A guide to helping Tour Operators and Destination Management Companies (DMCs) weigh up their software solution options
When it comes to the continual improvement of business operations, the tourism sector is like any other: the more business processes you can automate, the better. Harnessing digital technology is key to achieving this; the trick is finding the software solution that’s the best fit for your business.
One of the initial challenges to overcome is the range of choice that’s available in the marketplace today. There’s no shortage of software solutions designed for tour operators and DMCs, and finding the perfect one for your business, one that will provide efficiency gains and profit growth, is a key first step to help your business adapt and grow into the future. With that in mind, we’ve put together some tips that will help you along the path to selecting the best tour operator software solution for your business.
Get staff buy-in
When you’re considering implementing any new system, it’s essential to get your staff on board. Communicate clearly, right from the start, what you’re intending to do and how it will benefit their working lives. If you involve them early on and get their input, they’re going to be enthusiastic about the change and support its implementation.
While it’s essential to get feedback and opinions from everyone who’ll be using the new software, it’s helpful to appoint two or three staff who know your business intimately to the project itself, so that they’re involved in the process from the beginning and can keep the team up to date with progress.
Be clear where you are, and where you want to go
The next step is to evaluate where you’re at currently. Map your current workflow, including:
- What your daily activities are
- How you manage those activities
- Where you store business information, and who has access to it
You also need to take a close look at your reporting processes. What daily, weekly and monthly reports do you need? How do you use the metrics from those reports?
Your next task is to identify your business pain points. You’re considering a new software solution because…?
- You’d like to get quotes out faster, more efficiently and with greater accuracy
- All your agent/client and supplier documents are created and/or sent manually
- You need access to dynamic supplier rates to help secure business
- You need to provide 24/7 online booking and tariff access to your products
- You want to move away from manual spreadsheets
- Your reporting processes need to be improved
- You want essential financial analysis that informs your business strategy
It’s essential to have a thorough understanding of your business requirements. Being clear about what issues you want to resolve is a major factor in choosing the software solution to achieve that.
Once you’ve clearly identified where you ARE, it’s time to look at where you want to GO. Identify your future business directions and growth plans, and ask yourself questions like:
- Do you plan to expand into new markets or industry sectors?
- What sales and purchasing channels will you need?
- What industry trends or requirements will you need to address with technology?
Once you’re clear on where you are, where you want to go and what you want to achieve along the way, summarise it all in a ‘Key Requirements’ document. Identify your ‘must-have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ requirements and update it as necessary. This is a really useful resource for any software vendors you’re considering; you can share the document with them, so they gain a swift and clear idea of what your business needs.
Considering the costs
Budget is always a major consideration for any business. There is no right answer when it comes to spend; it’s entirely down to what you can afford, and every company is different.
However, the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ applies here. That’s not to say that a low-priced solution won’t work for you – you might be fine with something simple, and paying for ‘bells and whistles’ you don’t need and won’t use isn’t cost-effective – but it’s still important to balance what you can afford with quality.
With that said, there are some important considerations to keep in mind when you’re determining your budget. These include:
- Taking stock of all the current systems you use, including hardware and outsourced IT. Add up the costs for these
- Factor in how much time you spend correcting errors or dealing with inefficiencies. It’s not always easy to assign a tangible value, so think about in terms of extra staff needed for manual processes or double entry of data into non-connected systems
- If errors are costing you money. How much?
- Have you lost some clients or failed to bring others on board because you don’t have up-to-date technology? What has that cost your business?
- Similarly, are you experiencing difficulties recruiting top talent because they’re unwilling to work for a business that’s not making the most of technology?
- Will investing in new technology help you to achieve your growth goals?
Think about the return on investment (ROI) – will spending more now benefit you down the track?
Choosing the right tour operator software
When you start weighing up your options, keep your Key Requirements document close at hand and refer to it constantly. As you evaluate each option, ask yourself how many Must-have and Nice-to-have boxes it’s ticking.
It’s always a good idea to talk to colleagues in the industry. Not all of them will be competitors, and they’ll be happy to give you an overview of their systems. Getting on-the-ground feedback from businesses that are actively using any software solution you’re considering is a great way to help decide if it’ll work for you.
Look for one system that covers all your key requirements and the bulk of your ‘nice-to-haves’, as well as the flexibility to handle ad-hoc and special scenarios. These are some common features most tour operators and DMCs need:
- Fast and efficient quoting for FITs, Groups and/or MICE
- Online and offline distribution channels
- Connections with supplier systems for real-time access to dynamic rates and availability
- User-defined, automated client and supplier documentation – quotes, itineraries, requests, confirmations, rooming lists, etc
- Fully integrated product, sales, reservations, operations and accounting functions
- Flexibility to handle multiple travel types (FITs, Groups, MICE, Packages, Series tours, Scheduled Tours, Tailor Made Tours). With Covid constantly changing how people travel, the ability to be flexible is important
- Reporting – remember, information is power. You should have the ability to easily create your own custom operational, management and financial reports needed to run, analyse and grow your business
Finally, look for a proven track record. Along with good customer reviews, the software provider should have skills, expertise and experience in the tourism industry as well as in software development.
The relationship with the software provider is an important consideration to keep in mind. You need a partner who is committed to not only understanding your business requirements, but who is onboard with you for the long haul.
Look for a partner who’s in your time zone, knows your niche market, and with whom there’s no language barriers. Then ask yourself if they tick these boxes:
- Will they be there to hold your hand throughout the entire changeover process? Ideally, they will be able to help transfer some information such as suppliers and clients/agents from your current system or spreadsheets to your new system
- Do they have experienced consultants who know your business intimately, and can work with you to ensure your new system is optimally set up?
- Can they provide details of a properly designed and managed implementation plan?
- Do they offer comprehensive ongoing support services?
- Do they offer extensive online resources for you to access 24/7, including user guides, white papers, FAQs and training courses?
- Are they dedicated to your industry, with regular software updates incorporating new technology and industry trends?
- Do they offer a comprehensive and flexible technology platform that works for you?
With the right software system in place you can focus on what you do best – creating and selling tours. The right software company should see themselves as your long-term technology partner, supporting you and helping you to maximise your profits and achieve your long-term goals.
The Tourplan solution
When you go with Tourplan, you’ll be joining a like-minded community of tourism companies enjoying:
Our expectation is of a long-term partnership. Through Tourplan you can expect increased profitability and leading-edge technology solutions delivered alongside professional services and a continual innovation process.
Learn more about our products and solutions, and how they can give your business new life.