Think the big boys in travel are not taking tours and activities seriously? Might need to think again.
While Google has a jigsaw to fill in its drive to become a one-stop-show for all things travel-related, TripAdvisor has a Rubik’s Cube to complete in its drive to become a wider “trip advisor”, not just the place where people go to read hotel reviews.
So with Expedia getting in on the act late last year and recent moves by European tour operating giant TUI to bolster its coverage, now it’s the turn of TripAdvisor to start considering how the still relatively youthful attractions sector can be thrust into the mainstream.
It should be another a wake-up call for watchers of the sector – not content with dominating online reviews of hotels, restaurants and attractions, alongside turning its attention to metasearch for the former, TripAdvisor eyes tours and attractions as a significant proposition.
What is driving all this is mobile, an area growing rapidly for the company and – depending on who you talk to – a natural fit for travellers looking to search and book in-destination products.
Co-founder and CEO Steve Kaufer will not go as far as to say tours and activities is a big problem that needs fixing (he’s far too savvy and, well, listed on the public markets these days) but he believes there are “meaningful opportunities” in the sector and says it is something TripAdvisor is pondering.
He hints that the current suite of mobile services on TripAdvisor (read and write reviews, find products, view maps, etc) are not enough – there is, in short, so much more that the traveller could find useful when it comes to using their mobile devices in a destination.
What he envisions is a mobile product that not only does all of the above but one that goes much further (speaking generally about mobile travel services, he asks: “Is this the best we can do as an industry?”).
Kaufer thinks about better augmented reality-led tools on devices, information about relevant meetups or clubs for an individual when in destination and, ultimately, ways of searching and booking the myriad of things to do in a location.
Mobile and travel combined should be “more inspirational, more personalised,” he adds.
The booking of tours and activities angle is key here.
Assuming data roaming charges will eventually hit more acceptable levels for every-day consumers, giving travellers the tools to search and secure every potential thing-to-do in a destination, via a mobile device, is not only logical but arguably a vital consideration.
Of course, TripAdvisor has agreements with GetYourGuide (its first partner), Expedia and most recently ViatorÂ to provide product booking options for some of the tours and activities listed on the site.
But this isn’t enough and, looking in the short term, is an awkward hurdle in the way of such developments to bring about Kaufer’s vision of a truly mobile travel assistant.
“Unfortunately there has not been a single aggregator that has swallowed up all the inventory,” Kaufer explains.
In other words:
- a big opportunity for one of the existing players in the marketplace to ramp up its breadth of product
- someone new should come along with a truly mobile-led service with which TripAdvisor can partner
…or, perhaps most interestingly and worryingly for the wider sector…
- TripAdvisor itself to create a service of its own
Although the dynamics (technically and commercially) are different from other sectors in the industry, TripAdvisor has form for experimenting with one method and then going ahead with a service created in-house.
Not content with just taking advertising from airlines, TripAdvisor launched the still rarely discussed flight search system in 2009.
And, now, after years of providing leads to hotels via ads and clunky pop-ups to online travel agencies, hotel metasearch is coming to the site, firstly via – you guessed it – mobile and eventually across all desktop devices (currently around 15% are seeing the beta version).
This isn’t to say that TripAdvisor will take the same approach to tours and activities as it has with other products, and simply build its own service.
But there is a precedent there and, presumably, if there is a solid business need and the mobile technology is there to support it, yet another of the big boys may wade in to the tours and activities sector in a “meaningful” way (to coin one of Kaufer’s favourite words).
NB: TripAdvisor Rubik’s Cube pic via Tnooz.