by Karen McCandless
Published on 3 November 2015
The tourists have spoken: they want to book online and through mobile devices. And it's up to your business to cater to that demand. "Bookings can come in online, through the phone, face to face, and via mobile. All of these moving pieces are difficult to oversee, especially when most tour operators have a certain capacity to manage," says Anthony Rodrick, VP of Sales at TrekkSoft.
More and more tourists also want to pre-pay and pre-book months before their arrival; the average tourist is not interested in filling out a form or sending an email to wait for a reply. "Tourists want an answer yesterday so they can plan the rest of their stay in destinations," says Rodrick.
Mobile really is key here, as there is a rising trend of tourists using smartphones and tablets to scour for activities and also to book and pay while they're doing so. "The biggest challenge with this trend is to show the availability of your tours and activities in real-time to make sure no bookings go unfulfilled," says Rodrick.
To meet these needs, activity providers need to look at their website and evaluate if they are doing everything in their power to make it easy for customers to view real-time inventory (what tours and activities are available at that moment) and pay online.
"I always tell activity providers that you need to treat your website as if it's a store, not a museum," says Rodrick. "When you operate a store it's your objective to make a profit; when you run a museum the objective is to collect donations and have people view the art. An activity provider should be more aggressive in capitalizing on the traffic on their website, not just creating a platform for views. This is where cloud-based booking software becomes so valuable, as these systems often include real-time inventory management functionality. So no matter where the bookings are coming from, the calendar is always updated in real-time."
The other key feature that any tour company needs is a mobile app. Not only does this allow a customer to research and book activities on-the-go, but it also means that your staff will no longer be chained to their desk. "Most tour operators are not always sitting behind a desk at their computer," says Rodrick. "They are always out and about so they need an app to be able to manage their daily routine."
There are two types of mobile apps for the tourism industry: the consumer app and the management app.
"The consumer app is what tourists would use before reaching their destination, or upon arriving," says Rodrick. "The most important features here are the ability to see in real-time exactly what activities are available and to book and pay directly from the app at that very moment. From the management side, the tour operator should be able to view their schedules from the app and see which customers have booked which tours. They should be able to take bookings and payments directly from the app, and contact the customer to notify them of any changes. Other nice-to-have features include the ability to scan QR codes, process refunds and cancellations, and also have multiple users log into the same database."
If this sounds right up your street and you want to purchase online booking software, don't jump in too quickly - do your research and shop around first. A good first step is to sign-up for a free trial of the software and read through the features that the company offers.
"Most vendors like TrekkSoft offer live demonstrations of the software, which is useful because you have a representative there to share their screen and walk you through all the relevant features," says Rodrick. "Any company looking to buy cloud-based booking software needs to look at the attributes of the vendor and to see if they will fulfil all of the needs of your company. It's also important to check out similar companies who have implemented the software to see how they use it. Then you should look at the mobile app and pricing to see if the vendor offers flexible pricing plans to make it easy for tour operators of all sizes to use the system."
It's also important that you look for a solution that you can adapt to your everyday business needs. "Activity providers need a system that is easy to learn, easy to manage, and even easier to execute," says Rodrick.
TrekkSoft, for example, offers a free website builder, its own payment gateway, a resource manager, rental features, and down payment functionality. Other benefits include SMS notification, Google Adwords management, a Partner Network to connect to other TrekkSoft users, and an offline booking system with unlimited agents.
This post was brought to you in conjunction with tour and activity booking software TrekkSoft.