For most tour operators and travel agents, checking inventory rates and booking availability for their clients itineraries is a time consuming and frustrating task. But it doesn’t need to be – there are online solutions to integrate the process, writes Des Langkilde.
As a tour operator, travel agent or booking agent, you might recognise the problem: If you want to book with independent accommodation or activity suppliers, it requires email ping-pong, phone calls and a tedious invoicing process, all while your client is clamouring to have a quote or booking done as quickly as possible, before they shop elsewhere.
Imagine having access to the available inventory and rates of all your suppliers in one place and being able to book them securely online without having to pick up the phone. A supplier who understands how African hospitality establishments work. Someone who specialises in attracting customers with African experience. Someone who understands how your transfers and extras work, and who can assist you to book your rooms, without you having to do anything!
When speaking to the local industry to ask about this problem, I realised that Southern Africa already has home-grown, world-class solutions, with an added benefit: They focus on African suppliers and connect to agents and channels that bring inbound travel to Africa. Three of the most popular online booking management and distribution systems used in Southern Africa are Travelogic, NightsBridge, and ResRequest.
There are some distinct differences in terms of travel sector specialisation with these three companies. So, to gain clarity let’s take a look at each of these software purveyors in turn.
Travelogic focuses on tour operators by providing software that streamlines the booking process, thus allowing for efficiency and accuracy while quoting.
Travelogic’s Managing Director, Lindsay De Heer explains; “The development of Travelogic™ started in 2003 in collaboration with five top African tour operators, and was created to address specific industry challenges and to encourage the automation of essential tourism processes.
“Our product streamlines the booking process by allowing for efficiency and accuracy while quoting. With a detailed database of all suppliers, an efficient quoting system, excellent itinerary templates, invoicing functionality and vouchers, our software is available for businesses of all sizes around the world.
“We have a development team who are constantly working on and improving our product. We pride ourselves in customer support which means that we continue to listen to our clients requirements allowing the product to evolve to suit their specific needs. Our management team have a wealth of experience in both tour operating and software development, which means that we are able to provide real solutions to our clients. We assist with implementation, training and database management and have 3rd party relationships that allow for live availability and rates,” says De Heer.
NightsBridge is an aggregator. This means they connect to over 4000 independent Guest Houses, B&Bs, lodges and boutique hotels, and have the available inventory and rates for all of these, in real-time. This inventory is available for instant online booking to tour operators, traditional travel agents, online travel agents (like Booking.com and Expedia), as well as regional tourism organisations and even small marketing groups that want an easy online interface.
The real story of how NightsBridge started eleven years ago was as a result of a frustrating last minute search for a honeymoon booking. “After discovering that searching for accommodation in South Africa meant sending an endless number of email enquiries to which few replied in time, my partner Neil and I knew that there had to be a better way to book online. And so, NightsBridge was born. From the start in 2005, we expanded into many different countries in Africa and have an ever increasing list of online partners,” says NightsBridge Director, Theresa Emerick. “We’re proud to have built an effective “bridge” between suppliers and marketing channels to solve the availability problem on both sides of the equation.”
So, what makes NightsBridge different?
If you own a guesthouse or hotel, the main benefits are:
• Easy to use and install. It can connect to over 21 different front-office systems (property management systems) to in turn connect your inventory to channels. Or: use the nightsbridge front-office system — which 80% of their clients do.
• No commission. NightsBridge does not charge commission for bookings from your own web site. All your marketing efforts are aimed at getting guests to your site, so why give the money away when they book directly with you?;
• Increase web visibility. NightsBridge have loads of marketing partners who will showcase your property to thousands of online accommodation seekers. Guests see you in their availability searches on these sites and contact you or book directly;
As an agent or operator:
• Get access to thousands of suppliers with real-time inventory and booking capabilities.
• Integrate into your own systems, or use an easy plug-and-play online solution to get going quickly.
• Solve the fulfilment problem with one of NightsBridge’s payment solutions to settle with your small suppliers.
ResRequest focuses on Safari Lodges and Boutique Hotels by providing a software suite comprised of central reservations, property management, customer relationship management, online reservations, business analysis and accounting.
Within ResRequest’s product offering is a FREE business to business interface called ResConnect, which enables remote lodges to have a greater online presence and increase their sales by having real time inventory available for their agents. According to their website, ResConnect is a safe and hassle-free way to streamline agent business whilst having full control of the shared information.
The word ‘Free’ invariably comes with strings attached, so to check out the sincerity of this claim, I spoke to one of ResRequest’s founders, Jill Bennett-Howes.
“Yes, ResConnect is a free interface designed specifically for tour operators and travel agents. It became apparent that many of our ResRequest Enterprise safari lodge and boutique hotel clients work with agents and need to share their inventory in real-time, 24/7. We developed ResConnect to electronically communicate our clients room availability and rates data live to other products and websites – including tour operating systems, travel agents with their own internal systems, websites and booking channels. Bookings created from third-party systems are then automatically recorded in ResRequest,” says Bennett-Howes.
The three companies also work together: Travelogic uses inventory from NightsBridge to provide efficient booking and quoting within their tour operator system. And NightsBridge integrates properties using ResRequest to online channels to increase their distribution and online reach.
So, to recap;
If you are still using a diary or Excel spreadsheet to keep your bookings up-to-date, these are the main suppliers of tried and tested automated software systems that have been designed to keep your itineraries and inventory bookings current, and the process a lot easier.
In addition, a big value-add is that Travelogic, NightsBridge and ResRequest can interconnect with each other, which enables even more establishments to distribute their availability to an extensive network of local and international marketing channels, such as Expedia, Wetu and TripAdvisor.
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