Still working without an online booking system or struggling to understand the benefits of using one? Now is the time to start educating yourself on the benefits of an online booking system. The travel booking landscape is rapidly changing. Mobile bookings are having a greater impact year on year and your customers expect you to be online.
A lot of businesses in the tours and activities sector have resisted using booking systems. There were valid reasons for this:
- they were expensive
- difficult to use
- built for hotels & not your business
This is no longer the case. Cloud computing has ensured that online booking systems are extremely affordable, with monthly subscriptions costing as little as a day’s wage bill for a minimum wage employee.
In 2014, an online booking system is a “must have” for any tour or activity business that is spending lots of time answering phone calls, sending emails or considering hiring more staff.
It can be hard figuring out what’s the right online booking system for your business, as there are so many different variations. Once you have identified what is the right one for you however, it can have many benefits, the main one is the fact that it helps businesses increase their bookings, which is what we’re all after.
An online booking system leads to more sales. Without one you can be like a leaky pipe, where small drips of water are constantly being lost. At first this doesn’t seem like a big deal. The trouble is that a consistent small drip from a number of places can create huge loss over time. This is the same with bookings. When you consider that 39% of travel bookings are made outside normal office hours and that only 1 in 3 people leave a voicemail when they ring, there is a huge potential for lost bookings.
Let’s consider the pipe analogy a little further…
Every day you receive emails about your tours, this requires you to get back to the customer often with long delays between each email. Naturally some drop off and you don’t hear back from them. This is normal, right? Wrong! These customers may have been impatient and wanted to secure a booking, they too are stuck for time and may have simply booked another service. That’s a lost booking that was yours for the taking and like the leaky pipe over the course of a year this can be very expensive. Say you get 10 leads per day and only 4 actually end up booking, even if 2 of those lost – booked with someone else – that’s 730 lost bookings per year! That’s a lot of cash.
“DON’T BE THE LEAKY PIPE!”
Now let’s be clear an online booking system is not a contact form on your website, or a payment form which sends you an email with a confirmation request. A booking system automates the process. When a booking is made it reduces the number of available slots or places on a specific tour or activity. You should also be able to track online versus offline sales, sales by staff member and even give local partners like hotel concierges or tourist offices logins so they can make bookings without contacting you. This is a big advantage for an online booking system.
Is your business taking over your life? Spending all your day in your inbox? There is a better way…With a booking system you manage all your bookings through a central point. Yes, that’s all your bookings. It includes online bookings, bookings received over the phone or walk ups. You don’t even have to be there to check how everything is going. Most booking systems are web based so you can check in on any internet connected device to track and manage your business.
Mobile is SOooo important now. Everyone is going to have a smartphone. And yes it is important for your business too as Google is now prioritising websites with mobile functionality. A good booking system will do a lot of this work for you and should allow simple mobile booking for your customers. This will save you a truck load of time and money with a web developer on how to get your website ready.
So how else can it help you? Well a good system will also allow you to assign and roster staff to your activities so you’re not stuck beating your temples on a Sunday night with the company calendar. This takes a lot of the headache of running the business from you.
Ok so maybe you’re thinking:
“there might be something to this online booking thing” but…”I don’t have the budget for this!”.
Are you sure? We’ve already given the example of the 730 bookings you could be losing per year. If each activity is worth $50 (2 x $25) that could be equivalent to a whopping $36,500!
If this doesn’t grab you maybe you’ve considered hiring seasonal staff to deal with the workload during those busy summer months. Well that’s really expensive. Think about it. Even if a college student helping out in the office costs just $8 per hour that’s over $50 per day or nearly $2500 for two months. Is this really necessary? Could you be more efficient with an online booking system. For example, our lowest priced plan is $34.99 per month that’s just $420 per year and we don’t call in sick after a night on the town :).
The cold hard facts are that an online booking system can help reduce staffing costs by 20-30%, depending on your size of business and increase efficiency by more than 50%. That means that even if it’s just YOU, you’re saving a truckload of time, which could free you up to spend more time marketing or just put the feet up.
Increase Your Distribution with an Online Booking System
Distribution I hear you ask? What’s that?
Distribution is basically anywhere else you sell your product. You might sell on a website like Viator or Getyourguide. Or you might sell through a local tourist office, hotel concierge or travel agent. These are all channels outside your website and sales office. These channels normally sell your tours or activities in exchange for a commission, which can range between 10-30% (yes that big!). You may even use voucher companies like Groupon or Living Social to sell your tours or activities in low times of the year. This is also distribution.
Dealing with these systems can be great way to increase your web presence and get yourself seen, but it can also lead to a lot of work. For instance if you start getting bookings from these channels are you worried about being double booked? Having a customer walk up with a paid voucher from a third party, expecting to be accommodated, when you’ve already sold out your tour can be very uncomfortable. It can also be damaging for your brand if that customer leaves a negative Tripadvisor or Yelp review.
Online booking software can help here. It can link you directly to online travel agents like Viator so that when a booking is made on your website it updates them at the same time. So for example, if you have 4 places left on your Friday 11am slot and 3 people ring you up to book, once you put it through your system, your website and your listing with Viator shows 1 available place. Make sense? This is known as channel management.
Up selling is also a fantastic way to boost your revenue. What’s up selling?
It’s adding additional items at booking that add to the customer experiences. For example, take a hotel pick up, it’s not going to drive the sale but when the customer sees it in the booking form alongside a checkbox for the hotel they’re staying at they may be happy to pay an extra $10-15 for the pleasure. For a kayaking company it might be a wetsuit, which at the time of booking seems necessary, but if left until the customer gets there and its sunny…well, you know the likelihood.
You could add lunch as an extra. Don’t provide food – so what? Do a deal with a local cafe to provide lunches on request and make 50% of the revenue from it. Easy.
The point here is that if you add these options without a booking system it will become very difficult to manage. Imagine you were booking something and had sent a couple of emails about the purchase and then received an email asking you: “now, would you like to book lunch with or without cream cakes.” You get my drift.