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Tell it like it is: Travel booking platforms go 'eBay'

Get the lowdown on a new generation of web marketplaces that cut out the middleman

Published 1 Aug 2016, 09:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 14:18 BST
Krabi, Thailand

Krabi, Thailand. Image: Getty.

Photograph by Getty

Holidays you can book online? What'll they think of next!
There's a little more to it than that. These new booking websites work like marketplaces. You search them for multi-day itineraries that appeal — anything from a couple of weeks hiking around Annapurna to five days exploring the ruins of Siem Reap; then book directly with an English-speaking travel agent in the destination. It's a bit like buying a holiday on eBay. These sites cut out the middleman (except the website itself, obviously). Why? So travellers can tap local expertise directly, and because prices should be lower — 'on average 20% cheaper', according to one site. Plus there's an ethical angle. Profits from travel often end up in the pockets of global operators. Direct booking should — in theory — ensure more money stays in-destination, where tourism can be a critical source of income. The idea of connecting travellers with locals has been tried in many different ways, but multi-day tour booking looks like taking off. One of the major providers, Evaneos, has doubled turnover every year since it was founded.

Which are the websites to bookmark?
Evaneos, which launched in the UK last November, already offers trips in 140 countries. Since it started in 2009, in France, it says it has served over 120,000 travellers. Best known as a guidebook brand, Insight Guides also set up an online direct booking service this February that's especially strong in Asia and Latin America. There are some other contenders but really nothing as good, as advanced, or as usable as these two outfits, which have the best selection and slickest website functionality, too. But watch this space for a blossoming of similar business models.

Am I obliged to choose one of the prepackaged tours they list?
No. Both Evaneos and Insight allow you to tailor-make pretty much every aspect of a trip: accommodation, day trips, etc. For example, Insight's six-day Krabi Discovery itinerary suggests I spend day three days on a Khao Sok Nature Tour. If I don't fancy that, there are another 11 experiences I can slot into that day instead. The site shows me how each one affects the cost of my holiday. It took me about 20 seconds to alter. For both Insight and Evaneos, you do need to book flights separately, however.

What happens if my local agent goes bust, or just doesn't show up?
There's no ABTA or ATOL protection, although Evaneos is 'in the final phase of securing ABTA membership and bonding'. Certainly, you must choose a platform with a solid money-back guarantee. For example, payments via Evaneos are fully insured, and the company commits to covering the whole holiday in case of an agency default at the other end. Insight offers an insurance-protected, money-back guarantee. Of course, it would be even better if your agency was top-notch in the first place. Evaneos and Insight both reassure travellers that they've invested time and money selecting the best local partners.

evaneos.co.uk insightguides.com

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Published in the Jul/Aug 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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