Former Travolution director of events and sponsorship Charlotte Lamp Davies reviews the recent Technology Tours and Activities Forum at ITB Berlin
By Charlotte Lamp Davies, principal consultant, A Bright Approach
One of the highlights of my new career as an independent consultant was when I was invited to host and moderate the inaugural Technology Tours and Activities Forum at this year’s ITB Berlin.
The tours and activities sector – to which you can add events, attractions and food but let’s use T&A as the shorthand – is the most exciting part of the travel industry at the moment.
For operators, sellers and the tech suppliers connecting the two, T&A is enjoying its time in the spotlight.
Phocuswright claims this sector is bigger than cruise, bigger than car rental and rail and will be worth in excess of $183 billion by 2020.
And one of the keynote speakers, Mark Rizzuto from tech platform LIVN, thinks that PCW has underestimated this figure.
An investor in the sector, Jonne de Leeuw from HPE Capital, told the business audience that consolidation is inevitable, with OTAs in particular looking at T&A as a cost-effective lead-generation channel for their core products.
The reason that the industry has started to pay attention is that tours and activities are the most exciting part of the travel experience for travellers.
As many speakers and panelists said during the TTA Forum, what people remember from their trip is not the airport, the flight, or the hotel room, it’s what they did, what they saw, what they ate.
It is the experience that counts.
The wonderful people at Arival, a new event for the tours and activities sector, have summed up tours and activities as “the best part of travel.” They’re not wrong.
One of the today’s default travel conference conversations is around “changes in consumer behaviour”.
T&A operators, sellers and tech providers are also exposed to how travellers search, shop and book.
Milena Nikolova who works as director of knowledge and education for the Adventure Travel Trade Association, brought a fresh slant on this for the TTA Forum in Berlin.
It helps that Milena is also an expert in behavioural economics, specialising in travel. Her session concentrated on what’s known as the behaviour-smart approach.
Many speakers referenced that half of people (give or take) book their T&A within two days of departure or during their trip.
The human brain, it was argued, has two systems for decision-making. System one is for the spontaneous – “what will we do tomorrow?” – while System two is for the more considered – “where will we go on holiday?”
T&A suppliers need to recognise that people decide to purchase their product using the System one mindset and make sure that their business is geared up accordingly.
Being mobile-friendly is just the beginning.
A subset of consumer behaviour is “social media”. Matt Cluckson from Klook spoke about Asian millennials but his comments had a global resonance.
Instagram is rapidly becoming a source of inspiration for travellers searching things to do, but he noted that it’s not just the pictures they look at, they also read the comments.
T&A suppliers should already look at and respond to reviews on the obvious channels like TripAdvisor, but should start looking at what Instagrammers say as well as are snapping.
Customer acquisition is another travel conference standby, of which social media marketing is an important part. Gordon Freiherr von Godin from Berlin’s DDR Museum explained that he uses Facebook ads to promote special exhibitions held within the museum to a specific audience.
Customers can also be acquired through partnerships. Urban Adventures (UA) has linked up with The New York Times to run cobranded tours based on the paper’s 36 hours in… column. UA’s Klaudija Janzelj, Global Sales Director, said this was a great example of how T&A operators can think beyond the traditional travel industry to widen brand awareness and attract new business.
An essential part of the customer acquisition conversation is knowing who your customers are – even before they become customers. Brendan Roberts, Global Head of Business Development, from TourRadar explained how different types of festivals require a different approach to search and marketing.
He referenced suggested three types of festival, each of which can be broken down further. There are festivals which take place at multiple locations (such as St Patrick’s Day), festivals which are single-destination events (The Edinburgh Festival) and generic festivals (beer festivals). He said operators needed to know – or at least think about – what type of festival they were in order to make sure they got in front of the right audience.
The T&A space is a world where partnerships are as important as they are inevitable. Partnerships exists between the tech supplier and the operator, the tech supplier and the seller, the operator and the destination, the destination and the OTA and many other combinations. There will be commercial parameters dictating the balance of power in the partnerships, but there really does appear to be room for everyone.
Today’s travellers want memorable experiences which is where the operators’ strength lies. Operators need to access an audience, which is where the sellers come in. And the tech suppliers need inventory and distributors, which is where both come in.
Tours, activities, events, attractions and food are the best part of travel. And let’s face it, when the networking drinks at the biggest travel trade show in the world are sponsored by a children’s science festival called The Children of Doom, you know that tours and activities is the place to be.