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OnceThere, an Austin, Texas-based startup with deep investor, management, and distribution ties to HomeAway, wants to cut into the distribution side of the tours and activities market with the hope of providing a private-label solution to vacation rental, hotel, and destination marketing organization sites.
The company officially launched this week and among its investors are HomeAway co-founder Carl Shepherd (who’s no longer with the company), and former HomeAway chief product officer Tom Hale.
OnceThere’s co-founder and CEO John Weimer was HomeAway’s vice president of corporate development and later its managing director for Asia-Pacific. He feels the B2B direction is more advantageous for OnceThere than dealing directly with the consumer as TripAdvisor/Viator and Expedia is doing.
OnceThere sends travelers targeted emails usually a week before their travel if they booked through a vacation rental or hotel site. Emails contain tours and activities suggestions that HomeAway, for example, deems germane to a particular property, and consumers can click on an experience and book it in real time. Weimer said OnceThere’s instant bookings also surface in HomeAway’s mobile app under the “things to do” tab, although since it is a private label distribution relationship consumers never see the OnceThere brand.
For both desktop and mobile, stay dates and party size are pre-populated by OnceThere when guests click to book a tour or attraction through HomeAway or another brand.
Weimer told Skift about 75 percent of tours and activities are purchased in advance but that last-minute availability often breaks down. Many hotels and destination marketing organizations’ visitors centers, for example, don’t have real-time availability for the tours and activities they sell and this leaves nearly 25 percent of the market without the ability to book activities online.
Weimer said nine of every 10 tour sales by the Austin, Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau are made either over the phone or in-person at visitor centers rather than on its website.
“Our biggest goal is to provide real-time rates and availability,” said Weimer. “We see the biggest opportunity in the near to medium term in obtaining that distribution is through some old offline channels. These are things like concierges at hotels who are local experts but don’t know if an evening walking tour for that same day still has availability.”
Besides HomeAway.com, OnceThere has signed-on sister site VRBO, TurnKey, the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Charleston South Carolina Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Wild Dunes Resort, a Destination Hotel in South Carolina.
OnceThere’s supply includes 83 tour operators and attractions that offer about 200 experiences.
“It’s like flipping a switch to get OnceThere working for these brands because many of them already sell tours and activities on their sites,” said Weimer.
OnceThere has raised just over $1 million in funding since last summer and plans on raising another round this year.