As one of the technology leaders in the industry, Lemax sponsored the very first (of many, we’re sure) Multi-Day Tours Forum hosted this month by the Arival, a platform that creates unique in-destinations experiences and is constantly publishing useful and relevant researches and insights. We attended most of the presentations, workshops, and Q&A sessions at the event as well as hosted a few. Our Head of Marketing Igor Kranjcec led a round table and presented our own insights and learnings. After many interesting conferences and speakers, we summed up two key takeaways of the event and drilled them down in this blog post.
1. Lack of tech adoption among multi-day tours operators
The general feeling is that the MDT operator industry is well behind other sectors of travel and tourism. At least when it comes to digitization and adopting modern reservations software. The main reason is that the sector is fragmented. There are so many different types of MDT operators and each of them is being run differently. Every business has its own process, and the processes are generally very complex.
“1/3 operators said they do not use any system. They are using email, spreadsheets, or even pen & paper…”Douglas Quinby, Co-founder & CEO at Arival
They feel somewhat neglected by the tech industry, disappointed even – with old websites, inaccurate pricing, not updated systems, etc. Especially smaller operators. Most larger MDT operators, however, build their own solutions because they can not find acceptable software for their specific needs.
“My opinion is if you’ve never been an operator, you can’t build SaaS for the multi-day sector.”Jared Alster, Chief Strategy Officer & Co-founder at Dune7
2. Online Travel Agencies as distribution channels for MDTs
The second topic that was widely discussed on the Forum was the lack of online travel agencies’ support. The main question was why haven’t the big OTA players, such as Booking.com or Expedia stepped up to multi-day tours’ distribution?
Big OTA players don’t understand MDT
The agreement is that online travel agencies do not understand the multi-day tours business and so they can not sell them. They are not investing in that channel and are trying to sell MDTs as an ancillary product to flights, instead of the main thing that drives customers. This creates the wrong buying experience and it fails, so OTAs back of.
Some of them have tried, and the smaller ones have succeeded – an example of TourRadar was given: they specialized in multi-day tours and invested in building the right buying experience. The big players, however, stepped out of the game.
Solely online selling doesn’t work
Another issue with utilizing OTAs for selling MDTs is the fear of commercialization. MDT operators pride themselves on unique experience and customer service, and if they sell MDTs massively over OTAs, the quality and authenticity would be degraded. Even OTAs aside, it is hard to sell MDTs online even on operators’ own websites, as it is a high-touch product. It requires multiple channels to convince the guests to buy (brochures + online + call center). Just solely putting it online won’t work.
Inconsistency in terminology
Even if an MDT operator invests their time and money into excelling their online presence, there’s another of the most basic issues they need to deal with: their tour types are called completely differently from one MDT operator to another: guided, private, scheduled, adventure, walking… So the question is how to adjust the keywords and search engine optimizations?
Conclusion: untapped market yet to be conquered
After listening to these discussions between professionals from the MDT sector, we came to the conclusion that multi-day tour operators do want to adopt tech and sell through OTAs as distribution channels, it is just hard for them to find the right tech and channels. But once that happens – whoever adopts to their needs first will have a huge and untapped market to conquer.