5 step plan to save Viator

January 24th, 2020

Alex Bainbridge

By now you will have heard that Tripadvisor / Viator are losing many team members (and their chief) in the experiences division. If not, read about it here on Skift, or Rod Cuthbert’s comments (Viator founder) via Phocuswire.

This post contains a five step action plan to turn Viator around.

Firstly, how did Viator get here:

If you are homogeneous, you lose

Fundamentally almost every leading online travel agent has:

  • same suppliers
  • same tour & attraction products
  • same product descriptions (including the same data fields)
  • same customer prices
  • same website/app designs
  • same technology integration style (publish incoming API spec and rely on reservation systems to connect to them)
  • and of course, same reliance on Google 😉

I remember getting in trouble in 2013/2014 when I said that the new reservation system tech industry made it possible to create ten Viators overnight but that is indeed what has happened. This is not Viator’s fault of course. However it was predictable.

So what would I do? My 5 step action plan:

1- Brand

Make Tripadvisor the aggregator brand and Viator the curator brand

Tripadvisor NEEDs every single attraction, tour & experience listed because they, via reviews, need an opinion on every single attraction, tour & experience. That is their mission. Does everything need to be bookable via directly contracted product at that point? No. Send booking traffic offsite if you have to.

Make Viator the curated brand offering a selection of well chosen options that are coherent. Choose a demographic (e.g. younger travellers) and stick with it. As a result reduce your contracting burden.

2- Strategy

Win curation before GetYourGuide does

GetYourGuide Originals, that I wrote about last month, is fundamentally a hard pivot to curation.

The market is heading back to curation. Viator was the original curator. Viator can win this.

3 – Technology

Find and solve a harder problem

I remember web technology in 2000 when Viator was founded. At the time I was Head of Web for a hotel distribution startup funded by Accor, Hilton and Forte/Le Meridien. Basic web tech was REALLY hard and REALLY expensive. For example if you wanted a content management system for a website you could be looking at 300,000 USD a year easily. Nowadays you have WordPress and other SaaS content management systems that everyone can afford.

It is just too easy and affordable now to build a tour & activity website or app. APIs etc are well mature and simple to operate.

Website & app tech is no longer the moat it used to be. Viator needs to solve the NEXT hard technology problem that no one else can self-build in a few weeks.

I have a list 😉

4 – Mindset

A travel agent is a business model, not an industry layer

For example Fareharbor is a technology company legally trading as a travel agent. My business, Autoura, is a tour operator legally trading as a travel agent.

For too long the online travel agents (OTAs) have looked at themselves as an industry layer. Consumers don’t care about industry structures. Just build and retail experiences using whatever resources currently exist or can be devised. Make those experiences amazing. Thats all that consumers care about.

5 – Make something people care about

Build a service that people DO care strongly about, either consumers or industry

Is anyone fighting to save Viator? Not really.

Of course the people who work there would love to keep their jobs 😉 and Tripadvisor shareholders need their return…. but anyone else really care? They are not offering anything that existing suppliers can’t replace via other distribution channels overnight.

Compare this to when we lost Orbitz (old news I know!). Some suppliers actively supported Orbitz even going as far as branding their tour vehicles in Orbitz livery. Those suppliers chose Orbitz as it wasn’t Expedia or Viator. Those suppliers hurt when Orbitz sold to Expedia and the two destination products were merged. Those suppliers would have fought to save Orbitz, given the opportunity.

Who is fighting for Viator today? No one. This is fixable.


Five steps. Not simple of course, but five achievable steps.

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4 responses to “5 step plan to save Viator”

  1. Alex Bainbridge says:

    If you like to comment via LinkedIn (and frankly thats where nearly all the comments happen nowadays), here is the thread

  2. Barb Peterson says:

    Great insights Alex! Spot on with comments about Orbitz (I know I was there!). Consumers want choices, yes, but they also want to be “told/guided” towards the best quality, best value, coolest, etc etc things to do in the destination, too many choices are not always a good thing from a consumer perspective. That was the strategy at Orbitz, don’t offer multiple HOHO bus tours from multiple suppliers, pick the best in class. Curated vs marketplace model. Cheers to saving VIator!

  3. Alex Bainbridge says:

    Thanks Barb. Loved Orbitz! (as you know!) Curation is both the history and the future of this industry. Looking forward to having it back!

  4. Alex says:

    Nice article Alex. I would not say that OTA API tech is basically fine though – it’s still very clunky, manual and several years behind accommodation platform APIs.

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