Top 7 Questions from Arival’s AMA Interview with Ben Drew, President of Viator
In late March, Viator’s president, Ben Drew, participated in a virtual ask-me-anything interview with Arival. Although most of the conversation focused on the COVID-19 crisis, we received over 170 questions from you. Here we’ve compiled the top 7 questions that operators submitted during the Q&A portion of the interview.
1) What’s the difference between Viator and Tripadvisor Experiences?
Earlier this year we announced that Viator would become a more independent business. We’re at the forefront of this incredibly exciting and fast-growing category and we believe a renewed focus on Viator – the industry’s leading, most tenured experiences marketplace – will unlock even more growth for your businesses, and ours, in 2020 and beyond. The change was mostly an internal one.
After five years with Tripadvisor and two decades leading the industry, Viator’s ready for its next adventure. We have you to thank – we wouldn’t be where we are without you, and the incredible, memorable experiences you’ve collectively brought to millions of travelers.
2) How will the decision to operate both companies separately impact operators who have products listed on both Tripadvisor and Viator? What will change for operators?
Our supplier agreements have always been directly between you and Viator, and that remains the same. There’s no change to how your tours, activities and experiences are listed, sold and distributed through our sites and partner network. Just as you are today, you’ll continue to be listed on Tripadvisor, Viator, and thousands of our partner sites, and you’ll continue to use the Tripadvisor Experiences Management Center to manage your account and products. Viator branding will change, and we will transition to an updated look and feel in the coming months.
3) What was the rationale behind Viator’s decision to increase standard minimum commission rates? Do operators have options to adjust prices?
With significant change, process can sometimes take time to catch up. We saw this happen with our commission rates: we took on hundreds of thousands of products over many years, and we knew we had some inconsistencies. We’ve now embarked on a plan to eliminate these inconsistencies and create a fairer, more balanced marketplace to benefit both travelers and operators.
We introduced a standard minimum commission rate based on geo and category. In practice, this means similar products in the same destination will pay the same minimum commission rate, aka what you (the operator) pays us (Viator) for delivering a booking.
We’re also actively working on a series of margin-based solutions designed to help you stick out from the crowd and generate more bookings when travel returns. The first of those solutions should start to roll out in just a few weeks, and is designed to ensure we celebrate, and reward, the hard work that you put into designing high quality products. You’ll have the opportunity to opt in, or choose not to, and we’ll continue to keep you updated on new solutions as they roll out.
4) Will you consider a temporary reduction in commission rates in light of the COVID-19 crisis?
This is one of the toughest moments our industry, and company has faced and we, like you, are under incredible, unprecedented pressure. We understand the request to ease or remove commissions – we’re all looking to save and make money everywhere we can. But like you, we have a business model. Where you make money by providing experiences, we make money by operating a marketplace for those experiences, giving travelers one place to find the best of what you all have to offer and earning a commission. And right now, the reality of the situation is that zero percent from a standstill in bookings, wouldn’t equate to much of a benefit to either party.
We’re confident the industry will recover, and when it does, through our commission rates is how we’ll fulfill our responsibilities to our employees, our customers, and our shareholders. It’ll also be the means by which we’ll be able to continue innovating and better serving your needs to reach travelers. We believe this is especially important when our industry rebuilds.
5) How is Viator supporting operators during this difficult time?
While travel has temporarily come to a halt, it doesn’t mean that we’re standing still; quite the contrary. We’re quickly working on several initiatives:
Most immediately, we’ve launched the following:
- Fast and More Frequent Bank Payouts: To get your money to you quicker, we’ve expedited bank payouts and initiated early payment for bookings traveled through March 20, 2020. We’ll temporarily disburse payments twice a month for bank payouts. If you’re eligible for payouts through PayPal, you can get paid even faster. See our FAQ for more information.
- Complimentary Optimization Sessions: To help you prepare for travelers when they return, we’re offering 30-minute personalized consultations to optimize one of your products. A member from our team will virtually work with you to review your product and help set you up for success. Sign up here.
- COVID-19 Operator Resources: We’ve compiled resources from across the industry that address operator concerns about shifting business and moving forward. We’ll continue to update this page as the situation evolves, so be sure to check back for more information.
These initiatives are just the start and we’ll be announcing more programs in the coming weeks. What else can we do? Please let us know. We really need to hear from you so we can best help you during these challenging times. You can reach us with feedback or ideas at https://supplier.viator.com/products/?startChat=true.
6) How is Viator managing customer cancellations in response to the COVID-19 crisis?
We’re currently offering refunds through May 31. Our cancellation policy was developed with the safety and concerns of our travelers in mind, as well as an abundance of caution for both our travelers and operators. We have extended to May 31 for this reason, and to encourage compliance with broader travel and/or disease control restrictions. Travel restrictions vary by market, and the dates for your local restrictions may vary from travelers’ local restrictions. As such, we will continue to refund bookings through May 31.
7) What can operators do in the immediate term to address the current challenges?
We know this is an incredibly tough time and it’s nearly impossible to predict when and how the pandemic will end. While we’re confident the travel industry will bounce back, there are a few immediate actions we recommend operators consider:
- First, secure your finances. Having cash on hand is important to weather the storm so preserve your cash by minimizing expenses. If cash is not immediately available, look for liquidity. At the time of writing, banks are comparatively well capitalized. Borrowing is likely to be easier than at other times in history, especially as governments undertake emergency recovery measures. It may not last, so secure precautionary funding as early as possible. Even if you don’t use it, it’s a safety measure for a worst case scenario.
- Ask for your money sooner. We’re going to conduct payouts twice as frequently starting this week so you get your money sooner. If you use PayPal, payouts will be even faster.
- Position yourself for the future recovery by connecting with the many dreaming house-bound travelers now. People all over the world are consuming content at unparalleled rates — content that reminds them of better days and the hope they have for the future. So consider what kind of engaging content you can create for travelers to taste what it’ll be like when they can get back outside their homes.
To help you prepare for travelers’ return, in the coming weeks we’ll be sharing additional resources on topics such as digital marketing, pricing strategy, SEO, SEM, and more. We’ll be sure to keep you updated.