Skift Take

Hopper is the latest travel brand to try its hand at selling experiences. It's taking on a task that's harder to do well at scale than it might seem.

Hopper, an online travel agency and travel tech company, has acquired PlacePass, a middleman distributor of tours and activities.

The companies didn’t disclose deal terms. PlacePass has disclosed raising more than $14 million, according to Crunchbase. Hopper has raised $350 million this year.

PlacePass, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup, has been best known since late 2017 for powering a service for Marriott International’s loyalty program. PlacePass runs Marriott Bonvoy Tours & Activities, which lets loyalty members earn points when booking experiences, such as walking tours or theme park admissions. It also runs a similar booking aggregation service for Marriott’s timeshare program.

PlacePass is a reseller of more than 300,000 experiences worldwide. Thousands of these tours and activities are said to be available via Marriott.

With the acquisition, Hopper plans to offer its own customers in-destination experiences. Until now, consumers have mainly used Hopper to research and book flights, hotels, and related upsells.

“It will be interesting to see how Hopper deploys PlacePass because Hopper has been amazing in its use of data and in its engagement with customers on mobile,” said Douglas Quinby co-founder and CEO of Arival.

Incorporating experiences into a booking flow isn’t as easy as some people assume.

“Something that many in the travel sector have missed is that you can’t just take what, say, Booking.com has done very effectively with hotels and apply the same model to tours and activities,” Quinby said. “The real magic in the experiences sector happens when companies really figure out what the customer wants and then deliver it at exactly the right moment — which is an incredibly hard thing to do.”

Experiences are much less of a commodity product than other travel products, such as flights.

“The traveler path to purchase is different in experiences,” Quinby said. “A search can often start as broadly as, ‘Do I want this afternoon to go to an amusement park or a museum or a wine tasting or a walking tour?'”

Hopper has ambitions to morph its booking app into a travel superapp. For context, see: “Full Video: Hopper CEO Frederic Lalonde at Skift Global Forum 2021.”

“We know that Hopper’s customer-focused, data-driven approach to travel will take what we’ve built at PlacePass to new levels,” said Ethan Hawkes, CEO and co-founder of PlacePass.

Several hotels, airlines, and vacation rental companies have used PlacePass to help with the resale of local experiences. Hopper plans to expand this third-party distribution network.

Hopper also recently integrated the team from Pilota, which built a booking assistant that uses artificial intelligence to predict flight information, to help with its fintech effort.

Hopper said in a statement that it planned to acquire other “travel, data science, or engineering-heavy startups.”

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Tags: experiences, hopper, marriott, marriott bonvoy, placepass, tours and activities, travel technology

Photo credit: Whale watching in Eyjafjörður Fjord near Akureyri, Iceland, is one of the tours and activities people can find via PlacePass. Source: Zeb Goodman / PlacePass

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