Why on earth are tours and activities not bigger online?
Something happens when you put a bunch of tour and activity guys in a room, not so fresh from a day at World Travel Market London.
Initially they talk about the nitty gritty of what constitutes a ticket, but then quite the discussion moves on to the real issues holding back the tours and activities segment, which could and should be big business.
And so it was at the Small Fish Big Ocean @WTM event where a panel of T&A experts from both the distribution and connectivity side convened, namely Expedia, Viator, TourRadar, Actourex and TourCMS.
Taking Phocuswright‘s recent report on the sector, which highlights the ongoing challenges, as the basis for discussion, issues discussed ranged from industry collaboration, the need for better content, the need (or not) for tech standards, complexities around redemption and other issues hampering the sector.
It’s not all doom and gloom, T&A has moved on in the past few years. It is a huge sector, larger than car and cruise combined, according to Viator’s business development director Ken Frohling, and yet it is still largely offline.
In recent years the online travel giants having been paying it more attention and the industry has moved on from the idea that it would be a direct business to one distributed via online travel agents according to TourCMS chief Alex Bainbridge.
He also says T&A suppliers used to have to be at the big trade shows such as WTM to be noticed by OTAs but these days it’s more about the quality of descriptions and images.
“People need a whole new set of tools. They need to start A/B testing images and descriptions and these tools don’t exist.”
Other panellists agreed saying it was more important to find ways to differentiate and make product stand out, through video and other content, rather than worry about the competition.
The advice is interesting in the light of the development of marketplaces in the T&A sector, a trend also highlighted in the PCW report.
But quality content aside, what can be done to improve online retaining and merchandising of T&A product?
Frohling believes that the sector can’t do a good job unless it is prepared to really focus on merchandising and ways to bring customers back to the brand.
Actourex co-founder Leith Stevens says it’s down to the right interfaces not being developed and adds:
“Hotels are not really very good at surfacing their own product so they are not going to be good at surfacing other peoples.”
Redemption is also highlighted as a massive problem for both supply and distribution sides of the sector. Consumers turning up for the same tour armed with different vouchers and tickets is causing headaches all round.
“It’s crazy to think with mobile we can get a car, order food and organise dry cleaning but buying a tour ticket cannot be done for the most part. If it doesn’t happen in the next two years I will be disappointed.”
The rise of mobile and consumers seeking everything on demand is unlikely to help change the mindset and encourage travellers to book tours in advance.
Frohling believes the industry needs to do more to inform consumers of their options.
“Our biggest competitor is our customer not taking the tour so we have to do a better job of telling the customer why they should be taking the tour.”
Other panellists believe consumers are unlikely to book in advance unless there is a fear factor involved.
Interesting to note that China is the exception when it comes to not only advance booking of tours but also use of mobile to do it.
The PCW report reveals that 56% of Chinese travellers plan activities before travel and 45% actually book them.
The final part of the session was given over to what might be coming next in technology for the T&A sector.
Panellists agreed that it has to be about about removing friction for the customer whether it’s by solving redemption or other issues.
“Everyone should be concerned about making the customer journey easier or we will get left behind. Most people go on holiday and expect the Uber-like experience with every part of their trip.
“The fact that it is not a now segment of the industry is remiss of us and something we need to change.”
Is an industry body or the introduction of standards the best way to drive change and a move towards a paperless environment?
Expedia Local Expert senior director of global supply partnerships Griffin Hanbury says “some sort of coordinated industry action is needed.”
“I’m not sure it needs a body but the industry needs consistency, there needs to be open conversations. We as distributors can’t integrate hundreds of different solutions, it’s not scaleable.”
Read original article