The first avenue most tour operators explore to earn new bookings is to bring their business online:

  • Some start by creating a booking website — then customers can find you online, see your tours and availability, and book with you at their convenience. The convenience of instant bookability alone can help you earn more reservations.
  • Others start by joining online travel agencies (OTAs) and listing tours on sites like Viator, GetYourGuide, Expedia, Tiqets, Klook, and so on . These sites see hundreds of millions of monthly visitors, all researching vacations and booking things to do — so listing your tours and activities on those platforms can get you in front of countless new eyes.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg here — to book out your calendar and really drive business growth, you want to put yourself in as many places as you can, giving yourself as many opportunities as possible to reach new customers.

Note: Research has found that customers with two sales channels generate 4x as many bookings as customers promoting tours on one sales channel. The number doubles if you grow into four sales channels, and triples when you move to five.

As a tour operator software brand , we’ve been working with tour and activity-based businesses for over a decade, so we put together this list of strategies to reach new potential customers and grow your business.

1. Simplify the booking process to promote direct bookings

As mentioned above, the convenience of the booking process can have a huge impact on booking conversions (aka the percentage of people who book with you after seeing you).

If customers have to call or send an email to ask about availability and confirm reservations, you risk losing them along the way to competitors who offer instantly confirmable booking options. The fewer touchpoints to confirm reservations, the less chance of customer drop off.

One of our clients, Dan Peterson from Wake up Reykjavik, saw a 400% increase in bookings just by switching from his website’s standard “contact us” form to Bókun’s bookable widgets.

Our advice: Use booking widgets

Make sure your website has booking widgets so customers can easily see your tours, availability, and pricing; choose their desired time slot; and pay online at checkout. This way, website visitors can confirm their reservation and complete the booking process in one fell swoop.

Participants: Dates available for February 2024

You should give customers multiple payment options so they can pay by credit card or with Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, Klarna, etc.

Order summary and contact details

Then, booking on online travel sites like Expedia (more on these below) is naturally convenient for customers because they already use those sites to research travel and destinations — and they usually start their search for “things to do” on these platforms.

If you list tours on OTAs, it’s a good idea to connect a booking system to make it easier to manage reservations across multiple sales channels. Connecting a booking system lets you auto-update your availability in real-time, so customers see only open spots. Plus, some OTAs offer extra perks if you connect your profile to res tech software.

How to execute

Booking management software (like Bókun) is necessary to enable online booking options for customers. These software solutions offer booking widgets and connect with OTAs so you can provide customers with a smooth booking and checkout flow regardless of how they find you. (They also offer website builders, if you don’t already have a site.)

Our platform, specifically, includes a booking widget, a custom website builder, and partnerships with top payment processors. We also connect with OTAs such as Expedia, Tripadvisor, Klook, Tiqets, and more, and we have partnerships with Viator and GetYourGuide.

You can read more about how to start selling tours online here .

2. List tours on online travel agencies (OTAs) like Viator & GetYourGuide

As we talked about above, online travel sites receive millions upon millions of monthly website visitors, so joining these platforms is a really effective way to increase your visibility and get found more often.

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and Partners: Viator, GetYourGuide, Expedia, Civitatis, and Klook

Think about it — customers come to these sites intending to research travel and book things to do. These are the platforms you want to appear on to reach people who are a) interested in finding tours and activities and b) ready to book.

Our advice: Don’t limit yourself

Don’t limit yourself to one OTA or another — there isn’t one “best” site to join. Instead, choose a major OTA like Viator or GetYourGuide, then look for OTAs more specific to your niche (for example, Manawa for adventure-based tours).

You can grow your distribution network as you start to see more bookings. We suggest promoting experiences across multiple platforms so you have the best chance of booking out your tours.

Note: Some OTAs also offer options to promote your tour listings through paid advertising. Investing in paid ad campaigns lets you drive new bookings fast, but at a cost; whereas increasing direct bookings can be a longer process, but potentially more profitable.

How to execute

It’s easy to join these sites and most have set up tools that walk you through each step of the process. Then, they provide features to see new bookings and revenue from their platforms.

But it’s important to note: Booking management software is still essential because it keeps operations organised as your distribution network grows. Otherwise, you have to manage each OTA independently — check bookings from each site, compile reservations into a central calendar, and update availability across sites to avoid overbookings.

Booking software connects with OTAs to automatically pull online reservations — across all platforms — into a central booking calendar.

Booking Calendar example with Bókun

You can also manage your availability from these tools so that it auto updates on OTAs, preventing issues with double bookings and cancelling or rescheduling reservations.

Our booking management system offers these conveniences, plus we have a preferred partnership with Viator , so we waive Bókun booking fees on reservations from those sites. (So you can grow your business on those platforms without all the extra fees).

3. Connect with Google Things to do & promote tours via Google

Google offers its own kind of OTA with its “Things to Do” feature.

Let’s say we’re visiting San Diego, CA, and want to research things to do. Instead of starting our search on Viator or Tripadvisor (or another OTA), we search “Tours in San Diego” on Google.

Google search example for tours in San Diego

Google will automatically pull suggestions from OTAs so searchers can see a few options immediately. Then, they can click on any of the listings to read more on Viator — or they can browse tour packages and other types of tours from this page.

Google will also pull “things to do” when someone researches a general location or point of interest. For example, if someone types, “Eiffel Tower,” Google will show options to buy tickets and attractions around the Eiffel Tower.

Google search example for Eiffel Tower with tickets

Then customers can click to see available ticket options and click right to the booking site or OTA to make their purchase.

Eiffel Tower Ticket pricing in Google search

Enrolling in Google Things to do not only allows your tours to appear in search results, but they also appear in Google Maps and Google Travel (, where customers have the same convenient options to browse and book tickets.

Our advice: Enrol in Google’s Things to do

We absolutely recommend enrolling in Google’s Things to do program , so you have a chance of appearing as a recommended listing across Google’s platforms. (Our platform also integrates with Google so you can set this up through our system.)

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we recommend giving yourself as many opportunities as possible to get in front of potential customers.

However, in addition, you can also:

  • Complete your Google Business Listing — add your website URL, operating hours, contact information, and more — so you can appear in Google’s directory and Google Maps to receive customer reviews through this platform. Let’s say someone searches “tour
    operators in San Diego” — Google will show businesses that fall in that category. This also helps build credibility with travellers (they can verify your brand before visiting you for a tour) and in Google’s eyes (they see you’re an operating brand and are more likely to promote active businesses).
Google search example for tour operators in San Diego
  • Promote your website at the top of search results with Google’s advertising program. Google offers pay-per-click (PPC) advertising , so you can create advertising campaigns that target searchers interested in your types of tours and activities. The perk of choosing PPC ads is that you only pay when someone clicks on your ad and enters your website.

How to execute

You can enrol in Google Things to do through one of their connectivity partners (or through your booking software). You can also enrol with Google directly, and:

  • Check that you meet the Things to do requirements .
  • Contact them to express your interest in enrolling.
  • Sign Google’s terms and conditions to get started — then you’re assigned an account manager to help through setup.

4. Partner with suppliers & resellers to promote each others’ tours

Now, let’s talk about establishing partnerships. Whether you partner with major hotel chains, travel agents, or other tour operators in your local area, this strategy can be super valuable in both earning new bookings and increasing (passive) revenue. Let’s explain:

Partnerships provide opportunities to promote each others’ services . Resellers can promote your tours and earn new bookings for you; you can promote partners’ services and earn commission when customers book through you. You can also create bundle deals with partners to sell your tours together.

Our advice: Partner up

If your primary focus is increasing bookings, partnering with resellers is a priority — but you shouldn’t overlook the benefits of promoting others’ tours and services. Earning commission as a reseller helps you increase revenue even if you’re not booking out your calendar; then, you can use this extra income to invest in growth strategies (like paid ads on OTAs or Google).

How to execute

When shopping for booking management software, look for one with a partner network where you can easily make connections with other businesses in the tourism industry.

These systems have tools so you can reach out to determine if there’s a potential partnership, discuss the terms, and manage contracts — all communications and contracts are stored for easy reference.

Not only that, but these systems let you easily display partners’ tours and services on your site, and even create bundle deals with your experiences, so you can promote partners’ products without extra effort.

Discover partners: The marketplace gives you access to resellers and suppliers.

Bókun Marketplace provides access to 27K+ businesses — hotels and resorts, attractions and theme parks, museums (even universities!), rental providers, and more — so you can find partners that complement your services. We provide all the tools to create and manage contracts within our dashboard. You can renegotiate partnerships or reach out to new businesses at any time.

Read more: Discover partnership opportunities in the marketplace

You can also get in touch with other businesses and establish contracts over email (the “old fashioned” way), but you’ll eventually want to have some contract management solution so you can easily see current partners, reference past contracts, and keep all documentation in one organised place.

Plus, this approach creates challenges with the booking process, keeping an updated booking calendar, and attributing bookings to the right partner. If you’ve reached this step, and you’re ready to start exploring partnerships, you should have a booking management tool to support your operations.

5. Use social media to build brand awareness & encourage bookings

We’ve all heard about the benefits of social media and connecting with potential customers in their everyday lives. Brands with a strong or unique social media presence are more memorable, and social media is a great tool for shaping your brand voice and differentiating yourself from competitors.

Tour operators have a ton of “creative freedom” in how they can use social media to promote experiences. You can post pictures from recent tours, “go live” during tours to give audiences a glimpse of experiences, create reels or TikTok videos, and more. You can also interact with customers on posts or you can also encourage customers to share photos from tours and tag your page.

However, it’s important not to get caught up in all of the technicalities of social media strategies and abandon ship altogether — the key thing is just to get active. Some tour and activity operators (especially those less tech-savvy) feel social media is too complicated or only for the younger crowd, so they overlook these strategies completely.

Check out the Black Country Museum in the UK , they’ve amassed 1.2 million followers and reportedly driven thousands of bookings from TikTok.

Our advice: Start small

Start small, focus on one channel at a time, and as you continue posting and building your pages, you can start flexing your creative muscles. Don’t give up early on if you don’t see success!

As you get more advanced, you can look into sponsored content on social media (aka paid ads on social platforms) and partnering with travel influencers.

Note: You can also reach out to non-competing local businesses who see success on social media and ask to pick their brains.

How to execute

TikTok is a highly profitable channel for businesses in the travel industry. Since 2021, TikTok has reported a 410% increase in views of travel content — and 71% of EU-based users say they’re likely to book tours and activities they’ve seen on the platform. In addition, travel content is hugely popular on Instagram.

We recommend prioritising TikTok and Instagram and exploring other social media platforms as you go.

6. List your business on online directories & review sites like Tripadvisor & Yelp

Tripadvisor is the largest online travel directory, and sites like Yelp are popular for researching restaurants and things to do in new places, so joining these online directories can help you get in front of even more people planning travel.

Plus, listing your tour business on these sites is free, so there’s no risk of creating profiles — it just improves visibility.

In addition to reaching out-of-towners researching travel ahead of time, adding your business to these sites can help you attract last-minute bookings, as people often use Yelp to find same-day or instantly available activities.

Yelp search for bike tours in San Diego, CA

Our advice: Increase visibility

It doesn’t hurt to add your business to these sites, but you should look at them as a means to increase visibility and earn reviews.

Some of these sites (like Yelp) offer advertising programs to promote your business on these platforms; while this can be helpful for local businesses like hairstylists or auto shops, we suggest tour operators invest their marketing dollars in other channels — like OTAs — where visitors have a greater intent to book.

How to execute

You can list your tour company on these sites by creating business profiles. During setup, you’ll answer basic questions about your business and tours, link your website, and upload pictures and videos to showcase your experiences.

7. Win repeat customers & consider strategies to drive extra revenue from bookings

Now that we’ve covered a few ways to get your business in front of new customers , let’s talk about our advice to get more tour reservations from your existing customer base .

Offer memberships or special promotions for returning customers

For starters, you can encourage customers to book another tour or activity with you by offering them a repeat customer discount. You can send coupons or discount codes to customers when they book with you or in a follow-up “thank you” email.

Then, they can visit you when they’re back in town (or book another experience with you within the same trip). Avoid adding expiration dates to discounts so customers can come back and see you anytime.

In addition, you could offer an incentive for referrals — if customers say they heard of you from a friend, you can offer them and the friend a perk, like a discount, gift voucher, or merchandise.

You might also consider offering a membership program; this could be beneficial if you service local customers or have a wide array of tours and activities where customers could consistently book new types of experiences with you. Memberships can help you earn loyal customers and improve customer retention, so you can see more revenue from each customer you win.

Offer upsells and combos

You can also increase revenue from reservations by adding “extras” for customers to purchase with tour bookings.

For example, if you offer a Northern Lights Viewing Tour, you could offer hot chocolate or S’more making as an add-on. Or, many tour operators offer photo ops so customers can purchase a family photo or other professional shot from their tour. Merchandise is another go-to extra.

Combos are also a nice way to win two bookings from one customer. If you have complementary tours, say a daytime sightseeing tour and a nighttime stargazing tour, you can package the experiences and sell them together. This can be convenient for customers because it helps them fill vacation itineraries — and it lets you earn more from a single sale.

8. Optimise your website & tour listings

Before wrapping up, we should also talk about some best practices to ensure you’re set up for success. If you’re established online and active on OTAs, Google, and other online directories, but you’re still not seeing new business, then you might want to consider the quality of your tour listings.

Make tour listings attention-grabbing with detailed itineraries, photos, & reviews from past customers

When potential customers browse sites like Viator, they’re hit with dozens of tours and activities to choose from; your tour listings need to stand out so customers don’t scroll past it.

Think about the titles of listings, images you use, details of descriptions, and available reviews. Can you include better images or add more engaging details to your listing?

Some OTAs even include product quality grades and offer personalised recommendations to improve your listings. For example, Viator displays their Badge of Excellence on products that meet the “Excellent” quality level. Here are some of the requirements to earn this badge :

  • Listings must include 6+ images and 15+ customer reviews.
  • Tours must be instantly confirmable (by connecting to a booking software like Bókun) or include a booking cutoff of less than four hours before departure.
  • You must offer a standard cancellation policy.
  • Your cancellation rate must remain lower than 2%.
  • You must also offer convenient mobile tickets for customers.

You want to put your best foot forward on both OTAs and your website so you have the best chance of winning potential customers’ business.

Pro Tip: Bókun lets you feed customer reviews to your website by connecting with your Tripadvisor account; this way, users can access and read verified reviews while browsing your site.

Check your site’s usability & make sure it’s mobile-friendly

Most standard website builders offer visually elegant, user-friendly website templates — and in the majority of these cases, these website builders support mobile viewing — so your site is, by default, optimised for SEO and easy to navigate on a desktop, tablet, or cell phone.

However, if you suspect website issues could be a reason for the lack of bookings — say the navigation bar isn’t working properly or page load speeds are super slow — you may want to consider a UX or technical site audit (where a developer looks at the back-end of your site to uncover potential problems).

Performing these audits requires specialised knowledge, so it’s best to consult a website developer or SEO agency to improve site usability.

Lastly, you can also optimise your site for SEO with search terms relevant to your location and experiences. For example, you could optimise your site to rank for the term “tour guides in San Diego,” so your actual website appears when someone searches for that. Now, there are a lot of intricacies to ranking on the first page of Google, so again, you’ll want to consult with a professional if you’re interested in going down this road.

These more technical tips are important to know but should not take priority over the strategies mentioned above — these are options to consider if you’ve followed the above steps and are still facing challenges.

Final notes & getting started

There are a variety of avenues to explore when growing your business online — but as you’ll notice throughout our post, you also need the right tools to support business growth. Manual methods only take you so far; you can’t create a booking website without booking widgets or effectively manage back-end operations without a reservation management tool.

Bókun tour operator software has the tools to:

  • Create a booking website that’s desktop and mobile-friendly.
  • Sell across OTAs.
  • Join Google Things to do.
  • Establish partnerships with other businesses to increase bookings and revenue.
  • Manage all reservations (from OTAs, your website, and offline) in one calendar.
  • Offer discounts, memberships, upsells, and bundle deals to win repeat customers.

Plus, we’re a Tripadvisor brand and partner with Viator to help you grow your business (while saving money). We never charge Bókun booking fees on reservations from Viator and offer extra perks for those users .

If you want to explore our platform’s features, you can start a free 14-day trial (no credit card required). During the trial period, you can explore the website builder, create tour listings, connect with OTAs, and explore the Marketplace. After the trial ends, you can opt into the Pro subscription for $49/month — this includes all of the features and benefits mentioned in our guide.

To learn more about booking management software and its benefits, check out some of our related reads below: