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When various coronavirus lockdowns in Europe fade away, tours and activities operators will find an assortment of new distribution partners with the latest being hotel-searcher Trivago through a partnership with TUI.

The TUI-Trivago deal follows last week’s announcement that Booking.com added Tripadvisor’s Viator as an attractions provider. Booking.com, which opted last year to all but cease building its own tour business, partnered with TUI in 2020 in a deal that has parallels to the one that TUI and Trivago announced Tuesday.

It’s difficult to see what the upside might be for travelers discovering tours and activities on Expedia Group-controlled Trivago versus Booking Holdings’ Booking.com.  A TUI spokesperson said both Trivago and Booking.com would both get access to the same roster of TUI source tours and activities.

However, a Trivago spokesperson said “the key benefit to Trivago users is the opportunity to integrate the offering into our existing and future products.”

A new Activities section on Trivago’s website will offer some 55,000 tours, activities and attractions tickets, sourced from European tour operator TUI, according to Trivago. These tours and activities were to be available in the UK, U.S., France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland.

“Coming hot on the heels of the Booking-Viator news, it appears that online travel agencies are finally taking the ‘things to do’ sector seriously,” said Shane Whaley, producer and host at Tourpreneur, a podcast about the sector. We will only know that for sure when we see the live integrations.”

Tour operators could benefit from more online travel agencies embracing the tours and activities sector, but the prospect won’t be cheap. “If the online travel agencies make it easier for travelers to discover the more specialized, boutique niche tours and attractions, then these partnerships are good news for operators,” Whaley said. “Of course, those OTA bookings come with a hefty commission fee so it is imperative that operators know their profit margins before agreeing to OTA commissions.”

Although Expedia Group controls public-company Trivago, the TUI-Trivago partnership does not extend to other Expedia brands, TUI and Trivago spokespeople agreed.

Trivago’s on a New Mission

The TUI-Trivago deal is otherwise noteworthy for several things. It positions TUI, which is known for multi-day tours, as an ever-more significant player in single-day tours and activities, particularly in Europe. These affiliate deals could eventually present a challenge to Europe’s leading player in the sector, GetYourGuide.

And the partnership, along with a second announcement, highlights how Trivago, which has been struggling for the last couple of years, is trying to remake itself coming out of the pandemic.

After acquiring Weekend.com in January, Trivago is debuting a new Weekend product this week in the UK and U.S. geared toward providing travel inspiration for nearby getaways. Playing off the local trend in traveler preferences during the Covid era, the Weekend homepage enables users to search for getaway options 100-200 miles from their locations.

The Weekend content isn’t necessarily new on Trivago, but it is a way for the company to repurpose existing content and to combine it with hotel options to inspire close-to-home getaways.

So beyond its core hotel offering, which has been supplemented in the last couple of years with short-term rental accommodations, Trivago is branching out into tours and activities, and trying to be more inspirational than transactional by putting weekend getaways up front for users.

Reflecting its expanded product strategy, Trivago introduced a new mission statement last month, which reads in part:

“We intend to enhance our core offering while assessing which complementary search services are beneficial to our users to help improve their overall search experience.

“More recent product developments are focused on users who want to travel but are in need of inspiration as to where and when to travel. We have started to develop a product that offers inspiration for local travel and will continue to expand our offering to inspire our users to experience the world.”

Travel Inspiration Can Be Uninspiring

While Trivago is trying to provide a dose of travel inspiration for its customers, over the years there have been countless travel startups and incumbents that have tried to nurture travelers’ bucket list dreams and trip-planning as a focus, and have stumbled or gone out of business. In many cases, the pundits found that travel inspiration was too far removed from transactions to boost financials.

Among a long list, NileGuide, TravelMuse and Trippy were among the travel inspiration and trip-planning startups that came to inglorious ends several years ago. One of the most recent examples was Tripadvisor, which converted its homepage a couple of years ago into a social feed with ample travel inspiration, but later abandoned that as a focus.

Tripadvisor is now embracing a newer strategy for itself — subscriptions to travel discounts. A lot of companies are taking inspiration from that business model these days.

Photo Credit: A Harry Potter Studio tour in the UK on July 1, 2017. Trivago users will be able to find such tours available because of a new partnership with TUI. Henry Burrows / Flickr.com