Operator Assist: How to Balance Resellers & Direct Bookings

This Barcelona-based adventure sports operator loves the sales he gets from online travel agencies—but he doesn’t want all of his sales to come from resellers.

Kayak Barcelona
Reading Time: 5 min 30 sec

Stevie Peters

The Operator: Stevie Peters, CEO of Excursions Barcelona, based in Barcelona, Spain

Like many operators, Excursions Barcelona started with a passion—in this case, a passion for watersports. After working as a scuba diving instructor for years, Stevie Peters teamed up with a similarly water-obsessed kayaking instructor to co-found Excursions Barcelona, an outfitter based in—you guessed it—Barcelona, Spain. 

Now with 12 guides and around 6,600 customers per year, the business has quickly grown over the last nine years—sometimes doubling in sales volume annually. The company added more tour offerings outside of scuba diving and kayaking, including snorkeling, hiking, sailing, biking, and walking tours in the Barcelona area. These additions upped the visibility of the company, making it the number one-ranked experience in the search for relevant keywords. (Google “kayaking” and “Barcelona” and Excursions Barcelona is first on the search page.) 

Sales were strong, and the tour company was receiving the lion’s share of bookings through its website, with about 10% of sales coming from OTAs such as TripAdvisor and their city walking tours on GetYourGuide

But in just one year, from 2018 to 2019, website sales started to fall; OTA sales began to climb. Now, Excursions Barcelona is receiving 90% of their sales from OTAs, and just 10% from their website, making it feel like Peters is in competition with himself. 

Like this? register for our Newsletter to continue the conversation

Sign Up

Oddly, website traffic hasn’t decreased. “We still get thousands of visits to our website every month and we come top of Google, our SEO is actually even better this year. However, our website isn’t converting as it used to. We are unsure why,” he says, adding that some people head to his site, click around to learn about their tour products, and then leave to book on GetYourGuide. This is frustrating because Peters would obviously prefer not to pay the 20-25% OTA booking fee.

He is thankful for the added business OTAs offer—overall this past year, total bookings are up 15%. And he knows OTAs—like hotels and airlines—are the future of booking. But Peters hoped OTA bookings would come in addition to his existing direct website sales, not in place of. 

The key question: How can Excursions Barcelona increase both OTA bookings and their direct website bookings without competing with themselves? What’s the secret to finding this delicate balance? 

Roisin of Walks

The Expert: Roisin O’Sullivan, COO, Walks

Stevie’s experience is pretty common in our space right now, although it’s a trend that seems to be consistent across all online shopping, be that travel or consumer goods. 

Customers are preferring more and more to purchase from marketplaces, particularly if they are making multiple purchases, as is likely ahead of a big trip. The bad news is that this trend seems set to continue with giants like Amazon paving the way—so we all need to learn to adapt.

Harness Web Traffic

The fact that Stevie hasn’t seen his traffic decline is a great indicator and a major opportunity. For his onsite work, he should focus on his conversion rate. What is causing his guests to go elsewhere? Mobile load times are slow on most supplier sites and guests are travel planning on their devices more and more. Are his images and copy as compelling as that which OTAs are using or is it too long and detailed? He would do better to have all of his content visible on his landing page versus behind tabs and other navigation.

Excursions Barcelona Booking ButtonLooking at Stevie’s website on mobile, his “Book Now” button may be an issue too. It appears as a very subtle banner at the top of the screen upon scrolling but since you are already reading copy and looking at the images, you never notice it. Getting some clear inline booking buttons and if possible, a clear indication of availability will provide much clearer calls to action for users.

There are some easy site changes that may be impactful for Stevie—I recommend doing some real-life user testing to see where he could make improvements. Watching people who don’t know your brand or website navigate through it is always illuminating.

Add Incentives

Stevie should also experiment with providing different incentives for his own users. Email subscriptions are a great way to keep leads warm if they aren’t yet ready to commit (which Stevie’s seem like they may not be) and since he won’t be paying commissions, he could provide discounts for subscribers. 

There are a lot of third-party tools like OptInMonster that will plug-and-play for email collection and integrate easily with Mailchimp. I noticed on his website that he’s offering a discount code directly on landing via a pop-up. This is not useful to new users, as they need to know more about his services before they book, and most guests will dismiss early pop-ups quickly. 

Sending incentives by email will allow them to keep the code for later and you’ll have an open channel to continue communicating with them. It means an additional workflow via email, but it’s an easy setup and worth trying if the current discount is not working.

Target Customers 

I would also recommend spending more on re-marketing across Google and social media, to stay in front of mind once guests are ready to book. The cost is a lot lower than most forms of Google Ads and the return can be great if you have engaging images and copy.

The other great asset a supplier has that an OTA does not is the experience itself. It sounds like Stevie has some pretty good word-of-mouth already, which may explain his consistent website traffic, but he’ll want to do all he can to ensure it stays that way. Often, guests who book with OTAs leave never knowing the name of the tour operator. Branded materials for leaders and printed takeaways (maybe with referral codes to give to friends and family) will help them remember who provided that really great experience.

Like flights and hotels before us, tours and activities have a long battle ahead to build brand recognition and customer loyalty in the face of growing marketplaces, but there are a lot of tools at our disposal, and at the end of the day, we hold the ultimate trump card—happy customers.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


already a member?

Lost your password?


Become an Arival Insider

Included in Free Membership

Included in Arival Pro Membership

The Arival on-demand video library archive
Access to the entire library of over 150 video sessions and webinars

Short, digestible research & trends reports delivering insights into our industry, such as The Tour Operator Outlook for 2021.

Arival.travel articles
Topical articles about marketing, tech, operator business and operator stories in all areas of tours, activities & attractions & experiences

Job board access
Find a job from our regular listings, post a resume to the talent network and learn strategies from the job resources articles

New webinars
Helpful, instructional sessions covering subjects such as Mastering Facebook Ads, Grow Your Business and How To Work With OTAs — topics to help advance your business.

Discounts on all Arival in-person events
20% Discount on all Arival in-person events (save up to $300)* based on business type

Arival ProShield – Insurance program
Access to tailored insurance solutions by Granite Insurance is available exclusively for Arival Insider Pro Access Members. Insider Pro Access Members also have access to a suite of resources from Granite Insurance including templates, forms and other informative documents.

Insiders Pro Access member exclusive webinars
Paid membership-only webinars to deepen your understanding of important industry topics.

Job postings & talent directory
Post jobs & connect with candidates most applicable to your business.

Private roundtables to connect, learn and engage
Small, focused and intimate discussions exclusive to Arival Insider Pro Access members.

Full access to Arival’s library of in-depth reports
Up to date, deep analysis of tourism topics ranging from Self-guided Tours to Sales & Distribution Trends and Outlooks, based on the data that defines the industry.

The latest on-demand videos
Over 350+ on-demand videos featuring hot topics in tours, activities & attractions

Insider discounts in digital marketing, tech, e-learning, and more
Save money on additional tools, services and learnings you need to run your business. Exclusive to paid members.

Membership Overview

At Arival, we believe travel can make the world a better place. Our mission is to establish and inspire a diverse community of individuals and companies in the In-destination Industry by providing opportunities to gain insight, share knowledge and build connections. To make it possible for true collaboration, creativity, innovation, and idea exchange to thrive, we are committed to facilitating a welcoming and respectful community for all. This Conference Code of Conduct shares our community expectations and applies to all attendees, employees, exhibitors, speakers, sponsors, volunteers, and other participants at Arival- produced and sponsored events. We empower all participants in our community to actively engage in creating a friendly, inclusive and safe environment for all.

Arival’s core values include the following, and create an expectation for conduct at our events and in online community spaces:

We demonstrate a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company and for the communities in which they live.
We value integrity and strive to consistently interact with others in ways that are authentic, ethical, and fair.
We are dedicated to transparency, committing to clear, open and honest communication.
We actively pursue and advocate for inclusion, diversity and representation of varying cultural backgrounds, perspectives and ideas

Arival welcomes people from all cultural backgrounds, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, gender (including pregnancy, perceived pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, or related medical conditions), gender identity, religion (including religious dress and grooming), marital status, domestic partner status, genetic information, age, national origin or ancestry, military or veteran status, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or any other basis protected by federal, state, or local laws.

Accordingly, participants must refrain from displaying any demeaning, harassing, aggressive, or intimidating behavior or materials that would interfere with others’ experience and participation in our community.

If you witness or are subjected to inappropriate or disruptive behavior or have any other concerns, notify an Arival staff member as soon as possible.

Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. Arival reserves the right to refuse entry to or remove any party from any event or community space at any time when participation or behavior create a disruption or hinder the event or enjoyment of the event by other participants. All determinations are at the sole discretion of Arival, and the decision of the Arival team will be final. Severe breaches of this Conference Code of Conduct may result in disqualification from participating in future events. Individuals expelled due to violating this Conference Code of Conduct will not be eligible for a refund or other consolation.

If you have questions regarding this Conference Code of Conduct or its implementation, please contact us at [email protected].