23 industry experts discuss how to choose a tour booking system

09 May 2018

Our team talks to a lot of (adventure) tour operators when broadening our inventory of quality operators across the world. And we have understood some are not running tour operator software for their booking. Some do, but far from all do.

We see a big gap in term of knowledge, how you choose and how you start using one from the beginning. How it can help one's business scale, become better managed, sell more and most of all get the happiest customers.

As a start, we want to help any of you operators, not running a tour booking software, make a better decision on selecting one. So we have talked to 23 providers, big to small and asked the three following questions:

1) Which are the 3 key areas of a tour booking software for a tour operator to evaluate when choosing a solution
2) What are the key mistakes an operator should avoid when starting to use a tour booking software for the first time?

As a bonus we also asked some about the future of the tour booking software market and the features/use of said software among operators.

Boy that was fun!

We got 23 answers that surely will help operators go about this issue in the best way in the future.

You’ll find tons of awesome tips below, we promise!

Some of the highlights and reoccurring answers for any of you short of time:

1) Make sure you know your needs, understanding your processes and evaluate based on that.
2) You will never find a system that fit your model 100%, aim for the best and adapt where needed.
3) Make sure your next system supports the distribution of your tours and packages
4) Multiple mentions of the blockchain and how it can help change the market

But, let's move on to the distinguished experts.

The experts

The answers

GlobeTrack

Robert Schreuders

Business development director

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

I would consider the following 3 key issues to evaluate: 

1) Is the solution easy to use for system users? You will want to avoid having a full-time system administrator to manage the system

2) Is the solution able to produce attractive quotation and final itinerary documents to avoid having to manage this outside of the system?

3) Is the solution able to manage all the different contracts from suppliers, without too many workarounds?

Tour booking software today needs both real-time availability and rates from suppliers as well as the ability to distribute your products into different markets. 

And when it comes to mistakes I would always consider and try to avoid:

1) Never underestimate the time it takes to load data into a new application. A solution is only as good as the data that is loaded into the solution. Most software providers rely on a new client loading the data into the system.

2) Can the solution provide both package and template functionality? These are different functions, and most solutions only have one or the other, and not both.

3) Using booking software means that data has to be structured; a solution is structured, it's not like using Excel or Word and lots of manipulation by the user. Solutions should improve productivity by a user.

Tour booking software today needs both real-time availability and rates from suppliers as well as the ability to distribute your products into different markets. More and more companies recognize that both B2B and B2C channels want online availability, even into niche destinations where professional advice is required. Both B2B and B2C markets want to be involved in the booking process now, different to previously when there was little interaction. The booking experience has become a part of the total journey experience.

Adventure Bucket List

Adrian Bertrand

Director of marketing

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

When evaluating booking software, I think that tour operators should consider at least one of the following three criteria:

Compatibility, Design & Support

Before taking a demo or starting a trial, know what you are looking for. Come up with specific questions to cross-reference with a platform so you can avoid 90% of surprises. Once you have created an account, run a 60-second test (you can multiply this duration by up to 5x, depending on how tech-savy you would rate yourself from 1-5). If you don't find the platform to be intuitive, move on to the next one.

Don't just consider the learning curve for yourself but for your entire staff. Last but certainly not least, test an application's support team. If there is no customer service from the get-go, don't expect any saving-grace when it matters most (consider getting locked out of the system on the busiest day of the year).

Once you have created an account, run a 60-second test (you can multiply this duration by up to 5x, depending on how tech-savy you would rate yourself from 1-5).

A couple strategic decisions could save you a lot of frustration when it comes to using booking software.

1) Play to your strengths. If there is someone more tech-savvy than yourself at your company, have them spearhead the initiative. I can't tell you how much smoother interactions have gone with companies that play to their fortes.

2) Be proactive. Don't wait until 3 days before the start of your season to master a booking software. Start early, start smart. What's that saying, "the early bird catches the worm"?

3) Be smart with time. Allocate an appropriate amount of time to start & finish the setup process (with respects to how many offerings you have). E.g. If you have 10 offerings, it makes more sense for you to reserve an entire day to get things completed than reserve 1 hour/day for 1+ weeks. Avoid losing time playing catch-up.

I think future booking software will integrate AI bots, blockchain & machine learning to make day-to-day operations a smarter process for tour operations. Bots will take reservations for tour operations via company + affiliate websites, blockchain will decentralize payment gateways & sales channels, and machine learning will update inventory and pricing algorithms in real-time.

Orioly

Ivan Ilijasic

Ceo

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

A booking software must provide simplicity and flexibility. You must be sure the payment process, product management is simple.

Also, with so many software solutions heavily relying on 1-2 OTAs, I would always pick a solution which helps me build my own distribution network so I do not depend on one or two sales channels. A software must be focused on sales rather than business administration.

Last but not the last - customer support and understanding of customer needs. We have a lot of customers who switched from some of the leading software providers to our solution. Main reasons were poor customer support focused on blind sales rather than helping them. So, while evaluating software, always keep in mind that a customer support does not treat you like a number.

Focusing on a cost or expecting a software will bring instant results with no effort whatsoever. You need to understand the benefits of business automation using software and track your inputs and marketing and sales results. When a customer comes to us and say, how many bookings will you get me, usually this means a customer does not have the business plan or expects someone else to manage his business.

I would always pick a solution which helps me build my own distribution network so I do not depend on one or two sales channels.

I believe this industry has a ton of potential and I am happy to see this part of tourism is finally getting its moment in online business.

Latest acquisitions of two software companies by Booking.com and TripAdvisor will not make all tour companies switch to these providers. This is not the first time such companies acquired similar companies. However, these companies will be focused on generating booking on their platform. I believe a lot of tour suppliers will realize they must create more online sales channels rather than stick with only 1-2 major dominant player.


Adatasol TourTools

Arin preston

Director of operations

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

Foundation, Features, and Flexibility – three key considerations:

Foundation 

It is important to dig into the origins and history of any software solution you are considering for your operation. Was it developed by people within the industry who understand your day to day workflow? How long has it been around and how many other operators are using it? How do they feel about it, and is it well supported?

Features

Does the software have most of the features required right "out of the box"? Make a list of the most important functions in your operation and ask detailed questions during a demonstration to find out if anything significant is lacking. Can the software be customized to compensate for that or will the additional software be required, complicating your workflow?

Flexibility

The ability to customize your software to fit the unique needs of your operation is critical. No two operations are identical and an "off the shelf" solution will rarely fit your operation well – leaving you to adjust your workflow around the design of the software, not vice versa. It is important to find a software solution that can grow with your operation and evolve as your business grows and your needs shift.

One of the mistakes I see operators make is to rush into using a new software system.

One of the mistakes I see operators make is to rush into using a new software system. The deployment should be well-planned and the IT infrastructure should be configured by experts to ensure optimal performance of the new system – it can be expensive to approach these issues as an afterthought. A good software system can revolutionize the way you do business, the productivity of your staff, and your bottom line in a big way. For those who make the decision to invest in solid technology and proven software, the ROI is incredible.

Another mistake operators often make is not getting "buy-in" from the end users – the staff needs to know the why, the when, and the how in regard to the new software. The more you include your staff in this process, the more accepting and supportive they will be in the overall effort to get it implemented and rolled out.

Magello

Michał Piórkowski

Ceo

Website: LinkedIn:

I'd definitely go with checking if the software will actually cover their current booking process. The other thing that is important is the type of software - is it a SaaS-based, online system, or server-installed one. SaaS is way better because you can access your data from any place in the world and you do not need to care about the server safety, health, and speed. The third thing is the price - again, SaaS is better, because it's usually charged per month and per reservation, which will actually be the most cost-effective way.

I'd definitely go with overcomplicating. Many companies think they need a LOT of features in the booking software, but the truth is they should start using cheaper, accessible SaaS software and than do a checkpoint after 6 months and see what they actually need more.

SaaS is way better because you can access your data from any place in the world and you do not need to care about the server safety, health, and speed.

I personally believe that online booking software is the only way to go in the future. People got used to software like Booking.com or Airbnb so they will expect tour operators to offer the same quality and type of services. Companies that will not go this way will have fewer clients in time.

Jambix

Peter van maanen

Director

Website:

The matter already becomes clear in the question. What are you looking for: software to get online bookings, or to produce nice looking quotes and itineraries, or are you looking for administrative back-end software to handle your bookings?

As for back-end software: what is our business? Are you a travel agent, a tour operator (outgoing), or a Destination Management Company (DMC, incoming)? Do you mostly handle groups or FIT's? Are you a direct seller or do you sell through agents? Do you want a strict or a flexible system (how much freedom should users have)? And so on; the differences between the business processes are big and therefore require their own approach and their own type of software.

Find a balance between the costs and the functionalities and be prepared to handle some work manually if it saves you a lot of money.

What are the costs of the software and how is the payment structure. It's nice to have a lot of functionalities, but is that worth the extra money? And will users actually be able to use them? Find a balance between the costs and the functionalities and be prepared to handle some work manually if it saves you a lot of money.

Not setting priorities and making a plan; wanting too much in too little time, not putting in charge someone that can make crucial decisions for the company, not doing the implementation step-by-step, not consulting the (future) users of different departments, underestimating the effort and time needed to implement the system while at the same time keep the business running.

Adventure Engine

Kelly acheson

Director

Website: LinkedIn:

We would suggest you look at these 3 key areas before moving on:

Customer support - is someone available to actually have a discussion?  Weekend and evening availability to respond to questions is critical

Flexibility - avoid being 'slotted' into a pricing category based on volume or size of the organization.  Everyone has unique needs. A high end lower volume operation should not be judged differently than a lower priced, high volume operation.   Systems should be built with the functionality each operation needs with the ability to expand and grow and evolve over time.

Pricing - avoid variable pricing. It's a great option when testing the waters of a new online booking but invariably it ends up costing you more. Instead, establish levels based on functionality modules and users.  That way your expenses are stable and you control when to move to the next level as your business grows and your needs change.

Avoid being 'slotted' into a pricing category based on volume or size of the organization.  Everyone has unique needs.

Too many operators decide to move from a completely manual system (Google calendar and spreadsheets) to an automated system and suddenly they want a whole world of functionality that will drive up the price and make things so complex that launch gets delayed and delayed.  Invest in the time to assign at least one person full time on system startup and established a phased-in project management approach.  Otherwise, it will never work.

TourSoft

Saurabh Ambekar

Ceo

Website: LinkedIn:

Scalability - Does the software support you well when you grow? Can you create various roles? restrict accesses? how do you manage different offices, how multiple teams would interact with each other etc.

Connectivity - Are various modules interconnected like CRM and Bookings management? Can the system be connected with external sources like bed banks, GDS etc? This may not be an initial requirement but slowly dynamic content connectivity is what everyone going to need.

Content management - Does the software allow you to maintain data dictionaries of all relevant information? Content is important on multiple levels; while building itineraries, building quotations, bookings. It's also vital if you are providing external connectivity like mobile apps, dynamic website etc.
What are the key mistakes an operator should avoid when starting to use a tour booking software for the first time?

Does the software allow you to maintain data dictionaries of all relevant information? Content is important on multiple levels; while building itineraries, building quotations, bookings.

As for key mistakes we like to look at the following:

All stakeholders must be involved - so that everyone knows what it means for them.

Avoiding data entry - This is obvious, but customers often tend to leave this laborious task for later and users often find themselves frustrated over lack of proper setup.

Setting the right expectations - So that you know what you are getting through the system and what functions are left out. Having an ideal system that does everything and automates as much as possible is ideal but almost no system provides you that.

Manage Your Trip - MYT

Raphael Amzalla

Founder and ceo

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

I would go with the following issues to think about before moving forward with a particular system:

1) A tour booking software won't solve your framework bottleneck. If you're not processed enough, you will not be able to centralize around a single booking platform.

2) A tour booking software should be in full accordance with the credit card/payment policy of your home country. If not you would be asked to pay extra fees due to the fact that the payment solution won't suits your environment needs.

A tour booking software won't solve your framework bottleneck. If you're not processed enough, you will not be able to centralize around a single booking platform.

3) A tour booking software should have an open API to connect to any future management platform you would be able to implement.

And key pitfall before launching would be:

1) Open it (your new system) to customers without fully testing it.

2) Having partial information online just to have the client paying online (he won't, he will prefer not to proceed if there is only partial information available).

3) Not having connected the platform to any tour operator ERP available (if so there will still be a lot of manual work).

Toogo

Fabrice pawlak

Founder

Website: LinkedIn:

First comes:

1) productivity
2) productivity
3) productivity

I by this I mean productivity compared to a homemade solution.

Then comes: 

Online assistance, knowledge/understanding of a DMC and their job, a vision for the evolution of the industry and finally any coming/future developments&features (as in adaptation to the moving industry and being able to be on top).

In terms of mistakes I would bring up:

1) Planning, very-short-term instead of long-term
1) Procrastination, do it right, right the first time
3) Forget that the real cost is not the software but the cost not to install it. The real cost is the implementation of the database, training people, convince your team (and having them adapt properly)

Buying a software like, Toogo is like going to the dentist. Soon or later you will go to the dentist, and the more you wait, the more painful it will be.

Buying a software like, Toogo is like going to the dentist. Soon or later you will go to the dentist, and the more you wait, the more painful it will be.

Editors note: From Toogo we actually got a second opinion from Victor Augusto Espinoza. His comment is regarding some big mistakes to avoid in the implementation of a booking system:

Big mistakes for me are:

1) People think they are buying/implementing a software. That's not true. They are really buying/implementing a business process or workflow

If you already bought the software, you have to be aware that you might need to adapt your organization to it. In case you are going to buy one. Try to look for the one that matches the best your current workflow or upgrade it.

2) Hire a trainee to implement the software.

This is more a consequence of the first point. You don't know really the challenge of the implementation if you are not aware of it. So you might end up hiring a new staff for this. This new person will have to learn the software and the current work and then think how to adapt it.

People think they are buying/implementing a software. That's not true. They are really buying/implementing a business process or workflow

A senior employee that knows very well the work, open mind to change, ready to take challenges, willing to learn and with great communication skills it's the best profile for this task.

3) Don't be able to manage the human factor

Most of the implementation delays and fails are due to that the people in the organization aren't open to change and they want to keep working as always. Because of this, the involvement of the general manager/owner is highly needed to reaffirm that the implementation is a priority and he/she totally supports the implementation.

Regpack

Asaf Darash

Founder and ceo

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

The biggest "must have" features for tour operators are: 

1) Registration on your website - no redirecting to a 3rd party site for registration and payments 

2) Automatic billing plans - people appreciate options when they pay and plans that space out payments, but charge automatically make it easier for everyone, and ensure you get paid on time. 

3) Multi-step application abilities - Many tours have many steps to their application, including steps for qualification, references and more. A great question to ask a potential software vendor is "how can you support my unique application process?"

Also avoid any software solution that forces you into THIER process and format, not the other way around.

The biggest mistake for anyone looking for a SaaS product is long-term contracts. Committing yourself and your business to a process that might not work for you is a waste of time and money. Month to month contracts will allow you the flexibility to find the solution that is best for you. 

Also avoid any software solution that forces you into THIER process and format, not the other way around. A great example of this is reporting - a software that only provides a small number of pre-made reports just won't cut it for most operators. A reporting feature that allows you to create the reports you need with your data, is the best option. 

Avoid a software that is not cloud-based. You need to have the option to access your data from anywhere - from any device. This is generally the standard for most SaaS but it's always good to check this. 

Tourmatic

Nalin Sathiparsad

Ceo

Website: LinkedIn:

We look at these three key areas:

1) Comprehensive functionality

2) Speaks the business language in depth

3) Easily identify business artifacts in the software

Comprehensive Functionality: There should be functionality to perform a task end to end, e.g. Create a quote, booking, Inventory, Itinerary, print professional business documents etc. in a coordinated and integrated manner. Information to the client and business must be complete, accurate, relevant, consistent and traceable. One should be able to examine the state of the business at any given time.

Speak Business Language and identify artifacts: If you do FIT, group, standard Tours, transport Shuttle etc., then when you look at a system you should be able to spot this immediately because as an operator this is what you are interested in.

Take time and learn the philosophy and mechanics of the system and stop clicking wildly.

Take time and learn the philosophy and mechanics of the system and stop clicking wildly. Read notices and release notes of new published functionality. Stop comparing how your Excel workaround functions. Excel is an accounting spreadsheet NOT a tour operator system. Systems are structured and methodical, one needs to understand that.

A typical tour operator very quickly wishes to see how quoting is done and focuses on that aspect and does not take a holistic view if the application, that is, how do all business process integrate and exchange information among themselves. For example in a system which business process owns the data and which one uses the data. What are the boundaries and outputs of the process?

In a manual system, many use Excel. In the short term 6-12 months, one will get away with it. I have also had the experience, that they want the system to work like their Excel sheet, which in my view as an information systems expert is a disaster. I also find clients are stingy and will not want to pay to be trained properly as a result, what is a simple system appears to be complicated. They ask for a user manual but never read it.
Also a new business it will accumulate a wealth of data with 6 months, but with Excel, the data is useless and
cannot produce reports on a level which management can use to grow the business and identify vital signs of the business.

Rezometry

Susan Sanderson

Technology evangelist

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

Your type of business and how you do things will dictate the key areas for you.

Do you need a CRM system that captures all kinds of information such as passport, or meal preferences and allows for follow-ups and to do's pre and post-sale?

What about a way to track those who are interested in your email newsletter or a system to market to your customers based on their travel dates, interests and how they heard about you.

What about a system to control inventory/limit the number of people on a trip or assign cabins on a cruise, or provide room sharing and pricing. Is the most important thing client documents with descriptions and images, or reporting, or allowing online reservations through your Website.

You have to create a list of the Must Have's and Nice to Have's needed now and then be sure to consider the future to ensure the system will grow with you.

You have to create a list of the Must Have's and Nice to Have's needed now and then be sure to consider the future to ensure the system will grow with you. Will you be doing things differently, adding new types of products or services, needing connections with third parties? Maybe - maybe not. Only you know what you need and it is imperative to be clear about your needs when speaking with any vendor.

Often implementing a new system can be overwhelming and when you are already busy people often want to take shortcuts or not implement all of the features. And sometimes this can make sense. But implementing all of the features will make your business more efficient and run smoother in the long run. So if you do skip setting up some functionality to get up and running on the software, be sure you have a plan in place to implement the other features soon thereafter to take full advantage of your purchase.

And take the time to read the information about new features and capabilities that come out with new releases of the system. Often you will find there are new features and functionality that you never imagined having, but can definitely take advantage of in your day to day operations.

And finally, you must communicate with your vendor. If there are issues or challenges or changes in your business, let your software vendor know so they can look to provide solutions. It may just be you need to set up a product differently or you need to use a different report. Or perhaps you need some custom work accommodate your needs. But we want to hear from you - the good and the bad - and work with you are partners for the long haul.

A great tour product and great automation are key to surviving in the Tour space; with automation, you have efficiency and checks and balances that make the business run smoother and provide your staff more time for developing great products and providing an amazing customer experience.

Qtech

Rima Sheth

Coo

Website: LinkedIn:

1) Easiness of use - travelers today are well informed and savvy internet/web users and the experience for them whilst shopping matters. Fewer and smarter steps to check out definitely matter in conversion and this is something to think about.

2) Offers & Discounts - Having great offers and discounts module proves to be a great element to keep the traveler engaged and keep coming back for more. The ability to markup, markdown, promos, discounts, and much more gives the pricing edge in the market which is what it all comes down to. The more the tools for pricing flexibility the better.

3) Contracting - while online suppliers provide a great amount of inventory and competitive prices, having your own contracted rates always is an advantage especially for regions the tour operator focuses on selling. The ability to manage inventory, upload contracts, play with price, offers, deals, etc. adds value to the offering for the end consumer.

Fewer and smarter steps to check out definitely matter in conversion and this is something to think about.

Offline working - After going online with a software many tour operators make the cardinal mistake of still doing bookings the old way via phone and emails. The whole point of going online is to reduce the redundant processes and utilize the resources to maximize the new process. where the staff was spending half a day to just make quotes is completely eliminated now and can be done with a click of a few buttons and this adoption is necessary.

Service instead of experience - Its easy to focus on providing all the services a traveler may need while planning his travel and this is what most tour operators do, they provide the needed services and ways to book them but they don't focus on providing an experience to their customers and this is where they lose them. It's important to understand that buying can be done anywhere but unprecedented and exclusive experiences can't and that's what they should focus on, how to present their data and services.

TravelCarma

Chintan goswami

Marketing manager

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

1) Inventory Management: The tour booking software should have a strong inventory system that allows tour operators to centrally manage all their directly contracted inventory and allotments for hotels, activities, ground transportation etc. The software should facilitate the configuration of rates, availability, markups, itineraries, policies etc for various contracted products. It should also possess dynamic pricing capabilities based on group size for deriving per person rates.

2) B2B bookings and Distribution Capabilities: Tour operators rely heavily on agents to distribute their packages, so the software must have strong B2B capabilities and allow agents to access your inventory, generate timely quotes for customers and instantly book the same using real-time pricing and availability. This would help minimize turnaround time. The system should also allow tour operators to configure markups and commissions for agents and provide agent classification for revenue management. Also, for large tour operators with a vast array of direct contracts and a sizeable agent network, outbound distribution directly from the inventory system via XML API would be highly useful.

Tour operators rely heavily on agents to distribute their packages, so the software must have strong B2B capabilities and allow agents to access your inventory, generate timely quotes for customers and instantly book the same using real-time pricing and availability.

3) Customized itinerary management: The system should allow tour operators and their agents to dynamically create packages on the fly with real-time pricing. This would be possible with a shopping cart module.

Key mistakes an operator should avoid when selecting a tour booking software for the first time would be:

1) Assessment from supplier's point of view: every business is unique and tour operators should make sure they don't get swayed by the way the vendor demonstrates the system. The tour operator has to decide if the software fits their business model and needs. Does it have the features that are essential to the success of their business?

2) Judging usability from your own perspective: the persons responsible for purchasing the software should assess the utility and usability from the perspective of the people who will actually be using the system and not let their biases affect their judgment. The end users could be the internal staff or agents or even end customers.

3) Trying to have their offline workflow simulated in an online flow: Expecting the software to exactly replicate the way you operate offline is not advisable, as the system is designed to fill the gaps in the traditional/offline way of operating. The software may not support certain features you are used to offline. eg if you have packages in the software that contain components which are connected to live suppliers via API, tour operators should not expect all the individual components to be automatically booked when a customer books that package online. The tour operator would still have to go and book those through his suppliers individually.

WeTravel

Johannes Koeppel

Ceo

Twitter: Website: LinkedIn:

1) Branded payment processing

Does the way you collect payments represent the great brand that you have built? Hint: If you are sending your clients PayPal links or ask them to wire money, the answer is likely no. Your users want a modern booking solution which allows them to book anywhere and from their phone

2) Easy of use

How quickly can you get set up? Do you need to involve your developers, or is the booking software easy enough that you can do it all yourself? How much time will it take you to learn and manage the software you are using every day?

How much are you paying? Be aware that the monthly fee (or lack therefore) is never the full cost.

3) Price

How much are you paying? Be aware that the monthly fee (or lack therefore) is never the full cost. How much are you spending for every $1000 that is booked? Take into consideration credit card fees and make sure to look for alternatives such as ACH transfers.

And problems to avoid would be:

1) Don't build it yourself

Building out your own booking system is a tricky endeavor. Whatever time and cost estimation you have, multiply this at least by 4. Unless you are transacting in the hundreds of millions, building your own booking system is usually not worth it.

2) Be ready to slightly adapt your workflow

No booking system will fit your workflow perfectly. Slight adaptations are needed, and you need to pick the system that fits your needs.

3) Different operators need different systems

There is no "one-size fits all" booking software. If you are a day tour&activity operator, you need a completely different system than a company that organizes multi-day custom trips - WeTravel (our company) is focusing exclusively on multi-day custom trips and group trips. If this is your niche, contact us at info@wetravel.com to learn more.

Blockchain will radically change the way payments for travel bookings are processed in the next 5 years. Credit card companies will lose power and alternative payment methods will be on the rise. However, if you are a multi-day tour operator, there are already alternatives to the hefty credit card fees charged. Our solution (WeTravel), for example, allows you to collect funds directly online from US and European customers, providing an alternative to credit cards.

Static Shift

Karl Thew

Director, digital strategist

Website: LinkedIn:

User Experience - Online booking software is really all about convenience. After researching for hours they've made their decision and tonight is the night they're going to book it in. You are the chosen one. Don't give them a reason to change their mind. People want to pay online from the comfort of their home. When a customer makes a booking it needs to be a seamless, frustration-free experience.

Ease of administration/booking management - Ok so there's no doubt your customers are important, but if you like your employees, you might not want to frustrate them either. There's going to be a learning process to anything new, and it will take time to learn your way around it. But look very carefully at how intuitive the system is to manage from the back-end. Does it look like there's a lot of unnecessary work to do simple things? If it reduces productivity or causes them to miss steps no-one wins.

Ok so there's no doubt your customers are important, but if you like your employees, you might not want to frustrate them either.

Integration with 3rd Party Tools - Integration with your 3rd party tools can help reduce admin time drastically. Does it connect with your accounting software, email marketing etc? Do you need a developer to connect with an API to integrate it? If so, what's that going to cost to set up?

Don't necessarily choose the same booking software as your competitor and think "that's what they use so it must be good". For all you know, they could have invested thousands of dollars into it, then found that it doesn't work for them, and they're in the middle of deciding whether to switch to something different. 
Don't skip the onboarding training to save dollars or because you don't have time - If the booking software company offers onboarding, it would probably pay to take advantage of it. The people behind the software know it better than anyone. They can point out the most efficient way to use the software and to get the most from it. They can point out any workarounds if your process doesn't quite fit with the system perfectly (although if you have to deal with a few workarounds the system may just not be quite right for you).

There's no doubt that the tour booking software market is going to keep growing at a good rate. We're in a society where people want instant gratification. They want to be able to lock that trip in right away when they're ready. They don't want to have to go into your office and pay over the counter. On the other hand, the upfront payment is a great way for tour operators to improve their cash flow compared to waiting until the customer comes in.

Travelogic

Morné Lombard

Sales & Marketing Manager

Website:

The three main key areas are:

1) Automated Processes - does the software help us improve our turn around time to clients, thus enabling us to secure more business.

2) Accuracy - does the software help to deliver accurate quotes with little or no room for human error.

3) Training & Support - Does the company provide intensive training on the system and how good and efficient is their support desk?

Avoid these mistakes:

Do not rush to get started on the system. Ensure you have followed an in-depth implementation process and that all the relevant details are set-up and loaded.

Get the full buy-in from your consultants, you have invested in a product to help your business and there should be a 100% adoption rate for all employees.

Pink Elephant International

Rene de Brouwer

Ceo

Website:

1) Flexibility: travel specialists nowadays cater for travelers who demand the ultimate flexibility with personalized itineraries.

2) Security: protecting client's data.

3) Service, training, and sustainability: will the software evolve and maintained for many years to come?

Without a proper strategy the project is doomed to fail. There is no such thing as the 100% ideal travel platform for every business model. Concessions will need to be made.

Flexibility and usability are the key components one should be looking for. Our platform does just that; it is made for operators specialising in tailor-made, highly complex travel components and offering intuitive functions like highly customisable multilingual quotations, offers and itineraries. We know how you work because we know the business inside out. Born from this knowledge we designed a user-interface that is logical, fast and basically, increases your sales and profit by decreasing the manual workload with 84%.

Regiondo

Oliver Nutzel

Ceo

Website:

1) Customer Support (it is important to have a personal contact you can reach and who can help you 24/7). 

2) A wide range of sales channels (distribution partners).

3) Up-to-date product (a continuous improvement on the features).

Main mistake is not looking at the total cost of ownership: Often provider chooses a simple form or solution and don’t invest in a proper booking software. They don’t see the long-term cost of an own solution (maintenance, your IT guy leaving, new developments like SSL or GDPR) Another mistake is to create a complex pricing & products.

Main mistake is not looking at the total cost of ownership.

Booking software will play an essential role to digitalize the tours & activities market and help suppliers to sell more and manage their business efficiently. The feature set will become more an more adjusted to the industry needs. Suppliers should build their own brand, focus on sustainable traffic and be not dependent on sales channels.

Xola

Noa Shavit

Marketing team lead

Website:

1) Ease of use: Booking software is one of the most important tools you need to run your business in today’s world. It is the engine for growth and customer management. You will be using it every single day, so make sure you get a demo of several systems and see the software in action. 

At Xola, we have worked tirelessly to design the quickest and easiest booking workflows for online, phone, in-person, and reseller reservations.

2) Growth: Booking software is meant to help you grow your business. Xola has built multiple tools to ignite your growth, including integrations with the leading OTAs, such as TripAdvisor and Expedia, automated cart abandonment recovery, gift and coupon management, CRM, automated guest communications, and rich data capture.

Growth: Booking software is meant to help you grow your business.

3) Flexibility / Customization: Booking software must be able to serve your business as it evolves from year 1 to 5 and beyond. Xola serves small business as well as public companies and understands the complexities you will encounter through every phase of growth. We've built multiple tools to help operators tackle the challenges they come across, from our plug-and-play WordPress storefront to automated remarketing, customer management, and custom applications.

And when it comes to mistakes:

1) Going with the first option: Every business is unique. Make sure you choose a booking software that handles your unique workflows with grace. Remember, the guest experience starts with the booking process. So pick a booking software that is up to the task, encourages people to book with you, and provides a great experience from the get-go.

2) Going with an option that you have not seen in action: Booking software is your engine of growth and customer management. Take the time to demo the available options and see them in action.

Don’t just check the standard boxes. Make sure you see how each software handles your core workflows, booking modifications, guest communication, and anything else you will use it to do on a daily basis.

3) Going with a good enough option: Your business needs change as you grow. Look for a booking software that can handle all of the complexities of your business as it evolves. A partner that provides you with the tools to scale, delight guests, and perfect your operations.

Xola has built a robust API to extend customized functionality, such as our ticketing and check-in kiosks, integrations with marketing and business software, and custom applications.

 

Trytn

Reza Barissi

Ceo, founder

Website:

1) Ease of Use for tour operators and customers. Booking software should make selling online easier than coordinating sales through phone calls or e-mails.

2) Referrals beyond online reviews and case studies. Tour operators should want to hear directly from other tour operators how the booking software company improves their business.

3) Adjacent services that will grow the tour operator’s business by increasing direct traffic as well as online booking sales conversions. Tour booking software should be part of an overall strategy to optimize online presence.

The biggest mistake that operators should avoid is the belief that third-party sellers are the only way to grow their businesses. We often see operators not investing enough time in themselves.

The best way for a tour operator to grow their business is through direct sales so they are not reliant on other parties/marketplaces. Tour operators need to make sure their goals align with the objectives of their booking software company.

Checkfront

Angela heald

Marketing manager

Website:

Flexibility

The tours and activities industry is incredibly fragmented, which means there is no one-size-fits-all solution — businesses that seem similar can have completely different needs. These are the three main questions you should ask when you’re evaluating any technology solution:

1)
Does it work with the unique complexities of my business?
2) Does it play nice with the other tools I’m using?
3) Can it scale as my business grows?

Pricing

While it might be tempting to use a “free” platform that passes off the price of the software onto your guests, ultimately it can lead to cart abandonment, revenue loss and a poor first impression. While this pricing may seem appealing to a new operator who’s just starting out it’s not a model that promotes growth. Eventually, those commissions could cost you more than a fixed fee subscription. And, you have to wonder — what's the hidden cost of sacrificing the customer experience?

Support

Your booking system is mission critical to your operations, thus any solution should be considered a partner in your business. Look for a company that goes beyond the vendor-buyer relationship and offers great customer success and support programs.

The biggest mistakes to avoid would be:

Rushing the implementation

Booking systems typically have rules and parameters that stack on each other. If an operator rushes through the configuration they can build their entire booking flow on a faulty process. Take the time to understand how the backend of your booking system works. Read the documentation, reach out to the vendor's support team, ask a lot of questions. It may take a little longer to get set up in the first place but will make your life 10x easier down the road.

Staying attached to old processes

It can be hard to move from contact forms and spreadsheets and it’s not unusual to feel pushback from your team. Most of this hesitation is simply a fear of the unknown. Remember, new technology is meant to improve your operations and remove pain points but it’s only effective if people use it. Host staff training and create easy to read cheat sheets to help make your team more confident in the first months.