When Ways Tours lost almost 90% of their bookings in March, the company quickly experimented with virtual tours to generate revenue. In summer, they also had to adapt their tours and create new products to meet changing traveller preferences.
Their efforts paid off as they are now in a better position to weather future uncertainties with new products and services available to customers both offline and online.
“2020 was terrible and strange”, says Matteo Pasqualotto, CEO & co-founder of Ways Tours, the parent brand of Veronality.
At the start of 2020, the company forecasted good performance through to 2021. Then in March, within just a few weeks, they lost all their bookings and upcoming projects. In the early months of the pandemic, Italy went into strict lockdown as well.
In total, the company lost 85% to 90% of their regular booking volume.
To ensure their survival, the company used the downtime to think about their products and worked on reinventing their experiences.
At the end of March, Ways Tours launched virtual tours, offering a range of experiences from cooking classes to tours of local wineries. Through virtual tours, they wanted to show off a different side of Verona, providing richer history and storytelling through videos and photos. For example, in summer, the Verona Arena hosts opera festivals in the evening. In virtual tours, they are able to share this summer-only experience with customers all year round.
Ways Tours also brought their popular wine tours online, offering their audience insider interviews with winemakers in their vineyards. At the end of the tour, they would encourage the group to participate by having a glass of wine of a similar variety while the guide teaches the group how to taste wine and discuss the flavours.
While their virtual cooking classes remain their best sellers, virtual tours overall are still not very profitable. Throughout the year, they experimented with different prices and group sizes. Now, they target smaller groups at a higher price.
Customers are also responding well to these online experiences. For many returning customers, they are excited to reconnect with their old guides and chefs whom they previously went on a tour with.
Ways Tours also tested different sales channels to promote their virtual tours.
“The customer journey for virtual tours is totally different compared to real-life tours. People who are looking at virtual tours are not looking at Booking.com,” commented Matteo.
They started promoting virtual tours on traditional OTA channels like Viator and Get Your Guide, but quickly realised that these channels did not draw the right audience to their sites to begin with. They then experimented with Airbnb Experiences (who invested heavily in the virtual tours space last year) and more niche sites like airKitchen (a Japanese site that only offers cooking classes) magazines and blogs that promoted virtual experiences.
Lake Garda is close to Verona and is a popular destination for travellers from Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands. In June, Matteo and his team noticed a lot more Europeans visiting the destination compared to previous years.
Prior to 2020, they worked with a lot of customers from America who typically stayed in Verona for one or two weeks. In that short time, they wanted to explore surrounding areas, and see and do much more than their European counterparts.
Europeans, on the other hand, preferred to stay by Lake Garda and explore from there. Ways Tours had to adapt their tours to suit this change in customer behaviour quickly, offering tours from Lake Garda instead of Verona like they used to.
To respond to the changing customer behaviour, Ways Tours launched WineTicket.it, offering a one-stop shop for wine tickets to all the wineries in surrounding areas. From Verona to Valpolicella to Lugana and more, they allowed customers to create their own self-guided tours.
To launch this, they used TrekkSoft’s website builder to quickly set up a website and booking process, and cross sell some products with their other brand, Veronality.
All the tickets were sold at a fixed price of €25, with different wineries offering a variety of experiences to travellers. Some offered food and wine tasting, others offered guided tours around the winery or vineyard. These tickets were set up as vouchers in TrekkSoft’s system, giving customers the freedom to go on a tour whenever they wanted.
This initiative from Ways Tours was a great way for the company to leverage off existing partnerships with winemakers, help winemakers reach a larger audience, build a new income stream from referral fees, and stimulate demand for local tours.
This service was also well received by local hotels and partners, who were excited to offer something new to their customers.
As we look at 2021 and beyond, Matteo believes that 2021 will be a transition year and expects existing travel behaviour to carry on till summer 2021.
“While things should look more positive from August onwards, 2022 seems like it would be a real restart for us all”.
Matteo Pasqualotto, CEO and Co-Founder