Opportunities for travel entrepreneurs to exploit the tours and activities sector are pinned to mobile and in-destination services, last week’s Phocuswright Europe conference heard.
Delegates at the annual event in Dublin were told that the relative lack of internet penetration in a global sector, said to be worth in excess of $50 billion, offered plenty of opportunity.
But it was questioned whether it was a sector at all, given that scores of firms have entered the market but there has not been the sort “blow out” success seen in other areas of travel.
Barrie Seidenberg, Viator chief executive and president, said: “For the market to unlock real potential it has to be in mobile and in destination.
“Mobile ticketing is something that consumers really want.”
Alessandro Petazzi, chief executive and co-founder of concierge service Musement, said the sector was not a single segment but had to be seen as separate individual markets.
He said this depended on the nature of the activity. Some are essential to a trip, like going to see a sporting event, or show, and others are not crucial but are better booked in advance.
But he said there is a long tail of activities and attractions that people know they can just turn up on the day and get in.
“The problem there is information and discovery. You are not necessarily aware that something exists.
“That’s why we have editorial information that allows you to search for things that are relevant to you. We think that’s the way to enhance the experience for consumers.
Johannes Reck, GetYourGuide chief executive, said: “Personalisation is going to be the end game of this industry. It’s going to be massively important.
“However, I feel very strongly all of us are just getting ready to serve the fat tail. Even the top 20 things to do are not really penetrated online.
“The long tail will make a big difference over the next 10 years. Do we flip this sector online? We are doing a massive shift online.”
Seidenberg said merchandising is a key challenge, particularly on mobile and becoming a sidekick for the tourist by surfacing interesting and meaningful recommendations in destination.
Reck agreed, noting that there were major players all vying to crack this.
“The broader tectonic shift is the big platforms like Google and the big OTAs taking an interest in serving travel in destination, and they do have a lot of data.
“Suggesting relevant things when people are on the go, this is the platform we will all leverage growth from over the next couple of years.”
Asked about the prospect of Airbnb getting into promoting local off the beaten track experiences to add to its hospitality peer to peer model, Seidenberg said:
“There is a pace for peer to peer but it’s not an either or. I don’t think people will stop going to the Eiffel Tower, but they will use Viator to find out how to better experience the Eiffel Tower.”
Reck was more dismissive of Airbnb’s prospects. “I do not think that the peer to peer market exists in tours and activities.
“You can only do that if you are a professional. It’s a professional market of small independent providers.”
He dismissed Airbnb’s recent ‘Live There’ campaign as a “publicity stunt”.
Petazzi said: “If a host is going to provide that service on a consistent basis he is turning into a professional.
“Otherwise you’re providing a service once in a while and you are not providing any value to the consumer and therefore it’s not a service.”
Seidenberg said: “I don’t think it’s a publicity stunt. It’s something that Airbnb really want to do. I do not think they are expecting to make a lot of money out of it.”