digitizing tours and activities

When It Comes to Digitizing Tours & Activities, There’s Really No “Norm” Anymore

You may already be familiar with the saying, “the new normal.” It’s been used to describe a lot of situations today that are vastly different than times before. When it comes to tours, activities, and attractions, however, we haven’t quite achieved any single “new normal” yet. Instead, we’re still an industry in transition, and all that’s “normal” is that there isn’t yet any norm or standard.

Take, for example, the ever-expanding list of bookable activity and attraction experiences. It used to be normal to visit a museum, take a guided walking tour, or visit a big theme park, but there are dozens of unique and one-off experiences a person can book: dining in people’s homes, sunset yacht cruises, tours of comedy clubs, and seasonal-only happenings like Halloween corn mazes or holiday light extravaganzas. Not only do these new experiences up the ante competition-wise, but they also parallel how consumers see, view, and continue to spend money on these activities.

Selling Experiences

Why are we seeing so many of these kind of new and different experiences? Today’s travelers hunger for experiences. It’s one of the reasons people want to explore the world. According to Phocuswright, 70% of U.S . travelers “consider activity options as an important factor when deciding on their destination, and more than one third start researching activities before they book any other trip elements.” Even people taking staycations seek out local activities to do. Global demand for experiences continues to grow: at $135 billion, it’s the third-largest segment of travel-related expenditures (behind air travel and hotel room bookings), and fastest-growing. 

Unlike the bigger segments of travel, the experiences segment – formally described as “tours, activities, and attractions” (TAA) – is comprised of many, many small and large operators who also market and sell their products in a variety of disparate ways. Some sell low-tech, in a mostly manual way; some use basic, rigid software solutions for issuing tickets; some use customized software that’s installed on local servers, while others use cloud-based, fully-flexible SaaS (software as a solution) technology. Some of these latter operators run totally-digitized businesses with fully-integrated systems and mobile redemption that mimic the most sophisticated airline, for instance, and vastly improve the customer journey. So from nearly every vantage point, selling and buying experiences today is anything but standardized. Once again, there really is no “norm” here yet.

To add to this complicated mix, we need to also look at the channels by which TAA operators sell their products. Selling tickets through third parties is nothing new to TAA operators. Many have relied on channel partners like chambers of commerce, hotel concierges, and ticket brokers for years. These traditional channels were ones over which the operator had significant control. The operator could control how much of a discount, cut, or commission they gave to their channel partners and how many tickets they gave to them to sell. Operators could control their inventory and their overall profitability this way. But times have changed and with it so have the dynamics.

More Last-Minute Bookings

The catalyst for this change is changing consumers’ shopping and buying behavior, and we can blame the Internet and mobile devices. The kind of information consumers can find on Internet has completely changed marketing. Traditional TAA marketing channels like print, radio, television and even the traditional travel agent have lost ground to search engines (including Reserve with Google), review sites, niche travel sites, social media, and OTA websites like Expedia and GetYourGuide

Our mobile phones have further affected TAA marketing. These computers in our pockets have empowered consumers and have led to a rise in last-minute bookings of activities. Consumers can do their own research from the comfort of their hotel room, Airbnb, or while sitting in a cafe. They can read a plethora of reviews rather than rely on a single source. And, when available, they can make an online booking of their own rather than having to “go” anywhere for that booking. No longer do they have to rely on the hotel concierge or ticket broker for their booking. They can make a booking hours versus days before doing an activity…and they’re doing this more and more. And these mobile- and Internet-savvy consumers making more last-minute bookings have high-expectations and reduced patience levels. In other words, at this beginning phase of their customer journey, consumers demand real-time, instant gratification.

TAA operators need to pay attention to these new Internet-connected ways consumers choose to shop. Consumers’ changing behavior will affect bookings and ultimately revenues.

Change Presents Challenges

We won’t sugarcoat this: Adapting to changing consumer shopping and booking behavior isn’t simple for operators. There are many factors to evaluate and decisions to be made, and it can be quite confusing. As we’ve already discussed, there’s no standardized, one-size-fits-all single solution, in large part because TAA businesses have many different offerings. Just a few factors that make these operators’ businesses so different include:

  • Venue size
  • Limited or unlimited ticket inventory or entry
  • Timed entry versus entry any time
  • One price ticketing versus multiple priced ticket types
  • One-time access versus recurring access provided through membership or season passes
  • Multiple versus single locations
  • Geographic diversity
  • Audience diversity
  • Currency of the operator versus currency of customer

Each of these varying factors at an operator presents another “not the norm” scenario. Listen in on conversations at any big gathering of diverse operators – like the upcoming October 2019 Arival conference in Orlando – and you’ll hear both acknowledgement of similar circumstances peppered with a lot of, “Yes, but with us…” as someone explains how their own situation is different.

Technology today attempts to address these various factors. There’s ticketing and reservation technology, online reseller technology, mobile technology, digital marketing technology, and customer relations management technology. There’s no norm here either. Most of this technology doesn’t yet “talk” to one another, and nearly none of it works as an out-of-the-box, ready-to-go solution. Customizations and integrations are still required, and TAA operators don’t necessarily have the internal resources or skilled staff to do or oversee these requirements on their own.

Though all of this sounds pretty daunting, operators should take heart: It’s all still early days when it comes to digitizing TAAs, and many technology services companies in this space know they need to provide more turnkey solutions to operators in order for adoption to occur and to meet the demands of modern consumers. One step to make adoption happen faster for operators is found in connectivity – enabling all of the industry technologies to better talk to and pass data back and forth to one another in real time. With this kind of connectivity in place, inventory that resellers sell is offered in real time, avoiding double-bookings. With real-time connectivity, operators have more control over their distribution channels. With connectivity, redemption of third-party tickets becomes a smoother process for consumers, and voucher processing time for operators gets reduced exponentially. Connectivity is a big key to helping solve the “no norm” problem.

Interested in learning more about connectivity? Talk to Redeam, the leading global connectivity provider of digitized channel management and voucher redemption/reconciliation services to tour and activity operators. Reach out to Redeam today

Other Redeam Content You Might Find Useful:

Google My Business and Reserve with Google Primer 

How to Deepen the Relationship Between Tour and Attraction Suppliers and Distributors 

Defining Your Tourist Attraction & Activities Distribution Strategy 


About Redeam

Redeam is a five-time award-winning Boulder, CO-based global technology company that empowers the growth of tours, attractions, and activities so that more people can enjoy the world. By utilizing Redeam’s technology, clients can easily scan and process a mobile or paper voucher and eliminate the costly, antiquated, time-consuming, and all-too-common practice of manually accepting, sorting and counting physical tickets—a practice that leads to lost revenue due to fraud, long lines, and bad online reviews. Redeam customers grow both revenue and their number of sales channels through advanced features like Redeam’s channel and yield management. For its innovative solutions, Redeam has won such awards as the 2017 Phocuswright Award for Travel Innovation and 2018 Future Travel Experience Startup Competition Winner. The company works with hundreds of resellers and serves thousands of operators globally, including one of the world’s largest attraction theme parks, major event venues and boat tours, some of the world’s most-visited museums, and attractions like CitySightseeing/Gray Line New York, Boston Harbor Cruises, National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey, and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.