Custom Online Booking Systems vs Off The Shelf Booking Systems – Pros and Cons

February 14, 2019
Azzura Ricci
6 min read

It is becoming increasingly common for travel businesses handling volumes of bookings to look to automate certain processes within their system so that they have a clearer overview of the operations. This is usually when the question of whether to use a bespoke or off the shelf booking system comes up.

Without a doubt, the correct piece of software, whether it be custom or off the shelf, plays a crucial part in keeping your business running smoothly.

This is why it is important to put a lot of thought into what your system platform needs are from the get-go. Choose the wrong one and you will waste valuable time trying to operate around inefficient workflow processes.

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Bespoke vs An Off The Shelf Booking System For Your Travel Business

There are several functions that a booking system needs to fill, the most important being to receive and manage bookings as well as payments. Ultimately, the platform should be easy for both you and your clients to use.

For your travelers, a difficult experience during the booking or payment process will likely discourage them from converting to a sale.  They will go to another website that works better, and you will lose out on securing their travel booking.

On your end, you want the software to streamline your systems, be easy to use, and help you manage your business more efficiently.

Off The Shelf Booking System

Custom Online Software

One option is to get a custom written booking and payment software solution for your travel business. The system will be designed specifically around your company, and have its particular needs and key objectives in mind.


Going this route will give you full customization options, which means you can incorporate every function and aspect that you want the software to achieve. Because you own the software, you determine how it operates.

An example of this would be a retreat leader might want to collect specific information from guests when they sign up to attend. Your booking system could be designed with a customized form to collect the data when a reservation is made.

Scalability is one of the greatest advantages of going custom. Your software can evolve as your business grows, and certain functions either become redundant or something more is needed.

Because the system is run from a single platform, there is also less room for user error. A single management point means less chance for things to be missed or go wrong.

Business scalability


This approach is not for everyone mainly because of the costs involved with developing custom software from scratch. You will need to hire a developer and design team, technical writers and software specialists to put your vision together.

With this many talented professionals crafting your individual system, the costs begin to add up.

Unfortunately, it’s not just a case of signing up and getting started either.

You will need to sit with your development team and conceptualize the product. From there, the software will need to be designed, built, and tested before you begin using it. Overall, it is a lengthy time commitment.

Also to be considered is the fact that your booking system will only match your requirements to the extent that you can visualize and define them. This, in turn, is affected by how the developer understands the requirements.

Someone with years of experience in the industry, or innate knowledge of booking software and your business might be able to conceptualize what is needed. But if there is a limited strategic plan to begin with, the functionality objectives will be more difficult to define.

Any overarching design flaws that you are not necessarily aware of at the start, will affect how the software evolves in the future.

If you think that the financial commitments are over once your platform has been developed, you are wrong. Even though you won’t have to pay license fees, you will still have expenses related to updates, patches, upgrades, and fixes that your team have to put out to maintain the system.

Design team

Off The Shelf Software

Off the shelf booking and payment systems are designed with a specific market and thousands of travelers in mind.

Vendors research the market extensively and analyze what it is that their target clientele needs to be able to achieve with the system.

When the software hits the shelf, it is generally the product of vendors listening to what travel businesses and their clients need.

Historically, an off the shelf system may have had more limited functionality. For example, bookings and payments would have been two separate systems. However, this is not necessarily the case anymore as smart platforms such as WeTravel, offer off the shelf systems that incorporate both elements.

Also, further customization of the product can often be fulfilled by add-on modules or a premium subscription, depending on the provider.

Market research


Generally speaking, an off the shelf booking system draws inspiration from successful elements of other systems.

With the tried and tested approach in mind, you know that you are investing in something that has had hours of development put in to perfect it.

Off the shelf systems are also more affordable because they are mass marketed which absorbs the development costs. You will be liable for a monthly or yearly subscription fee, and enjoy the convenience of having a fully functional system that you can utilize straight away.

Because these platforms have been designed with a wide user base in mind, they are generally very easy to operate, both for you and your clients.

Usability is even further enhanced by system updates which are pushed through on a regular basis to ensure that performance and security remain optimal at both ends.

You can leave all the decisions about technology and market trends to the experts who have made software their business. Instead, giving you time to focus your energy on growing and marketing your travel company.


Naturally, your functionality is somewhat confined to the services that the off the shelf booking system has to offer. Any features that are lacking on the platform, will have to be supplemented with another system that can perform the task.

If this happens to be the case, then running a number of applications at the same time is not always ideal. This is because switching between various systems opens up the possibility for errors to occur more easily than if everything was located in one place.

Also, you are at the mercy of the software vendor. Should they decide to add functionality you don’t need, it is unnecessary noise on your platform. Or if they remove a specific tool that you rely on in particular, you might find yourself lacking in the department.

The good news is that the vendors do pay attention to their customers’ needs and listen to what they say so updates are often rolled out with solutions that have been requested.

Improve platform


Ultimately, the most suitable type of system will depend on your situation and business needs.

If you require very specific complex functionality, have a large budget and plenty of time, then going bespoke is likely the ideal choice.

However, it is clear that off the shelf booking and payment systems are covering more ground than ever before to ensure that they meet the needs of the marketplace.

When considering the convenience, industry suited functionality, time and cost savings, it is easy to see why an off the shelf booking system is an amazing piece of software that will streamline your business.