In doing research for a new book I’m writing on how to start a travel club, I started finding some pretty unique tour outfits.
They weren’t what we’d call traditional tour operators or group leaders, businesses that focus on outbound travel by taking consumers from a central location to explore different parts of the world. These operators, on the other hand, reversed the tide – promoting a specific type of trip or activity in a set geographic area.
I’d call them receptive operators, but they’re really not. Receptives handle a gamut of stuff – step-ons, hotels, meals and attractions, packaging it all up and reselling it. These folks do just one thing typically – and based on online reviews they do that thing typically very well. Think kayak tours, Segway tours, bicycle tours, walking tours, art lovers’ tours, pizza tours or ghost tours. In fact, just about anything you can imagine someone would want to see or do, there is now a tour & activity company who’s serving that interest.
While these operators have always existed in some way, shape or form, their numbers have exploded thanks to online booking technology. Yes, that very same thing that caused the demise of tens of thousands of travel agents and tour operators has spawned a new breed of tour company.
The other main reason is consumers’ quest for new and different. No longer are travelers content to sit on their hands and see a destination through the windshield of a bus or car. They want to experience it! And that’s what these operators do, with fully immersive activities that do deep dives into all different levels of travel. Curious about Miami foods? There’s a company that can get you into six excellent restaurants in a matter of two hours.
Intrigued as to the size of this market, I interviewed TripAdvisor, one of the big aggregators of tour and activity data. Their estimate was 20,000 individuals/companies offering north of 50,000 different types of tours. That’s huge, but only the tip of the iceberg. Consider the relatively new Airbnb Experiences where locals share their part of the world via guided hikes, pottery classes, epic photo shoots or woodworking classes. Airbnb offers thousands of experiences like this.
Based on our research, many of these companies are still in their infancy. And while you can expect some to wash out, and some are obviously set to operate more like “pop up” tour companies than legacy operations, consumer demand is definitely asking for more. Tours, activities and attractions is travel’s third largest sector, and the fastest growing according to Arrival. A recent survey by Skift shows that 67% of affluent travelers would rather spend their money on activities than a nicer hotel.
This market is expected to surpass $183 billion this year and people don’t want to go back to being bored on vacation, so expect more unique tour & activity experiences in destinations big and small.
You might even want to incorporate a few of these on your next group trip, or if you have a passion for something in your hometown, considering adding this to your repertoire of vacation services.
Jeff Gayduk – Publisher