I am probably asked which reservation software I recommend more frequently than any other question. My answer is generally the same each time, responding that I do not recommend any particular reservation software package over another. They all appear to have their advantages and disadvantages, and one that is right for one business may not be right for another. In the 2020 edition of the Woodall’s Campground Management Business Directory, there are 45 businesses listed under the “Reservation Management Systems & Software” category. Essentially, those are too many choices. What I invariably end up doing is to provide a list of questions to ask when comparing the various products on the market.
As with any business investment, you should select software based upon its ability to streamline your workload and increase your profitability. Reservation software is a long-term investment, which is why software is likely depreciated in your accounting and on your tax returns. Consistency is good, particularly when it means that you do not need to learn new processes and your customers are not required to adapt to something unfamiliar. As with anything online, the ultimate determination of success is a highly intuitive end-user experience.
Most reservation systems are part of a broader back office software suite, not simply standalone reservation engines, allowing you to manage your available inventory in real time. They might include customer relationship management and property management system functions. The more robust the package, the more useful the software will be as you manage not only your inventory of campsites and rental units but your overall customer base.
When people tell me that they would like to make a change from an existing software suite, I generally ask them why they are thinking about making a change. Are they contemplating the costs and the learning curve, which also applies to employees? What is it in particular that they dislike about their existing software? I then generally advise them to talk to their existing account representative to see if they can address the new concerns (that may, in fact, not have existed at the time of the original set up.) More often than not, the “problem” is a lack of communication with the existing supplier.
The Important Questions
First and foremost, what are the costs involved? Nothing of value in the business world is free of charge. Is there an initial purchase price, plus a fixed monthly fee or a per-transaction fee? If there are transaction fees, are you expected to pass those along to your customers or are you expected to absorb them into your pricing as a cost of business? Customers will balk at a hefty fee, and absorbing that same fee could seriously impact your profit margins.
Do you have to pay fees on ALL reservations, keeping in mind that most of your customers are finding you from your own website, not the reservation engine? Generally speaking, nobody likes to loosen the lid on a pickle jar, only to pay someone else to actually remove the lid. If you are going to be paying a fee only on stays that are booked through the reservation engine, is the reservation engine competing against your website in search results?
Beyond the pricing issue, here are what I consider to be a few essential questions to ask:
- Will you have an account representative assigned to your business to offer support during the setup process, the learning curve, and beyond? Are there limitations or costs to that technical support, or are you simply expected to watch (and understand) video tutorials?
- Does it support dynamic pricing? How flexible is your control of that pricing? Keep in mind that you are looking into a long-term investment. Even if you are not engaged in the use of dynamic pricing today, you are highly likely to do so within the foreseeable future.
- Does it allow you to determine either a flat or percentage reservation deposit?
- Does it allow users to reserve add-ons at the time the reservation is made? For example, can a guest reserve a golf cart, or perhaps linen service in a rental unit?
- Of course you expect the reservation process to be responsive, working on both computers and the full spectrum of mobile devices. Do they have a responsive widget that can be embedded into your website? If not, who is responsible for making your landing page look like your website?
- Does the reservation engine support languages other than English, not simply using Google Translate?
- Is the reservation process ADA compliant? PCI compliant? GDPR compliant (important for any reservations originating from the European Union.)
- Can the reservation engine integrate with Facebook, where many of your customers may be ready to book?
- If the landing page URL changes, will the old link redirect to the new destination page?
Also important, is the reservation software doing more than passively processing reservations? Does it allow you to follow up with users who do not actually complete the reservation process? E-commerce companies have long utilized “abandoned shopping cart” tracking software, with the understanding that somebody who went through 90% of the buying process is one of your best candidates to turn into a paying customer. Perhaps a person was sidetracked by a phone call, the needs of another family member, or it was simply time to call it a night. A little reminder will not hurt and can often resuscitate the otherwise uncompleted transaction. Choosing a real-time reservation services provider is a very important consideration, which is one of the primary reasons that so many park owners choose to go with a franchise system such as KOA. If you are the more typical unaffiliated “mom and pop” campground owner, you need to make this decision carefully. Too many people have been forced into making a hasty decision because their reservation services provider suddenly ceased operation. Do your homework and make your decision when you are not under duress, choosing a company that you expect to be a key player ten or more years down the road.
This post was written by Peter Pelland