Digital Tourism Trends: How Will Partnerships Between Tour Operators and Online Travel Agencies Evolve?

THR's opinion

Digital Tourism Trends: How Will Partnerships Between Tour Operators and Online Travel Agencies Evolve?

For tour operators and online travel agencies (OTAs), bundling the option of reserving local tours and activities is increasingly common when reserving transport and housing for a trip.

The co-marketing of these previously separate services is beneficial to all parties involved: the OTA, the tour operator, and the end-consumer for a number of reasons.

Here, we explain the joint advantages and review examples of successful tie-ups.

Why OTAs are partnering with tour operators

  • The market for both classes of services is very competitive, and with few barriers to entry, both agencies and tour operators are on the hunt for differentiation.

  • Partnerships that ease the awareness, promotion, and booking processes for consumers encourage loyalty and repeat purchases, especially when linked to greater digitization of the reservation processes.

  • It’s a vertical integration for consumers, if not necessarily for providers. AirBnB in 2016, for example, added the possibility of reserving experiences via its platform. This makes perfect sense for a consumer going to a new destination and trying to understand where to stay and what to do there, simultaneously.

  • The integrations encourage end users to remain on one single platform, rather than going through multiple different websites with the risk of each provider losing the consumer’s interest or bouncing to a competitor.

Case study: GetYourGuide/Expedia

As an example, GetYourGuide, an online travel agency and marketplace for tour guides and local excursions, partnered with Expedia with the objective of increasing its audience and offering more visibility to its service providers. Tripadvisor, with its 2014 acquisition of Viator, followed a similar strategy.

The GetYourGuide/Expedia alliance is a win-win for all three parties – GetYourGuide, Expedia, and their mutual clients – though the distribution and technical requirements of the tours continue to be the responsibility of GetYourGuide.

Expedia is able to increase its broader vertical services for clients, allowing for additional purchases without having to leave their platform. GetYourGuide receives a substantially bigger audience than as a stand-alone operator and can also take advantage of Expedia pricing bundles.

Case study: TUI/Booking

Another recent partnership is the 2020 tie-up between TUI and Booking, via Musement, which arose out of TUI’s digital strategy objectives. The digitization of this type of service helps TUI adapt to new trends and in a more personalized manner.

Again, the partnership concentrates the offering of services in their webpages, avoiding traffic loss and adding an additional sales possibility in the overall sales cycle of the client.

Case study: Amazon Explore

Amazon has launched Amazon Explore, a service that permits online tour reservations from any part of the world, either as an individual or in small groups. Though technically not a travel agency, Amazon’s increasing ambition to grow into additional sectors is perfectly aligned with this model.

The tours permit the user to travel to different cities and other places with locals, offering unique experiences from standard tours to such varied activities as learning to cook tacos in a Mexican village. Amazon’s option offers substantial differentiation from competitors, with unique positioning that stands out from peers.

In sum:

  • We can expect to see increasing numbers of tie-ups between OTAs and tour operators.

  • There are multiple benefits for all parties, including vertical integration, competitive differentiation, and increased customer loyalty, among others.

  • Most partnerships are between traditional OTAs and tour operators, however additional disruptors, such as Amazon, are also entering the market.

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