One of the major stumbling blocks for a small tour operator that is trying to scale is the booking process.
Travelers nowadays want to be able to make online payments that are fast, secure and easy to use. When they are ready to buy, they want to be able to do so online, quickly and efficiently.
This poses a significant challenge for small travel operators who don’t have the budget to build bespoke online payment solutions and who often rely on payment methods like bank transfer, Western Union, PayPal and check to take payment.
In this article we look at how a small travel operator can streamline their booking process with a payment gateway. In particular, we focus on WeTravel, our market-leading payment solution designed specifically for travel operators and organizers.
Online Payment Gateways
An online payment gateway is a service that securely sends credit or debit card information, or bank account details, from a payment portal, like a website, to a payment processor.
Effectively, it allows a merchant like a travel operator, to take payment from a customer on their website or via a mobile app, without being present, 24/7.
PayPal was one of the first online payment gateways. And for some small travel operators, it is still a preferred method of payment.
However, PayPal comes with specific issues for a travel operator – fees are high, integration into a tour booking process with deposits and part payments is complicated, booking management is non-existent and creating a streamlined booking experience without significant coding or web-development knowledge is a challenge.
The same is true of other popular payment gateways, like SecurePay, 2Checkout, Stripe and Authorize.net, which are great on the tin, but in most instances are not ideal for the complexity associated with booking tours.
That’s why at Wetravel, we decided to build a payment solution that works perfectly for travel operators and organizers.
What to look for in a payment solution?
The key features to look for in a payment solution include a secure and safe environment for merchants and consumers to transact, a wide selection of payment options and currencies, as well as low fees.
We call these ticket-to-play features, as without them, a payment gateway is generally not worth considering.
However, any travel operator that has looked seriously at online payments will know that there are additional differentiator features that are really important, particularly in the travel industry.
These features can broadly be categorized as a great user experience, ease of integration, seamless booking management, and payment plans.
Below we look at each of the key differentiator features first, before briefly discussing the ticket-to-play features.
Throughout we explain how Wetravel’s payment solution works, because we believe it’s the best payment software for small travel operators and organizers.
As we discussed in our article on Website Design and Development, a good user experience drives better engagement and higher conversions.
Many small travel operators have a pretty good grasp on user experience in terms of their tour pages and site navigation, but don’t follow this through into the booking process.
Imagine a traveler on your website that is ready to book. They have done their research, read your reviews and perhaps even spoken with one of your sales staff via email or online chat. They love what you offer. But have no obvious or easy way to book. Instead, they are now caught in a loop of emails with one of your sales staff agreeing bank details for a wire transfer.
This booking process is slow, clunky and not customer-friendly.
Now imagine the same traveler, but this time they are presented with a ‘Book Now’ button and a seamless online booking process.
In the latter example, you can be sure that travelers will convert more frequently and quicker.
At Wetravel, we have designed a payment solution that keeps a travel operator’s brand front and center, offers key functionality, like part payments for deposits, up-sell extras and discount codes, and seamlessly walks a customer through a fully customizable booking form and payment page.
And the best part is that Wetravel’s solution takes minutes to setup, requires no technical knowledge and can integrate into a travel operator’s booking process with ease. Which brings us to our next point.
Ease of Integration
The trouble with many payment gateways, apart from the issue that they are not designed to work well with a travel operator’s booking process, is that they are hard to integrate.
Most require technical knowledge to set up and even then don’t offer a customizable approach in important areas like part-payments and upsells.
Because of the complexity of integrating a payment solution, most small travel operators give up.
At Wetravel we understand that easy integration is critical for a small travel operator.
That’s why we have built really flexible integration options into our payment software.
With Wetravel, a travel operator can either setup and embed trip pages on their website, or use an embedded checkout option. Let’s briefly look at each.
Trip Pages: These pages are fully customizable and are hosted on Wetravel platform. They take a few minutes to setup and can be embedded into a website via a ‘Book Now’ button or widget with no technical knowledge required. Travelers are then directed to an operator’s branded Wetravel trip page where they can get all the information about a tour and book it.
This option is great for travel organizers who don’t have fancy websites or operators who offer bespoke private tours. Each private tour can get their own trip page that is perfectly customized with their unique itinerary, inclusions and prices.
Embedded Checkout: This option allows a travel operator to embed a check-out pop-up into their website so that a traveler doesn’t have to leave their site. Trip details are setup quickly and easily within the Wetravel dashboard and the popup code integrates into any website with no coding experience required.
This option is brilliant for travel operators who offer standardized group trips, and prefer keeping a traveler on their site throughout the booking process.
Seamless Booking Management
In most cases, standard payment solutions will not include a booking or trip management system. And why should they? Most are built to only facilitate payments and certainly don’t cater specifically for the needs of tour operators or organizers.
Wetravel is different though.
Not only has the Wetravel software been designed to facilitate fast, easy and secure payments for travel operators, but the platform also includes a booking management tool.
From the Wetravel dashboard, a travel operator can manage all financial activity (refunds, custom prices, discount codes, payment plans, balance-due reminders), and control all communication with their customers.
Better yet, an operator can also quickly and easily transfer funds from their Wetravel account to their bank account, or to a vendor anywhere in the world.
Most tour operators take a deposit and final payment from customers. This usually means emails have to be exchanged back and forth to chase deposit payment and reminders need to be sent for final payment.
With WeTravel, a tour operator can setup payment plans for deposits and up to 5 instalments. And the best part is that the software automates the chasing and reminder process. WeTravel payment plans allow a tour operator to offer their customers more flexibility, which helps to drive sales, and avoid the administrative nightmare of managing payments.
It almost goes without saying that a payment gateway needs to be secure and safe to use.
In particular, for widespread adoption, customers must trust that their financial information is secure when making an online transaction.
Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find a payment gateway that doesn’t offer high levels of security. But as a good rule of thumb, first make sure to check if other major merchants and retailers use the gateway you are considering, and take a moment to check what security assurances a gateway offers.
In the case of Wetravel, we do not store any financial or sensitive data on our servers. User information, like credit card numbers and back account details, is immediately and securely transmitted to our payment providers in the US and in Europe, using bank-grade encryption. You can find out more about Wetravel’s state-of-the-art financial data and payment information handling here.
By definition, travelers can come from all over the world and many will want to make payment in their own currency or in a widely accepted equivalent.
A great payment gateway should offer multi-currency payment options. This gives a traveler great choice and reduces friction in the booking process.
At Wetravel, we understand this and therefore allow operators to accept payment in almost any currency. Wetravel keeps funds in USD, GBP and EUR, with all other currencies converted to USD at the daily exchange rate. Find out more about our currency options here.
Multiple Payment Options
When it comes to making online payments, most travelers prefer to use direct payments via a bank account or debit or credit card. Many payment gateways offer the latter, but often fall short on direct bank account payments.
At a minimum, the payment gateway you decide to use should offer a wide selection of cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Dinners and Maestro.
At Wetravel, we recognize the importance of offering customers all the popular payment methods they have become accustomed to. Our payment options vary by currency; check out more details here.
The issue of fees is significant as most travel operators already work on relatively tight margins. Fees of 2.5 or 3% per booking quickly rack up. Unfortunately, many payment gateways, like PayPal, are very costly to use.
It is always a good idea to take the time to fully read and understand the fees associated with a payment gateway. These can usually be found on a payment gateway’s FAQ page or in their support section.
With Wetravel we like to keep things straightforward, transparent and most importantly, affordable. We do not charge setup fees, monthly fees or membership fees. Our transaction fees are as low as 1% on bookings. Refunds are completely free. Find out more here.
Other Booking Considerations
Two other key things to consider when streamlining your payment and booking processes, are mobile payments and terms and conditions.
A trend that is fast taking shape is mobile payments. In some industries, mobile payments account for over 50% of online sales, and in the travel industry recent data from Statista show that mobile payments now account for 20% of travel-related online bookings.
If you are planning to integrate a payment and booking process on your website, you should definitely make sure that it is mobile-friendly.
Wetravel is fully mobile-responsive, so travelers can pay anytime from any device, anywhere in the world.
Terms and Conditions
It is always surprising to see how many small travel operators don’t have a formal set of Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) built into their booking process.
Without robust T&Cs you are opening yourself up to nasty legal issues. Moreover, T&Cs give a customer complete clarity on how you deliver your service.
It is worth the expense to get a qualified lawyer to draw up your T&Cs. Make sure they pay particular attention to issues of liability and to your cancellation policy.
Customer acceptance of T&Cs should be built into the booking process and include a checkbox opt-in for agreement.
Wetravel have a specific section of their payment solution that allows travel operators to add their T&Cs and opt-in for customers.
For many travelers it is almost unthinkable not to be able to book their travel arrangements online.
But as online booking for travel becomes the norm, small travel operators are often left confused on how to integrate a seamless payment and booking solution for their business.
Many still rely on wire transfers, Western Union and PayPal, but none of these are particularly good for travelers and all provide a slow and clunky user-booking experience.
Wetravel provides a payment and booking solution that is specifically designed to fit into a tour operator and travel organizer workflow. It includes specific features for travel companies, like part-payment, upsells and customizable booking forms. And also comes with an advanced booking management dashboard, where tour operators can manage financials and communications with customers.
It is, in our opinion, the complete booking solution for a small travel operator.
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