The route to market in the new tourism reality

The COVID crisis has changed the way of doing business and selling tourism. This article gives you tips for finding new business partners and customers once tourism recovers.
The route to market in the new tourism reality

Tips for finding new business partners and customers once tourism recovers

‘Tourism isn’t tourism until it’s sold’, my responsible tourism professor Harold Goodwin always says and the COVID19 pandemic has certainly given us a taste of that. Easier said than done, because the tourism landscape has changed completely. Both supply and demand have been hit and we all need to review our offering and the routes to market in this new tourism reality. The following 6 tips give some food for thought.

1. Identify which destinations and source markets are opening up

Let’s face it, this is almost impossible to keep track of, but key point is to find out which destinations you can sell, and which travellers can come to you. You may need to change what you sell and to whom. Some tour operators are already making quick shifts while they wait for their traditional destinations and source markets to open up.

For example: long haul specialists selling European destinations instead of Asia or Africa or inbound tour operators selling to domestic tourists instead of international ones.

A good way to check which destinations EU travellers can travel to outside of Europe, is to keep your eye on the EU’s list of ‘safe’ countries that can now travel into the EU. It sounds a bit back-to-front, but these countries may see their travel restrictions lifted first.

2. Keep track of your suppliers and partners and review your tour offering

We know supply and demand in tourism will change dramatically. Many tourism businesses will not survive: some have already folded, others are getting some sort of support (but many in developing destinations are not), while some are merging with other companies. Hopefully the good companies will make it.

You will need to do a thorough check of your suppliers and tour operator partners as well a review of your tours. Are they still fit-for-purpose? Will travellers want the same experiences as before? Do some research on traveller sentiment, it has really changed.

What travellers will want

  • Less flying and more overland travel and domestic and regional holidays so they know they can get home
  • Direct flights
  • Longer stays for long haul trips to maximise flight and positive economic impacts
  • FIT and small group tours
  • Private, exclusive and customised experiences
  • Small/boutique/luxury/eco accommodation options (lodges, guesthouses, private villas)
  • Nature, fresh air, wide open spaces, soft adventure activities and wellness
  • Fresh organic homegrown food, a la carte dining
  • Flexible booking options, reasonable prices and great customer service booked through a reliable partner with good local knowledge and protocols in place
  • Tourism as force for good – sustainable tourism that benefits local people and places

What travellers don’t want

  • Cruises and crowded public transport, places they cannot easily leave
  • Stopovers
  • Short minibreaks
  • Large group tours
  • Standard tours with strangers to overvisited tourist sites
  • Large chain hotels and all-inclusive resorts
  • Cities, pollution, traffic jams, large crowds
  • Buffets
  • Large pre-payments and inability to cancel few days before departure, to be treated as bag of money
  • To be part of the problem

3. Explore possibilities for a better mix between B2C and B2B distribution channels

The crisis has provided many tourism businesses with excellent lessons on business relationships and who makes a good partner and who doesn’t. Some realised they are too dependent on one type of traveller or source market. Others that they relied too much on large Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) or need to work on finding decent tour operator partners. While some discovered their tours only suit international tourists and not locals. Ideally you spread the risk.

For tour operator partners, pick the ones with a strong sustainability ethos (check for GSTC certification). For OTAs you should pick sustainable tourism platforms like:

4. Identify online networking platforms and host virtual fam trips and sales presentations

How can I ‘find’ new customers and business partners without going to travel trade events? The answer to this is simple: go online! If there is one thing, we have learned is that we can network and sell virtually. We do not need to travel halfway round the world to meet in person at a large trade show.

From sofa safaris to online cooking experiences, to virtual fam trips and video sales presentations, you can easily put your tours and value as a business partner out there online. Check with trade associations, DMOs and travel trade event organisers like WTM and ITB to see what they have planned for online networking events. They are much cheaper (sometimes even free) and your carbon footprint will be much better too.

5. Review your contracts, terms and conditions and rates

The tourism value chain is complicated and long. Travellers rarely think about how money flows from their bank account to destinations and local suppliers, but the crisis has revealed some uncomfortable truths about the links in the chain as well as contracting and terms & conditions. Consumer rights organisations have battled the travel sector and insurers to help customers get money back rather than accept vouchers.

Several large travel companies have confessed they got it wrong and apologised: both to their customers as well as their business partners and suppliers. Going forward clear T&C’s, reasonable rates and fairer contracts will be key. Discuss them openly with your business partners and customer so everyone knows what to expect.

6. Ramp up your sustainability actions and report on it

It’s been a very tough time for tourism, but the bigger crisis is the climate crisis. This one will be with us a lot longer and will affect tourism for generations to come. So, it will be all hands on deck to make tourism sustainable.

  • Destinations will need to manage tourism better
  • Tourism businesses will need to operate sustainably
  • Travellers will need to do their bit to make a difference through their holidays

Push your government and travel trade associations to help educate and transform your sector, join sustainable tourism networks, get support from organisations like the Good Tourism Institute. Work with suppliers and partners you can learn from, maybe even get certified or at the very least report on your sustainability actions.

Take steps towards better tourism

Tour operators play a key role in sustainable tourism development in destinations. The crisis will hopefully leave us with a smaller but better selection of tourism businesses, better managed destinations and with more conscious travellers. The old way of doing business and selling tourism was not necessarily very fair or straightforward but as we gradually start travelling again there is a great opportunity to take steps towards better tourism for all but first, we need to sell it. Go for it!


  1. Thank you for this informative and helpful read. We are a Tour Operator in Zimbabwe and took pride in being the first and only tour operator offering Exclusive Art Tours. This worked when the art galleries were open but now with lockdown restrictions etc a lot has been affected and like you mention it is necessary to re-strategize and look for what is currently working, while we wait for what we used to do to be possible. So looking at the what travelers want list, has given us additional ideas on how we can do combo packages with a focus on adventure, nature wellness tours in smaller groups, perhaps family packages. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome Tawanda. Another thing to consider is creating an itinerary with less movement from one accommodation to the next and longer stays in one base from which you can take guests on different activities. Zimbabwe offers perfect scenery and opportunities to get away from it all. Once tourism to Africa reopens it will be on top of the list for many travellers I think.

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