What is a booking software?

So you’ve set up your tour activities company. You have your products prepared and the store or office is coming together. But in this particular business you are in, it’s hard to depend on customers just walking up and buying from you. You deal in appointments, tours, activities and itineraries.

Although you could depend on people calling in and setting up appointments, but there are risks to doing everything manually. What you need is a booking software. Something you can attach to your website and link to social media, where customers can sign up for your services on their own. Something automated to lighten the burden of scheduling manually.

There are literally hundreds of programs available in the market and it can get rather overwhelming to go through each and every one. For startups, every penny counts. It would be best to focus on those providers that offer a flat rate or are commission-free.

So we’ve narrowed down the list to the top 3 commission-free booking engines for tour activity companies:

1. Checkfront

This booking engine has received good reviews from many different online sources. Checkfront received 4 out of 5 stars on Google Apps Marketplace, 4.8 on GetApp, 3.8 on Google Play, and 3.5 on iTunes. It’s not common to see a product with higher than 3 stars across the board. Users often compliment the customer support, many integrations and ease of use.

Launched in 2009, co-founders Jason Morehouse and Grant Jurgeneit’s goal was to create an app that could integrate smoothly into existing websites as well as simplified scheduling and payments.

Pricing

Checkfront has 4 pricing plans that differ according to the number of staff accounts and bookings your company takes annually.

They offer a 21-day free trial, with no credit card required. Annual subscriptions and non-profits both receive a 15% discount. System integration developers receive a free designer/developer account. There is also a 30-day money back guarantee for all paid accounts (45 days for higher level subscriptions).

Ease of Use

The user interface is uncluttered and organized, and setup is easy and usually takes less than 30 minutes. The entire platform is direct and stable, and somehow has everything as complex as you might want it to be. You can create appointment types by simply naming them, or add media, packages, pricing, etc.

Checkfront’s integration designers have made it easy to embed a functional plugin directly into any CMS platform. Although you have the option of using their booking site, Checkfront assumes that you already run a website for your company and inserting a booking application is readily available.

After installing the plugin on your website, you will have to make some automated formatting of shortcodes into your CMS. You have the option of adding more shortcodes to the basic one for better control of the layout.

If you’re not using WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, you can create a droplet code that will embed a real-time booking window into your website. You can also create a Book Now button.

Checkfront also has a multi-format calendar. The customer calendar shows up to 6 weeks appointments ordered by day, item and customer. The inventory calendar allows you to view the remaining inventory of each item on each day, color-coded for easier viewing.

Customer Service and Support

Checkfront commits an average of a 4-hour response time during the workday for email and phone support requests. They are also very diligent about updates, releasing them as frequently as possible.

Instructional videos are in place that describe how to set-up and install use Xero and Facebook to receive bookings. A support library consisting of links to tutorials on 44 topics from getting started, to configuration, extensions and inventory are available.

Checkfront engages with their users in a community forum. Threads are categorized by announcements, feature requests, tutorials, developers and general questions.

The company has remained fairly small, but its persistent growth, excellent system design and reliable reputation gives the solid impression that Checkfront is a good investment for business in the tour and activity field.

BrightCalendar

Headquartered in Miami, Florida BrightCalendar is relatively a newcomer in the web-based appointment software scene, and offers solutions specifically for the charter and tour industry.

The company’s approach is very personalized and controlled. Potential clients don’t view standard demos through YouTube or Vimeo like other providers would have available. Interested parties submit their business information to BrightCalendar, who in turn creates an account based on these details, and schedules a personalized 30-minute demo to explain how the solution fits with the client’s needs.

Pricing

BrightCalendar doesn’t offer monthly or packaged plans. Pricing is based on what you and BrightCalendar together determine your business needs are after a meeting and personalized demo.

There is the option to test the new account for 7 days without a credit card or obligation. The price  you’ve agreed on during the demo and trial period will be the price you pay for your account once you’ve settled in with their services.

All accounts are inclusive of unlimited use and bookings, setup, email and phone support, the mobile app and new features.

Ease of Use

BrightCalendar features a generally natural and straightforward user interface. Initial setup is done already based on the information you’ve provided BrightCalendar and your website. You will receive a temporary username and password for the duration of your 7-day trial period.

The dashboard is mostly white and blue with a professional appearance. It can be set to month, day, or default view where you can see the current day’s bookings and a list of available calendars. An “add reservation” button on the top left corner makes creating new reservations accessible from anywhere within the site.

The software’s calendars are fairly interactive. Multiple calendars can be created in one account, each with unique settings. The configuration of a calendar involves choosing settings like start and end dates, if payment or deposit is required upfront, the number of calendars subordinate to it, tax and gratuity options and which credit cards to accept.

Reservations, items and corresponding charges can be separated into groups, making organization and tracking easy.

Navigating through the customer page is done by opening a search by last name or email. You can also export a .csv file of the list that comes up from a search in a click of a button. However, there is no way to add customers manually from the customer management page. You will have to book a reservation and fill in all the information there.

Customer booking using BrightCalendar is very simple and easy to follow.  Customers choose a day, type of tour and the times for that type offered for the chosen day. After selecting the number of tickets for that booking, customers can see a preview of the order with options to add to cart, add a coupon, change reservation or check out.

Customer Service and Support

BrightCalendar’s customer service and support has been described as both extremely personal and immensely limited. There are records of Facebook and the Better Business Bureau of clients being ignored or were promised solutions but were never carried through.

There have been some positive feedback as well, where customers praised the software’s flexibility to meet their unique needs, given its extremely personalized approach.

The highly tailored and personalized approach to business and software development has its upsides and downsides. Whatever the case, BrightCalendar is a solid product with helpful options for reservation booking, payment processing and revenue tracking.

Bookeo

From a basic appointment and scheduling platform in 2008, Bookeo has expanded quite vigorously in the recent years. By 2011, they added  Bookeo Tours and Activities and Bookeo Classes & Courses among their product line-up.

Bookeo now proudly offers solutions to businesses that run helicopter tours, among others. Bookeo as a whole offers a wide variety of scheduling options for different business needs.

Pricing

Depending on the size of the business, plan for tours and activities will vary. Business size is measured in the number of vehicles or staff and of bookings every month.

Bookeo offers a 30-day free trial and a 30-day money back guarantee on the first paid month of subscription. Accounts have no set-up or processing fees and no contracts, however subscriptions must be paid via Visa or Mastercard.

Ease of Use

Bookeo is an application that is carefully and frequently maintained and updated. It is user-friendly and straightforward, with all the action buttons clearly visible and grouped appropriately.

After you enter your business information and selecting a URL, Bookeo walks you through setting up your first service or activity. The set-up process booking event includes a description, type selection, schedule, price, payment or deposit requirement and related image. You can also choose a specific color for service, which can make viewing your schedule easier.

Bookeo makes use mostly of the buttons and icons in its graphic interface, but avoids crowding too much information in any one screen. It separates related pages into tabs while making use of interactive drop-down menus, buttons, checkboxes and text areas. Your account is organized in 5 basic tabs: Home, Calendar, Customers, Marketing and Settings.

Users enjoy a lot of control over appearance, customer interaction, resources, payment settings and booking preferences with Bookeo. With the 17 pages under the “Settings” tab, you can customize and manage detailed setting for each appointment type.

Managing your calendar with Bookeo is easy. There is a sidebar for navigating between months and years and resource. The main calendar may be viewed a day, 3 days, 7 days and 14 days at a time. The booking summary includes payment information, notes and customer details. When you hover over a booking, it opens a little window with basic information for a quick view.

Customer Service and Support

Bookeo’s customer service is centralized in its Help Portal, with 300 tutorials and an email support form.

Here’s a full list of customer support options from Bookeo:

  • Live Chat
  • Help Portal
  • Blogs
  • Phone support
  • Social media
  • Demos

There are mixed reviews regarding Bookeo’s customer support system, ranging from insufficient support to interface issues and “unsurpassed” customer service to user friendly and customizable.

Nevertheless, Bookeo has proven itself to be a trustworthy company with its regular software upgrades, wide range of customization options, security measures and integrations with other software. The program a mix of simplicity and functionality hindered only by its limited and sometimes inconsistent customer support.

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