Daniel Pino, TourOpp
"If you think you can beat Tripadvisor, GetYourGuide or Expedia on SEO or SEM, you're just missing the big picture."
Quote from Daniel Pino, co-founder and CEO of TourOpp, in an article on PhocusWire this week on why tour operators should stop fighting against online travel agencies.
Each Friday, PhocusWire dissects and debates an industry trend or new development covered on our site that week.
Surrender to the OTAs! Just look at what they've given you!
Many executives could probably count on one hand the number of times that they've heard those phrases over the years.
Some might point to an element of "What have the OTAs EVER done for us?!", in the style of Monty Python's Life Of Brian, when it comes to understanding what part and value they play in the ecosystem of distribution in tours and activities.
The smart marketers have always understood that intermediaries play an important role in the wider distribution mix in activities (as they also do for accommodation and flights), allowing brands to bring in some business direct on their websites, some via walk-ups and some via online travel agencies.
It's the nature of that segment of the industry that all three are and will remain possible, especially in the direct channel because many products are unique and, to recall a phrase from over a decade ago, the long tail of travel is still very evident and valuable.
What is often missing from the debate (including Daniel Pino's article) is the role and ambition of Google - itself an intermediary, lest we forget.
In tours and activities (again, as it has in accommodation and air tickets), Google's role has evolved from providing a space for companies to figure out their search engine optimization strategy, to taking money through keyword advertising and, now, actively working towards being a full-service platform.
Touring Bird's folding last summer into the Google "Super App" (our words) Travel portfolio of services was inevitable.
And that inevitability should've put tour operator on alert. Sure, a direct metasearch model will be beneficial (avoiding those pesky OTAs) but it's the follow-up question that creates a different level of uncertainty about which are the best partners to have.
Critics have continually pointed to Google's influence in other areas (user experience and data capture, for example), not just a brand's marketing strategy, which should be important considerations to have.
It's too easy to knock one particular type of intermediary, without considering what might be lurking in the background.
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