How Travel & Tourism Operators Should Start an Affiliate Program

Now that you have a good basic understanding of what affiliate marketing and its benefits are, and, we can move to the next step: pre-planning your affiliate marketing strategy and program. The question you should ask yourself is why you as a travel company or tourism operator should start an affiliate program. And what goals in affiliate marketing will work for you as a travel company or tourism operator and how you will get started with your own affiliate program?

The first question you need to answer is why do you want to start an affiliate program? Because I told you it is a great idea? Yes, but the real reason should be that you can convince yourself it is an ideal way to increase revenues. As many companies in travel and other industries before you already are demonstrating every day. Especially travel is a multi-billion market for merchants and their affiliates. There are a lot of travel bloggers out there already earning thousands dollars or euros per month working as affiliates for airlines, online booking sites and more.

Also for tourism (especially small to medium) businesses there now is this same opportunity. However, they first need to understand they do not need to depend on the local tourism board or destination marketing organization and their websites or other link farms to grow their business. Marketing should be one of the core activities to be understood by tourism operators themselves. And all the tools are online available.

All starts with offering customers a great experience with your tourism product or service. Your customers will be your marketeers. They will talk about you with their friends and relatives and leave positive reviews if you do things right. Your own website should be the centre of your online universe. People should be able to find information there, but also be able to take action and directly book or buy your products. Optimizing your local marketing around Google My Business will then make sure you are also easily found locally. With newsletters and email marketing and where needed paid advertising you can further grow visits. And finally, with everything in place, starting an affiliate program completes your online marketing strategy.

HOW TO START AN AFFILIATE PROGRAM?

So the why is quite easy, But what about the next question you need to answer : how will your affiliate program help you increase your revenues? It will be by growing one or a combination of the following metrics:

  • (One-day or longer-stay) visits; and/or
  • Leads, and/or
  • The number of email addresses on your opt-in email lists.

In our blog and guide we will mainly focus on the first goal: increasing revenues. The other two performance-based online marketing models are first steps towards this goal. I will briefly describe them below, but they will be dealt with more in detail in our articles about online marketing.

Growing BOOKINGS And Visits TO INCREASE REVENUES

If you have a large percentage of your visitors already buying or booking your product online after a few clicks, then increasing the number of visitors that actually directly book or pay on your site should be your goal.

Getting people to your site and buy your product and service directly is important in any online marketing strategy. Online site visitors converting to bookers or offline paying visitors are your lifeblood. So, if you have no problem turning most of your visitors into customers, your affiliate marketing strategy should be designed with the goal of getting more visitors.

Hotelguru.com is an example of a booking.com affiliate site. If you click on their affiliate link, you’ll see that you are taken directly to the Booking.com reservation/signup page. Hotelgurus is one of the many hotel booking sites. Most new visitors to Hotelguru’s site come for one reason – to find and book a hotel. These visitors know what they are looking for, often they have already looked at other sites to get information about the hotel. They are already “sold” on the idea of
booking a room. When they click through, they want to know “How much is it?” and “What do I have to do?”.

Booking.com answers both of these questions on the first page popping up. They know how to ensure that visitors do not have to do more than fill out a form to get what they came for. Booking.com relies on its affiliates to pre-sell visitors by simply displaying a banner on their sites.

Can you also do this with your offering? Yes, you can. By offering your own affiliate program to affiliates (bloggers) and publishers (or companies like Hotelguru) you can implement exactly the same marketing strategy as Booking.com and increase your reach.

INCREASE LEADS TO INCREASE REVENUES

If your visitors normally do not directly buy or book on the first visit, but rather after a series of visits and contacts, then increasing leads through affiliates should be the goal of your affiliate program. You will want to concentrate on attracting visitors and getting them to leave you their contact information while they are there. So making it attractive for your affiliates to generate leads should also be part of your affiliate marketing strategy.

Your affiliate program strategy in this case should be built around increasing and following up with qualified leads identified by your affiliates. When the visitor is ready to buy, you can then compensate the affiliate for the sale.

Example: Kandoo Adventures Affiliate Program

Kandoo is another example of a site that concentrates on getting bookings. And here is their affiliate programme link. By clicking on their affiliate link, you will see that Kandoo has constructed a special affiliate program page page which explains how the program works.

Kandoo provides ‘high-altititude adventure trekkings. As a participant in the travel industry, in addition to direct bookings, leads are also very important to Kandoo. Trekking packages usually are not an impulse buy. It usually takes several interactions with a prospect to sell them on the trip and accommodations.

But since booking an adventure is not an impulse buy and people first search around before they take a decision, it is good to stay connected to the visitor. He or she might still be interested to book a trip in the future. On the Kandoo website this is done with the Enquire buttons on the Home page and next to the Booking buttons.

Affiliates of Kandoo get their own personal landing page to collect leads. However, affiliates are not paid for leads only. Only when they lead to bookings for the affiliate Kandoo will pay them a commission. Normally this is restricted to a certain period, but Kandoo makes it much easier for affiliates. Their sales system tags leads with a unique code forever. This means that if the lead ever converts the commission will always be assigned to you. No time limit at all!

INCREASE NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIPTIONS

Another commonly used lead-generation tool in affiliate marketing is the newsletter. The newsletter sign up form is a very powerful lead generation tool. Visitors simply fill in their email addresses and press submit.

The newsletter is also built around the concept that a visitor that does not purchase today, may still be interested in purchasing a product or service that is available in the future. It makes sure they remember to come back to the affiliate’s or your site.

Also here the strategy for the affiliate should be to set up a newsletter and build around increasing newsletter subscribers, and following up with qualified leads. When the visitor is ready to buy, you can then compensate the affiliate for the sale. Increasing subscriptions is much like increasing leads. Your goal is to get your visitors to leave contact information on your site. However, if you are looking to increase subscriptions, you simply need an email address.

Visitors simply fill in their email address and first and last name to subscribe to the newsletter. The affiliate is able to email them information, new products, updates and news. They can easily remind customers to come back to the site to view new information and products.

OBJECTIVES AND GOALS AFFILIATE PROGRAM

The next step is to define your Objectives and Goals. What do you want to accomplishing, how many sales do you expect to achieve, how many affiliates do you plan on having and what will you measure your success with?

OBJECTIVES AFFILIATE PROGRAM

Your objectives are the reasons why you are starting an affiliate program. See above: you wanted to increase revenues. And you already have an idea how. By working with affiliates to increase bookings and paying visitors, or first by increasing leads and email/newsletter subscriptions. In the hope this eventually lead to bookings and paying visitors.

Here an example how this could look like:

Objective
The objective of this affiliate program is to increase our sales by increasing traffic to mydomain.com. Over the last twelve months our traffic has grown by 2% per month. Our track record shows that at each traffic level 25%-30% of mydomain.com’s visitors booked during their
first visit.

This tells us that we are able to maintain a high percentage of first-time visitor sales. Logically, more visitors will mean more sales. So, with the help of our new affiliate program we plan to increase the number of visitors to our site.

Goals Affiliate Program

Your goals should follow along the same line as your objectives, but should contain real numbers, dates and other representations of the results you hope to attain with your affiliate program. How many new bookings or paying visitors or qualified leads do you want to acquire through affiliates?

Give yourself real numbers to concentrate on. Make them attainable, but worth achieving. Remember to include things like traffic, sales and number and type of affiliates. Take into consideration your current trends in traffic and sales. If they are already going up, you’ll have to decide how much more you want them to increase.

Set goals for a six-month period. This will give you enough time to launch your affiliate program and carry you though a few months of regular activity.

Based on above example the Goals may look like the following:

Goals
Affiliates: our goal is to sign on 25 affiliates in the first month, 15 in the second month and 10 per month in the following four months. Our ideal affiliates will be companies and individuals like travel bloggers in our industry that write travel blogs, newsletters and articles.
We will also focus on finding non-competing companies that offer products similar to ours.


Traffic: We are currently experiencing a steady 2% per month increase in traffic, so our traffic goals will be to add a certain number of visitors over and above this increase. Our goal is to have our affiliates add average 20 unique visitors per month. In the first month, we should see 500 new visitors, in the second month we should see 800 new visitors, and we should see 1,000 new visitors in each of the following four months.


Sales: Using a 25% average based on our current ability to turn visitors into customers and a $100 price per booking, our goal is to have the following increase in sales: $12,500 in the first month, $20,000 in the second month and $25,000 in the following four months.

Conclusion

Before considering to start an affiliate program the question you should ask yourself is why and how you as a travel company or tourism operator should start an affiliate program. Are you in a position to grow visits to your location (that is bookings or selling tickets)? Or for now do you want to start with generating more leads. Maybe also using newsletters and email lists. So what goals in affiliate marketing will work for you as a travel company or tourism operator. To grow visits and enhance revenues.

In the next step we will be looking how to structure your program.

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