Getting Your Tourism Experience Online Bookable

By Paige Rowett
Published on March 13, 2015

Having the ability to book accommodation and tours online has become an expectation of most potential visitors, with over one third of all travel bookings in Australia and New Zealand being made online, according to PhocusWright.

The challenge of distributing product online…

Distributing product online as to be one of the most challenging parts of establishing a tourism business. How do we know this? Because it is one of the major components of online marketing that our clients and eSchooler’s grapple with, especially if they are new to the industry.

Unfortunately there is no silver bullet when it comes to selling tourism product online, as each business is different – different product, different customers, different budgets/resources and different business structures. However, we do have some general advice for tourism businesses to help get them underway with getting their product online!

1. Assess your tourism business’ selling requirements

Before you launch into working out what system you need to invest in to take bookings and sales for your product, our advice is to start by assessing your current needs as it relates to what specifically you are selling, and what that sales process looks like.

To get started, you may want to list out all of the products/services that you offer (even if you have 1 type of tour, you may run that tour 3x per day, so that would equal 3 different products) and then identify the optional extras available with each product (lunch included etc). From there, map out on paper your customer purchasing funnel, this will help you to visualise what steps you need to confirm with a customer in order to undertake the transaction.

Throughout this process, you’ll also need to think about what type of online transaction system you will require based on the requirements of your customer purchasing funnel, and also taking into consideration the inventory you want to sell.

For example, do you want your inventory to be booked on more than one website (including your own) and if so, what websites specifically? Also, will you manage your inventory offline, or streamline it all online? 

More often than not, tourism businesses will come to the conclusion that a simple ecommerce system is not going to provide the functionality that is required to manage reservations, bookings & inventory over a vast array of online distribution points, which leads me onto the next point.

2. Selecting the most appropriate Online Booking System

The majority of tourism businesses use an Online Booking System to manage their reservations, payments and customer data as opposed to using an ecommerce solution in conjunction with a manual reservation system.

The reason they do this is to ensure there are no double bookings, or over-bookings as an online system will automatically update the availabilities of product.

Benefits of using an Online Booking System

There are many benefits to using an online booking system to sell your tourism product online, including:

  • Cost-effective way to sell tourism product online – in comparison to investing in a custom integration on your website of reservation and payment gateways
  • It offers a quick and easy way for customers to view, book and pay for your product.
  • Save you time and money in phone calls, emails, and manually managing all your bookings – so you can focus on delivering the actual product or service you offer!
  • If you sign up to a distribution network, it will allow you to make your product bookable on multiple websites – meaning more exposure and more sales.
  • Many users go to online travel websites to comparison shop. They then look at your website to find the same or a cheaper price. If they and can book directly, they will.
  • Online booking tools can get you more direct business – which means you are paying less commission to 3rd party distributors – and have more $$$ in your back pocket!
  • Speed up your cash flow – Online reservation systems speed up your cash flow just by being there. There’s less capital outlay on your end because you don’t have to hire staff to manage customers or pay rent for a physical space. Also, once customers book through it, money goes straight into your account – no lag time here.
  • Offer trust and authority in online transactions for the user – The old barrier in the way of online payment systems was trust, but this is no longer an issue. The risk of credit card fraud or scam is extremely low for online payment gateways. The online booking system you choose should have an “SSL certificate” on its payment page to ensure users that you are legitimate.
  • Easy to manage and update – Online booking systems are designed to be easy to manage from an operator perspective, which is why they are so popular in the industry.

There are numerous online booking systems available for purchase, all with different capabilities and specialities. Some are designed specifically for accommodation businesses, and some for tours and events, so significant research and due diligence is required when it comes to selecting the most appropriate system for your business.

Online Booking Systems vs Channel Managers

Sometimes online booking systems can also be Channel Managers – which is an additional functionality that ensures no over/double bookings of your tourism product, as the channel manager brings together the reservation management from the various online distribution points (websites) which sell the inventory from one specific account.

So, if you want to avoid double bookings (and unhappy customers!), then you will need to ensure that the booking system you choose is also a Channel Manager.

3. Undertake research into prospective online booking systems

When it comes to finding and selecting your online booking system, we suggest that you ask for advice from the industry – people who sell similar product, local visitor information centres & outlets, and your local/regional & state tourism organisations to identify what system works well – as this will hopefully eliminate a lot of research time, and get you on the right track to finding a system that will work for your business.

When you are ready to make a system selection contact the Booking Engine Representative of your choice and ask for a demonstration and further detail as it relates to your business requirements. From there, you should be able to make a decision about which booking system to set up for your business.

A few tips to get you on your way…

Hopefully that has given you a bit of a path to follow when it comes to understanding your requirements, researching and selecting a booking system for your tourism business.

If you have any ideas, comments or suggestions about the topic of online booking systems, then we would absolutely love your contribution in the comments section below!

*Please note. This post offers general advice on the process of researching and selecting the most appropriate online booking system for a tourism business’ requirements. Specific advice on recommended booking engines has purposefully been excluded due to the specific nature of system selection.

Paige Rowett

Paige is a tourism marketing specialist and co-director of Tourism eSchool. After growing up on a farm on Eyre Peninsula, and now managing a mixed farming enterprise with her family in the Clare Valley in South Australia, Paige has a genuine love and drive for developing thriving local communities. She is passionate about educating stakeholders in the value of the Visitor Economy and supporting tourism businesses to build sustainable businesses they love.