Peter Syme, 1000 Mile Journeys
"The main issue for [big businesses] will be: Will they continue to be as interested in tours and activities as they were before?"
Quote from Peter Syme, managing director of 1000 Mile Journeys, in an article on PhocusWire this week on the tours and activities sector recovers post-COVID-19.
Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered on our site that week.
There’s no doubt that tours and activities is a hard business to aggregate and distribute. It’s made up of volumes of small, often family-run operators who have traditionally been high-touch, low-tech.
In his tours and activities route to recovery piece, Peter Syme poses a good question about whether intermediaries will be as interested in the segment as they have been once travel resumes post-coronavirus.
There are a number of reasons to remain positive, assuming, of course, this is a distribution route the industry wants to maintain.
Syme predicts that at least one of the major online travel agencies could exit tours and activities.
He could be right, but the OTAs have not only made significant investment in the segment in recent years, but they've also often carried the narrative that activities are lucrative.
Tripadvisor acquired Viator for $200 million six years ago and earlier this year decided to give it more focus again. It’s one of five businesses within the group where revenue exceeds $100 million.
Simultaneously, Steve Kaufer, the company’s boss, has talked up the opportunity to service travelers via mobile app once in a destination.
The momentum that was already behind mobile distribution will likely be even greater when the industry emerges as everyone strives for greater efficiency and increased automation.
Then there’s Booking Holdings and the development of its payments platform, which it has described as a core piece of its connected trip strategy.
Perhaps a bigger question is whether these end-to-end trip strategies will still be a part of the mix.
Both those companies have also invested in technology, such as that provided by Bokun (acquired by Tripadvisor in 2018) and Fareharbor (acquired by Booking), to bring more tours and activities suppliers onto a distribution platform.
A further point stressed by Syme is that the OTAs will look to their core business. That is the tendency in a crisis, but does it still hold true in this particular crisis when everything has gone out the window?
Core for OTAs are hotels or accommodations, yet there are noises from within that quarter that the drive to take business direct will be stronger than ever.
And what will consumers want? A recent piece from Christian Watts argues that people will want things to do. It just won’t be the traditional high-volume experiences for some time.
He adds that early winners in tours and activities will be those that can adapt their products quickly to consumer (and perhaps government) requirements.
There are lots of lessons being learned right now and many that still must be learned.
Perhaps one such lesson is to continue to seek out the opportunities. For example, if you want to make a success out of a particular element of travel, surround yourself with people who know that element, inside and out.
The sad part of what’s happening right now is that there are likely to be many experts from all quarters of travel seeking new opportunities, but that gives companies the chance to build on the experience they already have.
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