There are three main areas which are the bane of an offline travel agency, directly impacting their growth and profit: A non-existent or sub-par online booking experience, slow turnaround on quotations (24 hours or longer) and lastly, cumbersome and often inaccurate account management and reconciliation. The first area is the need of the customer and the other two are bugbears of the travel agent. Thus, any online system at the minimum should have features which fulfill the above requirements of experience and efficiency. At the same time the system should be cost effective and provide quantifiable ROI.
Now, every Travel Agency is different and may require specific features in an online system, based on its business model and nature of its operations. An agency with a B2B business model may not look for a B2C portal. If they only sell hotels and packages, they won’t need a flight booking engine or GDS Integration. Therefore, in this article we won’t talk about the individual modules that a travel agent should look for in an online system, as they will vary from business to business, depending on their specific requirements. We will however talk about features that are relevant to solving their day-to-day business problems thus ensuring that their business runs smoothly and efficiently. Also, thanks to an effective online system, customers get the experience they want and thus remain loyal to the agency and even help in marketing by acting as brand ambassadors on social media.
So let us look at some of the key features any travel agent looking to invest in an online system should look for :
It should be cloud-hosted
SaaS(Software-as-a-service) or a cloud-hosted system runs on the Software provider’s server and is managed remotely, thus saving the travel agent installation, hosting and maintenance costs, which can be significant without delivering any major value. Cloud hosted systems typically are very cost effective in terms of implementation and maintenance as the provider has to maintain only one system and implementation can be as easy as filling out a form and you have your site!! Click on the link at the end of this article to see how it works. Also upgrades are available as soon as they implemented and normally are included in the annual fee.
Being centrally hosted it is available on all devices all the time making it easy for agencies to manage their business, as many of them, especially the management, is traveling most of the time.
It should be flexible and scalable
As we mentioned earlier, no two travel businesses are the same. Every business has individual needs, size and way of doing business. In addition, no single software will satisfy all requirements. Over a period of time as the business and data grows there will need for other software which may need to interoperate with your existing software. Therefore any software that may fulfill your needs today should be flexible and customizable. Customization is also particularly important for larger companies, which generally do not want an out-of-the-box type of solution.
One of the most important qualities of any good software is scalability, and travel software is no different. When a business grows over a certain size, scalability becomes a critical aspect. The ideal travel software should allow room for expansion, and have the ability to keep up with the growth of the business like allowing third party integrations. The last thing you want is your business to come to a grinding halt because your travel agency software just can’t handle more bookings, or fails to integrate with the revenue optimization platform which you just bought.
In case you are a large agency, even before you decide to invest in an online travel agency software, chances are that you are already using other enterprise software, which you won’t want to get rid of anytime soon, especially if those systems have been serving you well. Let’s face it; a Travel Agency system cannot do everything. Take CRM for example. Many Travel Agency Solutions out there offer CRM functionality. However, it’s fairly basic and cannot replace your specialized CRM system, say Salesforce. Similarly, a lot of Online Travel Agency systems also come with Accounting modules, which can do basic accounting for you, but are not substitutes for Sage, SAP or QuickBooks. So, while a travel agency system would do a great job in managing your bookings, sub-agents, inventory and suppliers, you still need dedicated software for other business functions. Therefore, it’s essential that the travel agency software seamlessly integrates with your existing or future third-party systems.
It should have strong back-office functionality
One of the major headaches for a small or medium travel agency is the everyday administrative and accounting tasks. They are often complex, time-consuming and counterproductive. It’s a nightmare for agents doing them manually, but even agents who use technology struggle with them as they work with multiple systems for different tasks and integrating the data from one system into another becomes a headache.
So they need a system which allows them to manage their entire inventory, bookings, customers, suppliers and accounting on a single platform without having to copy and paste data from one place to another. The back-office system should be able to integrate diverse data from multiple sources, carry out complex calculations, produce accurate and relevant reports and automate routine tasks so that travel agents can spend less time doing the mundane and focus more on sales and customer service.
Talking about customer service, there are different aspects that need to be looked into, such as user experience, payment flexibility, continuous interaction with user, speed of response and personalization. Software which blends all of these in its functionality would be the ideal software and would not only help retain existing customers but in fact help you get more customers by reference. In addition global inventory is a must.
So a good travel agency software should be able to allow customers to make their own plans, get them reviewed by the agency with their suggestions, confirm the final itinerary and then allow the agency to take over the fulfillment of the bookings, including issuing of tickets and hotel vouchers. This functionality would take care of the customers’ need for an online experience and at the same time be able to let the agency take care of the mundane details like they do now. Also in this scenario they do not have to use their credit cards and can pay the agency in cash or check, or use their credit to pay later. It would help a travel agency function pretty much with the same business model but with a rich online experience and convenience of timings.
It should help travel agents create quotations quickly
Another feature that a good online system should have is a quotation management system. It generally takes a traditional travel agent a day or two to create a quote for a single destination. If there are multiple destinations, involving multiple components, it would take even longer. That means that an agent has to have a staff member work one full day on building one quote. If they want to reduce the turnaround time, more resources would have to be engaged, adding to overheads. An online system with a quotation management module allows travel agents to create a quote containing multiple components within half an hour. With a considerably reduced turnaround time, they would be able to create many more quotes on a given day and work more efficiently with fewer staff.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the assets of an offline travel agency is the flexibility of payments they offer to their customers. Unlike most OTAs, which only allow online payments, either by card or through net banking, traditional travel agents also allow payment by cash/cheque or even provide a line of credit due to their relationship with the customer. Typically, they book the flight, hotel or package for the customer, mail them the booking confirmation and collect the payment from them later. They also offer their regular customers special deals and discounts. It’s because of these facilities that so many customers still prefer to buy from offline agents rather than a large OTA and the ideal travel agency system should allow this flexibility.
An Online Travel Agency software should not change the way you do business but make you more efficient, reduce your cost of operations and satisfy customer requirements (online experience/global inventory). It should blend the best in both worlds: Personalized Service and Flexibility (payments/reservations) of the Offline with the Efficiency and User Experience of the Online. This would help you compete with large OTAs and retain customers at a fraction of the cost.
Many traditional travel agents are under the impression that going online means changing their business model, but that’s not true. Going online simply adds another valuable dimension to your successful offline business and gives greater value to your customers, ensuring that they stay loyal to you, even in the face of fierce competition.
TravelCarma has over 20 years experience in delivering state-of-the-art software to travel businesses across the globe. Our flexible, scalable and cost-effective solutions have enabled hundreds of travel agents and tour operators become full-fledged online businesses. Click here for a free trial of our software.