Things Successful Tourism Operators Do Differently

10 Things Successful Tourism Operators Do Differently

By Rebecca White
Published on August 1, 2021

Running a profitable tourism business is hard.

Let alone dealing with a global pandemic that has seen the customer tap turned off for many businesses.

In my 20 + years in the industry I have seen the full range of tourism business successes and failures.

There are those tourism businesses who are unfortunately no longer in business. No longer sharing their awesome part of their world with visitors.

This isn’t due to lack of a great product, but usually due to lack of customer demand for their product or service or not being able to charge enough to remain profitable.

On the flip side, there are the successful tourism businesses who have managed to survive the pandemic, and will bounce back.

By successful and thriving I mean they are able to support their families and staff with a good income and running a business they love.

Of those who are successful, and also who are making it through the pandemic, following are 10 traits which I have found are common with each of these businesses.

1. Spend time working ON their business

Successful tourism businesses, especially those who are owner/operators, make sure they spend time to working ON their business, not just IN the business of looking after their guests. They make time to:

  • Develop and review their marketing plan. They know where they are going and how they will get there, and then make it happen and adjust their goals as needed.
  • Build, manage (and hold onto!) a team, either staff or external contractors, to deliver their vision and amazing product.
  • Building in-person relationships with other people who influence their customers (see point #10).
  • Systemise operational tasks.
  • They review and readjust their marketing activities all the time, depending on their Ideal Customers and macro + micro conditions.

2. They understand their Ideal Customers.

Successful tourism businesses are focused only on attracting their most profitable, ideal customers. They don't try to be all things to all people.

They can tell you exactly who their Ideal Customer is (or are) and can describe them to you as a single person.

They can tell you what they are interested in, how their tourism experiences meets their needs, what they value, where they spend time online and offline, what their values are, what their challenges are.

They then use their Ideal Customers as a lens for their product development guiding the rest of their marketing decisions.

For those business who survived the pandemic,where needed, they changed up their experience offering to support those Ideal Customers who were able to travel/book/visit.

3. They don't compete on price

Those most successful tourism businesses are often are more expensive than their competitors in their product category (be it a 3 star motel to private tours to hire vehicles).

They can charge more as their tourism experience is exactly what their ideal customers are looking for (or didn’t know they were looking for!) and by exceeding their customers expectations.

They achieve premium pricing by clearly communicating what value they are offer their Ideal Customers, what sort of experience they can expect and what makes them unique to all their other competitors.

4. Consumer-direct booking focus

They know their greatest profits come from customers who book direct, not those who book through a third party distributor.

They focus on building an email database, sharing relevant content on social media and email and investing in a visually-inspiring, seo & mobile optimised, online-bookable website. They also have an up to date ATDW, Google My Business and TripAdvisor listings as they know these are key touch points for their guests.

They only work with travel distribution partners, such as wholesalers, inbound and online travel agents if they have large amount of units to sell in their business and/or they are aligned to how their ideal customers prefer to purchase their travel experiences.

5. Understand what influences their customers

They know the most powerful marketing of their tourism experience is what others say about them.  They know the easiest way to create positive word of mouth around their business is to offer a product that their ideal customers loves and want to rave about.

They have clear brand values and deliver on their promise to their customers every, single time.

They encourage their happy customers to become advocates for them on TripAdvisor and Social Media.

They also proactively actively manage their online reputation, keeping their listings updated on platforms their customers are leaving reviews on, such as Google My Business and TripAdvisor and also encourage reviews in a personalised and non-spammy way.

They rarely invest in paid advertising as they know there are more effective uses of their precious marketing dollars. They only ever consider paying for advertising, unless it is highly targeted to their ideal customers.

6. They offer an exceptional experience

They know that by offering an exceptional experience that meets or exceeds the needs of their Ideal Customer, they will have an army of happy customers as part of their marketing team, such as helping reduce decision overwhelm as one example.

As well as offering an amazing experience, they also know how to help build anticipation before travel and help leverage their happy customers amazing testimonials after travel.

7. Willing to say “no”.

On a daily basis tourism businesses are approached with a great new “marketing opportunity” daily. New website distribution platforms, paid advertising opportunities (magazine, print, online), search engine optimisation specialists and even trade or media famils.

Successful tourism businesses happily say no to these opportunities unless they are directly aligned with attracting more of their ideal customers to their businesses and influences their Ideal Customer's Purchase Journey.

8. Stories not Advertising

They see the value that content creation can play in attracting more ideal customers to their business, and connecting with visitors hearts, not pushing advertising that can be easily ignored.

Firstly, they invest in quality, professional photos and videos for use in all their marketing activities.

They are also committed to regularly creating and sharing content on the the digital channels that their Ideal Customer hang out on.

They are sharing visual stories on social media and their website blog and are seeing improved SEO results, social media engagement and ultimately increased customers enquiries and bookings as a result.

9. Invest in their website

They see their website is the centrepiece of their business success, and are willing to invest regularly to keep it updated.

They know it is their 24/7 booking agent and business development manager and the time and $$ invested in it will pay them back in spades.

They spend time learning how to optimise it for search, creating content for their blog and working with web partners or staff to keep their website optimised (including for mobile) and performing well.

10. Build relationships

They build relationships with partners who influence their Ideal Customers purchase journey.

These could include their local Visitor Information Centre, Destination Marketing Organisations, Tourism Industry Councils, other Tourism Businesses, relevant Inbound and Domestic Trade Partners and also relevant Media organisations.

From there, they leverage any opportunities that come their way from these partners.

They don't expect opportunities to be handed to them on a plate, but will proactively pursue opportunities if they are aligned with helping them find more of their ideal customers.

Over to you

Are there any others traits of successful tourism businesses we could add to the list?

This blog post was first published in 2015 and updated in August 2021.


Rebecca White

Rebecca is a visitor economy specialist and co-director of The Tourism Collective. Rebecca has lived and breathed tourism for over two decades, and is passionate about helping regional tourism organisations adapt and evolve their activities to ensure they are adding value to their local communities whilst also remaining relevant to their visitors ever-evolving values and travel planning patterns.