One of the most talked-about sessions at ARIVAL Orlando 2019 was titled the Great Tech Debate: A Roundtable with Reservations, featuring CEOs from four reservation systems.
Checkfront CEO and co-founder Jason Morehouse, FareHarbor CEO Max Valverde, Peek CEO and co-founder Ruzwana Bashir, and Rezdy CEO Chris Atkin took the stage to address important operator concerns and questions, and the future of the industry.
A cornerstone issue centered on the question of remaining independent versus the merits of acquisition. Have the acquisitions of FareHarbor by Booking.com and Bokun by TripAdvisor been good for the industry? Have these acquisitions been good for operators?
As the only reservation company on stage owned by an OTA, FareHarbor’s Valverde was first to address this issue, saying he was most excited by Booking.com’s ownership of FareHarbor because the investment was a vote of confidence in the tours, activities and attractions industry.
“It’s a tough game to grow something really large. Eventually you need to team up with someone big who can bankroll you and take it to the next level,” said Valverde, adding that other reservation systems such as Zerve failed despite major fundraising.
Some CEOs on stage criticized the consolidation of reservation systems. “There’s a conflict in the way it’s been aligned with the reservation systems and OTAs who are partners, and that creates confusion and some anxiety from operators,” said Checkfront’s Morehouse. “We get to set our goals based on our operators and are somewhat driven by the top-level OTA. I think there’s a conflict there that some people are uncomfortable with.”
Peek’s Ruzwana Bashir expressed how some operators are worried OTA acquisition of reservation systems may lead to sharing data around operator customers, pricing and more.
“The reason a lot of operators are talking about this issue is because they are concerned. They’re concerned about data and privacy, they’re concerned about the pricing power that OTAs have exerted in other industries … I think there’s deep concern from operators around the power and influence reservation systems being owned by an OTA could have, and how much your data could be utilized in the future.”
Valverde said such concerns are unfounded.
“Honestly, this is just fear mongering,” says Valverde. “We’re at a large publicly traded company with data privacy lawyers surrounding us. Modern travel companies play together nicely … This is a vote of confidence that we’re going to be here for a long time, and Booking believes in our product roadmap.”
Valverde said operator data is not shared with Booking.com.
Is Consolidation the Future?
With hundreds of reservation system options available around the world, is further consolidation inevitable?
Peek’s Bashir guessed the future of res tech will be less consolidation, and more overall industry growth. She expressed that people coalesce around tech players who have the most scale, and who invest to create the best product possible.
Both Morehouse and Atkin said that as the industry grows, there’s significantly more eyeballs on the tours, activities and attractions space—and there are still so many operators online.
“We’re still very early in the game. There are plenty of exits that will develop as the market matures,” says Atkin.
Watch the whole theater session in the video above to hear more about pricing models, advice CEOs had for operators to choose their booking tech, and important audience questions.