Why Tour Operators Should Use an Online Booking System

By Taylor Odgers

Business TipsBusiness Tips

Person holding cell phone

Consider these statistics:

Online bookings account for almost half of all bookings.

Meanwhile, 30% of tour and activity operators don’t plan on implementing an online booking system.

These operators are missing a huge opportunity and are at risk of falling behind.

Now you might be thinking— I’m too small for a booking system. You might even be planning on using a booking platform once you reach a certain sales goal.

But the truth is, little mom and pop shops are the ones who need a booking system most.

Booking platforms do so much more than sell your travel activities online.

They help you earn more with less staff, operate more efficiently, and make smarter business decisions. On top of that, they help expose you to more travelers, allow those travelers to book the way they prefer, and ultimately give you a competitive edge.

Here are the top 10 reasons to use a booking platform (no matter what your size).

1. Increase your direct bookings

As a tour operator, your potential customers are all over the world (in many different time zones). Which is great! But if you’re in the US,  it’s very inconvenient for someone in Australia to call in to make a reservation.

Without a booking system, you’d have to hire an overnight call person or risk losing sales. (Your tour would need to be in very high demand for someone to wait until 3 am to book with you).

With an online booking system, you can accept bookings 24/7. This gives all your customers, no matter what time zone, the freedom to book when it’s right for them by simply following the booking process steps.

2. Provide better service to walk-in customers

If you believe that customer service gives you a competitive edge, you might worry about a digital system. Yet a booking system can help improve your customer interactions.

Over half of travel activity bookings still happen in-person. If your staff are always tied up on the phone, they aren’t approachable by someone walking by.

Your employees will be able to serve those guests better if you replace reservations made over the phone with online bookings. You can add a human touch to the online booking experience with friendly copy and customer testimonials.

3. Accept last minute reservations

Travellers book activities very different from flight and accommodations. Most wait until the last minute, with 38% of bookings happen on the same day or up to two days before the activity.

And a majority of this happens when they are already in-destination. People want to wake up and decide what they feel like doing that day.

If you only accept bookings over the phone, or in-person, these last-minute travelers have three options.

They can call to see if you have any availability. But what if they don’t have a long distance calling plan?

They can walk/taxi/bus down to your booth and book. But if you are at capacity for the day they will have wasted precious time. And for a traveler, time is more valuable than money.

Or, they can book something that is more convenient.  

What option are you most likely to take?

A common concern about last minute bookings is that you need to know ahead of time how many staff you need. Your booking system should provide a solution for this. For more on this, see point  #6.

4. Put an end to redundant administrative tasks

How many reservation reminders and follow-up phone calls, or emails, have you made in the past year? I’m guessing a lot.

It’s probably not your favorite part of the day—  always saying the same thing or copying and pasting the same message to each of your guests.

Booking systems let you set up automatic booking confirmations, reminders, and follow-ups so you can save hours in customer communication.

Another thing that takes up a lot of time is answering calls from those indecisive, or thorough, guests.

“Yes, we have you in for 1 pm on Tuesday.”

“No, you can’t bring your dog with you,”

“Sure, you can change your group size— again.”

With customer accounts, guests can log in to review their booking and make changes on their own. No more phone calls! Plus, you can store invoices, waivers, and order history in their account so they can access them at any time.

Customer accounts bookings tab in Checkfront

Which brings me to my next point.

5. Stay organized

If you’re still using a pen and paper system, your paper stack grows daily. You have waivers, invoices, and schedules all over the place. Keeping track of your customer records and filing your taxes becomes very difficult. Not to mention, time-consuming.

With an online booking system, you store everything in the same place— the cloud. This reduces your paper trail and makes finding documents a breeze.

Daily booking list for kayak rents, tours in Checkfront

Using daily reports, you can print off your schedule. This makes cross-referencing at check-in a breeze!  It’s also an excellent way to check on your bookings at a glance.

6. Manage your staff

Now let’s go back to last minute reservations. Staffing for tours and activities depends on how many guests you have coming in. Because of this, many operators limit the number of last minute reservations they accept.

With an online booking system, you can set up alerts to notify your employees if you need an extra guide to come in. It’s a great way to manage their on-call staff.

7. Increase your exposure

Travellers love to compare flights and room prices before booking. With the rise of Expedia Local Expert, Get Your Guide, Viator and other Online Travel Agent sites (OTA’s), now they shop for activities the same way.  

While you might not like the high commission fees, you can think of them as a marketing expense. OTA’s are powerful distribution channels. They expose you to a larger audience than you would find on your own.

Yes, your margins won’t be as high, but you might get those reservations otherwise. Many travelers only shop for activities on these sites. Some revenue is better than no revenue, right?

8. Never double book

Without a booking system, selling through OTA’s is a tedious and time-consuming task. If you received a booking on one channel, you’d have to manually update your availability on the rest.

Accepting last minute reservations was almost impossible without the risk of double booking.

Another option was to put aside a certain percent of your inventory to each channel in hopes it would fill up.  But that’s an inefficient system that could leave a lot of sales on the table.

With an online booking system, your inventory automatically syncs across each channel. Which means you can maximize your capacity and still avoid overbooking!

9. Get smarter insights into your business

It’s difficult to spot trends if you’re using email, the phone, paper and excel to manage your bookings.

With a reservation system, it’s easy to download detailed reports that show you everything from packaging trends to annual sales. This shows you what’s working, and what’s not. From there you can promote the packages that make you money, and cut the ones that aren’t.

Monthly booking volume report in Checkfront from January 1st to January 31st 2015

10. Better understand your cash flow and purchasing power

If you’re like most seasonal travel companies, you make most of your profits at the end of the season. Without a reporting system in place, most of your business decisions are gut-based. Do you really know if you can afford those new kayaks or make that new hire?

For many, the wrong choice could put their business under.

A booking system can help you make these decisions. All you need to do is pull a few reports to check in on your financial health and compare it season over season.

Let’s say you’re considering buying new equipment. Last year you broke even. Looking into your reports, you discover that this July’s sales are triple last year’s. Then you know the purchase won’t put your business in jeopardy.

But, if your sales look the same and it’s supposed to rain for the next three weeks, you might want to wait until next year.

This is the beauty of a booking system. You have access to your company’s financial health in real time. No more guesswork!

So are you convinced yet?

P.S. Checkfront has a wide range of tools to help grow your business.

Get started with Checkfront today!

Online bookings. Flexible pricing. Outstanding support.