Tours & activities and the quest for a simple user experience

Pamela Whitby spoke to the chief product officer of a recently launched metasearch platform for tours and activities which is looking to overhaul the user experience for so-called FIT travellers

Investment is flooding into tours and activities. You only have to consider the recent $484-million investment into Berlin start-up GetYourGuide. But then look at Google to understand that this is also a tough area to crack. The search giant recently rolled back its Touring Bird experiment into its core travel group, and what happens next remains to be seen. Prasanna Veeraswamy, the chief product officer of ZOUBA, an early stage metasearch company in the tours and activities space, explains: “Tours and activities are hard to aggregate, hard to cluster.” For example, the same tour of the Berlin Wall may have six different variations and from six different suppliers. And in cities like London, you might have 2,000 to 3,000 products. “Consolidation into a simple user experience is not that easy,” he adds. But as a serial traveller, who has visited over 200 countries and 500 cities, he is “passionate about building travel platforms that solve real customer problems.”  He also believes that to succeed in this space you need to know the industry from a tech standpoint, but you also need experience on the ground.

Tours and activities are hard to aggregate, hard to cluster

ZOUBA, which means Let’s Go in Mandarin, and was incubated in travel management company GoQuo, has adopted a predominantly asset light approach and is sourcing inventory from partners, instead of directly contracting or connecting with operators like Klook or GetYourGuide. Veeraswamy believes this will allow Zouba to scale faster speed, and build a broader selection of products for end customers, across a diverse range of destinations.

The group is not there yet but by using intelligent machine learning techniques it expects to be a in “good place” within six months to a year, and has ambitious goals to be the Kayak, Skyscanner or Trivago of tours and activities within five years. The platform will be customer facing to build brand awareness but also have a business-to-business proposition, so that if an airline wants to start selling activities, instead of partnering with three different players, they can turn to Zouba.

Read on to find out more about the business model.   

EFT: There is lots of action in the tours and activities space so what exactly is your USP?

PV: Our USP at launch is going to be the sheer size of our inventory thanks to a metasearch model and integrations with multiple players across various markets and segments in this domain. Through this ‘meta’ model, we aim to be a one-stop-shop to allow travellers to find any kind of activity, experience, tours or tickets across a huge range of destinations. In other words, you don’t have to visit different websites or apps to look for different kind of destination products (like ‘person-to-person (P2P)’ tours vs. group tours vs unique experiences etc.). You just start and finish your customer journey at Zouba!

We strongly believe this might be a game changer in the customer journey of discovering and booking in-destination experiences – just as Kayak, SkyScanner and Trivago changed the discovery flow for other sectors over a decade ago. Also, unlike other metasearch platforms and aggregators, we allow instant booking for most of our products through our integrated partners – while other players simply redirect their users to complete the booking in partner sites. So, we are more of a meta-book marketplace and I believe that makes us unique.

That said, our long-term value proposition will come from the way we are going to simplify the search and discovery process of the customer journey by adding a lot of intelligent machine learning based algorithms and finer tuning the user experience. Travellers (and locals) will be able to find what matches their trip type easily and quickly just through a few taps or clicks, without the fatigue they face today.

EFT: And who is the target audience? 

PV: We are primarily targeting the segment popularly known in the travel industry as ‘FIT’ - which stands for ‘free independent traveler,’ ‘frequent independent traveler,’ or ‘foreign independent traveler’. All of these definitions share a keyword and concept: independent. They are travellers who almost always design their own itineraries and arrange their own travel plans.

While the itineraries they book might sometimes involve experiencing a tour or activity with a group, they still enjoy the fact that they book independently rather than having someone else arrange it for them. The availability of all aspects of in-destination planning online attracts independent travelers who plan their own specialised itineraries, and book their own transportation, tickets, tours and experiences.

In particular, within this segment, our core target audience would be travellers (and locals alike) who don’t like to visit multiple websites but prefer a one-stop shop of tours, attractions, activities, and experiences from Greenland to Goa. Think helicopter rides over scenic landscapes to the bottom of the sea, artisanal pastry classes in Paris, cultural extravaganzas in New Delhi, airport transfers and private cruises. The list is endless.

In addition, via our B2B channels we will be also reaching the customers of our airline and hotel partners who are more ‘primed’ to book as they have already confirmed their plans to be at a specific destination during a specific time window. This is increasingly important given that in many destinations popular attractions are now booked up.

EFT: Where do you see the growth potential? 

PV: While we plan to grow organically in the B2C marketplace, we are looking at our B2B partners to bring in a greater volume of users as well as bookings. We already have a set of clients from various verticals (airlines, hotels, and OTA’s) and are constantly expanding to bring in new partners. The aim is for this to be a beneficial symbiotic relationship as these partners are established players with recognised brand clout, and marketing muscle. Zouba's role is to harness the products and deliver a beautiful UX. Also, these users are a lot more relevant to the in-destination products (than walk-in users) as they have already planned their travel and this will potentially lead to much higher conversion rates.

EFT: Tell me a bit more about the revenue and partnership model?

PV: It’s commission based. In the case of our B2C marketplaces we will take the whole commission, but in our third-party distribution arrangements via our B2B Channels, we will be doing a revenue share. We are connected to various partners who have already done the heavy lifting of connecting to the operators, which have obtained the rights to distribute. This list of partners spans the spectrum of platforms that sell tours and activities online including OTA’s, activity banks, channel managers. We are also in the process of connecting with a very small set of operators directly to provide an even more enhanced user experience.

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