10 tips for finding buyers in the European Tourism market
The European market for tour operators is crowded, sophisticated and fast moving. It is also highly competitive and European tour operators are always looking for new suppliers with innovative ideas to give them a competitive edge. Here are 10 tips to help you, a local operator, find European buyers.
Contents of this page
- Know your market and who you are targeting
- Find buyers at trade and consumer travel fairs
- Consult websites of tourism sector associations
- Look up European tour operator websites
- Research OTAs
- Build your own professional website
- Use social media to connect with buyers
- Advertise in European trade publications
- Contact your target operators
- Consult other organisations
It is important that you understand the market you are planning to target. The tourism sector has many niche segments, each with its own individual needs. Market research will allow you to understand the needs of the market you are targeting. CBI has published several studies covering specific European tourism market segments, such as adventure tourism, culinary tourism, nature and ecotourism and wildlife tourism, which give indications of the types of visitors and their motivations for travelling.
The European market for buyers is substantial and dynamic. European travellers are increasingly looking for unique, special travel experiences. Booking habits are changing as more people book holidays, tours and activities online. As a result, buying routes in the European market include both traditional and new channels.
The key buying channels in the European market are the following:
- Specialist tour operators service a particular type of traveller or niche segment and a relative small number of travellers. Examples of adventure tourism operators include Belgium’s’ Anders Reizen, which specialises in holidays for hikers; Better Places Travel (Netherlands) specialising in tailor-made, family and impact travel; and Nomade Aventure (France), which does adventure trips.
- General tour operators cover several market segments and cater to large numbers of travellers. Examples of these include DER Touristik (Germany), Sunweb (Netherlands) and Jet2 Holidays (UK).
- Travel agents usually sell holidays on behalf of tour operators.
- Online travel agents (OTAs) and travel portals sell a variety of travel products online. Some of the biggest OTAs focus on accommodation, flights and car rental (Booking.com, Expedia.com) while others specialise in selling tours, activities and experiences (TripAdvisor Experiences, Travel Local and Airbnb Experiences).
- Fully independent travellers (FITs), also known as free independent travellers, is the term to designate individual people who generally buy elements of their holidays separately using a variety of sources, including airlines, accommodation providers, local tour operators, experience providers, car rental agencies, etc. They may purchase some of these products before departing their home country and others while travelling.
Having an understanding of how the buying process works between supplier and buyer is essential. The chart below shows the process by which travel products from providers in developing countries reach European travellers directly or via the travel industry.
Chart 1. Process of supplying tourism services to the European travel industry and travelling customers
Source: Acorn Tourism Consulting
- Decide which market segments best suit the products and services your organisation offers.
- Decide which are your key target countries. Identify those with good access to your destination, such as direct flights from major European cities and those with good connections. For more information on which developing countries are most in demand among European travellers arriving by air, you can read the CBI’s analyses of air flows of European travellers. For additional information on European tourism markets, you should also read the CBI report on the demand for tourism in the European market.
- Consult with your national ministry of tourism or national tourism associations for insights into target segments for your country. They may compile tourism data and other arrivals statistics that will help identify the key inbound markets.
There are two types of travel fairs: business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C). Some fairs combine both, dedicating certain areas or days to each target market. Travel fairs are referred to in several ways, including travel or tourism trade fairs (usually B2B), travel shows or consumer shows (usually B2C), or a combination of those.
European tour operators often exhibit at B2C fairs to attract potential travellers, but also attend B2B shows to network and identify new destinations. Local tour operators might exhibit at B2B fairs to attract buyers and network with the organisations that you want to sell to. However, it is expensive to participate in them and you must be well prepared.
The chart below shows the key audiences of travel fairs and consumer shows, plus the reasons for visiting them.
Chart 2. Key audiences and reasons for attending or exhibiting at travel trade shows and consumer travel fairs
Source: Acorn Tourism Consulting Limited
- Ensure you have researched your market well so you are knowledgeable about potential buyers.
- If you are unable to attend a relevant fair, consult the exhibitors listings on the trade fair website and draw up your own list of operators that could be potential buyers.
- Make sure you have a clear purpose for either attending or exhibiting at a show. Are you looking for business suppliers or attract FITs? If both, does the fair attract both types of buyers?
- It may be more appropriate and cheaper to exhibit at a regional travel trade fair if the buyers you want to meet usually attend it.
- Allow plenty of time to arrange meetings with your target operators. Follow up with tour operators you meet after the fair, within a week of the meeting so the outcome of the meeting remains relevant.
Some of the major travel trade fairs include:
- Adventure Travel World Summit – for tour operators, adventure travel writers and influencers, tourism boards and industry partners. The Summit is held annually in a different location world. The September 2019 Summit was held in Sweden.
- ITB Berlin is the world’s leading travel trade show. ITB attracts more than 113,500 trade visitors and 10,000 exhibitors from more than 180 countries. There are sister ITB events: ITB Asia (Singapore), ITB China (Shanghai) and ITB India (Mumbai).
- The main World Travel Market (WTM) event is held in London. Other WTM events outside Europe include WTM Africa (Cape Town), Arabian Travel Market (Dubai) and WTM Latin America (São Paulo).
- TravelMart LatinAmerica (TMLA) – the largest B2B annual trade show aimed at building business to Latin America from worldwide markets. Location varies annually, the 2019 edition was in Quito and the 2020 edition is scheduled for Lima.
- Ferien-Messe Wien (Vienna) – Austria’s largest holiday and travel show (B2C)
- Brussels Holiday Fair – holiday, travel, tourism and leisure fair (B2C)
- Vakantiesalon Antwerpen (Antwerp) – the largest holiday fair in the region of Flanders (B2C)
- IFTM Top Resa (International French Travel Market) (Paris) – annual trade show for travel and tourism, targeting business, leisure, group travel, MICE and events segments (B2B and B2C)
- ILTM (International Luxury Travel Market) (Cannes) – trade show aimed at luxury travel suppliers and buyers (B2B)
- Salon du Randonneur (Lyon) – travel show specialising in the adventure travel segment (B2C)
- Salon Mondial du Tourisme (Paris, Lille, Lyon) – the French world tourism fair hosted annually in three locations in France (B2C)
- SIT Nantes and SIT Rennes – regional tourism fairs (B2C)
- ITB Berlin is the world’s leading travel trade show. ITB attracts more than 113,500 trade visitors and 10,000 exhibitors from more than 180 countries
- F.re.e Die Reise- und Freizeitmesse (Munich) – the largest exhibition for recreation and travel in southern Germany (B2C)
- GTM Germany Travel Mart (Weisbaden) – the largest workshop for inbound travel professionals for destination Germany (B2B)
- IMEX Frankfurt – business trade fair for planners looking to book and organise MICE events (B2B)
- InterDive (Friedrichshafen and Frankfurt) – trade show specialising in the diving and snorkelling segment (B2C)
- Reisen Hamburg –travel trade show. Sister travel shows include Caravanning Hamburg and Kreuzfahrtwelt Hamburg (Cruise) (B2C)
- TourNatur (Dusseldorf) – travel show for outdoor enthusiasts in the segments of hiking, biking and nature experiences (B2C)
- BIT Milan – the largest travel trade show in Italy with more than 2,000 exhibitors and 50,000 visitors. Starting in 2020, the show will welcome both industry and travellers (B2B and B2C)
- TTG Rimini – important international travel trade show (B2B)
- BTO Florence – major travel trade show (B2B)
- Vakantiebeurs (Utrecht) – major tourism and leisure fair (B2C)
- Danish Travel Show (Herning, Denmark) – Scandinavia’s largest holiday fair (B2C)
- Matka Pro (Helsinki, Finland) – the largest travel industry event in northern Europe (B2B). The consumer show MATKA Nordic Travel Fair runs concurrently (B2C)
- B Travel International Tourism Show (Barcelona) – international tourism show for experiential travel (B2C)
- Feria Internacional de Turismo (FITUR) (Madrid) – the leading international tourism fair in Spain (B2B and B2C)
- World Travel Market (WTM) – annual B2B show for the global travel trade hosted in London. WTM attracts more than 50,000 international travel professionals from 190 countries and regions (B2B)
- Destinations (London, Manchester) and the Adventure Travel Show (London) are two leading consumer shows aimed at the adventure travel segment, where many leading specialist tour operators have a presence (B2C)
- Dive Show (Birmingham) – annual show aimed at scuba divers, dive operators, resorts and destinations (B2B and B2B)
- GEM (Global European Marketplace) – trade fair for global tour operators and travel buyers (B2B)
- Experience Latin America and Experience Africa are two new B2B travel events bringing together buyers from the UK and Europe with suppliers from each target continent
Listings of travel and tourism trade fairs and shows
- World Tourism Exhibitions provides a comprehensive listing of travel and tourism fairs around the world, including in Europe
- 10times is a searchable database featuring listings of travel and tourism trade shows around the world
The tourism sector in Europe is widely supported by tourism trade associations. Tour operators often join as members and may be listed on the associations’ websites. Once you have identified the country and segment that offers you the most opportunity, you can also identify potential buyers among members. Some of the most important tourism sector associations include:
- Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) is a community of more than 1,300 tour operators, tourism boards, speciality agents and accommodation providers from 100 countries. ATTA conducts and publishes research, hosts events and offers training in multiple areas.
- Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is the leading association for travel and tourism in the Asia-Pacific region. PATA Chapters are local community organisations of travel industry professionals working to develop travel and tourism to, from and within the Asia-Pacific area. The European division has several chapters, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden and United Kingdom. Check the links for each branch for activities pertaining to that region.
- The Latin American Travel Association (LATA) is a membership association of DMCs and tour operators that aims to promote the region as a tourist destination.
- European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) is the trade association for tour operators and suppliers in European destinations, operating B2B events. The ETOA is a good source for you to learn about the policies commonly adopted by European tour operators.
- The European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association (ECTAA) comprises a group of national trade associations of travel agents and tour operators in Europe.
- Agir pour un Tourisme Responsible (ATR) – the leading network of operators committed to responsible tourism
- Association for Fair and Solidarity Tourism (ATES) – a network of organisations and tour operators that promotes responsible tourism
- Les Entreprises du Voyage – a membership organisation representing more than 3,500 travel and tourism companies and a source of information regarding market trends
- Syndicat des Entreprises du Tour Operating (SETO) – a group of French tour operators, also offering tourism statistics
- Die Reisewirtschaft (DRV) – association of tour operators, travel agents and tourism service providers
- Allianz Selbstandiger Reiseunternehmen Bundesverband (ASR) – represents medium-sized tour operators and travel agents. ASR welcomes members from international operators that support the goals of the association
- Arbeitsgemeinschaft Lateinamerika (ARGE) – association of 90 members committed to promoting tourism in Latin America
- Arbeitsgemeinschaft Sudliches & Ostliches Afrika (ASA) – 150 members promoting tourism to southern and east Africa
- Italian Association for Responsible Tourism (AITR) – more than 100 members
- Federazione Italiana Associazioni Imprese Viaggi e Turismo (FIAVET) – represents 1,500 Italian travel agencies in 16 Italian regions
- Algemeen Nederlands Vereniging van Reisondememingen (ANVR) – the Dutch Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators is a representative body for the travel industry. The website features a searchable database of its members
- Danmarks Rejsebureau Foreninig/The Association of Danish Travel Agents and Tour Operators (DRF) – more than 100 members
- Suomen Matkatoimistoalan Liitto /The Association of Finnish Travel Agents (SMAL/AFTA) – a consortium of 180 travel agencies, tour operators and inbound agencies across the tourism sector
- Svenska Resebyra- Och Arrangorsforeningen/Association of Swedish Travel Agents and Tour Operators (SRF) – represents most Swedish travel agencies and tour operators. Provides a member list on its website
- Asociación Catalana de Agencias de Viajes Especializadas (ACAVe) – more than 500 members
- EXCELTUR Alliance for Excellency in Tourism – 29 members including travel agents and tour operators
- ABTA – The Travel Association – the UK’s largest travel association, representing 1,200 travel agents and tour operators. You can use the ABTA’s Member Search to check on a specific member of ABTA
- African Travel & Tourism Association (Atta) – member-driven trade association that promotes tourism to Africa. More than 600 members that include European and UK tour operators listed on the site
- Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) – travel association for specialist tour operators listed here.
National tourist boards
Your country’s national tourist board may have a list of tour operators they work with. The board may also be able to recommend an inbound operator that might be interested in buying from you. Build a strong relationship with your national tourism board. See if you can get them to add a link on their website to yours.
- Tourism Review Directories provides a comprehensive list of tour operators around the world. The list can be filtered by Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe, by country and market sector. The website also features details of regional tourist boards and other tourism organisations.
- Tourradar features comprehensives listings of tour operators segmented by continent and region.
- Tour Hebdo’s Icotour site lists all tourism professionals in France, including consulates, tourist offices, airlines, maritime and land transport, accommodation, tour operators and travel agencies.
More than three quarters of European travellers use the internet to help decide where they want to go on holiday. Most European tour operators have created sophisticated websites with detailed information about trips and experiences. It is important for you to know these operators’ packages and what they offer so that you can be knowledgeable about their needs when you make an approach.
By researching European tour operator websites you will be able to learn what sort of customers they attract. For example, some operators, like Germany’s Diamir, will appeal directly to adventure tourists, while others will sell holidays that appeal to culture tourists, like the UK’s Expressions. There are a number of operators that promote luxury trips, such as France’s Voyageurs du Monde, while others focus on business tourism and MICE, such as the Dutch Omnia Travel.
Some tour operator websites will share names of staff with responsibility for different areas of the business. This information is often under a section named Meet the Team or similar. Blogs may also provide useful contacts, sometimes providing an image with a direct email address or telephone number. Job titles can also be useful indicators, including operations manager, overseas project manager or destination manager, who might have responsibility for working with operators in destination locations. This is all useful information to gather when doing your tour operator research. See this example of the Meet the Team page of Oyster, a UK tour operator that specialises in gap-year travel.
- Draw up a list of operators that offer experiences or services that appear to be compatible with those offered by your organisation.
- Create profiles of your ideal customers after analysing operator websites.
- Find out the names and contacts for the persons who may have responsibility for buying or setting itineraries in your region.
OTAs are the fastest growing sales channel for tours, activities and attractions. They are widely used by FITs. OTAs have an extensive reach and can provide direct access to large numbers of potential customers who are otherwise hard to reach. OTAs charge suppliers a commission on the products they sell and manage payments and customer service on your behalf. Some sites to consider include:
- TripAdvisor Experiences enables local tour operators to publish their bookable tours, activities, classes and experiences on TripAdvisor and Viator.
- Get Your Guide works with professional suppliers that offer tours, attractions, excursions, cooking classes and other experiences.
- Traveling Spoon offers meaningful culinary food experiences and cultural experiences.
- Airbnb Experiences and Airbnb Adventures offer experiences and adventures.
Internet and technology have high penetration rates in Europe, where business websites are usually professionally designed to work as tools to acquire new business. FITs also increasingly research holidays and trips on the internet. To improve your competitive edge, you need a professionally designed website for European tour operators and European FITs to find you easily. A professional website is also important to maximise the benefit of your social media activities and feature good quality images and videos.
To stand out, make sure your website is of high quality, preferably designed by an expert. First impressions are very important in the European market, where a well-presented website is likely to generate interest and determine whether an operator or traveller will pursue contact with you. You can design your own website using an online website design tool, such as SiteW or WordPress. Tourism Tiger specialises in tourism websites. Web-based companies offer plenty of online support to help you create inspirational content, source images and maximise search engine optimisation (SEO). Alternatively, you could employ a freelance web designer from an online roster such as Fiverr.
Ensure you keep your website up to date, especially prices and itineraries. Any changes to products or new information should be immediately reflected on your website and in printed brochures. Don’t forget that European tour operators are always looking for new suppliers themselves. A great website is likely to attract them quicker than one that has been poorly designed. If you can link with your local tourist board, it will increase your visibility in the market.
You can increase the quality and quantity of traffic to your website through SEO, which may improve your website’s position in search engine results. There are lots of helpful guides online to improve your website’s SEO such as this one on BowlerHat and Google’s SEO Starter Guide.
- Make sure to choose a web designer who has experience in creating websites for travel organisations. Check other travel websites they have built to see if you like their work.
- Maximising SEO requires specific skills. Make sure the web designer you choose has the skills you need to do this. If not, you should find someone else, or another organisation, that has.
- Build a schedule for publishing regular blog posts on your website throughout the year. Keep blog posts fresh and interesting to improve your SEO and drive traffic to your website.
- Include reviews from your customers on your website.
- Use images widely on your website and refresh them regularly. You might consider creating a dynamic photo library to store and display images on the site.
Social media is an important tool in the travel industry. Using social media should be an essential part of your business marketing strategy and will help you connect with buyers, increase awareness of your organisation and boost sales. Tour operators regularly use social media to reach travelling customers and find suppliers. Linking your social media to your website will also improve your SEO.
Online social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, are also widely used by travellers for sharing stories, images, videos and researching future trips.
The leading platforms regularly used by travel professionals are Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Good images and video stories on Instagram are particularly important for reaching independent travellers, particularly those aged 16–40. Consult Instagram’s help on sharing a photo or video to Instagram stories.
- It is important to dedicate time to using social media. Consider assigning a trained member of staff to manage your social media strategy.
- Don’t try to do too much. Focus on one or two platforms rather than trying to use all of them. You might find that some target clients use specific platforms more than others.
- Spend time researching how to use social media platforms to generate leads and build brand awareness. Most platforms offer help articles on this topic. Have a look at LinkedIn Pages Best Practices and how to create a free Facebook page.
- Sharing content is what social media is all about. Learn more about making your content shareable by reading articles online such as this one on social media marketing.
- Post videos and photos showing visitors enjoying your experiences.
Consider an advertising campaign to broaden your reach among European tour operators. Many potential buyers will regularly read trade publications either online or in print.
- The Travel Trade Gazette (TTG) is the UK’s weekly travel trade newspaper covering many aspects of the travel trade. It also has an advertising section online, in print and at events.
- INFOX is a German information logistics organisation that generates mailings for 15,000 travel agents and tour operators. INFOX can prepare and print mailing, handling most business electronically.
- Travel Trade Europe is a pan-European travel trade monthly publication available online and in print. It is also distributed at major travel trade exhibitions, reaching 150,000 travel trade professionals globally, including travel agents, tour operators, DMCs, retail agents, MICE and corporate travel professionals. They also offer an online media pack.
- Travel and Tour World is a global B2B travel magazine with a readership of 250,000 tour operators, travel agents, DMCs, MICE planners and luxury planners. Find out how to advertise in the travel magazine, the TTW website, in their newsletter and in the TTW app.
- eTurboNews is a B2B global travel industry news service, providing news bulletins through several publications. The opt-in subscriber list totals more than 255,000 travel professionals and tourism journalists. To find out how to advertise, download their media kit from this page.
- MICE Central & Eastern Europe focusses on travel business and MICE industry. Check their reasons for advertising with them.
- DMCmag is a virtual platform that connects local operators abroad with French tour operators and travel agencies.
Once you have a list of the tour operators you would like to work with, you should plan how to contact them. If you cannot make face-to-face contact, correspondence via email is the most cost-effective and quick method. Your contact list will be a valuable asset to your business and you should keep it up to date.
Take into account the following:
- Personally address every correspondence. Make sure to spell recipients’ names correctly.
- Keep your emails short and factual. Include information about your destination and your product.
- A follow-up email after approximately two weeks is acceptable. Do not insist too often as it may put them off responding.
- Respond to any requests as soon as possible, within 24 hours if possible.
- Newsletters by email are a good way of reminding potential buyers that you are there. Do not send more than four newsletters a year.
- If a buyer asks you not to contact them again, do remove them from your list immediately.
- English is the common business language in Europe. You should brush up on your English speaking skills if needed.
- Some basic French and German-speaking skills may also help you. Ask someone who can speak English, French or German for help if you need to.
Government departments and other trade organisations throughout Europe may be able to offer you support:
- If you are selling sustainable tourism products in Ecuador, Nepal or Tunisia, Germany’s Import Promotion Desk (IPD) can help you access the European tour operator market.
- If you are selling sustainable tourism products in Colombia or Peru, the Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) can help you access the European tour operator market.
- The Netherlands’ Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) supports more than 800 entrepreneurs exporting to the European market. Its website features a wide range of market research documents including a section on attracting tourists from Europe.
- The Netherlands Enterprise Agency also has some good tips on finding business partners.
- You could try contacting the relevant departments within embassies or consulates in your target countries to see if they can supply any guides on importing services to their country.
The CBI has produced other relevant publications you might be interested in:
- When you’ve identified your new business partners, check the CBI’s tips for doing business with European buyers.
- For tips on launching your travel services in the European market, read the CBI’s tips for organising your exports to Europe.
This study was carried out on behalf of CBI by Acorn Tourism Consulting Limited.
Please review our market information disclaimer.