It is currently Responsible Tourism Week (#rtweek2012). In the tours and activities sector, so-called responsible tourism is important. Very important.
Not everyone gets it (some companies still run Hummer tours through various jungles), but still - at least in this sector - most get it.
But there are three approaches to the marketing element of what these companies do that , frankly, are just not particularly helpful in the grand scheme of things. Or, some might say, could even could be described as unhelpful.
Sadly, these three approaches are popular choices for a number of travel startups, some of whom even trade on their responsible tourism credentials.
This isn't quite a name-and-shame exercise, but here are three tactics that the industry (and the world) could do without:
1. Not disclosing the supplier name on an intermediary website
There a couple of well known responsible travel websites that will not tell customers who they are booking or enquiring with.
This is wrong because it turns the supplier into a commodity and they can be traded off against each other (or threatened with replacement by another local competitor).
Take a Kilimanjaro expedition, for example - as inbound tour operators, there are 200+ companies in Tanzania who will sell that particular climb.
Some will invest part of the money spent with them back into the community, while others will not. It will be easier for companies that don't invest back into their community to appear initially attractive to intermediaries as they may have more resources (time, money) to spend on their website, going to conferences, replying to email etc.
Intermediaries that are concerned that this will mean consumers will book direct (rather than via the intermediary) need to focus more on their own proposition. Most intermediaries in this position are just very dull listing websites and need to up their game to ensure that the consumer sees value by going via the intermediary versus direct.
In addition, most suppliers in this area are creating distinct experiences, and in this urge to dominate the consumer with the intermediary's brand it damages the overall value proposition.
2. Taking advantage of lack of web-savviness of local suppliers
One problem in tours and activities is that there is a massive disconnect between the web literacy of local suppliers and web entrepreneur-created intermediaries.
In the hotel and flight sectors, if you are an intermediary and you pitch to a hotel chain, hotel manager or airline, they will invariably ask you some tricky questions which you had best be ready for.
Sadly, too many tours and activities startup entrepreneurs are taking advantage of local suppliers by wowing them with an amazing web proposition.... often sold on an upfront advertising basis.
Local suppliers buy into this because they are impressed with the sales presentation but ultimately the advertising never produces any bookings.
What a completely irresponsible way to create a new industry.
Instead, I want to see travel startup entrepreneurs solve problems that suppliers (and their customers) have. Stop selling dreams to locals in countries who don't know better. I don't want to see suppliers being taken advantage of.
Two practical steps that would help here:
3. Helping local individuals sell activities without understanding the risks
- Intermediaries should charge on success only (this could be PPC, pay-per-lead or affiliate/agent commission). This will cut out upfront advertising based intermediaries who take the money but don't deliver bookings.
- Intermediaries should not create environments that require massive time investment by the supplier to get started (eg. loading 50 tours complete with descriptions, dates, prices, images etc). One can argue that this ultimately is helping the small supplier BUT what has actually happened is that now many suppliers feel that intermediaries are taking advantage of them and a general level of distrust is growing that is unhelpful for everyone. Intermediaries good and bad are being tarred by the same brush. If you want a supplier's product, you invest your own resources in configuring it.
It is irresponsible to put a local individual into a position that exposes them (not the P2P marketplace) to uncovered risk. You can't, just for fun, go and run a kayak trip (at least in the western world) without all sorts of insurance cover.
Suggesting to individuals that anyone can run any kind of tour is irresponsible.
This is a product specific problem rather than with P2P marketplaces in general. These marketplaces can create a positive livelihood solution for a local individual - and the risks of providing a local cultural tour are the same risks inherent in everyday life.
The diving industry provides a good example of where local individuals who guide and teach need to be trained and certified and dive business insurance to be in place. We need more of this within P2P marketplaces.
There will be a terrible legal case around this at some point soon - sadly as a result of an accident.
There you are - three approaches that the tour and activity industry could do without, at least from those suggesting they are coming from a responsible tourism perspective.
Am I right?
NB:Hand globe image via Shutterstock.