Have app, will travel like a local – hope­fully

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Spotlight - BY PA­TRICK SCOTT

While on their hon­ey­moon in Hoi An in cen­tral Viet­nam last month, Sharadhi Gadagkar and Ku­nal Pa­tel didn’t bother a ho­tel concierge with ques­tions about things to do. In­stead, the cou­ple signed up for their first Airbnb ex­pe­ri­ence, a tour or­ga­nized by Se­cretEATS, dur­ing which they hit five lo­ca­tions serv­ing orig­i­nal cock­tails, in­clud­ing a spiked iced cof­fee in the wood-planked loft of a de­signer bou­tique. It was a per­fectly tipsy three hours with two other guests and two guides.

“We love book­ing th­ese types of ex­pe­ri­ences,” said Gadagkar. “They give you a unique per­spec­tive on the local cul­ture that’s much harder to get on our own.”

The push to get trav­el­ers to book tours and ac­tiv­i­ties through mo­bile apps and web­sites has never been more vig­or­ous. The ma­jor­ity of th­ese day trips, un­like ho­tels and flights, are still booked off­line, rep­re­sent­ing the next ma­jor growth op­por­tu­nity for on­line travel com­pa­nies. Play­ers large and small are rac­ing to ag­gre­gate ex­ist­ing group tours, ac­tiv­i­ties and at­trac­tions – from river cruises in Chicago to “Sound of Mu­sic” tours in the Alps.

Th­ese tech com­pa­nies, a mix of es­tab­lished busi­nesses and star­tups, also are devel­op­ing more per­son­al­ized, local “ex­pe­ri­ences,” like a butch­ery class at a Lon­don gas­tro pub or a tour of Bud­dhist tem­ples in Ho Chi Minh City.

Re­cent ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy for book­ing and buy­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and tours, as well as travel envy spawned by so­cial me­dia, have ac­cel­er­ated the growth. In­vestors are plow­ing money into the sec­tor in record amounts, like the $484 mil­lion round of fund­ing that Ber­lin-based ag­gre­ga­tor GetYourGui­de an­nounced in May.

“There is a real unique leap, more of a quan­tum leap be­ing made in the ex­pe­ri­ence space,” said Jamie Wong, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of San Fran­cisco-based Vayable, which has been of­fer­ing ur­ban ex­pe­ri­ences hosted by lo­cals since 2011. “It’s a pretty mas­sive pie and it’s grow­ing far faster than ho­tels or car rentals.”

The so-called ex­pe­ri­ence econ­omy and shift to buy­ing mem­o­ries rather than things has been tracked since the late 1990s. In truth, all travel is an ex­pe­ri­ence, but the brand­ing and mar­ket­ing of “ex­pe­ri­en­tial travel” has been one of the top tourism trends in re­cent years.

Typ­i­cally, th­ese ex­cur­sions would be found through a ho­tel front desk or a local tourism of­fice. But tourists, es­pe­cially screen-de­pen­dent mil­len­ni­als, are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to their phones for in­stant book­ing.

Op­er­a­tors of tours booked on­line can be the same ones used by local tour of­fices. But when they’re not, de­ci­pher­ing which guide to choose, or even which site, can be tricky.

Even so, tourists like Zeena Bac­chus and Felix Eke, who were trav­el­ing in South­east Asia last month, pre­fer an in-per­son trans­ac­tion. Bac­chus, 29, a nurse prac­ti­tioner from Penn­syl­va­nia, used on­line book­ing plat­forms TripAd­vi­sor and Klook to get an idea of things to do when in Hoi An. But they ar­ranged sight­see­ing through a local tourism of­fice, fig­ur­ing they could ne­go­ti­ate a bet­ter price and es­tab­lish trust in per­son.

“I’ve just found that when trav­el­ing in other coun­tries, I can tell a local tour com­pany ex­actly what I want and see if they can work out my ac­tiv­i­ties for the amount of days I have,” Bac­chus said.

Gadagkar and Pa­tel, San Fran­cisco-based tech work­ers, are sold on on­line ex­pe­ri­ences. Be­sides their Airbnb cock­tail ad­ven­ture, they booked wine, raft­ing and cy­cling tours in New Zealand last year through TripAd­vi­sor and its Vi­a­tor busi­ness.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.