“New technologies and technical advances must work for us, and not the reverse”
We recently had the pleasure of meeting Arnaud Escabasse, one of the co-founders of AdopteunTO.com. We discussed the company’s business model, how it sets itself apart from the competition, and the current challenges and trends in the tourism industry.
About the founders: Arnaud Escabasse and Thierry Dumas de la Roque work in the travel industry. They have many years of experience in travel marketing and a profound knowledge of tourism. After realising how difficult it can be to navigate the wide range of holidays on offer, they decided to join forces and design a tool to make it easier to understand the plethora of products offered by tour operators.
About AdopteunTO.com: The result of their partnership is AdopteunTO.com, a tool geared towards tour operators, which helps them make recommendations to their customers. This online B2B solution currently offers information on more than 80 destinations and 3200 hotels from 31 tour operators to agencies that subscribe to their service. This rich database makes it easy to search for holidays thanks to its 15 themes and more than 120 criteria. More than simply a workflow solution, AdopteunTO.com provides detailed information that provides an instant response to the questions that customers ask tour operators.
To begin with, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What inspired you to work in the tourist industry?
I went into tourism 30 years ago and have remained in the field ever since. While backpacking around five continents, I experienced many different aspects of the travel sector, from catering to hotels. My experiences as a guide, as a receptionist, as well as working in sales for both individuals and groups, gave me a good sense of the demands of this job.
I was also a travel agent at Aventuria, before developing Executive Travel (an incentive entity within the agency), which allowed me to work in the business travel sector. Finally, I was commercial director of Tourinter, which later became Passion des Îles, for five years. Following the merger of TUI’s legal entities in 2012, I left the position to start my business.
My partner, Thierry Dumas de la Roque, founded an online travel agency. As a trained geographer, he was very enthusiastic about tourism. He established his business in 2000, and quickly began to develop a database of the package holidays offered by tour operators, because he discovered that there was not enough information on tour operators’ B2Bs for him to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to his customers. This was the genesis of AdopteunTO.com.
AdopteunTO.com, therefore, is a tool designed by sales people for sales people. We understand the difficulties that travel agents face, which is our main strength and what sets us apart.
What more specifically is the basis of AdopteunTO.com?
Today, the technological tools available to travel agencies and agency networks distribute information from the tour operator, and are content with the level of information provided on the B2B by these TOs. For us, it’s the content that really matters. We will search the TO for the basics–such as the name of the hotel, the price, and the flights–and we enrich these elements using our database. We provide a wealth of information on destinations, such as administrative formalities, vaccines, cost of living, local currency, winter/summer time differences, and the strengths and weakness of the destination.
Likewise, we use 120 criteria that are based on the questions asked by our customers during our 17 years of experience. We know, for example, whether pets are accepted, if there are golf courses nearby, and, if so, how far away they are and their characteristics (for example, the number of holes, green-fee rate, carts, equipment, etc.), if there is a spa and whether it’s free or not, and the room configuration in the hotel. Additionally, we also provide between 50 and 70 photos, organised according to the services and room category. The bulk of our work today is keeping our database on more than 80 destinations and 3200 registered hotels up to date. The criteria, therefore, demand an enormous amount of work because they must be applied to all available hotels, but, at the same time, this is the principal added value provided by AdopteunTO.com.
No tour operators answer these criteria directly. So agents who work with us can respond to customer requests without having to call the tour operators directly, offering their clients destinations, departures and availability according to their criteria, automatically and immediately. In addition, agencies that use our platform can register their individual access codes on the TO’s B2B, and, once the product is found on our platform, automatically switch to the B2B of the TO in question, and update their file.
Finally, it should be noted that, currently, just over 100 members have not entered their codes and do not switch to TOs because they prefer to create their packages dynamically. At AdopteunTO.com, we don’t make agencies do anything: they decide how to sell their holidays!
What is your economic model? Other than user revenues, you don’t take a percentage of sales?
With regard to our business model, we don’t see ourselves as an intermediary or a business-provider, but rather as an information source! So we don’t ask for a percentage of the sale. We could have asked for substantial sums from the tour operators in order to make an income, but with no legitimacy and at the cost of our impartiality. So, as we don’t simply select offers, but also bring fact-based expertise, we decided to charge tour operators a single annual subscription of €365 per year per travel agency.
We are travel agents, and we’re well aware of the expenses involved in this job. The goal is not to overload our members, but we wanted to get a maximum number of subscriptions quickly, at a fair price. The volume of these subscriptions is what allowed us to achieve financial stability in three months with our first 300 members. We are aiming for 1500 agencies, which is a big number, but still very achievable, as we passed the milestone of 600 members on March 24th. Several large reference files are also in progress in France and elsewhere.
At the same time, in addition to the package products, we are developing a search engine for self-drive tours and tour operator routes, including notably those offered by a handful of newer TOs who specialise in these products. This search engine, which will be available in September, will initially allow basic searches by destination, date, departure city and duration. It will be backed by our destination database.
This is not revolutionary in itself, because agencies are accustomed to working with specific suppliers for specific products, but this tool is important to us. It will allow us to develop content that will be as rich as the content we have for the holidays, with real ‘seller criteria’.
Your main added value, then, is that you go beyond the information available. So, if you ask tour operators to add their information on trip types to your platform, isn’t there a risk that your potential competitors (such as Orchestra, for example) will have access to this information and can undermine what sets you apart?
Tour operators can enrich their B2B, but we always come back to the same issue: what about updating the data? Can they dedicate the staff to that task? We bring them a turnkey solution by distributing their product for free. If they look hard enough, everyone will see the virtues of using our tool, such as, for example, making brochures paper-free.
We don’t pretend to compete against the current solution-providers and other players, because we think we do a different job. However, it is quite conceivable that we could come to these tools upstream. Rather than switching agencies using codes from our platform to the tour operator’s B2B site, we could switch to one of these booking solutions.
We are already working on gateways with other players in the sector. In particular, we will provide an interesting tool, as of next September, with a partner offering accounting software. The information from AdopteunTO.com will be included in this supplier’s quotation tool, adding a new facet to both our tools.
What do you think are the most interesting technological changes in the travel industry, particularly with regard to B2B? What do you think of the travel industry from a technological point of view? Has it peaked? Is there much left to do?
I am impressed by the young start-ups in our industry that do something new with the old, by taking an apparently successful product, transforming it and making it innovative. The creativity of new players, who bring new concepts to the market, allows travel agencies to take advantage of new technologies. These newcomers create added value in terms of services for travel agency customers (such as concierge services, parking, tracking, etc.).
New technologies and the internet mean that travellers today are over-informed, for better or, sometimes, for worse. In this context, the job of the travel agent is specifically to put humanity back into the process. What might initially frighten travel agencies must now be seen as a great opportunity to assert themselves as professionals, in order to select and highlight what will benefit the customer.
In general (and this is a question we ask all of our interviewees), what is the biggest challenge facing tourism and the travel industry?
I believe very strongly in human relationships. New technologies and technical advances must work for us, and not the reverse. To continue producing quality journeys, it is essential that we maintain contact with our customers, understand what they want, and suggest destinations, activities or events that might not initially spring to mind. We must not forget that our sector demands that the Human be at the centre of everything, and therefore it is in the interests of all professions to work together.