One got the impression listening to Jake Steinman, founder of the RTO (Receptive Tour Operator) Summit Series at last week’s RTO Summit in New York that travel sellers and DMOs looking to stay ahead of the curve will be able to handle the process quicker through the RTO channel than by waiting for the findings of macro-survey results that identify tour and travel industry trends whose timeliness is often dated, much like forensic analysis.
Steinman, on the other hand, based his findings on several other sources that reflect almost immediate trends and directions on the marketplace. His presentation last week was based on his most recent “Listening Tour” in which he met some 30 receptive operators, as well as discussions with suppliers. He also had further sessions with international tour operators at industry events such as IPW. Also, he studied the range and substance of new product in operator brochures, as well as material that is being posted on the TourOperatorLand.com website, which can tell users what new packages and itineraries receptives are offering, as well as what more than 90 destinations have to offer receptive and international tour operators.
The TourOperatorLand.com site—along with the RTO Summit Series and other properties—is among those acquired last month by Connect Travel. At the site, both receptives and suppliers regularly update products and offerings, key contact information and services such as royalty free photos and itinerary ideas.
In discussing trends that are ahead-of-the-curve, Steinman highlighted two that stood out for INBOUND, which has digested them below.
Group Tours for Independent Travelers: Until recently, the norm for those who buy and sell tour product has been the 45-to-55-seat passenger tour bus that serves as the nexus and mode of movement through all-inclusive itinerary—from the moment a group arrives at a gateway airport until it leaves.
Now, however, tour operators are creating group tours for independent travelers This started when some U.S.-based receptive found that, while some clientele like the hassle-free experience of the escorted group tour, others want flexibility build their own experience.
The hassle-free service component is still promoted, but now an itinerary is basic: it includes air, hotel, ground transportation and Wi-Fi on the bus or, in many cases, a Mercedes Sprinter van, Tour customers will go to their hotel, meet for breakfast in the morning and, then, everybody decides what they’re going to do for the day and with whom they want to spend time with.” Explained Steinman, “Some people want to go to the beach. Some want to go to the museum. And on the way to the destination, they use WI Fi to learn what to do at the next city.”
While not gone from the equation, he said, tour leaders become transformed into concierges in the new tour model, earning commissions from selected vendors and tips for making restaurant reservations.
What you Saw vs Who You Met.
Steinman melded two items—a complimentary set of trends—into one as he discussed the growing desire on the part of travelers to experience something different, something authentic.
If you want to meet locals, you’ve got to know where to find the experiential tours
“It used to be what you saw – the Golden Gate Bridge, Statue of Liberty. And now it’s about who you met,” Steinman said. “If you want to meet locals, you have to find the experiential tours where you interact with locals.
“In order to do that, they have to find the products that tell them where the locals are going. And this is helping to create a (new) area of product.” It is also creating ways for receptive operators to differentiate themselves from those who have similar programs.
Steinman described to Summit delegates how he went on Air BnB and found a number of experiences operated by locals who are basically independent entrepreneurs who have a passion or expertise that can be easily included and offer a unique twist to an existing product.
He pointed to a New Yorker, John Coughlan, a retired New York City police officer, who developed “9/11 Tours by a First Responder” and “New York Crime Tours” on the Airbnb platform. Airbnb also vets each provider and requires that they receive above a 4 rating after each tour or they pull them off the platform and they need to reapply.
In closing, Steinman indicated that he would seek to curate more of the entrepreneurs who have products like that of Coughlan and invite them to next year’s RTO Summits.