What will 2011 bring for tour and activity providers
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When I first starting commenting on the tour and activity segment almost five years ago, it didn’t take long for me to see the opportunities with small tourism businesses. It took me a little longer to identify the challenges however. The tour and activity segment is truly one of the most fascinating travel segments to work with, both from an observer’s point of view but also as a technology provider’s point of view.
Five years ago, social media was only just beginning to show its potential to the market. Although many of us had been blogging for some time, small businesses had yet to see the opportunity that exists in blogging or social media in general. Even today, most small businesses are so focused on day to day operations that they miss out on the opportunities of engaging with social media. Those that had websites felt that their web presence didn’t do much for them other than serve as a virtual brochure. For many, this is still the case, and still more don’t even have websites. In 2006 I conducted some research into the activity provider segment and found that only about 20% of operators had websites, yet almost all of them print rack cards and brochures. My sense is that this is still the case for many of them.
I did learn recently however, through some research that will be made public in early 2011, that the tour and activity segment faired better than all other travel segments in 2009. While much of the travel industry contracted by almost 9%, the tour and activity segment contracted by only about 3%. This is the benefit of a segment powered almost entirely by small and micro enterprises. These are businesses run by entrepreneurs and proprietors who can make decisions quickly, adapt to opportunities, and reduce their costs by being frugal. Small businesses, in times of crisis, can find revenue opportunities is quite different ways. A growing number of operators have already used services like Groupon to fill empty seats or sell excess revenue.
Working with small business is never easy, but it can be incredibly fulfilling. Unlike working with large corporations, small businesses are generally an extension of the owner. When you work with a small business, you are working with a person who can make decisions, cares deeply about their business, and is looking for technology partners for the long term.
In keeping with the spirit of empowering small businesses, I decided to extend my Savvy Operator project. I recently set up a community using Ning to provide a place for tour and activity operators to share and learn together. The inspiration for this came from Alex Bainbridge’s Small Fish Big Ocean community which he has been running successful for several years. In the same way that Alex has brought small niche travel agents and specialty tour operators together, I hope to bring in-destination tour and activity providers together. If you are a DMO or an organization that works with a number of activity providers, I hope you’ll consider getting involved. The biggest lesson I have learned over the years of working with small business, is that they are eager to learn. Hopefully we can help them all become Savvy Operators this coming year.