Relaunching DestinationCTO to focus on digital tour operating & digital experiences

October 21st, 2022

by Alex Bainbridge

At the otherwise superb Arival sightseeing conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago there wasn’t much talk of digital experiences. Where I expected this topic to be discussed – perhaps the future of experiences session, or the future of online travel agents session, there was no mention of this upcoming evolution at all.

It became very clear there is space for a publication dedicated to discussion about digital tour operating rather than human tour operating. Each approach has their own merits (& supporters), but digital tour operating needs a place (& potentially a conference) where we can call home.

So today I announce that I am relaunching DestinationCTO to focus entirely on this topic.

Let’s dive in on what digital tour operating means and how it fits in:

The digital adoption curve

Broadly, digital adoption within the sightseeing & experiences industry can be classified into four distinct phases (ignoring phone / telex / fax / email):

  1. Human – humans designed tours, humans retailed tours, humans operated tours (e.g. as tour guides)
  2. Online travel agent <> Rez tech <> local tour operator – humans design tours, digital distributes & retails tours, humans operate tours (this is pretty much where the sightseeing & experiences industry is today)
  3. Early digital experience platforms – humans design experiences, digital distributes & retails experiences, digital operates experiences (this is where my platform Autoura is today)
  4. Advanced digital experience platforms – AI designs experiences, digital retails experiences, digital operates experiences

i.e. each phase incorporates further digitalisation:

  1. Human – Human – Human
  2. Human – Digital – Human
  3. Human – Digital – Digital
  4. Digital – Digital – Digital

The working assumption by many technologists within sightseeing & experiences sector is that we all stop evolving after the second phase. To their way of thinking, digital just becomes a means to gain ever increasing efficiency via distribution standards etc.

To my way of thinking, it seems unlikely that we end evolutionary progress after the second phase. Now early platforms (like my own) are pushing the evolution onwards, I don’t think we can uninvent the concept of Digital Experience Platforms (DXP). Whether ultimately I am successful or it is someone else who executes and scales this first, the next step in our collective digital evolution is now inevitable.

It is these final two phases that this blog will now focus on.

Do we have the right industry structure?

To answer that, you need to define what industry we are talking about! In my view the digitalisation of experiences is going to to see the merging of two large categories:

  • Tourism – people from out of your location, just visiting (low frequency, can be high value)
  • Leisure – what people do near home (high frequency, low value)

This naturally pulls into scope restaurants, events, leisure time within business trips etc.

From a tech perspective, the Digital Experience Platform future merges existing online travel agent layers with rez tech layers.

We go from an industry structure that looks like this…

…to a structure that looks a little like this:

i.e. just one technology layer. Super simple to diagram, not super simple to build 🙂

For tour guides & attractions, this is not much of a change from today. This is a debate about how to retail your products & services. For everyone else, the next phase in our collective industry evolution is significant.

We will talk about this on this blog too!

If you want more detail now, you can read my white paper from earlier in the year – Autonomous vehicles & Digital Experience Platforms.

What are the tech enablers?

This onward digitalisation of our sector is supported by several other technologies that are rapidly evolving:

  • Augmented Reality (AR) & Holograms
  • Text to voice / voice to text AI
  • Digital assistants
  • Generative AI (e.g. Text, music, images & video)
  • New transport including autonomous vehicles & publicly available micromobility
  • Self-managed identity (for preferences & personalisation)

Plus much more yet to be invented. We will talk about all of this on this blog. Exciting right!?

Are autonomous vehicles necessary?

Mobile (& specifically the iPhone) accelerated the need for rez tech <> online travel agent connectivity (as online travel agents needed last minute availability / bookings) which in turn accelerated the adoption of rez tech by local tour operators & attractions.

In a similar vein, autonomous vehicles accelerate the transition to digital tour operating as once you remove the driver/guide, you have no option BUT to digitally operate experiences. It is fundamentally important not to confuse accelerants with pre-requisites…..  Digital Experience Platforms happen with or without autonomous vehicles.

More on how this will all work

  • Maybe we do a conference (I ran a tours & activities industry event in London during World Travel Market 2011>2016 – anyone remember that?), or maybe it remains just a blog with the occasional Youtube event. Let’s see where we end up
  • Yes this is published by us at Autoura, but will continue to write about the sector too. Send me ideas on what to cover!
  • Where we do videos, will use the Autoura Youtube channel as we don’t want to fragment the distribution there

What this also means is, I no longer am going to opine via this blog about existing companies, except from a digital tour operating perspective. I can hear a collective sigh of relief already!

If you want, I can still talk rez tech and other related topics – just not here – e.g. here I am on Tourpreneur a couple of weeks ago talking about rez tech.

Do subscribe / unsubscribe, or tell me how you feel about this change in mission for this blog. While you are about it, do subscribe to the Autoura YouTube channel too (as that is where we are going to put any DestinationCTO videos)



Image: Stable Diffusion AI

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2 responses to “Relaunching DestinationCTO to focus on digital tour operating & digital experiences”

  1. Rod Walters says:

    In the tour operator universe, ebikes are taking over. They’re good for both short and long trips, and they enable a much wider range of customers to get about on two wheels. Unlike autonomous vehicles, they’re a technology that’s here now and adopted widely.

    At the 2022 Adventure Travel World Summit in October, the Future of Cycling Adventure was the best attended session, and everyone seemed hungry for a better digital platform for self-guided cycling tours and route planning.

    If you want to gain traction for your platform, demonstrating it with ebikes is the place to start.