Barely a year ago, Asia-Pacific's tours and activities sector was on the cusp of a defining moment that saw the fast-growing segment picking up pace in attracting investor attention and fundings.
Companies the likes of KKday, Traveloka and Trip.com were investing in experiences, and the region was clocking nearly 50% of all funding globally. Even companies inside and outside of the travel industry were looking to get a foot into the tours and activities segment—Grab diversified into travel in 2019, while AirAsia was exploring the OTA route.
“We’d seen at least seven years of investments and growth in this sector, specifically in Asia-Pacific… so 2019 [was when] I expected the tours and activities to come to maturity,” says Blanca Menchaca, CEO of BeMyGuest.
The pandemic's onset, however, brought the sector's existing pain point of low technology adoption into sharp relief. For a sector that was already lagging behind hotels and airlines in digital adoption, "when the tens of thousands of cancellations flooded in, it exposed the weakest point of the sector—[lack of] technology,” she remarks.
Although revalidation was the best solution that operators could offer at the time, many of these suppliers who were forced to work from home did not have access to online systems to check ticket status. OTAs, in particular, which had turned to reselling attraction tickets or activity bookings, met savvy online customers who wanted immediate cancellations and refunds.
While BeMyGuest has processed 90% of cancellations, Menchaca says there are still activity and attraction operators who could not determine if specific tickets have been used or not, more than six months in the crisis.
Compounding the pressure are government regulations that leaner teams now have to follow, she adds, as tour operators and attractions grapple with the balancing act of managing skyrocketing operational costs or risk folding the business altogether.
The answer to these woes, according to both Menchaca and investors on various panels for WiT Experience Week, is technology.
“The sector was already in need of technology; the pandemic has made it even more obvious and fast-tracked. Governments are asking for purely online reservations, limited admissions, time slot management, capacity controls. You’ve to adopt technology if you want to continue to be operational,” says Menchaca.
In Singapore, technology adoption has panned out the most explicitly for theme parks. Where none used to utilise API—an application programming interface allowing two applications to ‘talk’ to each other, such as using Facebook or checking the weather on the phone—Menchaca now observes that at least three have fast-tracked its implementation.
So what's her advice for operators in the experiences space? It's critical that tour and activity operators should invest in online revenue management and booking systems so that they can maintain competitive prices while incorporating an adaptable booking calendar that adheres to government’s safe measures, Menchaca advises.