How to sell bus tickets online: 3 tips for bus operators

While working on Octobus, our digital platform for intercity bus transportation, we communicate with many carriers.

It often happens that even relatively large businesses do not understand very well the importance of direct online ticket sales.

We decided to highlight a few points that everyone who does intercity transportation needs to pay attention to.

#1. You must sell some of the tickets yourself

Many carriers believe that cooperation with existing online ticket agencies (we'll call them distributors) will be enough for a cloudless life.

This is not true.

Of course, you need to use all sales channels available and be sure to offer your services wherever possible. But you must understand that this does not give any guarantee of sustainable sales.

Moreover, if a large share of your sales comes from third-party distributors, you depend on them. Tomorrow the distributor will raise the commission to 35-40%, will give out the first places in search results to your competitor, or even become a carrier himself and open a destination on top of yours.

In aviation, 98% of all tickets are sold online and distributors have ruled the show until recently. But for several years, airlines have given priority to their own online sales. Nobody wants too much dependence.

According to the experience of the aviation market, for independence and sustainability, a carrier needs to sell at least 30% of its tickets on its own.

#2. Your website MUST sell

Nowadays many carriers have websites. Few of them are crushing on the sales, and this is the main problem.

The passenger – your customer – doesn't care what the history of your company is, and even photos of your buses will not help. If a person comes to your site, you must sell him your main service – transportation.

And this is where the majority of carriers start having difficulties.

There are sites where you can't buy a ticket at all.

There are pages where you can only book tickets by barely feeling the small booking button between the photo of the buses and the photo of the owner.

You shouldn't do this. If you are going to spend money on a website, it should do one main thing as efficiently as possible – sell tickets.

There are some little tricks here. Let's dwell on the main points:

  • The site should be as simple as possible and without unnecessary information;
  • The design should be minimalistic and have large, convenient elements for searching and buying tickets;
  • It's imperative to have a mobile version that will be maximally adapted for buying tickets from smartphones (almost 70% of people will visit your site from a phone/tablet);
  • You must connect and correctly configure the payment gateway and make sure that payments from bank cards go through without problems;
  • Your site should be fast, search and sale of tickets should also work without brakes and errors.

The key element of such a website is integration with the backend distribution system for selling, booking, and managing inventory (inventory is the schedules, fares, and information about free seats).

If you don't have such software, bad news, you need it.

#3. M for marketing. You need to know how to sell

So, you have a good website that can sell tickets. Can you relax and count your profits?

Not so fast.

The vast majority of carriers believe that having a website automatically equals good sales. And they are very sincerely surprised when no one comes to buy.

You must learn how to promote your site on the Internet and beyond.

Moreover, you will have to do it yourself. Hiring a contractor (advertising agency or a consultant) will most likely be expensive for most SME's.

It's not as complicated as it seems.

You should start by defining your strategy. If you are a small carrier and serve one or two destinations, then these are of your primary focus.

Learn how to create and customize PPC advertising on Google.

If the competition in your destination is low (or your competitors are not advertising online), contextual advertising can attract a lot of customers to your site.

For one or two destinations, it's relatively easy to set up and run an advertising campaign yourself, there are many materials on the web about this.

So here are some tips for marketing and promoting your site:

  • Offer your customers the main perk of buying from your website - low cost. Remember that direct sales will save up to 10-30% than sales through distributors. That's your margin to promote your own sales channels!
  • Build your strategy and budget for advertising: you must choose the main destinations/segments for advertising, understand whether you'll promote your brand (if any), or a specific destination, and allocate a monthly budget for advertising;
  • Consistency is the key to success. Cut your budget, but don't stop advertising;
  • Promote your site in all ways possible – stickers on buses, stickers on the seats at each row, advertisements on the headrests, etc.;
  • Traditional advertising channels can be very effective: advertise your site in local newspapers and on the radio, look for inexpensive outdoor advertising spots in communities that provide you with traffic.

These tips are nothing extraordinary, but in our experience, they are quite effective.

You will receive 30% of your own sales within six months after their application.

The main thing here is to change your thinking - to understand that you need to sell yourself, and you need to do it on the Internet.

At the same time, one should not forget about other sales channels, for example, about telephone sales.

I'll talk in detail about telephony and a modern call center for a bus operator in the next article.

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