We hear it all the time: ‘supplier.’ It’s been common industry jargon forever to call travel products like hotels, airlines, attractions, and tour buses ‘suppliers.’
The term dates back to the days when travel agents ruled, and most travelers purchased their travel by walking into a local agency office or calling up their agent. The ‘suppliers’ are the owner-operators of the product, and ‘agents’ came from ‘ticket agents,’ authorized resellers of suppliers’ products to consumers.
The terminology has persisted, with the rise of online travel ‘agents,’ who all refer to owner/operators as ‘suppliers.’ It has persisted in spite of the rise of online selling and the increasing ability of all travel product owners to sell directly to travelers. It’s time we retire the term.
Why? Because ‘supplier’ is a concept defined by distribution. The hotel is the supplier to the agency. The day tour operator ‘supplies’ their product to the reseller. We don’t believe the owners and operators of Tours, Activities & Attractions are defined by distribution. If anything, it’s the other way around. What is an OTA (online travel agency) without the flights, hotels, tours, and tickets they need to sell? And there has never been more opportunity, through the power of technology and mobile devices, for operators to reach travelers directly and create customer relationships that last.
From ‘Supplier’ to ‘Operator’
So at Arival, we have decided to stop saying ‘supplier’ in favor of ‘operator.’ It’s going to be tough. Old habits die hard. Right now, Arival’s COO Bruce Rosard is a bit irritated with me, because we have to go back and make a number of changes to our websites and other material. Does this mean distribution is less important? No. It’s not a ranking. It’s not about one being more or less important. Distribution through resellers will be more important to some than to others.
We continue to see and project that OTAs are the fastest-growing channel for our market overall, and they will continue to be so for some time. But those of you who create and operate Tours, Activities, Attractions, Events & Experiences are more than just suppliers to agents. You are the owners, the creators, the operators of the Best Part of Travel. Our industry’s language should reflect that.
We don’t believe the owners and operators of Tours, Activities & Attractions are defined by distribution. If anything, it’s the other way around.