It seems as though new travel-related tech, apps, and software are springing up everywhere, and there’s a good reason for that. It may have something to do with all that mandatory “downtime” we had three years ago, at least according to Bud Geissler, president of GroupCollect, a registration, payment, and operations solution for multiday tour operators. “I believe that during the pandemic, we had time to catch our breath and consider what had been missing in our professional travel experiences,” he says. And at the same time, customers decided they wanted more, too. “They want more direct communication and more unique experiences,” he says.
His views are echoed by Mitch Bach, partner at Tourpreneur, a global tour community. “Technology is now unavoidable because your customer expects you to use it to engage before, during, and after the tour,” he says. “In an increasingly busy marketplace, you need to make it as easy as possible for your customers to spend money with you.”
In fact, there are new technological solutions for just about every aspect of travel, including risk mitigation, targeted communications, streamlined purchasing systems, and enhanced customer experiences. To help you keep up on the latest innovations, we talked to experts all over the country to find out what “must-have” tech they’re using and recommending.
If you’re still manually hitting “send” on posts, newsletters, and other communications, then consider a scheduler like Later or Buffer. And if want some help getting more content out there, Bach says you shouldn’t sleep on new artificial intelligence (AI) services like ChatGPT. “It’s a new way to think about how to craft articles,” he says. “It’s not the be-all and end-all, but it can save you hours by finishing up that one blog post that’s been sitting in your drafts folder for three months.”
If you’re looking for smarter ways to keep in touch, he suggests email marketing tool MailerLite. “It has a powerful, modern look, and it can do segmentation in a personalized way,” he says. “It’s better than Mailchimp or Constant Contact.”
“My favorite app while on a tour operation is Rome2Rio,” says Philip Sheldon, president of HE Travel. “You can enter any two locations on the globe, and it will tell you the various ways to get between them by driving or via public transportation like subway, train, bus, plane, or boat. It’s helpful when I’m on tour and we’re halfway between destinations. If someone asks [when we’ll get somewhere], I can enter the closest town and our destination, and give a very educated guess about how long it will take.”
Many apps can help ease groups into a new environment or stay connected to home. Heather J. Gibson, a professor in the department of Tourism, Hospitality & Event Management at the University of Florida, offers these ideas: “Weather apps are always useful. Google Translate is useful for quick language issues. Favorite radio and local newspaper apps help your guests keep in touch with news and weather from home. The Kindle app is a good way of carrying your latest novel, and health apps are always fun to keep up with how far you’ve walked while on a trip.”
Travelers love to share their experiences. Tour planners should consider some of the new ways to do that, including Group Travel Videos, which connects groups and their families in one private and secure place. Additionally, customer management tools can be a win-win for you and your tour guests. “You need a system in place that allows customers to make easy payments, fill out customized forms, and more,” Bach says. “If you don’t have this kind of booking software, it’s the No. 1 tech thing you should be thinking about.” It can be used for vendor payments, room manifests, customer manifests, waivers, and terms and conditions.” Bach suggests starting by researching Traveljoy, WeTravel, GroupCollect (Geissler’s company), and Youli.
There are many software options to help you stay organized with tasks, projects, and vendors. “They can help pay vendors, send monthly newsletters, issue thank you notes to vendors, or follow the stages of contracting a bus,” Bach says. “Even if you have just a few people in your company, it’s a good way to assign and track tasks.”
“Trello is a project management tool that helps tour operators to stay organized and manage their tours more efficiently,” recommends Royce Allen, an expert speaker on cybersecurity, information technology, and leadership who recently spoke at the American Bus Association Marketplace. “You can use Trello boards to keep track of tour details, schedules, and itineraries.” The service brings tasks, teammates, and tools together, keeping everything in the same place—even if your team isn’t. Other back-office systems that Bach recommends include ClickUp, monday.com, and Asana.
While it can seem intimidating to get started with new types of tech, there is plenty of expert advice to help you get started. HS Chris Choi is a professor in the Lang School of Hospitality, Food, and Tourism Management at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. He suggests starting gradually.
“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or uncertain when adopting new technology, so begin by experimenting with a couple of the most pertinent or advantageous tools to your business,” he says. “Next, conduct research before adopting a new technology tool. Ensure that it’s compatible with your business requirements and objectives. Look at reviews, contrast features, and think about how the tool might fit in with your existing procedures and workflows.”
“Finally, tour operators should keep an open mind toward the potential benefits technology can bring to their business,” Choi says. “Even if a tool seems unfamiliar or overwhelming initially, it could be a game-changing element for the business and its customers.”
Article by Julie Kendrick
Main Image: Tech Talk; Credit: Olivia Curti