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Operators of tours, activities, and attractions are taking a crash course in online classes, virtual tours, and digital souvenir sales. We doubt these efforts can fully replace the revenue of in-person experiences. Yet there are needs to fill. Many housebound people and remote teams could use the human connection, while many hosts are eager for income.

Since last week, GetYourGuide, WithLocals, and other online booking services for sightseeing and experiences have been tempting people with online-only classes and webinars. The move can sometimes offer some income for tour and experiences operators that have lost revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

GetYourGuide last week began an effort called The World at Home where it offers free Facebook livestreams run by professionals. Examples include a planned April 3 street art class.

Withlocals, another booking service, also launched last week its Withlocals Live, which presents a few dozen online experiences by 20 locals in 15 cities worldwide. About 200 people watched the full hour of a recent pasta-making class led by Nico Mazzei, a Rome-based tour guide.

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While the live-streamed events are free, the industry hopes that some people will pay to book private online sessions.

“So many companies suddenly have their staffs working remotely, and some of them may want to boost morale by bringing their team together to engage in a group activity via Zoom,” said Withlocals co-founder and CEO Matthijs Keij.

Walks is launching its first online offerings on Thursday.

The crisis risks devastating the “experiences” sector. A survey of 816 operators of tours, activities and attractions between March 14-19 by Arival found that 43 percent feared risk of failure within three months. Since then, the risk level has been in “a steady-state” as operators sift through government aid offers in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere, said Douglas Quinby, co-founder and CEO of Arival.

Selling Souvenirs Online

Museums and cultural attractions are also getting in on the virtual game.

Tiqets, a travel experience booking startup, said it is finalizing a new virtual tours environment where museums and attractions can sell and run virtual guided tours.

“If operators don’t have a virtual tour already, many of them are creating them, either via typical video or more interactive channels like Instagram Live,” said Tiqets Co-founder and CEO Luuc Elzinga.

Other types of attractions, such as zoos and aquariums, are hosting live streams, too, such as of their animals.

“One of our favorite examples is the Shedd Aquarium, which gave its penguins a tour of the facilities on Twitter,” Elzinga said. “Chicago’s Field Museum has also been very creative with a ‘Sue the T Rex’ character sharing ways to ‘museum at home’ on Twitter as well.”

Tiqets, an Airbnb-backed company, has an emphasis on museums and traditional attractions in its inventory. While Airbnb has paused its own experiences bookings, it hasn’t yet used its platform to offer online versions of activities.

Museums and zoos have long offered glimpses of their artworks and animals via partial virtual tours and galleries. Yet during the crisis, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba added an online experiences feature to its live-streaming service Taobao Live to make it easier for museums, zoos, and aquariums to find crowds. It also helps them earn revenue by selling souvenirs, which can be delivered by mail.

Testing What Works

Online events may be hard to monetize in a time when many potential customers are concerned about the economy. Context Travel, a venture-backed provider of cultural walking tours, offered a few online seminars with its guides at a cost of about $35 each and sold via Eventbrite.

“Our seminars were a pilot offering that we wanted to quickly test in March,” said Context CEO Evan Frank. “The test was very successful, and we’re currently planning broader roll-out of group and private virtual conversations on deep cultural topics with our experts around the world.”

Every company is in a place of experimenting right now to see what works, such as Context’s podcasts.

Some organizations see the online material as partly a branding effort. GetYourGuide plans to save recordings of the online events on its YouTube channel as a way to market experiences online throughout the year while waiting for travel to rebound.

Withlocals is in a better place than most, having raised $9 million (€8 million) in Series B funding last year. Even so, it has had to let go of a large portion of its staff due to the crisis. The company is offering modest payments to the hosts who offer the online events, which can be a welcome source of income to hosts with few other options.

For housebound travelers, online events can also satisfy curiosity.

“We’ve noticed so far a lot of questions coming from attendees are about what’s life like at the moment for the hosts at their destination,” said Keij of Withlocals. “People were interested, for example, in what our host Nico experienced when he had to go to the store in Rome to get ingredients. It’s a way to maintain a human connection and give support at a time when so many people are feeling isolated and uncertain.”


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Tags: coronavirus, culinary experiences, experiences, getyourguide, tour operators, Tour Operators 2020, tours and activities

Photo credit: A screenshot from a family watching a livestreamed class in pasta making by a Rome-based, Withlocals guide, Nico Mazzei. Withlocals

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