With a new travel season reaching its peak, USTOA President Terry Dale shared some insights in a short interview with Global Corporate Payments by American Express®. Below are key takeaways to help guide your business.

Travel industry is steadily recovering from the recession, seeing growth in 2013 and poised to see growth in double digit numbers in 2014 reports. Growth in customers is also a good predictor of long-term growth - customers get hooked on the amazing value proposition and generate repeat business.

Many businesses worry about attracting new generations but research that USTOA did with Cornell’s MBA program on demographics in the travel industry suggest that businesses should instead focus on carrying to specific experiences or traveler types. Instead of grouping customers into age groups, focus on customer behaviour, preferences, and "style" of traveling - this will guarantee satisfaction, repeat business and referrals. It is also important to remember that Millennials are now catching up to Baby Boomers generation and they expect a more tech-savvy and connected experiences:

They want online transactions they want websites where they can ask questions, and generate product information, and they want to interact with companies via mobile apps. This is a place where we as an industry really need to raise our game and respond to customer demands.
In order to "service these customers in the future," travel businesses need sophisticated technology to help them be efficient and accessible:

If our members get the right systems in place, it will make them more profitable because it will take fewer team members to execute transactions.
Just like in any other industry, businesses must continuously reinvent themselves, their products, services, and how they connect with their customers.

Read the full interview “Maximizing Success in an Evolving Travel Industry”.


One of the nifty email features we use at We Heart Tours is “Email Templates.” Email templates are emails which you save for later frequent use; once saved, they can be sent over and over again with only minor edits or additions. For example, you need to email trip details to each customer after they pay for a trip. You send pretty much the same email text to every customer, but you personalize the email a little bit to include the title of the trip and first name of customer. Now, instead of searching for an old email, copying it and making sure you’re not using wrong name or dates, you can use an email template like below:

Dear [customer name],

Here are details for trip [trip name] on [trip date]. Please reply to this email if you have any questions.

We are very excited to see you soon!

Tour Operator Inc.

Simply replace placeholder text with trip details and send it off! Easy. There are many benefits to using email templates. Here are some that we have enjoyed so far:

  1. Consistency - send the same information to all customers
  2. Prevent mistakes - no copy and pasting and keeping track of various versions
  3. Save time when you reply to frequently asked questions and stop hunting old emails to re-send.
Since it is such a handy feature, we have put together a step-by-step tutorial for you to follow along. Fill out the form below and we’ll email you a PDF.

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The last 4 days were a full whirlwind of events. We Heart Tours crew was invited to an annual event for Tour Directors and Tour Operators - the 27th ITMI Symposium & Reunion in Nashville, TN! This was our first time in Nashville and we had a great time in Music City. But the most amazing part of our trip was the Symposium. We have met a lot of great folks and have learned, learned, and learned. Everyone was so welcoming, kind and relaxed so the general atmosphere has been that of a great family reunion.

This was our first year attending and the sessions we attended were a lot of fun. Rick Steve's keynote was truly inspirational. Travel is a great tool to gain knowledge of other people's dreams and their way of life which helps us understand each other, learn to resolve our differences and make this world a better place. The Tour Operator Open Forum provided great insights into the behind-the-scenes happenings of the industry. There were also a number of sponsors with booths and wish we had more time to check all of them out! We had a table set up as well and had fun talking to other attendees. Thank you all that came by to say hi!

We Heart Tours was invited to speak on the "Insights into Tour Planning/Starting your Own Tour Company" panel alongside Taunya Wolfe Finn, CTP, Owner & President of Wolfe Adventures & Tours, LLC and Phil Sheldon, president of HE Travel (merging the worlds of Hanns Ebensten Travel & Alyson Adventures): two amazing tour operators who shared their stories from the road of running a tour operator business. The panel presented a wealth of useful information to tour operator hopefuls in attendance and we provided a couple of useful tips on how to utilize freely available technology to make operations run smoother from day 1.

The next Symposium is slated for January 25-27, 2015 in Newport, RI and we cannot wait to see everyone again!

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Pinterest has slowly emerged as the largest bookmarking site and one of the top "social" websites today. Launching in March 2010, its simple design and intuitive tools are now used for a wide variety of uses, from bookmarking tips and tutorials to planning complex weddings and trips, creating inspiration boards to scrapbooking memories. With a number of easy ways to share your pins and boards, Pinterest is also a great tool for engaging with prospective clients that come in contact with your content - directly from your site or via inner Pinterest channels. This means that it is very important to make your content look great when it is viewed outside of your website. We have put together a few tips to enhance the quality of your content and make it Pinterest-ready!

Use high quality media...

Pinterest's visual representation of content is its primary attractive point so it's important that contents of your website are pin-worthy. High quality pictures, framed to look good on Pinterest board will entice visitors to pin. Even if the visitor is not fully interested in the itinerary or the activity, a pinned inspiring photo will be a constant reminder of you. When the pinner returns to their plans weeks or months later, they might revisit your website with new perspective and fresh mindset.


While hardcore Pinterest users will actively pin your pages, you should make it easy for the rest of visitors to pin your content. Add "pin it" button for appropriate content to easily bookmark and encourage spreading the content. Ideally the tour itinerary page should have a picture that fits well with the tour (theme, season, mission, etc.); each activity may have a separate picture (if not a dedicated page!) and the pin URL should lead directly to the activity on the page (use HTML anchors for easy navigation). This way visitors are able to pin different ideas from your itinerary, improving brand awareness and increasing the chances of eventual booking. At We Heart Tours we offer many different ways to present your tour itinerary. Style your itinerary in a simple list format, fun slideshow, or engaging interactive map to name just a few ideas. Let us know in comments if you like these or have any other ideas for presenting your tour itineraries.

BONUS: Increased number of attractive pins to your website will spread your brand further via re-pins, shares and comments!

Engage with Pinterest users that share your content

Pinterest also has a number of tools that you can use to engage with your visitors away from your site. Ann Smarty has an excellent tutorial that describes how you can find pins linking to your site. You can use it to find visitors and offer them advice about your itinerary, give trip suggestions, and market your brand to build up your reputation. The extra level of service is always a delightful surprise that positions you positively in the mind of your visitors, making it more comfortable for them to work and book with you in the future.

Optimize tour booking process and make it easy to book

Current attention span of an average internet user is very small so it is imperative to reduce the number of steps and time it would take them to get to the booking stage. Make it easier to book online popular activities you may offer. If you only offer larger-scale/multi-day/multi-activity itineraries then you may want to consider allowing visitors to "reserve their spot" online. While you may be offering to personalize the itinerary further by adding or removing items, you can ask for an upfront deposit to secure their commitment. Depending on the average cost of your given itinerary, you may ask for 10% to 30% of the average price and the remainder of the total will be paid when the full itinerary has been finalized. At We Heart Tours you can create a pre-planned tour itineraries and designate certain time blocks as "free time" for tour members to enjoy and explore on their own, or specifying multiple activities for the same time block, allowing tour members pick one from a small range. This allows you to simplify the booking process while still allowing visitors to personalize their tour.

There are also a number of visual ways you can streamline your booking process. A great report by maxymiser and TRAVEL WEEKLY describes how a number of airline and hotel websites have increased their conversions by making it easy and simple to book their inventory.

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I personally have never really been an avid travel fan and travel industry remained a big mystery to me. This may come as a surprise from someone who is investing all her time in a travel technology application but in reality I have always been a fan of people. I absolutely love learning about people, their culture, their history, basically what really makes them who they are as an individual, as a community, and as a nation.

Travel has a natural fit to satisfy this passion of mine since we are scattered all over the Earth and there is no better way to get acquainted with people than to immerse yourself into their environment. So while I have never been a fan of travel specifically, it is starting to grow on me.

Travel can teach us a lot of things about others and also about ourselves. I cannot imagine how the world would look had humans not bothered to move around from place to place, inadvertently sharing their knowledge, ideas, and skills. Just thinking about all the amazing adventures, incredible discoveries, unbelievable challenges and successes that travel brought throughout the history makes me excited and I cannot help but get drawn more and more into it.

I also do not hold specific interest in travel industry. As an outsider who is just starting to unearth the intricacies of this global behemoth, it seems so unwieldy, slow, and outdated. At times the software developer in me wishes that we could just wipe the slate clean and start fresh all over but then it wouldn't be fun. So I cannot help but slowly get drawn into the sea of possibilities and opportunities as I continue to traverse the fickle landscape, searching for my peak to scale.

So here is travl - another tool in your arsenal to navigate this unruly world. Here is travl - our tribute to the brave and the reckless that dare to challenge the odds of travel. And if you're still just an outsider, peeking into the vast abyss - welcome! It's going to be a fun ride.


Our tribute

posted by Alex
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