While it is exciting to see an unprecedented interest in the Domestic US market, we would be remiss not to understand that not all travel is rebounding just yet.
I think it is important to recognize that inbound and outbound travel to and from the US has been hit very hard and while things may be stabilizing here at home, much of the world is suffering deeply from the virus. And this is affecting tourism around the world.
Take our friends to the north, in Canada, who are still experiencing 'stay at home' orders. Or our friends in Australia that have just learned they likely won't be able to travel internationally until 2022. The reality is that many countries still have closed borders, or worse are still seeing devastation from the virus.
With this view of the world, I cannot help but wonder how we can all get back to normal. Of course, one of the answers seems to be vaccinations. But with vaccine inequality around the world, how an we achieve this? As the World Health Organization said "With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is saved, unless everyoneis safe."
The WHO has the COVAX program; a global collaboration to accelerate the equitable access to testing, treatments and vaccines for Covid. But I cannot help but wonder what me might be able to do as an Industry, to both help our International Travel Companies here at home and to help those still struggling abroad. The industry has always come together to help out in times of need. I think now that some countries are getting back on their feet, we might want to give this some thought and see how we can lift up others in our industry.
From Manual Processes to Advanced Travel Reservation Technology.
Whether you're just starting or have been in the tour travel business for years, acquiring new customers, increasing the value of repeat customers and servicing those customers with the gold standard of excellence should be your highest priority. However, as a small tour operator, you may not have time to market, sell and focus on great customer service considering all the hats you may wear.
Manual processes increase errors and slow you down
As you know too well, running a successful tour operation is a lot of work. It is even more work if you're running your business using Excel spreadsheets or other manual systems. Did you know almost 90% of tour operators are still taking bookings manually (Tourism Research Australia). Some operators run their entire business manually. Manual processes not only misuse your time, but they can also increase errors. Stressed for time and challenged with errors will only lead to frustration and greater inefficiency. There is little light down this path. Therefore it would be no surprise that as a tour operator committed to growth, you've probably thought about switching to a central reservation system (CRS) at least once or twice, if you haven't begun searching for one already.
A Central Reservation System can transform your business
An advanced central reservation system can help you improve efficiency, make bookings more quickly, and manage your inventory or your requests to vendor better. A complete front- mid and back-office system can help automate time-consuming processes such as tracking contact information, creating customer documents, producing manifests or requests/confirmations with vendors, processing credit card payments and more. A good system can decrease errors from duplication of entry, streamline your business and most importantly, give you the time to focus on more important things: your customers. Rezometry Case Studies show that customers that move from manual systems to Rezometry realize most, if not all, of these benefits within weeks of implementation.
Technology dilemma for smaller operators
As a tour operator, you need technology that is designed for tour operators. Much of what is available today is designed for activity providers. If you offer horseback riding tours, kayak day trips or bicycle tours each day at noon, you have a lot of low-cost options. However, if you offer packages, group trips, ski trips, multi-day tours, FIT travel and/or accommodations, you need technology that can handle this type of complexity. you'll find there are fewer options, and most of these options require a larger investment. This is the technology dilemma for smaller operators.
Finding the Right CRS for your business
If you're like most tour operators just beginning your search for a CRS, you might be a little overwhelmed and surprised with what you find—everything from technology with limited functionality to software that costs much more than what you can spend or what your budget can afford. So how does an up and coming tour operator get what you need at the price you can afford?
The world of travel technology is ever growing, so the options from which to choose are ever growing as well. As you embark on your journey to find the best central reservation system for your business, more than likely you'll start with Google searches followed by a series of calls, demos, proposals, etc. At the end of the day, you may get discouraged with the cost of it all. Here’s the silver lining: not all great technology is unobtainable. So how do you sift through the haystack to find your needle: the right technology at the right price?
Here are some helpful tips and questions to consider when searching for a CRS:
Determine your budget for technology: both in terms of your monthly budget and initial investment, as most systems require a one-time license fee and a monthly fee
Make a list of your current challenges, headaches, concerns, breakdowns, inefficiencies, and opportunities
Identify your products/services today and envision the products/services you may offer tomorrow
Evaluate systems designed specifically for tour operators, not activity operators - systems that are designed for tours, packages, FIT travel, groups, accommodations, etc.
Conduct at least 2 demos with competing providers of central reservation systems
Review the proposals and eliminate the providers that would require you to 'work around' important components of your business
Does the technology you're considering solve your headaches, concerns, breakdowns, and inefficiencies? If a provider doesn't, scratch them off the list
Does the technology you're considering give you the functions you need, not just today, but can it scale and grow as you grow or will you be in situation where you'll need to switch in a few years? Scratch the providers off the list
Does the technology streamline your booking processes, give you full accounting capabilities, loyalty program capabilities, pricing flexibility, inventory management, advanced customer relationship management functions?
Considering all the options on the table, which options require you to compromise the most?
Does the more affordable technology option require 'work arounds' or give you some of what you need, not all?
Avoid technology that requires you to 'work around' important daily functions-if you need to work around then work around to another system that gives you what you need
Find a technology partner with 5 Star Support -once you implement technology, you want to make sure you'll get the support your business needs
Ensure the technology can handle just about any travel product or service-even if you do not offer it today, you may want to offer new products in the future and you don't want a system that will limit you
Once you have evaluated several potential providers and scratched the majority off your list, you may be left with two or three. As you begin to receive proposals, you might find that some systems can start as low as $6,000 and others up to $100,000 depending upon the number of users you have. Is the more expensive system better? Not necessarily. you've probably thought about switching to a central reservation system (CRS) at least once or twice, if you haven't begun searching for one already.
Pay for what you need, not for what you don't
For example, Rezometry is a complete front-, mid- and back-office CRS that offers tour operators the most advanced technology to maximize efficiency and profitability, but in terms of cost, it requires a lower investment. How is this possible? With Rezometry, you pay for what you need, not for what you don't. Considering Rezometry is a user- and volume-based system, you pay for only the users you have and the modules you require. As you grow, and your needs change, you simply add more users and functionality. Today, you may not need connectivity, integration with GDSs or a custom online booking engine. You may tomorrow, but you shouldn't have to pay for that today.
As a growing tour operator, in order to take your business to the next level, you need the right technology and the right partner at the right price. After diving into the various CRS options available, gaining an understanding of what you need, and evaluating what technology providers offer, you'll be in a better position to make the leap from manual processes to advanced technology. And with the right technology, you'll go further faster.
Booking travel online, beyond air and hotel, is growing. Internet travel booking revenue has grown by more than 73% over the past 5 years (Statistic Brain Research Institute). As a tour operator or wholesaler, it's important for you to know that more than 148.3 million people use the Internet to make reservations for their accommodations, tours and activities. that's more than 57% of all travel reservations each year (Statistic Brain). With this type of growth the travel industry is seeing, if you do not have a custom online booking engine, you need one.
Still not convinced? Did you know that 60% of leisure and 41% of business travelers are making their own travel arrangements, generally via Internet. Items booked on the Internet before a trip include organized tours (5.1%) and entertainment activities/events (39.7%), with the latter having doubled since the previous year (Tourism Australia). In addition, over 50% of today's travelers will rush to the keyboard, rather than the phone to make their travel bookings (Hotel Executive).
What is a Custom Online Booking System?
Travelers and agents want to be able to reserve travel packages, including tours and activities online. This is most effectively accomplished through an online booking engine. There are two broad categories for online booking engines: one that is customized to your business and an out-of-the-box engine into which you must fit your business.
A custom online booking engine is the look, feel and workflow (screens on your Website) that connect with your back-end software CRS system to allow customers to make their reservations online. It features your tours, vacation packages and activities, along with pricing and components, and gives travelers and agents the ability to book in real time. The traveler is booking into your system, so you don't have to receive an email or form inquiry and enter the request into your CRS system.
What is the cost of a Custom Online Booking System?
The cost difference between a custom online booking engine and an out-of-the-box engine can be substantial. An out-of-the-box may run several hundreds per month plus transaction fees or a few thousand dollars a year depending upon the supplier. A custom booking engine could range from $5,000 to $125,000 and up in development costs, as a developer would be building the booking engine from scratch using your CRS's API.
With the price tag being so much higher for a custom system, why not just go with an out-of-the-box booking engine? In short, one size does not fit all. Most out-of-the-box booking engines serve activities or events, but miss the mark completely when it comes to packages, because often there are so many variables that require customization.
For example, how can you have the same solution for a company that does multi-day African Safaris and another company doing Ski trips a la carte? The out-of-the-box solution is fitting a square peg in a round hole. The end result, regardless of how little your investment, is that it will not work well for your business, or more importantly, for your customers.
Key Benefits of a Custom Online Booking System
Marketing research shows that online customers will give you two shots to fulfill their needs. So if your Website shows products that are not available for the given dates, or wrong prices or just returns NO search results, or worse, errors because you have a product that doesn't fit well in the online out-of the-box system, then you are likely to lose that customer. If you think about it, this scenario could actually hurt your business more than not having a booking engine at all.
Contrary to an out-of-the-box engine, a custom booking engine is designed exactly for your business, your products, services and for YOUR customers. It will have the look, feel and work flow that will maximize the experience for your customers and have them coming back for more or referring you to friends.
An online booking engine allows you to sell 24/7 and reach those customers who just are less tempted to call and ask questions or make a reservation thus increasing your sales. It decreases duplication of effort if only working with forms or email requests from the Website as the online booking goes right into your CRS system. And it frees up your sales staff to spend more time with those who do call, as those customers often want a more personalized approach to their purchase. All in all, it is a win/win, but only if you have a great booking engine in place. And that is done by making the investment into a custom booking engine.
How to create a Custom Online Booking System
If you have decided to move forward with an online booking engine, here is some important things to consider:
Website integration - Your central reservation system would need to integrate with your website, allowing your customers to make reservations with you on your main website. This integration also allows you to make changes and updates in your CRS and have them reflected on your website in real time. Integration is a process and requires development time. Investment may range from $15,000 to $100,000 depending upon the scope of work.
Currency and language options - If you're goal is to reach a global market, your booking engine must appeal to a global audience. It should adjust currency and language of your tours accordingly.
Real-time bookings - The booking system should automatically update whenever someone makes a reservation with you, allowing potential customers to see your actual availability at any time. With web and CRS integration, every online booking would take inventory from your CRS and reflect this in real-time.
Online payment options - Your customers want to be able to pay for your services at the time of their booking. Your custom online booking engine must integrate with your payment gateway or with your CRS, if your CRS is integrated with your payment gateway.
To compete in today's travel market, you need an online booking engine. If you do not have it in the budget this year, we recommend you beginning to allocate funds and set a goal to go live. If you're considering rebuilding your website, wait until you select the right technology partner.
Companies looking for a powerful and robust central reservations system cannot overlook the importance of training. While a sophisticated CRS platform can solve for many of the current challenges facing tour operators, destination management companies, travel resellers and wholesalers, the issues of yesterday will not magically disappear when the system is implemented. The reason is simple: A software system will not do the work. People using the software system will do the work. When you choose the right system for your travel business, a well-trained staff will be more efficient and sales should increase, which is why training is key.
The training process is critical to success. When implementing a sophisticated CRS, it is beneficial to understand the system to its fullest capacity so that your business can gain the biggest benefit from it. The training process is an exciting step toward ensuring great success. Each user of the system should be included in the training process and it's something you must go through with a professional member of the software team, who is there to help you map your business processes to the software.
Once you make the investment, both time and money, into a new travel software solution for your travel business, it's imperative to schedule the training. We find that companies typically need about 12 to 20 hours of training to fully understand the functions of a sophisticated system like Rezometry. It's one thing to watch the demo, read or watch the tutorials, or study the user manual in front of you. It's a whole other level of training to spend time with the experts who know the software better than anyone and can provide a view into the full power and flexibility of Rezometry. With live training, the full benefits of the platform into which you invested are unleashed.