Before low-cost travel became an experience everyone enjoyed, my mother grew up reading books when she wanted to explore the world. She didn't know that Buttercups were flowers until she touched one on her first visit to England in her late 20s. Today, the internet has replaced the role books once played, and much of the travel experience begins online and at home.
Last week, Airbnb joined Viator and GetYourGuide to offer virtual experiences. Given the sudden halt in the travel industry, many operators are wondering if going virtual could be a way to open up new revenue streams to stay afloat.
In this blog post, I explore the idea of creating virtual products, the types of virtual products I've come across so far, the pros and the cons, tips from companies already running virtual tours and how you can setup your TrekkSoft booking system to sell this new way of learning about the world.
Creating a virtual experience = Creating a new product
In a panel discussion hosted by Kelsey Tonner from Be A Better Guide, Avital Ungar of Avital Tours highlighted the difference in consumer behaviour when it comes to going on tour in-person and going on tour virtually. She noted how companies cannot simply take existing tours, record them, and post them online.
Daphne Tsevreni Co-founder of Clio Muse Tours also shared how their company intentionally created shorter programmes with a mix of fun facts, history and personal stories in their virtual tours to adapt to limited attention span of their audiences at home.
Types of virtual products
From what I can gather, these are the four broad categories virtual tours can fall in:
1. Pre-recorded tours
This is a recording of your tour that is shared with customers after they've paid. The on-demand recording could be of your guide sharing insights about a destination or a specific topic, or it could be a vlog-like recording of a tour around your destination.
Examples of this include Street Wisdom's Street Wisdom Comes Home video series.
2. Live tours
You could set up live tours using tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom or GoToWebinar. These types of experiences are great if you want to provide opportunities for interaction between your guide and your customers.
This category is where Airbnb's online experiences fall into.
3. Semi-immersive tours
These tours often involve a physical element whether it's something delivered to the customers' homes or something they are able to purchase themselves to prepare for the tour. It is then paired with some sort of virtual experience whether it's a live call or a recording.
Examples of this include wine or beer tastings at home, or Dewakan's Cook Like Dewakan Food Kit.
4. 360 tours
Got one of those 360 cameras? Now is a great time to experiment with the different 3D experiences you can create with them.
Examples of such tours include museum tours like the one offered by the National Art Gallery in London.
Advantages of virtual products
Apart from providing a new revenue stream for your company, going digital can also bring other advantages to your business.
Quick feedback loops
The good thing about digital products is that you are able to quickly gather feedback about the experience, improve the experience, launch the updated version, rinse and repeat.
You can use free tools like Google Forms to get feedback and turn this into valuable insights for your product.
We've extensively covered the pros and cons of working with resellers or becoming a reseller yourself. With digital tours, the sales process should not look very different from a real-world tour. You can use the same affiliate links you have in place with existing resellers to track sales and commissions.
Do take note of distribution costs when you price your digital product.
Great engagement tool
Digital tours can also be a great lead magnet to grow your existing mailing list, while also engaging and cultivating existing leads in your sales funnel. A well thought out virtual tour could give leads a taste of the real-life experiences you could offer them in the future.
Even if you decide that virtual tours isn't something you want to pursue, you should still be spending this downtime building up your list of leads so that you have a pool of potential buyers to reach out to when the time is right.
Disadvantages of virtual tours
What sort of blog post would this be if we ignored the potential downsides to going virtual? Here are a couple disadvantages to consider.
Competition for consumer attention
In his Arival Online Ask Me Anything interview, Tao Tao, COO of GetYourGuide noted that the online entertainment space is currently occupied by Netflix and online games. Let us not forget about how much time we also spend on social media sites, the latest trend being Tik Tok.
Given that not all companies have experience in creating and marketing digital experiences, attracting consumer attention in this cluttered space could be a challenge.
The industry is still experimenting
If we're honest with ourselves, the industry is experimenting with this new type of product, and no one can say with full confidence that this will work out.
Arival wrote recently how they too are sceptical that this pivot to digital can truly make a difference when compared to the loss in revenue from the current crisis.
"Much remains to be seen whether virtual tours can really compete for consumer attention and help operators through the downturn. But this wave of experimentation is sure to result in plenty of learnings and innovation that will make the Best Part of Travel even better."
What makes a good online tour?
Mini case study with Rachel Crowther on Street Wisdom Comes Home
Street Wisdom offers free walks in 42 countries around the world, helping people find answers to important questions in life and work by drawing inspiration around them. In light of the pandemic, they've released "Street Wisdom Comes Home". Rachel Crowther, producer at the organisation, shares why they decided to step into the digital space.
What sparked Street Wisdom to move into the digital space?
As the name suggests [the programme is] designed to be done out and about in the busy city streets, where people are (normally) rushing from A to B. The process helps people to slow down and notice what’s right in front of them. Recent events have unfortunately led most people to be confined to their homes, our pace of life has changed dramatically and we’ve all had to slow down and reflect. We realised that Street Wisdom was needed more than ever to guide us through these challenging times and we don’t have to be out and about to find inspiration, it’s all around us.
People have been using the Street Wisdom Comes Home process to find answers and inspiration in their own homes, on their bookshelf, in their kitchen - it’s been incredible. This is also a time in which people are thinking about what’s next: what do they want to do and be, what will the world be like or what do we want it to be like?
Street Wisdom founder, David Pearl, actually released a book at the start of the year all about how to navigate complex times with your inbuilt guidance system. It’s called Wanderful, you can read more about it here.
What are the top 3 things that make a good virtual experience?
1. The session is virtual but be prepared to go on a physical quest.
2. Wanderful the Street Wisdom book is an excellent aid. It guides you through the process and background, with exercises to try and real life experiences.
3. Nothing else. We like to say you don’t pay fees, you pay attention.
- Remind people to pay attention at the start of each experience. That includes closing other tabs in their browsers, silencing their phones and limiting other distractions.
- Self-guided tours can be a lot more interactive with printable guides to enhance the experience. Whether participants can draw on them, write on them or fold them into something fun, it's a good way to increase physical engagement throughout the experience.
Mini interview with Ingo Albrecht from Be A Better Guide
The team at Be A Better Guide have just launched a new programme called Virtual Tour Business to help operators transition into the world of digital. They've kindly offered our readers $200 off if you visit the site via this link. (And no, we don't get any commissions from this.)
What sort of tour companies should consider creating virtual experiences?
We have spent a lot of time researching virtual tour businesses and have found a huge variety of companies that have successfully launched virtual tours. We have seen food tours, history tours, cooking classes, online nature tours, virtual happy hours, guided tastings, online history trivia, zoo tours, virtual cultural tours of various cities, film experiences, virtual masterclasses, online seminars with experts and the list goes on.
So many tour companies are finding ways to move their content into a virtual format. Food tours were amongst the fastest to pivot using shipping services to send boxed food to people's homes but other companies are quickly catching up.
What are the top 3 things that make a good virtual experience?
There are many things that make a good virtual experience but it depends a little bit on how you plan to scale and monetize. A few things that lead to success are:
1. Harnessing the talent, expertise, and partners of the original tour business
2. Finding a format that gives your customer perceived value. This could be a personalized approach through live Q&A sessions, videos or experiences that share little hidden secrets, or things that provide immediate joy to your customers in the comfort of their home. People can't travel right now and if you give them the ability to experience, dream, and feel joy, you are helping them tremendously.
3. A product that gives a different approach than your traditional tours. This will allow it to continue having value even after travel restrictions are lifted.
- Start by asking what your customers value, then leverage on existing knowledge and expertise within your company to build an interesting experience.
- Digital products could be a consistent revenue stream in the long-run too.
Catch our webinar with Ingo and Kelsey to learn all about setting up virtual tours
Remember the technical stuff
1. Good internet connection - If you opt for a live virtual tour, having a stable connection is necessary for both you and your customers.
2. Reliable website to host your videos - If you opt to sell recorded tours, having a stable site to host your videos is important. A really basic tool you can use is YouTube. Simply upload the video to YouTube and make sure that it is "Unlisted" and only share the link with people who have paid you for your product.
3. Remind your customers about the technical stuff too - Just like how you would remind customers to bring a bottle of water with them on a trip, remind them to install Zoom before a call, or make sure that their camera and microphone works to fully enjoy the experience.
Marketplaces for Online Tours and Experiences
If you're not sure about rehauling your entire website for this experiment, here are some marketplaces where you can list your virtual tours.
Get Your Guide
The Tour Guy
How to use TrekkSoft to sell your digital products
I spoke to Licia Moura, one of out Account Managers at TrekkSoft for tips on how TrekkSoft users can set up their booking systems to process bookings for virtual tours.
How would operators set up their schedules for a pre-recorded tour?
I'd say the booking process would be the same. Users can set up vouchers with no start or end times, and no limit to how many people can purchase the tour.
How can operators automatically register customers for a live experience?
If they're using Zoom, they can use our integration with Zapier to automatically generate a new webinar or add guests to an existing webinar.
Can operators use the resource manager to notify guides and keep track of guides being allocated to a tour?
Yes, you can use the setup the resource manager to notify the guide and email them a guest manifest of the tour as well. You can also track when guides are being assigned to a tour by checking the resource calendar.
Learn how to setup your resource manager here.
Learn how to TrekkSoft can help you sell and manage your bookings