Many years in the making, the online tours, activities and experiences category finally started heating up in 2018.
How this juicy pie will be sliced up, who takes the biggest piece and who will be left with the crumbs is among today’s hottest topics in the online travel industry.
A fascinating aspect of this battle is that four of the biggest players - TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia - are approaching the tours, activities and experiences category from angles that leverage their respective strengths.
TripAdvisor plays its massive traffic hand
TripAdvisor (disclosure: my former employer) brings its massive traffic to the table and employs a more traditional model than the other incumbents. It provides a large catalog of things to do - hundreds or even thousands of individual tours and activities for larger cities - and uses reviews to help travelers filter through the listings.
Airbnb doubles down on its “Live Like a Local” theme
Initially, Airbnb’s Experiences offering was centered on multiday “immersions” around certain themes, such as a three-day music immersion in Cuba, but limited interest by travelers to commit to such niche products for multiple days led the company to pivot to more standard two- to four-hour durations.
Booking.com's surprising approach
Booking.com is best known for its data-driven approach and performance marketing skills. Not as well-known is the way the company has gained a strong foothold in the “alternative lodging” vertical. It has carved out a position against Airbnb by marrying the convenience of hotels (instant booking, keyless entry) with the breadth and local flavor of apartments.
Expedia’s “Local Expert” angle
Expedia’s experiences are prominently listed on its public website (like TripAdvisor), but the company also has a specific focus on the traveler after he or she has booked a hotel. Travelers who book in popular travel destinations like Hawaii, Las Vegas and Orlando, among others, receive an email from an Expedia Local Expert who offers discounts and activity booking assistance.
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