Tourism Shakeup in the 2010s: A Look Back and Projections for 2020 and Beyond


January 23, 2020

8 min read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

And just like that, we’re in the 20’s! In the past year alone—there have been some incredible milestones achieved from (close to) doubling in size, kicking off educational webinars & demo labs, delivering not one but two Zaui Zixers, and taking part in some inspiring events, including ITB, Arival Berlin, Arival Orlando, World Market, BCTIC and Expedia Explore.

The last 10 years have brought seismic shifts, thanks to rapid developments within the field of travel and tourism technology. 

It’s hard to believe that at the start of the decade, only a few players existed in the online tour, activity and ground transportation reservation space. Now, this number is looking a little closer to 150+. 

As we enter the 20s, we’d like to toast the 5 breakthroughs in technology that shook up the travel marketing ecosystem, empowered suppliers and paved the way for future growth in this market.

1. Digital Adoption: Bridging the Physical and Online Booking Experience


“The market is incredibly fragmented, lacks standardization, and is digitally inept. It’s comprised of a long tail of small suppliers (more than half generate less than $250,000 in annual revenue who still power their businesses through phone calls and paper ticketing).” – Deloitte, Travel and Hospitality Industry Outlook 2019

Fact: When it comes to technology adoption, tour and activity operators, unfortunately, trail behind. At the onset of the decade, many tours, activities, and bus trips were sold offline, whether in person or over the phone. Guests would then be issued a carbon copy ticket.

In recent years, purchase behaviours have shifted online or through digital apps. Digital ticketing (QR Codes) are becoming the preferred (and more eco-friendly) option. More travellers are opting for the ease and flexibility of making their travel bookings anytime, anywhere,  often in the comfort of their own home or on the go via a mobile device. This presents a valuable opportunity for tour and activity operators to rethink their digital experience and touchpoints.

We’ve seen tour and activity operators have made promising strides by laying the necessary digital foundation essential for running a tour business fit for the next decade.

Digital foundation for tourism brands include: 

  • Building a user and mobile-friendly website
  • Integrating an online reservation and e-commerce solution with their website
  • Establish business and social profiles  
  • Connect with Online Travel Agents (OTAs)

When set up correctly, tour and activity operators can effectively deliver a frictionless booking experience for the digitally savvy/online consumer.

The proof is in the pudding! Take transportation businesses for example, in 2010, Airporter – a Zaui customer – reinvented itself as a tech-forward transportation company with a focus on automated online bookings, credit card payments, electronic tickets and check-in using the Zaui Mobile app. Recognizing the change in purchase behaviour and the need for ease and efficiency, Airporter changed its model from a manual paper system to a custom eCommerce solution to keep itself ahead of the curve, resulting in 20% YoY growth for the 4 last years.

Looking ahead, we’re excited to see how tour, activity and ground transportation operators work to further align themselves with technology partners and bring a level of sophistication and competitive advantage to their online channels!

2. Going Mobile

In the 2010s, smartphone usage has transformed the travel journey entirely. Adobe Insights shared 9 mobile touchpoints charted by Mariott in the customer journey while in-destination.

A large part of this explosive growth is all thanks to increased connectivity (Hello 5G!) and mobile by industry heavyweights like Apple, Samsung and Google. With smartphones becoming more affordable and accessible than ever, so does our dependence on digital devices.

We’ve grown increasingly dependent on our phones—so much so the reported average user screen time per day is a whopping 2 hours and 55 minutes a day on their mobile phones —a truly frightening stat; it’s the combined number of hours using our phone to check the weather, plan our route, catch up on daily news, locate a restaurant, read a review etc.

Today, travellers rely on smartphones as their tour guides, travel agents, restaurant locators etc. Smartphones have effectively empowered travellers to conduct research, share experiences and make bookings anytime, anywhere.

As this dependency grows, tour, activity and bus operators should reassess their mobile strategy to deliver frictionless booking and in-destination experience to their guests, taking key considerations into account, including the site optimized for mobile, for voice? Is there an opportunity to incorporate a Mobile POS to check-in guests, retrieve manifests and overall simplify ground operations?


Adobe Insights further underscores a traveller’s in-destination day of travel- mapping a total of 9 mobile touchpoints in the customer journey.

3. #TravelInspo on Social


Over the last decade, terms “Followers,” “Likes,” and “Stories” have slid their way into our vernacular, all thanks to the explosive growth of social platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and TikTok.

These social platforms continue to play an integral role in changing how travellers (especially GenX and Millennials) are discovering and sharing adventure travel. Social channels are a go-to for finding  #travelinspo to guide the initial planning stages. User generated content (UGC) provides prospective travellers with a sheer volume of available travel material for curating their itineraries in only a few clicks.

For suppliers – social plays an integral role in the business, specifically with marketing and customer service. From a marketing standpoint, user and behavioural data are leveraged to deliver relevant social media marketing campaigns to your target demographics. 

Social has also taken customer service to new heights, providing guests with more access to your business and the ability to direct their inquiries and comment on your business social profiles.

In the years ahead, we expect to see these social channels continue to further evolve and align themselves with other technology partners by integrating direct booking features or build travel products in-house altogether.



4. Word of Mouth Goes Digital

Word of mouth marketing, by a long shot, is the most trusted form of advertising when lined up against the likes of SEM, Display Advertising. In the last decade, we’ve seen “word of mouth” take on a new shape in the form of social media and customer reviews.

Confidence in online reviews by peers and past visitors has influenced how travellers are approaching the booking journey and making purchase decisions. The process begins with combing through sites like TripAdvisor, Expedia and Social Platforms with a discerning eye – zeroing in on star ratings and user reviews.

Tour and activity operators, in turn, need to pay special care to reviews left on owned channels (Social, OTAs, Business Profiles).  This invaluable feedback allows you to tap into what guests love about your offerings and even areas for improvement. Negative reviews can adversely impact your brand’s reputation and search rankings. Even worse – deter travellers from booking.

While we’re on the subject of business reviews –  it’s hard to have this discussion without bringing up Google. In 2019, Google took the lion’s share of the search market at 75.32% – signifying user preference for Google’s search engine and product ecosystem (Google My Business, Maps, Hotel, Flight). 

For suppliers, this means your Google optimization strategy will require a lot more attention in the coming decade.

Flyte360 reports 60% of people say negative reviews make them not want to use a business.

5. The OTA Boom and Digital Distribution


We’ve seen the online travel sector boom in the 2010s. OTAs like Tripadvisor, Booking, Expedia, Get Your Guide, Busbud, Wanderu and Go2bus have come to help bridge distribution gaps.

However, despite the success of these OTAs, a daunting challenge lies ahead for the tours and activities sector. We’ve touched earlier on the fragmented state of the tours and activities sector, specifically with the operators varying sizes, levels of technological sophistication and nuances unique to their business. 

As a result, OTAs have made strategic acquisitions of key infrastructure companies (reservation platforms) in the last decade to help address some of these challenges.

Key acquisitions and investments in the 2010s that have changed the industry include: 

To accommodate this shift, it was important for Zaui to help travel brands connect to OTAs to expand their reach and grow bookings. In the case of Busbud, a transportation OTA and Zaui partner –  Busbud helps operators stay connected, access live inventory and implement dynamic pricing. 

It’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing more transportation operators leverage OTAs like Busbud to boost distribution and connectivity in the next decade.

🚀  2020 and Beyond

2020 will bring an abundance of opportunities for travel brands. With more investments and acquisitions are being made in the tour and activity space and tech giants continue to encroach into the travel space – it’ll be tricky not to get swept up by all the trends and changes!

Here are 3 industry trends that Zaui predicts will have an impact on the industry in the next decade:

1. Google Reserve’s Impact on Tour and Activity Operators

Google’s entry into the travel space in 2018 is causing quite a stir.  Google Reserve has prompted tour, activity and transportation operators to critically assess how distribution, reservation, payments and commission have previously been structured and connects with Google Reserve for a direct, seamless booking experience.

Google has already positioned itself to become an all-in-one place where users can go through its suite of products—Search, My Business, Maps, Hotel, Flights, Voice Assistant. We’re curious to see how the convergence of all these individual apps works together to create a frictionless travel experience for the modern traveller.

In preparation for the shakeup, we’ll be gearing up for Google Reserve’s full rollout first through partnership and integration to connect Zaui with Google seamlessly.

2. Levelling up with Dynamic Pricing

The next prediction might be a no-brainer for brands in other travel sectors.  In fact, revenue management and dynamic pricing strategies are already utilized by airlines and hotels to sell smarter and drive revenues – think airline carriers with surged last-minute prices! We’ve also seen great success with ground transportation OTAs like Busbud, who have effectively priced intercity bus journeys and seats strategically.

Tour and activity operators have been slow to adoption, often preferring fixed priced models and have struggled to transition to dynamically priced tours, activities and commodities. Dynamically adjusting prices allow brands to boost revenue when demand is high effectively. By optimizing pricing to meet supply and demand—tour, activity and ground transportation operators are able to maximize profits.

In the next year, tour, activity and ground transportation operators can look forward to leveraging dynamic pricing within Zaui to sell smarter.

3. Reliability Remains Key

The reality is technology fails, and unplanned downtime is more common than you’d think. From the Amazon 2018 Prime Day Crash to Facebook intermittent outages throughout 2019, it appears no one’s exempt from system downtime. Businesses depend on reliable network infrastructure to run their day-to-day business, and when that fails, it can mean lost sales and damage to your reputation.

In the event of downtime, taking preventative measures to safeguard your business is key. Ensure your tours, activities and transportation routes continue running smoothly by backing up and saving manifests locally.

At Zaui, reliability remains a core value of Zaui’s engineering culture and identity.  Over the past year, we’ve worked to build communication tools off our network, ramping up customer communication with automated alerts, implementing live system updates through, and making further investments in a real-time outage and monitoring solutions. 

Laying this fundamental groundwork primes us to deliver a seamless experience for our customers in 2020 and beyond.

Share your 2010s travel industry observations and predictions for the next decade with us!

About Zaui Software

Zaui is a technology-leading reservation and management software for maximizing online bookings and reducing costs in the tour, activity and transportation industry. Automate bookings, connect to Online Travel Agents (Viator, Expedia, etc.), live cross-selling of products, real-time inventory, POS and mobile applications, powerful analytics. Based in Canada’s outdoor adventure capital of Vancouver, British Columbia.

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