When is a tourism company professional and developed enough to seek cooperation with international tour operators? What should be done before taking the first steps to get in contact with international travel trade professionals?
Visit Finland, the national organization taking care of the international marketing of Finland, has prepared internationalization criteria to help tourism companies, on their paths towards successful international business. The criteria provide a good starting point for an internationalizing tourism company, regardless of the location of the company. So whether you are located in Finland or in another Scandinavian country, this set of criteria is suitable for all. The criteria have been drawn up mainly from the point of view of consumer trade, but they also serve as an excellent checklist when there is interest in b2b cooperation. With the help of the internationalization criteria, a tourism company can develop its own know-how and products in order to achieve high-quality customer service, better profitability and a competitive service offering. The criteria also help to ensure that the offered products, services and packages are of sufficient quality and meet the needs of international travelers and have a real possibility to succeed in international competition. Sustainability, digitalization and the development of a year-round product offering are the most important factors in order to succeed in the tourism industry in general.
When is a tourism company ready to cooperate with a tour operator?
Once you have done your “homework” and all the basic issues in your business and product portfolio are in order, i.e. the internationalization criteria are met at least for the most part, you can turn your attention to the conditions defined by b2b cooperation. Tour operators are looking for professional and reliable partners who understand the basic principles of international travel trade business. If you set off "too early", the first impression is certainly not very convincing, and no significant results will be achieved.
The first thing that needs to be in order for every company targeting the international market is an English language website. English language can be perceived as a minimum requirement and other languages are definitely a plus, if you wish to reach travelers (and of course tour operators) from other certain countries. If you want to stand out from the competition, e.g. providing information in German can be advantageous if you want to focus on the German-speaking market. Of course, also the language skills (entrepreneur + staff) must be sufficient to be able to communicate with tour operators in English, and you need to be able to serve their customers in English also on site.
From the point of view of successful trading, it is good to get acquainted with the specific features of the target market and possible cultural differences before a possible online contact or even a workshop meeting will take place. This applies to all international cooperation, regardless of the market. With your knowledge of the target group, you demonstrate your own professional skills: so find out in advance when, for example, Germans travel, when they have holiday periods, what they are generally looking for on their holidays in Finland (or in the country your company is located), how long do they stay and how your offer could suit their needs. Always familiarize yourself with the tour operator's product offering and customer profiles in advance, before a possible encounter.
Sustainability is something that more and more consumers and also tour operators are calling for. Tour operators are interested in how you have taken the different aspects of sustainability into account in your own business or products and how you communicate it to your partners and customers. If you have not yet embarked on the path of responsible tourism, now is the time. For example, in the German market, sustainability is not yet the main factor influencing travel decisions, but especially after the pandemic, it has gained more importance. Health security is, and will continue to be, long after the pandemic, an issue that no one can ignore in their own actions and communication.
What should be included in a product description?
Tour operators need real and attractive ideas from tourism companies for their own production. However, ideas alone are not enough, products and product examples should be ready with sufficiently detailed descriptions. If you sell everything to everyone or only offer tailor made solutions, it is challenging for the tour operator to understand your offering. In other words, ready-made product examples, for example in the form of product cards, are again a testament to your professionalism. In most cases, the tour operator will modify the examples you provide, taking into account the needs and wishes of its own clientele, but without examples it is difficult to get started. Please also remember that many of the things that are obvious to you may not be for international tour operators. If you offer, for example, church boat rowing or some other traditional activity that may be completely unknown and new to foreigners, please clearly state in the product description, with pictures, what it contains, who it is suitable for and what is actually done during the activity.
When thinking about the b2c sector, referring to consumers, a product card can, at its simplest, mean a product description that includes information about:
- Product description (a detailed description so that the consumer understands what is being offered)
- Target group/suitability (is the product suitable for FIT´s or groups)
- Reservation/booking (where and how can the product be booked)
- Availability (when is the product available, e.g. summer or winter)
- Price (clear price with information what it includes)
- Pictures (images to demonstrate the product)
When approaching a product description or product card from a tour operator’s perspective, the details need to be considered in more detail. As the tour operators are responsible for everything they sell to their own customers, the product descriptions must be detailed and comprehensive. The tour operator must also be able to answer the questions of its own customers, i.e. product knowledge and understanding of the products must be in place. In addition to the things mentioned above regarding product descriptions in general, it is worth taking into account - depending on the service and product - e.g. target group (e.g. family / couple / active traveler), group size (min / max, FIT / group), exact season and availability (e.g. 1.6.-31.7., on which days and times, not only summer or winter), duration (h / day), services / equipment included in the price and possible optional services with prices. In addition to the product description itself, the tour operator is often also interested in the company providing the service: what kind of company you are, when the company was founded, how many staff you have and what your service languages are.
Cooperation is also an important aspect of product development for the international market. A German tour operator often offers its customers one or even two-week packages with different content. If you only have single, couple of hours, activities available, it’s definitely worth networking with other local service providers in the area so you can work together to offer larger and more attractive packages.
Proper pricing is also one of the minimum criteria that should be taken into account when entering the international b2b market. Commission pricing is familiar to many through online distribution channels such as Booking.com. The same principles apply to international tour operator cooperation. If you are unable (or willing) to give the tour operator an adequate commission on your prices, there are basically no conditions for cooperation. No one does sales and marketing work for you for free - if someone acquires a customer for you, they are also entitled to compensation for the work they have done. The good thing about commission trading is that it is risk-free, as the commission is paid only when a reservation or a transaction has taken place. Commission should be perceived as a marketing cost.
How to get started?
You should start with an analysis of the current state of your company, i.e. how many of the internationalization criteria do you currently meet? The goal is 10/10, of course! If full scores are not yet met, you should work out a plan and define how you can move step by step towards higher quality and a more competitive business. Next, the company's product offering, product descriptions and pricing models should be analyzed. Are the products described in sufficient detail, does the tour operator understand what elements your offer consists of and have you also been able to consider the various options with which you could make additional sales? You should also list the options on the product cards with sufficient details and price information.
If you need help with productization or analyzing your business before participating in international networking or sales events, please contact us! We offer a variety of online coaching possibilities where we can go through the basics of productization and international travel trade, practice elevator pitches, or define your USPs (Unique Selling Point). If you really want to stand out in your favor and get concrete results, you need to prepare well. The competition is fierce, and many other companies may already be one step ahead: do they seem to be a more attractive partner for a tour operator than you currently are? You can expect value for your money only with good preparation – as said, tour operators are looking for professional partners to do business with.
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