The future of Viator and the 29 USD listing fee
June 23rd, 2020
Earlier today Ben Drew, President of Viator (owned by Tripadvisor), outlined in an open letter the future of Viator:
In Viator’s 25 years, we’ve been many things – the founding OTA in tours and activities, then a handpicked collection of amazing travel experiences, and now an open marketplace of 395,000+ products from every corner of the world.
What has caught most tour operators attention is the introduction of a product listing fee:
We’re introducing a product quality review process, which will cost $29 per product submitted for listing. This covers a manual review of every new product, giving you the support you need to position your product in the right way from the start, helping you find success faster.
I have written a few times about the future of Viator, including this 2018 article Is Viator’s strategy fit for purpose? I knew, the industry knew and I guess Viator knew, that changes were required. Then in January this year (pre-COVID, wow that seems a long time ago!) I wrote an article 5-step plan to save Viator.
My view on today’s open letter is that they are headed in the right direction, finally.
The Viator marketplace is full of:
- homogenous product
- tours with poor description quality
This listing fee is an absolute step in the right direction.
The onus is now on tour operators themselves to filter what they suggest for listing on the Viator platform. As a result operators will now only list the tours they care about sufficiently to pay the listing fee.
Previously operators would list anything they could get past the filters, leading to poor quality fishing expedition listings that were becoming as spammy as SEO is.
Quoting Ben Drew again, he describes this approach as:
A path that takes into account both the quality of selection and quantity of choice, and finds a balance between a highly curated shopping experience and an unfettered marketplace.
There are 7,647 things to do in Rome…. That is about 4,000 too many, with current product makeup. You could list just 300 distinctive experiences and still be seen as complete.
As this fee is only to be applied to new listings, this number will not whittle down overnight, however over time expect the number to come back to a more manageable level.
Big green tick for Viator and the new experiences leadership team!
What was not said
If the open letter was just about the fee, and about the new associated product standards, this would be seen as good progress. However they wrapped it up as a letter about the future. As such, there was really very little about the future at all:
Lack of mention of wild animals:
TripAdvisor and its Viator brand will discontinue selling tickets for specific tourism experiences where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species, including but not limited to elephant rides, petting tigers, and swim with dolphin attractions
Here was an opportunity to talk about why a human verification stage for a product listing will really help with ensuring that no captive animal experience could slip through the net. Any mention? Nope.
From one perspective this is good, they could have been accused of greenwashing the listing fee if they had overstated this, but to not mention this topic at all seems an avoidable oversight, one that suggests that captive animal experiences are no longer a business objective to solve.
Doesn’t seem to be any communicated vision on product strategy.
Are they now curated? Not really – higher quality yes, but curated – nope.
Do Viator want tours for kids? Millenials? Z? For older, less mobile, people? For international tourists? For domestic only?
In the context of COVID, where all operators are looking closely at their own products and thinking about what customers may want, no guidance is given at all. Instead it is a “we are going to remove products that don’t meet our standards”.
I would like to see a Viator listing stand for something, a badge of honour, but without any coherent vision on what they want, explained at every opportunity, they are going to end up with the mashup of tours they have today.
Their competitors, e.g. Airbnb / GetYourGuide, all have strong, publicly communicated, product strategies. So not having one seems a problem.
No mention of digital tours
For an open letter about the future, unusual to miss the big shift to digital storytelling:
- Games (like Questo, Pokemon Go)
- Audio tours
- AI tour guides (like my Sahra the sightseeing robot)
I am still looking for the first digital tour operator OTA…… who is going to do that? Seems a big opportunity right now to be an OTA setup for retailing (and discovering) digitally delivered sightseeing….. Doesn’t sound like it will be Viator.
If you are going to write a vision document about the future, no mention of the largest future sector category seems an oversight.
Viator is a big ship to turn, but the command has now been given, the turn will surely come.
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