Skift Take

Few solutions exist to group niche experience and accommodations components together in a niche direct booking tool, especially for tours well off the beaten track — but that seems to be changing.

Tour operators offering accommodations as part of their unique retreats for dog sledding, surfing, skiing, and yoga are behind a push towards building direct platforms that allow travelers to book their stay and personalized experience all in one place.

Because ultimately passion-driven experiences come in various shapes and sizes. Some tour companies simplify group travel through travel management and marketing for niche businesses based on people’s hobbies and interests, taking care of the administration and booking all the components separately as needed in a customized itinerary.

Then there are unique experiences that neither have the capacity to list on large-scale online travel agencies and marketplaces like Viator and GetYourGuide, or prefer to do both but want to provide highly-customized, multi-day tour booking so they can grow their customer base, with the possibility of them coming back again.

Travel booking software solutions have become this link to differentiate beyond a cookie-cutter multi-day or group tour experience. And, the more square-pegs-in-round-hole options that can be removed the better the business model, especially for smaller mom-and-pop style companies.

Enter Founder Evan Davies describes the company as the IKEA of off-the-shelf software solutions allowing travel companies to handle both accommodations and activity bookings to create a bespoke package.

Many an individual might do an eye roll at the thought of unboxing a software system solution, let alone customizing it to specific personal needs of a tour package. It would of course need to be weighed against the pain of a once-off development solution to bring about flexible package tour booking or the ongoing fragmentation.

Davies maintains his cloud-based software platform is about simplifying the process to build these booking tools for clients — removing unnecessary systems or external processes and more importantly the long-term investment.

Davies notes that hundreds of property management systems just selling accommodation and similar booking platforms selling tours and activities. An example of a channel management company looking to address offline booking friction for activities and attractions is Redeam offering clients an integrated digital booking system.

But few solutions exist to group niche experience and accommodation components, especially for tours well off the beaten track, added Davies.

He said one client who offers dog sledging in Norway wanted to have more control over the full experience, noting that travelers could only undertake the tour if they did it overnight. The only solution was to provide an overnight package tour.

Other examples of personalized direct booking would be the need for wellness retreats to allow travelers to book a meditation or meal-planning course together with their stay.

Bookinglayer is one property management software solution for businesses in the adventure travel industry integrated with Channex. The company, which claims to be a leader in the surfing market, takes the hyper-personalization of the combined experience offering even further. 

Bookinglayer CEO Nils Wiegerinck said that the IKEA analogy is relevant because Channex is very tech-focused, offering high-quality coding without many bells and whistles so that customers can handle all their reselling from within their booking engine without having to go through or pay an external party. An example of this would be My Allocator.

Wiegerinck estimates it creates operational savings of about 75 percent compared to bringing in an external third-party solution.

“Surfing is a good example, where it’s not always a professional (hotel) business. Somebody who loves surfing, they go to Bali, buy a house, they have three rooms, and they start renting it out, and suddenly they’re a surf resort. So those are really small businesses,” said Wiegerinck.

While resort would be a stretch in the traditional sense, Wiegerinck unpacked the customization for this type of business further, “The guy surfs, the girlfriend doesn’t. The guy gets only surfing activities such as coaching, surf lessons, and photography rentals. On the other hand, the girlfriend is shown waterfall tours, diving, snorkeling, and other activities.

“By streamlining that process, guests are happier because they are booking their dream holiday. We give the flexibility of either saying, ‘give me three massages, and I’ll schedule them when I’m there’. Or they can pick time slots. You can be as precise as you want, leading to higher guest spending.”

Additionally, Bookinglayer is working on bringing in attributes specific to surfers, through a platform called Surfline that tracks ocean activity and weather forecasts.

So beyond having accommodation listings in popular surfing destinations in Costa Rica and Guatemala, or Nicaragua, the tour package customization would enable the surfing retreat to show preferences based on the “bathymetry of the waves”, whether you’re left-footed or right-footed, and more suited to a certain kind of wave break with reef and sandbars.

Tour operators, both big and small, opting for hyper-personalized experiences with their customers at the centre of their dream holidays, are on the right track. However, believing that implementing this kind of change is painless would be a fool’s game, even if it is said to be more cost-effective and efficient. And when creating these off-the-shelf booking systems, just like travelers looking for unique experiences, it’s always good to have options.


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Tags: experiences, tour operators, tours and activities, travel booking

Photo credit: Surfing in Bali, Indonesia Jeremy Bishop / jeremy-bishop-_CFv3bntQlQ-unsplash

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