A few months ago, we were excited to announce our partnership with Viator Marketplace, the only online travel agent that allows customers to book a tour or activity directly from TripAdvisor.
This week we are delighted to share an exclusive interview with Ken Frohling, VP of Business Development at Viator. We discuss all things Viator, talk about industry trends and what it means to be a tour and activity operator in the digital age.
This article is a bit different from our typical long-form Spotlight article, but as it was so full of insider tips and useful advice, we wanted to keep it just as it is. So, here’s how our interview with Ken went.
Q. Hi. Can you introduce yourself and your role in Viator?
KF: I’m Ken Frohling, VP in charge of business development for Viator. I work directly with our various partners from across the travel spectrum. I’m happy to be chatting with you today.
Q. Viator began by handpicking tour and activity suppliers to be promoted on the site. Now, interested tour and activity suppliers are allowed to sign up, promote and sell their tours. Why did Viator decide to open up their platform to other suppliers?
KF: Viator Marketplace represents an exciting new chapter for Viator, as we are now the only direct solution for the world’s tour and activity providers to sell their products through TripAdvisor. Operating an open-listing platform enables us to screen new suppliers and publish new products, add more products from existing partners; and expand into new destinations quicker and more efficiently than we had before.
In addition to the benefits it provides us by way of efficiently scaling our offering both for the benefit of Viator customers and TripAdvisor users, our new platform also provides our suppliers with “do-it-yourself” tools that enable them to self-load products, create their own tour descriptions, add images, manage availability and bookings, and directly connect with the traveller – all with a simplified payment process.
Q. Does Viator take any steps to ensure that the tours and activities on the platform are of a certain standard? If so, what are the criteria and how can suppliers make sure that they get the opportunity to distribute their tours on your channel?
KF: Viator’s global sales team is charged with verifying each supplier’s relevant credentials – from licensing to applicable insurance and more – before the products are published. We also routinely evaluate our traveller reviews to make sure our supplier partners are maintaining a high level of service in the products they offer.
The best advice for a new supplier is to have all business documentation in order before signing up through the Marketplace portal to help simplify their onboarding process.
Q. What is the sign up process like for tour and activity operators?
KF: We have a simple and straightforward sign-up process that any interested suppliers can check out here. From there, suppliers will be contacted directly by the appropriate account manager as necessary to submit additional information and discuss specific contract terms. It’s a very straightforward process.
Q. One area of concern suppliers have is that their company and brand is not mentioned on the platform. This means that when customers sign up for a tours, they think of Viator and not the company supplying the tour. This seems to be a problem for some tour and activity suppliers. Do you have any thoughts or comments on this?
KF: We’ve been in the business of selling tours and activities for about 20 years, and what we have found is that our customers aren’t typically searching for “Joe’s San Francisco Segway Tour;” they’re searching for “San Francisco Segway Tour.” They rely on the fact that we’ve identified reputable operators so their focus can be on identifying the individual elements of each tour, and activities that are just right for them. In some cases we do include the name of the supplier where we think it will help aid travelers further in their decision-making.
Q. What changes have you noticed in the tour and activity industry, and what do you think is the next step forward for tour and activity suppliers who interact with travellers on a daily basis?
KF: One of the most significant changes in tours and activities has been in connectivity. For a sector that has historically relied on hand-written ledgers and word-of-mouth or concierge recommendations, the opportunities suppliers have these days to connect their services to a world of self-directed travellers is a real game changer.
There’s still a certain level of reluctance among some suppliers to adopt the technologies that will help them manage their own businesses in a way that is far more efficient and profitable. But research shows that the majority of travellers wait until they are in destination to book their local activities so that means mobile.
Being able to meet that need – giving travelers last-minute access to their services by way of mobile – will be critical to that relationship.
Q. How has Viator as a marketplace changed too? What trends have you noticed on your platform?
KF: A trend we’ve seen growing over the last couple of years is a focus on “access” – tours that feature a special element of access that the traveller couldn’t replicate on their own.
Skipping the line, before and after-hours entry, private tours, and VIP experiences like adding the ability to visit to off-limits areas, are all differentiators that help drive interest.
Q. Do you have any advice for suppliers to make the most of Viator? How can they thrive in an increasingly competitive space?
KF: There’s no such thing as “TMI” in travel. Providing travellers with the information they need to make informed decisions will help set their products apart from the crowd. What makes their tour special? What are the memories a traveller will take away from their experience?
Set yourself apart from the crowd by painting that picture. Also, doing everything you can to make your inventory bookable on-the-fly and at the last minute by adopting new connectivity solutions will pay off.
Q. Any other business advice you’d like to share with tour and activity operators?
KF: For most people travel is a true luxury, every element is a carefully considered purchase. This holds true especially for the “things you do when you get there.”
Our supplier partners are passionate about what they do, and, do a great job at providing our customers and their clients with amazing destination experiences.
Doing everything they can to make the backend more efficient and their inventory more accessible enables them to focus on what they’re passionate about – helping travelers create life-long memories.
Are you interested in finding out how TrekkSoft integrates with Viator? Let's arrange a call.
Written by Nicole Kow
Having graduated from the UK, Nicole travelled around Europe before joining TrekkSoft's marketing team. She is now based in KL and regularly blogs about her travels at Next Train Out.