Online booking tool for travel agencies
How do you identify the best online booking tool for your travel agency?
Does the tool adapt to the way you want to do business online?
Is the tool flexible enough to allow me to evolve my business model online?
These are some of the questions you might be asking yourself while browsing the internet for an online booking tool that will answer them.
Depending on agency size, financials and objectives, we think that there are 3 types of online business models that travel agencies apply when they conduct business online:
- Online Travel Agency (OTA) having a single travel web site
- Travel agency with travel agents and retail or phone/email service to travelers
- Host travel agency or a consolidator servicing affiliates or independent travel agents.
Online Travel Agency (OTA) having a single travel web site
This type of travel agencies focuses on building a travel web site that they will promote to specific groups of customers. They might address the needs of a targeted ethnic group or maybe they attend travel needs of groups practicing outdoor activities, etc.
Whoever your customers are, you will have to organize your business around various activities in order to create a successful travel web site.
Online booking tool
At the core of it is the online booking tool (OBT) also commonly called booking engine. It will take your customer online searches and will query travel inventory, typically from a GDS but maybe also directly for some travel suppliers such as airlines, hotel chains or car rental companies. This travel inventory will be from your own agency agreement (if you are an IATA agency that can issue its own tickets) or from a consolidator (if you do not have an IATA accreditation ) that will issue airline tickets for you.
How to integrate the booking engine into your site is dependent on the OBT technology. Most tools offer at least the basic option which is often called “white label”. It basically provides you with a “widget”, which is a search form, that can be integrated into your web site, on the main page for example. The search form is directly linked to the booking engine that will return travel inventory and fares once traveler clicks in a submit button. There are other more advanced ways that and OBT can be included in your site, for example site templates or API and we recommend you to read this page about OBT integration technology (put a link here) itself.
Here is an example of travel site before an integrated widget and after:
|Before widget integration
||After widget integration
Travel site marketing
You will also need to let the world now that you have a travel site so that people can find you on the internet. The OBT does not provide that marketing part and customer will not come just because you have a site.
You site needs to be SEO (Search Engine Optimization) friendly so that customer can find you when using search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. You certainly want to be present on social medias through Facebook, Twitter and other, depending where you customers might be able to easily find you.
There are numerous individual and companies that offer lead generation, SEO adjustment and sites optimization however we would recommend to do your research as well and find the best partner that you feel comfortable working with on your travel site marketing.
We would also recommend that you get very much involved on your site marketing as once the OBT is implemented on your site, it should be like a silent engine of a car. It should work smoothly while you drive your travel site. To do so, we also advise that you learn more about “inbound marketing” if you are not aware of it yet. You will find lot of information online about inbound marketing and lots of books as well.
Travel site support
Once your site is live, it is equally important that OBT technology supplier provides you with an efficient customer support. We are not speaking about support to your customer, which you will do, but technical support to you for whenever you might have issues with the engine of your site. Even the best technologies (think NASA) happen to have glitches sometimes and you want to ensure that when that occurs you are not left on your own.
Travel agency with travel agents and retail or phone/email service to travelers
You might be operating as a travel agency in a place where people still like to pass by and buy tickets directly from you in your agency. Or maybe you have a lot of customers who prefer to call you or email you to sell them tickets, instead of shopping online themselves even in the case where you already have an Online Booking Tool (OBT) on your web site.
In this case lot of agencies use reservation tools provided by GDS however those tools are really made for seasoned travel agents that know the inside out of GDS functionality, features and cryptic entries they have to type to search fares and create bookings.
As another option you may want to use your OBT in a B2B2C called mode. Or in layman’s terms, have non-GDS centric travel agents book travel for your customers directly on the OBT. Typically, each travel agent would have their own login and, after they access it, they would use it as any traveler online, through a search form and a booking engine that does not require any knowledge of GDS formats.
This is very interesting as you might minimize training on using tool and increase your junior staff while your seasoned agents can concentrate on more complex tasks.
Ideally you would want an OBT who can be integrated into your travel site and, at the same time, can be used by your travel agents to service your in-store customers. This flexibility allows you to minimize your technology investment and operate your travel tools efficiently.
Host travel agency or a consolidator servicing affiliates or independent travel agents.
If you are a larger travel agency or a consolidator, you know that many independent agents and agencies that do not have an IATA accreditation would contact you so they can go online with your help. They will be able to use your travel inventory and you will issue airline tickets for them.
In that case you need an OBT technology that will allow you to manage all those affiliates. A tool that will allow you to easily creates them in the system and give them access to it in a secured manner. You would also want to manage your markups but also offer them the possibility to have their own markups. And also, importantly, you would want a secured system where affiliates would ignore the existence of each other and would not mix their reservations between them.
In addition to having an OBT on your site, or/and potentially have travel agents using it to book in-store customers, you want to make sure the OBT allows you to efficiently manage your affiliates. Some of these sub-agencies might want to have the OBT on their travel web site, still using your travel inventory.
All of this should be part of a good and solid OBT that will help you grow your business while online technology is under control and you get the tech support that you need. It is essential your review those points with your OBT technology partner so you can better focus on your core business: selling travel.