Pandemic accelerates technology adoption in end-destination industry

The Covid-19 pandemic brought with it massive job and revenue losses for the tourism industry, but it has also helped to accelerate the adoption of technology in touring businesses.

Arival’s CEO, Douglas Quinby, shared during a session titled What’s Next in Experiences: The Outlook for Tours, Activities & Attractions at ITB Berlin NOW: “In 2019, tourism activity was a small percentage of business booked online, as opposed to other portions such as flights and hotels. In comparison, it’s well over 50 per cent for flights, but this industry is catching up.”

The end-destination industry – tours, activities, attractions, events, and experiences – is a US$254 billion dollar industry, and the third largest in travel and tourism. This industry was profoundly affected in 2020, and represented only a quarter of total sales in 2019.

“This acceleration from offline to online has never been seen before. There was a large attraction in Europe which in 2019, only had an online share of one per cent (one in a 100 tickets were booked online). But in 2020, with the imposition of government restrictions, it had to switch to 100 per cent online bookings,” said Lukas C C Hempel, founder and CEO of Bookingkit.

“What couldn’t be changed in 10 years, changed in 10 weeks,” he remarked.

This shift in technology has also benefited consumers. Quinby elaborated: “Travellers now want to make sure the tour is running or the attraction is open (as we are still in the midst of the pandemic) before booking, and that health and safety measures are being followed.”

Indoor attractions had to shift their model from an open ticket to a timed entry, and implement capacity limits. These days, most indoor attractions possess an advanced booking model where there’s a time entry and limit, to manage visitor numbers and keep to social distancing requirements.

Dominique Sidley, global trade strategy director at Merlin Entertainments, revealed: “Some of our attractions like the London Eye were already challenged by capacity. So we had to offer ticketed times, where the model was extended to our major cities. We don’t insist on the time ticketing for our outdoor attractions like theme parks as the capacity is broader.”

“We also used the lockdown to accelerate our digital integration programme. So most of our regions now are pretty much voucher-free.”

Aside from the acceleration of adopting technology for online bookings, Quinby predicted that self-guided tours via a mobile app will gain more ground in the future. While this is not a new phenomenon, as startups and platforms with city discovery apps have been around for the past decade, it will be in line with the increased demand for small groups or self-guided travel.

On the point of small groups, Brad Weber, president & CEO at Gray Line Worldwide, added: “There’s been a lot of interest in private groups, and we’ve partnered with a lot of our local attractions, as well as restaurants to offer options such as private dining experiences. We’ve got a lot of such product development initiatives (in this regard) that are underway.”

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