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What technology should a travel advisor have in their toolbelt?

With travel restrictions slowing planned trips, travel advisors have an opportunity to upgrade their technologies and build a tech toolbelt to improve their business.
Written by Emily Schwab

COVID-19 leaves travel agencies and small businesses everywhere feeling strapped -- it's a high hurdle, but it's one the entire small business community is jumping together. For more advice from other small business owners on staying adaptive and coming out of this strange time on top, subscribe to LACRM's new newsletter just for small business community tips!

With business slowing down temporarily due to shelter in place orders, now is the perfect time to find the right tools, or reconsider the tools you’re currently using. You can take this downtime to transition between systems, and educate yourself and other team members on what systems you have in place.

Navigating the variety of online tools available to run a business can be challenging, but having the right tools can make running your travel agency easier. Before you dive into online searches and end up with hundreds of potential options, take a moment to consider your technology budget, needs vs. wants, and the impact of a new program. We’ve also come up with a short list of categories and tools to help jumpstart your search.

Identify your available budget for technology.

With everything from free tools to enterprise options available online, it’s important to determine what you’re willing and able to spend on technology. Some programs may be worth more than others to you as well; for example, an accounting program that allows you to take payment may be more important than a social media manager right now. As you crunch the numbers to find your budget, also think about which programs are required to keep your business running. As  Medium explains,
“The critical procedures in travel agency accounting are the cash flow statement, the general ledger, and the income statement. A travel agency must recognize revenue as earned as soon as a payment is received and declare the earnings on its accounting statements and for taxes. Cash flow management not only keeps track of its sales and incoming payments but also helps identify any financial problems.”

An accounting tool can be a massive help as it allows you to better track invoices and payments, so it may warrant a higher budget than a program in another category. As you begin your search, you should also keep in mind that some tools can do multiple jobs, and if you find one of those you can combine the budgets for both categories into the cost of a single tool. If you’re a member of a host agency, be sure to check with your host agency too. Your host agency may have recommendations, and they may have partnerships that’ll get you reduced prices.

Determine requirements and nice-to-haves.

For each piece of technology you’re considering, make a list of the essentials that it must do, and a separate list of nice-to-haves. The requirements may vary based on your business needs, but having the most basic needs written down can help you quickly qualify, or disqualify programs as you research. Essential requirements are the bare minimum tools you need to get the benefits you want. Nice-to-haves, on the other hand, are the bells and whistles that will make things more efficient, but aren’t crucial to your success.

For example, your requirements for an accounting tool may be to accept payment and generate invoices to ensure you can receive payment for your services, and request payments by invoice. Your nice-to-haves might include options like integrating with your CRM and payroll services or tax support. It’s important to create a distinct line between the requirements and nice-to-haves; if a program doesn’t have a requirement that’ll immediately disqualify it, but you may need to weigh the pros and cons more for nice-to-haves.

In a separate list of nice-to-haves, rank the items listed based on desire. If you’re constantly out and about, having a good mobile app may be important, while if you’re extremely limited on time it may be more important to have automation to help trigger actions for you. As you begin the research process, also consider whether you need a travel specific program, or if a more general tool will fit your needs.

As you consider your needs, don’t forget to consider what level of customer support you may need. If you’re more technically inclined, you might be happy with a program that offers a knowledge base of help articles, but has limited options for speaking with a person. If you’re more hesitant to use technology, you might prefer an option where you can call someone and get additional onboarding support.

Be sure to keep any budget limitations you may have in mind as well. Travel specific programs with plenty of integrations may be more costly than more basic tools without integrations. To help with your travel tool search, we’ve come up with a short list of tools in different categories.

Accounting and Invoicing

Accounting can cover a wide range of capabilities, from simply taking and sending payment to invoicing and payroll services. The best fit for you will depend on your needs and budget; this list is by no means exhaustive, but includes a few tools we’ve heard of from travel agents.

Wave offers invoicing and accounting, as well as add on options for payroll and payments. There is a free tier available for invoicing and accounting only, a paid tier that charges based on transactions, and a $20 monthly base tier that includes payroll service and in some states provides tax services. Wave offers an option to submit a support request, as well as a knowledge base of resources. Additionally, Wave has some community and networking sources available so you can ask questions of other customers.

TravelJoy offers invoicing and accounting, but also branches out to include other options like calendar follow-ups, branding, and trip workflows. TravelJoy is $30/month if you pay monthly, or they offer a payment of $750 for three years. There are also charges incurred for credit card and bank transfer processing fees. TravelJoy offers concierge support 7 days/week, email support, and a community knowledge base of resources.

Xero offers invoices and accounting, as well as accepting payments. Pricing tiers are $9/month, $30/month, or $60/month, with restrictions around the number of invoices, quotes, etc on certain tiers. Xero offers free, unlimited support 24/7 if you have a subscription, as well as a knowledge base of resources.

Square accepts payments and allows invoicing. Square prices vary depending on your hardware and software needs, but does take a percentage of each payment made through Square. For detailed pricing information Square requires that you contact their sales team. Square does have a knowledge base available with resources.

CashAppVenmo, and Zelle all take and send payments. Each option provides a free mobile app, but charges based on transactions and withdrawals. Zelle offers an online knowledge base, and provides a contact form and phone number online for assistance. CashApp offers a knowledge base of resources online, but sign in is required to contact them directly. Venmo also offers an online knowledge base, and you can submit tickets for assistance. Zelle can only be used if offered by your bank specifically.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is an important tool to stay in front of leads, especially when they’re not actively booking trips. There’s a huge array of email marketing options available in today’s market, with a range of prices and capabilities. The best fit for you will depend on your needs and budget, but these are the two email marketing tools we hear about the most from travel agents.

Constant Contact is available for $20/month or $45/month and provides email marketing automations, email tracking, and unlimited emails. Under the $45/month tier there are add-on options available including additional automation, surveys, polls, and other options. Constant Contact offers phone support Monday - Saturday, and chat support Monday - Friday. They also have a product help center including a knowledge base of resources.

Mailchimp has a free tier available, with additional tiers at $10/month, $15/month, and $300/month. Providing email marketing automation, email templates, and email tracking, Mailchimp does have limitations in the free tier on the number of subscribers and number of emails that you can send. In each additional tier you do get an increased number of subscribers and emails, and the $15 and $300 tiers include additional options as well. Phone support is only available on the $300 tier, all paid tiers include 24/7 chat support, and every account gets 30 days of email support. Mailchimp has a knowledge base with resources available, as well as providing marketing tips and a marketing glossary.

Social Media Management

Social media is another marketing tool that can be leveraged to maintain touches with your clients. Social media options range from regular posts on your business page to shared videos and engagement tracking. If you’re active on social media, you may want to use a social media management tool. The best fit for you will depend on your needs and budget; this list is by no means exhaustive, but includes a few tools we’ve heard of from travel agents.

Hootsuite offers scheduled messages, income message monitoring, social inbox, and compliance integrations. Hootsuite pricing begins at $29/month for a single user with up to 10 social profiles, and includes additional tiers at $129/month and $599/month, which include additional users and a larger number of social profiles. On-demand training is available on all tiers, and platform certification training for some users is available on the higher tiers. In the $599 tier customers also receive a 60 minute 1:1 training and 24/7 priority support.

Buffer offers scheduled posts, post reports, custom video thumbnails, and integrations with other tools. Buffer offers three tiers at $15/month, $65/month, and $99/month. The number of social media accounts, scheduled posts, and users vary by tier. Buffer has an online knowledge base of resources as well as a community of users to share resources. Buffer also provides support through social media, and offers email support.

Ripl offers video creation, access to existing designs, and sharing on social media platforms. Ripl has a free tier available, and a single paid tier at $14.99/month ($119.88/year if paid annually). The free tier does have limitations on including your own logo, music, video lengths and scheduling future posts. Ripl offers email support Monday - Friday 24 hours/day, and has a knowledge base and video tutorials available.

Quik is a video editing app created by GoPro available for free. You can combine photos, video clips, and text through Quik. There’s no information available online regarding available support.

Website and Itinerary Management

In the travel industry, your website and itinerary management are very important for impressing clients, and organizing everything on their trip. There’s a whole host of tools available with a variety of capabilities from itinerary sharing to visitor analytics. The best fit for you will depend on your needs and budget; this list is by no means exhaustive, but includes a few tools we’ve heard of from travel agents.

Wix offers website templates, visitor analytics, a site booster app, and storage space. Wix offers three tiers at $17/month, $22/month, and $39/month. The amount of storage space varies by tier, and the higher tiers also offer professional logos, social media logo files, and an events calendar. There is a knowledge base of resources available, and Wix offers priority support through an account, with the highest tier receiving first priority support.

Travefy is an itinerary creation tool where you can track contact details and create a library of locations. Travefy is $39/user/month, or $31/user when billed annually. Email support is available Monday - Friday from 9 - 5 Central time. Travefy has a knowledge base with resources, as well as video tutorials and webinars to join. Travefy also offers a 1:1 scheduled call option.

Axus offers itinerary creation with updated details that can be shared with colleagues and clients. Pricing is not available online, and you’ll need to contact their sales team directly for that information. Axus has an email address on their website for support.

Umapped is an online itinerary builder that brings in data from different places, and can be shared with clients/travelers online. Pricing is not available online, and you’ll need to contact their sales team for that information. Umapped offers a variety of webinars, including 1:1 30 minute training sessions, an intro to the program, beyond the basics on a focused topic, and pre-recorded webinars. They also have a knowledge base of resources and you can submit a ticket if you have an account.

Adobe Creative offers a variety of programs for document, video, and image creation and editing (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc). Pricing varies depending on which apps you need, all apps are available for a business at $79.99/month/user, and individual apps are available for less if you don’t need the entire package. Adobe Creative has a knowledge base of resources available, a community forum, and 24/7 tech support by phone, email, and chat.

Dropbox offers cloud storage and document creation with the ability to sync across various devices. For individuals Dropbox has a plan of $19.99/month ($16.58 if billed annually). For teams Dropbox offers two tiers at $15/month and $25/month (when billed annually pricing is instead $12.50 and $20 respectively). Priority email and live chat support are available on all tiers, phone support is also available on team tiers during business hours only.

Selecting the right software for your travel business can be a daunting task, but by considering requirements ahead of time and doing your research, you can be sure to make decisions that will work for your needs. Many software programs offer free trials, giving you an opportunity to test a program before signing up. With travel currently slowed due to shelter in place orders, this is the perfect time to improve the tools that you use, so that when the travel industry recovers you’re ready to dive back in, and get your clients booking again.

COVID-19 leaves travel agencies and small businesses everywhere feeling strapped -- it's a high hurdle, but it's one the entire small business community is jumping together. For more advice from other small business owners on staying adaptive and coming out of this strange time on top, subscribe to LACRM's new newsletter just for small business community tips!
Posted on Jun 10, 2020
Filed under Small Business Tips
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