Rip-off tour photos – bad marketing?

Is selling eye-wateringly priced photos really a good strategy for adventure tourist attractions?

I’ve done various day-trips that for want of a better phrase I guess you could call “adventure experiences”, most recently the Shark Dive at Kelly Tarlton’s (Auckland’s aquarium) and the Auckland Sky Tower walk.  These are small-group guided trips taking a few hours, doing something quasi-adventurous, aimed at backpackers and young(ish) people, and  are generally quite a social experience.  They’re really common in NZ and Australia – the first time I remember encountering this sort of thing being the Sydney bridge walk a few years ago, or maybe rafting trips around the same sort of time.

Kelly Tarlton's shark dive

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve really enjoyed all of these trips, but there’s something that annoys me a bit about them.

It seems to be a common business model for the guide (or another staff member) to take photos and video during the trip, and at the end you’re offered a package to buy them – either on a CD or more often these days a USB stick.  The sticking point being that the asking price of the photos is usually a pretty hefty fraction of the cost of the whole trip.

What bugs me about this approach is that the price of the photo package isn’t discussed beforehand, and since as I said these trips are quite social, it feels like a bait and switch when at the end of the trip the guide is doing a sales pitch for the photo package – it leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and it often seems disproportionately expensive, especially when there’s not been a dedicated camera-person.

I would guess that the proportion of people who buy the photos tends to be fairly low – I know personally the only time I remember doing this was for the Shark Dive, and like I say it does make me feel ambivalent about what is otherwise generally a great experience.

A better plan?

The Rock - Bay of Islands overnight cruiseEarlier this year we did a trip in the Bay of Islands called “The Rock” – an over-night back-packer focussed boat trip from Pahai involving a bit of everything – fishing for Snapper, kayaking, night swimming, diving for (and eating) sea urchins.  This was fantastic fun, one of the best of these sorts of things I’ve done, and definitely the highlight of our time in the Bay of Islands – don’t miss it.

What these guys do is, rather than try and sell you a photo package, is put the trip’s photos up on their Facebook page – this is a nice approach, since you don’t have the annoying sales pitch, and it generates good word of mouth for them, since the natural thing is to Like their page and say something nice about your trip – instant social marketing.

It’d be great if a few other companies took a page out of their book and did the same thing.  I can see it might be a tough call for them, to choose between the quantifiable short term gain of selling a few photo packages and the harder to gauge benefit of good-will and increased word of mouth but I’d like to think it would pay off.

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