Skift Take

Standardization of outdated tours and activities systems by a non-profit group called OCTO sees a teething-problem approach to modernization. It leaves little incentive for more established operators to get involved. How long will this attempt to customize the sector take to reach an innovation tipping point?

If booking friction and connectivity have been such a burning issue for the tours and activities sector, why has standardization to break digital barriers to growth taken this long?

It’s a question many industry experts have been mulling. For years. But over the past couple of months, a few of them have banded together to form a non-profit called Open Connectivity for Tours, Activities & Attractions (OCTO).

In simple terms, it is about creating a dictionary of code to ensure stakeholders within the experiences economy are referencing the same language. Offline tours and experiences have access to the open API standards to make developing their connectivity easier and more efficient. So ultimately, they still need to invest in doing that – but with standardized specs, it could happen faster and for a lot less.

OCTO’s challenge brings to mind the universal plug tension created by Apple and Android plugs and ports.

Essentially, the cross-sector input is looking to eradicate duplicated effort, cost and overextended development resources so travel companies can avoid the need to build an adapter (for want of a better word), over and over, to fit with various reztech and distribution systems.

The non-profit said it had grown its membership base from 35 to 65 members in the last six months, and it includes a wide selection of companies at various touch points across the experiences sector, such as Arival, Amadeus, Tiqets, Magpie and the Empire State Building. See the full list here.

But is it a case of a little too late, or will this non-profit add a bridge across the digital chasm this sector needs to cross?

Several major booking platforms, including Viator, GetYourGuide, Klook, and Expedia, have not joined the initial launch phase.

Stephen Joyce, executive director of OCTO and head of solutions for Holibob, admitted there’s no real benefit or urgency in the short term for these online travel agencies to join.

“Ultimately the likes of GetYourGuide and Viator have spent years and millions of dollars doing the work of custom connections to all of these systems.”

Seamless marketplace connection to third-party selling and large-scale distribution is what they do, after all.

Legacy Tech that Needs to be Updated

Carrie Keplinger, vice president of OCTO and chief commercial officer of Virgin Experience Gifts, which offers over 2 000 gift experiences across the U.S., said the core spec of OCTO might be very basic but that she is looking forward to developing it once the initial connectivity has been cleaned up.

“The initial setup of grabbing a ticket and validating a ticket are very basic. But we find that the specification tool or the terminology differs, not only on the experience side but between the res tech players and the distribution partners.” 

The challenge with many organizations, Keplinger said, is their legacy tech might need to be updated. But the goal is for the industry to start using the core spec and then build in additional capabilities.  

“It all comes down to effective communication, whether that be for cross-functional teams or the actual communication driving the distribution and booking systems. Instead of a company investing in bespoke tech development every time they want to connect to a new partner, standards can significantly reduce the cost to onboard new partners or deals.”

Dynamic pricing or adding ground transportation to an entire package are some of the developments to consider, according to Keplinger.

She believes building this community requires commercial and tech teams getting together and talking to each other across different companies.

Part of the standardization journey is about “putting everybody in the same room to educate the industry and start having some of the hard conversations around dynamic pricing, for instance.” 

“In the past, there’s always been such a big wall between the commercial and the tech side of the businesses, creating many of these problems or challenges. We want to be part of that conversation with the industry so that we get it there. We need these tools. Together, we skip a lot of the extra work required on a task team to create these commercial products.”

Maintaining Open-Source Technical Specs

OCTO is set to release an official version of the draft format currently available for download. It specifically looks at all the booking flow from checking availability, product list, bookings and reservations.  

In addition to this updated release, developers (who work on a volunteer basis) are also working on pricing capability specifications as a second version and content capabilities as extensions to the original OCTO specification and documentation.

It is fully open source, however, only OCTO members can add to the development of the specifications by participating in the specification committee, together with its board of directors. Specification standards are run through its internal team and then opened to public review.    

“We want to maintain the standards and keep it moving forward. Because specifications are not static, they change over time and especially for business needs.”

Right now the clean-up phase of the tours and activities specifications, with a wealth of resources across the experiences sector, seems to have hit a slow roll. But essentially it pits gathering moss against modernization.

CORRECTION: An incorrect reference to dynamic freight has been updated.


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Tags: online travel agencies, tour operators, tours and activities, travel booking, travel technology

Photo credit: Developing tours and activities tech solutions. Source: Unsplash y Christina @ o / Standardizing code for developing tours and activities tech

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