If you’re looking into the crystal ball of 2021 and wondering what to expect, how to prepare, and what to focus your efforts on, look no further. With the help of bookingkit’s Head of Business Development, Thomas Griffiths, we’ve uncovered the single most important online booking software feature to help you tackle 2021: flexibility. Seeing as he has 10 years experience in the tours and activity space, we’ll let Thomas do the talking.
1. How has COVID-19 affected the way people book tickets online? Are there any trends you’ve seen in bookingkit consumer data?
At this point it is hard to pinpoint any trends coming from the consumer side (people who have booked tickets online before) as a proper month-on-month or year-on-year comparison is just not possible due to a very COVID-shaped 2020.
What did become clear quite shortly after the first round of lockdowns is that people book tickets as soon as providers are allowed to reopen; demand picked up very quickly with little consumer fear. In many cases this meant that people booked online – maybe even for the first time in their life. So, we at bookingkit, via our vendors, were able to welcome entirely new customer groups to the digital world of tickets.
For us, the summer of 2021 will be likely be somewhat similar to last year’s summer, from which we drew the following key learnings:
While the total market last summer grew 20%+ over the same period in the previous year, we saw tectonic shifts within the verticals generating most bookings.
Clear winners were outdoor venues and, by default, less crowded tours, attractions & activities.
Clear losers were indoor venues and crowded tours, attractions & activities.
2. Seeing as many people started booking online, what impact does a more flexible booking strategy have on orders and what kind of tools are there to enable flexibility in an online booking system?
Let’s start by talking about what flexibility actually means, because there are some obvious and some hidden elements to the concept which are all very important.
First: as long as the pandemic is present in our lives, customers will not book tickets, especially if there is no liberal cancellation policy and an easy, intuitive cancellation process. We have seen a strong shift from around 10% of businesses offering customer-friendly cancellation to almost 100% of businesses offering customer-friendly cancellation.
Since that is the case, it is imminent that vendors reduce handling costs of those “negative bookings” by leveraging the digital power of an online booking system. An additional effect that we are already seeing is that vendors need to think more short-term and pay attention to the last 48 hours before an event (as those tickets could still be cancelled by the customer), which requires fluent and automated customer communication – a feature often overlooked when focussing solely on the booking process.
Second: flexibility is important for vendors to be able to react to new regulatory demands and to fulfill all prerequisites to reopen quickly. Capacity management, audience flow, contact tracing and contactless ticket validation are some examples of those prerequisites. One of the most important flexibility features in 2020, particularly for museums, zoos and attractions in general, is to be able to sell time-slot tickets – this feature alone has drawn a lot of attention towards bookingkit during the summer.
Third: flexibility is also important when it comes to following a new customer base. Vendors should ask themselves whether their current sales channels are the right ones to reach future customers. It is essential to build a network of sales channels, to connect to the best suited marketing platforms, and to manage everything in a centralized solution. At bookingkit we are therefore continuously expanding our own partner network – our partnership with Tiqets being one example. But with our new platform bookingkit Reach we are even going further by letting our vendors pick and connect with their own reseller partners, like hotels, local travel agencies and the tourist information centres in their city, and including easy booking processes, commission handling, and online and offline ticketing.
To summarize most, if not all, flexibility features promote online booking and online booking solutions which come with more convenience and – due to immediate payment – with higher commitment.
3. What are some of the challenges museums and attractions might face when implementing a flexible booking feature, and how can they best address those in advance?
One of the main challenges for museums and attractions is bringing together a new online system with a well-established offline ticketing system, followed by ticket validation at the entrance.
bookingkit partners and integrates directly with the most prevalent ticketing POS systems and turnstyle providers, and we offer a ticket scanner app and cash desk systems. For managing guided tours or placing certain limits on persons per room we recommend a smart resource management solution that automatically syncs available slots on all sales channels.
Some venues might want to offer flexible pricing for different days of the week or opening hours, others may want to sell additional products with their tickets – from booklets and souvenirs to parking tickets. To efficiently pull all these strings together, the simple solution in most cases is an online booking software like bookingkit.
4. What other booking options are consumers looking for right now?
Although it is not a booking option, it is still worth mentioning that customers are looking for a safe environment. It’s an absolute must to take care of all hygiene and safety measures. It is not only necessary from a legal standpoint, but also from customer experience and image building perspective.
From what we have heard from our clients, customers appreciate less crowded activities and higher instructor/guide to visitor ratios. This effect could be even taken into account when rethinking the pricing of tickets.
Vouchers are still one of the most important elements when selling tickets, especially around seasonal events, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day or Easter. So vendors need to have their voucher offers ready, promote them properly, and have a booking system to handle voucher sales and redemption. Some of our clients have also had a good experience with selling special voucher giveaways.
5. Do you think flexibility will remain an important feature after the COVID era?
Absolutely! COVID is a digitalization (and therefore also a “flexibilization”) booster. Customers will get used to all new benefits and vendors will have implemented them at scale. No vendor will go back to offline-only booking. However, features like time-slot tickets and capacity management will be used differently to get a clearer view on customer segmentation and to offer additional incentives to optimize utilization.
There will be a lot of movement within the industry in 2021. While some vendors will go out of business, others will start (or start over) 100% digitally and fill in the vacuum. Flexibility will be a key to survive and to benefit from the catch up effect once the lockdowns end.
Thomas Griffiths is the Head of Business Development at bookingkit, and has been working in the tours and activities space for close to 10 years. His team is responsible for integrating the best re-distribution opportunities into bookingkit’s reservation software, ensuring that their customers (attractions, tours and activity operators) have the best tools for a successful distribution via their reseller network.