#Arival2018 – Questions I hope to hear answers to

August 29th, 2018

by Alex Bainbridge

The annual Arival conference (next in Las Vegas 24-27 September) has quickly added itself to the “must do” list of conferences for anyone who is serious about the tours & activities sector (or more generally, anyone with an interest in creating positive leisure travel experiences in destination).

I ran 6 mini-conferences during London’s World Travel Market (first in 2011, last in 2016) that were similar (we had startup presentations, retailer presentations, supplier presentations, panel discussions etc), each with 150-200 people attending, so its great to see the Arival team take it to the next level with their 1000+ attendee event. I will be there – more about that soon!

Ask me anything

This year there are “Ask me anything” sessions on the main stage where executives from Airbnb, Booking (Fareharbor), TripAdvisor (Viator/Bokun) & Expedia are open to answering anything (presumably).

With that in mind…… what questions do I have? For the first time I have big questions. We as an industry seem to be at a cross-roads where what happens next is not totally clear.

My questions

I may only find out answers to these questions in the bar – but still – these are my questions:

1 – What is coming next?

OK – this is a slightly obvious question – but I would like to hear hints as to what is coming next (and no, it really should not be an extranet).

Price differentiation – will different retailers sell the same tour at different prices? Can this happen without risking incentivising meta-search companies to create an industry layer above retailers? Will suppliers just create distributed product at one price and direct-booked product at another? (They have no obligation to make all their products available to retailers, just to not under price on their own direct channels the products they DO make available to retailers)

Personalised tours – if we are moving towards (which I think we are) totally personalised tours based on individual customer preferences then retail booking processes, industry wide availability & booking APIs and most supplier reservation systems are not at all able to handle this. Hummm….

Focus on recommendations –  are retailers going to focus on getting recommendations right? So far they have made everything bookable but they are all really bad at suggesting the right experience for the right person incorporating context (location / weather / time of day etc). If they are going to focus on recommendations, do they need supplier input? (yes) – if so – what does this look like from a retailer > supplier API perspective……

More vertical integration – retailers buying supplier facing reservation systems or retailers setting up tour operations in their own brand – will we have more of this or will retailers pull back to being retail only operations?

Nothing changes – ha – not sure if nothing comes next is really an acceptable answer. However if you look at retailer APIs – none of them have changed since initial connections with supplier systems (some now connected for 5+ years) – so at least, until they are forced to, perhaps retailers really do think that the status quo is OK.

2 – Is the whole market aggregator model dead?

A few years ago retailers were looking to make EVERYTHING bookable (i.e. the whole market). However they are nearly all pulling back from that now – first by removing experiences that incorporate live animals (a good thing to remove, no quibbles there) then removing itinerary duplications and other stuff that doesn’t sell.

I would like someone to say outloud that the whole market aggregator model was a bad idea and that it is dead.

3 – Any remorse for breaking the industry wide trust model that was serving us all well?

We used to have retailers, supplier technology platforms and suppliers. This was a simple three layer model where everyone knew where they stood and what their role in the game was.

Now retailers are buying supplier technology platforms and setting up own branded tour operations.

This is fine – the new model (where every company can trade doing what they like) is OK to me as an entrepreneur.

However, do the retailers feel any remorse about breaking the 3 layer model that existed before? Any plans to try to put the genie back in the bottle by making good the non-acquired supplier reservation systems? (e.g. they are all wholly reliant on supplier technology that they now directly compete with).

If they don’t want to address this, are they ready for what comes next – which is the non-acquired supplier reservation systems pushing back? It was better when everyone was co-operating.

4 – Do suppliers really want retailers to 10x their bookings?

Some retailers have been vocal about how they are going to 10x their bookings in the coming years. Has anyone asked the suppliers if they want this?

As it currently stands retailers need suppliers but suppliers don’t need retailers (as retailers are 10% of the market, insignificant). Do suppliers take this opportunity to keep retailers at 10% of the market rather than bending over backwards and doing everything retailers ask?

Intrigued to hear from suppliers (probably in the bar) and retailers what the proper balance is. We have all seen what has happened in hotels – will it happen to tours too?

5 – What are the innovators doing?

A curious lack of transformative innovation in the main stage schedule this year. Again probably in the bar, I want to hear what the innovators are thinking – and what business models they are proposing to run.

If the retailers are coming in and competing in supplier tech and supplier tour operating this does squash startup opportunities….. but this will just make them more creative. Looking forward to finding out what that may be.

Final thought

I welcome that retailers ARE putting themselves up for any questions. Looking forward to reporting on their answers 😉

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