So many features, so little time
There are dozens of reservation systems out there, and shopping for the right one can seem like a duel between feature checklists. But when evaluating booking software, don’t lose the forest for the trees.
The best booking software for your business is not necessarily the one that hits every “nice to have” feature on your list. You should focus on the short list of capabilities that truly impact your business in a big way.
Here’s a different way to measure your software choices:
“Good booking software helps automate important aspects of your tour business to save you time, money, and improve your customer’s overall experience.”
This standard will help you stay out of the weeds. As you encounter a system’s features, ask yourself: “Does this feature save me time?”; “Does this boost my revenue or cut my costs?”; “Will my customers love this?”
You’ll weed out the features that seem important from the ones that actually help you succeed.
We’ve helped get you started by identifying six functions of your reservation system that will make a difference in your business.
What to look for in tour booking software
1. Clean and easy checkout
Your website’s online checkout is the one thing standing between you and a new customer.
Clean, brief, and intuitive checkouts are the cornerstone of your online sales. Over the course of a year, seemingly minor differences in checkout design can add up to major differences in conversion rates and revenues. A well-designed checkout could also massively reduce the number of routine calls that you and your staff might otherwise field.
Lastly, maximizing your online revenue is perhaps the single most important way to increase your return on your investment in booking software.
Make sure your checkout avoids these 7 common mistakes and also double check that it’s mobile-optimized. It’s more important now than ever that your customers can easily book your tours from their phones (does “Mobilegeddon” ring a bell?).
Your booking system is your portal to your entire tour business. It’s where you manage your inventory, your schedules, your customer communications, and more. Unlike software programs that have to be downloaded, cloud-based software makes it easier to access this data from anywhere at any time.
Furthermore, with a cloud-based platform you never have to update your system to get feature updates. Instead, improvements happen automatically and can take place as many times as needed.
It’s harder for software companies to innovate when they’re not on the cloud. Their systems have been built upon layers of old code that has to remain compatible across a host of devices.
To keep pace, these companies will eventually need to migrate to the cloud, at which point they’ll have to build the software again from the ground up.
3. Flexible tour pricing
There’s no doubt that the way you price your tours greatly affects your business. Does your booking software make it easy for you to change your prices based on demand?
Sometimes, you might want to charge more for weekend or prime-time tours than for weekday activities. Maybe you need one pricing schedule during high season and another during your shoulder season. Pricing functionalities are instrumental features in any booking software.
Be aware of booking softwares that exert their own influence over your business’s pricing–some force you to add hidden fees to the end of your checkout. Not only do your checkout conversion rates suffer from these last-minute costs, but your business doesn’t even get to pocket the change. All the revenue generated from hidden fees goes to the booking software company. So even though you’re the one sticking your neck out and surprising your customers with a fee at the end, you don’t get to reap the rewards. All in all, how and what you charge your customers should work to your advantage, not your booking system’s.
4. 3 clicks or fewer
Imagine how much time you already spend or plan to spend using your booking system. You’ll need it to collect payments from your customers, run reports, assign guides to your tours, and more.
What if it took you minutes instead of seconds to complete any one of these tasks? Your booking system is so integral to dozens of tasks that you need it to run quickly and smoothly.
How many clicks does it take you to modify a booking, for example? Do pages have to reload every time before you can edit a field? Are you forced to start from scratch every time you need to update your tour’s schedule?
These may sound like little things, but as you run your business day in and day out, your efficiency depends on important details like this.
5. Complete affiliate management
Few booking systems have this capability, but affiliate management is crucial to help your tour business succeed. It allows you to develop partnerships with outside resellers and track your bookings across all sources.
If you promote activities on Viator, affiliate management will keep tabs on it just as it would a website or back-office booking. The same goes for tours sold by hotel concierges or other venues–see their progress and pay out their commissions all from one booking system.
Being able to easily develop and manage these relationships can radically alter your company’s growth trajectory. If managing your affiliate arrangements is a hassle, you’ll be less inclined to nurture these partnerships over time. You could be leaving numerous revenue channels untapped, or worse yet, open to competitors.
6. Integrated social reviews
You can’t understate the value of customer reviews on sites like TripAdvisor. Look for booking software that will help you boost your marketing with customers review emails. For every happy customer that you serve, your booking system will automatically send them a “Thank You” email with links where they can review your tour.
Keep an eye out though for these red flags:
- Emails not branded with your logo: There are systems that send emails to your customers branded with its software’s logo. This could cause brand confusion for your customers and possibly turn them off from leaving a review altogether.
- Locked-up reviews: Some booking systems send review emails to your customers, but they don’t publish them on popular sites like Yelp, Google+, or even TripAdvisor. This essentially defeats the purpose of sending out review emails since you won’t be able to grow your online reputation and word-of-mouth.
- Mystery emails: In extreme cases, the reservation system may hold onto your customers’ email addresses so that you can’t grow your company’s email lists. Now that so much marketing is done online, especially through email, these addresses are invaluable assets to any tour operator.
What you won’t get from a feature list
There’s one last thing you should look for when judging whether a booking system has been built to impact your bottom line. The trouble is, there’s no checkbox for it on a feature list.
I’m talking about process. Process can manifest itself in a number of ways: a streamlined product, a clear implementation and training program for you and your staff, the way a sales rep dissects your business and understands your needs, or how a customer success member systematically troubleshoots an issue if you’ve reached a bump in the road.
It’s a lot harder for a software company to engineer process than it is to engineer features.
Any tour booking software questions?
We’re here to help! Get in touch with Xola’s team of software specialists and we’ll answer any and every question under the sun.