We used Viator for the first time at the end of our Scandanavian cruise. After researching ways to transfer to Heathrow from Dover, I booked a tour of Canterbury and Leeds castle with the option of drop-off at our hotel at Heathrow. The tour operator was International Friends and the service they provided was excellent. The guide was extremely knowledgable of the area and was had ample time to explore Canterbury and the castle grounds. Both of our drivers were extremely competent (We transferred to a mini-bus at Leeds Castle to go to the airport) and the vehicles themselves were very comfortable. I would not hesitate to use Viator again to book a tour or transfer.
I'm not sure why Viator, the middle man, gets the praise when International Friends actually provided the service.
Viator is booking other companies which you can book directly, no middleman needed.
I'm pleased that all went smoothly for you, Susan, but I'm with Liz: that superb service wasn't provided by Viator, which is a TripAdvisor subsidiary. International Friends was your provider, and you could have booked directly with them versus through a 3rd party which took a healthy cut of the advertised price...which may have been lower if booked directly with the tour/transfer company itself.
As well, there are plenty of Viator-advertised tours, transfers and other services with less-than-stellar reviews. Run into an issue with the product you purchased? It's almost always best to be trying to work it out with the actual provider versus a 3rd-party clearinghouse. I've seen plenty of complaints about Viator's customer service from TA members who've sworn never to use them for bookings.
Yes, there are two sides to every story, and obviously you had a positive experience! :O) I'm just personally unwilling to risk having them in the middle of a booking should it hit a major snag.
Viator gets a lot of negativity here while other consolidators, such as Tours By Locals get praise. I’ve never been able to figure out why. I’ve had good experiences with both. Guides signs up with them to market their services. The agency gets a cut when they book. Yes, you can work around and book directly I suppose.
In this case, praising Viator is similar to praising Expedia for a pleasant flight experience.
LIZ in PA, that’s a good analogy! But to Susan’s post, I do appreciate that Viator offers many options because it is an easy starting point to find activities I might not have otherwise found. Then I do research to find the actual company providing it. I’ve found that when I travel solo, I am unable to book an activity with Viator because it wants a minimum of two people per booking while contacting the actual people providing the tour, I am able to join the activity.
I prefer to book directly with a company.
Susan D, thank you for taking the time to share your positive tour experience. My only experience with Viator is similar to Jean’s. I have researched ideas then have booked directly with the tour operator.
I just booked a tour in Paris for October through Viator because my credit card sometimes offers 13% to 20% bonus online shopping credit with Viator. (And many others such as Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, Staples, etc.) Most often there is a limit of $10 allowed and it must be used just once for all items on the purchase receipt. I like the larger number of offerings on the Viator site. The Viator price was 35 cents less than booking directly with the tour company… and I will receive a 13% Master Card statement credit in a couple of months. As a solo I was allowed to reserve for just one person. Now I hope there are enough reservations that the tour is not cancelled.
Jean, using it as research starting point and then booking the companies directly is a good plan! :O)
Granted, International Friends provided the excellent service we received, but I would not have known anything about them had I not used Viator.
I agree with Susan, on some trips we had a heck of a time finding day tours in some locations via a google search. Viator is handy that way. Sometimes it's just easier.
Yep, Viator charges those tour companies a hefty 23-25% Commission. Tours by Locals, Get Your Guide, Global Tour Services, AIr BNB experiences, etc. etc, all charge around 25% commission.
If you are looking on Trip Advisor, try using Google to find the name of the tour company so that you can book directly with them. Most of them will have a lower price if you book directly.
Ok There's a reason people can't find small vendors without resorting to Viator. Viator has jimmied the platform algorithms so people can't find the small vendors without putting out a lot of effort, and we end up being grateful to Viator.
We stayed at a small b and b (not bnb) in a financially ruined fishing town on the Maryland Eastern Shore. I found the bed and breakfast on the town's website, not on TA, because TA listed only a ramshackle hotel or hotels 30 miles away. The bed and breakfast could no longer afford to pay TA its shakedown to keep the listing up with the big boys 30 miles away.
Remember how TA used to actually provide a service instead of pushing sales and squeezing vendors.
Guess I'll be reported again.
you are completely correct, Bets
I hope the post by Bets is not removed. She describes exactly what the consequences are if people keep using the likes of booking dot com, TA, Get your guide etc etc. Small companies that offer a personal experience can no longer afford to pay the extortionate fees that these middle men charge them and they can’t beat the strong algorithms and SEO (search engine optimization). Algorithms and SEO are exactly why only the likes of Viator show up in search engines.
Viator provides pretty good service of consolidating all of the options and brings clients the local guys otherwise wouldn't reach. Sort of a go to place for me when I am planning a new location as it provides a pretty good overview of the options. Sometimes I go through the trouble of tracking down the actual provider (pretty easy, just copy some of the text out of the promotion and the same text will be on the actual provider site, sometimes the name is in the promotion someplace -- nice index of options); sometimes I am lazy and just book through Viator. Sometimes I just use the listings as a guide of possibilities. Never had a bad experience with one of their providers out of maybe 8 purchases so they might be doing some vetting and that's helpful but if they continue to put tourists together with providers and they continue to be good providers, then Viator gets my thank you too.
Susan D, you did good.
Yep, Viator charges those tour companies a hefty 23-25%
Commission. Tours by Locals, Get Your Guide, Global Tour Services,
AIr BNB experiences, etc. etc, all charge around 25% commission.
Get your guide 20% to 30%
Tours by locals 20%
AirBnb Experiences 20%
Then there are a couple of guide services that are subscription. The guide pays as little as $10 a month (I use them from time to time).
Sorry, Viator charges 23% and if you want to make sure your company is on the 1st page of Trip Advisor, they want you to increase that amount. Not sure where you are getting your figures from, but pretty sure the rest of them are incorrect. Tour companies around the world are suffering from this. If you were on any of the FB pages that are just for tourism companies, you could see the damage they are all doing.
Bets and Jo, really good to know, thank you. I will stay away from Viator, TA and the others and book directly with the actual company. I don’t like predators and i don’t know why Viator is getting praise for the good service the tour co provided.
Jo, thanks for listing the percentages from Viator and others.
For those that haven’t looked at Viator in a while they do list the companies who are providing the tours. No need to do the search on a marketing phrase to come up with a match.
“ i don’t know why Viator is getting praise for the good service the tour co provided.”
Indeed, Viator did nothing but collect money and pass part of this money on to International Friends. It was International Friends who picked them up at Dover. It was International Friends who drove them to Leeds Castle, Canterbury and Heathrow. It was International Friends who provided the knowledgeable guide. And despite all that, it’s Viator, and not International Friends, the OP won’t hesitate to use again.
That for me is the real issue here. In the past years, lots of small and medium sized businesses in the tourism industry suffered greatly because of COVID-19. The big guys, like Booking, TA and others did nothing to help them out. Booking famously wouldn’t even consider lowering the extortionate fee they’re asking.
Many of these smaller companies went out of business. If we tourists don’t help the remaining businesses get back on their feet, many more will have to close up shop. Booking directly with the company that actually provides you the service makes a big difference, especially for smaller companies.
I am really surprised by the condescending tone of some of these posts. Granted Viator, Booking.com, Expedia, etc. require tour operators and hotels to pay a listing fee, but it is their choice to do so and many of them list on more than one site so they must be getting a benefit from the listing. I would also guess that they are passing that cost on to travelers who use their service.
True Susan. We used a local guide found through Viator and he wouldn't have had our business if we hadn't found him through them.
“ but it is their choice to do so and many of them list on more than one site so they must be getting a benefit from the listing. “
The issue and the problem that many people have with these sites, is that they’ve become so powerful that many businesses don’t have any other choice but to use these 3rd party sites. They simply can’t afford to not use them, because these companies have become so powerful that when you search for a tour, the first result page consists only of links to Get your guide, Viator etc etc. The average consumer or tourist doesn’t look beyond the first page with results, so a business can’t afford to not be visible there.
Viator and the likes have become so powerful that they can impose a take-it-or-leave-it commission. On top of that they’ve now started to charge all kinds of extra charges, for instance an extra charge to be shown first in the search results.
It would be a slightly different matter if this listing fee was a fixed amount instead of a percentage. A tour that costs €100, means €20 commission. Whereas a tour that costs €200 results in a commission charge of €40. The work (if you can even call it that) that Viator has to do for a €100 tour is exactly the same as for a €200 tour. So why charge twice the amount in commission???
“I would also guess that they are passing that cost on to travelers who use their service.”
They can only do that up to a certain point, because if they increase their price too much, people will simply go to another tour operator.
I think one of the beauties of the Rick Steves website is the support it gives to small independent hotels, restaurants, and local guides. Trip Advisor/Viator did too until it was sold. Now people have trouble distinguishing a website akin to a slot machine from a provider doing the heavy lifting. On another thread, a poster is referring to a Viator tour.
And Stan, you could only find your local guide through Viator because if she/he doesn’t play along and fork over, he/she is relegated to the fourth, fifth, tenth page. Before they monetized TA, everyone popped up. My little widow running her bed and breakfast in the Maryland boonies is a perfect example. It’s Walmartization or Amazonization.
Bets, I understand and agree. So what's the solution? That whole corporate takeover model of small businesses has become a standard situation on the internet, from apartments and B&Bs, to medical services. You don't get connected, you don't survive. And sponsored ads on Google skew it even further.
I'm happy to support independent services, and I do pass on the guide's name and website to other people. But the people willing to do that independent research will likely always be a minority. I think many of us prefer personnel recommendations, but in the absence of that, the average traveler is going to rely on known sites.
Covid accelerated the process by which small providers and businesses were forced to play by large operators rules or go out of business. Maybe it is un-principled to use booking sites, but they are difficult to avoid and have simplified travel planning.
We are currently planning our next trip, and I promise that whenever possible I will book directly with the service provider after using the booking sites for research.
I am really surprised by the condescending tone of some of these
Susan, a bit of the norm here.
If I were a very small provider and I wanted a way to accept payments, process refunds, manage cancelations, and reach the largest audience possible I would list with someone like Viator if the benefits were worth the 20% fee (or 22% as I found both listed in internet articles about Viator).
Wait, I am and I do.
I provide a tourist service in Europe. I am on 5 platforms (last count). Each has a fee I have to pay. The option would be to miss the client base of each of those platforms. If the platforms did not exist then I would have to pay Google fees to get me bumped up so I would stand out among the 10,000+ competitors (literally, not an exaggeration) in my market segment and I would loose some clients that felt uncomfortable turning over credit card information to strangers. I seriously doubt that if these platforms did not exist I would have the volume that I have.
As a buyer Viator has one advantage, you know that the provider has insurance (liability, etc) so if something happens (like the parasail rope breaks and you go floating into a building) you have some hope of coverage. Viator requires the insurance. Another advantage is the vetting. Too many complaints and Viator drops the provider. Better their judgment then relying on anecdotal (way too often incorrect) information on forums.
Do I wish the fees were lower? Sure. Do I resent the "high" fees? No, because its how capitalisms works. You provide goods or services at the the highest rate possible that still ensures growth of the business; which only happens if you are meeting the need of your client base. If you go over that mark, someone has the opportunity to do the same as Viator and undercut the price. I have to accept this because I know its the only viable financial system for everything in life.
But if someone would rather deal direct with the service provider, I think that's great. And its easy. For my service you just have to Google a sentence out of my platform listing and the stand alone site (and the other platforms) will pop up. I appreciate saving on the fee, while still having the platforms provide me essentially free marketing for your purchase. Since EVERYONE knows that workaround it gets used a lot and that may be why the fees have gone up. Maybe the likes of Viator are only collecting fees on half of the sales created by the marketing on Viator.
“Susan, a bit of the norm here”
Talk about condescending.
Thank you Susan from Indy for that beautiful promise.
BTW, an unusual twist: I just booked a hotel in Barcelona. All the rooms were sold out on the hotel's website, but booking.com still had a room available . So I reserved using Booking.
If the title of the thread had been Praise for International Friends instead of Viator the reaction would have been different. Most posters are simply pointing out International Friends deserves all the praise, not Viator.
Nothing condescending about that.
Thank you Susan. Both of you. It is great to be able to discuss this openly.
Well, Praise for Susan D - I've been looking for a company like International Friends for some transfer services during our future trip to England. I have been Googling for companies like this, but International Friends never showed up on my radar.
I reached out to the company today, and told them that they had received a rave review on the Rick Steves Travel Forum.