Key Takeaways From Phocuswright Conference 2018

Checkfront is back from the Phocuswright Conference in Los Angeles, and we’re thrilled to share our top takeaways from the event. Every year, we look forward to connecting with leaders and influencers in the tourism industry and discuss what’s happening regarding technology, trends, and travel’s next big ideas.

While a few hot topics circulated the conference — including voice search, metasearch, and AI — we were keen to learn more about the current and future state of tours and activities following the conversations at Arival in September.

In particular, a couple of points piqued our interest during TripAdvisor’s interview, and the Tours and Activities panel. So, if you were unable to attend the event, or want to get our perspective on these discussions, then let’s dig in:

Excitement around Reserve with Google

The travel activities segment has made an economic impact on the global travel market over the past few years. Various factors have contributed to this growth, but we believe it’s primarily due to reservation technology providing a seamless shopping experience for in-destination travelers. Subsequently, online travel’s big players — including Expedia, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor — have stepped into the game, and inspired Google to do the same.

Although some travel brands might worry about Reserve with Google’s upcoming presence, we believe this move is in the best interest of suppliers. With more options to come online and distribute inventory, suppliers can make it easier for travelers to discover them, and book from anywhere, at any time.

Now that Reserve with Google is entering the space, suppliers have another channel to drive conversions. Since Google has a massive user base — many of whom that look for things to do — there’s an incredible opportunity for suppliers to reach travelers in the search phase. And we are thrilled to see how Reserve with Google will help Checkfront users in this way.

Acquisitions are still big news

In the last year, both Bookings Holdings and TripAdvisor acquired tour operator booking software — FareHarbor and Bokun, respectively. While it’s exciting that travel activities are getting the attention it deserves, suppliers are becoming aware of the long-term impact these acquisitions will have.

As a supplier, Jack Lewis, President of Fat Tire Tours, said it best, “reservation systems should be built to prop up and support the supplier.” In other words, suppliers should have options, and when an OTA owns booking software, suppliers might not have many options regarding channel management.

Tours and Activities panel at 2017 Phocuswright Conference

Plus, OTA’s have commission-based business models —  which the acquired software providers are likely to adopt. For instance, Bokun switched from subscription-based pricing to a per booking commission after TripAdvisor bought them. So this is a point of concern for suppliers because “if all of that revenue, all of those sales are tied to a commission, then you’ve really lost your business as a whole.” Lewis added.

Ultimately, it appears that independent booking software is an ideal solution for suppliers who want to scale up significantly. But there’s now a question of whether small independents and the suppliers using them will be able to compete with these publicly owned applications that are in an advantageous position with OTAs — which brings us to the next point.

So TripAdvisor won’t give Bokun customers preferential rankings?

Rewind to Arival in Las Vegas, Dermot Halpin, President of TripAdvisor Experiences, revealed that suppliers using Bokun’s booking engine would receive a higher TripAdvisor ranking for their tours and activities. Of course, this was shocking news and stirred up frustration for suppliers who choose to go with a different online booking system — especially after building the quality, quantity and recency of reviews to earn a higher placement.

However, TripAdvisor President and CEO Stephen Kaufer commented otherwise during his interview with Alice Jong, Phocuswright Research Manager. He stated, “the search results are that you have to be online and bookable…if your content on TripAdvisor is great, you’re going to get great treatment on TripAdvisor. You’re not going to get any better treatment just because Bokun is your system.”

While these back and forth statements may be a little confusing, we hope the latter is true for TripAdvisor’s current ranking algorithm. Because if it is, that means suppliers can still effectively utilize TripAdvisor as a channel while using the most suitable booking software for their business.

Final thoughts

With all of the topics that were discussed in-depth at the Phocuswright Conference, our biggest takeaway is that online travel continues to grow for tours and activities. And if tour operators stick to offline tactics only, then they’ll quickly lose out to their competition who use the online tools available.

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