Expedia is finally poised -- and its technology investments confirm it -- to give TripAdvisor's Viator a run for its money in tours and activities. It's an uphill climb but with mobile coming into its own, the decision is a no-brainer.
Expedia Inc. has flirted with ramping up tours and activities for years but this time around it seems like much more than a tease.
There are several signs that Expedia is making significant investments in the sector. This week Expedia introduced what it calls “real-time reviews” for tours and activities. As soon as Expedia customers complete a tour or activity, they receive emails asking them questions such as whether the experience was as expected or if they would recommend it to others.
There is also a field to write additional comments about the tour experience.
Expedia Inc. spokesperson Sarah Gavin says the idea behind the reviews is to capture feedback while the traveler is still in-destination. Expedia, which is the merchant of record for the bookings, can share the information with tour operators to see if they might want to make up for any shortcomings, including perhaps offering a do-over, or make improvements, Gavin adds.
Expedia has similar feedback tools that it sends to hotel guests during the stay to provide immediate feedback to hotels when guests are still at the property.
While these real-time tours and activities reviews, with their accompanying smiley faces and frowns in the query to customers, might not seem like a dramatic move, they are indicative of other commitments Expedia is making to the sector.
For example, over the last few months Expedia has migrated virtually all of the “things to do” that you can find in a tab atop the Expedia homepage onto the same technology platform used by the Expedia brand, and transitioned all of these tours and activities into the Expedia mobile app, as well.
“This puts us in a great position to innovate on the activities category in the future,” Gavin says.
Not everyone is buying it. Rod Cuthbert, who founded rival tours and activities provider Viator but is no longer actively involved with the company, argues that Expedia’s real interests lie elsewhere outside the tours and activities sector.
“I imagine it’d be hard to effectively run an activities business alongside air, hotel, car and packages,” Cuthbert says, referring to Expedia. “Those higher revenue businesses tend to suck all the resources away from their smaller cousin, and without ongoing product development I suspect it would become very difficult to maintain market share.”
Gavin of Expedia, pointing to the tours’ technology migration and the new feedback mechanism/reviews, counters that Expedia is indeed making significant investments in tours and activities.
“We are putting our money where our mouth is on tours and activities,” Gavin says.
Expedia began dabbling with tours and activities 15 years ago and has for several years run tour desks in destinations such as Hawaii and Las Vegas through its Expedia Local Expert network.
Three years ago, one travel media outlet pointed to Expedia “plotting a significant and laser-focused move on the sector, way beyond its existing and somewhat low-key approach to selling things-to-do in a destination,” but the alleged laser focus was slow to materialize.
But things look like they are changing now and Johannes Reck, CEO of Berlin-based GetYourGuide, is in the camp that believes it is indeed happening.
“Expedia has been in the activities market for a long while and I think they are finally realizing its incredible potential,” Reck says. “They are putting a lot of resources behind it. We definitely welcome them as a viable player and I think they’ve done a very good job over the past months.”
Expedia’s burgeoning commitment to tours and activities stands in contrasts with its experiment with vacation rentals over the last couple of years through a distribution partnership with HomeAway.
Unlike vacation rentals, which Expedia may still view as a threat to its core hotel revenue, Things to Do gets its own tab on the Expedia homepage and these same Activities get a prominent position in the Expedia app — and apparently the technology investments to make a go of it all.
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Photo credit: Expedia this week began sending the above queries to customers who just finished an Expedia-booked tour so they can provide feedback while customers are still in the destination. Expedia