Since returning from WTM London on Wednesday, our headquarters in Interlaken has been buzzing with feedback and comments from conversations with customers, potential customers and industry leaders. We find conferences like these useful because we get a better idea of where the travel industry is headed.
When it comes to the travel tech space, particularly booking software for tour and activity companies, there were a lot of things to discuss given the two big acquisitions that happened earlier this year. What does it mean for other SaaS companies in the sector? How much control will tour and activity operators have over their distribution in the future? Will tours and activities succumb to the same fate as hoteliers and accommodation providers?
Eager to find out more, I decided to interview my colleagues about their experience at WTM London.
"At this moment, the industry is changing quickly and providers understand the need for a better solution, especially when it comes to channel management. Small companies, companies with their own solutions, companies with other booking software providers - everyone is looking for something better, something more connected," says Noemi, Business Development Consultant at TrekkSoft.
More companies understand the value of long-term stability
"I saw a big switch go on in the tours and activities industry - it's booming. (With the acquisitions), the big guys are becoming a fundamental part of the industry, developments are happening fast and the sector is becoming more established," said Pieter, our Business Development Manager.
It quickly became clear that larger and more established companies are concerned about the sustainability of their businesses. They want to be able to plan for the long term and this means having control over their inventory, prices and distribution channels. They want to work with companies who not only prioritise innovation, but companies who can also guarantee long-term certainty.
"There's a lot of interest in the tour and activities sector now. People see the value of this sector and companies understand the need for the tech. They want to have the right technology to support their growth. It's become a necessity," added Pieter.
It's about connectivity with other resellers, not just large OTAs
"There's a huge risk for companies who rely on one channel for distribution. An algorithm change, increase in commission rates or another business ranking higher than yours can severely impact your bookings," shares Olan, CEO at TrekkSoft.
"You need to be able to distribute but also keep margins up. If commissions get higher, companies will have to sell more tours to keep their profit margins up. For some companies, selling more tours isn't an easy option... and companies need the capacity to grow to make profits and invest back in their businesses."
"The key for growth is then to balance your distribution by having more sales outlets. Focus on direct channels and spread distribution across retail channels like travel agents, B2B distributors and of course, OTAs."
The future for tour and activity companies looks more interconnected than ever before. Meeting customers at various points in their travel booking journey is key and one way to do that is to work with resellers large and small, globally and locally.
Companies are looking for better solutions to manage their bookings
For companies with diversified distribution, Pieter says, "I see a big need for channel management for companies who rely on 4 to 6 people to manage their bookings from phone calls and emails from multiple sales channels."
"There's a big difference in getting connected and getting a good connection," adds David, our Product Manager. He continues, "Companies who are connected, even enterprise-level companies with their own booking solutions, have issues with mapping. They want to make sure that changes made on their booking systems are updated on OTA channels too. Currently, that's not always the case."
Independent booking software providers have an important role to play
At TrekkSoft, being independent allows us to work with more than one or two dominant industry players, and we believe that there is real value in that.
"If you believe that multi-channel distribution is key for your business, then you have to be in control with your distribution. Independent providers like us are concerned about providing services for you, not distribution partners," says Olan.
Our independence allows us to focus on what we do best, which is to build a great booking solution that assists your company's internal operations and improves booking management.
"When speaking to larger operators, they've shared their frustrations over OTAs insisting they adopt the OTA's "recommended booking system" to list their tours. Many suppliers are beginning to realise that they need to be careful about who they work with because they don't want to become overly reliant on only a handful of OTAs," adds David.
"One area that is still unsolved is that operators from different regions organise their bookings, reservations and invoices differently, which is something the SaaS sector can continue to develop," adds Noemi.
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