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Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Travel Booking

Richard Branson’s Virgin to Launch New Experiences Offering in U.S.

1 year ago

Richard Branson’s Virgin Experience Days is betting on a thriving experiences economy, and Americans wanting to spend more time doing meaningful things together, by expanding its U.K. brand across the pond.

Carrie Keplinger, the company’s new chief commercial officer announced on LinkedIn that she would be working with its UK based management team, as part of Equistone Partners Europe, to scale the business in the U.S. market.

In July of 2021 the company launched Virgin Experience Gifts in the U.S., which has some 2,000 experiences on offer from racing adventures, helicopter rides to food tours and spa days.

Launch partners in the U.S. have yet to be revealed, but its’ U.K. counterpart works with and offers some 3,000 experiences.

Online Travel

FareHarbor Taps Longtime Booking.com Product Vice President as CEO

1 year ago

FareHarbor, the Booking Holdings’ tours and activities reservations tech platform, has a new CEO, Skift has learned.

Wellness travel companies are starting to offer more niche experiences like mountain hiking-meets-spa retreats. Source: Unsplash

Andrea Carini, who served as vice president of product development at fashion retailer Otrium for the past 10 months, began carrying out his CEO role at FareHarbor this week. There has been no public announcement about the hiring.

For nearly 10 years and up until April 2022, Carini was vice president of product development at Booking.com.

Carini replaced Ted Clements, who was acting CEO at FareHarbor for one year, until October 2022. Clements this month became CEO of WeTravel, an Amsterdam-based travel booking and payments platform.

FareHarbor takes offline tours and activities, and brings them online with a variety of booking services and payment tools.

Tourism

Vacation Drama of White Lotus Adds Murderous Spike to Sicily Tours Demand

1 year ago

Sicily is turning to out to be every bit as seductive as the hit HBO satire series White Lotus makes it out to be. 

Interest in Italy and its charming towns have seen web searches up over 50% following the series’ record-breaking finale in December. This is according to Alessio Virgili, co-founder and CEO of Sonders & Beach.  

Quiiky, an Italian LGBTQ+ Tour operator and subsidiary of Sonders & Beach, saw its new White Lotus tour sell out in record time earlier in the year. Virgili said they anticipate high demand for 2023 – with registration only set to open in January.

A feather in the tour’s itinerary is a two-night stay at the Four Season‘s San Domenico Palace in Taormina.  

Fans can’t seem to get enough of the destination or the luxury hotel, which hosted the eccentric cast of characters, with the psuedo White Lotus resort also sold out before it reopens in 2023. And what’s not to love about its beautiful beaches and lavish vineyards that set the backdrop for characters of Aubrey Plaza, Will Sharpe, Theo James, and Meghann Fahy in the series. 

Destination appeal thanks to hugely popular TV shows or movies has been an ongoing trend for almost a decade. Season 1 filming location Maui also saw a boost in visitors. In addition, the epic Game of Thrones’ Westeros added some $200 million in tourism spend to Croatia between 2013 and 2018. 

HBO confirmed the third season of White Lotus would go ahead but the destination remains undisclosed.

Tour operators should ask themselves what the next smash hit series is and where it will be filmed.

Online Travel

ResortPass Adds $26 Million in Celebrity-Backed Funding

1 year ago

Luxury hotels and resorts, with all their amenities, are usually the playgrounds of the rich and famous and are reserved exclusively for overnight guests who pay top dollar to stay there. 

However, a group of celebrity funders are boosting ResortPass by $26 million to build out its day-pass marketplace for establishments that want to allow guest to come and relax with them for the day.

The demand for local experiences, not too far from home, has surged as post-pandemic travel recovers. The six-year-old startup, now bolstered in its current round of funding by the likes of Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow (both avid investors in wellness, health and beauty), said the intention is to build its marketplace so guest more easily access amenities such as pools, spas and fitness centers without the hefty overnight price tag.

ResortPass offers some 900 brands such as the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons and Westin and gives hotels free listings on its marketplace while charging a subscription for its SaaS software to manage access for day trippers.  

While some would argue the model removes the exclusivity for overnight guests, the startup’s business model is to monetize underutilized inventory and work with these hotels to determine price points on par with the caliber of the services and amenities.    

ResortPass has also received backing by Airbnb’s syndicate, AirAngels, with the intention to grow new market access for travelers wanting to tap into a destination’s day experiences.

The Series B funding round was co-led by Declaration Partners and 14W, bringing ResortPass’s total funding to $37 million. Early backer CRV also participated in the financing, along with new investors such as William Morris Endeavor, Adam Grant and Brian Kelly of The Points Guy.

Predominantly focused on U.S. destinations, ResortPass’ recent expansion covers the Caribbean, Mexico and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. With its newly acquired funding, ResortPass expects to expand its partnerships into Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. 

Online Travel

Booking.com Adds Klook To Its Roster of Activities Providers

1 year ago

Booking.com expanded the geographic reach of its tours and activities offerings in Asia by entering a long-term strategic partnership with Klook, Booking.com announced Monday.

Madame Tussauds Singapore source Merlin Entertainments
The set of a Bollywood movie at Madame Tussauds Singapore. Travelers can buy tickets to this attraction and have their reservations instantly confirmed via Klook, an online travel agency that specializes in experiences. Madame Source: Merlin Entertainments

“Klook experiences are now live in over 175 cities, across over 30 markets on Booking.com, and the majority of these are available in Asia and Oceania,” Booking.com stated as it cited Klook as “the category leader for experiences in Asia.”

Booking.com is headquartered in Amsterdam, and Klook is based in Singapore.

Booking.com already had provider agreements with TUI’s Musement, based in Europe, and Tripadvisor’s Viator, which is headquartered in the U.S.

Booking.com sister company Priceline last week announced that it, too, hooked up with Musement to access tours and activities.

Tour Operators

Tours and Activities Companies Launch Standards Association

1 year ago

Nearly three dozen tours and activities operators, reservation systems, and distributors debuted a non-profit association geared to formulate connectivity standards.

Source: Reuters

The 501c3 association, Open Connectivity for Tours, Activities & Attractions intends to promote an open source specification “to enable reservation and ticketing system providers and tour, activity and attraction ticket sellers to connect their systems for more efficient distribution,” the group announced Tuesday.

Founding members of the group include Arival, Checkfront, Gateway Ticketing Systems, Go City, Holibob, Peek, Tiqets, TUI Musement, Ventrata, Xola and Zaui.

Several major booking platforms, including Viator, GetYourGuide, Klook, Booking.com and Expedia weren’t part of the launch announcement.

Short-Term Rentals

Airbnb to Kickstart Experiences After 2-Year Pause

1 year ago

Airbnb mothballed its experiences business — and ceased investing in hotels — at the beginning of the pandemic, but CEO Brian Chesky said earlier this week that Airbnb will begin to invest in its experiences business again in 2023 after a two-year pause.

A file photo of an Airbnb host greeting participants in a bread-baking experience. Source: Airbnb

“It’s ready to invest like significantly in this business again,” he said.

Trotting out another e-commerce buzzword after discussing funnels, namely “flywheels,” Chesky argued that Airbnb’s homes and experiences businesses would invigorate each other.

“We have some really exciting things in the roadmap,” Chesky said, including for 2023. “And I think that experience is a great flywheel for homes because, again, the number one thing in travel is you want to have direct traffic, booking something unique that you can’t find anywhere else.”

Booking.com: Attractions Won’t Be a ‘Huge Money Spinner’

Booking Holdings Chief Financial Officer David Goulden, speaking at an Evercore technology conference September 8, noted that the company transitioned from a “homegrown acquisition strategy” for tours and activities — when it acquired Fareharbor in 2018 — to a partnerships model, such as through deals with TUI Musement and Viator.

He added that the market size and transaction values for attractions are not as substantial as for accommodations or flights.

“So I don’t think it will be a huge money spinner for us, but it’s certainly something that will create, I think, a lot of value for our customers, therefore, something we want to continue to focus on,” Goulden said.

Online Travel

FareHarbor Acting CEO Ted Clements to Step Down

2 years ago

Ted Clements, FareHarbor’s acting CEO who served as chief operating officer for the last three years, will step down from these positions in September, Skift has learned.

A small group tour of the Vatican. Source: Viator

Staff was informed of the move Tuesday, and no replacement has been named. Clements plans to stay in Amsterdam, headquarters for sister company Booking.com, and may pursue new opportunities, according to the announcement.

Rob Ransom, senior vice president, global strategy and business development for Booking Holdings, made the internal announcement, and said he would play a more active role in FareHarbor.

FareHarbor more than doubled its revenue during the years Clements served as chief operating officer, according to the announcement.

Tours and activities are key to Booking Holdings’ connected trip strategy, which aims to provide a hassle-free travel experience throughout the journey.

Booking Holdings acquired FareHarbor, a tours and activities technology and distribution platform, in 2018 for $139 milliion net of cash acquired and $110 million in stock.

FareHarbor co-founders Lawrence Hester and brother Zachary Hester left Booking Holdings in July 2021. Max Valverde, who served as FareHarbor CEO from 2019 to 2021, likewise left Booking at that time.

FareHarbor’s strategy has evolved over the last few years, evolving from an exclusively build-your-own strategy model in the early days under Booking Holdings to include FareHarbor outsourcing some of that work to partners such as TUI’s Musement and Viator in recent years.

The changing of the guard at FareHarbor comes as Google is getting more aggressive in building its own “things to do” business with an emphasis on big attractions. Booking engines such as FareHarbor and Peek participate in Google’s offering.

Watch out for updates.

Travel Agents

Reposite Raises $7.5 Million to Simplify Group Travel Bookings

2 years ago

Reposite, a maker of software for travel agents and advisors, has raised $7.5 million.

The company wants to establish itself as “the definitive group travel tool that fuels discovery and simplifies coordination for travel planners.”

The New York-headquartered startup was founded to address the needs of the group travel market, and in particular it wants to simplify it by leveraging data to consolidate planning.

Its supplier marketplace aids planners in finding new suppliers and receive proposals for their active trips. As well as activity providers it connects to restaurants, hotels, venues and transportation, and can notify them of trips happening in their area, so they can proactively connect with planners to win new business.

Current customers include Virgin Holidays, TUI, Bloomingdales, Major League Baseball and Brazilian steakhouse chain Fogo de Chao.

“We believe that group travel planning is ready for a data-driven refresh,” said Reposite co-founder Alexa Berube.

The round was co-led by returning investors Liberty City Ventures and Greycroft, with participation from MATH Ventures and BDMI. In 2020 it raised $2.5 million in funding.

Tour Operators

TUI Group’s $4 Billion Turnaround

2 years ago

Tour operator TUI has boosted its 2022 first-half revenue by $4 billion.

Posting its 2022 first-half results on Wednesday, which cover the period from Oct. 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022, the company said group revenue was $4.75 billion — an increase of $4 billion compared to the same six months in the previous year.

Its second-quarter revenue of $2.22 billion was also an “improvement” on the $0.2 billion revenue posted in the same quarter in 2021.

Tui said the turnaround reflected a “normalized pre-pandemic travel environment” with March achieving the highest monthly revenue within the quarter as operations ramped up after Omicron dented travel in January and February.

Its second quarter capacity also reached 71 percent of the same quarter in 2019. In March this year, operated capacity was at 75 percent. Some 1.9 million customers departed in the second quarter — an increase of 1.7 million customers versus the prior year.

However, its second quarter underlying EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) loss was $348.75, compared to $669.17 million in the 2021 second quarter.

Looking ahead, the UK market is its most advanced booked, with bookings up 11 percent versus Summer 2019.

And like NCL, its full fleet of cruise ships has returned, with the three brands are back in operation. However, compared to its other segments, sailings recovery is expected to be slower with short-term bookings continuing to represent a large share of overall bookings.

Its Musement division delivered 681,000 excursions, activities and tours in the second quarter, which TUI said reflected the more open travel environment and the successful integration of the company.