Modernizing Tours and Activities Starts with Booking Technology

Skift Take

The standardization of outdated rides and activity systems by a non-profit group called OCTO sees a problem-first approach to modernization. It leaves little incentive for more established operators to get involved. How long will it take this attempt at industry customization to reach an innovation tipping point?

Selene Brophy

If booking attrition and connectivity has been such a burning issue for the tours and activities industry, why has standardization to break down digital barriers to growth taken so long?

It’s a question that many industry experts have pondered. For years. But in recent months, some of them have banded together to form a non-profit organization called Open Connectivity for Tours, Activities & Attractions (OCTO).

In simple terms, it’s about creating a code dictionary to ensure that experience economy stakeholders are referencing the same language. Tours and offline experiences have access to open API standards to make developing your connectivity easier and more efficient. So, ultimately, they still have to invest in it – but with standardized specs, it can happen faster and for a lot less.

The OCTO challenge brings to mind the universal plug voltage created by Apple and Android plugs and ports.

Essentially, cross-industry entry is looking to eradicate duplicate efforts, costs and extended development resources so that travel companies can avoid having to build an adapter (for lack of a better word), over and over again, to suit various reztech and distribution systems.

The non-profit organization said it has grown its membership base from 35 to 65 members in the past six months and includes a wide selection of companies across multiple touchpoints in the experiences industry, such as Arival, Amadeus, Tiqets, Magpie and the Empire Building. State. See the full list here.

But is it too little too late, or will this non-profit add a bridge across the digital divide this industry needs to cross?

Several major booking platforms, including Viator, GetYourGuide, Klook, and Expedia, have not entered the initial launch phase.

Stephen Joyce, CEO of OCTO and head of solutions at Holibob, admitted that there is no real benefit or short-term urgency for these online travel agencies to join.

“Ultimately, companies like GetYourGuide and Viator spent years and millions of dollars doing the work of custom connections to all these systems.”

After all, that’s what they do, a seamless market connection with third-party sales and large-scale distribution.

Legacy technology that needs to be updated

Carrie Keplinger, vice president of OCTO and chief commercial officer of Virgin Experience Gifts, which offers more than 2,000 gifting experiences in the US, said the OCTO core specification may be very basic, but she is looking forward to developing it once the Initial connectivity was clean.

“The initial setup of taking a ticket and validating a ticket is very basic. But we found that the specification tool or terminology differs, not only on the experience side, but also between res tech players and distribution partners.”

The challenge, Keplinger said, is the legacy technology that needs to be updated. The aim is to clean up the base specs to guide the tours and activities industry, and then create additional features.

“It all comes down to effective communication, whether it’s for cross-functional teams or the actual communication that drives distribution and reservation systems. Rather than a company investing in developing a new API every time they want to connect to a new partner, this standard specification would significantly reduce the cost for many companies in our industry to connect to more partners and grow the industry.”

Dynamic shipping or adding ground transport specifications to an entire package are some of the developments to consider, according to Keplinger.

She believes that building that community requires business and technology teams to come together and talk to each other across different companies.

Part of the standardization journey is “getting everyone in the same room to educate the industry and start having some of the difficult conversations about dynamic pricing, for example.”

“In the past, there has always been a big wall between the business side and the technology side of business, creating many of these problems or challenges. We want to be part of that conversation with the industry to get there. We need these tools. Together, we skip a lot of the extra work required on a working team to create these commercial products.”

Maintenance of open source technical specifications

OCTO is ready to release an official version of the draft format currently available for download. It specifically analyzes the entire booking flow, from checking availability, listing products, scheduling and booking.

In addition to this updated version, the developers (who work on a voluntary basis) are also working on pricing capability specifications as a second version and content capabilities as extensions to the original OCTO specification and documentation.

It is fully open source, however, only OCTO members can contribute to the development of the specification by participating in the specification committee along with its board of directors. Specification standards are executed by your internal team and then open for public review.

“We want to maintain the standards and move forward. As specifications are not static, they change over time and especially for business needs.”

At the moment, the tour and activity specification cleaning phase, with a wealth of resources in the experience sector, seems to have reached a slow pace. But essentially, it opposes moss accumulation to modernization.

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