From Priceline Group's acquisition of the OTA Booking Suite to TripAdvisor's acquisition and subsequent integration of Viator, to Airbnb's testing of "Experiences", OTAs are beginning to play a larger role in the travel industry, affecting how travellers plan and book their next holiday.
Here are 5 reasons why OTAs, or online travel agents, are dominating the tour and activity segment like never before.
1. Metasearch engines and aggregate platforms are still useful
Expedia and Kayak both started out as metasearch platforms, aggregating data from all parts of the web and aggregating it onto one single platform, allowing travellers to easily compare offers.
By including tours and activities in the mix, travellers can also compare prices and offers for similar products, allowing them to get the best value for their buck/euro/pound/kronor.
2. On-demand booking
OTAs offer real-time availability, something that has only hit the scenes thanks to incredible technological advancement. Travellers can choose when they'd like to book a tour and find a tour or activity that fits their itinerary. This could mean a last-minute booking a night before or an hour before.
Travellers can also make a booking outside the regular 9 to 5 working hours which means tour and activity businesses continue to generate sales even when they're asleep.
Not all travellers carry a laptop or have access to a computer while travelling but they definitely have a smartphone or a tablet. Many OTAs are optimised for mobile devices, allowing travellers to book and even pay for a tour from their tiny screens. What more, most tours sold on OTAs do not require a paper ticket, making it easy for travellers to just show up and enjoy the experience.
4. Access to a wider audience
Unlike regular tour and activity companies who might not always have large budgets or expertise to market their products, OTAs do. In fact, it is in their interest to market their platform and your products because they only make money when you sell a tour. Therefore, they are likely to have a larger marketing budget and the ability to hire the right talent to make your products shine brightly and stand out in the cluttered internet world.
5. Integrated reviews play an important role in decision making
Major OTAs have also integrate reviews and recommendations from other travellers, an important factor in the decision making process. Just like how TripAdvisor is built on great and objective reviews, so are your tours. It is through these reviews that your customers get a realistic view of your product and are able to make an informed purchase decision.
Read this great article to help you get more reviews on TripAdvisor.
What does this mean for your tour or activity company?
Firstly, do not neglect your direct distribution channel, i.e. your website. It is where you are free to build your brand and tell the world what your company is about in your own voice. It is also unwise to neglect your social media profiles because it's an easy and free way to engage with your audience.
However, it is also bad business practice to solely rely on one distribution channel. Tour and activity businesses should consider diversifying the channels used to market your products.
Finally, investing in infrastructure that can help you manage multiple distribution channels seamlessly will also come in handy. It lets you cut down on admin work, gives your customers real-time availability and allows you to focus on delivering the best possible experience to your customers.
Not sure which OTA to work with? We've done the research to help you get started.