As the complexity, opaqueness and uncertainties associated with travel consumers booking air, hotel and car reservations online has all but been eliminated by the technological advances adopted by travel suppliers, OTAs and others, the thrill, anticipation and luster that used to surround the planning of vacations and holidays for most travelers has all but evaporated.  Indeed, the ‘mystical experience’ that many a traveler has yearned to encounter by way of their travel journeys is now, in our opinion, more focused on the destination than at any time since Thomas Cook set the modern travel industry in motion back on July 5, 1841with his escorted train excursion between Leicester and Loughborough.

As a travel affiliate, there is an important business takeaway in this revelation, and that is that in today’s online travel industry, the best revenue opportunities lie in pre-selling your customers the local activities, experiences and attractions they’ll be pursuing once they get to their destination.  Put another way, while your customer travel offering can be global in nature, your ability as a travel affiliate to satisfy your client’s local, at-destination travel needs before they leave home may often be the difference between a profitable or unprofitable campaign.

TravelDividends is not advocating that travel affiliates abandon their programs with travel suppliers like airlines, hotel and resort operators, spas, and cruise lines, or with online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline and head for the hills.  Rather, we are strongly suggesting that travel affiliates augment their existing programs with these vendors by including products and services offered by travel activities aggregators, so that they can capture the sizeable incremental travel dollars that virtually every leisure traveler parts with once he or she gets to their destination.  After all, everyone in the travel value chain is looking to maximize their ability to siphon-off the traveler’s ‘share of wallet’…why shouldn’t the winner in this endeavor be you?

As best as we can tell, travel activities aggregators of all sizes continue to grow, despite the effects of global economic malaise. We’ve seen some recent estimates for the size of the global activities market pegged at $350 billion, which truthfully, TravelDividends believes is a bit of a stretch.  Regardless of the true market size, major players like Viator, Isango!, and Octopus Travel, as well as smaller players like Dosomethingdifferent.com and CityDiscovery.com, or city-specific activities aggregators like The Leisure Pass Group and their LondonPass or ParisPass products each represent a good value proposition for travel affiliates, particularly in turbulent economic times like these.

However, not every player in this ‘super travel niche’ matches well with every travel affiliate; at the end of the day, the aggregator’s destination mix, product portfolio, or the types of travelers they target need to mesh with those of the travel affiliate.  Therefore, each travel affiliate should assess the strengths and weaknesses of the aggregators product suite, and determine with one(s) would provide them with a competitive advantage.

To help with that exercise, here’s the skinny on the offerings the above mentioned players are currently offering to travel affiliates…

Viator is by far the largest – and oldest – player in this space.  Headquartered in San Francisco, this 11 year old company claims to be the “world’s leading online resource for travel experiences, providing access to more than 5,500 tours, attractions and activities in 450-plus destinations in 75 countries.”

Viator, which appropriately in Latin means ‘to travel’, sells both consumer-direct via its own sites, as well and through a network of more than 1,000 affiliates that include airlines (for example, that’s Viator’s destination activities that comprises much of the 3,000 sightseeing tours available on British Airways’ and BAHolidays’ websites), hotel companies, OTAs, city-specific sites as well as travel affiliates.

Viator pays travel affiliates 4% of the sale, and has a 30 day EPC of $49.86.  The company offers a white-label solution for any online travel company looking to add tours and activities to their business model.  This turnkey affiliate solution features “enhanced CSS, iframe widgets and XML feed options” that optimize integration of Viator’s tech platform with that of the affiliate.  Viator manages that program on its own; for their ‘generic’ travel affiliate program, go to ShareASale.

Another reason we like Viator: it has two of the largest and most prestigious private equity firms backing it up – Carlyle Venture Partners and Technology Venture Partners.  We think it’s a safe bet that Viator will be around for quite a while, no matter what happens to the global economy or travel industry.

Isango!, which was launched in 2006, and also a recipient of $8 million private equity money from Spark Ventures in march 2008, is another strong player in the travel activities aggregators sector.   Isango! (which is Zulu for ‘gateway’), is the brainchild of by former ebookers CEO Ranjan Singh, also plays in both the B2C and B2B spaces.  The company claims that it currently offers more than 4,000 activities in 60+ countries, and provides the tours and activities content on travel UK comparison website travelsupermarket.com as well as that for Accor Hotels (accorhotels.com).  Curiously, according to Isango’s website, their affiliate programs can sourced through either Commission Junction or Affiliate Future, though the Commission Junction program pays 4.5% on each booking, while on Affiliate Future the payout is 8%…we haven’t figured out why the discrepancy.  Isango boasts that the average basket on either network is 150 GBP / 300 USD.  Like Viator, Isango also offers a white label product.

Dosomethingdifferent.com, another relative newbie in the activities aggregator sector having also been launched in 2006, has an extensive international network, though not as developed as that of Viator.   They pay a generous 5% on the value of the booking, and its travel affiliate program, which is limited to UK travel affiliates, can be found at Affiliate Window.

CityDiscovery.com boasts having some 3,500 local sightseeing, tours and attractions available in more than 300 destinations around the world.   With such a large product range, there is something that satisfies every travel taste, no matter how unique that might be.  For example, CityDiscovery offers ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ city bus tour, or Segway and walking tours in a number of top destinations around the world, as well as photography tours, food, wine and gastronomy tours, to name just a few of the bookable activities they provide.  You can sign up for their travel affiliate program here, or through ShareASale, their preferred affiliate network.

OctopusTravel.com, which is part of Travelport, the large travel conglomerate, offers a travel affiliate program to UK, Australian and other international (but not US) travel affiliates through Commission Junction.  Offering travel affiliates a commission rate of 5% on all its 19,000 hotels and 1,000 plus discounted sightseeing products worldwide, “with higher levels for affiliates who regularly produce significant sales volumes, this major activities aggregator could be a good choice for many affiliates.  OctopusTravel claims their average booking value is £220 (approximately 313 Euros), which translates into a minimum commission of £11 (15.65 Euros), for a typical booking.   Details about their travel affiliate program can be found here, or at with Commission Junction.

The Leisure Pass Group’s portfolio of discounted travel attraction smart-cards for London, Paris, and New York City can all be sourced from Commission Junction.  As the leading tourism specialist creating and managing smart card pass systems worldwide, Leisure Pass has bundled a broad array of superb local attraction discounts into one program, offering pass holders free or deeply discounted entry to a large number of top visitor attractions in each of these top travel destinations they serve.  With respect to their London Pass, the Company offers 4% commission on every sale with additional performance incentives of up to 7%. They claim an average transaction value is £175 (or roughly $288 US), which equates to a base commission of $11.55 and maximum of $20.21, assuming the affiliate hits the top performance tier.  When selling a round trip airline ticket from the US to London through most airline and OTA sites might earn a travel affiliate $5 – $8, London Pass’ program seems quite attractive indeed.

As our readers know, TravelDividends is a strong believer in the opportunities that the travel long tail and travel niches afford travel affiliates.  But it takes an investment in time and effort for the travel affiliate to determine which travel niches are the right strategic fit for their product portfolios.  We’d like to hear from you – whether you are a travel affiliate or a travel supplier – regarding your take on the impact of local travel activities sector on your business, as well as the experiences you might have acquired working with travel activities aggregators.  We welcome your comments – pop us an email, and share your thoughts with us and our readers.  Thanks!

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