The economic outlook for 2023, and the big shift in experiences discovery and marketing

In this Skip the Queue podcast episode, I speak with Douglas Quinby, co-founder and CEO of Arival.

“Increasingly younger people, they are connected to friends, they’re connected to particular brands or experiences, or they’re going to see something on TikTok or Instagram and they’re going to say, “Oh, I want to do that thing”. And that is going to drive the whole path to purchase.”

Douglas Quinby co-founded Arival to fill the huge void in insights, information and conferences for travel’s third-largest and most important sector: Tours, Activities & Attractions. Since its founding in 2016, Arival has become the defining platform for the sector, with three conferences worldwide, a series of definitive research reports and the Arival.travel media site and newsletter.

Prior to co-founding Arival he served as Senior Vice President, Research at Phocuswright, where he led seminal studies on numerous travel trends and sectors, including Tours, Activities & Attractions, as well as programming for Phocuswright conferences around the world.

What will you learn from this podcast?

  •  The economic outlook for 2023 across Europe and the USA
  • The big shift in discovering new experiences
  • Ticketing tech
  • Dynamic pricing

To listen to the full podcast, search Skip The Queue on iTunes, Google Podcasts and Spotify to subscribe. You can find links to every episode and more at www.rubbercheese.com/podcast.

You can also read the full transcript below.

Skip the Queue Douglas Quinby Blog large

The interview

Your host, Kelly Molson

Our guest, Douglas Quinby



Kelly Molson: Douglas, thank you so much for joining me on the Skip the Queue podcast today. I’m so excited that you could come on. 

Douglas Quinby: Well beyond thrilled to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation, Kelly. 

Kelly Molson: Very, very welcome. Straight into our ice breakers. So, Doug, I would like to know, do you have any hidden talents that we should know about? 

Douglas Quinby: Hidden talents? Let’s see. I actually was a music major in college and I have a music degree and studied composition and piano. Haven’t done much with that talent in some time, much to my wife’s chagrin. She complains about it and I get a little embarrassed about it, like, we’ll have friends over and she wants me to play the piano for everybody, and I get a little self conscious about it. So that’s actually one of my commitments to my wife, is I’m going to get our piano tuned, I’m going to start practicing again, and I’m not going to be bashful about playing when we have people over or when she wants me to. 

Kelly Molson: I think that is such a wonderful talent. I genuinely said to my husband it a couple of weeks ago, if there was two things that I could do, one would be I’d really love to be good at languages, and then I would really love to learn to play the piano. I think it’s great to be able to do that. Do you not find it quite mindful as well when you play? 

Douglas Quinby: Well, I do, and actually, when we had our two boys, I made a deliberate effort of teaching them to play piano. And so for years, I would sit down every day, or maybe almost every day, four or five days a week and make them practice. And we also hired a teacher to come in. But a lot of stress with that, with forcing two boys to play the piano and sit down every day. And I can tell you it was not always mindful and peaceful. Anyone who’s raising kids will know, right. So I think when they turn 15, like, okay, if you want to go and do something else, that’s fine. 

Douglas Quinby: And I just took a pause from the whole thing, so but, yes, I think as you get older yeah, I would get back in and there are moments when you can be mindful and just relaxing and pleasant. 

Kelly Molson: Okay. All right, next one. What is your ultimate guilty pleasure song? 

Douglas Quinby: A guilty pleasure song. Oh, yeah, I know, but I don’t know the name. 

Kelly Molson: Are you going to sing it for us? 

Douglas Quinby: Oh, goodness. What’s the song? There’s also that song by the Black Eyed Peas. I’m terrible with names. 

Kelly Molson: I’ve got a feeling. 

Douglas Quinby: Yeah. So that’s one. Like, sometimes I’ll put that on with my boys in the car and we’ll totally jam out together. Like we’re dancing around stage. But no, let me. Okay. Now, that’s important. This is an important question. 

Kelly Molson: It is an important question. I genuinely thought that you were going to break out into song and do it that way, Doug. I thought that was where you’ll go over this. And if you want, feel free. 

Douglas Quinby: Oh, my goodness. Gosh. It’s also what happens when you get older. I just find..

Kelly Molson: The suspense is killing us. An easier final question for you. What is the one thing you would like to do this year that you’ve never done before? 

Douglas Quinby: Well, this is going to be a kind of boring one. I’ve had a pretty amazing career. I’ve been able to travel to so many different places and have so many amazing experiences, and in particular, working in what we at Arival, we call the best part of travel. Right. So tours, activities and attractions all of those things that travellers do when they get there.

I’ve been beyond fortunate to have an opportunity to just meet so many amazing people whose whole lives are all about delivering amazing experiences to people. So I’ve done things like when I was in Dubai ATM through an industry connection. We did a climb up a sand dune in Sharjah. And then when we came down, we had an ice bucket, like an ice immersion experience, things like that. When I think about bucket list stuff, I don’t know. 

To me, that’s not as important. My commitment this year is my 17 year old is in his senior year in school, and he’s going to be going to college in the fall. And I’ve had so much travel and devoted so much of my life to starting my career and then starting Arival and building it over the past five years or keeping it afloat over the last two. And so now I’m actually committed to I’m not doing any travel other than what’s absolutely essential until he goes to school. And I’m going to spend as much time as possible with him and make sure that he knows as he goes off into the world, how much his father is behind him and has his back.

Kelly Molson: That’s a great answer to the question, Doug. And I think that is the most brilliant thing that he could be able to do right now. And I’m sure that he will very much appreciate that time with you as well. 

Douglas Quinby: Well, I hope so. Nothing more important. 

Kelly Molson: Absolutely not. Right, Doug. It is time for your unpopular opinion. What have you prepared for us today? 

Douglas Quinby: Well, my unpopular opinion well, I don’t know if it’s unpopular or not. You can tell me. But I’m continually amazed at how terrible so many attractions are at marketing to travellers and understanding the traveller psyche and understanding how travel distribution works. And it’s completely different from how a kind of a local thinks about visiting an attraction or having an experience. And so how you find them, how you target them, how you get into their mindset. That’s one piece and then the other piece is also understanding travel distribution and the systems and how to optimise that. It’s something that’s dramatically overlooked. So here’s just one example. 

In fact, one of the things that we do at Arival constantly is where we pulse the industry on a variety of trends to get a sense of what’s happening, especially over the past two and a half years, which has been so crazy for all of us. Well, now, I guess it’s three years now, is it? It is It is almost it’s coming up on three years since the pandemic started. So just here’s one example. In 2022, in a survey we had done, of almost 400 attractions over the past year, 23% are not using a modern booking or ticketing system to manage their business. To me, it’s incomprehensible. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. I mean, think about it from an airline perspective or a hotel perspective. Imagine if 23% of airlines did not use a central reservation system. 

Or imagine if 23% of hotels did not have a property management system. I mean, travel wouldn’t exist, right? The way it does today. It wouldn’t even be possible. So I find it interesting. It’s a real challenge to the industry and it’s very common, I think, across experiences. People get into this business or an attraction is started because it’s based on a mission. They may have a cultural mission. It may be a notforprofit. They may or they may be passionate about, like, say in the case of the tours world, like they want to be out in the water taking people on kayak tours or walking them up a mountain. 

Douglas Quinby: But at the same time, to have a business, to be able to deliver those experiences, to be able to advance the cultural mission, you want to have as many people come to your attraction as possible. You want to share that. And that requires an investment in the operation and the business. It requires understanding who the customer is. But it’s a natural thing of most businesses.

You tend to be focused on your own product or your own thing, but you also have to shift and think about the orientation of the customer and where they are and what they’re looking for. I don’t know if it’s an unpopular opinion because frankly, it’s just a fact. It’s just a fact when I see how most attractions market their experience to travellers and the challenges that the travel industry has. 

For example, in accessing attraction ticket inventory, when I see that less than 1% of attractions worldwide engage in any kind of dynamic pricing which is not just a tool to charge more money, it’s actually a tool for things like optimising the guest experience because you can more effectively disperse your customer demand over the course of a day or a week in order to make it a better experience for everybody.  There’s so much opportunity that’s missed in the world of attractions. 

Kelly Molson: I would love to know what listeners think about this. So, as ever, if you want to feedback on Doug’s unpopular opinion on our Twitter account, feel free. There’s definitely a conversation. I mean, there’s a whole podcast piece around your unpopular opinion. I think there Doug. We’re going touch on a couple of the subject matters from it today. But yeah, I think there’s a whole piece around exploring that. I don’t know how unpopular it is because I would tend to agree with you. And I think, like you said, it is a fact. I think the attractions industry has moved on dramatically from a digital perspective in the last three years. 

They were forced to move quicker, they were forced to innovate, they were forced to introduce things that they might have been thinking about doing them, but might have taken another two or three years to actually implement because they had to. But I think that some of those decisions and some of the things that they’ve implemented have been done in a quite rudimentary way because there was a time element attached to it. In the UK, attractions couldn’t open unless they could do pre booked and timed tickets. Small attractions, I mean, all of a sudden you’ve got to have the infrastructure to be able to implement that. You’ve got to find the right booking system, you’ve got to be able to pay for those things for you to be able to open safe. 

Douglas Quinby: Yeah, but this stuff is not this is not rocket science. No one needs to have expertise in artificial intelligence or you don’t need to. In fact, a lot of the systems that are out there today, and this is one of the most amazing things in the world of, say, in the tours and activities segment of the experiences industry, which has many more smaller businesses, there’s been an absolute revolution over the past decade.

There has been literally dozens upon dozens of startups that have stepped into the market. They offer very simple, easy to use, SaaS platforms. You can get your business up and running within a couple of days, if not less. You get your tickets loaded and you flip a switch and you can start selling that stuff directly through online travel agencies, through other resellers. You can set different rules.

 And this is stuff where often there’s not even an upfront cost, it’s just your own internal resources. So there’s been a dramatic change within the enterprise software side of the sector that has opened up all of these avenues to this industry. Now, of course, it’s one thing if you’re a small tour company and you do five or six departures a week, and you’re a one or two person shop and you’re a visitor attraction with thousands or tens of thousands of guests a year.  

Douglas Quinby:And you’ve got operations and you have a board or you have of course, there’s a lot of other things to consider there as well. There’s no reason for it. And again, I think for attractions, especially those that have a not for profit mission, some of the great and even where I live in Atlanta, Georgia, there are some terrific and very small local museums and places to visit that explore history of the south in small towns here outside of Atlanta, for example, or the Atlanta the City History Museum. But accessing the content and discovering it as a consumer is hard. It’s not easy. So it’s just a huge missed opportunity. 

Of course, there’s a lot of the big attractions, the great ones, they do a great job and there are many amazing. I want to be clear, too, there are many incredible travel marketers within the world of attractions, right? And you all know who you are and you’re out there. So I just want to say, for those of you like, this is not aimed at you, but it is aimed at, I think, the mid to long tail of amazing experience operators out there that could just benefit. So much more and not just benefit themselves commercially, but benefit people who haven’t experienced their attraction, haven’t experienced their museum or that little that special thing that they create that could delight so many more people. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I agree. There’s a lot to pick here, Doug. Well, let’s go back to what you said. So in the UK, so 2022, we really focused a lot about staffing challenges and the rising cost of labour. That was a huge topic across the board. That’s still a challenge. But in the UK especially, we have got currently a very high cost of living crisis. Utility costs have been driven up predominantly by the war against Ukraine.

We have attractions that are reporting a rise of between 200 and 900% in their electricity gas bills. So there’s been a recent publication in The Guardian saying that rising costs have led to staff redundancies. They’ve curtailed open hours and nine out of ten sites fear that they could close permanently, and that’s in castles, museums and theatres. That’s really drastic. That’s the real bad end of what’s going on at the moment. 

We’ve had things like train strikes in the UK, which are a necessary evil. I personally am, for one, support the rail strikes, but they do have a huge impact, especially on theatres. People that are going into London suddenly can’t get into London, or they have to drive into London, and it bumps the cost up for parking. All kinds of things going on. There’s still very few visits from international travellers, although that’s on the rise. But Asia is only just opening up the borders, so we still have a lot of attractions that are very heavily dependent on international tourism that are nowhere near back to the visitor numbers that they did, that they should be out and just to throw into the rigs. 

 We know from speaking to many attractions that marketing budgets are looking to be cut this year because of the high cost of utilities being risen. So marketing budgets could be cut by about 15% to 20% in the UK. What does it look like, Doug, for you? You’re US based, but you speak to a lot of US and international and European based attractions. Is it a similar story there? What’s happening? 

Douglas Quinby: It’s not, actually. Fortunes are quite mixed. I think the UK in particular and parts of Europe are being hit especially hard. In the United States, it’s a very different picture. In fact, it’s one of the most confusing times in terms of trying to forecast what the economy is going to do. Everyone is talking about recession. It seems like the Federal Reserve here is committed to putting the country into recession by tamping down inflation and raising interest rates. But at the same time, our federal government has just pushed through, at the end of last year, a $1.7 trillion spending package. And so it seems like we’ve got the Fed and the government kind of at odds in terms of where the economy should be going. We are seeing mass layoffs. 

Well, mass layoffs is probably a strong word, but widespread layoffs in certain sectors like tech and in certain areas of the corporate world, an expectation that earnings are going to be depressed. And this is in the US. But I think also globally through the first half of this year. Yet at the same time, the labour market is extremely tight. There’s a lot of demand. We just had our conference in Las Vegas in October, and for all the talk of recession, the hotels were full, the casinos were packed. We had a hard time getting restaurant reservations to feed the team during the event. So it’s a very confusing time. I think one of the things that I think every attraction needs to be thinking about and honestly, it’s not even an attraction. 

What I’m going to say is I think it applies to all industries, although I think in particular with regard to travel and to experiences because one, there’s still very clear demand for getting out and doing things. We’re still very much in a kind of COVID hangover. We see from all of our consumer sentiment work that they are prioritising getting out and doing things, being with people, with the people they love, having experiences whether it’s local or it’s travel. We measure this across a variety of ways, but just in a very simple way. Three out of five kind of Gen Z and young millennials are clearly prioritising experiences over stuff. That’s where they’re spending their money. That number actually jumps to almost three and four for Gen Z and millennials who are in that upper income bracket. 

Douglas Quinby: For us, that metric is a household income of 150,000 USD or up. And that’s actually for us, that’s very important and for all attractions and experience providers to think about because we really have to put it very simply, a kind of bifurcated consumer landscape. I think of it as the haves and the havesums. So you have the lower middle income segment and this applies to the US and Europe where, okay, they are being more directly affected by inflation, by rising cost of living, and a little bit by more the kind of recessionary impacts which are a bit deeper in Europe than they are in the US. And so yes, their spend is going to be a bit muted around travel and around experiences and they’re going to be a bit more price sensitive. 

But you also have this upper income segment which we see despite everything that’s happening in the world, there’s no the gas is on the pedal all the way down. They’re going for it. They intend to spend, do more, they want to travel more, they want to see more. And also we’ve seen an extraordinary shift coming out of the pandemic, which I think of it as like a post COVID kind of convulsion period that we’re in right now. Just to give you and this is in a recent report that we’ve a research, report on the experiences traveller and the global attractions traveller that we’ve published over the past couple of months where just a dramatic shift in the demand for small group and private experiences, even around attractions. 

So as I’ve been covering this industry for many years, we’ve always seen it’s been the iconic visitor attractions that have been the primary driver of tourism. I want to go to London and go to see the Tower. I want to go to the National Gallery or I’m going to Paris. I got to go to the Louvre, I’ve got to go to Buzzed or say and so on and so forth. But increasing, well, not just increasingly.  

Douglas Quinby: It’s been a dramatic shift as travellers have come back. It’s not just that I want to get a ticket to the Coliseum, but I want to have a private or special small group experience with my friends and family. I’m going to book that tour that will include the ticket, but I want all the bells and whistles or yes, I want to go to the top of the edge in New York with my fiance, with my wife. I want to do the Champagne Sunset Experience and I’m going to pay twice the price and we’re going to linger there and have that’s the kind of extraordinary shift that we’re seeing. And I’ve been saying this very clearly, one for any experienced operator or attraction, one understand who your customers are. Are they more price sensitive or are they more in the kind of the haves? Right?

Or if you serve both, then how can you really think about the products that you offer in a way to get the most out of them or deliver the best? And so a really great example is that it’s not just the ticket to the top but it’s the ticket to the top with the Champagne experience at a special time of day. Or maybe it’s offering a VIP behind the scenes experience or a special meal or something that just makes it a little bit more special and there’s just a real opportunity to sell more and to do more for that. Right? And then I think the one last thought is for those travellers or visitors that are a bit more price sensitive, really to think about, definitely you don’t want to get into the discount game. 

I’m always very vehemently opposed to discounting unless it’s done in a way that really can help you drive demand during low volume periods, but really to think about how can you deliver more, maybe deliver more value, right? Or more incentives. So maybe build something in to the experience, to the ticket or through a membership or subscription that creates a sense of more value for the guests. But don’t simply go to discounting, especially at a time like this when we’re all feeling pressure from the bottom up in terms of our balance sheets. 

Kelly Molson: Great advice. And what you’ve described is exactly what we’ve been talking about as well and what we’ve been hearing. So just before Christmas, I attended the Heads, a marketing meeting that ALVA run and Bernard Donoghue talked exactly the same scenarios that you just had. It is down to the experience. People will pay more, but they are looking for something that is outside of the ordinary now.

So it’s not just about come to the attraction, come to see this thing, what does that package look like? How can you exploit what you have in a more interesting way for the audience that are already going to come but they’ll probably spend more if you have this VIP package or this next level package if we talk about. A question for you. So we talked about the haves and the have not as much. So how did you define it? 

Douglas Quinby: The haves and the have-sums. 

Kelly Molson: The haves and the have-sums. Okay, so the haves and the have-sums. Where do you think this fits in terms of membership? Because that’s been quite a big discussion topic recently in that during the pandemic membership sales went up phenomenally, astronomically actually. So it was an altruistic purchase. You were doing what you could to support your favourite attraction while they couldn’t open.

What we’re starting to see is a decline in people renewing memberships because of how nervous the cost of living crisis is making people. And the assumption that Bernard described this dispute is that previously if you had a membership, so I have a membership for the National Trust, your previous mindset would be, “Oh well, let’s go to the local National Trust today because that’s free because we’ve got our membership, we’ve already paid for that”. And you wouldn’t really think about the secondary spend. 

So you’re going to buy lunch while you’re there or you might get something in the gift shop. Whereas now people are starting to go, “that’s not a free visit for us anymore”. So we need to think about whether we go, what we spend while we’re there. So maybe we take a packed lunch rather than we buy in the cafe, which is obviously then going to start to have a significant effect on the attraction itself. How can organisations do better with their memberships to kind of help those people that maybe have them and are thinking about letting them go? 

Douglas Quinby: That’s a really tough one, especially in this environment in the UK. And I think again, it comes down to what more can you layer in to really make it valuable? So what kind of additional kind of benefits or perks or things can you expand to really tie that in? But that’s something that I think really has to be addressed at the attraction level. There’s no way around this. You’ve got to understand your customer and who they are. Why did they become a member? What were the key drivers and how can you keep that going? I can tell you, for us, when our kids were younger, were members of the zoo here in Atlanta. We were members of another museum, a local science museum that we would take the kids to on a regular basis. 

But as the kids aged out, weren’t going as much, right? And there wasn’t a need. And their programming or their content was not compelling enough for us to stay with it. For example, now since they’ve actually introduced some things like at the science museum, like you can go to the observatory and they have cocktails under the stars at night and things like that, which might be a little bit more interesting for parents to still be involved. There’s no, I think, blanket easy answer for the industry as a whole. That’s something that you’ve really got to understand your triggers and what do your guests really value the most about the membership and what are things that you can do to really kind of leverage that to drive that engagement. But there’s one thing too, I’m just going to throw out there.

Douglas Quinby: This is maybe more of an idea I think could be, I don’t know, a million dollar idea or 100 million dollar idea within this sector. One of the businesses that has been a clear use case for travellers is that City Attraction Pass, right where you come into a city and you can buy that pass. You give access to so many attractions, and you get so many visits over the course of four or five days, or whatever the duration of the passes that you purchase. But there’s a missing, I think, business opportunity within the world of experiences, which is the equivalent of like a multi attraction membership. There’s actually an interesting little startup based in New York called Sesame which is doing something where you basically you pay almost a negligible. 

 I think it’s like 15 or $20 a year, and you get access to opaque pricing, to attractions all over the world, but even just something where you become So I guess the corollary I think of is something like class pass in the US. Or gym pass where you subscribe to the service and you can get access to gyms all over the country or to yoga classes or whatever it might be. And I think there’s a huge opportunity for some entrepreneurial startup to step in and aggregate a lot of this content in a subscription or a membership service, or you can do a zip line in North Georgia and then you can go to a National Trust experience somewhere in the UK and you can do this and you can do that. 

And to build that in, I think there’s an incredible opportunity there for something like that. A multi attraction subscription or membership service. Yeah. So I’m going to throw that out as my 100 billion dollar idea for some listener to your podcast. 

Kelly Molson: There you go, listeners who’s going to grab it and run with it. It’s a really good idea. As you were speaking, I was just thinking we work with a number of attractions on the North Norfolk in the North Norfolk area, which is a lovely coastal area in the UK. And like a Norfolk path for all of the attractions would be incredible because they’re all within an hour’s drive of each other. So something like that could work really well for those regional areas. So, yeah. All right. There you go. Norfolk attractions. What are you saying? Hit us up. Okay, let’s talk about, you wrote a brilliant blog last September called The Future of Discovery in Travel. Very welcome. It’s excellent. And it’s about the big shift in experiences, discovery, and marketing. So we know that marketing teams are stretched in attractions. 

They’re normally on the small side, and they’re doing a million different jobs at once. We also know that they need a really clear strategy, and they also need to focus on the right time, on the right channels for them to find where their existing audiences and where their new audiences are. And we’ve talked a little bit about it’s really vital at the moment to know exactly who your audiences are and where they are. This blog, you start off with a really great story about your son, and I wondered if you could just share the story about your son and sneakers. It’s a great start and introduction to this. 

Douglas Quinby: Yeah, sure, I’m happy to. Well, so first there’s a paradigm within the travel industry. There’s a phrase that’s used quite a bit called the “Path to Purchase”. And there’s a well worn paradigm. It’s almost accepted, like gospel within the industry of how a traveller goes about finding where they want to go, what they want to do, all of that stuff. And there was a study that I think was done maybe, I don’t know, 10, 12 years ago that was sponsored by Expedia that kind of walks through the path to purchase. You start on Google, you do a search, and then statistically, you visit 38 websites across online travel agencies and review sites like TripAdvisor and whatnot. And from that you kind of figure out, okay, where you want to go. And then you go through the actual shopping phase.

You do your flights and your accommodation, and then you get your things to do or experiences, which are often you’re booking that the day of travel or very close in or even while you’re in destination. So that’s the kind of well worn path of like, Google to OTAs to booking sites and, you know, boom, you’re off. But I’ve been I was just struck by something. So this happened in the spring where one day this package arrived at our house, and it was this pair of sneakers. It was like this $200 pair of sneakers that my 17 year old bought. And I mean, first of all, I have no idea where he got $200 to buy a pair of sneakers, but that’s a secondary issue. So I was just curious. 

It was like a designer pair of sneakers, like a certain type of Nike or something, but it wasn’t something maybe you’d go into a Nike store and find I don’t know, I just asked him, “How did you choose this pair of sneakers?” You have a teenage boy, they don’t talk, they don’t tell you anything, right? So that was like, I’m never going to find out the answer to that. But one of the things that I definitely know is I know how he didn’t buy those sneakers. I know he didn’t go on to Google. I know he didn’t visit 38 different sneaker websites to find the best sneaker at the best price, the best time. He didn’t go through all of that process. Now, did he see somebody on TikTok or a friend of his on Instagram? I don’t know. 

Douglas Quinby: Was it a friend of his at school who was wearing the sneakers? I have no idea. But that paradigm of how people find and discover what they want to do, what they’re going to do, is shifting dramatically, especially for that teenage, that Gen Z, and even the younger millennial set in a very extraordinary way. So, in a great example, I was speaking to Dan Christian of Dharma, which is a tour company, who actually would be another great person for you to have on your podcast, by the way, who’s very focused on the passion economy.

And he had this quote that sticks to my head, which is, “The tour happened to be in Costa Rica”, which basically means increasingly younger people, they are connected to friends, they’re connected to particular brands or experiences, or they’re going to see something on TikTok or Instagram and they’re going to say, “Oh, want to do that thing”. And that is going to drive the whole path to purchase and I want to do that thing. Oh, that thing happens to be in Costa Rica, or that happens to be in London or whatever. It could be anywhere, but I want to do that thing with those people. And by the way, I’ll say to you, I’m just a guy who runs an event and research company for attractions and experiences, but don’t take my word for it. 

Just look at what Google has done over the past year. They’ve completely and are continuing to revamp, in particular, their mobile search experience. And a VP at Google made an extraordinary statement at a conference, a tech conference last summer, where he said,”We are seeing 40% of Gen Z. They are turning not to Google, not to Maps or search to find where to go or where to eat nearby. They’re turning to Instagram, they’re turning to TikTok.” And it’s amazing when you ask these young people and there was a great story in the New York Times about this, I think last August or September, where young people were saying they’re being asked to compare, let’s say, a review of a restaurant on TikTok versus a Google review. And it’s like, I don’t have to read anything because young people aren’t reading. 

They don’t have to think. Literally, they’re saying, “I don’t have to think. I can just see the people at the restaurant. I can see them experiencing it. I can see myself in that. And that’s the kind of experience I want to have, and that’s all I need”. And that’s an extraordinary shift. So I think the next question you would probably ask is, okay, so what does that mean for an attraction or experienced operator? How do you deal with that, right? Especially when budgets are stretched and your marketing team has already got too much to do. 

Kelly Molson: You’re suddenly asking them to take part and create shortfall video content. Right? That’s the bottom line. We know that is the future of this type of search. That’s a massive ask, isn’t it? It seemed far more complex than sitting down and writing a blog article, for example. There’s a lot more involvement in it. 

Douglas Quinby: I’m not asking to do anything. I’m just simply saying, “look, this is what’s happening, and you all can decide what you want to do”. That’s up to you. But there is a profound shift that is underway. It’s happening so quickly, it’s hard to get your arms around. It’s very hard to understand, okay, well, “do I suddenly stop spending my money on Facebook and Google and put everything into TikTok?” No, of course not. Right? But because there’s still intentional demand on those channels, and we detail all of this in the research and the reports too, you can just very clearly see it. So in terms of where younger travellers are going to discover things to do. 

 So TikTok has already surpassed Twitter, and I think for Gen Z, it’s going to surpass Facebook within the next probably in the next year or two. Because we can already see Facebook is now like, it’s people my age, like it’s Gen X and maybe older millennials, but it’s really falling off for young folks. But it’s not an either or. This is always the thing that kind of comes up, oh, well, it’s another channel, that’s marketing, that’s never going to change. Your marketing teams are always going to be strapped. They’re always going to have too much to do. It’s. How are you going to work through that? So, yes, you still have to do Google, you still have to do Facebook, you still have to do the photos on Instagram.

But now you need to add reals, you need to add short form vertical video. And I would say you just begin by testing. And, you know, the best thing you can do, and there’s so many great examples of this is hire one of these. Hire a young person who does this stuff. Hire a 22 year old who lives in this world and ask them to start creating stuff and give them some license just to do things. And there’s so much great guidance out there as well on that. We’ve got some great content, too. We had an influencer at our Vegas event, a guy named Robbie Roth, who is an influencer for LGBTQ travel in general, and he gave some incredible sessions on how to deliver authenticity through social content. 

He’s all like, the number one thing, the next time you take a video, make sure it’s vertical. Just everything has got to be vertical first and foremost. But just experiment and keep going and start to develop that muscle because it will become very important. It already is very important. 

Kelly Molson: So I had a couple of questions on this topic, I have to say, we’ve had a couple of brilliant past podcast guests that have come on and talked to us about building great social community channels. We had Danielle Nichols and Ross Ballinger come on from Drayton Manor, which is a theme park based in the UK. So they talked a lot about how they had started their TikTok channel, and they’ve just got a really great kind of social community that they’ve been able to build, and it allows them to engage with their community, ask them for feedback, and in turn, the community feels like they’ve got their back in decisions that have been made. 

The theme park went through a rebrand process a little while ago and they were really able to kind of engage with their audience because of the work that they put into it. Now I can totally see TikTok working for Drayton Manor, like even if they hadn’t have done it already, I can see it because of the type of people that would go there, the thrill seekers, that kind of Gen Z, but where’s the opportunity for the attraction sector that are very kind of family orientated?

So we think about the team market that we’ve talked about. They’re thinking about travel and experiences, potentially gap year, that kind of thing. But a lot of the attractions that we work with are really focused on that family marketing. So ultimately it’s going to be the parents that are making those purchasing decisions. Is this still a channel that you think that there’s opportunity for those kind of attractions? 

Douglas Quinby: Well, fine, the parents might be ultimately paying for it, but we’re the kids. The kids are on TikTok and Instagram, they’re not on Facebook. So that’s number one. And the best way to get families there is to get kids excited about something. So that’s even more of a reason to be on there. And also something that we’ve seen as well across every social media channel. Well, maybe not everyone, but most certainly is. It starts with kind of the younger, more digitally, kind of switched on generation, but very quickly becomes widely used across all generations. Right? We saw that in Facebook, we saw that in Instagram. We’re seeing it in Twitter as well. 

And the demographics for TikTok as well, I think I’m sure already rapidly evolving to cut across a range of generations. That should definitely be a part of the family kind of marketing plan. And to try to reach parents and show in particular kids having an amazing experience at your experiences is great. And by the way, those videos too, I point out as well, it’s not just platform specific. Like we use TikTok and Instagram. That’s what we’re currently using because as the language or how we talk about this media format, because TikTok in particular has advanced this incredible idea of watching these 15, 30 second videos and then swiping up to the next one. But they’ve identified this extraordinary way to connect with people and make an experience or access to information really extraordinary shift. 

And so I think we’re going to see that basic principle of what they’ve learned be adopted by other platforms. So for example, I think back in December, the news broke that Amazon was launching a TikTok style video feed within the Amazon app initially going to be in the US. And a kind of a beta test so you could actually do discovery shopping within Amazon in a TikTok style video feed. I mean, obviously Instagram is going all in with reels you’ve got on YouTube. You now have YouTube shorts. And I’ve been noticing when I pop into YouTube every now and again, that sometimes they’re experimenting with defaulting to shorts as opposed to the pull type of YouTube experience that they’ve done that I think we’re more accustomed to. 

Douglas Quinby: I have also written about and I’m kind of waiting for a travel platform and really a travel experiences platform to experiment with a TikTok style shopping experience on their website. Because, you know, quite frankly, when I think about my 17 year old in his sneakers when he takes his first vacation, right? Or, you know, maybe when he goes off in his first college, you know, spring break trip, you know, with his friends, and let’s say they go to the beach or something, and they’re going to look for things to do. I mean, how is he going to find experiences? Is he going to go on to Google or via Tour or Expedia and say, oh well, let me find fishing trips or let me find this jetski rental or let me do this. 

I think he’s going to be on Instagram or one of his friends is going to be on TikTok and they’re going to say, “Oh, I see this experience of these guys on a boat doing this. Doesn’t look like fun, let’s go find that”, right? And that’s going to drive the search and the booking. I think that the model that TikTok is showing for all of us. I expect to see that replicate in some way. And I’m actually in the experiences world and travel in general, I’m still pretty shocked that you don’t have the widespread use of a video in the shopping experience. 

It’s still very much like go in, there’s a tour, there’s all the inclusions, there’s the exclusions, or I go onto an attraction site, or there’s this ticket and I can do this and I can do that, and there’s this, and I’ve got to read all this stuff. These guys, they don’t want to read, they want to say, “Oh, there’s this experience, there’s this attraction. Let me see myself. Oh, that’s great. I don’t give a s*** about any of all the rules and all the things and I have to be here at ten and bring this. No, just show me this thing. Let’s do it”.

That’s the shift that I think has got to happen, and it’s very common for product owners and marketers. Well, I’ve done all this work, I got to put all this detail out. But your customers, they don’t care.  They don’t want to know about the sausage and how it’s made and all the details. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, it’s a bit like the tipping point from like, cookery books to cookery shows, isn’t it? What’s more engaging for someone, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a bookshelf full of cookery books out there, but actually, show me someone making it and show me the kind of sizzle and show me that I’m going to engage with that more. 

Douglas Quinby: Kelly, I’m going to go even further and I will tell you so one of the things that I did over the pandemic was since were all cooped up, so I just said, “you know, I’m going to learn to become a better cook,” right? Because it was mostly just hamburgers and pasta and sauce from a jar, right? Because both my wife and I were working and all crazy. And whatnot this was in 2020, early 2020, mid 2020, and TikTok was really becoming a phenomenon. So I downloaded TikTok and I started using it. And one of the first things that popped up was a recipe for Thai vegan lemongrass coconut pumpkin soup. And that’s never anything I could have thought I would have been able to make. It was a 30 second video. 

It wasn’t like a detailed recipe or anything, it was just a video of the bowl. And you see the hands and there’s like nice music in the background and you just see everything that the person is doing and there’s a little text. This is what the ingredient is. Then it’s next. And so within 30 seconds, I watched this video and I’m like, “holy s***, I can do that. I can make that”. That looks really amazing. And so I went and made it and it was amazing. And suddenly it was like, wait, I just watched a 30 second video. I could make something that was really what I thought in my mind would have been a real complex undertaking. 

I think that’s an extraordinary outcome from what TikTok I think is shown from a communication standpoint is how the genius and the possibility of delivering an extraordinary amount of information in a very short amount of time, but more importantly, making the viewer feel like they can relate to it, like they can participate. I can make that soup. I can have that experience. That’s the power of that. And no incredible tour description page or attraction description page with a list of inclusions and exclusions and all of this. And, you know, it’s not it’s never going to be the same. 

Kelly Molson: It’s never going to be the same. A 30 second video has empowered you to be a better chef. I love that, Doug. 

Douglas Quinby: Well, there you go.

Kelly Molson: I want to talk a little bit about dynamic pricing. Gosh, we’ve been talking for ages and I feel like we’ve covered loads today, but I think this is really important to talk about. So there’s different pricing strategies for attractions at the moment. So you’ve got the traditional kind of static price model where operators sell a ticket for the same time, same price, no matter when that ticket is purchased or when it’s going to be used. You’ve got variable price and strategy which might be based on the day it’s purchased or the time slot for when the ticket is purchased and each day is priced according to demand. I kind of like this approach. 

We had Simon Addison from Roman Baths come on and talk about their approach to this. And I think I find this approach quite empowering for the visitor because it gives them the choice of when they’re going to come, depending on what they want to pay for that experience. But dynamic pricing is a strategy where attractions can adjust the prices of their offerings to account for changing demand.

So, for instance, like, an airline will shift seat prices based on seat type or the number of remaining seats and the time until the flight as well. Now, that’s what some attractions do, but it’s actually quite a small minority at the moment, isn’t it? Are we seeing an uptake in dynamic prices or are we still finding that it’s just the big players that can actually use this strategy at the moment? 

Douglas Quinby: Yeah, well, so first, from our surveying, like it’s less than 1% of attractions and operators are doing any type of dynamic pricing. And just to be very clear, the distinction between dynamic and variable. So a variable is something like, “okay, I’m going to have a different weekend price versus a weekday price or a different price for a 09:00 A.M entry on Monday versus a 03:00 P.M. entry on Saturday or something”. But those prices stay the same over the course of the season or over the course of the year. Whereas dynamic, it’s like, “okay, it looks like my 03:00 slot on Saturday is nearly a capacity. We’ve only got 10% left. Let’s increase the price by 5% or 7%”. So there’s still pretty low uptick, very low, less than 1%. 

However, we’ve also seen in our surveying, in terms of technical technology related priorities, that is one of the in fact, the top priority for visitor attractions heading into next year, I think it was 57%. So that they were looking at it very seriously and were quite interested, which is a really big deal. And so one piece to this is, well, there are a lot of okay, there’s a lot of complexities. So, yes, there are a number of providers in the market, technology companies that are stepping in and offering this capability. These could be either companies like there’s a company in the US called Diginex which is basically it’s a layer on top of the ticketing system. There are other companies like Schmidt’s out of Switzerland which is more of a ticketing system provider that has a dynamic pricing layer. 

And there’s some other company, there’s some other booking system providers like Mantrada and others that are layering in dynamic pricing within their booking system capability. But there’s still some big issues that need to be addressed within the space. I mean, one is there’s still just a gap in just the fundamentals of the technology. You need to have a robust solid ticketing system and just control of your basic inventory and pricing. And once you have that, then we can start to think about dynamic pricing. That’s one. Then the next piece is what are the signals and what are the triggers to drive that? And it’s going to vary a lot from attraction to attraction. But it could be things like weather, it can be things like demand. 

Douglas Quinby: There could be things like maybe there’s the World Cup in Qatar and there’s going to be increased demand for a great attraction there than you would want during that time when the destination is going to be overflowing. You can increase your prices. So there’s a lot of different kind of factors and inputs there and there’s a lot of debate about it too. I think at a consumer level, there’s that old thing of while you’re sitting on the airplane and the guy next to you spent half the price on the plane ticket and does that frustrate you? But I think increasingly consumers have come to understand this. It’s become pretty commonplace and I think people will understand it. 

And I also think as well, it’s an opportunity for attractions, not just to make a little more money, but it’s also, as I said, I think at the outset, to provide a better guest experience. I think especially for tier one attractions and top destinations, that’s got to be the top priority. How can you disperse your guests in a more effective way? Because there’s no question we had a little pandemic induced hiatus from over tourism, but it’s already back in some places fast and furious and attractions are going to be very quickly overrun, especially when Asia really opens up and comes back. So how can you use smart pricing strategies to create a better guest experience, to have a better impact on your attraction and on the local community? I think it’s not just about making money. 

So yeah, this is going to be a major theme within the sector over the next couple of years and I would expect the industry to take it up pretty rapidly. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah, I really like the definition of putting your prices up actually gives the customer a better experience because it comes down to the operational factors again, isn’t it? If you know you’re going to be extremely busy for this period, you put your prices up a touch, but that touch allows you to hire X amount more visitor experience people that can greet your guests and give them that experience. So it’s all about it still is all about the customer, which is really important. 

Douglas Quinby: And it surely can also potentially enable an attraction to lower prices during certain times. Right. If you can yield up during certain times, you can make the attraction more accessible. Again, it’s not just about making more money. I mean, that certainly should be a benefit, right, but it’s also about can be about making your venue more accessible, about making the guest experience better. 

Kelly Molson: Yeah. And I think that’s the message that has to be driven to your audience as well, isn’t it? Because otherwise it just feels a little bit unjust, but they’re not being given the information to understand that actually this is a better decision for them. There’s so much that we could talk about. We are out of time. We’re basically out of time. We always end up podcast by asking our guests to share a book that they love with us. Have you prepared for us today? 

Douglas Quinby: Yes, I have. And actually, this is a book I recommend quite a bit. And it might be it’s not like a typical book because I know you’ve got lots of great recommendations and there’s lots of amazing business books out there. But one of the books that has always stuck with me, it’s actually it’s a service manual. It’s called Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Customer Service.

And it’s a short paperback. It’s I think it’s like 109 pages or even less. It was written as a manual for customer service teams. But actually, as I read it struck me as basically it’s a guide for being a great human being and how to treat people in an extraordinary way and how to respond to questions when you don’t know the answer, how to make people feel like you care about them. 

And one of the things my wife has always said is, “people never remember what you say, really, but they remember how you made them feel”. To me, that book is basically it’s a guidepost to leaving people feel like they matter to you and that you’re going to serve them well. And that also ties into your brand. Like everyone is their own personal brand and every action that you have with every person is a reflection of that brand. That book impacted me in that way and I’ve always kind of thought about it as a way to be a guidepost for how I interact with everybody. Not just with my customers or clients or our event partners, or our employees, with my friends, with my family, with everybody. 

Kelly Molson: Doug, that is a book that is right up my street and that’s going to go top of my pile. And I’m going to buy it. I’m going to buy it from my team as well. 

Douglas Quinby: Highly recommended. 

Kelly Molson: As ever, listeners if you want to win a copy of Doug’s book, then if you head over to our Twitter account and you retweet this episode announcement with the words, “I want Doug’s book”, then we will enter you into a draw to potentially win it.  You’ll have to come back on because there are so many other topics that we could have covered. So come back in 2024 and we’ll see how some of these predictions and things that we’ve talked about have worked out this year. But thank you. It’s been lovely to chat. 

Douglas Quinby: Well, just for all of those attractions who are listening, we have our Arival Berlin Conference right before ITV March 5, 6 and 7 in Berlin at the amazing Estrella Hotel, where all of the things that Kelly has been bugging me about over the past, what has it been, 45 minutes or an hour or so. We have a couple of days just devoted to all of these topics in the world of experiences in the future.

We’ve got speakers from Google and Get Your Guide and actually the Moco Museum, which is all in on dynamic pricing, by the way. And they’re going to be leading an in depth workshop on what they’re doing and among so much else, on distribution and growth. And you’re going to meet a lot of incredible experience operators and attractions and distributors and technology providers. It’s really for us, it’s our vision to create the hub of the experiences sector for travel and to help this industry grow and improve. And Kelly is going to be there. 

Kelly Molson: I was going to say Doug, the highlight of it is that I’ll be there speaking as well.

Douglas Quinby: That’s right. That’s right. Which we’re really looking forward to. So please do consider joining us. We promise you have an amazing time with an amazing community and learn tons. 

Kelly Molson: It’s a great line up of speakers and it really does look like an absolutely incredible conference. We’ll put all the details in the show notes so none of you will miss out and you’ll be able to book online. And even if you don’t make the conference, go and check out the Arival website because some of the reporting on there is really phenomenal and so valuable to the sector. And I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of weeks just reading through some of the reports that Doug has been able to send me through. So that is well worth a visit, everyone. Doug, thank you. It’s been fabulous. 

Douglas Quinby: Thank you, Kelly. 


Do you know someone we should be talking to?

Do you know someone fascinating we should be talking to?

If so, email us at hello@rubbercheese.com – we’ll get back to you shortly.


Paul Wright.
Kelly Molson Managing Director

Host of the popular Skip the Queue Podcast, for people working in or working with visitor attractions, she regularly delivers workshops and presentations on the sector at various national conferences and universities including The Visitor Attractions Conference, ASVA and Anglia Ruskin University.

Read more about me

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