The Partnership Playbook

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Planted among the peaks of the Colorado Rockies sits Idaho Springs, a mere 40-minute drive from ­Denver. Officially designated a “city,” ­Idaho Springs hovers at roughly 1,700 ­inhabitants in a 2.2-square-mile area.

It also has two zip line companies.

Competition abounds in the zip line and aerial park industry, and these tours are moving into the mainstream. To stay ahead of the pack, zip lines and aerial parks are increasingly mixing and matching tours with the products of other local businesses. Often expressed as “Zip n’ ‘fill-in-the-blank,’” you’ve likely come across zip pairings with rafting tours, ATV rides, mountain biking excursions, wine tastings, and more. (There’s also an unspoken rule that your business gets bonus points for rhyming combo packages.)

Partnerships can be a lucrative endeavor. But what sets apart the crème de la crème of these tour packages? What should your business look for in a local partner? And what common pitfalls could threaten your success? To answer these questions, we talked to companies that have been there and done that to put together a “partnership playbook.”

Why Pursue a Partnership?

At the core of any worthwhile partnership, there must be a purpose—a goal or objective that justifies your efforts. After all, there are costs to buddying up.

By endorsing another business or product, you’re exposing your company’s reputation. Moreover, executing a partnership requires time. Squandering either of these will spell trouble for your business.

Risks aside, there’s only one reason to pursue a partnership. According to Tom Kratszh, director of sales and marketing for Skyline Eco Adventures on Maui, Hawaii, every zip line collaboration should “drive revenue and increase new customers, period.”

Part of what makes this benchmark a good one is that it’s measurable. You can count monthly revenue and new customers. On the flip side, if your goal is to “out-compete other zip lines,” can you accurately measure that? It’s not a goal unless you can objectively evaluate your success.

There are many different ways to reach this goal. Take, for example, the differences between Skyline in Hawaii and Arkansas Valley Adventures (AVA) in Idaho Springs. In Hawaii, where the same families vacation year after year, the task is to capture as much repeat business as possible. But for AVA, the test instead is to coax adventure-seekers to a small town 40 minutes outside of Denver and convince them to choose you over your competition.

While each company cares about its bottom line, their unique customer bases and business ecosystems affect their respective partnerships. It’s who you choose to partner with—and how—that gives your partnership its distinct flair.

Choosing “Who”

If you have found yourself collaborating with local establishments simply because you think you should, think again. Picking the right pairing for your zip tour is paramount. You know there’s someone out there that spent too long waiting for his “Zip ’n’ Crochet” tour to take off. But thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities for zip lines and local businesses to pair up in ways that make sense.

Zip lines and aerial parks attract a plethora of guests: families, elders, college students, corporations, and thrill-seekers. While some partnerships might not appeal to all of these demographics, many will appeal to at least one. To make the most of this, cast a broad net when brainstorming the “who” of your partnership.

There are more than a dozen activity categories on TripAdvisor. One idea is to scan the top results in each and see how many different types of businesses could help you create an attractive combo package. Hone in on those at the top of their categories. The most popular often possess the right ingredients for a strong partnership: quality and quantity. They have streamlined operations and an established brand to go with that. Hammering out the logistics of a partnership with these companies will not only be smoother, but also more fruitful.

Also, look for the missing link. Some partnerships are more behind-the-scenes, but can still add that extra oomph to your tour. For example, for Xtreeme Challenge, a team building ropes course in North Carolina, the missing link was lunch. So, Xtreeme partnered with a local restaurant and now caters lunch for participants. Other zip line companies partner with photography companies to offer a photo package add-on with the tour.

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About Author

Julia Barrero is a contributing columnist for Adventure Park Insider and the head of marketing at Xola, the booking and marketing software that zip lines, adventure parks, and other tour operators. Julia is also the lead writer behind Xola University, a business and marketing blog for tour industry professionals. She claims to have a writer's heart and a scientist's brain, which makes her a natural marketer. She specializes in data analysis for tour and activity companies. Through her blog posts, she hopes to turn tour operators everywhere into Jedi Marketing Masters.

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