It's hard not to think of tours and activities in 2014 without recalling two critical moments.
The first is undoubtedly the purchase of Viator by TripAdvisor, signalling a pivotal moment in the tours and activities landscape. The purchase put tours and activities on the radar in a big way.
Even though Viator is a popular brand, it is no where near as popular as TripAdvisor. The brand influence of TripAdvisor has added a much needed shot in the arm for excursions, tours and activities worldwide.
The subsequent shift from a closed curated marketplace to an open marketplace will also add pressure on small businesses to take the leap online and connect to Viator and TripAdvisor. This will mean access to more inventory for everyone in the market.
The second pivotal moment was a technological one. After a number of years of research and development, Viator in partnership with a number of tour and activity supply side management systems released direct connect capabilities for its marketplace. The release of the Viator API signalled a growing interest in connecting directly to supply for the purposes of accessing last minute inventory and supporting an increasingly mobile audience.
Taking the technological leap (albeit a relatively safe one) has also set the bar for other marketplaces.
The pivotal moments of 2014 will fuel opportunities in 2015 that will continue to grow the market for tours and activities. I expect that
several other marketplaces will release their own direct connect APIs in the coming months. With these new direct connects, we might see
the emergence of a true channel management too, akin to Siteminder but for tours and activities.
Will 2015 be the start of a rapid growth phase for tours and activities? Will TripAdvisor's move result in a stampede of businesses adopting online tools and embracing e-commerce?
I don't expect to see either of these two things happening anytime soon. In order to support long-term sustainable growth in the tours and activities vertical, companies like TripAdvisor/Viator, GetYourGuide, Expedia, Orbitz and others need to make strategic moves into ensuring the viability of these offerings.
At the same time, businesses need to understand and want to embrace online technologies, they cannot be coerced or duped into it. As long as we see little steps happen, not necessarily pivotal ones, then the tours and activities sector in general will continue to raise the tide, and that will make the industry better for everyone.
NB: Kids adventure image via Shutterstock.