2020 – Four key stories for the sightseeing & experiences sector

January 12th, 2021

Alex Bainbridge

It is fashionable at this time of year to summarise what happened in the preceding year and predict what is coming next. 2020 was certainly a year to remember / forget (delete as applicable). But at a sightseeing & experiences industry level, what are the key stories of the year, beyond the complete destruction our collective livelihoods caused by COVID?

Called for the end of petrol & diesel sightseeing by 2030

Although only in December, over the coming years it will be remembered that this was first proposed in 2020. Feedback from this call was mixed. A few people argue that with no income in 2020 and limited expected in 2021, setting this goal is an impossible and irrelevant target. Others, like myself, point at climate change evidence and suggest this is way too little, way too late.

Either way, I predict petrol & diesel based sightseeing WILL be history by 2030. Bear this in mind as you buy new buses, shuttles and other sightseeing vehicles.

Read more about it in our previous discussion.

Digital sightseeing launched & failed

In the early days of 2020 it looked like digital sightseeing was the next big thing.

Two approaches dominate:

  • Customer static / host static (with AirBnb appearing to take pole position)
  • Customer static / host moving (e.g. Amazon, Local PurseMy Real Trip)

Am I excited by either approach? Not massively. I believe the customer has to move in the real world, not the host.

Autonomous sightseeing vehicles moved a step nearer

At Arival in 2018 (Las Vegas) I wore a t-shirt that said that urban vehicle based sightseeing must transition to autonomous vehicles by 2025. I was happy with that date, it felt a little conservative, however it is not wise to announce a date such as this and then not meet it 😉

In 2020, Amazon (Zoox) & Lyft announced that they will be operational, commercially, 2022/2023 in multiple markets. Google (Waymo), also in 2020, started accepting customer money for autonomous vehicle rides in one market (Phoenix).

For those who didn’t believe that this timeline was likely at all, 2020 was the year that showed that these vehicles ARE coming soon and at scale. For vehicle based sightseeing companies in these early market cities, transitioning by 2025 is wildly insufficient.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, you need to get yourself on the monthly Autoura newsletter 🙂

Video of year

Expedia resets foundations and looks in prime position to win in 3-5 years time

Back in the day, as CEO / CTO of TourCMS, I lead Expedia’s first reservation system connectivity project in 2015, leading to Gray Line winning the Expedia Epic Award for 2016. As such I know their business as well as any external person who can talk without any current relationship.

In 2020 Expedia shuttered their on-the-ground retail business and shifted much of their online retailing to be based on Tripadvisor / Viator supply. This was was seen as a major loss to the sector but I see it another way. I see this as them positioning to win in 3-5 years time. This may or may not be an intentional strategy, but Expedia are now free of their legacy business and will be able to build up again in the new form that is becoming clear will become the dominant industry structure. For tours, the OTA retailer model is on the way out.

Compare Expedia’s position with GetYourGuide. GYG absolutely know, for tours, that GetYourGuide Originals is the right way to go (and I agree with them). However they appear to be struggling to transition to this strategy given that they have to transition to that position at significant scale, given their pre-existing funding level.

I see opportunity for Expedia to deliver on the new industry wide structure before GetYourGuide achieves it, as Expedia are unencumbered by their online & offline legacy business.


I had these badges made up for wearing at ITB Berlin 2020 (that was cancelled). If only COVID could be held back by not shaking hands it would have been a much easier 2020!

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3 responses to “2020 – Four key stories for the sightseeing & experiences sector”

  1. Hi Alex,

    As always a very good view on the future. I do agree on most of the points.

    Concerning the OTAs analysis, I do agree as well but I am wondering about the reasons that you think explain it ?

  2. Alex Bainbridge says:

    Hi Emmanuel
    On OTA section (point 4), I did write more here https://www.destinationcto.com/2020/10/future-of-reservation-technology-platforms-for-tours/ however not sure everyone gets it! So will be doing an update on this in February, hopefully adding a little more clarity…!
    Fundamentally GYG Originals / WithLocals etc, for TOURS, the itinerary is set at the OTA layer…. and the tour operator delivers it (a bit like being an Uber driver vs being a taxi company etc).