Tours Go Into Virtual Overdrive, but Will They Help?

Tour operators and OTAs are going all-in on virtual experiences during the COVID-19 quarantine. Are they a cure for our current crisis, or merely a way for operators to pass the time?

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by | Apr 12, 2020


Almost as soon as the global lockdown took effect by mid-March, everything that could go online did. Tour operators, attractions and OTAs (online travel agencies), whose businesses are reeling from a wave of cancellations and almost no new bookings, have been quick to follow suit. 


Many major museums and attractions have already offered virtual experiences, while many more have added online experiences. Tiqets has cataloged a number of online attraction experiences on its blog


We have been impressed to see how quickly so many companies, especially small ones, have been quick to create online experiences. Following virtual tour launches from Clio Muse, The Tour Guy, Withlocals and GetYourGuide in March, many others have followed suit.  


But will virtual tours and experiences truly supplant the real thing, and will they begin to make a dent in the enormous revenue loss from the current crisis? Tao Tao, COO of GetYourGuide, one of the first OTAs to launch virtual experiences, doesn’t think so. As he discussed in the Arival Online Ask Me Anything interview, while they can help operators stay connected to some customers during the travel lockdown, virtual tours will have a tough time competing for consumers’ attention with popular activities such as Netflix and online gaming. 


Much remains to be seen whether virtual tours can really compete for consumer attention and help operators through the downturn. But this wave of experimentation is sure to result in plenty of learnings and innovation that will make the Best Part of Travel even better.


Join the Arival Online event: Virtual Tours: Should You Do It? (and if so how?)

If you are contemplating virtual tours, join this new, and free, online event with leading providers of virtual tour experiences to discuss how they are going, will consumers pay (and how much), best practices, and help you decide if you should launch virtual tours. Learn more here. 


Here’s a roundup of just some of the latest companies to offer virtual experiences.


Airbnb has launched an impressive array of visually stunning online experiences


Viator has launched Rome from Home, more than 100 virtual tours and experiences, and is not charging a commission on virtual tour bookings.


Multi-destination walking tour operator Walks has launched six Tours from Home at $10 each. In an exciting way to spur future bookings and raise money now, every virtual experience booking includes a $25 voucher on a future tour. 


More and more culinary operators are launching digital cooking classes and tastings, as well as food delivery and unique culinary experiences such as “food tours in a box. For example, multi-city beer-tour operator City Brew Tours is offering online beer experiences from home, and BierMoment of Switzerland is offering virtual beer festivals plus “beer in a box.”




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