Tour operators are facing growing competition with an increasingly crowded segment as new players enter the market, while new competitors such as online travel agents and booking engines have also entered the market in recent years. If tour operators want to thrive in this environment, they need to find a niche and specialise, while also entering new markets that are not well serviced.
These are some of the insights offered by Owner of Houston Travel Marketing, Derek Houston. Houston was speaking to Tourism Update after SATSA’s chapter meeting on Thursday, where he was celebrating 50 years in the industry.
Houston says that the move to digital, web-based tourism, will continue to be one of the biggest changes shaping the industry, with travellers increasingly researching and even booking their holidays online.
However, Houston says there are a lot of niche markets opening up, with people choosing their holidays based on special interests. This trend is even shaping the trade show space with specialist roadshows focused on particular market niches. “Inbound tour operators need to look at this,” he says, adding that a standard tour to Pilanesberg is no longer going to cut it. “They have to offer something really different.”
If tour operators want to grow their business, they need to go out and get new markets, says Houston. He says that while some of these markets might be smaller than the traditional markets, because a lot of them are not serviced, they offer more opportunities than traditional markets. For example, he says source markets such as the UK are saturated compared with less-saturated markets such as Kazakhstan and Chile.
“I started 50 years ago, and while there’s been a lot of change, one thing is constant and that is service,” says Houston. “Whether booking online, face to face, over the telephone, or email, if you give a great service, you will get the business and retain it.” He argues that offering great service is the first thing any tourism business needs to get right. Houston says businesses can have “all the bells and whistles” but if they’re not giving good service, they will not thrive.
He also emphasises the importance of meeting with overseas tour operators face to face. “You have to get out there and go and see people.”
Reflecting on his early days in tourism, Houston said he had seen the industry evolve from a time without emails, when tickets were written out by hand and inquiries were written by letter.