Running a tour and activity business often means you wear too many hats. Along with managing daily operations, you might also tackle marketing, inventory, payroll, distribution, and keeping your guides happy. Does your to-do list ever end?
If you feel a little — or very — overwhelmed, there’s a better way to stay on top of everything. Rather than thinking it all has to be on your shoulders, you can look to various business apps for a hand. In fact, there’s not one, but many online solutions.
Some examples include marketing automation, team collaboration, payment processing, scheduling, and customer relationship management (CRM). With accounts across the board, you’ll see your tasks drop one by one. And soon, you’ll have more time for unforgettable experiences, too.
However, you’ll likely face choice overload with the best tour operator software. So I’ve narrowed down some tried-and-true options to get you started. But you should always keep in mind what works best for your tour and activity business.
Skip ahead to the business apps you need next:
- To-do lists
- Project management
- Customer relationship management
- Social media management
- Email marketing
- Booking management
1. Get more done with to-do list apps
Let’s be real while we’re on the topic of to-do lists. Do post-it notes overtake your desk? Or worse, do you keep everything in your head, and then forget about it later?
Trust me; you’re not alone. But a cluttered workspace and mind only hinder productivity. It takes longer completing tasks when you’re scratching your head, trying to figure out what’s next, what’s a priority.
For better organization, you can use one of these to-do lists apps. You’ll still have work to do, but you’ll see it all in one place without testing your short-term memory.
Todist helps you juggle different aspects of your job — whether it’s personal productivity or managing your team. You can map out projects and goals, assign tasks, set deadlines, share files, and even measure progress. It’s quick and easy to get an overview of what needs to be done and when — on any device.
Plans for Todist Business start at $4 per month, with a free 30-day trial. That’s next to nothing for a little less chaos in your life.
If you lean heavily on Google products, you might as well stick with the G Suite. As the simplest to-do list app, Google Tasks captures anything that comes up, at the instant you think of it, and syncs to other G Suite features. Plus, it also sends you reminders, so you never miss a beat.
Google Tasks comes with a G Suite account — which starts at $6 per month.
2. Keep on track with project management software
To-do lists are great for the day-to-day, but what about season-to-season? You need something a little more robust. With project management software, you can break down big projects into achievable steps, allowing your team to chip away without feeling swamped.
For example, let’s say you’re prepping for peak season. Instead of scrambling last minute to repair equipment, train new guides, set up gift certificates, and anything else, you can make a game plan during the shoulder season.
Here are some project management apps to help with that:
Trello allows you to create new projects, invite team members, and add multiple tasks using what’s called a Trello Card. On the board, everyone can glimpse what to start on, and find out what’s involved in the comments. As they work toward finishing the project, they can move each card from To Do, Doing, and Done.
Their Business Plan is $9.99 for each user per month with a free trial.
We’ve heard that some of our customers prefer Airtable, and we can see why. With different views — including grid, calendar, kanban, gallery, and form — it’s flexible enough for most team projects. So if you have many departments, you can track what everyone has on the go, while letting them organize their workflows the way they like.
Pricing starts at $10 for each user per month, but there is a free plan with limited features.
Known as more of a team chat app, Slack can surprisingly be used for project management as well. While it doesn’t have the same capabilities as the other apps, it can get the job done with a few hacks. For instance, you can create team channels for talking out projects, set up automated reminders, and add lists with pinned messages.
So if you’re already using Slack to connect with your team, there are some workarounds to make it a two-in-one app. But you can also integrate it with other PM tools if you need more heavy lifting. Slack plans start at $6.67 per active user, per month.
Looking for an all-in-one project management tool? Basecamp comes pretty close. There’s to-do lists, message boards, schedules, documents and file storage, real-time group chat, charts and reports, notifications, and so much more. If you don’t want to keep track of multiple accounts or train your team on a bunch of new software, Basecamp is a good option.
While it seems costly at $99 per month, you get unlimited users — which is a deal maker for larger tour companies.
3. Know your guests with CRM software
Every booking tells you something about your audience. Any information you collect — address, age, diet preferences, referrals — offers a glimpse into your average guest. But with CRM for tour operators, you can find out so much more.
What started as a Rolodex is now a sophisticated, cloud database. By collecting and storing customer data, you can visualize their interactions with your tour company across platforms — including email, your website, social media, and more. Then, use that information to personalize their customer journey, from discovery to booking.
Since CRM software is quite complex — much like booking management software — you’ll have to sift through benefits and features thoroughly for the best match. But here are some to get you started:
Hubspot is more than basic CRM software. At least it is if you upgrade from the free version. With tools designed for sales, marketing, and customer service, you can grow website traffic, convert leads, view insights, make connections, and turn your guests into promoters.
On top of that, Hubspot provides a wide range of free courses and certifications to help you master current marketing and sales trends. I graduated from Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing — which brought you to this blog, didn’t it? You can learn the same tactics and drive more travelers to your website.
As I mentioned, you can get Hubspot’s CRM software for free. Or you can opt for something more inclusive, starting at $50 per month.
At first glance, Salesforce looks like a similar CRM platform to Hubspot. But the truth is, Hubspot’s focus is more on marketing and sales for small and midsized business (SMB), whereas Salesforce is worth investigating for larger tour companies. That’s because Salesforce takes CRM to a whole new level with hundreds of integrations, built-in features, and powerful artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.
So if you’re ready to scale up to Salesforce, plans start at $25 per user per month.
Insightly is a top-voted CRM software among small businesses. With a simple user interface and plenty of customizable options, it’s robust enough to get you familiar with CRM and lead management. Plus, it comes with other features — like task management and tracking.
Basically, Insightly is a good starting point with a few different marketing and CRM plans or custom bundles. But you’ll have to contact their sales team for a quote.
4. Engage travelers with social media management tools
There’s no doubt about it; social media marketing is the best way to capture an audience’s attention today. Since travel content is buzzing across platforms — especially Instagram — tour operators stand a good chance of getting lots of followers, likes, and comments. Just so long as the content is compelling and consistent.
But figuring out what, when, and where to post every day is tiring. How many different photo angles can you take of your guests in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa? What do you write as a caption for the same white water rafting videos? And how do you get your guests to live stream their experiences and remember to tag you?
While a social media management tool can’t necessarily help you with creativity, it can keep you on track with automation and analysis. In other words, you can batch content, schedule posts, respond to comments, and see what channels perform best. So whether you or your guides frequently post on social media, you can make the most out of it with the following:
Buffer’s main strength is planning and organizing social media content. Using the tool, you can create, tailor, and schedule posts for multiple accounts, all in one go. And the social calendar helps you find gaps in your content schedule. But your team can also reply to social conversations in a shared inbox, and of course, it comes with reporting features — albeit simple like the rest of the platform.
Buffer has various pricing plans for what you need — Publish, Reply, and Analyze.
If you’re looking to take your social media presence to a whole new level, Sendible is a more all-in-one solution. Similar to Buffer, it has an intuitive dashboard for social media planning and an accessible inbox. But beyond that, Sendible kicks it up a notch.
You can monitor keywords to quickly react to mentions about your tour brand, competitors, or industry. If your team does most of the social media grunt work, but you want to oversee campaigns, you can approve workflows right from your email. And Sendible even offers content suggestions based on your niche, so you have something to post in the lag times.
Plus, Sendible is built for agencies, which means it keeps accounts neatly organized. If you have multiple locations, this feature can be useful because it allows you to break down reports for each. Starting at $29 per month, Sendible is an affordable option.
Guests seem to have questions about everything — such is life. Should I wear sneakers or sandals? What time does the shuttle pick us up again? Do you have spare sunscreen? And now with Facebook Messenger, they don’t even have to call to ask.
To save yourself time from tedious answers, you can build a chatbot in minutes with ManyChat. With automated replies, you’ll boost your response time, but also suggest targeted offers to drive bookings.
ManyChat has a free plan for businesses that are new to chatbots, and then priced plans according to the number of subscribers.
5. Share promotions with email marketing software
Despite what you’ve probably heard, email marketing is not dead. Just like social media, people tend to check their inbox daily, too. So if you collect email addresses at the time of booking, you can capitalize on this with email promotions or newsletters. Provided that you ask their permission first, and let them opt-out anytime.
However, also similar to social media, email marketing takes time and creative energy. You’ve got to draft the email, curate the recipient list, and make it look snazzy. If you’re an overthinker like myself, this often takes longer than it should before hitting send.
Luckily, there’s email marketing software to make this all easier. You can choose from beautiful templates or build your own, abide by optimized email formats, and segment your contact lists for more targeted messaging. And afterward, gain insight into an email’s performance — including open, click-through, and bounce rates, as well as the number of unsubscribers.
Here are a couple of popular email marketing services:
If you’re a small business and new to email marketing, Mailchimp is an excellent place to start. With a forever free plan, you’ll get access to basic templates and a content studio, plus send 10,000 emails monthly for up to 2,000 contacts.
The email builder is user-friendly, and you can check that your efforts are on the right track with simple analytics and reporting. As a bonus, you can even schedule emails based on timezones — super helpful if your customer base is mainly distant travelers.
Of course, you can upgrade to more advanced plans, starting at $9.99 per month. But keep in mind, for true marketing automation, there are better, yet pricier, options.
Drip is a highly recommended email marketing service because it primarily focuses on one thing, and does it exceptionally well. What is that exactly? If you haven’t guessed by the name already, it’s designed explicitly for email drip campaigns.
A drip campaign is an email workflow that nurtures a prospect into a paying guest without your direct involvement. Essentially, you line up a series of pre-made emails with one goal in mind — conversion. Based on user actions and selected time, you deliver the right information at the right time.
For example, if you host a website quiz about What Type of Hiker are You, you could send a thank-you email to participants. Three days later, an email about the best hiking trails in your area. A list with a hiker’s packing essentials after another two days. And finally, showcase your guided hiking tour in an email ending with a booking call-to-action button.
Using Drip blueprints, you can quickly set up drip campaigns just like above. Plans start at $49 per month.
6. Crunch the numbers with accounting software
The last thing you want to do on a beautiful summer day is look over your financials — am I right? While bookkeeping may be your biggest headache, accounting software for tour operators can simplify the process by linking directly to your business and bank accounts.
Gone are the days of paper ledgers and clunky spreadsheets. Now, you can track income and expenses, organize your receipts, run payroll, maximize tax deductions, manage bills, and generate financial reports — all in one in-depth and intuitive dashboard.
Most accounting software will offer the bare minimum for managing the money flowing in and out of your tour and activity business. But others come loaded with features for financial reporting, complete tax preparation, and inventory management. Let’s take a look at options for either.
Zoho Books covers basic accounting and financial management — if that’s all you need. You can create invoices, check expenses, monitor and categorize transactions, and generate tax reports according to the regulations in your country. As you might tell already, Zoho Books is part of the Zoho suite, so it works seamlessly with 40 plus business apps in the family. Or you can use it as a standalone app.
Zoho Books starts at $12 per organization per month. If you want some apps from the Zoho suite, you can pick and choose the ones you want. But Zoho also offers bundles.
QuickBooks Online is the most popular accounting software, mainly because of its tax management capabilities. If you already use Intuit tax products — like TurboTax — then it can be a logical solution. Keep in mind though; there are still importing limitations here.
However, QuickBooks Online is still feature-rich and worth the steeper learning curve. Regarding taxes, you can automatically calculate and categorize sales tax, and view your sales tax information anytime with the Sales Tax Liability Report. Moreover, you can do all of the bookkeeping basics, and anything payroll related — including managing 1099 contractors.
QuickBooks Online plans start at $10 per month with a free 30-day trial.
To dive deep into your financials, Xero is where it’s at. Similar to QuickBooks Online, it comes with time-saving tools, such as easy invoicing, inventory tracking, multi-currency, bill payments, and more. But for reporting and insights, Xero really takes the cake.
Xero provides over 50 reports covering every aspect of your business — including sales, purchasing, taxation, payroll, asset management, and accounting. On top of that, there are 14 pre-built financial statement reports and 16 reports specific to accounting. And you can customize all of them to suit your business.
Xero plans start at $20 per month with optional extras. And of course, there’s a 30-day free trial as well.
7. Sell more tours with a booking management platform
Bookings are your bread and butter. So naturally, booking software is a necessity because it concentrates on this area best. But this technology doesn’t only give guests the freedom to self-book directly from your website, anytime. The real magic lies in the back-end.
From a single dashboard, you can manage all of your bookings, wherever they come from — over the phone, in-person, on Facebook, your website, through an OTA or reseller, or Reserve with Google. Any new bookings or cancellations will automatically update your inventory, and likewise, availability across channels.
With various booking reports, you can make informed decisions on dynamic pricing based on trends over time. Or find out what is and isn’t working in your marketing and distribution strategies. You can also get an overview of your daily bookings so that your team can get everything ready in advance. And end the day with simplified cashout reports.
Of course, a booking management platform comes with other cool features — like gift certificates, digital waivers, automated email notifications, invoicing, and more. There are many possibilities, but every booking software provider is different. So look closely for one that meets most of your unique business needs.
Checkfront is the leading booking management platform for tours and activities but also suits rentals and accommodation. So if you run a multifaceted business, Checkfront is the best one-stop solution. You can set up advanced pricing structures, custom booking parameters, and choose from daily, nightly, and time-based allocations.
With over 109 integrations and multiple configurations, you can make Checkfront work for whatever you want. But it doesn’t stop there. This versatility transfers to all aspects of your business — including distribution. And best of all, the Support team is available 24/7 to help you every step of the way.
Checkfront plans start at $49 per month, with a free 21-day trial.