Consumer Booking Tools: Are They Right for Your Agency?

by Marilee Crocker

This is the second of two stories on consumer booking tools

If a shrinking percentage of retail travel agencies provide consumer booking tools on their websites, maybe there’s a good reason for that. Perhaps online consumer booking tools aren’t the best choice for every travel agency.

“The key really is: Is it right for your business?” said Marilyn Macallair, vice president business development of Passport Online, which provides e-commerce solutions to the travel agency industry.

Not a slam-dunk
Macallair always asks a lot of probing questions of potential travel agency customers for Passport’s B2C booking engine before she’ll close a sale. Sometimes she even ends up dissuading them, she told Travel Market Report.

She wants to make sure a consumer booking engine is the right choice for the agency, before the travel agency or Passport invests their money and time.

She also wants to make sure the agency is committed to making it work. “You don’t just turn it on and walk away.” (See sidebar.)

Things to think about
Here are a few questions that Macallair and other industry experts urged agents to consider before adding consumer booking tools to their websites:

  • Are your customers telling you they want to book online? Do you believe you have to have a booking engine in order to stay competitive?

  • Does your website get good usage already?

  • Are you prepared to make a long-term investment in marketing your website and in other online engagement?

  • Do you have the resources to keep your website and booking tools up to date?

  • Have you considered how an online booking tool will enhance customers’ experience with your agency?

  • Will consumer booking tools help your customers deal with you and/or allow your agency to be more efficient?

Who’s your customer?
A key factor in the decision should be your customer base, Macallair said.

“If your demographic is an older customer you may not need to do it. However, the next generation, the millennials, are absolutely doing everything online.

“If the agency is starting to look at that demographic [millennials] for the growth of their business, they’ve almost got to be online,” Macallair advised.

Run the numbers
Agents should look closely at the economics by calculating the potential return on investment of a booking engine, which can run anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 a year, Macallair said.

Ask yourself how many online bookings you would need to recoup your initial investment and ongoing costs.

“What I do is take the monthly or annual fee, which for many is steep, and equate that to what that means as far as a booking is concerned: How many bookings that are untouched by an agent do you need to make in order to recover that cost? What’s your ROI––five bookings a year? 10? 100?

“If you don’t see the bookings and you’re forking out a few thousand dollars a year, the economy isn’t there,” Macallair said.

Related story:

Why Do So Few Agents Offer Consumer Booking Tools?

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