Booking.com laid off as many as 40 employees in its attractions unit a couple of months ago, and is on the cusp of finalizing a preferred partnership with TUI Group’s Musement, Skift has learned exclusively. The move marks a strategy reversal that shows Bookings’ challenges in expanding tours and activities to build its often-touted connected trip.
In one potentially controversial aspect of the Musement deal, which is believed to be all but signed but not yet announced, the Milan, Italy-based online tours and activities aggregator would contract directly with Booking.com’s FareHarbor booking software solution. It would also share customer leads, according to sources close to parent company Booking Holdings.
Some tours and activities operators and online sellers take a dim view of tour sellers having to share leads with booking engines and online travel agencies, whether it be Booking.com or Tripadvisor and its Bokun unit because operators use multiple booking engines for distribution and are loathe to see big online travel agencies get a preferential edge.
Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel said last month that the company would change its strategy in sectors such as experiences and dining, and emphasize partnerships instead of its prior build-your-own focus, but he didn’t identify Musement as the launch partner in tours and activities aggregation. Coronavirus, and the fact that Milan is one of the northern Italy cities currently under severe travel restrictions, could be a wild card in contract finalization.
Skift also exclusively learned from internal documents that Musement, Isango, and Tiqets are not only potential Booking.com tours and activities partners, but are likewise potential acquisition targets. The largest public company and venture-funded players, though, including Tripadvisor, GetYourGuide and Klook, were considered potential partners in the new third-party strategy, but were ruled out on a list of possible merger and acquisition candidates.
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