Why instant bookings are imperative to Southeast Asia’s tour and activities operators

Leighton Cosseboom on 10 August 2018

With hotel and flight bookings all but sewn up by online travel agencies in Southeast Asia, tour and activities operators of all sizes appear next in line for digital consolidation. 

Dermot Halpin, president of TripAdvisor Experiences and Rentals, recently said that the experiences sector sits at around 20 percent in terms of online penetration. He went on to mention that the e-travel juggernaut will help push this penetration higher in the coming months. 

Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com, echoed a similar sentiment. “Today, travel is fueled by technology, yet the local experiences and attractions marketplace is still largely offline,” said Tans. “We see an immense opportunity to leverage this technology to bring more local experiences online, benefitting the entire global travel ecosystem [...]”  

These statements from the industry’s heavy hitters should be taken seriously by tour and activities operators in Southeast Asia. It is particularly the case for those who have yet to integrate e-bookings into their operations. If operators hope to stay relevant over the next three to five years, they will need to start looking into instant online booking options. 

In no particular order, here are some reasons why instant bookings are imperative to tour and activities operators in Southeast Asia.   

Convenience trumps everything else


It’s no secret that at the end of the day, operators are beholden to one party: the customers. According to a recent study by a popular review site, 63 percent of its users said they wanted a single online portal where they can read reviews, compare prices and book. This finding, while open for interpretation, speaks to the outsized demand for convenience in the tourism sector.

Here is an example. More than two million tourists from China visited Indonesia in 2017. They also represent one of the largest groups of tourists to other countries in the region. In terms of consumer behaviour, Chinese travellers often pre-arrange their activities and may not deviate a great deal from their set plans. 

As such, operators should ask themselves: “Why should Chinese travellers—many of whom might struggle to communicate in English—even try to join my Bali cooking class without an instant booking option?”   

Online conversion equals more customers overall


If you believe that your office is easily discoverable by foreigners via foot traffic near Pattaya Beach in Phuket, then just wait until you roll out an instant booking option and target your audience via digital advertising. Instead of going after travellers who’ve already sorted out their itineraries, digital evangelists argue that it’s better to target those who have not yet decided what they’re going to do. 

In this day and age, it means reaching them at home as they begin to plan. Expedia’s Senior VP of Global Marketing recently said, “People make an average of 43 searches before booking anything, and getting the best price remains the top concern.”     

Preempting your customer's needs


When a customer books your tour or activity online, then you immediately gain their key information, such as ages, genders, countries of origin, sizes of groups, special requests, and more. This allows your service staff to immediately start catering to the customers' needs before they even show up. Having this knowledge in advance is better than asking your team to solve unique problems on the spot when a customer walks through your front door. 

When your team has several days or weeks to prepare for the customer’s arrival, then your service quality is far more likely to impress. This will ultimately create positive word-of-mouth (both online and offline), and your customer acquisition and retention mechanisms will become fortified.     

Solving for operational efficiency


When your customers are delivered from an instant booking platform, sticky problems such as human error are all but resolved when it comes to scheduling and capacity. When integrating a system for instant bookings, you, as the operator, are also largely relieved of needing to employ someone full-time to man the telephone and balance the calendar. Getting set up on with instant bookings allows you to avoid a multitude of common service mistakes while effectively employing fewer staffers.     

Mitigating overhead costs


Tour and activities operators without instant booking options often rely on a network of agents, partner businesses, and referral schemes. The labour and upfront costs involved with keeping these kinds of apparatuses running smoothly can prove to be expensive. 

When it comes to instant booking options, there are several providers that charge you based on ‘successful conversions.’ In other words, this means they only take a cut of the transaction when the customer actually pays you for the experience. 

For many operators, this has become a preferable and streamlined way of doing business. Those in Southeast Asia who have yet to integrate instant bookings into their organisation would do well to get in touch with a savvy tech solutions provider

About the author

Leighton Cosseboom
Leighton Cosseboom is an American media entrepreneur in Southeast Asia. He is the former chief English editor of Tech in Asia's Indonesia chapter, and recently co-founded Content Collision (C2), a media services and technology firm serving brands and publishers in the region. He often writes about technology, travel, and business. He is a contributor to outlets like Nikkei Asian Review, Thomson Reuters, and more. Today, he serves as CEO of C2.