GetYourGuide Axes Self-Guided Tours

The OTA has informed suppliers it is removing most self-guided tours, a blow to a category segment that has risen rapidly with the rise of AI 

Woman in blue dress using audio guide device in a bustling Italian plaza

“We believe the future of travel is guided,” said GetYourGuide co-founder and CEO Johannes Reck at Arival Berlin in 2024. Apparently, that no longer includes self-guided tours.

The online travel agency (OTA) sent notices to tour suppliers on its marketplace that it was cutting “self or mobile-guided audio tours/exploration games/scavenger hunts.” The communication also said SIM cards, Wifi devices, and self-drive vehicle rentals were on the chopping block. All categories will be removed effective July 31, 2024. 

Arival contacted several self-guided tour providers about the announcement. VoiceMap, which has more than 400 tours on GetYourGuide, Questo, a provider of mobile gamified tours in more than 600 cities, and StoryTourist, a provider of self-guided audio tours in several European cities, all confirmed that they had been notified.

Tours with Entry Tickets Will Stay 

The new policy only includes stand-alone self-guided tours. AGetYourGuide spokesperson confirmed that it will continue to offer attraction tickets with accompanying audio guides, as attractions remain a supported activity category.

Andy Lawrence, Managing Director of Vox City, which operates a few hundred self-guided tours in 50 cities and is part of the Vox Group, confirmed that they were notified. He added that this would only affect a subset of their listings, as the company has expanded their “entry plus” offerings, meaning self-guided experiences included with attraction entry tickets. 

Limited Guidance on Self-Guided

Not all companies providing self-guided tours received a notification, creating confusion among some tour suppliers. Some platforms offering self-guided experiences on GetYourGuide had yet to receive any communication when Arival contacted them.

“The communication has been disappointing, and for those of us in the self-guided sector, it appears to have been a mass email,” said an executive with one self-guided tour provider. “There was no communication with us directly. It was just a month’s notice.“

A spokesperson for GetYourGuide said the company was still in the process of reviewing all of the affected product categories and suppliers, and additional partners would be contacted after further review by their product team. 

Leaders from several platforms expressed concern over the decision, given the significant role OTAs play in selling self-guided tours to travelers in key European markets. 

”GetYourGuide has been our main sales channel and I am shocked that they would kick us off the platform in the middle of summer, with no explanation,” noted one founder who asked not to be identified. “This puts us and every customer who has booked a self-guided tour for summer in a really difficult position. They could at least have given us until autumn to reset and find new sales channels.”

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The Self-Guided Surge

Self-guided tours, whereby a traveler downloads a tour on their mobile phone, have been a growing product category. Much less expensive than guided tours, they typically cost just a few dollars and provide a guided, map-based itinerary and audio and visual content for the user. 

The tours are popular with younger, cost-conscious consumers and travelers who prefer not to join groups. According to Arival’s The 2024 U.S. Tour Taker, 14% of travelers overall took a self-guided tour in 2023. For 18-34-year-olds, that number jumps to 18%. 

Dozens of startups have emerged over the past decade to offer self-guided experiences, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic amid growing demand for solo travel. Arival identified dozens of providers and analyzed the sector in this report on the self-guided tour landscape.  

The advent of Gen AI ushered in a flurry of new startups – as well as new products from established companies – who have rolled out a flood of AI-powered mobile guides. 

Grid of Seville audio tour options showing various attractions and experiences with prices and ratings.
A search for “Seville self-guided tours” on GetYourGuide returned more than 500 listings for Seville, Spain.

Why Drop Self-Guided?

The question for many in the industry, given the growth of the self-guided category overall as well as the increase in listings on GetYourGuide, is why cut the category, and why now? 

The official position from GetYourGuide is that they want to deliver “a customer-first platform that makes it easy to discover and book unforgettable experiences… we decided to remove categories in order to optimize our platform and offering.” The company’s supplier FAQ support page goes into more detail on what this means for affected suppliers. 

The rapid growth of self-guided tour products has raised questions about quality, and travelers do not seem as satisfied with self-guided tours.

“In the past two years, GetYourGuide allowed on its platform multiple suppliers of self-guided tours, and I guess this has led to a significant decrease in the quality of the experience they were providing to the end customers,” said Alex Govoreanu, CEO of Questo. “Our sales on GYG dropped two years in a row, while our overall sales grew 20x in the same timeframe.”

A review of self-guided and guided tours on various destination pages on GetYourGuide indicates that self-guided tours get lower ratings. A top self-guided tour in Seville with more than 120 reviews has a score of 4.2, and two tours have ratings of 2.0  and 2.4, each with fewer than 10 reviews. A similar search for guided tours in Seville shows multiple tours with hundreds or thousands of reviews, each with a rating of 4.5 or higher. 

Book a Tour, Download an App

Several self-guided tour providers pointed out that their tours are often delivered through a mobile app. This means that after purchasing through an OTA, customers must download an additional app, making for a cumbersome user experience.

“The customer experience hasn’t always been great,” acknowledged an executive from one self-guided platform. “An awful lot of the self-guided products push people away from the OTA app, but [GetYourGuide] wants to keep everything contained within their own ecosystem, and I could see them doing their own self-guided product in the future.”

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At Under $10, Is It Worth It?

Perhaps a more likely reason is the economic benefit.

“The removal of audio tours as a category by GetYourGuide was a surprise to us, especially in the context of a trend for independent tourism that’s gaining power over the last few years. There might be economical reasons for GetYourGuide to do so, as all the categories they are removing now are low-cost products,” said Alexander Golovatyi, CEO of WeGoTrip.

Most self-guided tours are priced under $15, and many well below $10. Is it worth the cost of managing the many thousands of products for a commission on an $8 self-guided tour vs. the same commission on a $90 guided tour? 

Iain Manley, founder of VoiceMap, doesn’t think either the cost or quality issues are sufficient reasons. 

“It’s easy enough to enforce a minimum price,” he said. “I think many self-guided tour providers would welcome this because it would help to raise prices across the sector. And while there are many low-quality players in the space, GetYourGuide has plenty of signals they can use to filter out these tours…. I think they are making a mistake here because they’re going to lose a lot of longtail and last-minute inventory.”

Manley points to smaller towns and destinations that may not be big enough to support a dedicated walking tour or food tour, but are ideal for self-guided experiences. 

“Ronda in Andalucia is a good example of longtail,” he said. “There isn’t a regular guided tour there. There are day trips from bigger destinations, but the town isn’t big enough to have regularly scheduled walking tours. Our best-performing products on OTAs are often in these smaller destinations.”

Manley adds that our industry also has a big last-minute problem for booking tours the day of or the day before in the most popular destinations and for the most popular attractions. While every tour operator has a capacity limit, there are no such constraints with self-guided tours via smartphones. He said more than 60% of VoiceMap’s bookings from GetYourGuide are same-day – that is, the travelers took the self-guided tour on the day they purchased it.

“Try and book a same-day tour in a well-known destination right now. It’s tough,” said Manley. “Why would you not want to provide customers with this experience instead of turning them away empty-handed? Why not limit how and when self-guided options display instead?”

Self-guided and audio tours of cities and attractions continue to be popular with a subset of travelers, and many tour operators and attractions create their own self-guided experiences as upsells to their customers, or enhancements to their existing experiences. Learn more about the self-guided tour landscape with Arival’s Mobile Self-Guided Tour Report.

Are you a creator of self-guided tours? We’d love to hear about your experience. Share your thoughts with us at [email protected]

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