Five Ways Free Tour Photos Can Hurt Your Business

Photo by Elle Hughes

So, your guests have been asking you to take photos or videos of their amazing experience, while on tour. Guests often request an on-tour photo service when they don’t want to or are unable to bring their smartphones on tour. Guests will also request a photo service when the nature of your tour doesn’t allow for guests to capture those, awesome, social media-worthy shots of themselves.

As a business owner, you have an important decision to make: “do I provide an on-tour photo service for my guests?” and “if I provide this service, do I change my guests for their photos? Or give them away for free?

Remember, photos, like people, are social. Guests will intuitively share their photographed memories with their loved ones, which has awesome, free marketing benefits for your business. All it really takes is one passionate guest to share their tour photos to reap marketing benefits such as getting your website more traffic and your business more referrals.

Whether you sell your photos or give them away for free, one thing that is certain: using a photo platform designed for the tour and activities industry will enable you to generate social marketing, referrals, reviews and much more. Luckily, there are many industry-specific software platforms to help you take advantage of the marketing benefits of photos. No two platforms, however, are created equal. Some programs will charge you for the referral marketing your photos generate, whereas others, like PicThrive, include a full suite of marketing tools, at no extra cost, designed to help your tour business grow. Knowing that social sharing and referral marketing is already included and achievable with tours and activities photo platforms, the next decision is: do I sell photos or give them away for free?

While it’s ultimately your decision to sell photos or not, we’re all about helping your business grow and maximizing its potential. With that said, we’ve compiled a list of five things tour operators lose out on by choosing to give away photos for free.  

1) Comping guests. Let’s face it, s**t happens and sometimes, it’s completely out of your control. Nowadays, service-based businesses rely on positive, online reviews for growth. Therefore, you must ensure that guests are always leaving happy. Selling photos gives you the option to quickly and easily comp guests photos of their experience in a customer-service emergency. The result? Your guest leaves with a smile on their face and once in a lifetime memory with their friends and family. If you were, however, providing tour photos for free, you would likely have to give up a high-cost inventory item like t-shirts to an unhappy guest, or worse, refund the entire ticket price. Worst case scenario, if you provide all guests with free photos and someone has a complaint, you’ve just made it easier for them to share their negative experience with everyone – your branding included.

2) Invest In Your Business. “Cash is king” is a term that refers to the importance of cash flow to business growth. Giving away free photos will not help you grow your business. Why? Free photos do not generate your business net new cash or improve your profit margins. In other words, “free” does not = “profit”. Think about it, where do you turn when you want to invest in your business? If you need to buy or repair equipment or machinery? Or, build out new additions or features? For example, if a competitor down the street has fewer guests than you per year, but they sell their photos when you have chosen to provide them for free, this competitor will likely have more cash than you, which they can use to invest in and grow their business or issue better dividends. Would you rather have more cash at the end of the season or not?

3) Hire the Best Guides. Hiring great talent is tough. Every summer, the hiring madness begins and in many areas, competitors are situated so closely together that it takes a strong differentiator to draw in top talent. Selling photos actually provides a differentiator between you and your competitors for prospective guides. Photo sales result in extra revenue that you can invest, for example, in boosting your staff’s pay. If you give away your photos for free, you ’ll miss out on that additional revenue stream. This may result in having to find alternate sources of revenue, like digging into ticket margins, which may already be spread too thin. Selling photos provides a simple, additional revenue stream that can raise your wages to help you attract the best talent in the community.

4) Passionate Referrals. Guests will, almost intuitively, post reviews of their tour online as well as refer family and friends. Selling photos increases the number of and highlights more passionate referrals from your guests, for your operation. If photos are provided for free, then even guests who are are not passionate about or loyal to your brand will receive photos. You risk providing guests who may detract others from your company the proof and medium to voice their negative opinions. You can’t use a software program to block negative reviews to TripAdvisor because it is against their Terms of Service and you may risk having your company banned. Selling photos ensures that those who are likely to promote your business receive a premium product, invest more of their time and money into it and, of course, have a photo memory to keep forever. When guests purchase and share your photos, you know that your best, most spirited promoters are showing off your business to the world.

5) Get More Bookings. How much do free photos factor into a booking decision? The answer: they don’t. Bookings depend on guest behaviour and how they typically book tours and activities – not free photos. Booking.com, for example, has bet its entire tour and activity business that people book tours only after going to a destination. This is indicated, with the release of its new tour activity product Booking Experiences.

In fact, according to Phocuswright, 53% of bookings occur within a week of the trip and 38% of all bookings happen either on the same day or within two days, of the tour. When making a tour purchasing decision, guests consult online review websites like TripAdvisor, even if they’ve been referred by friends. After carefully reading reviews, guests will check-out your ticket prices and compare them to similar activities in the area. Guests value price and quality more than any other factor in making a purchase decision.

Your photos may inspire travel but it doesn’t mean they are going to your tour because of free photos. Are your tours competitively priced? Do you have the best guides to provide a five-star experience? Are your guests talking about it in the channels that people book? That’s what is going to get you more bookings.