Travel Disruption Summit Track Preview: Tourism

Editorial Note: In advance of next month’s Travel Disruption Summit, we’re publishing a series of posts previewing each of the content tracks featured at the conference: Hospitality, Aviation and Tourism. This week, we’re continuing the series by asking some of our speakers key questions that will be explored around tourism technology at the Summit. You can browse the full program and the latest speakers added to the lineup here.


The in-destination segment has seen a recent spike in interest across the travel industry. Airlines and OTAs are looking to expand into the activities space, with the goal of becoming an all-in-one travel facilitation platforms for their customers. As a result, this segment is undergoing a massive transformation thanks to an infusion of technology.

“Tourism is an enormous market, and rife with opportunity to leverage through technology. Some of the topics we’ll cover in this year’s Tourism track include the recent trend shift towards experiential travel, sustainability initiatives in popular destinations, and innovations in the logistical side of visiting a new place.”

In what's seen as the last frontier in online travel, a batch of startups emerged over the past years to bring supply online and empower operators with technology. Many have sold. In 2014, TripAdvisor snagged Viator in an early in-destination play. More recently, the company bought in-destination technologist Bokun, only one day after Booking Holdings announced its own acquisition of FareHarbor, another in-destination technology vendor.

As travelers prize quality experiences while traveling, travel brands forge a path to customer loyalty through a holistic booking experience. Companies pursue platform strategies, merging supply and demand into the most comprehensive menu of bookable in-destination activities. The vision is to make booking things to do as easy as buying a flight or hotel online.

Tourism Mainstage: “Capturing the Tourism Market” with Lonely Planet, Get Your Guide, TripAdvisor and Foursquare

On the Travel Disruption Summit mainstage, we’ll explore a fundamental question for the next era of in-destination. In this new landscape, how can brands maintain a lead in customer loyalty? The conversation among emerging leaders in the online activities space will center around what the future of end-to-end travel booking will look like. One of our mainstage speakers is Shane Mayer, Head of Partnerships at GetYourGuide. Another is Foursquare CEO Jeff Glueck, who has spent a decade in travel with previous roles at site59 and Travelocity. We asked each to share their perspectives on the upcoming event, as well as some of the most important challenges ahead.

Which topics are you most eager to explore at TDS?

Shane Meyer, Head of Partnerships,  GetYourGuide

Shane Meyer, Head of Partnerships, GetYourGuide

Shane Mayer: I’m looking forward to leading a deep dive into the travel audiences each of these digital companies has built. We’ll explore the unique ways in which they add value for those travelers, and the feedback they’ve been getting from executives at travel’s leading global brands about that value.

Jeff Glueck: I’m eager to hear how other travel startups and established brands think about bringing location into their products, their customer retention, as well as acquisition funnels, analytics and measurement. Contextually-aware technology and location data (which Foursquare licenses to leaders from Hilton to TripAdvisor to Ctrip) can improve real-life experiences, especially for travelers. Discovering new places through the help of contextually-aware technology has been core to Foursquare’s DNA, so whether it’s planning an upcoming trip, checking the weather to determine your day’s adventure or finding new people to meet based on the places you frequent, contextually-aware services can transform the personalized digital experience to explore the world in a more meaningful way.  

SM:  I’m also keen to gaze toward the future with the group and talk about our shared mission to build a seamless experience for the travelers of tomorrow.

JG: Travelers are hungry for centralized information that makes trip planning and booking easier. In fact, customers are spending more than 40% of the booking process in a map view, meaning that it’s more important than ever to bring personalized and local context to the decision-making process in one seamless view.  That’s why we see a lot of opportunity in the vacation rental and small inn and home rental business to improve online booking conversion by adding in neighborhood information about amenities and attractions nearby, with photos and ratings.

How do these topics align with some of the challenges you see for tours/in-destination in the next 12-24 months?

SM: The industry is beginning to realize that travel experiences are more than an ancillary product to upsell customers on, like extra legroom or priority boarding.

The in-destination experiences we sell on GetYourGuide are the main reason many people travel for leisure at all, and the industry’s leading companies are now seeing the true potential to use these products to extend the customer journey and engender real loyalty.

Jeff Glueck, CEO,  Foursquare

Jeff Glueck, CEO, Foursquare

JG: Data quality is an important characteristic for any travel company using technology to power personalized travel experiences. It’s also one of the most challenging characteristics to understand. Not all data is created equal; it can be faulty or inaccurate, so it’s important to recognize how to cut through the clutter and determine what data is beneficial to enhance the user experience. For tourism and in-destination operators, the difference in good vs. bad data could mean many things in how it impacts their services: providing relevant travel recommendations based on a users’ location, more intuitive booking suggestions based on past booking patterns, or giving up-to-date venue information for millions of places around the world. We can also provide measurement on what ads are working to drive customers in the door, and what tourists do upon arrival, across 105 million global venues we track.

What are some of the qualities of a good technology solution serving the tours/in-destination space?

SM: The continued rise of mobile phones has empowered travelers to be more spontaneous than ever on the road, so last-minute bookability is a requirement these days. Those snap purchase decisions mean that booking platforms have to give travelers the confidence that they’re booking high-quality products at fair prices. It’s also critical not to forget about the “other” customer in our space: the experience providers behind the products. Building for flexibility and ease of implementation on their side is also key since many providers are entrepreneurs or small business owners without the resources to implement complex solutions.

JG: There are two that come to mind. First, contextual awareness of how a user moves through the real world can be incredibly powerful for the tours/in-destination industry. TripAdvisor, who I’m excited to join the panel with, is a great example of contextual innovation. Leveraging the powerful benefits of our Pilgrim SDK, Foursquare is helping TripAdvisor improve contextual awareness to drive in-destination and social travel recommendations through their app. For example, if you’re visiting Spain and receive a TripAdvisor notification (through opt-in location sharing) because a friend left a recommendation for a tapas place around the corner, that’s our technology powering that contextual awareness, thus truly personalizing the travel experience for the user.

Second, privacy by design is another quality that should be at the forefront of any technology solution providers’ mission to deliver technology that consumers can trust. I mentioned in my example that a user may receive a notification after opting in to location sharing services. This is an important distinction of privacy by design because consumers should have more control and transparency when they use a service where location sharing enhances the app experience.

What are some of the toughest operational challenges faced by in-destination operators today?

SM: The common challenges faced by experience providers reflect the fact that many of them are small, entrepreneurial, regional businesses. They have an ambitious task: to present their local corner of the world and share a local culture in a way that connects with a global audience. The best among them excel at this task and create true travel magic in doing so. It’s everything before and after the experience that presents real challenges for them. Handling currency conversion, managing reviews, and feedback, and translating product descriptions and delivering 24/7 customer service in dozens of languages are difficult tasks for any brand — near-impossible if you’re a small family-run business with fewer than 10 employees. That’s where companies like GetYourGuide add real value.

Are in-destination operators doing enough to align their experience with traveler expectations, especially when it comes to technology?

SM: A more accurate question would be whether travel brands are doing enough to align their tools and marketing to the in-destination space. It’s important to remember that the industry segment broadly referred to as “travel experiences” encompasses an extremely broad and diverse group of products, each with its own unique attributes. A neighborhood walking tour, a ticket to a museum exhibition, and a day trip involving transportation by automobile are all fundamentally different travel products and have different qualities.

We need to accommodate this diversity from the ground up and foster healthy competition that lets providers choose and customize the best tools for their unique products and needs. That’s key to truly unlocking the opportunity of our space, and meeting the expectations of tomorrow’s digitally-enabled travelers.

JG: In five to ten years from now, it’s hard to imagine living in a world where location technology services aren’t integrated into nearly every facet of the mobile world to enhance user experiences in the real world. There’s certainly an appetite among in-destination operators to connect with travelers on a more personalized level. This is where a phone’s-eye-view of the world can help bridge the gap between travelers’ desires for cool experiences and how travel services can deliver or recommend those experiences.

To truly deliver, it can only be made possible by technology that understands the surroundings and environment in which the phone moves around -- which is why location technology is paramount to improving the mobile world.

Roundtable Sessions: Geetika Agarwal, VAWAA: Experiences Table

During our roundtable sessions, attendees will explore topics that relate to a specific phase of a traveler’s journey, within the three tracks: Aviation, Hospitality, and Tourism. Each roundtable also has an expert moderator, who will guide the conversation among the ten participants (carefully curated to include four industry professionals, four startups, one investor and one media representative). We’ve designed our roundtables to be deeper dives into essential issues in travel. The roundtables foster an engaging, thoughtful conversation among an intimate group of professionals.

One of our moderators is Geetika Agarwal, the Founder and CEO of VAWAA. Her startup is focused on connecting travelers to creatives so they can Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA). Geetika is moderating the Experiences table in the Tourism track, where she will lead the conversation with fellow leaders of the in-destination segment. The Experiences roundtable will discuss the steps travel brands are taking to surprise and delight their customers in unexpected ways.

We posed the same questions to Geetika to see what she’s most looking forward from this month’s event.

Which topics are you most eager to explore at TDS?

I’m obviously very eager to explore the topic of in-destination activities and experiences since that’s our primary focus. In addition, I’m also looking forward to fresh thinking around responsible tourism, customer loyalty and smart tech solutions around international payments.

How do these topics align with some of the challenges you see for tours/in-destination in the next 12 to 24 months?

Geetika Agarwal, Founder and CEO,  VAWAA

Geetika Agarwal, Founder and CEO, VAWAA

The toughest challenge by far is curation and quality of experiences delivered at scale. People want to go beyond the tourist attractions and engage with local culture. However, as this space grows, we all have to be very careful and responsible in protecting the local communities we work with.

Over-tourism and commodification of local culture is a real threat to travel so the challenges ahead are – how do we thoughtfully curate these experiences at scale, how do we maintain authenticity and quality of experiences, how do we use technology to create more transparency and fair pricing, and eventually customer loyalty. The modern traveler is more conscious, so in-destination providers are in a unique position to do this right from the beginning.

Experience is such an essential part of the in-destination product. What do travelers expect from their in-destination operators, and what tips do you suggest for operators to deliver the experience travelers expect?

Travelers today expect quality over quantity. They don’t want to check things off the list or just go home with pretty Instagram pictures. They want to go deep, engage and feel moved. They want to contribute to the local communities and create a two way exchange of ideas, not just consume culture. So operators should invest more time in curating meaningful experiences.

Secondly, there are all kinds of travelers to consider when designing experiences – solo, families, elderly, people of color, and those with accessibility needs. One size doesn’t fit all; operators need to be more inclusive in their services and offerings.

Lastly, today’s travelers are modern consumers who expect good design, as well as seamless, easy, fast, clear and transparent service. The experience begins when they start thinking about a vacation and ends days after its over. So it is necessary for operators to consider the entire customer journey and invest in good design and technology.  

Are in-destination operators doing enough to align their experience with traveler expectations, especially when it comes to technology?

We’re seeing in-destination operators doing a great job with mobile, providing offline content and  different methods of payments, as well as enhancing experiences using video and AR and building online travel communities.

Yet some of the basics like travel discovery and recommendations still seem to be a huge challenge. There’s just way too much information out there; it’s fragmented, confusing, and sometimes outdated, which makes travel planning hard. I’ve come across a couple of companies like TRILL who are using social discovery in an interesting way. Besides that, I’m counting on Google to really make a leap here.

Hear from Jeff, Geetika, Shane and more leaders making an impact in travel innovation at the Travel Disruption Summit on May 22nd, 2019 in New York City. Visit our website to check out the latest speakers and program updates, and apply to attend here! Interested in volunteering at the Travel Disruption Summit? Apply here to be a part of the Voyager HQ team for the day and get free access to the event!