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What Type of Tour Operator Are You?

Prerequisites: You are starting to review tour operator software products in preparation for accepting online bookings but you’re not sure what to look for or what features are best suited for you.

Estimated Time for Completion: 15 min reading time

Details: Did you know that the term tour operator has several very different meanings?  If you refer to yourself as a tour operator and, as a result, you are looking for a tour operator software that is designed for you, then you need to be aware that you will find a variety of software products in the market.  Some of these software products will be designed for you, but some will not.  By clearly understanding what type of tour operator you are, you will be able to tell very quickly whether a tour operator software you are reviewing will meet your specific needs.  Here are some key differences in tour operators:

  1. Do you provide activities directly to travelers? For example, do you offer a guided city tour, bicycle tour, kayak tour or other daily scheduled tour? If yes, than you’re also known as an adventure outfitter or activity operator.  In this case, you’re looking for a booking software that allows your customers to book your products in real-time with the ability to issue printable vouchers.  You’re probably concerned with making sure your seats are filled and that you are maximizing your yield (i.e. number of people per trip).
  2. Are you an accommodation based service provider? For example, do you offer multi-day accommodation style packages or offer tours based on occupancy?  If so, then you will want a tour operator software that allows you offer accommodation based bookings in an intuitive way.  Scheduled, fixed availability based tour & activity products are very different from flexible check-in/check-out based products are, therefore, generally not designed to work well together in the same system.  Be sure that when you review tour operator software systems that you ensure understand what type of product the system supports.
  3. How far in advance do your customers book? The shorter the time period between the booking and the delivery of your service, the lower your risk level (for online payments).  If you are an activity operator, your average pre-booking window is around 30-60 days.  For larger tour packages, the value is higher and the pre-booking window is longer.  It is unlikely that a customer will pay for a large package online so the need for real-time booking is less important.
  4. Do you sell your own tours or someone else’s products? If you are the supplier, then your needs will be different then if you are a reseller.  As a supplier, you will want live availability online and direct payment for your services.  As a reseller, you are probably allocated a block or freesale product, in which case, your interests will not be in filling seats but in selling as much product at as much margin as possible.  You will have a larger variety of product and you will most likely focus on products that sell the best.
  5. Do you book air & hotel? If you book airfares and hotel rooms for customers then you will probably want a tour operator software that has integration with GDS.  If you want your customers to book their air and hotel choices online, then you would probably require some basic packaging functionality.  You are probably a licensed travel agent in this case, in which case you will be bound by certain industry criteria when it comes to payment and credit card requirements.
  6. Do you organize custom tours? Do you accept requests for group tours and then prepare custom itineraries on behalf of customers?  You will probably want to look for a booking software that allows your customers to complete a request for quote which can then be used as the basis of building a custom itinerary.  In this scenario, you are probably not accepting payment upfront but rather applying manual payments to the booking invoice as you work your way through the booking process.

Outcome: You have a really good understanding of the kind of online booking software you need, what is important to you, and what will best fit your business needs.  You should be able to describe to a software vendor what type of tour operator you are, the types of tours & activities you sell, how you wish to be paid, and what your role is in the travel supply chain.

Photo Credit: Amsterdam City Tours

Written by

Stephen is the CEO and Co-Founder of Rezgo. He has been working as a travel & tourism technology consultant since 1995. Stephen is active in fostering tourism technology and is a Past Chair of the OpenTravel Alliance. He is also a regular contributor for Tnooz, a leading travel technology media site, and speaks regularly at conferences around the Globe on travel & tourism technology, messaging standards, and industry trends.

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