Travel Agency Software: Choosing Tools for Booking, Accounting, Marketing, and Tour Building
For the longest time, people have been planning their vacations by walking into a well-stocked room surrounded by maps and brochures. Greeted by an agent offering a cup of coffee, they would begin the discussion about budgets and desired experiences. When online travel agencies started slowly but surely replacing traditional shops in 2005, Internet-adept travelers had learned to book their trips on their home computers.
Today, a traditional brick-and-mortar agency sounds archaic, as most agents digitize their processes and move online. But rolling out advanced booking engines with intricate search and pricing logic or investing 6-digit budgets into back-office systems are the paths of mature businesses. You may learn how automated back office works from our dedicated article or watch a video.
Andrey, our travel technology competence lead, explains OTA back office in less than 9 minutes
But if you’re a small entrepreneur, you still have to rely on off-the-shelf software.
In this article, we’ll talk about how travel agencies can use available technology to improve operations, automate, and customize their processes today.
For many travel agents, their work is not synonymous with adventure and exploration
To see where exactly a travel agency is positioned in the travel distribution flow, check out two handy infographics we created for airline management and hotel distribution. Basically, a travel agency is one of the contact points for (usually leisure) travelers that helps them choose and organize a trip. This includes hotel and flight bookings, transfers, activities, excursions, etc.
Previously, we’ve talked a lot about mature and fully automated online travel agencies, but today we tackle smaller stores where people either speak to a human agent and entrust them with all the planning or combine that with some form of self-service experience. We also focus on leisure travel since managing corporate travel operations takes other forms, such as hiring a travel management company, handling travel and expense management, or using self-service solutions.
So, travel agencies are usually in need of a few types of software, each for a specific function. Traditionally, a travel agency would be engaged in various activities besides booking hotels and flights. Day-to-day operations of a typical travel agent usually include scheduling, tour program creation, consultation services, activities booking, vendor negotiation, creating personalized tours, and finding the best fare for a client’s budget. Of course, all of this doesn’t have to be done by hand or in Excel spreadsheets. There are already specialized online solutions on the market. We grouped these solutions into four travel agency software types and reviewed a few players to get agents more familiar with the alternatives.
Key features and examples of providers
Booking and reservation software
Today most travelers have no problem booking their hotels themselves. It’s so easy and convenient! There are price aggregators that give you the best rates on the market in seconds, even tools that predict prices using historical data. There are even chatbots that do that for you. So, for many people, human agents lose their appeal because they often rely on the same websites a client can comfortably use. This isn’t ideal.
When you’re using specialized travel booking software, you get access to the back office and can connect your bookings to the accounting service, receive reports, create invoices, and much more. In fact, standard features for booking and reservation software include:
- GDS connectivity
- Other third-party suppliers integration (bed banks, tours and attractions, etc)
- Booking and cancellation management
- Payment system and automatic billing
- Discounts management
Here we’ll review a few players on the market to give you a better idea of what’s available.
NB: We won’t be covering GDSs themselves, but rather discuss systems and providers that combine several suppliers. If you want to explore GDSs offers better, check our separate article on GDS connectivity.
Rezdy: tours and activities marketplace and booking engine
Rezdy is a popular tours, activities, and experiences marketplace that connects end-suppliers with distributors. For travel agencies, tour operators, and other resellers Rezdy offers a booking engine. Besides sourcing inventory from suppliers directly, Redzy connects to key tour aggregators such as GetYourGuide, TripAdvisor, Klook, Musement, and more.
It comes with all needed back-office features such as inventory management, real-time rates, reporting, and a handful of payment gateways by Stripe, PayPal, and Square.
Lemax: much more than hotels and flights
Among its numerous solutions, Lemax offers booking and sales software both for B2B and B2C models. Integrated with Travelport GDSs and Hotelbeds, a hospitality wholesaler, it allows you to add not only flights, hotels, and rentals, but also excursions, vessels, cruises, and more. Its main advantage is customization and universality – Lemax API can be used pretty much for any travel booking operation, from conference organization to group tours.
Lemax online booking platform
PHPTravels: general-purpose and open source booking engine
PHPTravels is useful for its modules. Whether you need hotel, car, flight, or tour booking, you can use each module separately and enrich your already existing solution. It’s 100 percent open source, meaning you can employ developers to customize the tool to your liking. They also provide the code for your mobile application and you can test out the demos on their website.
The platform is integrated with Travelport GDS, a Hotelbeds bed bank, Expedia, and other third-party suppliers.
Dolphin: full back office for smaller businesses
Just like its competitors, Dolphin provides back-office support for reservations, sales, and customer communication. They also offer solutions for business travel agents with integrated company and client profiles and other functions for commercial relationships.
Bookinglayer: adventure travel booking engine
Bookinglayer provides a booking engine for online travel agencies that focus on camping, mountain biking, surfing, and other types of adventure travel. It doesn’t come pre-integrated with suppliers or GDSs, so the engine targets those agencies that already have their pool of partners and plan on automating booking processes.
It’s designed to be easily deployed on popular CMSs (Squarespace, Wix, WordPress, etc) and already has a payment module with integrated payment gateways and other features like customizable surcharges.
Client management also becomes automated and you have a built-in CRM, a customer portal enabling travelers to see information about their departures and arrivals, and update information.
Bookinglayer’s back-office interface
Most reservation tools that we listed above provide some form of financial management for travel agencies already. However, any business that has to do something with sales employs a very complex accounting system, and separate functions are not comprehensive enough for the travel business. Just some of the must-have features a travel agency accounting platform should include:
- Inventory management and tracking
- Connection to banks
- Bank reconciliations
- Data security
- Travel agent commission management
- Sales analysis
- Supplier data handling
Now, let’s quickly review what the market has to offer in accounting for travel agencies.
Xero: secure and feature-rich
Xero is a cross-platform accounting service that offers three pricing plans for different business needs. All basic features are available in each plan. These include invoicing, mobile access via Android and iOS apps, connection to bank accounts, and secure SSL encryption. Xero is a good fit for travel agencies, hotels, and hostels. It works with more than 160 currencies and can be integrated with third-party tourism apps.
Xero’s offerings and interface demo
TravelWorks: BSP-ARC support and group planning
TravelWorks allows you to easily control travel agent commissions, even in complex cases, such as sharing commissions between different agents. To sell flights, US agencies have to be accredited by the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) or Billing Settlement Plans (BSP) by IATA for agencies outside of the US. TravelWorks supports BSP-ARC management and exception reporting that automatically identifies errors. It also simplifies group planning with templates.
OnlineInvoices: profits calculation and performance monitoring
Targeted at companies in all sectors, OnlineInvoices also offers advanced features to travel agencies. You can send invoices to tourists and partners via email and receive payment by credit card, PayPal, Stripe, or bank transfer. You can analyze travel data to locate the most popular hotels and sights and assign each agent to accomplish specific tour services as well.
Tour and itinerary building
Designing tours is one of the most time-consuming operations in a travel agency. It requires booking, planning, scheduling, pricing – all considering the most popular, budget, or unique inventory for each location. Thankfully, there is software for this. A typical tour builder would include:
- Inventory system integration
- Supplier integration
- Tour publishing tools
- Tour templates
- Tour booking engine
So, which tools on the market can help agents design tours?
TripСreator: tour planning with built-In inventories and booking engine
TripCreator helps operators design tours for the website and custom tours for each client. TripCreator has a rather broad inventory of hotels, destinations, attractions, but your offline inventories are also available. TripCreator validates dates, opening hours, or driving distance. You can both generate dynamically packaged tours and manually combine activities.
For extra pay, you get a booking engine, a mobile app, and white-label customization features.
Tour designing process in Tripcreator
Tourwriter: itinerary builder with booking engine and CRM
Another tool wired for tailor-made experiences, Tourwriter allows you to create itineraries and embed them on websites for a basic designer-tier mode. Expert-tier users, paying extra, get access to a booking engine with booking confirmations, commissions management, and a CRM.
How is travel customer relationship management different from any other? Why can’t you use one of the traditional solutions from Zoho, HubSpot, or Salesforce? Every industry has marketing properties that can’t be covered by one universal tool. So, what to look for in a travel CRM system?
- Lead distribution among agents
- Travel-specific customer categories
- Support for travel marketing channels: booking websites, TripAdvisor, etc.
- Automated departure and arrival notifications
- Customized dashboards
Let’s see how existing solutions help travel agencies solve marketing challenges.
Zoho’s Travel Agency CRM: comprehensive tool from an industry leader
One of the biggest CRM providers, Zoho has a targeted Travel Agency CRM with features beneficial for companies selling travel services. Here you’ll find a lead capturing machine that gets all inquiries made via your website directly into a CRM with the ability to distribute them among your agents. You can also set up quota templates that get sent out to customers according to your own rules. Zoho also simplifies passenger handling, allowing you to classify them according to their role.
Zoho Travel Agency CRM interface
LeadSquared Travel CRM: exhaustive marketing software
LeadSquared provides marketing software for all businesses, but it also has a specific CRM and marketing solution for travel brands. Its travel product is divided into three functions: travel marketing, package sales, and partner management. So, besides CRM function, it automates all marketing and sales tasks and manages leads, supporting detailed reports, customized dashboards, and lead distribution based on trip location and budgets.
LeadSquared’s travel marketing solutions
Kapture Travel CRM: automatic itineraries and travel sales tunnel
Besides basic customer profiles and interaction, Kapture creates itineraries semi-automatically and directly in a CRM. The sales funnel here is also customized for travel agencies and allows you to track clients from their interest in a vacation to the booking itself. Kapture also saves all important travel documents such as passports, tickets, and visas in one place.
Itineraries created by Kapture CRM
What to look for in travel software: our recommendations
A good travel agency software shouldn’t only perform the functions your clients can already easily access online. It should bring out the advantages of traditional agencies and strengthen their operations. It shouldn’t create new obstacles such as a complicated interface that will make your agents return to their Excel spreadsheets.
When looking for either accounting, reservation, or marketing software, pay attention to these factors and pick out a tool that will make your business shine. And if you’re going the custom development route, come to your vendor with the following specifications:
This not only includes 24/7 chat or call service, but also a knowledge base, FAQs, and tutorials. TripCreator, for example, provides webinar training to all users, while Orioly creates video instructions.
Similar to yours business flow
Thanks to trial options available in many cloud platforms, you can determine which software follows the same processes you and your agents already have.
Just like a tool’s workflow should be familiar to your agents, its user experience must use the same familiar language they do.
Automatic confirmations and notifications
Make sure that both agents and clients get notified about the main touchpoints of their journeys. While not required, it’s also useful to have a disruption management tool to help travelers already on their trip navigate during flight delays.
Automatic client database creation
Most CRMs create lead and client profiles automatically when you receive a quote request online, with data provided by travelers: names, desired destination and dates, and number of people in the group.
Travel agents handle a lot of sensitive and personal client information, so data protection is not optional for travel agency tools. You probably also want to protect information about each agent’s sales from other agents.
What’s the point in gathering and managing all this data if you can’t draw insights from it? Reporting functions will show you which destinations, dates, seasons, and agents bring you the most value.
Start thinking of automation and your own systems
The competition in the travel agency market is fierce. Booking Holdings and Expedia are close to becoming an oligopoly, capturing the majority of travelers thanks to great service and unlimited marketing capabilities.
And yet, smaller niche agencies may still thrive if they manage to access the best deals or offer unique travel products unavailable with industry behemoths. To do that, you have to take control of the systems and tweak them to work for your value proposition. This is rarely available with off-the-shelf tools. You can’t configure advanced commissions management, you can’t customize the way you work with metasearch engines, you’re quite limited in terms of inventory that you don’t source directly from suppliers.
So, if you’re thinking of making a bespoke system, consider checking our article on travel APIs that generalizes supplier integration options in the industry, learn how booking engines and OTA back-office work. And you may watch our video on commissions management.
Commission engines explained