Ultimate guide to the specialist tour and in-destination activity market
This is an attempt to categorise all the key English speaking global players in tours and activities in one place (plus a few other interesting companies).
With growing interest from GDSs, leading online travel agencies and other bigger travel companies in this sector, and with Phocuswright having recently published a key report (as previously covered on Tnooz), I thought we needed to cast some light onto who is doing what and from where the key moves may come from.
There are 60 many(!) websites listed below in eight categories. In particular the focus is on adventure travel, specialist travel and in resort tours/experiences.
I have excluded tour verticals such as educational tours, group travel, sports fan tourism, ski, sailing etc in order to make the article achievable to research and write.
I have also excluded regional companies, although a few have been added into the final group of otherwise uncategorised companies.
These are all product-focused companies, meaning I have also excluded websites that are editorial-led, are mainly travel guides or are pure applications with no tour product content.
Within each category the websites are listed in alphabetical order. The numbers are sourced from public information or have been provided specifically for this article.
NB: Four companies have revealed numbers that have never been made public before. Thank you to them.
1. Transactional companies
Definition – when they sell, they sell in their name (the ultimate supplier is obfuscated or they are delivering the product themselves)
Single day tours:
- City Discovery – Lists 5,000 tours & activities including some multi-day. Bookings come via trade (7500 travel agents), their website (6 million visitors annually) and big website affiliations (Opodo, Travelocity Nordic, Go Voyages). 8% commission on transfers, 6% on all tours & activities. 16 languages. 200,000 pax per year.
- DoSomethingDifferent – UK based
- Expedia – Centrally contract product for online booking.
- Get Your Guide – Picking up great partnerships with German speaking European travel websites. 3,000 products. 6% affiliate commission.
- Grayline – A consortium of 123 independently owned sightseeing tour companies. Annual sales $950 million USD. 25 million pax per year. 4,000 tours in 700 destinations worldwide.
- GTA Travel – Approx 600K tours, 300K transfers sold annually. Now owned by Kuoni
- Isango – Day tours, day tours packaged with hotels. English, German, French. 5,000 tours. From 5% affiliate commission. Size undisclosed but more pax than City Discovery and less than Viator. Partners include: Jet2, Travelsupermarket and Bestattravel in the UK; Orbitz and Hertz in the US; Qantas in Australia; Accor Group of Hotels in France; Yatra, India.com, Makemytrip in India.
- MyDestinationInfo – Network of editorial based destination websites. Lists day tours with enquiry requests to suppliers
- Orbitz – Centrally contracted product for online booking.
- Reserve 123 – 11,000 tours & activities
- Travelocity Experience finder – With full online booking capabilities. Interesting flash based UI.
- Urban Adventures – Joint venture between WHL Group and Intrepid. 15,000 pax in year one. Integrated with Expedia, Viator, STA Travel, Flight Centre, GTA, GetYourGuide, Qantas Holidays, Kuoni, Tourico.
- Viator – 6,000 tours, 9 languages, 1,000 affiliates. Have 250,000 closed loop tour reviews. Partners include: American Airlines, British Airways, easyJet, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Priceline, lastminute.com, Opodo, eBookers, Zuji, AAA, ARC, Amadeus, Flight Centre, STA Travel.
- Zozi – Daily deals for day tours / experiences. VC funded to tune of 11 million USD (See Tnooz coverage)
- Excursiopedia – marketplace for day and multi-day tours
- Gap Adventures – 100,000 pax annually, 160 million CAD annual booking revenue. 800 employees. Run a 5% affiliate programme.
- Holidaybreak – Explore, Regal Dive, Djoser, TravelWorks – group does £95 million per year in their adventure travel division. Also has camping, hotel and other divisions
- TUI/Peak – New group formed in February 2011. The group consists of over 20 businesses with combined revenue of circa £230 million. 340,000 pax per year. Brands in the group: Adventure Center, The Adventure Company, Adventure Tours Australia, Country Walkers, Exodus, Gecko’s, Guerba, Headwater, Imaginative Traveller, Intrepid Suntrek, Intrepid Travel, Oz Experience, Peregrine, Pinnacle Tours, Sawadee, TrekAmerica and WesternXposure. Official TUI announcement.
The key challenge of this sector is that in order to be transactional you need the date/price/availability data – or be selling a product where if you send through a booking to your local supplier they are able to handle it.
Watch for moves away from working on allocations and “fax/email the supplier” towards direct reservation system connections. Thankfully this isn’t quite as traumatic as the concept of direct connections in the airline sector as there aren’t any GDSs to disintermediate.
When considering numbers (that you may privately hold but are not in the list above), in particular for single day tours, do bear in mind the proportion of airport transfers that make up the business. These are low revenue but can inflate pax numbers significantly.
2. Tour advertising
Definition: When a customer clicks on an advert they are immediately directed to the supplier or agent website (whoever purchased the advert). Normally PPC but can be CPA.
- Adnet Media – UK based with a global network of publishers
- adprecision – UK based. Mainly link up with travel sections of leading UK newspapers.
Also, don’t forget – Google and Bing both work well for direct tour product advertising.
3. Advertising, but via a third party website
Definition: These are advertising-based models and the traffic is ultimately sent to the supplier’s own website, but before then the consumer must navigate functionality on site.
- AdventureFinder – Owned by Orbitz.
- Adventure Sports Holidays – 6,000 tours listed
- StepUpTravel – Advertising based, local tour operators listing directory of interesting local experiences
- TourRadar – Nice search that publishers can put on their website. Also a facebook application for tour operators and a reviews system. TLabs article.
- Wanderlust Trip Finder – UK Magazine
- YouGoDo – CPM based activity / experience / tour directory. Multi-lingual.
4. “Request” goes to the supplier
Definition: Due to the lack of date / price / availability distribution within this sector (and some quite ropey supplier websites with poor conversion potential) a popular model is to send through enquiry requests from the website through to the supplier.
- Groupenture – The first group buying marketplace for adventure tours [TLabs Showcase – Groupenture].
- iExplore – Launched 1999. 1 million web visitors per month. Owned by TUI.
- Kumutu – Also includes affiliate programme and various distribution tools for suppliers.
- Responsible Travel – One of the most effective providers of leads in the sector. In 2010 they received over 86,000 enquiries (that were sent out to suppliers). 10% conversion. 1000 tour operators listed. 4,000 tours. 20+ staff.
The challenge all these companies have is getting access to dates, price and availability information from multiple suppliers. Extranets are too complex and rarely kept upto date by suppliers.
As a result there are quite a few on this list with little traction. TUI with iExplore could now access a major part of the sector and live dates, prices, availability as TUI have such a deep investment in the product providers themselves (and their reservation systems)
5. Incoming locals (as individuals)
Definition: Rather than dealing with tour operators, this list focusses on individual tour guides and other locals who provide interesting experiences or assistance in resort.
- A Friend in Berlin (Single city)
- Dine with locals – Host receives $30 per person, guests pay $46 per person. Nice simple idea!
- iGottaGuide – Experiences in New York
- Local Guiding – 10% paid upfront to Local Guiding, 90% paid to supplier in destination [TLabs Showcase – Local Guiding]
- My Creative Tours – FREE service to customers and locals.
- Omoly – Take 6% from the supplier (and credit card fee). Supplier local therefore keeps ~94%
- Our Explorer – 10% paid upfront to Our Explorer, 90% paid to supplier in destination. Now owned by Viator (See TNooz coverage)
- Rent A Guide (German)
- Responsible Travel – Plan to enter this sector but haven’t announced exactly what they are doing. Website says: “From summer 2011 small tourism service providers – accommodation, day trip operators, guides, organic restaurants or those serving local produce, craft markets, museums, parks, etc will be able to build and manage your own page on responsibletravel.com for FREE.” Better known for its very successful lead generation service for multi-day tours, so will be interesting to see what they do in the day tour sector.
- Shioube – find your local guide
- Skyara – Take 12% from the supplier (including credit card fee). Local travel experiences.
- Tours by Locals – 3289 tours and 970 guides. 100% payment upfront, 20% retained by Tours by Locals, no affiliate programme. In 2010 sold 2530 tours and are growing rapidly. In January 2010 sold 62, January 2011 sold 434.
- Tripbod – Currently running a travel advice and planning service using locals to provide expertise to travellers, including on the Visit Britain DMO/CVB website (See Tnooz coverage). As per a recent pitch announced a new model launching at some point soon. Based on 10% retention, 90% going to the local in the destination.
- TripColony – A social network for travellers. Also has a “search locals” service to find local companions
- Vayable – Take 15% from the supplier (and credit card fee) and 3% from the consumer. Local travel experiences.
- WhosMyGuide – Global directory of tour guides
The challenge with incoming locals is that named individuals do not scale too well. They may not want to work every weekend meeting travellers. Yet scale is required to sustain the marketing, technology and customer service functions provided by the central business (due to the low value nature of these experiences a high volume must be sold)
Therefore there is a temptation to work with local tour operators (in an individual capacity) to “back fill” the individuals these companies already have on their books. That scales better but at high volume the central company has to provide date / price / availability systems just like conventional tour operator businessses need – which over a multiple supplier scenario becomes complex.
The alternative temptation is to create a product without a named individual who will provide it (therefore, operationally, it can be delivered by multiple people).
However at that point the central company is recreating what a good local tour operator does anyway (but over multiple individuals that the central website must operationally manage rather than under more efficient local tour operator management).
That would also remove one of the delights of this sector and that is a traveller being able to select an individual with individual personality and interests. Kind of defeats the object of the exercise and what makes working with individuals unique.
One solution to the scale problem maybe is to run this service on top of Facebook with a social layer eg. Bootsnall Traveler connect or AFAR connect. Plenty of companies with applications aimed at helping travellers meet other travellers but the two just listed also help connect travellers to locals. These are not travel product based solutions though (this article focusses on travel product solution players)
Heavily on the plus side this product type is very inspirational, easily distributed (until one sells tours rather than individuals) and could be an amazing way to differentiate one airline/hotel OTA from another.
However when it comes to onward product distribution only ToursByLocals are taking sufficient % off the local individual to run a successful revenue share partnership model and retain sufficient margin to run the central business, as far as I can work out from the public numbers available.
The low transaction revenue also cuts down PPC direct marketing opportunities as the companies selling the multi-day tours can dominate the destination tour keywords as their revenues are higher per clickthrough.
Tours and activities are complex but this is the really tough end as you have to deal with automated high transaction volume, handle individuals that one has little operational control over and not cross too much into the tours provision sector (which would cut down partnership opportunities as there are already many incoming tour providers available via nascent distribution channels).
This is my favourite category for where interesting things are going to come from. Well, if someone can work out how to unlock the really big marketing and operational challenges it faces!
6. Reservation system providers with distribution layers
Definition: Effectively these companies provide the back office systems to specialist tour operators. As a result they maintain the live dates, prices & availability data and also travel agent ledgers and business relationships. All distributors should be connecting through to this layer but sadly few do!
- Rezgo – Estimate 170,000 pax for 12 months to end August 2011. Primarily scheduled activities & excursions
- TourCMS – Estimate 150,000 to 200,000 pax for 12 months to end of 2011. Mainly multi-day. Booking engine in 18 languages. (Disclaimer, this is the business I run!)
There are many other reservation systems who could be in this list but they are either locally focussed, non distributing or non specialist in tours/activities.
Penetration of these systems is low with only 14% of tour operators in this sector having any kind of reservation system (Source: PhoCusWright). Massive opportunity!
7. GDS style
Definition: This is equally nascent! One problem these companies have is there are very few distributors and very few reservation systems. Hence the ROI for connections between players is generally met without the need for the same kind of plumbing that is required in hotels/airlines.
- Inntopia – 250,000 activity, event and ground shuttle reservations annually
- iSeatz – Ties in with many airline systems
- Ticket AD – City based product content (130,000 bookable services)
- Unaira – 10,000 products, agents/affiliates earn 40% of Unaira’s net revenue [NOW Closed]
8. Assorted others worth a mention
If you can work out where these should be positioned please say in the comments!
- Alan1 – Leading day tour website in Japan.
- Azur Ever – French meta-search sending bookings mainly via existing transactional online travel agents [TLabs Showcase]
- BeTravellers – Regionally strong in central Asia but potential to go wider.
- Epic Tomato – A tour operator selling high end adventure travel. Listed here because it is interesting to see how top end adventure travel is promoted. Website is worth a look.
- Fobo Travel – Tours & activities in south east asia
- Goby – US based things to do
- GoDo – Australia – Now owned by Wotif.
- Google – Google organic is still the largest source of business for most specialist tour operators. Additionally there is still the intrigue regarding the shut down of the Ruba travel website. Ruba used to have a great specialist tour operator search function but the team who built that are currently working for Google… conspiracy theories abound! Tnooz coverage on Ruba/Google. See this nice note left on the old Ruba homepage..
- Kijubi – Great set of tours and activities in USA. Not global hence not in one of the categories above. [TLabs Showcase – Kijubi]
- Lastminute.com – Non global. Have a central contracting team for tours / activities.
- Smart Destinations – US based tours/activity discount/prepaid cards. 1 million pax in 2010.
- TogFrog – Videos of tours/activities like this one of shooting a rocket launcher at a cow. Site includes indicative prices. Too editorial based for this article but added as it is interesting to see a video lead site…
- Tourdust – Proving that a small agent with a great web attitude can push into this sector effectively. Not many agents in this sector actually. Not surprising when most specialist tour operators (multi-day) are running on 100% sales that require some kind of human intervention to aid the sale.
- Trekiz – Tours of china. Has an interesting multi-day trip planning user interface
- Trusted Adventures – Interesting to list here because it is a consortium of 10 tour operators who have grouped together to market via a single website. Perhaps a sign of how the future might be? I have also seen day tour activity operators tie up with hotels to create a single website selling multi-night tours (using the hotel for accommodation). Membership list
- Zerve – Booking platform for day tours – but without customer facing front end featuring multiple suppliers. Understood to charge about 15% to suppliers to be listed. Mainly US based
Phew, what a list
In case you weren’t paying attention, here are the companies that appear more than once…. TUI, WHL Group, Viator, Orbitz, ResponsibleTravel.com.
Feel free to suggest sites and companies I have missed out in the comments below. This was the first go at creating something of this scale (well, since Yahoo did human-edited web directories in 1995)
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.