An Essential OTA Checklist & Tips for Experience Operators

Do this distribution health check to maximize your online bookings: get your ducks in a row with this walkthrough and essential OTA checklist

As peak season approaches, operators of tours, activities and attractions should be gearing up for a surge in bookings. How do you ensure that you capitalize on this peak travel period? One key component is getting your “ducks in a row” with a well-thought-out distribution strategy. 

This article dives into distribution to help you get set up for summer success. We’ll take a look at the distribution landscape, explore effective distribution strategies, and consider how to maximize the potential of online travel agencies (OTAs) and other resellers as part of a comprehensive strategy. 

This walkthrough includes a complete OTA checklist as well as references to Arival’s extended lists of OTA resellers. Skip straight to the checklist here.

Editor’s note: Martin Harlow is an expert in distribution strategy and connectivity, and an Arival guest author and speaker. Martin led the “Intro to the Industry” session at the last Arival. 

Introduction to Distribution in Tours, Activities and Attractions

An effective distribution strategy is a critical component for operators as it directly influences the accessibility and visibility of your products, and ultimately, the success of your business. The travel industry as a whole has evolved to embrace the need for distribution, and in parallel, connectivity. The “things to do” vertical is still catching up with the aviation and lodging sectors, however it’s now forming a key part of everyone’s annual strategic considerations. 

While it can at first glance appear complex, we can break it down into three simple sections as illustrated in the distribution map below: supply (operators and experiences), connectivity and distribution channels. This map provides a reference point on which to build your own distribution strategy.

Distribution map showing the flow from operators and experiences through connectivity methods to various distribution channels for tours, activities, and attractions.

Over the last 15 years the landscape of in-destination experience distribution has been transformed by the advent of OTAs and resellers such as GetYourGuide, TUI Musement and Viator. These platforms serve as intermediaries, connecting operators of tours, activities and attractions with domestic, specialist and global audiences.

While there are many other travel distribution channels, including direct booking, multi-attraction passes and more traditional trade channels, in this guide we will focus specifically on the online travel agency distribution channel due to its growing significance in our sector. 

The Role of OTAs and Resellers in Your Distribution Mix

For many operators, online travel agencies and resellers play an indispensable role in distribution strategy. While there are some commonly cited challenges to working with OTAs, there are many benefits to working with these platforms as well. Here are several benefits to including OTAs in your distribution mix:

Extensive Reach and Exposure 

These platforms have an expansive reach, connecting millions of potential customers worldwide with your products. Platforms like Tiqets, Klook and Trip.com attract a vast audience of both domestic and international travelers looking to book tours and attractions. Listing on these sites ensures your products are seen by a diverse and extensive customer base, far beyond what most individual operators could achieve independently. Understanding OTA ranking algorithms can significantly improve your visibility on these platforms.

Enhanced Visibility through Marketing

How can you compete with the deep pockets of the heavy hitting competitors? Well, these platforms invest heavily in OTA advertising and marketing, both online and offline. This includes search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising, social media campaigns, and email marketing. Just by being listed on an online travel agency, you can benefit from this broad marketing reach without bearing the high costs associated with large-scale promotional campaigns. This enhanced visibility can not only lead to increased bookings and brand recognition through these channels, but also drive direct bookings as savvy travelers researching online may visit your website before booking. This is known as the “Billboard Effect,” a phenomenon which is well-documented in the accommodations sector of travel. 

Simplified Booking Process

These platforms know their customers very well and part of this is how to convert lookers to bookers. They invest heavily in user-friendly platforms that simplify the booking process for their customers. These platforms provide comprehensive information, customer reviews, photos and videos, making it easy for travelers to compare and book the experiences which suit them. Building a “cart” of things to do can mean travelers will actually book more, and these sites are experts in leading their customers to book multiple experiences. 

Trust and Credibility

OTAs and resellers spend huge amounts of money and time building loyalty with their customer base. When traveling to a new place, travelers will often look to OTAs in order to test the trust and credibility of an activity. Travelers may research things to do in a destination using OTAs, but then having read positive reviews, ratings and information on an OTA they then go on to book directly. Being associated with a reputable OTA can lend credibility to tour, activity and attraction providers, assuring customers of quality and reliability.

Bar graph showing increased percentages of guests leaving reviews for activities, tours, and attractions from 2019 to 2023.
Reviews have become increasingly important for experiences travelers in determining trust and credibility of a tour, activity or attraction. Travelers were more likely to post reviews in 2023 than in 2019, Arival research found.

Data Insights and Analytics

Data is key to developing your distribution and connectivity strategy. Understanding your customers will allow you to develop and optimize your distribution strategy. OTAs provide valuable data insights and analytics to operators. This data includes important aspects such as customer demographics, customer source markets, booking patterns and preferences. Having your products and services available on a global stage will allow you to tailor things like marketing messages, pricing and offers dependent on your needs at the time. 

Diversified Distribution Network

When starting out with OTAs or developing your distribution strategy you may have a good idea of your target markets and regions. Utilizing the network of the global and regional OTAs ensures that your experiences are accessible to a wide range of customers from different regions and countries who would possibly not be familiar with your location. The data provided by OTAs will have the added benefit of helping you understand who is booking your experiences.

So when considering the role of OTAs, we must look beyond the commission factor, and instead focus on making them earn that commission. When built into your strategy, OTAs provide unparalleled reach, marketing support, and customer trust. By leveraging the strengths of OTAs, you can enhance your visibility, attract a broader audience, and optimize your bookings, ultimately driving growth and success in a competitive market.

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Reviewing Your Current Distribution Strategy

Reviewing your distribution strategy regularly is crucial to ensure its continued effectiveness and to make necessary adjustments based on performance and market trends. Here are a few key steps to go through as you undertake this review:

1. Assess your Current Performance

Analyze your sales and booking data, taking into account key performance indicators (KPIs) such as booking volumes, revenue, and average ticket prices per distribution channel. This will allow you to evaluate the performance of each distribution channel (OTAs, direct website bookings, travel agents, etc.) to understand which are the most effective and profitable for your business or if you need to consider alternative channels. As part of this process, you should analyze the demographic data you have on your customers (age, location, preferences, etc) to see if you are reaching your target audience effectively.

2. Customer Feedback

Consider your customer feedback and reviews by channel, particularly if you are using multiple channels. It’s important to capture the feedback to understand the customer booking experience and satisfaction with the attraction. Some channels may be successful for bookings but cause a poor guest experience; capturing and understanding this feedback will enable you to build an effective guest experience strategy with your chosen channels. 

Stay informed by following industry news channels, attending Arival events, and participating in industry discussion groups like Arival Insider Pro Meetups. Being aware and informed about things like emerging OTAs, shifts in consumer behavior and technological advancements will help you develop and evolve your strategy. 

Bar graph comparing online booking methods for activity travelers in 2019 and 2023, showing increased mobile and computer bookings and decreased in-person and travel trade bookings.
For example, knowing that more activity travelers are booking online and on mobile in particular can help you adjust your strategy (and ensure you’re optimizing for mobile). | The Outdoor Adventure & Activities Traveler.

It is also useful to analyze the distribution strategies of your competitors. Identify what channels they are using successfully and consider if those could be beneficial for you. As part of this process, consider consumer behavior and technological advancements which may benefit you. 

4. Financial Analysis

When conducting a financial review, evaluating the success of promotions and discounts over the past year is crucial. Examine which channels have worked well with such initiatives, and look for gaps where a deeper financial/distribution strategy may need to be implemented. A financial strategy in conjunction with your distribution strategy should drive bookings in slower periods and maximize revenue and profitability in peak periods. 

By systematically reviewing your distribution strategy, you can identify strengths, address weaknesses, and ensure that your tour, activity or attraction offerings remain competitive and appealing to a broad audience.

OTA Checklist for Summer Readiness and OTA Engagement

So how do you make sure you are preparing for the up and coming peak season? Below is a checklist for ensuring you maximize your OTA and reseller listings and are ready for the upcoming summer season. The list of tasks can feel a little overwhelming. However, no one would expect you to have all of this ready at the get-go. Use the list as a guide, and work through the items which are most important or missing from your online presence.

1. Profile Optimisation

  • Complete your profile information
    • ☐ Ensure all sections of your OTA profile are fully completed.
    • ☐ Provide a detailed description of your tours and attractions, highlighting unique features and benefits.
    • ☐ Include contact information and a link to your official website.
  • High-quality images and videos
    • ☐ Upload high-resolution photos that showcase the best aspects of your offerings.
    • ☐ Include a variety of images (e.g., different angles, guest experiences, facilities).
    • ☐ Add videos to give potential customers a better sense of the experience.
  • Accurate and up-to-date content
    • ☐ Regularly review and update descriptions, amenities, and other relevant information.
    • ☐ Ensure all content is clear, engaging, and free of spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Rates and availability management
    • ☐ Ensure that all listed prices are accurate and competitive.
    • ☐ Regularly review and adjust prices based on demand, seasonality, and competitor pricing.
    • ☐ Clearly display any additional fees or taxes to avoid customer confusion and frustration.
  • Real-time availability
    • ☐ Use a reliable online booking system that syncs with OTAs to keep availability up-to-date.
    • ☐ Regularly check and update availability to avoid overbooking.
  • Dynamic pricing strategies
    • ☐ Consider implementing dynamic pricing to optimize your revenue based on real-time demand.
    • ☐ Adjust your prices for different booking windows (e.g., early bird discounts, last-minute deals).

2. Customer Engagement

  • Streamline your guest communication
    • ☐ Ensure the contact process goes smoothly through the OTA so customers can get ahold of you easily if they have questions.
    • ☐ Consider implementing a guest communication system to streamline communication before, during and after the tour.
  • Respond to reviews promptly
    • ☐ Regularly monitor reviews and respond promptly and professionally.
    • ☐ Thank customers for positive feedback and address any concerns raised in negative reviews.
    • ☐ Use feedback to make improvements to your offerings.
  • Leverage customer insights
    • ☐ Analyze customer reviews to identify common praises and complaints.
    • ☐ Use this information to enhance the guest experience and address any recurring issues.

3. Promotions and Discounts

  • Seasonal promotions
    • ☐ Plan and schedule promotions around peak and off-peak seasons.
    • ☐ Offer discounts for early bookings, last-minute deals, or bundled packages.
  • Exclusive OTA offers
    • ☐ Work with your channel partners on their seasonal and offer programmes. Create exclusive offers or discounts for specific OTAs to attract more bookings through those channels.
    • ☐ If you are giving an offer or promotion, ensure these special deals are displayed prominently on your OTA profile.
  • Utilize OTA marketing tools
    • ☐ Take advantage of OTA marketing tools, such as sponsored listings, to increase visibility.
    • ☐ Participate in OTA promotional campaigns to reach a wider audience.

4. Content Marketing

  • Engaging descriptions
    • ☐ Craft engaging and informative descriptions that highlight the unique aspects of your tours and attractions.
    • ☐ Use storytelling to make your descriptions illustrate the experience travelers will get in-person.
  • SEO-friendly content
    • ☐ Incorporate relevant keywords into your profile to improve search rankings within the OTA.
    • ☐ Optimize descriptions and titles for search visibility. Learn more about SEO optimization here.

5. Profile Maintenance

  • Regular updates
    • ☐ Schedule regular checks (monthly or quarterly) to update profile information, images, and availability.
    • ☐ Ensure all information remains current and accurate.
  • Monitor competitors
    • ☐ Regularly review competitor profiles to understand their offerings and pricing strategies.
    • ☐ Adjust your strategy to stay competitive.

6. Technology Integration

  • Res-tech integration & channel management
    • ☐ Meet with your res-tech (booking system) provider and discuss seamlessly integrating with OTAs.
    • ☐ If your res-tech does not connect seamlessly to OTAs, consider utilizing a channel manager to manage multiple OTA profiles efficiently.
  • Mobile optimization
    • ☐ Ensure your listings are optimized for mobile viewing and booking.
    • ☐ Test the booking process on various devices to ensure a smooth user experience.

7. Analytics and Reporting

  • Track performance metrics
    • ☐ Monitor key performance metrics such as conversion rates, booking volumes, and customer reviews.
    • ☐ Use the analytics tools provided by OTAs to gather insights and refine your strategy.
  • Regular performance reviews
    • ☐ Schedule regular performance reviews to assess the effectiveness of your OTA strategy.
    • ☐ Make data-driven decisions to optimize listings and improve overall performance.

By following this detailed checklist, you can ensure that your tours and attractions are well-optimized on OTA platforms, leading to increased visibility, higher bookings, and improved customer satisfaction. Learn more about how to optimize your listings on OTAs here

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Lists of Leading OTAs to Consider

From general travel OTAs like booking.com and Expedia to OTAs focused on tours, activities and attractions like Viator, GetYourGuide, Tiqets, Headout, Klook and TUI Musement, the online distribution options for operators are many and growing. However there are many more OTAs that specialize in specific geographies, markets or segments of the experiences sector. Here are several comprehensive lists of OTAs and resellers to consider:

Many of these OTAs regularly attend Arival events. Join us at the next Arival event to connect with them in-person and learn more about the distribution landscape. 

No company has paid Arival to be included on these lists. Have we missed a brand? Let us know: [email protected]

Strategies to Enhance OTA Engagement

When you have selected the OTAs and resellers you want to work with, it’s important to make sure you understand how you can engage with them to ensure your product is accurately and effectively being represented. Here are a few important things to consider:

Utilize OTA Marketing Tools

Different OTAs and resellers will have different ways for you to engage — from user portals where you can get analytics, insights and news as well as load content, offers and promotions. With many OTAs you may also have a dedicated account manager who is responsible for your success. Knowing how to engage and use these tools will be key to having a good and successful experience. 

OTA listings can help optimize your SEO. It may seem counterintuitive, however ensuring your keywords and listings are optimized across all channels will actually help your direct organic positioning. If you are working with a digital marketing agency, leverage their support to ensure you are including relevant keywords.

Optimize your Profile

Once you have established your profile, ensure it is complete and engaging. Provide high-resolution images, compelling descriptions, and engaging videos which showcase your tour, activity or attraction. Highlight unique features and experiences to capture potential visitors’ interest. Some OTAs will re-write the content in their own “voice,” so it’s imperative that you check that they have still captured the important aspects of your product and represented the details accurately.

Nathan Szabo, General Manager at Asia-based OTA Klook, discusses how to optimize your listings to increase your conversion rates. Watch the full interview here.

Leverage Promotions and Discounts

OTAs and resellers all run targeted campaigns. These are often to fill gaps in off peak times or to increase revenues in certain periods. Engaging with their offers and marketing campaigns with suitable offers and promotions you can increase your presence and position. Furthermore, aligning with their scheduled plans and understanding the OTA’s customer behavior — such as when they book and their preferences — will enable you to tailor unique offers and promotions, and target periods that align with your needs (for example, by attracting more bookings during slower periods).

Analyze and Adapt

Regularly track performance metrics like conversion rates and booking volumes. Use these insights to refine your strategy and ensure it remains effective. Stay informed about industry trends and adjust your approach accordingly.

Engaging closely with your OTA partners, ensuring accuracy of content, providing supportive promotions for example will increase your “organic” listing position. Always remember the OTAs are a significant billboard for your product: the better your engagement the better the position you will achieve. Monitor, and where possible, respond to customer reviews promptly. Thank customers for positive feedback and address any concerns raised in negative reviews professionally. 

For more detailed information on strategies for working with OTAs, take a look at this article by Bookable Tourism’s Meredith Rangel: 4 Ways to Make OTAs Work Harder for You.

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Preparing for Challenges

Successfully working with OTAs can lead to wonderful partnerships and increased bookings, but getting to that point is not necessarily without challenges. Here we will take a look at the most common difficulties, and how best to address them: 

Commission Costs 

One of the biggest challenges and most common complaints when working with OTAs is the commission on bookings. Although the upside of these distribution channels frequently outweighs the downside of lost revenue due to commissions, you can set yourself up for success from the start by setting your net rates to account for OTA commission rates, and negotiating commission rates based on your products’ performance and profit margins. At the end of your season, revisit your net rates and commissions based on the previous season’s performance. You may not get a reduction in actual commission, however you may be able to negotiate a better position or other added value. 

Rate Parity

It is a challenge to maintain accurate and consistent pricing across multiple distribution channels, including OTAs and your website. Working with your booking system provider or channel manager with automatic rate updates will help you clear this hurdle and avoid any OTA compliance issues. In the event that you don’t have this level of connectivity, your channel rate strategy should be maintained as simply as possible while leaving opportunity for seasonal variation. 

Dependency

Working with multiple OTAs does not automatically mean increased revenue and bookings. By the same token, relying too heavily on just one OTA can actually have a negative effect on your direct bookings, and “putting all your eggs in one basket” can be detrimental. To mitigate this risk, developing your distribution strategy using the checklists and steps outlined in this article to partner with appropriate OTA and reseller channels, as well as honing your marketing efforts, will help you reduce dependency on specific channels, increase productivity and drive more bookings. 

Managing Customer Reviews

Managing customer reviews across multiple OTAs can be an overwhelming task, with negative reviews left unanswered potentially harming your reputation. In order to mitigate this, set aside time to monitor reviews, and respond promptly and professionally. Consider working with a partner like TourReview, one of the presenters at the inaugural Arival Experiences Innovation Showcase, to aggregate reviews and streamline your responses.  

Conference hall with audience watching a presenter on stage at the Arival event. Large screens display TourReview logos and QR codes.
TourReview CEO Jose Arozarena presents about TourReview’s online review management system at the Arival Experiences Innovation Showcase.

Access to Customer Data

OTAs and resellers are very protective of their customer data, often using loyalty programmes to encourage customer retainment. “Who owns the customer” can be a contentious issue when working with OTAs, and some OTAs may place restrictions on how you communicate with customers that book through them. It is nonetheless important to engage with your customers during their visit and encourage them to sign up for your newsletter, loyalty programmes or follow your social media accounts. 

Learn More About OTAs and Distribution Strategy with Arival

As travelers increasingly book online, maximizing your share of these online bookings requires a well-thought-out distribution strategy. This article has highlighted the pivotal role of distribution and the significance of leveraging OTAs and resellers to boost your business. By revamping your approach and utilizing our comprehensive OTA checklist, you can optimize your online presence and effectively manage your OTA and reseller partnerships to attract more customers, maximize your bookings, and get the most out of working with OTAs.

About the Author

Martin Harlow is an expert in distribution strategy and connectivity, who has held multiple senior leadership roles in well-known hospitality brands. Martin is Managing Director of MH Strategic Solutions Ltd offering expertise and consultancy support to the industry in the field of distribution, connectivity strategy and technology implementation. 

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To learn more, join us for the next Arival Elevate session, where Martin Harlow will be leading a discussion on distribution strategy for tour, activity and attraction operators. Learn more and register for that session here!

Join us at an upcoming Arival event to learn more about working with OTAs and building your distribution strategy, and connect with some of the key OTA representatives in person. Arival Insider Pro Access members can also go deeper by watching this session on-demand: Best practices for mastering the OTA relationship.

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