How to Build a Holiday Gift Card Strategy to Maximize Revenue & Profits

Nathan Andrew

Over the holiday period, consumers have gifts to buy and a limited time to do it in. When you combine this with the shift towards “experiences as gifts,” many tour and activity companies are well-positioned to sell gift vouchers over the holidays. 

We’ve seen first-hand how a strong holiday gift voucher campaign can contribute to a tour or attraction’s bottom line and help cash flow in what is often a slow part of the year. In this post, I want to walk you through our process for creating a profitable holiday gift voucher offer that can drive as much as 10-20% or more of your revenue for the year if you execute your campaign strategically and tap the right marketing channels.

  1. Terms To Know: Breakage Rate, Yield, and Vouchers vs. Gift Cards
  2. A Quiz: Should You Even Consider a Holiday Gift Offer?
  3. Creating an Offer Focused on Profitability
  4. See Our Full Holiday Campaign Process

Terms To Know: Breakage Rate, Yield, and Vouchers vs. Gift Cards

These terms will come up throughout this post:

  1. Breakage Rate: The percent of gift vouchers you sell that ultimately go unredeemed.
  2. Yield: The percentage of booked tours vs total tour capacity. This is ultimately the percent “sold out” you are on a daily, weekly, monthly, etc basis. 
  3. Gift Voucher: A certificate that can be redeemed for an experience, rather than a specific value amount. This differs from gift cards, which typically carry a value. We’ve found that for legal and financial reasons, gift vouchers can be the better choice. Don’t just take our word and our definition on this; please check your regional laws and your booking platform. 

A Quiz: Should You Even Consider a Holiday Gift Offer?

Before we get into the how, let’s use a simple quiz to determine whether this even makes sense for your business.

  1. Do you have an exceptionally high yield? Are you able to sell out almost all of your tours already, at the price you want?
    Yes? Great, you’re in a really strong position! It may still make sense to sell gift cards over the holidays, but you’ll want to keep the discounts limited.
    No? Most tour, attraction, and activity operators have 20-50% available capacity to fill during the year. If you fall into this boat, a gift card with a strong discounted offer may make sense.
  2. Do you have an unusually low breakage rate (under 20%)? 
    Yes? In general, you want to be careful not to discount your gift offer too far above your breakage rate. If 20% or fewer of the gift cards you sell go unused, you’ll want to take that into consideration when you build your offer for the year.
    No? Most of our clients see a breakage rate between 30 and 40%, this gives them more flexibility as they set their offers since 40+% of the gift cards they sell may never get used.
  3. Do you already have strong cash flow during the holiday season? 
    Yes? Great! This is pretty common for many tour, activity, and attraction operators. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run a holiday offer.
    No? If the holidays represent a time of year that your business is closed or has limited capacity, a gift card campaign can be a great way to fill the cash gap.
  4. Are you in a “destination location” that people travel a fair distance to get to, and rarely revisit?
    Yes? Gift cards are a harder sell for destination businesses. Although, previous customers and locals may represent gift card revenue opportunities.
    No? Our most successful campaigns are in areas where the local business pulls from a mix iof locals, a drive distance crowd, as well as tourists.

If you answered “yes” to all of those questions, we typically wouldn’t recommend discounting vouchers during the holidays. You could still recommend them as gifts, but you may want to keep them close to or at full price, and you should probably keep any ad spend to a minimum. Send a few emails to your subscribers, post on social media, and put some money into a remarketing campaign—it’ll become clear quickly whether you can scale up your efforts or not.

The more times you answered “no” to those questions, the more likely it is that a holiday gift offer will be a good fit for you. Let’s dive in. 

Creating an Offer Focused on Profitability

Be Strategic & Competitive With Your Discount

There are mathematical reasons that you’re probably able to be more competitive with your discount than you think (we’ll get to those), but first we’ll talk about the practical reasons. 

Most businesses advertising over Black Friday and the days leading up to Christmas are offering a discount. And these same companies are advertising that discount on Facebook, Google, and other ad platforms. This creates two realities:

  1. An Expectation From Consumers: Consumers expect brands to have some sort of an offer during these periods of the year. If you’re planning to keep your discount small (say, 15% off or less), we’ve found that it can be difficult to profitably drive demand and get on the radar of consumers looking to buy gifts. 
  2. A Competitive Advertising Environment: Because every ad that runs on Meta, Google, TikTok, Bing, Pinterest, etc runs through an auction (meaning essentially that your ad is shown when you’re the highest bidder), advertising over the holidays is expensive due to the number of companies competing for ad space. 

The combination of those two realities requires a compelling offer—typically a discount of 20+% off your regular price. This is not a hard and fast rule, and discounts aren’t the only way to create a compelling offer—you can often get creative with value adds, partnerships, etc. But in general, 20% off is a good starting point.

Make Sure the Math Works

In order to create an offer that will a) be attractive to consumers in a competitive market, and b) drive a profitable margin for your brand, you’ll need to run some numbers:

  1. Historical Yield by Day of Week: This will help you determine if your offer should black out certain days of the week or periods of the year during which you consistently sell out at full price. For example, if you find that your Saturday yield is 95% (and if those customers are paying full price), you may want to black out Saturdays from your gift voucher. Xola, FareHarbor, Peek, Ventrata, and others allow you to bake blackout dates into your gift offers.
  2. Historical Breakage Rate: If your breakage rate is historically high (50+%), you can more confidently choose an aggressive discount. If it’s historically low (less than 20%) you want to be careful with how steep you go with your discount. 
  3. Cash Flow Needs: Many businesses we work with find themselves in a low season around the holidays, and holiday campaigns are a great way to kick start cash flow for the year. Your financial picture at this time of the year can impact your discount and your revenue/purchase volume targets.

With these numbers documented, you’ll be able to make sure the math works on your offer. Consider these two examples:

Low Breakage Rate + Steep Discount + Strong Yield = An Unhealthy Campaign

In the middle column you can see that due to the low (10%) breakage rate and the steep discount (40% off) the effective discount offered on the experience was ultimately 33%. Now, for some businesses, 33% off may make good business sense; but in our example the yield is 90% for this business for days the gift voucher would be redeemable on—this means that 9 out of 10 experiences are already being sold at full price. In this scenario, offering a steep discount would put the profitability of the business at risk if a significant portion of the businesses revenue was driven by discounted gift voucher sales. 

High Breakage Rate + Steep Discount + Low Yield = A Healthy Campaign

In the right column we’ve charted out the dream scenario (and it’s a scenario that we’ve seen play out dozens of times). The discount is steep at 40% off, but the breakage rate is also high at 50%. Because of the way these numbers work together, the effective discount from these gift vouchers ends up being 20%—in other words, you’re making more money for each of these gift vouchers sold than you would from full-price tickets!

Going Deeper on Breakage Rate

The math works out differently for each breakage rate + discount scenario so we created this chart to help navigate potential scenarios:

Look at the intersection of breakage rate and sale discount to find the effective discount. For example, if you have a breakage rate of 30% and a discount of 20% off, your effective “discount” would be -14%—more money in your pocket than a full price ticket. .

Consider Your Yield, But Be Generous With Restrictions

Maybe you’re looking at your yield for the past few years, and you notice that yield is 60% from February through May, and then picks up to 80% in June through September. It may make sense to have your gift vouchers only be redeemable through the end of May, but this may also scare many consumers away since one of the advantages of gift vouchers is the flexibility they provide consumers. 

You can probably be more generous than you might think. Even if you didn’t impose restrictions in the scenario above, some of the customers will redeem the vouchers between February and May. And some will go unredeemed altogether. 

The principle here is: You don’t want to scare people away with too many restrictions. And this looks different for every company.

Pro Tip: Check Your State and Federal Laws. Before you dive head-first into gift vouchers, you’ll want to take a look at your state laws. Expiration restrictions vary from state to state, but in general we’ve found that if your gift voucher has an expiration date, you still need to allow people to use the purchase price towards an experience following the expiration date. For example: If you offer 30% off a $100 gift voucher that expires on Jan 1 of 2023, the $70 paid for the gift voucher may need to always be redeemable towards a tour.

See Our Full Holiday Campaign Process

Creating a solid offer is just one piece of the full holiday campaign process. You still need to:

  1. Find the people most likely to purchase your offer
  2. Get the right messages on the right platforms at the right time
  3. Create buying intent through compelling creative
  4. Test and iterate on your digital creative and landing pages

We cover all of this and more in our 20-minute video that you can access by filling out the form below.

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About The Author

Nathan Andrew

Nate is passionate about helping companies reach their goals through integrated digital marketing campaigns and local SEO. He loves helping tour and activity company leaders stay focused on the numbers that matter, and fostering sustainable long term growth and profitability.

Email Nathan

About The Author

Nathan Andrew

Nate is passionate about helping companies reach their goals through integrated digital marketing campaigns and local SEO. He loves helping tour and activity company leaders stay focused on the numbers that matter, and fostering sustainable long term growth and profitability.