Most operators and resorts run their businesses today on software, or multiple pieces of software, sometimes referred to as a ‘stack.’ There are software solutions to manage human resources, to process accounting, operate equipment including rides, track project management, internal communications, and more.
There is software to handle transactional sales and marketing as well. Businesses may buy or license each of these kinds of software separately, or they may layer them. These layers or “stacks” have become more and more popular as they provide operators with the flexibility to scale and serve audiences and business operations more smoothly. The modern way to approach creating software or tech stack is via interoperable software and systems that allow operators to pick best-in-class, purpose-built software as a solution (SaaS) oftentimes that live in the cloud.
And yet, there are still plenty of activity and resort businesses that have not made the switch to these kinds of scalable solutions. Instead, they continue to operate their businesses on old “legacy” software, which can be a hindrance for a few reasons.
Legacy systems are known for siloed data, lack interoperability, and have cumbersome system upgrades. The impact of these issues affects more than just business operations, however. They also affect the guest experience, from a potentially fragmented booking experience to the ticket window, to any personalization the operator may be wanting to provide. Not to mention, legacy systems are oftentimes not cloud-based, which complicates software updates.
Shortcomings of Legacy Software
When it comes to legacy software systems, many ticketed attractions businesses have chosen either off-the-shelf or custom-built platforms. While there is nothing wrong with either type of software in general, the characteristics they hold as legacy systems mean businesses are often restrained by the software on which they operate.
Off-the-Shelf software can live either online or installed on-premise on the business’s servers. The primary condition of an off-the-shelf solution is that it’s sold “as is.” It offers little flexibility and cannot be scaled with new features the business may want or need unless the software company creates and sells those as upgrades or plug-ins.
It may also come with lots of features the business does not want or need, but has to pay for regardless. Off-the-Shelf software may be limiting for a growing resort or attraction.
Think of older versions of the Microsoft Windows OS or Adobe’s very popular Flash product. Both systems are widely adopted by many industries, including leisure and tourism companies. However, both Microsoft and Adobe have since stopped supporting this legacy software, which comes with security issues, among other things.
Custom-built software can also live online or be installed locally, but it has been built — often from the ground up — exclusively for that particular business. Because this kind of software is so customized, it often comes with a hefty price tag and longer-term life expectancies.
Resorts and attractions that go the custom-built route are often wedded to their solutions because they cost so much to build, to train staff on, and to maintain over time. Moving off custom-built software comes with its own set of issues, and often the pain of switching outweighs the practicality of a new more modern solution. Decisions to do so can be delayed for years.
One public zoo, for example, took seven years to decide to issue an RFP for a new ticketing system. When it finally did, it accepted 75 proposals…which they then sat on for over six months before selecting a new vendor.
Components of a Modern Sales and Marketing Stack for Activities and Resorts
The idea behind a modern software stack for activities and resorts rests on the ease of scaling up the software to meet the business’s sales and marketing needs. Not all businesses need all the components that can be layered to create a stack – or at least not right away – so they may only choose key ones initially. For instance, the typical components in a modern sales and marketing stack for activities and resorts include:
- Customer data management/customer relationship management (CRM)– Instead of just storing basic information about a customer and having most of that information lay dormant, CRMs activate customer data, allowing the activity or resort to custom-market to specific sets (“segments”) of customers based on past purchases or responses, track customer activity and responses over time, and suggest add-ons to shopping carts. Many CRMs now also provide marketing tools such as email communications, social media and mobile app integrations, and data analytics.
- Pricing and revenue management – No business wants to leave money on the table. In modern times, activities and resorts can maximize yield and advanced purchase sales using software that enables different pricing strategies such as dynamic pricing.
- E-commerce platform – There are varying degrees of powering e-commerce, from simple fixed listings which add an item to a shopping cart and allow the visitor to check out, to those that offer dynamic pricing, the ability to upsell or cross-sell items, or use promotional or discount codes. Knowing the range of options and matching them to an activity or resort’s optimum business need helps maximize business revenue over time.
- Point of Sale (POS) – POS software, a software many resorts and attractions rely on, was originally “designed to streamline retail operations and process payments, including card payments, cash payments, and payments made using mobile wallets.” POS has evolved further now to link up with wider company data, which can then be used by other components of the stack. Many POS today are still of the legacy type.
- Channel Manager (CM) – When activities and resorts sell through third parties such as online travel agencies (OTAs) or ticket aggregators, these are called “channels” or distribution partners. A Channel Manager allows the operator to manage and control all of these channels from one central point instead of having to log into dozens or hundreds of individual partner’s extranets.
How Software Stacks Have Helped Other Travel Sectors
The modern software stack can flex so easily because it exists in the cloud. For the operator, this means they do not have to worry about server size, capacity, speed, or security. They do not have to worry about software maintenance. They do not need to staff up as much in IT support. When a software solution exists in the cloud, it’s the software provider who has to worry about all of these matters. It allows the operator to focus on what they are offering their guests, while the software company focuses on providing and constantly improving the solutions their clientele seek.
To understand this better, just look at some other sectors of travel that have been utilizing modern software stacks for a while.
Hotels have been using modern software stacks for about a half-dozen years now. Their stacks may be comprised of Property Management Systems (PMS), booking engines, Channel Manager, staff collaboration tools, sales and catering software, concierge software, housekeeping management software, CMS, marketing software, guest relations (pre-arrival and in-stay communications, loyalty management, and feedback software), and revenue management, as well as analytics and other business intelligence (BI) software.
Originally, hoteliers began using stacks after realizing that they needed more specialized systems, with features that legacy systems couldn’t provide. While they touched every part of the business, one-size-fits-all platforms did not do anything particularly well. The number of software options was growing (estimates place growth between 87% and 93% in the years between 2014 to 2016), and the operational areas in which they benefited the hoteliers kept expanding as well.
When flexible SaaS-based stack software solutions came along, they further simplified what the operator had to do, i.e. less installation, less maintenance, and a decision-making process that didn’t need to involve everyone at an organization. SaaS stacks provided a welcome relief to hotel operators who then began to test and adopt them to replace their legacy systems.
Other Travel and Hospitality Sectors
Almost every sector of travel and hospitality has now begun to adopt modern, cloud-based software stacks — from airlines to car rental companies to destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to restaurants and dining establishments. Some of these changes were accelerated or even forced by the pandemic (think about how many restaurateurs had to suddenly also provide take-out dining services or how many businesses wanted contactless check-in for their guests, for example).
Early adopters saw the writing on the wall as they sought to streamline operations and create efficiencies.
The Activities and Attractions sector has primarily been on the downside of the adoption bell curve. Many are only now considering utilizing a modern software stack, and decision-making can be challenging.
Tips and Tricks for Operators When Considering a Modern Software Stack
With so many technology options out there today, activity or resort operators can find themselves overwhelmed. Which technologies do they need? Do they need to find a single solution or shape a stack out of several solution providers? How do they begin the process, and where does it end? What about costs, benefits, and ROI?
Defining Technology Needs
An operator needs to define what kind of technology the business really needs to advance itself and improve business operations and the guest experience. Consider these questions before beginning the software search:
- What are the overall business goals for the years ahead? Do these need to be broken down further by departmental goals as well?
- What technology does the business already utilize?
- How well do those technologies serve the business currently? Which really make things easier and better or faster and which are still there because it feels too painful to move away from?
- Ask staff to rate the current tools in terms of preference and frequency of use
- Ask staff to rate the current tools in terms of preference and frequency of use
- How well do the current technologies communicate with one another? Is data kept in silos or readily accessible across various platforms and users?
- Are there any gaps? Any technologies that everyone wishes the business had already but doesn’t? And in what areas of operations do those gaps live?
- What does software upkeep entail? How much work is required by employees to maintain it versus how much is “baked into” the software solution or license?
- How secure is the technology? Who is responsible for maintaining that security?
- Once these questions have been answered, a clearer picture of the business needs and priorities should then be evident. That’s when the software evaluation process can begin.
Criteria to Evaluate Software Technology
- Demo and/or Trial – When considering a new technology, it should be available to demo or use on a trial basis. It’s an important step in really getting a feel for the use and value of the solution.
- Ease of Use – The term “user-friendly” does not just apply to consumers using websites. Modern software today gets developed with the user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) in mind.
- Integration/Interoperability with other software – The whole of a “stack” is that all the parts can work together. Any software under consideration should easily integrate with the other critical components in the stack.
- Implementation, Onboarding and Support – How long should the team expect implementation to take and what kind of support will the software company provide? How is support provided thereafter?
- Innovation and Improvement – How often does the software issue feature enhancements and upgrades? What’s their track record?
With so many options out there, it’s also easy to get caught up in analysis paralysis, especially if trying to find a “Goldilocks” solution.
It just may happen that a single solution may not provide everything that’s a priority or provide it well. But staying the course with a legacy system mainly because a decision cannot be made to migrate to more modern solutions is also a mistake. Focus on the years ahead and choose solutions that strongly meet the criteria required.
Catalate is a full-service SaaS solution that offers customized pricing strategies, an e-commerce platform, and opportunities for enhanced distribution. It has processed more than $1 billion in transactions and manages 50 million price points for customers. Get in touch today.