Tour Operators Slam Viator Over New Charges

Tour Operators Slam Viator Over New Charges And Standards

Viator has announced a whole new raft of product quality standards for tour operators. The global OTA also slapped on a $29 fee for any new products uploaded onto their platform from August 1.

Viator President Ben Drew explained the move in an interview with Arival.

“We’re not making a profit on this

What we’re doing here for new listings is covering the cost of having a team member review the listing and work with the operator to make it as good as possible. We find the highest quality listings get three times as many bookings, so this is something that should pay for itself many times over and ultimately benefit the operator.”

Ben Drew, President, Viator

Read the open letter from Ben Drew to tour operators in full.

Below are responses from the tour and activity industry, we will bring you more opinion and debate on this during the coming weeks.

“To raise the bar and keep it high, we’ve completely re-built our onboarding processes and tools, and we’re introducing a product quality review process, which will cost $29 per product submitted for listing. This covers a manual review of every new product, giving you the support you need to position your product in the right way from the start, helping you find success faster.”

Chris Torres of the Tourism Marketing Agency was quick to weigh in.

This is ‘OK’ if you have a couple of products, but if you are a tour operator with 10, 15, 50, 500 products or more, it all adds up. This, at a time when the tourism industry is on its knees looking at these platforms for support and you do this by possibly pulling their products and charging them a fee, per tour, for the pleasure.

Also, is it fair to ask operators to pay for the failings of Viator for not providing better quality control on the products they list?

Chris Torres, Tourism Marketing Agency

Travel entrepreneur, Travstore’s Sudhir Upadhyay was not so diplomatic, tweeting that the move is ‘selfish, insensitive and extremely opportunistic.’

On the Tourpreneur Listeners Facebook Group, the majority of tourpreneurs were stunned that Viator would make such a move when the industry is on its knees.  For some, the new cut-offs times for tours and activities would make it difficult to comply with the new Viator quality standards.

Chris Castle of Urban Adventures tweeted:  ‘The devil will be in the detail of how QC is implemented to streamline customer discovery. The $29 USD is an arbitrary amount so seems like a nudge tactic, which I support, but for some operators it adds to a growing list of grievances at a time when they’re hurting most.’

Diane Florez, IMPULSE travel

I think that the fee would be “easier to digest” if there was a thorough explanation of how the check will work compared to the current process. That is, how will we know that quality check is worth $29USD per product? Will a quality team be put together for this? Also, what if a product doesn’t make the cut? Is that fee refundable? Too many questions are pending after the announcement. I think a more thorough explanation would’ve helped manage the message and the expectations.

Jared Alster, Wildebeest

I hear his point around ROI if the QA process works as they assume it will. But agreed that’s it’s an onerous fee for suppliers to pay when they are already in the vice grip and worried about short term cash flow.

As Aretha Franklin is probably shouting down from the heavens: R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Viator’s announcement also demands the need for tours to adhere to a four-hour pre-tour cancellation window. This is not realistic for food tours and many experiences that require equipment preparation. What a way to treat the businesses who are actually supplying your product!  Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Midgi Moore and Lauren McCabe Herpich -Food Tour Operators behind Global Tours Connect

Read Global Tours Connect full response here.

Some in the tour industry lept to Viator’s defense.

Christian Watts did not think this was a bad move by Viator.

‘Almost all current operators already have everything live on Viator, so will not be affected. If you have new products to add, and you won’t get the ROI to cover the $29, then its really not worth your time to load it anyway.

The biggest problem Viator has right now is their 300,000 non-producing products – often because they have been loaded and semi-discarded – with limited concern for quality.

Meetup made this move a few years ago and started charging users to set up events. It quickly cleaned up their listings and made it the success it is today.

The 4-hour cut-off – it’s just 1 factor. Obviously, a shorter window is better for conversions, but its one factor of many. Ultimately, they are in the game of selling more tours & activities – and the guidelines are there only to help with that goal. It’s the same kind of factors that Google use every day when deciding to list your website on its search results.’

Alex Bainbridge penned an opinion piece yesterday claiming Viator were moving in the right direction.

‘This listing fee is an absolute step in the right direction. The onus is now on tour operators themselves to filter what they suggest for listing on the Viator platform. As a result operators will now only list the tours they care about sufficiently to pay the listing fee. Previously operators would list anything they could get past the filters, leading to poor quality fishing expedition listings that were becoming as spammy as SEO is.’

Bainbridge also tweeted that ‘at least Viator wants to work with tour operators. If you look at what GYG etc want to do, it is replace tour operators. When you look through this lens they should be supported. BUT yes, they have too many tours now, poor quality control.


The online travel agency is implementing product standards for operator listings, and we applaud the move to communicate in advance of making changes. But Viator should provide flexibility for those operator segments for which some standards are not feasible. As for the product listing fee, every operator is suffering. We’d like to see the company postpone that step to 2021 – at least.

Peter Syme summed up the vast majority of the opinions of the Tourpreneur community stating ‘No one really gives a shit over $29 if they sell. But timing and appreciation of the current situation are just off the scale terrible.’

Tourpreneur Take

We strongly feel that OTAs should focus on quality over quantity. We have no beef with that. We absolutely do not agree with charging this fee in the current climate. Viator takes a commission to cover the costs of uploading the product. Surely Viator should just reject those products they do not want to list on the site?

Look at Costco they sell low and pile it high but they have spent years working on their merchandising. They also know what their customers want and have ways to test new products.

It has taken the hotel OTAs well over a decade to merchandise their sites and let’s face it, hotels are easier to categorize than tours/activities.

For all other answers look at Tripadvisor’s stock story. I can’t help but think Ben Drew and his ilk are acting like hedge fund managers rather than passionate travel entrepreneurs,

Does he actually talk to tourpreneurs?

This kind of decision makes me wonder and I feel for his direct reports and staff who are going to take a lot of heat over this from the small to medium-sized activity and tour operators.

What do you think? Let us know in our online tourpreneur community with almost 2000 activity and tour operators.

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Shane Whaley is the Producer and Host of the Tourpreneur Podcast. He is also the curator in chief for the Tourpreneur Daily Brief. Shane has worked in the travel industry for almost twenty years.