By now you have probably realized that there are a number of software products available in the market that are marketed as “tour operator software”. But how do you determine what features are best for your organization?
Needless to say there are a variety of systems available on the market. There are two predominant groups; generalist systems that provide a variety of functions across a number of travel segments and specialist systems that are designed for a specific type of tour or activity business. Let’s take a closer look at what I mean:
Generalist systems: These are systems that provide functions outside of reservation, inventory, and customer management, in a specific vertical market. For example a reservation system that provides accommodation bookings, activity bookings, newsletter management, pay per click advertising tracking, website content management, and banner ad management all in a single system.
Pros: These systems provide a little bit of everything and tend to be quite feature rich. They also tend to have tighter integration between the parts, so you can combine your newsletter with a pay per click campaign.
Cons: These systems tend to be overly complicated and though they can be quite feature rich, very few of the features tend to get used by the majority of users. In my experience, these system, despite providing a variety of features, tend not to be particularly good at any one feature which results in an overly complex platform with limited practicality. In a nutshell, generalist systems try to be everything to everyone, providing features for specialist tour operators, accommodation providers, and activity operators, but generally not serving any one segment particularly well.
Pricing: There are a number of pricing models for generalist systems, including flat monthly fees, booking fees, and license fees. Since generalist systems don’t have any one particular specialization, pricing also tends to vary greatly within this group. When reviewing the pricing model of a generalist system that charges a flat fee or license fee, ask yourself this question “What is the system provider’s motivation in continuing to make this system better?” In most cases, with a generalist system, the motivation is not to increase the number of reservations to your business but rather to sell more licenses/monthly subscriptions to other businesses.
Specialist Systems: These systems do not provide features or functions outside of the reservation, inventory, and customer management of a single segment. For example a tour operator software system designed for tour and activity providers that provide fixed availability, fixed schedule tours/activities.
Pros: These reservation systems tend to be very good at what they do and are, as the name implies, specialized for a particular segment. A tour operator software built for tour and activity providers, for example, would not support accommodation product or custom itineraries because it wouldn’t need to. The system would also provide features such as vouchering, check-in, a point of sale for ticket office, and the ability to distribute inventory through established channels.
Cons: Specialist reservation systems are not very good at supporting products for which they were not designed. An activity booking software, for example, would not be useful for a specialist tour operator who sells customized outbound tours. The specialist software would generally have very specific functionality and features that could be integrated into an existing website or other platforms. A specialist system, for example, would allow you to export your contacts to a format supported by a newsletter manager instead of trying to manage newsletters itself.
Pricing: Specialist systems tend to have a very simple pricing model based on the kind of product for which they were designed. In most cases they are either booking fee or service fee based. A specialist tour operator, for example, who is trying to use a system designed for a day or half day based tours and activities may not find the pricing model of the system particularly appealing. Since the motivation of the specialist systems are generally much more refined and easily defined, the pricing model will be directly related to improving or increasing your businesses success.
Things to look for when reviewing booking software:
- Easily accessible web demo – Take a look around the system and get a feel for what it can do.
- Testimonials – Look for customer praise and testimonials.
- Simple web sign-up – Sign-up should be easy and not require a sales person to complete. This will give you a chance to test the system.
- Online support – Look for a support website with knowledgebase. This shows that the company is confident in the capabilities of its system.
- Commitment to customer support – Personalized customer support is essential to any business looking at conducting online bookings or looking into a tour operator software system.
As you review tour operator software systems ask yourself these two key questions:
- What type of tour operator am I and does the system I am reviewing match my type of business?
- Does the software charge based on a shared success model? If not, what is the software companies motivation for maintaining the software.