Distribution Must be Understood by Operators: Arival Panel

Getting to grips with both off- and online distribution is one of the most important things an operator can do
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Distribution Must be Understood by Operators: Arival Panel Ben Finch
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The complex web of off- and online distribution needs to be understood by small operators, the Arival @ TIS conference heard on Thursday. While complicated, this is essential for operators to succeed as the pace of digitalization increases.

Distribution channels are fragmented, but replicate those seen in both hotels and airlines, Enrique Espinel, COO of Civitatis said. As in those markets, competing distributors will often be partners. 

Therefore, an operator will be able to distribute their products through reservation systems and channel managers that enable multiple connections to OTAs and B2B distributors. 

B2B distributors will provide operator content to travel agents, hotels and accommodation, and airlines, among others that sell direct to the consumer.

Peter Syme, founder of Splash White Water Rafting, said that a small operator is unlikely to need a channel manager to provide these connections. 

“A restech has the connections that I need and allows me to do the pricing I need to do. So for a small operator, I really don’t see the need for a channel manager. For other sectors of the industry — attractions and high volume — I would be using a channel manager.”

Channel managers provide multiple connections to OTAs and distributors. They may also run their own B2B marketplaces for operators to distribute their products. In theory, a channel manager will also allow operators to control pricing and availability on different channels.

This is common for channel managers in the hotel industry. However, the technology is still young and developing in tours, activities and attractions.

Visibility Set to Become Pay-to-Play

Gaining visibility on an OTA will often come down to operators making sure they are receiving good reviews, the content and pictures provided to an OTA about a tour, and availability. 

But visibility will become pay-to-play, Nishaknk Gopalkrishnan, chief business officer of TUI Musement said. Viator has made moves to further monetize its platform on top of commissions through a listing fee, and now through its Accelerate program

Accelerate will allow operators to increase their product visibility across Viator by increasing their commission. It does not affect search rankings. The program has not yet been launched worldwide.

This was seen as being bad for small operators by the panellists, and much of the audience.

“Marketing contributions or advertising funds are not unheard of,” Gopalkrishnan said. “They’ve always been there offline.This is just a way to bring it online, bring more visibility, and give people a way to have more control over their demand on that platform. 

“I think the bigger attractions, bigger operators may benefit from it. But if you’re a smaller operator, I don’t think it’s going to be a good thing for you. You’re gonna lose more visibility on their platform.”

Google Things To Do Traffic is Good

The conversation was more positive as it turned to Google Things To Do. Traffic is still low, but good and everyone expects the product to be improved. The difficulty will come when it moves into displaying tours, activities and attractions because of the variety and complexity of products.

Is it a threat to OTAs? ”I don’t see it as a threat,” Gopalkrishnan said. “I think it’s a benefit because Google has always said that they are not going to be in the fulfillment business. They are always going to be about providing the best customer experience and then connecting out to OTAs. So it’s not a threat. 

“I think it’s good. It’s probably gonna help the OTAs for the first 12 months. We have the entire technology infrastructure to support the Google feed and to really be active over there.”

From an operator’s perspective, the most important thing will be a button that says: “Book direct,” Syme said.

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