Why the time is right for an operator-focused, commission-free OTA

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the travel industry. With cities in lockdown and flights cancelled, it has had a devastating effect on businesses who provide tours and activities — businesses which, for me, are the absolute backbone of travel.

Chris Torres – Tourism Marketing Agency and Touriosity

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the travel industry. With cities in lockdown and flights cancelled, it has had a devastating effect on businesses who provide tours and activities — businesses which, for me, are the absolute backbone of travel.

When Covid hit, I opened up my diary to provide free 1-to-1 consultations with many operators world-wide. Some of these conversations were inspirational for me, as I heard how some operators were doubling down, changing focus and finding new ways to make sure their businesses survived. But equally, many conversations were heart-breaking for me. Some of these operators were close to tears, worried about the survival of their businesses, looking for guidance and answers.

What became clear out of the 80+ conversations I have had over the last 13 or so weeks was that operators who are 50-100% reliant on bookings from OTAs were the worst affected. Yes, you read that correctly… More operators are closer to the 100% OTA-reliance mark than you would think and many only focus on a couple of OTAs.

The reason this kind of OTA-reliant operator is hit so hard is because customers were instantly refunded by OTAs, not giving the operator a chance to offer a postponement voucher or to reschedule bookings, keeping hold of some of the year’s revenue. This inability to negotiate with customers is what happens when tour and activity operators do not truly ‘own’ their customers’ data and when they are a few steps away from influencing the revenue streams.

Why operators must change how they conduct business

Now, no business should be that reliant on OTAs but I completely understand why it happens. You see revenue come in and you think to yourself, ‘This is great. This is easy.’ and you spend less time focusing on our own website, marketing your brand on direct channels. But then Covid hit, and a lot of operators started to realise that, you have little to no power.

If you generate $100,000 per year and are, let’s say, 50% reliant on a handful of OTAs at the low end of commission, that is $10,000 per year. That is a lot of money that isn’t landing in operators’ pockets — money that is especially important to operators after the devastating effects of Covid.

Viator’s new product-listing charge

The direction Viator has taken is the wrong one in my honest opinion; they are charging $29 per product listing for new listings after the 1st August 2020.

For me, at a time when operators are looking for help and guidance from their ‘partners’, this fee is a slap in the face and is downright immoral. Yes, Viator should focus on quality products and they should remove anything that simply does not sell or fits in with the particular level of quality they want to achieve… But should operators really have to pay this fee for Viator’s failing? Isn’t quality control something they should have been doing in the first place? Doesn’t Viator also make plenty of revenue by charging hefty commissions?

This is why I feel Touriosity is coming at the right time.

What is Touriosity?

Touriosity is an Online Travel Agent (OTA) with a conscience whose main focus and the aim is to help tour and activity providers grow direct bookings while complementing their own direct marketing efforts.

I’ve been mulling over the idea of Touriosity since I wrote my book, Lookers into Bookers. The original idea was to create an OTA — and I use that term loosely — just for food and drink operators. In my book, I used a fictional company called FoodDrinkTour.com to highlight some of the strategies and advice contained within it. From here, I decided to expand this idea past food and drink and created Touriosity.

Using mostly word of mouth instead of marketing, I’ve now put out what I am trying to achieve with Touriosity. The response was incredible, with over 500 tour and activity providers  registering their interest. I also have secured partnerships with CheckfrontToristyRezdy and Orioly — all of which believe in what I am trying to create. More will be announced in the weeks to come.

With this announcement, I wanted to provide the top 10 key details that Touriosity will seek to deliver on and answer some of the questions I’ve been asked since announcing the platform:

  1. Touriosity will never charge a commission… Ever! I will have this written into the Touriosity ‘constitution’.
  2. Touriosity is a non-profit. What I mean by this is that all revenue generated will be used to maintain and market the platform. We don’t have shareholders or investors we have to pay back.
  3. The sole purpose of Touriosity is to drive DIRECT bookings.
  4. Every operator will be on a level playing field. No featured listings or preferential treatment will be provided or on offer.
  5. Touriosity will not manage payments, so any booking or enquiry goes direct to you, meaning that you own that customer.
  6. I personally will take no income from Touriosity. I make a good living from the Tourism Marketing Agency and see this as an extension of our own services. I will have this written into the Touriosity ‘constitution’.
  7. Once launched, operators will vote on major changes. This includes changes to any fees or other aspects that have a major impact on operators using the platform.
  8. The annual fee will be locked in for 3 years.
  9. We will showcase your brand rather than hiding it from your potential customers.
  10. The platform will work for day, multi-day, and online experiences.

I wish to be upfront and honest with everyone reading this. Touriosity will not change the world overnight and I know that we have a job to do to compete against the ‘big boys and girls’ of our industry, but I truly believe if we get enough support from you, the operators, and others within the industry, maybe, just maybe, we can ruffle a few feathers and bring about a positive change to this industry we all love. This is why I will be giving everything I can to make this work over the next 18 months.

All we ask from operators is that they pay $150/$100 annually, per destination. That’s it. No commission or any other fee with all funds going towards marketing the platform and the operators who sign up. We will also take care of content migration, set-up, and optimization. After launch, we may allow operators to edit their own tours on the platform.

I for one understand that many operators need help with marketing but can’t afford a marketing agency — especially in these trying times. This is not just from me, but from a survey Arival recently conducted:

“More than half of all operators do not engage in standard, even free, digital marketing activities, have limited or no performance tracking, and remain unsatisfied with their marketing efforts.” – Arival

I see Touriosity as more than an OTA; I see it as a ‘marketing consortium’ and my aspiration is that Tourioisty will help plug this gap.

So, how can you join Touriosity?

We have a live stream and webinar (sorry, yes, yet another one) on the 1st of July to go over the points above in more detail and a few others I wish to share with you. I will also show a ‘very early’ demo of how we can integrate your existing booking platform and how we will display tours in a way that is fair for everyone.

This will be available on the following channels (no sign-up required):

The 31st of July 2020 is the registration and fee cut-off period. We will be closing this down so that we can aim for a launch date of September 2020, ensuring we are up and running in time for the festive season.

If you are interested, please do register your details at https://touriosity.travel/register-interest/

This is YOUR OTA. Let’s make it work together.

“Let me set something straight: OTAs can be a force of good. They can help you generate extra income and reach an audience that you may not be able to otherwise. But post-covid, 20–40% commission is no longer a viable option for most operators.”

Chris Torres