What. A. Week. With more than 10.000 tourism professionals from around the world coming together - learning, networking and sharing ideas - it has been truly inspiring days at Arival and ITB in Berlin.
Reflecting back on the events, there are five key take-aways that really stood out and are likely to make a big impact on the industry going forward.
Below we have summarised what we think were the highlights and the most talked-about topics for tour and activity booking in 2019 and beyond.
1. Booking.com is launching a new product category
During a demo lab at Arival, Booking.com announced upcoming plans to invest further into the product category Experiences. A soft introduction to the project was rolled out in Amsterdam and the Netherlands, where the company is headquartered.
The, still, beta initiative involves an independent product category, making it possible for travellers to browse available tours and activities in their chosen destination before booking a hotel on their website.
TV advert currently aired on British ITV
Other big news included the flat 20% commission rate for tour and activity companies listing with the online marketplace.
2. Channel Manager
Channel management was one of the key topics during the event week in Berlin. Yet, we noticed there is still a lot of confusion around the topic. Christian Landis, General Manager at Best of Switzerland Tours, suggested having a channel manager in place is one of the main ways in which to cut down operational costs. It is also one of the key-enabler behind a balanced distribution strategy.
So what exactly is a Channel Manager? It is a back-end solution enabling you to connect and sell your tours through multiple channels, operating via one platform for centralised management and stock availability status. A Channel Manager allows you to have one API connection between your booking system and OTAs as appose to multiple APIs. It is usually faster due to a larger bandwidth, plus a good Channel Manager should always be adding more OTA connections to its platform.
Christian Landis' recommendation is to find a solution for both the content (tour description) and pricing. You can read more about TrekkSoft's Channel Manager, which includes both of these functions.
3. Scalability vs. Sustainability
In a roundtable discussion, Andrew Aley, Regional Director of Supply at Tripadvisor Experiences, revealed more and more of his conversations with tour operators are based around how to increase their bookings, rather than the level of their commission rates.
OTAs can be a great way to grown and scale your business and reach new audiences. Christian Landis, General Manager at Best of Switzerland Tours, pointed out during our workshop Working with OTAs - so it works for you the importance of working with - not only one - but multiple OTAs to maximise bookings. In addition, tour and activity companies can benefit from an in-destination network of local hotels and tourist offices.
Whilst tour operators want increased bookings and sales, lately, we have seen consequences of over-tourism putting a strain on the environment and local community in the destinations. Sustainable tourism in Europe was a big topic at this years Arival, exploring ways to tackle this which serves everyone involved. Anula Galewska, Responsible Business Manager at Urban Adventures, showed us during a roundtable debate that this is not necessarily a threat to tourism, but a business opportunity.
Sustainability labelled programmes could include efficient energy use, bio fueled vehicles, locally sourced products and banning plastics such single-use bags, cups, utensils and straws.
4. Acquired or independent booking systems?
The big acquisitions in 2018 (Bokun by TripAdvisor and FareHarbor by Booking.com) sparked hot debates around how much influence OTAs should have over the tour and activity industry and their bookings. This continued to be a key topic at Arival.
It is not in the long-term interest to operators to have all your data in one place"
Tao Tao, Co-Founder & COO, GetYourGuide
During the "Ask me anything" session with GetYourGuide (GYG), Co-Founder and COO Tao Tao dismissed any plans of acquiring their own booking system with the motivation that they don't see it as a benefit to neither them or the suppliers. “It is not in the long-term interest to operators to have all your data in one place.”
Disagreeing TripAdvisor were the only platform arguing that linking your reservation system with OTA can increase bookings.
Related reading: Should your booking system be independent?
5. Dynamic pricing & yield management
Having long been a common practice for hotels and airlines, dynamic pricing based on supply and demand is starting to become more popular among tour and activity providers. In other words - traditional seasonal pricing might soon be a thing of the past, even among smaller operators who wish to grow their sales and improve their margins.
Sébastien Hourcaillou, IT & Yield Manager at Moulin Rouge, walked us through the steps towards their dynamic pricing model with intense engagement and follow-up discussions from the audience.
Dynamic pricing could used as a strategy to drive more last minute bookings, which was the no. 1 booking trend seen by tour operators surveyed for the TrekkSoft Travel Trends Report 2019. It is also a great way to drive demand to fill spare capacity prior to arrival.