We’ve been working with Scottish travel company Heart of Scotland Tours for over 7 years. When it came to switch the company over to a completely online booking system, we began an intensive assessment process of the available options. The system needed to handle phone, online and agent bookings, control inventory to prevent overbooking and provide detailed management information. After considering a number of options including a completely bespoke web app, numerous self hosted and cloud based solutions, one solution rose above the others in terms of features and value – Checkfront.
Looking at it from a software developer’s viewpoint, it was clearly not only a polished product but also one that had been designed from the ground up to adapt to a very wide range of businesses. It’s use of items, events and rules mean that even complex booking situations can be created quickly and easily. So far we have set up variable pricing, single person supplements, and seasonal availability using these three features. The design of all interface elements both for customer and administrator is smart, contemporary and straightforward.
Integration to a web site is really simple – a cut and paste operation, and there are plugins to allow you to integrate it directly into Joomla, WordPress, Drupal and even your Facebook page. The system adapts to the browser and device being used. Tablet and mobile users get an optimised interface.
One of the things we were very keen to get right was the customer ordering experience. The Heart of Scotland Tours web site had a good conversion rate, and we wanted to retain or improve that with the new booking system. Out of the box, the Checkfront tour selection process is logical and clear – start by selecting a date, and then you’ll see the available tours for that date and can select your tour(s). As an option you can show the customer the number of seats available, motivating a purchase if numbers are limited.
The form customers enter their details into is totally customisable – we added accommodation options for longer tours and set only the essential fields such as name and email address as required, to smooth the checkout process.
The system can operate with multiple admin accounts with various “permission levels” to allow tour agents to create bookings directly. We also created a specific agents login page to provide agents with a customised booking experience.
Notifications of bookings is done via email, but Checkfront also provide a powerful API. We have used this to send out conditional notifications, so if a tour is booked that involves one of our partner tour companies, they get a notification of the booking as soon as it happens.
Support from Checkfront has so far been very good, with same day turnaround for enquiries. They introduced me to the Jing screen capture system which is a really easy way to create and share screen videos, making explaining complex issues much easier.
Updates keep coming too. Recently Checkfront updated the Excel export process, MailChimp integration, SMS notification via Twilo, and added the Stripe payment gateway.
Reporting is comprehensive. There is a calendar and list views for booking inventory, graphs and tables of traffic, revenue and booking volume. Any report can be exported as an Excel file allowing complex analysis.
What would we like to improve about Checkfront? We’d like better support for agents. We can create accounts to allow agents access to the booking system, but even at the minimum “permissions” level, these accounts can see booking and financial information that we’d prefer not to share. For this reason we run agent bookings through the front end as normal customers but with their bookings tagged as coming from a specific agent.
Initial indications from 2 months of operation are very encouraging. Heart of Scotland Tours comment that “the new site and booking system certainly ‘feels’ busier but the conversion rate and visitor numbers will explain all.”
The conversion rate has increased slightly, but we need a longer period of operation for significant stats on this. However, the value of bookings compared with the same time last year is up by 75%. 7% of this is explained by the increase in conversion rate. There may be annual variation as well, but we think a lot of this is explained by busy booking agents preferring the new online booking process from the old way of having to phone a booking through. They may not only prefer it from the old way, but also may prefer it to a competitor’s booking process.