Modern tour operator market is abundant. In total, there are over 130,000 tour operator businesses worldwide that offer the widest range of services: from standard city tours to unique experiences like feeding exotic animals. The overall market size for such services is expected to reach 474.4 billion USD by 2023. This is much due to the high increase in demand following COVID-19 pandemic.
However, despite the rising requirement on the tour operator market, their success heavily depends on high-performing software. This is just a fact of life during the digital age we all live in. Therefore, it is crucial to have proper knowledge of the relevant technology in order to make informed decisions when choosing software to support your tour operator business.
To that end, below we provide 5 important aspects to pay attention to while working on your own tour operator software.
This is what tour operator software infrastructure is built around. Back-office functionality is the cornerstone element defining the entire scope of business automation.
Productive tour operator back-office solutions need to incorporate multi-faceted apps and options capable of supporting various day-to-day business needs. Some of the most critical elements among them are:
- Centralized booking management;
- Reservation management;
- Functionality governing user roles, responsibilities and access rights;
- A business rules engine governing sales, settlements with suppliers, rates, commission, etc.;
- Customer service functionality – online chats, reservation tracking options, email marketing instruments – to name but a few.
Also, when selecting a tour operator solution, one must make sure that its back-office:
- Has up-to-date structure
With that said, it makes sense to prioritize applications engineered using both modern and productive technologies – the likes of Java / Kotlin, Python or C#. But besides the programming language, one must also carefully consider the overall solution architecture. It needs to be consistent with the modern trends governing enterprise software development. Some of the modern software architecture approaches are Layered patterns, Microservices and Event Driven Architecture.
- Provides functional scalability
Tour operator / travel agents software must have the capacity to quickly extend its functionality in order to support changing business needs. To achieve this it makes good sense to opt for existing well-developed tour operator ERP systems. They normally incorporate a selection of ready-made modules developed to meet diverse requirements related to booking management, supplier connectivity, business model settings, etc. By using ERPs tour operators can plug in / disconnect modules on the go without spending excessive budgets on customization.
- Has customizable architecture
Modern tour operator back-office systems also must be open for additional tailor-made implementations. These may include customization of the system itself or connection to 3rd-party solutions (such as, for example, payment gateways, travel XML API, mapping data providers, etc.) using relevant API interfaces. This way it is possible to quickly enrich travel product inventory, extend the range of available payment options, improve travel data coverage and secure lots of other improvements required to improve and scale tour operator business.
#2. Booking engine
Over 68% of travel bookings last year were made online. This makes the online booking engine a highly essential component of tour operator software and one of the primary elements defining overall business performance.
When selecting a booking engine, it’s imperative that you keep in mind your general business model – B2B, B2C, or both. It also needs to be plugged into reliable content feeds from OTAs, GDSs, bedbanks or other preferred travel data sources. Furthermore, lots of attention and efforts should be dedicated to the customer-facing website interfaces. Portals with unique well-developed designs alongside simple and clear-cut booking process workflows usually reach the best performance levels.
#3 Supplier management functionality
Streamlined interactions with travel product suppliers is something no successful tour operator can do without. Usually most of the travel services sold online come from one or several of the following sources:
- GDSs (Sabre, Amadeus or Travelport);
- Hotels chains, vacations rentals or alternative accommodation;
- Transfer / car rental service providers;
- Suppliers of excursions and activities (for ex., Viator as one of the most prominent brands on the market);
- DMCs or any specialised niche travel product vendors.
Integrating diverse APIs one by one can be time-consuming and most definitely requires lots of engineering effort. A more efficient solution could be to make use of an existing travel supplier aggregation system incorporating multiple API integrations off-the-shelf.
Alternatively, tour operators can establish an Extranet to give suppliers direct access to their system for managing allotted inventories. While this approach is becoming less common, it can still work well for smaller local or niche vendors. This routine is more common for DMCs or local / domestic tour operators providing extensive coverage of selected destinations.
#4 Itinerary building software
Unlike companies in retail sales or manufacturing, travel businesses run an inventory storage of individual travel services: hotels, flights, transfers, car rentals, tours, travel packages and so on. The main objective for tour operators here is to bundle these services into marketable travel arrangements (or ‘itineraries’), thus setting themselves apart from competitors. It is essential for tour operators to have the right software that supports this requirement.
There are multiple specialized solutions on the market catering for the development, scheduling, and customization of tour itineraries. These systems are capable of showing real-time availability of individual trip elements such as hotel beds or vehicle / plane seats. Their user-friendly interfaces help tour operators arrange trip components and link them with the respective tour calendar. Additionally, some solutions may incorporate destination-related content such as city guides or optional activities. For lengthy tours with multiple stops, automatic map-routing generation would be a useful feature to have.
The choice of itinerary building software depends a lot on what kind of tour operator you are and what kind of tours you are distributing – standardized or tailor-made. While the former option can go with a ready-made solution provided by one of the multiple tour operator software vendors, the latter frequently needs a fully custom solution. But anyways, everything depends on the actual scope of requirements. This is why it is quite common and rational to start with a software discovery phase that serves to define and document a wholesome blueprint of the upcoming solution.
#5 Streamlined customer management
Handling your customers properly is a major prerequisite for success.
Normally it all comes down to a strong travel CRM implementation supervising customer relationships. This solution should have the ability to automatically create profiles, store customer information and interaction history, and offer additional features for communication and personalisation. This may include creating custom commercial documents such as proposals, quotes along with properly formatted invoices.
While many tour operator platforms have a built-in CRM module, a standalone CRM platform may be necessary for more advanced functionality. Integration with the booking software is also highly efficient for establishing seamless information flows. Fortunately, modern tour operator platforms have well-structured and documented APIs that allow for productive integrations in various formats.
A final word
Tour operator software nowadays consists of multiple functional blocks and modules catering to various customer needs and purposes. These software systems have evolved into all-encompassing web-based solutions facilitating productive interaction between tour operator employees and the clients. Even remotely, which is a great capability to have in a world heavily influenced by COVID-19.
In any way, one needs to first perform a careful evaluation of all relevant technology and business needs prior to making the purchase decision. A commonly practiced approach for this is to first run a business analysis and discovery phase. This is a reliable way to avoid many implementation risks and calculate your development budget with precision that eliminates excessive spending.