Singing from the same songsheet? Airbnb Trips versus the current chart-toppers


The deafening buzz around Airbnb Trips means that established experiential economy brands such as OpenTable, Viator and Ticketmaster need to shout even louder.

Representatives from the three incumbents were on stage at last week’s Phocuswright Conference in Los Angeles, a day or so before Airbnb launched its Trips product.

Christa Quarles, CEO of OpenTable, runs a business which has 40,000 bookable restaurants on its platform, handles 21 million diners a month and operates in 75 countries. Barrie Seidenberg is CEO of Viator, whose parent company TripAdvisor lists 730,000 activities on its site. Jared Smith is president of Ticketmaster North America, which will sell nearly 400 million live entertainment tickets in the US and Canada this year (and another 100 million in other markets).

In comparison, Airbnb Trip’s launch with 500 trips in 12 cities is barely a whisper, but by the time Trips exits the PR-driven echo chamber it is hogging the microphone of the tours and activities supergroup.

Each of the businesses on stage at Phocuswright realises that it needs to shout louder, or at least adopt a different tone.

For Quarles, on message in terms of the  conference’s “Funnel Revolution” tag line, OpenTable needs to “move from transactions into the discovery part of the equation” and that it is looking to curate its inventory for customers using data and personalisation techniques. “Google research shows people are comfortable with ten recommendations, no more,” she said.

She was candid enough to acknowledge that “people are not necessarily coming to Open Table” and that partnerships will be a big part of getting the business into the discovery phase. Clickthroughs from Apple Maps and Google Maps are a familiar channel for OpenTable, but Quarles noted that messengers apps are of particular interest.

“We see a lot of activity inside messenger apps, and it’s just beginning. We’re leaning in on artificial intelligence platforms and see opportunities in Google Home, Amazon, a lot of upper funnel markets we can be active in because we want to be where the customers are,” she said.

With OpenTable looking at getting into messenger conversations as a way to shout louder, Ticketmaster thinks that it has a big role to play in the experiential economy, and that one focus for the past two years has been distribution.

“We haven’t done enough with travel companies,” Smith admitted, “and a big priority for us is to sell off our platforms.”

Part of Ticketmaster’s approach to opening up its inventory is via an API. “We’re putting all our inventory into a single store, with incredible APIs, a developers’ portal, to plug into that inventory so we can syndicate it back out.”

He added that Ticketmaster is building its own proprietary customer experience products using the same APIs as it has made publicly available.

Meanwhile, Viator’s Seidenberg sung the praises of the established tours and activities sector, with “mobile” the underlying refrain – hardly a surprise with 80% of tours and activities booked in destination, and most if not all travellers having a smartphone with them.

The headwind here is that tours and activities suppliers are “low tech, small budget, offline and fragmented” with many still struggling to get online, never mind become mobile compatible, Travellers who have booked their flight on their mobile expect to be able to book their tours in their same way, she noted.

However, B2B tech can close this disconnect, with many SaaS businesses now working with suppliers to  facilitate real-time last minute booking. The days of emailed confirmations or no booking within 48 hours are on the way out.

In fact, Seidenberg predicted that in 2017 “the majority of suppliers” will be offering instant booking. And it’s not just the tours and activities part of the Viator line-up – attractions, she said, are also “starting to get it,” realising that there is no point in asking someone who has booked on mobile a few hours ahead to print their ticket, or make someone take their confirmation to a kiosk in order to gain access.

She noted that there are new companies entering this specific area and that “2017 will see real improvements and a big breakthrough in mobile attraction ticketing.”

So where does all this fit with Airbnb Trips? Could it integrate the Ticketmaster API (or indeed any other API) as part of the Trips/Experiences channel and become the de facto full-service online travel agency so many in the business are worried about? Airbnb guests are not banned from the visiting the popular attractions that Viator sells; not everyone wants to eat like a local and, guess what, even Millennials on vacation enjoy eating out at a well-known restaurant.

As Airbnb Trips evolves, there might be partnership opportunities for businesses such as the ones which appeared on stage at Phocuswright. But at this stage does Viator, or Open Table, or Ticketmaster  really need Airbnb? If anything, it is the other way round.


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