How to Design a Website That Sells & 10 More Tips for Tour Operators

by Julia Barrero

Matthew-Newton-Tourism-TigerAsk the Expert: Q&A with TourismTiger CEO Matthew Newton

What’s the first thing a potential customer sees when checking out your business? Many times she won’t
see you, your staff, or your tour. She’ll see your website.

You can have most professional tour on the planet, but without a website to match, you’ll have a tougher time getting customers through the door.

To help you get the most out of your website, we interviewed Matthew Newton, CEO of TourismTiger. TourismTiger offers a suite of web design tools built to help tour and activity companies make more money online.

By the end of this article, you’ll know how to transform your website from an eyesore into a crown jewel worthy of your 5-star tour.

Xola University: You’ve been working with tour operators for some time. Have you noticed any trends with how your clients approach web design?

Matthew Newton: All of our customers understand the importance of having a website built to sell tours. They aren’t satisfied with having someone design their website who just doesn’t get the game, and they are hungry for a competitive edge.

XU: What distinguishes your most successful clients from the rest?

MN: The operators who do the best are those who fully engage in the web design process and see their online presence as a worthwhile investment. Those who perform less well tend to see it as a distraction.

On top of having a great website, the businesses that really thrive also have incredibly thoughtful marketing initiatives. A nice website alone won’t necessarily get people to come to you–that’s where tactics like social media, email marketing, and more come in.

XU: What’s the most common mistake you’ve noticed on tour operators’ websites?

MN: There are many mistakes that we see, but categorically the biggest one is just thinking that ‘a website is a website.’ Is your tour just a tour? Obviously not – even two tours of the same place can be radically different.

The same is true with websites. So, you have a website. Great, that literally gets you to the bottom rung. To climb up, you have to make sure your website is effective, has a strategy, has a plan to bring visitors back to buy, and many more things.

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XU: Tell me the story of the first company you worked with.

MN: When we started, no one knew TourismTiger, we had no credibility. I was emailing tour operators all over the world, begging them to work with us! Finally, an operator in Australia took a chance on us.

He had been working on his site himself for years. He’d done a good job, but the constant management and upkeep was starting to get away from him. I can’t think of a greater compliment than when guy said that working with us was the best money he had ever spent on his business.

XU: Why did you get into the business of making websites specifically for the tour and event industry?

MN: I was working for Australia’s largest SEO company and while there, I predominantly worked with tour and activity operators. They were spending massive amounts of money on this SEO service; however, their websites just weren’t converting, were ridiculously out of date, with web designers who had stopped responding to emails.

I wanted to offer them websites that would actually help them sell more tours online and not just sit there and rot. Moreover, I had a vision of websites that could continuously update their designs  to improve users’ experiences.

XU: The tours and activities industry has embraced many technology trends over the last 5 years. At Xola, for example, we’ve seen online booking software turn into ‘must-have’ for the vast majority of businesses. But many websites still look rather outdated. Why do you think some tour operators still haven’t embraced modern design principles?

MN: A lot of people are satisfied with the status quo. They have a website, it’s pulling in sales – but they don’t understand how many sales they are losing from this poorly optimized website. Nor do they recognize that these losses might worsen over time. Even “modern” websites today eventually slide of out date and need regular revamps if they’re going to remain productive.

XU: What have you learned about marketing and web design over the years that you didn’t know when you first started?

MN: A website might look great, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s important to build a website with the specific objective of selling tours. Aesthetics alone won’t do that.

Then there is the ‘first time visitor’ problem. First time visitors to a website generally don’t book a tour. They are much more likely to book (over 3x more likely!) if they come back.

Most operators should have the goal of bringing visitors back as a key plank of their online marketing. Retargeting and email marketing are two pivotal ways to drive return traffic. In fact, these two tactics are so good at driving online sales that we’ve recently added them into  TourismTiger’s suite of tools and services.

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XU: How does the actual reservation experience factor into a company’s website and a potential customer’s first impression?

MN: Getting a visitor to click on a ‘book now’ button is half the battle when we think of the website experience. Without a similarly sleek and professional online booking system, sales are still going to be left on the table. Competition is rife in the tourism industry; if it’s not an easy and pleasurable experience to actually complete a booking – the potential customer is going to turn elsewhere.

Having just gone on holiday in Europe, I cannot emphasize how important this is. I visited beautiful websites, but struggled to find available tours or pricing. As a consumer, I don’t want to call or email a company, I just want to book.

XU: Is it fair that consumers judge the quality of a product by the quality of the product’s website?

MN: Fair or not, nowadays, a company’s digital footprint is typically the first impression that most people will receive of that company. I don’t know about you, but if I visit an old website, I’m not expecting much professionalism from the rest of the company’s operations.

The best defense is for tour operators to invest in a website that is representative of their company. They shouldn’t give people the chance to wrongly judge their tour–they need a site that puts their best foot forward, and one that’s built with ease of use in mind.

XU: What advice would you give to owners or marketing managers that are new to web design?

For novices, I’d recommend developing business goals and strategies and leaving website decisions to a professional designer. In particular, look for someone who understands how to build websites for tour operators.

That will let you put your energy into higher-level decisions and marketing campaigns. I’ve seen people use the extra time to create advertising budgets and brainstorm other ways to sell tours while they build a brand.

XU: And what about our expert readers?

MN: If you’re comfortable with the ins-and-outs of your current website, then it’s time to start optimizing it. Make sure you do everything humanly possible to bring visitors BACK to your website. Test different concepts to find the ones work the best.

Remember, the tour operators that are selling the most tours don’t necessarily have the best tours (although this clearly helps). But they are hustling the hardest to get their tours seen over their competition.

There’s more where that came from

A big thanks to Mat for sharing his web expertise with our diligent marketing students at Xola University. If you want to continue studying up on web design, check out these articles:

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