How the Right OTA Partnership Helped Tootbus Reach New Audiences

Joslyn McIntyre

February 24, 2022

RATP DEV had a good thing going. With sightseeing subsidiaries all over Europe, including Open Tour in Paris, the Original Tour in London and Windsor, and Navigatours in Bath and Cardiff, more than 3 million visitors were riding in their stylish open-top buses each year. Then, the pandemic hit, and sudden border restrictions and shutdowns stopped the flow of international travelers these tourism operations had always catered to. 

Rather than bringing the operations to a sudden halt, though, the pandemic created an opportunity for RATP DEV to prepare the anticipated launch of their new, united brand. And with the support of some strategic ticketing and marketing partnerships, including a valuable OTA partnership with Tiqets, the reinvented Tootbus was born.

Tootbus, now offering sightseeing activities in three countries and seven cities, embodies the identity of a new strategic vision that includes pride in historical local roots and a strong commitment to sustainability. In addition, the new brand positioning is centered on bringing real emotion into the customer experience. 

As Luis Bracamontes, Tiqets Senior Creative Strategist, is fond of saying, “Whenever there are challenges and crises, it’s an opportunity to rise to the occasion.” For attractions like Tootbus, rising to the challenge means working within the circumstances of the pandemic to create innovative new experiences that will appeal to domestic and local visitors – and finding smart ways to market those experiences.

Convincing locals to go on sightseeing tours of their own city takes a whole different kind of marketing. Here’s the story of how Tootbus’s OTA partnership with Tiqets gave the travel company the extra marketing muscle and creative opportunities to reach new, local audiences and seamlessly welcome all kinds of visitors with touchless ticketing options.

There were many positives that came out of this pandemic.

We took the time to completely restructure our product catalog and think about reaching domestic clients.”

Paula Villanueva

Head of Product & B2B Marketing, Tootbus

The Challenge

Reaching new audiences and repurposing the Tootbus offer to appeal to them

“We were used to having a large volume of sales and passengers,” says Paula Villanueva, Head of Product & B2B Marketing at Tootbus. “It was hard to see those sales drop off as the world was stopping.”

Rather than bracing for a crash, the team at RATP DEV knew it was time to take the wheel and create some new products for different kinds of audiences that wouldn’t have to cross borders to experience a travel adventure. In the past, nearly 90% of the company’s customers were international visitors to the many cities the company operates in. The pandemic forced a shift to a more local customer base. 

“We had to reset the experience to better match visitor demand among a more locally based and family-oriented clientele.” says Peggy Palmieri, B2B Sales Manager at Tootbus, “which was new for us.” And they also had to convince people it wasn’t just fun, but safe, to climb on board.

We were used to having a large volume of sales and passengers.

It was hard to see those sales drop off as the world was stopping.”

Paula Villanueva

Head of Product & B2B Marketing, Tootbus

The Solution

A willingness to try new things, and the right partnership to market them

Beginning in 2020, the team at Tootbus took something of a hairpin turn, creating specific tour experiences with families, younger folks, and couples in mind, and creating a rigorous safety protocol to make them all feel safe and welcome. There’s a new immersive audio experience available on the buses, with commentaries that engage the guests in creating associations and relating to the storytelling. The audio is designed to appeal to true city lovers and includes fun facts that evoke memories and tap into their feelings.

This journey has involved both a willingness to try new things and a strategic OTA partnership to help market them. In Tiqets, they found both attributes: A spirit of innovation when it comes to experimenting with new ideas, and the marketing resources and reach so that those new ideas could get to the right audience. 

Tiqets proved essential to the heavy lift of this marketing effort, and Villanueva attributes this in part to the transparency of the partnership: “Everything is really clear when we work with Tiqets. We know what is possible, what is not, and what can be done in a short period of time. It’s appreciated.”

Tootbus also got a marketing boost from Tiqets in the form of a 2021 Remarkable Venue Award nomination for being one of the “Most Innovative” attractions in France. That recognition, in turn, helped Tootbus reach an even greater audience. “We were lucky to keep on working during this period of the pandemic,” says Villanueva. “It was very well-managed on our side, and we were happy to have the support of partners like Tiqets.”

Everything is really clear when we work with Tiqets.

We know what is possible, what is not, and what can be done in a short period of time. It’s appreciated.” 

Paula Villanueva

Head of Product & B2B Marketing, Tootbus


Creating new experiences to appeal to new audiences

To address new domestic audiences, Tootbus took a few targeted approaches to creating new tour products.

First, they added themed night tours and bars to their repertoire to appeal to young people out on the town. In Paris and London, these night tours were targeted at couples, and, ironically, social distancing made the experience even more romantic. In London, Tootbus launched “the most original rooftop bar” – an actual bar designed into the rooftop of a bus.

To attract families with young children, Tootbus emphasized kids’ tours “with commentaries specially designed for kids and kids characters.” This included things like a kids activity pack and live entertainment for kids, often in collaboration with other partners.

And to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, extra hygiene measures were enacted and emphasized, including mandatory mask-wearing even in open-air buses and reinforced daily cleaning measures at every possible touch point. Contactless payment options were enabled for all buses. And, Tootbus produced a high-quality video to reassure customers about all safety and security measures.

As a further way to differentiate their brand, Tootbus also took this time to introduce carbon-free green buses and institute small measures such as recycling tour headphones. “It gave us a new push, an alternative new audience,” says Palmieri.

All of these refreshed products created enticing opportunities for local visitors and new audiences, but the small team at Tootbus still needed a strategic, experienced marketing partner to help with robust, creative marketing. That’s where Tiqets came in.


A valuable OTA marketing partnership

Attracting local families, couples, and young people out on the town. Appealing to people motivated to support environmentally friendly operations. Assuring everyone that Tootbus is a safe place to get away. That’s a lot of messages to get out, so Tootbus really relied on OTA partners like Tiqets to pitch in. 

To support Tootbus in getting the word out about their new approach and to highlight the company to both B2C and B2B audiences, Tiqets created various marketing opportunities – like inclusion in the Remarkable Venue Awards and the webinar Creative Ways Museums and Attractions Are Welcoming Back Local Visitors, during which Palmieri and Villanueva detailed their approach to pandemic marketing for other travel-business owners. In both cases, Tootbus was included not just to share their best practices with others in the industry, but to spread the message to audiences in various cities. The benefit was two-fold: visibility within the industry, and exposure to new – local and international – audiences. 

During the pandemic, Tiqets also organized regular round-table discussions with venues in a range of regions so they could share challenges and brainstorm solutions. “It was good to be able to continue supporting our partners through discussing best practices and what the situation could be the next day. These discussions were really interesting.” 

Getting the marketing teams from various venues together, face to face (albeit virtually), created a sense of camaraderie and a chance to pool ideas during an extra challenging time. “We didn’t stop working during the pandemic,” says Villanueva. “And neither did Tiqets.”

As an extra silver lining, all of this marketing activity was frequently reported in the media and gave Tootbus some great exposure, supporting them in staying afloat during a time when a lot of travel businesses floundered. 

 We didn’t stop working during the pandemic.

And neither did Tiqets.” 

Paula Villanueva

Head of Product & B2B Marketing, Tootbus


A lower barrier to entry for hesitant customers

Along with marketing, an important component of all of these new experiences and products was ticketing flexibility. Tootbus knew that it couldn’t operate with the same ticketing policies as it always had in a time when circumstances could change for people and entire cities overnight. With Tiqets as a ticketing partner, Tootbus started experimenting with different ticketing options to land on the ones most appealing to locals during a pandemic. 

First, they implemented more ticketing flexibility around how long tickets are valid for. Villanueva says, “We tried to make it easier for the customers to move on, whether they had to cancel or not. The priority was for them to enjoy themselves around the circumstances.”

In addition, the tours got markedly shorter. Where previously tours had often taken place over a number of days to appeal to dedicated tourists, the company began to offer “hop-on hop-off” tours that spanned mere hours. In Rome and London, 90-minute nonstop tours let visitors spin through each city quickly – a lower barrier to entry that lets people new to Tootbus try out the product with less of a time commitment. This model works better for families with small children, too. 


The right technology for the times

Taking a trip with Tootbus is an in-your-body experience, but the company is also on a mission to back that up with a great digital experience. For instance, the Tootbus app allows customers to carry a scannable pass, check itineraries in advance, and locate buses in real time. Audio guide commentaries are available on the app during bus tours.

Ticketing is also digital, and Tiqets is a critical OTA partner in that regard. When Tootbus moved to Tiqets, it was part of a move, as Villanueva describes it, to a “fully digital platform which would simplify the search process for everyone, including the customer.”

In fact, one of the original reasons Tootbus partnered with Tiqets was because of Tiqets’ digital capability. “You are always one step ahead in terms of technology. It’s nice because we can test things together,” says Palmieri.

You are always one step ahead in terms of technology.

It’s nice because we can test things together.”

Peggy Palmieri

B2B Sales Manager, Tootbus

New ways to experience old cities

“There were many positives that came out of this pandemic,” says Villanueva. “We took the time to completely restructure our product catalog and think about reaching domestic clients, and it was very interesting to look at the more local market, revisit those products, and restructure around a new brand vision of sightseeing.”

In some cities, buses began running again in early June 2020, when European borders were still closed, with a full focus on the domestic market. By the time the buses started running in London in July, borders were partially opened, but the focus was still on attracting hometown visitors. And when the Paris buses started running a week or so later – with a fully green fleet – the borders had completely reopened. Today, the marketing focus is on both domestic and international audiences, and the effort Tootbus put forward to add new tour products, shift its marketing, and lean into its OTA partnership with Tiqets will continue to reap rewards long after the pandemic is over.

As Tootbus returns to its normal operations, the lessons learned – and the marketing ideas gained – will continue to be valuable. With the support of Tiqets and other OTAs, RATP DEV relaunched as Tootbus and built a brand reputation at the top of consumers’ minds, with an entirely new domestic angle to their product offering. Who knows what they could do next? 

Want to learn more about how you can partner with Tiqets or use the Tiqets Booking Engine to achieve similar success?

Read the latest blogs for museums, tours and attractions

Artist residency program from GAR

6 Reasons Your Museum Should Consider an Artist Residency Program

Forward-thinking museums often round out their programming with an onsite artist residency that gives chosen artists the studio space, materials, and promotional support to progress in their careers. Here are 5 benefits museum residence programs bring.

10 Tips to Make Your Venue More Inclusive for LGBTQ+ Tourism

Embrace diversity with LGBTQ+ tourism – here are 10 ways in which your venue can become more inclusive.

Inside the SUMMIT One Vanderbilt

How SUMMIT One Vanderbilt elevated its marketing to skyscraper status with Tiqets

SUMMIT One Vanderbilt had a planned launch to execute amidst COVID-19 restrictions and social craziness with the help of Tiqets.