book flights and hotel stays ahead of their trip, but many don’t realise they
can save time – and sometimes money – by booking classic tours and activities
in advance as well, such as Paris’s open-excursion boats, Les Bateaux Mouches, or an after-hours tour of the Sistine
Chapel in Vatican
In 2012 in the
US alone, travellers spent about $20 billion on tours (on foot, Segway or bus),
activities (such as skiing, zip-lining and museum-going) and attractions (like zoos
and theme parks), according to an estimate by PhoCusWright, a market research firm. For
comparison, that’s double what US travellers spent on car rentals and triple
what they spent on cruises.
most of the money spent on tours and activities is handed over in-person on
location. But advance bookings may grow, thanks to a boom in start-ups competing
to become the prime online aggregator of such transactions, such as GetYourGuide and Zozi.
2012, Expedia, the world’s largest online
travel agency, hinted
that it has embarked on a multi-year push to make thousands of tours and
activities available for booking online, in addition to the small selection that
it already sells.
Given that we’re
always in favour of saving our readers time and money, we’ve put together a
quick guide to the booking sites most worth checking out, listed in size order.
For simplicity’s sake, this round-up focuses on single-day tours and
activities, and excludes companies that sell multi-day tours, packages that include
lodging and marketplaces for “peer-to-peer” experiences, such as someone
offering authentic local meals in their home for a fee.
1995, Viator is the most venerable and
polished of the tour-and-activity sites. It lists 15,000 options, from walking
tours to whale-watching trips, in 1,000 destinations across more than 150
countries. In 2012, this San Francisco-based operation also began selling shore excursions, or land-based
trips for cruise-goers to take advantage of when their ships dock at port.
Rather than pay for the generally more expensive cruise line-organised trips, travellers
can pay up to 60% less and enjoy a broader selection of choices by booking
through Viator, a site that also comes in several foreign-language versions: Japanese,
Portuguese, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish. The
site also leads by providing more than 360,000 user-generated reviews of its
tours and activities on offer – about three times more than other sites.
tours and activities in 1,700 locations across 109 countries worldwide, GetYourGuide has the largest inventory
of tours and activities and the most upfront descriptions of who is running the
operation you’re paying for, such as the name and background of, say, a kayaking-trip
organiser. GetYourGuide is strongest in its offerings for Germany, Switzerland
and Austria, which are under-represented by other companies. It also beats
competitors with its impressive selection of skip-the-line-tickets to major
tourist attractions like the Eiffel
Tower. Besides English, the Berlin-headquartered company also has German,
Spanish, Italian and French versions of its site.
Pocket Village differs from other
sites in that it’s primarily an “inspiration engine”, providing travellers with
ideas of what to do at their destination. It asks users a series of questions,
such as what your interests are, what your budget is and when you are
travelling, to suggest a handful of options. If you like one, you can click
through to book from other companies, such as Viator and Get Your Guide. The
English language-only site sources 7,000 tours and activities in 1,680
locations in 107 countries. The two-year-old metasearch site’s
hallmark is niche adventures – making it best for people who are up to the
demands of, say, going on white-water rafting in Nepal.
access to more than 6,000 travel activities in 110 countries, City Discovery is especially strong
in its offerings for the US, France, Greece, Italy, Brazil and the Philippines.
The decade-old, Paris-based company has perhaps the most cosmopolitan feel of
all these sites, as its website is available in 16 languages and its offerings,
such as a five-hour
city tour of Nairobi, are sometimes more geographically diverse than
industry leaders Viator and GetYourGuide. The site tends to be strongest in
“culture vulture” tours focusing on museums and sightseeing, rather than
outdoor adventure or sports-related activities.
Two-year old, San Francisco-based startup Zozi curates more
than 220 adventurous single-day tours and activities in 21 US cities and two
Canadian cities. (The site also arranges 40 multi-day tours in 25 countries.) In each of these destinations, the firm has hundreds of unusual
listings, such as a water-powered
jetpack flight in Newport Beach, California. This English language-only
site is geared toward a younger, US and Canadian crowd planning a close-by
getaway. Uniquely among these sites, it also directly sells apparel and
accessories to suit the activities, such as board shorts and messenger bags.
“could you be”, Kijubi is a California-based
company that lists 8,000 things to do in 19 US states and the District of
Columbia, plus 70 other countries. The English language-only site, launched in
2009, has its strongest suit in selling tickets to Southern California’s most
popular attractions, such as the San
Diego Zoo. But its general specialty is sporty, outdoor activities
worldwide, such as swimming
with dolphins off the coast of Mexico and heli-hiking
in New Zealand.
Sean O’Neill is the travel tech columnist for BBC Travel