Threat or opportunity? Tour firms weigh up Airbnb’s Trips impact

Threat or opportunity? Tour firms weigh up Airbnb’s Trips impact

Airbnb’s entry into the tours and activities sector announced this week has been welcomed as bringing a much higher profile to the sector.

Intrepid-owned city tour specialist Urban Adventures says Airbnb’s launch of Trips experiences planner and booking platform could be a threat or “massive opportunity”.

However, there are doubts the Peer to Peer [P2P] model will work for tours activities relying on a ‘host’ in destination to operate as a professional tour guide.

Tony Carne, general manager of Urban Adventures, said Airbnb will raise the profile of a growing sector that already sees firms provide tours and experiences for sale online and through the trade.

Carne said: “They [Airbnb] are the poster child of the sharing economy open marketplace. Many people have tried this in the past and the thing thy miss is your free time isn’t a disposable asset.

“What others have struggled with is while they have some of the best product ever offered it went on a platform and nothing happened for months.

“Then one person says I want to do this and the provider is suddenly busy but they may be doing something else at that time. You have got to have instant book and live availability.”

Carne added: “We’re very glad to see someone of the stature of Airbnb join us in this journey of creating really interesting and immersive local experiences.

“Ultimately their entrance will lift the profile of the thing we are most passionate about, the thing we’ve been working on day and night perfecting for more than seven years.”

Carne contrasted Airbnb’s scale at launch – Trips is available in 12 destinations whereas Urban Adventures has 157 in six continents – and said its tours are all professionally licenced and insured.

Questions about Airbnb’s entry into the market were also raised last week during World Travel Market at the annual Small Fish Big Ocean event.

Tourocity founder Alex Grant doubted whether the P2P sector was scalable as has been seen with the like of TripAdvisor-owned Viator and Get Your Guide.

He said the key to this was making product available for free sale by third parties. “There is a huge question mark around the P2P side. How can they solve this scale problem we all know about?”

Alex Bainbridge, chief executive officer at TourCMS, expected Airbnb to have a significant impact, but added:

“One of the main things is that tours need assets. Across TourCMS the top selling category is actually the transport to get people to an attraction.

“Without assets companies like Airbnb will really struggle, so if you are an asset-based tour operator don’t panic.”

Bainbridge added that professional tour firms can also drive the volumes that mean they can build deeper relationships with suppliers in a way an individual host in the sharing economy won’t be able to.

He said tours need access and it is volume and relationships that unlock this.

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