In this article:
- What is an Online Marketplace?
- Meeting Viator's Standards
- Is it Worth it?
- How Blue Sky Booking Can Help
In “The Guide to Global Distribution: Part 1” and “Part 2,” we explored distribution options for selling schedule flights globally through the GDS and Direct Connect options. In this article, we will explore options for distributing scenic flights, bundled tours, or other experiences your airline might offer via online marketplace listings.
What is an Online Marketplace?
Online marketplaces offer individual listings to travelers and tourists who are seeking experiences. Some marketplaces choose to focus on niche or restricted offerings to distinguish themselves, while other marketplaces offer a wider range of experiences and tours. Tour Radar, for example, is focused on multiday tours only. Others are activity-based, like Airbnb Experiences, offering cultural tours or day trips that are focused on interacting with guides, teachers, and performers.
Tripadvisor was spun off Expedia in December of 2011. At the time, Tripadvisor was the leading user-generated travel review space, creating its revenue from pay-per-click advertising. Since then, Tripadvisor has grown into the world’s largest and most trusted peer review travel site.
Tripadvisor helps travelers plan their entire travel journey through comparison shopping for hotels, vacation rentals, restaurants, flights, cruises, rental cars, and "Things to Do," where they group tours, excursions, and parks. Tripadvisor's global reach is staggering, with more than 450 million travelers visiting per month viewing more than 934 million reviews of almost 8 million businesses in 22 languages. They are truly a global company, offering tour data from 43 markets and their "Instant Booking" feature in the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, and South Africa.
"Tripadvisor’s global reach is staggering, with more than 450 million travelers visiting per month, viewing more than 934 million reviews of almost 8 million businesses in 22 languages."
Tripadvisor is not an online travel agency. It does not bundle travel products and for most listings, does not accept bookings or payments. For each category of travel product, they employ unique sales strategies.
When searching for schedule flights, Tripadvisor acts as a metasearch engine, compiling results from airline’s websites, online travel agencies, and aggregators for comparison before you are offered an opportunity to click through to the OTA or airline’s website to complete your booking.
When you browse the hotel and vacation rentals, you are looking at individual listings made directly by the hotel or vacation rental themselves. Tripadvisor then directs you to book through one of its accommodation partners (including VRBO, Expedia, and Booking.com) These accommodation partners have made agreements with Tripadvisor to provide booking services.
When you visit “Things to Do,” you are again browsing individual listings made by the vendors themselves, and among them you will find airlines selling scenic tours. Viator is Tripadvisor’s booking partner for tours, just like Booking.com is a booking partner for vacation rentals, except for one big difference: Tripadvisor bought Viator in 2014. The option to make an “Instant Booking” on a tour is only offered if the vendor is also listed on Viator. If your airline decides to list on Tripadvisor but not on Viator, the traveler still has a space to review your airline, share photos taken on your tour, or ask questions about your offerings. Your listing will be ranked based on Tripadvisor’s criteria (reviews, relevance, and - you guessed it - bookability) so it’s possible your listing will not fare as well. If you want bookability on Tripadvisor, you must enter into an agreement with Viator.
Tripadvisor’s Viator is a giant. This tour, activity, and attractions marketplace serves a multitude of platforms outside of Tripadvisor, claiming on their website to distribute their listings to over 3500+ airline, hotel, and travel publication partners. A listing on Viator is a powerful addition to your distribution strategy, as any product you list may be distributed to one of these partners.
"Tripadvisor’s Viator is a giant, claiming on their website to distribute their listings to over 3500+ airline, hotel, and travel publication partners."
Combining your flights with tour or activity products from other vendors can help create even more revenues from your Viator listing. If you create a Viator product for a complete package, say for example a flight to a remote town for a historical tour, you have created a new product and can price it as you please. This approach is not without risk and effort, as the vendor who chooses to market the product is accepting responsibility for the satisfaction of (and reviews from) customers whose experience was placed in the care of another company. Additionally, it creates a layer of administrative effort, tasking you with making reservations with the participating travel company, managing any disruptions, providing information about the other company to the customer, and handling payment and reconciliation.
Meeting Viator's Standards
Viator goes to great lengths to ensure the quality of the products it distributes, setting the bar high for vendors by requiring them to meet “Acceptance Criteria” to be listed and “Product Standards” to remain so. Examples of these standards are having at least two quality photos, a cancellation rate of less than 15%, complete product details, and soon. For air operators, Viator goes further, and even requires pilots to commit to refraining from cellphone use while operating their aircraft and lists safety briefings, the condition of navigational equipment, and the availability of lifejackets in their concerns.
Viator rates products based on these criteria and separates them into three categories: Excellent, Good, and No-Good-Enough-for-Viator. Viator restricts the number and percentage of cancellations a vendor can make, the time frame the vendor can make the cancellations in, and even lists what constitutes acceptable reasons for cancellations and changes. Viator tracks the number of complaints made against a vendor and reserves the right to remove your product if 3 or more complaints are made.
After meeting all their strict criteria, Viator takes a generous commission from all bookings made through their website or distribution channels. Unfortunately, Viator insists that your product’s price matches the advertised prices on all your sales channels, like your website, which means recouping the commission through a higher Viator listing price is not going to fly.
Is it Worth it?
Nonetheless, the visibility and trustworthiness a Viator listing offers is exceptional and for many vendors, well worth the high investments. Social proof builds trust, and a listing on Viator and/or Tripadvisor with positive reviews and beautiful photos presented to a global audience that is actively shopping mid travel-cycle has the potential to ramp up sales in a big way. Tripadvisor also provides a widget for displaying your Tripadvisor Rating on your website, which leverages the social proof you’ve gained towards making commission-free direct sales.
How Blue Sky Booking Can Help
Blue Sky Booking's existing Viator integration can automate your listings and availability. This means when the availability of one of your tours changes in Blue Sky Booking, the availability of that tour is updated on Viator and all the down stream distributed listings. Blue Sky Booking can help your airline manage schedules, bookings, payments and confirmations in a way that flows smoothly into Viator, Tripadvisor, and beyond.