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With Viator being snapped up by TripAdvisor in 2014 and technology playing catch up, the timing seems right for a multibillion dollar industry

The concept of offering a traveller everything they need – including tours - is hardly new but let’s just say that execution in the online environment has been pretty awful. In 2014, however, TripAdvisor became the first mover in this space with its acquisition of Viator, the largest online tours-and-activities booking company. 

Meanwhile Gray Line, a global provider of tours and to online suppliers, continued on its journey of getting the data of hundreds of thousands of products and suppliers, onto one common technology platform. The aim: to scale yield management, mobile booking, real-time redemption and connected distribution in order to help take the sector into the 21st century.

As executive vice president of Gray Line Worldwide, Brett Asbury, who will be speaking in New York next month says the biggest challenge this year has been connectivity – period. However, this week he shares three insights into why he thinks the timing is right for tours and activities.

1. Up in the cloud: it’s tech time

The technology is finally playing catch up with travel industry verticals, like hotels, allowing for greater connectivity and more seamless distribution to the end consumer. It’s also one of the last fragmented verticals where established travel brands can bring value to the consumer by offering them an easy way to book more of their itinerary through a single trusted source.

Gray Line, for one, is currently engaging systems (everything it’s utilising is cloud-based software-as-a-service) to track every piece of meaningful data as it becomes available, something that hasn’t always been easy to do. “This means the firm can utilise several disparate data sources that have to be synthesised - sometimes in a way that is not automated,” he says. Over time, the aim is to move to one integrated business intelligence platform to create a simpler process for faster, smarter decision making.

Today, Gray Line is using a variety of platforms and gathering a lot of offline data from in-market purchases that is not normalised; so the process is still very manual. Software and technology systems that Gray Line has found helpful to date include:

  • TourCMS - tour and activity reservation / distribution software
  • Freshdesk (customer service software)
  • Ring Central (phone system software)
  • Intuit Quickbase (CRM database)
  • Google Analytics (web analytics software)

From a business intelligence and personalisation standpoint, it’s still early days but Grayline is testing:

  • Tableau (integrated BI software)
  • Optimizely (personalisation/web optimisation software)
  • Everage (personalisation/web optimisation)

2.  It’s a multi-billion dollar market

For OTAs, airlines and hotels, the tour and activity sector represents a multi-billion dollar market of untapped ancillary booking revenue. Gray Line’s data and qualitative feedback from distributors shows that this is a trend happening globally. Online travel sellers that integrate tour and activity offerings at the right time in the booking cycle continue to show tremendous booking growth.

Online travel sellers that integrate tour and activity offerings at the right time in the booking cycle continue to show tremendous booking growth.

3. The timing is perfect in booming Asia

In Asia travel booking is changing rapidly, with consumers adopting online booking as a preferred purchasing channel for the first time – just like the US in the early 2000s. This happens to be timed perfectly with the rise of tours and activities in online travel globally. So it seems par for the course that this product type will naturally become a part of the consumer expectation set when Asian travellers book a package online.

But change is afoot in more established markets like Europe and North America, where historically the integration of tours and activities has not been an expectation. However, this will become a necessity (and a focus) in the next two years for big travel brands who are competing on a global or regional stage, as TripAdvisor’s acquisition has shown only too well.

Watch out for an article next week when Asbury will be talking top trends for 2015. And don’t miss the show in New York where Brett will be speaking on the opening keynote to share his tips on how to bring a holistic view of data to your organization.

Smart Travel Analytics N.America 2015

January 2015, New York

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