Booking.com's hotel focus has given way to a strategy to serve travelers at every portion of the trip. TripAdvisor already does it, Expedia too. Airbnb is on that full-service road. So Booking.com will have plenty of company.
After acquiring tours and activities software provider FareHarbor last year and launching options to book activities in 150 cities, Booking.com has taken the next step in pushing its tour offerings mainstream.
Booking.com is expected to announce Wednesday at a conference in Europe that it is debuting an offering in 10 European and Middle Eastern cities that enables customers to book tours and attractions on a standalone basis without having first to book a hotel room.
The pilot program, available in Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Barcelona, Vienna, Prague, Edinburgh, and Dubai, is available on city pages on the site, and offers everything from a skip-the-line ticket to Madame Tussauds Amsterdam to museum tours, and hop-on-hop-off bus and boat tours. The listings are available in 43 languages.
All of the tour bookings come with instant confirmations; customers, whether locals or travelers, can gain admission via e-tickets after booking attractions. Cancellations policies are subject to the vendors’ guidelines.
Part of the reason for decoupling attractions bookings from hotel reservations as a requirement, is that the tours can now appeal to locals or people who may have booked the rest of their trips on another site or from a different provider.
“We’ve started this business leveraging the demand from our closed user group to build strength in supply, payments and customer service,” said Ram Papatla, Booking.com’s vice president of global experiences. “We are pleased with our progress. We are ready to now start our discovery journey by opening up the funnel outside of our closed user group.”
Papatla said the company gained some insights from the prior attractions experiment.
“We’ve learned a lot about how various customer segments explore the destination both from a book window, length of stay and price points,” Papatla said. “We are also experimenting through personalization when the selection is substitutable and adding more focus on pricing and availability when the attraction is unique.”
Like rival TripAdvisor, and unlike competitor Airbnb, Booking.com appears to be mostly focusing on mainstream, touristy attractions rather than emphasizing off-the-beat-track activities. Airbnb, on the other hand, leans toward hidden concerts in houseboats or foodie tours of farms in Sicily, for example.
It’s All Part of the Connected Trip
Booking.com users can filter their searches for tours and activities by categories such as food and drink, nightlife, and families and amusements, for example.
The move to expand its tours and activities portfolio comes as Booking.com, and parent Booking Holdings, try to service the entire traveler journey, from flights and hotels, to cars and now attractions. For years, Booking.com focused on hotels only.
Booking.com uses its in-house software company, FareHarbor, as well as others such as Rezdy to connect with tour operators, and Booking has direct contracts with the attraction providers.
“We are deeply integrated with FareHarbor, drawing both tangible and intangible benefits of this space,” Papatla said. “To integrate with channel managers compliments our geographic expansion plans and drive strong selection for our customers. We are not compromising the customer experience bar that we’ve established, so we are picky about who we work with.”
Speaking at a J.P. Morgan investor conference Tuesday, Booking Holdings Chief Financial Officer David Goulden spoke of the push to go beyond the core hotel focus.
“And outside of accommodations when we look at the strategy around the connected trip, we think that can propel growth by bringing together things that we are already playing like dining or rental cars but it also opens up new verticals for us like experiences,” Goulden said. “So a lot of headroom, early stages, so much potential.”
Booking.com sees the expansion of its tours and activities offerings as a way to give customers what they want, and to make some money off of it.
The pilot will determine just how effective the initial incarnation of standalone attractions on Booking.com turns out to be.
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Photo credit: The Castle Hotel at Legoland Deutschland. Booking.com is expanding its attractions offerings. Merlin Entertainments