A 2018 perspective on the tours & activities sector in 2014

January 24th, 2018

Alex Bainbridge

For tour & activity sector aficionados only…..!

Back at the end of 2013-early 2014 the tours & activities sector was in a period of change. Viator was about to sell to TripAdvisor (July 2014) which would result in Viator changing to an aggregator model in November (rather than curated as they were upto that point).

I was close enough to the action to see that industry wide strategy for all high volume retailers was under review. TourCMS, the company I was running, was providing reservation and distribution services to leading local sightseeing operators like GrayLine. (They still do today, I sold in October 2015).

At the end of 2013 I wrote a white paper about what was going on in the sector and how I thought it was going to evolve. Now with permission to publish (from the current TourCMS owners) its interesting (if a little geeky!) to look back to what I predicted at the end of 2013 and what has happened today…….

 The tours & activities industry & TourCMS

Read the doc first then come back to read this section about whether I was right….. 😉

Was I right 4 years later?

  • Mobile – pretty much right. I don’t think the retailers have yet filtered the selection of tours differently on mobile vs via other devices. I was wrong about product images – they don’t now have to be multi-sized, instead you can use capable image hosting to keeping bandwidth down on mobile devices.
  • Voucher redemption – become common practice. Yay!
  • Lowest common denominator APIs – the debate of the era was whether to connect a supplier to a retailer using the retailer incoming API, or the supplier outbound API. Personally I now think the retailers called this wrong and I did point out at the time in this document that the winning retailers would be those that use the supplier APIs. None have. This is such an interesting topic that I have written about it as a separate blog post
  • Extranets – wow I did write a lot about supplier extranets. HOWEVER, here we are in 2018 and suppliers are STILL managing product listings on retailer platforms via extranets. Maybe not prices / availability, but for general listings they are. Madness.
  • P2P (person to person) – I was fairly negative about P2P 5 years ago. However I did say that the one model that would work was by offering centralised tour itineraries and having individual guides say they would like to operate for example itinerary A, B, C, D, E while another does B, D & E. If the customer wants itinerary E, they can then pick which guide they would like. However if they want itinerary A they must have the guide that offers that itinerary. Interesting that this is the operational model run by the one successful P2P player Withlocals , now with $7.5 million USD funding. AirBnb hasn’t gone this route yet.
  • Yield management – the expectation I outlined a few years ago was that the introduction of yield management without total supplier API connectivity would create an opportunity for meta-search companies to come into the sector because different retailers would then have different prices and availability. Customers would need help hunting the best offer. Meta-search haven’t come into the sector yet at scale….. perhaps this is because the retailers adopted API connectivity quickly after it became available, closing the door to any new entrant opportunities. This is the one that I think I was most wrong on. Basically nothing has happened at all in 4 years. Hummmm…
  • Where will innovation come from?customer profiling – yes – no one done this yet properly….. hotel concierges – yes – with in hotel room voice user interfaces helping you discover and book local experiences…. Data – hummm – the simple innovation outlined 4 years ago still not built…..

In summary I think the document has aged well. It still feels pretty fresh. Not sure if this says more about my ability to tell the future or that the pace of innovation in the last few years has been really slow in the tours & activities sector. Debatable I guess 😉

Anything missing?

No mention of autonomous vehicle sightseeing. I didn’t see that coming 5 years ago. More about this later in the week…!

 The tours & activities industry & TourCMS

This white paper was originally made available to a few tour & activity retail partners but was not widely available. i.e. this is effectively publishing in public for the first time. Reproduced with permission of TourCMS / Palisis. 

Image: Flickr – Charles Wagner

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