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978 days ago
 

Responsible Tourism web intermediaries must be, well, responsible as well

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:

  • 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.

3. Helping local individuals sell activities without understanding the risks

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.

Summary

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.

 
 
Alex Bainbridge

About the Writer :: Alex Bainbridge

Alex is a contributing Node to Tnooz and writes about travel technology, travel startups, specialist tour operators and the tours & activities sector. He has previously led ecommerce, social media and reservation system projects for airlines, leading mainstream tour operators and hotel distribution companies in both leisure and business travel sectors.

He is the CEO of TourCMS, a web based software-as-a-service reservation system and distribution platform used by many specialist tour operators worldwide to take online bookings and distribute to 3rd parties.

He also moderates Small Fish Big Ocean, a community that welcomes small tour operators and niche travel agents to come and discuss travel ecommerce issues. Alex has a computing degree, is passionate about usability, speaks French and still writes and reviews code.

 

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  1. Linda

    Phew! Not sure I have followed all of the discussion about sustainable tourism and what have you, covered here – but I’m sure going to start looking more closely at the sort of activities and trips I describe to my readers / guests in the future. Thanks for the info.

     
  2. Kevin May

    Kevin May

    All:

    Good article here from Andy Jarosz, looking at it from the consumer angle:

    http://www.501places.com/2012/02/responsible-travel-an-impossible-task/

    Cheers,

    KLM.

     
  3. Peter Syme

    Hi Sally

    Great to hear that you are checking the insurance off all your tripbods. It is not just packages that require insurance. Any commercial transaction that is carried out resulting in an person being taking on any experience or trip requires insurance.

    Of course in developing countries this, as we all know is exceedingly difficult but not impossible, however, in developed countries there is no excuse.

    I would suggest that the P2P sites should display that the guides marketing their services via them are insured. I have registered with a few recently and their was no request to see my insurance. I detest the claim culture that has developed, it is exceedingly distasteful but it is here and growing, and it would be criminal to be marketing tour/trip operators and who are not insured, or who are not aware that they need to be as it just places everyone in a very difficult situation when something goes wrong as it always will in a small % of trips.

     
  4. Alex Bainbridge

    Thanks everyone for your comments!

     
  5. Sally B

    Hi @Peter
    Thank you both for the kind words and for reminding me of a central point that I forgot to mention! Every offer that a Tripbod wishes to list is curated before going live. We don’t allow any packages to be sold, so that’s the first thing. Secondly we can follow up on anything that flags a concern. So just this week a wonderful new Tripbod in Wales listed an offer to go coasteering – which sounds fabulous – so I then followed up and Ross kindly sent me a copy of their insurance cover.

    As a company we have our own comprehensive cover of course, but we want all Tripbods to have access to appropriate insurance themselves, whatever combination of services they are offering. Our own bespoke ‘individual Tripbod’ policy is being rolled out incrementally across the 80 countries we cover – as you can imagine, it is far from a simple case but most definitely worth the amount of work that has gone into it!

    Thank you also for the valuable insight into the insurance industry stats, I will look further into that with our advisors. I take all this very seriously, not least having started out in the gap year/ethical volunteering world and placing young solo travellers with locally run and owned projects everywhere from the Philippines to Rwanda.

    @Steve – you are absolutely right, the Green Traveller team have (much like Inn Travel) been in this space longer than most and can provide invaluable guidance and expertise for anyone wanting to review their operations and do the best they can.

    It’s heartening to see people who have proven the responsible business case and can lead from the front, so thanks for reminding us of those who are doing an excellent job. In fact, perhaps others could add examples of those they think are doing really good work?

     
  6. Tom

    Alex Lyons

    According to this membership page
    http://www.responsibletravel.com/copy/marketing-your-tours
    you charge a minimum annual membership fee of £300 to even small tour operators. Is that right?
    It mentions but doesn’t disclose commission, what is it, 5%, 10%?

    I have looked through some holiday pages but I cannot find the name of tour operators on any of them. I can find it on the odd accommodation page. If this is free to them, how do you manage that?
    Do you have any free services for small tour operators? It appears they are paying you a minimum of £300 to join + commission but no mention of their company name or link to their website. Have I understood this correctly?

    Do you really never edit reviews? What happens if someone reviews their holiday and their review includes the name of the tour operator?

     
    • Alex Lyons

      @Tom

      All enquiries on the site go directly to the operators – so travellers know who they’re booking with at the point they make an enquiry and enter a dialogue with the tourism business.

      Commission rates are not published on the site and will vary on the business but are typically around 7%. Small operators who organise day tours are eligible for the same completely free service that accommodations are.

      Members who are fee paying are paying for a comprehensive and accountable membership service (with a dedicated account handler responsible for managing their account and helping to drive enquiries). This service has very high renewal rates, with members who joined in 2001 still members today.

      Full details on the review policy are here: http://www.responsibletravel.com/copy/holiday-reviews-policy

      Alex

       
  7. Steve Jack

    Thanks for a thought-provoking piece – totally agree. As a specialist operator, we’ve had to be very careful about which intermediaries we go through, especially when considering an important and sensitive area like sustainable tourism.

    While considering our social & environmental responsibilities has always been a key part of what we stand for (while not necessarily being an ‘eco’ operator in the purest sense), we have obviously been aware of the ‘bandwagon’ factor – over the last few years, especially. It just doesn’t make any sense for our holidays to be featured on intermediaries’ sites without disclosure of our brand name… not from a self-interested point of view on our part, from the point of view of the customer who rightly wants to know exactly what they are getting – not just in terms of the holiday itself, but also the ethos and credibility – or otherwise – of the company behind the content.

    We’ve been working closely with http://www.greentraveller.co.uk and have found them to follow a good approach in this regard. Their web content is very much their own (and there is lots of added value in all the extra features, articles, guides and tips), but they are very careful about who they work with, and it shows. Equally evident is the thought that Richard Hammond (their founder) put into the business model itself, as it seems to work well from a consumer’s point of view.

    Like others above, it’s good to see Tnooz supporting #RTweek

    Cheers,

    Steve

    http://www.inntravel.co.uk
    The Slow Holiday People

     
  8. Peter Syme

    @Sally

    So is Tripbod ensuring that all its bods have suitable insurance cover in place prior to marketing tours from local guides? Or as your article implies that is something that is being worked on, rather than in place?

    I do admire your passion to empower local knowledge providers to provide a great service to clients, as they are the local knowledge however, if a financial transaction is taking place, their are legal requirements to be adhered to by all providers of tours, insurance being one of them. I know if I hire in a tour guide I have to place them under my own insurance or ensure they have their own in place.

    If P2P marketers proactively market and sell tours that are not covered by insurance both the client and the provider of the tour are at risk. I would strongly suspect the P2P company would also get dragged into any dispute. Also if you study the insurance industries claim figures it is not the perceived high risk tours and activities that result in the volume of cases, it is the perceived low risk tours and activities that account for the vast majority of cases. This is because of two reasons, the first being volume, ie more people do perceived low risk tours than perceived high risk tours, but also because those providing perceived low risk do not tend to carry out the detailed operational procedures and risk assessments that perceived high risk tours operators do.

     
  9. Alex Lyons

    Hi Alex – good piece!

    A few words from a responsible tourism organisation working to promote hundreds of suppliers worldwide.

    Couldn’t agree more about performance-related fees – we’ve always worked on performance-related commission-based system where members pay for bookings made. We even have a system where we deliver the performance, and members get the benefit – this is our free system for listing accommodations on the site. Accommodations can register for membership and use a system to build their own webpage – at no cost to them.

    Most of our suppliers don’t see it as a burden adding content using our system, they see it as an opportunity to generate quality bookings. However, we’ve never set a requirement for the amount of product added – they can add just one if they wish. Many members find the more they add the more business they do, so tend to upload more.

    When we launched in 2001, we only found two tour companies that had written policies for responsible tourism. Since then we’ve put in countless hours of time, effort and resources into encouraging and convincing businesses to develop their policies and practices, and supporting them to do this to make sure they meet the criteria for the site and that traveller expectations are met. Of course, what we do goes beyond that – we have a robust system for unedited and authentic reviews. Unlike some well-known review sites, ours are all transactional; we only post from people we know have booked that holiday.

    Many of our smaller suppliers who really do struggle with web marketing, SEO and resourcing find that we’re an extremely helpful and cost-effective source of bookings, as well as being part of a growing responsible tourism movement.

    Alex Lyons
    responsibletravel.com

     
  10. Sally B

    Great to see #RTWeek being supported by Tnooz!

    A few thoughts on the above three areas and indeed in response to your final question Alex. On that, I think you’re absolutely right to raise these points and in doing so you provide a good balance between problems and solutions, which is excellent. And overall I believe that’s the key here – balance.

    #1 – this is sort of why Tripbod.com exists – to facilitate a direct connection between a visitor and a local person who can open the door to amazing local experiences. Doesn’t mean it’s better/worse than what’s already out there in terms of some wonderful tours and activities companies (both local providers and channels linking to those providers) it’s just different. And that’s what I like – trying different ways of ‘doing’ travel – because who knows what’s possible if you don’t at least try and push the boundaries? Isn’t that what travelling is about anyway?

    #2: again, sort of why we built tripbod.com – to trial whether we could offer a low-impact way for local entrepreneurs (both existing travel entrepreneurs or those wanting to be more entrepreneurial with their local knowledge) to get their message to market. I think it’s a great point that you have to ensure you are not disadvantaging your local partner in any way, and you have to work darned hard to fulfil your side of the bargain, which is how great partnerships are built. A balance of equal parts.

    #3: this is a core issue but I think it’s something everyone can embrace responsibly:

    1. Make sure everyone is in full possession of the facts and empowered to make decisions. If you perceive that poor decisions are being made, interject.
    2. Do the best you can to provide the very best service to all your customers – and we view suppliers as customers just as much as we do the people booking the trips.
    3. Keep innovating to keep improving the service you offer – it will never be perfect so keep listening to your users’ feedback and keep developing.

    Above all, I do not advocate the blame-claim culture nor do I agree with allowing it to block progress. For example, some balk at the idea of an enthusiast sharing their passion with a visitor, instead of an ‘expert’. Why can’t we all share our passions with others and provide a supported, trusted forum in which this can happen?

    As we shared with the attendees of the Tour CMS event during WTM, we have been developing a bespoke insurance product available to Tripbods who are not already covered by existing policies (e.g some Tripbods are already in possession of professional cover, for example). This is just one of the ways we are working hard to be the best we can be.

    There are many ways to encourage great travel that is genuinely responsible, travel that is sensitive to the environment (local and global), and to the local culture and economy, whilst promoting these destinations in the global marketplace. But let’s not allow the status quo to stop us redirecting autonomy to the people who live in these destinations and who should really run the show.

    We travel, we explore, we meet new people and embrace new experiences, sometimes with those new people we meet. We take new and different risks to those we take at home – but as any entrepreneur will tell you there is a balance between risk and reward. Should we stop travelling and avoid the risk altogether, thus closing ourselves off to the reward of mind-broadening experiences? No, this is about balance and it’s about making progress together as a collective industry. We are far from ‘there’ but we are making progress.

    So well done Alex for stimulating this debate – because that’s where we make progress, with wide open debate. But whilst the debate is underway let’s also not stall creative innovation that could lead us to a better place for all. Let’s think bigger, aim higher and celebrate the fact we’re not going to stop until travel is a good and fair deal for all involved.

    Hope to see other Tnooz readers at ITB to continue this debate in person over a stein of beer!

     
  11. Samantha Tyers

    Liking your article Alex, thought provoking as ever. A few comments….

    1 & 2. Go hand in hand and means that it can become an exclusive game, with suppliers not empowered and potentially exploited. More transparency also has to be good for the consumer as well as the intermediary and supplier brand.

    3. There’s a difference between local proactive entrepreneurialism, which is particularly prevalent in SEAsia, and the exploitation of local people who don’t know any differently. This is particularly important in what are considered higher risk activities, which puts local individuals and consumers at risk.

    As a former dive professional I have to say the industry sets a reasonably good example for the P2P marketplace. Local individuals who have grown up in the oceans can be supported responsibly as well as have access to a potential career path.

    4. And Anna, yes I quite agree, it risks leaving neither the provider or customer satisfied.

     
  12. Anna Pollock

    Great article Alex
    I’d add a fourth – not checking and getting the provider to sign off on the description and photos used to display the listing. Some intermediaries write their own copy without proper consultation. When there’s a difference between what the provider is selling and the customer is receiving, then both guest and host suffer but the intermediary often remains ignorant of the discrepancy while banking the commission.

     
  13. Peter Syme

    Good article Alex

    As you might guess I have some views on the points.

    1. Suppliers can sort this by not providing product to those who will not disclose the name of their name. We all know that if tours and activities are turned into commodity products they will cease to exist because the volume does not exist that would allow commodity pricing. And yes you are 100% correct that those who do not name are just playing the numbers game and do not really care about their suppliers.

    2. Again suppliers have to take some responsibility as they are in business and if they are daft enough to be parted with hard earned cash without getting proof of what they get in return then the should be asking themselves some hard questions. Your other point about content is 100% relevant. I have over 50 different product sets but I do not have the time to upload these on all the different distribution platforms, especially , if you do not know if they will work our not. We currently test them with a few products and if they sell we then upload more and so on.

    On upfront costs, my best suppliers have never ever asked for an upfront cost and why would they? They make more by selling for a commission. It is a fair bet that if upfront costs are involved minimum sales will follow, as the business model of the seller is best at least partially on selling advertising to suppliers.

    3. Disaster waiting to happen, I have been looking at several of these sites recently and they are not asking for insurance, qualifications, risk assessments or any of the basics that are needed if you are entering into a commercial transaction. It is only a matter of time before the legal cases start flying.

     
  14. Alex Narracott

    Hi Alex,

    Great article. In a nutshell, couldn’t agree more. To share our experiences at Much Better Adventures; we came into the industry as relative novices to the web startup game, but with a good understanding of the operator and consumer perspective. Perhaps that helped us to avoid some of these approaches.
    1) was a conscious decision we made right at the start to never obscure the provider. It is the easy option as a commission based business to protect your source, but ultimately does the consumer and the provider no favors.. very short termist.
    2)Arguably we have been guilty of this in the past. we are reward based (tho do have an annual account option), but do have a time requirement on the supplier part to get loaded. As you well know, even a couple of years back not that many suppliers in this game had the product there to be loaded, so as a cash poor start up we didnt invest time in it. Happily thats changing (nice one), and so are we;)
    3) um, yes. i think it is easy to overlook this if you are a hungry entrepreneur looking for a gap in the p2p market, rather than somene with a travel background coming at it. Understanding the quirks of niche travel is so undervalued in a lot of startups!

    Our new demo site is not far away now, looking forward to getting your brutal feedback on it!

    cheers

     
 
 

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