With the Help of DMOs, Experiences are Ready to Get Connected!

New Arival training program developed for destination management organizations aims to get more tour and activity operators online and connected

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“It is going to take a combination of increasing exposure to these new technologies and a systematic focus on educating small and medium sized operators about systems and benefits of these tools. Thanks in part to new hardware, infrastructure, and greater capacity, we don’t have to worry about educating users on the benefits of the Internet, and we can focus strictly on the benefits of specific applications and tools. Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) and regional tourism organizations can play an important role in the education of their stakeholders by leading by example.”

I wrote that in 2007 in an article for the Tips from the T-List book about how to help the long tail of tours and activities embrace technology. Seventeen years later we have made progress, but not to the extent that I would have expected. At the time, less than 5% of businesses had a reservation system. 

Today, according to Arival research, about half of day tour operators and 70% of activity providers have modern reservation technologies. In some markets, especially in emerging markets, that percentage is far lower. Although that’s a massive leap forward in adoption, it still means that we have more work to do.

For a while now, Arival has been working behind the scenes developing a training program for DMOs to help operators in their destinations get online and connected. The resulting “GetConnected!” program has already been put into practice by several DMOs. 

Experience Sector’s Journey To Tech Adoption

Much of the digital education available to tour and attraction operators has been from technology providers. Early reservation technology companies spent countless hours and resources to help educate the sector on the benefits of using reservation systems, digital marketing, and distribution. 

The operator community has increasingly adopted technology, and a 50-70% adoption rate may not seem too bad.  But imagine if only 50% of airlines were available through the global distribution systems or if 30% of hotels were  connected; travel simply wouldn’t exist as it does today So, the education must continue.

Over half of day tour operators are still not using an online booking system as of last year, according to Arival’s Technology and Connectivity report.

Enter DMOs: Carrying the Torch for Connectivity

Now, more and more DMOs are picking up the baton and doing the work of educating their stakeholders. Why now? DMOs are not particularly renowned for moving quickly, so it’s probably just a matter of course that they are now ready to pick up the mantle and continue the work of educating the sector. 

Some DMOs — like those in Australia — were ahead of the curve. As early as 2010, Tourism Australia and some of its regional tourism offices (RTOs) were providing stakeholders with what they called the “Tourism E-Kit”, a guide to everything digital including how to select a reservation system, use Google Ads, and sell through online travel agencies (OTAs). The program was well ahead of its time and still serves as an example of how DMOs can help digital enablement. 

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DMOs at the Forefront: Introducing Get Connected!

Jump ahead 13 years and two leading national tourism organizations, Failte Ireland and Visit Scotland, have created digital enablement programs designed to help stakeholders learn and, more importantly, implement digital distribution in their businesses. With the help of Arival and its GetConnected! resources, these two DMOs have created e-learning courses and training manuals that guide the operator through every step of the process of choosing a reservation system, understanding how to work with OTAs and other resellers, payments, and even more complex concepts like channel management and access control.

Introducing the GetConnected! training program

But compelling content is only part of the solution. Change takes time and persistence. The advantage of having DMOs undertake the task of educating the industry is that they do not have a commercial interest, other than to see the overall industry improve, and they tend to have longer time horizons. DMOs aren’t expecting overnight success. They are looking out two to five years in some cases. Unlike private companies that have strong content strategies and provide resources to the industry, DMOs are not trying to sell them anything at the end of the day, so their materials and the approach they take is unbiased and untainted by commercial intentions.

Helping DMOs & OTAs Close the Gap on Connectivity for Operators: 

DMOs are not the only organizations that could leverage unbiased educational content like Arival’s GetConnected! program. OTAs or other companies that have a large population of tour, activity and attraction operators may find providing unbiased educational content useful if it helps to make suppliers better partners. As Failte Ireland has seen, improving digital distribution literacy increases revenues, up to 35% in fact. For OTAs, that could also mean more revenues through distribution since much of the education is focused on overall distribution and not just direct sales.

Bookable Tourism’s Meredith Rangel, who advises Arival on the GetConnected! program, has this to say on the connectivity gap in her article Unlocking Destination Potential through Activating the Experiences Sector

“Many extraordinary experiences, integral in shaping destination choices, remain underrepresented in the online realm. Many of these businesses fail to have connected, modern booking systems, nor the foundations to be considered “tourism ready” to be tapping into the OTA landscape. Failing to feature these unique experiences during the dream phase can mean missed opportunities in converting travellers’ choices towards these destinations.

To bridge this gap, there needs to be a full activation strategy in place to nurture these amazing experiences to become “tourism ready” with live inventory available to all OTA partners. Through activating this sector it allows for Australia’s diverse offerings to capture the attention of prospective travellers, steering them towards choosing Australia as their ultimate destination.”

-Meredith Rangel 

As the industry looks to close the gap on the last 30% of businesses who are still not using modern reservation systems, destinations have a big role to play in increasing digital distribution literacy and helping their constituents improve their revenue. Private companies, OTAs, and other resellers also have an opportunity to encourage greater literacy and in doing so increase brand loyalty. 

And with the latest Arival research showing nearly half of Millennial and Gen Z travelers say tours, activities and attractions have a significant role in their destination choice, the case for getting experiences connected has never been more pertinent.

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Learn More about Getting Connected at the Next Arival Event

Find out more about how DMOs like Failte Ireland and Visit Scotland are helping operators become digitally enabled at the next Arival event.

Operators can also check out some of the resources Arival has developed: 

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