10 tips for doing business with European tourism buyers
If you are a Destination Management Company (DMC) in a developing country seeking to do business in Europe, you are taking on an exciting challenge. European consumers and tourism businesses are highly informed, selective and often have extensive travel experience. This document offers you a number of tips to make sure you capture their attention and get down to doing business in Europe successfully.
1. Focus on potential ‘specialty’ features of your offer
Most European tourism businesses and tourists who are interested in visiting developing countries want to discover extraordinary places and have new experiences. They are looking for something that is really special.
- Review your product and service critically and try to identify aspects that can be used to make you stand out from the competition.
- For more information about specialties and competitiveness, see CBI’s study on competition in the tourism sector.
- For more insight into tourism specialisations that are popular on the European market, check CBI’s overview of Tourism segments with opportunities.
- Another tool that may help you to improve your offer is our Tourism trends study.
2. Join forces with other companies
European tour operators often prefer doing business with groups of companies, rather than with a single company. The reason is that this can be a way for them to offer tourists a broader package.
To make their offer more attractive, European tour operators may seek to combine parts of one country or different countries in the same region in a single package. Or they may want to combine a bird-watching trip with a cultural city trip in the same area. Offering tourists a combination of places and experiences – or better yet, inviting tourists to put together their own combinations from a number of available options – can help tour operators attract more business.
- You can help tour operators in this area by working together with other companies like yours, offering either similar or complementary products. Presenting yourselves as a collective, with clear and flexible options for combining products and facilities, will often make you more attractive to European businesses.
- Sharing facilities will not only expand your offer, it may also help you cut costs.
- Your partners do not have to offer the same tourism product as you do, on the contrary, the more diversity you can offer together, the better.
- Be sure to make clear agreements with partners in order to avoid arguments of any kind. For instance, you may want to ensure that as partners you offer similar quality and pricing – perhaps you can agree on a quality standard together.
- Consider joint participation at international trade fairs, for instance, or offering combined tourism packages.
- Check CBI’s study on How to find buyers in the EU.
3. Show buyers you are a member of tourism and business associations
If you have a small tourism business or a start-up, it can be difficult to gain credibility and build your reputation. Tour operators will want some sort of evidence that you are a serious player with a reliable offer.
For a tour operator, adding a new tourism destination or product is always a risk. And for tourists, travelling to a new destination is, too. Europeans heading for developing countries tend to enjoy the ‘unknown’, but they also want some certainty: they want to be sure they will be in good hands.
- A good way of becoming more credible in the eyes of buyers, is to become a member of recognised tourism and business associations (this does not just apply to small business, of course).
- If you become a member of an association, make sure you publicise your memberships, for instance by placing the associations’ logos prominently on your website.
- Try to get whatever backing you can from your government, national tourism board or chamber of commerce – and make sure this backing is visible on your promotion materials.
- Check with European tourism associations to find out whether you can register with them as well. If you can, again, use these connections actively to promote your business.
- Check your own government, chamber of commerce or national tourist board for registration and support options.
- Check the website of the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association to gain insight into how European players are organised.
- Becoming a member of an association can help you find new buyers. For more information on this topic, see our study on Finding buyers in the European tourism sector.
4. Communicate clearly and promptly
Europeans like clear and punctual communication. In their minds, it is closely linked to being reliable. Clarity, to them, means giving factual information that is accurate and reliable. Promptness is all about showing buyers that you are constantly at the ready to listen to their needs and wishes.
Most European buyers want immediate answers to any questions they may have. This means they will not hesitate to send countless e-mails in a single day, expecting them all to be answered the same day – or the next day, at the very latest. They expect replies to be not only quick, but short and to the point as well. If you are slow in replying or if your replies are evasive and vague, buyers will lose interest in you as a supplier. Quick and clear replies, on the other hand, will be seen as a good basis for developing a healthy business relationship.
- Reachability is vital to doing business with Europeans. They want to be reassured that you are easy to reach – preferably 24/7, or at least during office hours.
- Make sure that during national holidays someone representing your company – you or a colleague- can be reached by email or phone on a daily basis.
- Always try to respond to emails and other queries within 24 hours, even if only to let your customer know you are working on an answer (if this is the case, tell him when you expect to get back to him with a full response).
- If you can guarantee replies within 24 hours, turn it into a promise and put it on your website as a way of emphasising your professionalism.
- Make sure your telephone is operated by a staff member who communicates pleasantly and in good English.
- Follow up on meetings or phone calls with a clear, brief, written summary of the conversation (by email), containing all of the agreement and arrangements between you and the buyer.
- Develop a clear system in your communication with buyers, using forms, lists and overviews rather than writing separate e-mails for each minor detail.
- Check CBI’s study on How Buyers in the EU Tourism Sector Think.
- Visit the Business Culture website for more country-specific information on the expectations of European business people.
5. Avoid creating false expectations about your offer
In the minds of European buyers, clear communication means being realistic about what you can and cannot offer. Many entrepreneurs promise more than they can deliver. In doing business with European tourism players, this approach will get you into trouble: as soon as they find out that you cannot deliver on your promise, they will drop you.
Raising false expectations can ruin your business. It may feel good to give your prospects the impression that with you ‘everything is possible’, but it is far better for your business to specify what you can and cannot do. This applies to every aspect of your business – your capacity, your product quality, pricing, the languages spoken by your guides et cetera.
- Avoid creating false expectations. Presenting your firm as a small business with good personal service and a commitment to understanding what your customers want will get you further than suggesting you have a big firm that can handle any request.
- Check your promotional materials for realism: make sure you can deliver on everything you say.
- Remember that European buyers will more easily embrace a ‘small is beautiful’ approach than believing big promises.
6. Avoid exaggerating about your capacity
Your internal capacity will determine your commercial capacity, or how many tourists or tour operators you can manage at the same time, or in the same season, without placing your service and quality levels at risk. Capacity may refer to accommodation (number of beds), staffing (number of office staff, guides or interpreters, either fully trained or in training), software for processing information and orders, transport (for instance, the number of vehicles at your disposal).
Exaggerating about your capacity in hopes of pulling in more business will ultimately get you into trouble. As soon as tour operators or tourists find out you really do not have the capacity to deliver the quality they have paid for, you will be dropped. It is better to be realistic about what you do and do not have.
- Especially if your business is growing, make sure you manage the growth so that it does not outstrip your internal capacity. If you are getting more business than you can properly handle because your team is still growing, or some of your staff are still in training, manage the growth rate carefully. You can do this by being honest with tour operators about your limitations, while also letting them know you are working on upscaling.
7. Make sure the infrastructure in your area is in line with your offer
You may have a fantastic hotel or tourism programme, but if the infrastructure in your area is inadequate, your customers may well abandon you. For example, think of roads and transport, communications and other basic facilities European travellers or tour operators would consider vital. Most buyers are interested in longer-term relationships with suppliers, but if these basic conditions are not in place, they are not likely to pursue business with you.
- Assess your local infrastructure and if you are not sure whether it is adequate, discuss it with a buyer so that you can compare it with his or her expectations. And always be honest about it.
- When you make this infrastructure assessment, ask yourself not only whether the infrastructure is adequate for your current tourism turnover, but whether it will be able to sustain an influx of tourists when your business starts growing. Connect with other local providers and government agencies to strengthen the infrastructure.
8. Always try to engage in personal contact with prospects
Today’s digital communication technologies, such as email and Whatsapp, make it easy to touch base with prospects and customers quickly and efficiently. Nevertheless, nothing surpasses personal contact if you want to gain trust and build a lasting relationship.
Meeting your buyers in person and having face-to-face contact is the best way to develop a strong business relationship. In a personal meeting, you can share ideas and backgrounds, talk through challenging issues and build a basis of trust. While mailings and emails may seem quick and effective, personal meetings will yield far better business results.
- Invite prospects to visit your country – and when they come, make sure you take time for them, give them excellent treatment and provide them with a realistic understanding of what you have to offer.
- Buyers also often make use of trade fairs to meet with potential or existing suppliers. It may be an option for you to combine trade fair attendance – even if you are not exhibiting – with customer appointments or a field trip that includes several visits to tour operators’ offices. Do not plan this too far in advance; send an email or call one week before you plan to visit their country, mentioning that you will be at the fair.
- If there is no possibility to meet at the fair, you have a good reason to suggest a visit to the office. The advantage of this approach is that you can meet multiple prospects during one trip. That way, you will reduce travel cost and combine meetings with catching up on the latest trends at the trade fair.
- If a personal encounter is not immediately possible, you can find other ways of making your contact as personal as possible. Consider telephone calls, Skype or other VOIP methods.
9. Be honest about safety issues, highlighting the good news
You may find this difficult to believe, but your European clients – both in the business-to-business and business-to-consumer segment – are often better informed about the safety of travelling to and in your country than you are. If you are honest about the possible risks, while highlighting the strengths of your country or region, they will tend to trust you more easily than if you pretend everything is fine when it is not.
In most European countries, the Foreign Ministry offers travellers so-called Travel Advice. It is based on that ministry’s view of the political stability of the destination in question. If the situation in a country is particularly sensitive, these ministries will advise tourists not to visit. This means tourism to that country will drop, especially as travel insurances do not cover destinations for which a ‘negative advice’ has been issued. Tour operators will also immediately stop operating in these countries.
- Try to be well informed about the safety and stability of your country, your region and even possible airports or transit locations tourists will have to pass through to visit you.
- Try to follow European news reporting on your country, so you will understand how Europeans perceive safety levels in your area.
- Check up on the travel advice offered to tourists and tour operators by European national governments (see the Links below).
- If your country or region has safety issues, be honest about these with your customers rather than denying them. At the same time, highlight the positives. For instance, you might say that your guides or drivers only travel through safe zones, that taxi drivers in your city are less reliable than public transport, et cetera. Give prospects a realistic view of the situation.
- The Netherlands’ government issues online travel advice per country in Dutch. You may not be able to read the text, but check the colour code used on the country maps and you will get an idea of what the advice is: red is ‘negative’, orange means ‘travel here only if you have to’, yellow means there are ‘some safety risks’ and green is a ‘positive’ advice, meaning there are no unusual risks.
- Check CBI’s study on Tourism in post-conflict areas.
10. Start with a basic fee and add optional extras
European buyers in the tourism business expect transparent pricing from suppliers. Also, they like to work with suppliers who can offer differential pricing, or upselling options.
If the price you offer does not make sense to a European tour operator in comparison to what his customer will be getting for it, he will avoid doing business with you. Offering a single, all-in price will be another reason for him to avoid you. All-in pricing lacks transparency and limits the range of choices for operators and tourists.
- As a supplier, your best approach is to set an attractive and fair price for a basic itinerary and to combine that with upselling. Your basic offer should include a certain trip and basic accommodation, for instance. On top of that, you can then offer optional upgrades for extra fees. This differential pricing, upselling, means your buyers will have more choice. It will also make your pricing more transparent than a single, all-in price.
- Optional extras might include extended stays, extra excursions, extra meals, more luxurious accommodation et cetera.
- In business-to-business communication, offer a clear and logical presentation of the facts and the figures. Tour operators do not need a sales pitch, they want a clear overview of what you can and cannot do and for what prices.
- In business-to-consumer communication, you can add more emotion and focus more on building trust.
- Make sure your payment methods are easy and convenient for inbound tourists. The easiest method is online credit card payment; most of your customers will be familiar with this method.
- Try to avoid surcharges for credit card payments, for example by absorbing these in your pricing.
- Ask for a prepayment that will cover your expenses in the event of cancellations (hotels et cetera).
- Be sure customers have paid for the basic package before arrival.
- With new business partners, ask for an up-front deposit and agree that your partner will pay the remainder before customer departure.
- If the partnership is solid, you can loosen payment conditions, but always be sure to have a signed contract.