Online Booking System Tips for Activity & Tour Operators

As a tour or activity operator, you may have noticed that online bookings are becoming increasingly popular. In fact, according to PhoCusWright’s Global Online Travel Overview Second Edition, online bookings will account for one third of the world’s entire travel sales by the end of 2012. The implication is clear – if you can’t take online bookings you are missing out on a significant slice of business.

Although global data suggests that the current recession is reducing overall sales, ironically it’s accelerating the shift to online bookings as potential customers go online to look for the best deals and special offers by cutting out the middleman. Equally, not all geographies are behaving similarly and there are some countries, like Australia and New Zealand that are bucking the trend and seeing healthy bookings growth.

It appears that the current economic climate allows for online bookings to become the go-to solution – both for travellers who turn to the web in search of savings, and for suppliers seeking more sales. But cost savings aren’t the only reason customers AND businesses are going online to book.  It’s also extremely convenient. It eliminates hassle for you and your customers by:

  • Being self-service. Time is not an issue on the Internet. Your shop is open 24/7, meaning that people can browse, book and pay at a time that’s convenient to them.
  • You benefit too. Your expenses decrease as manual handling of bookings is cut to an absolute minimum.
  • Automating calculations. There’s less room for error when you leave calculations to a robot, especially if there’s a coupon code or discount offer involved.
  • Confirming the booking faster. You get paid on time because money goes straight into your account, and customers get a confirmation email that gives them all the details of their booking.

All in all, it adds up to one fact: tour and activity operators must enable their websites with online booking capabilities or risk losing out on bookings and incurring unnecessary time and expense.

So how do you get site visitors to book online? First and foremost, you need to have an online reservation system. But for small tour and activity operators, the key  question is will an online reservation system truly work for your tour or activity business? To help you decide, we recommend taking advantage of the free trial offers that many online booking systems have in place.

Find one which lets you free trial without commitments. Look for the four “no’s”

  • No lock in contract,
  • No credit card required
  • No commission
  • No setup fee

By the end of your free trial period you’ll know whether it’s worth investing in.

There are also some basics you need to cover to make sure you’re doing the most you can to convert visitors into leads on your site. HotelMarketing recently published an article on the top reasons for lost travel purchases online. They collected feedback from nearly 8,000 online travel buyers and found that errors in pricing, user experience and product were directly contributing to lost sales. Though they wrote this blog with hotels in mind, some points are just as applicable to the tour and activities sector:

#1 Price

People land on your site in the midst of their search for the best value for money, so you need to present your pricing options in a simple way. The price itself needs to be obvious and eye-catching, but it’s also important to incorporate other elements to make this page as informational and simple as possible. Also, don’t falsely advertise! We can’t emphasize this enough. A lot of the feedback was about disparities between advertised prices versus those on the sites themselves. Not only is it unethical, it damages your credibility.

#2 Site Functionality

Anything you have on your site that will save your visitors time (for example, records of saved searches or previous bookings) was an important plus. These days, social media is also an important consideration. Some booking systems out there support such integration.

#3 Product Description

Information on your products, like text, photos, videos and reviews, is crucial in the buying process. To succeed, you need to make sure that you display it in a clear, easy-to-read way:

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Break up blocks of text with white space and use eye-catching imagery. If your site is listed on TripAdvisor, add one of their badges to increase trust and credibility.

#4 Additional Charges

Be clear with additional charges. In some geographies such as the EU, the law dictates that prices must now be displayed with all additional costs included, but presenting these costs (for example, when you have optional extra charges) is still a consideration for many consumers.

#5 Navigation

Consumers need to navigate your site with ease. Arrange every piece of content on your site as simply as you can so they know exactly what their options are:

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How you display your content is integral to user experience. Simplicity is key for first-time visitors.

#6 Discounts

The state of the economy means people are more focused than ever on getting the best deal for their leisure expenses. Last-minute offers and dedicated bargain sections are being sought out, so make sure you highlight such offers. Cairns Discount Tours do an excellent job of this:

#7 Errors and bugs

Not only do errors cause short-term frustration, they can permanently damage a site’s reputation. Simple things like a broken search box or an incompatible browser issue can repel buyers from your site for good.

The leisure and travel industry is more competitive than ever, with consumers opting to book online over traditional booking methods. As a tour or activity operator, you need to adjust your business to accommodate this shift.

6 Comments

  1. Austin Boat Rentals May 9, 2012 at 1:39 am #

    Yes online service offers a customer numerous facilities like time saving,energy saving and also they gets many special discounts for it.But time saving is the key factor which attract a customer.
    Your post tells a service provider good points how to attract customer.Nice post.

  2. Brian Willick May 10, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    So Simon you are describing the best case booking system, that just happens to be yours? Not exactly objective.

    • admin May 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

      Brian feel free to offer other examples if you wish 🙂

  3. Simon Lenoir May 10, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Hi Brian. I’m trying to demonstrate the benefit of any booking system, not only Rezdy. Of course we built it to be what we believe is important for our clients and I used our tour demo screenshots to reinforce my arguments as a picture is worth a thousand words.

    My point is that your website should offer this facility to your visitors, and I’m explaining what they expect to see, the information they expect to find, the transparency you should have with your pricing.

    Do you agree on the functionalities that a good online reservation system should provide?

    • Brian Willick May 11, 2012 at 8:51 am #

      I agree with most of your observations Simon. It’s just nice to open with a disclosure.

      If McDonalds wrote a post about what french fries should taste like, I’d like to know it was from McDonalds.

      Adamantly I haven’t used Rezdy. We use Checkfront (http://www.checkfront.com) for our Tours, and Webrez Pro for our Lodge (http://www.webrezpro.com/). Happy with both but will check yours out.

  4. Mike Ford May 20, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Hi Brian,

    Rezdy is a great product. But in answer to your first post, I think it is important for leaders in the market that have developed products that can take an industry forward, should be the same people giving the industry guidance in general, even if there is a bit of product pride thrown in!

    Remember, they develop good products because they know what the industry needs and are filling a gap, or providing a way to achieve greater bookings or higher levels of efficiency.

    There is no better place for tour and accommodation providers to learn, than from the captains of industry, so I would encourage these types of posts.

    Great forum Michelle

    (P.S. In full disclosure I run SiteMinder)

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