Online Reservation Systems
In the competitive Florida fishing charter industry, companies are finding themselves looking for that competitive edge more and more . One of the greatest elements any website can have, and in the fishing industry in particular, is an immediate “call to action” on your website. Online reservation systems accomplish just that. However, not all systems are the same, and when it comes to additional aspects like website visitor retention, SEO, and ROI – Nothing beats the system developed by Big Time Bookings. I will detail how the system works and what makes it the best in this article.
Who needs one?
Of course on this site we have dedicated ourselves to fishing charter companies, in Florida in particular. However, this system works for any fishing, hunting, touring, or any business where the business model relies on customers paying for allotted amounts of time to utilize your services when capacity and dates available are a concern. In short, anyone who takes reservations.
How does it work?
The online reservation system is a robust bundle of tools neatly packed into a user friendly backend management system that is fully mobile responsive. The system undergoes an initial setup of the charter companies offerings, time frames, and dates/times available. In regards to the set up, the system can handle any amount of offerings, Captains, or boats. Once these are setup, the smart management software takes over and controls every aspect of the reservation process.
On the front end, the reservation system user interface is embedded directly on your site. Users step through a process of choosing a date, choosing a charter, choosing a time frame (1/2 day, full day, etc.), and finally making a deposit. Once the charter has been reserved, that portion of the day is blocked out. If that reservation was a partial day, the system knows that you still have a partial day left and will leave open that spot. For example, if a customer reserves a 1/2 day p.m. trip, and you have both 1/2 day a.m. and p.m. – the system will block the p.m. slot, but leave open the a.m. slot for the next customer. Now let’s say you also offer full day trips in conjunction with the partial days, the system also now knows the full day offering must be blocked, but would leave open a night trip if you offered those.
The system also manages automated emails to the client both before and after the charter. These emails can be customized by the charter Captain and edited at any time. These can include preparation notes, thank you’s, confirmations, payment requests, or even requests for a post charter review on a site like Trip Advisor. This is all automated, and the Captain can now continue doing what he loves without having to stop and manage all of these things. And even if this is not something you are doing now (which I guarantee is due to time and energy – and that is completely understandable), the inclusion of this reservation system on your site just added it all for you, without you lifting an extra finger!
When a charter is made, the Captain is notified via email and the system adds the charter to the dashboard reservations screen. You can also instruct the system how many days prior the reservation can be made. This will stop charter reservations being made at midnight the day before, for example. You set this time. And, if your concern is that you might lose a short notice charter because of this, the system has that covered too. The user is instructed to call first and get a password to make the short notice reservation. If you talk to the client and approve, you simply give them the predetermined password you created during the initial setup, and they can reserve the short notice charter. You can fully view and manage all of your reservations right from the dashboard – you can finally ditch the notepad.
On the Customer End
On the user side of the system the customer is guided through your website in a logical flow (if the site was built correctly) that sends them first to your charter details, and once a decision for a charter type is made, they are then prompted to reserve. Upon arriving at the reservations page, the client enters the required choices and information, and commits with a deposit. When this system is incorporated on a website that utilizes online marketing, users not only find your business, but commit to your services all in one shot. The video below shows how a user can go from desktop, to search, to information, and finally to a committed booking – in all of 90 seconds.
How does it compare?
Here is where some of the most important aspects of this system blows the doors off the alternatives. Alternatives include one of two things – The charter company utilizing a reservation site offered by a 3rd party directory style website or a system that starts on your website, but then sends the client away to make the reservation. Both of these methods, in themselves, will do nothing for your site and its presence in search, but I will get into that later – however, this is hugely important.
Problems with 3rd Party Sites
3rd party sites offering reservations for fishing charter companies are basically directories with a date chooser and deposit collection. These sites do not integrate with the charter site in anyway – other than mention of the company name and possibly a link. Why does this matter? First and foremost, ask yourself – “When this client returns, where will they go? To me, or back to the 3rd party site?” The issue with going back to the 3rd party site is that the odds of the client finding you again is very low. This is due to the fact that these sites list every business in your area. So basically, you are jumbled in with your competition. When the client is not first introduced to your site and your branding, your brand recognition falters.
Also, most of these sites encourage you to link to them from your site. In this, even if you are getting traffic to your site, you are sending not only that user, but that search juice right to the 3rd party site. This sends your potential client to a list of competitors where they can now change their mind, they no longer feel like they are doing business with you, and ranks that 3rd party site (with all of your competition) in search. That is good for them, not for you.
Problems with Users Being Sent Off Site
So, in the next category of systems is the one that starts on your site, but the final commitment takes place elsewhere. Just as mentioned above, this means the user is no longer connected to your site and they are plugged in to all of your competitors. How this differs from being around competitors in search is that you have just inadvertently told that user that you trust that off site resource. So now the user trusts that any of these companies must be just as good, and now you have sent the user to a new shopping ground- where you can get lost in the fray.
The argument might be that that system is taking the user to a personalized page, and I am sure it is. BUT – is their menu and search bar not right there? Do they have “platinum” level advertisers with banners on your page? Or, do they say, “If you were good they’d come back.” But the real question is; Are they dedicated to your turn around, or just any turn around? They are commission based, that user will be providing its share of commission in any case, and that site could care less under which “face” it came from. Again, in this scenario, once the user goes off site – they are no longer doing business with you.
In all of those examples, when you do good they do good. That’s because for every charter, they take a commission right off the top. If you are doing 20 charters a month, how much are you giving away? Or worse, if you are just starting, and every precious penny counts – can you afford to be dumping this portion of your income? Is the solution to raise your rates to cover this? And now, are you forced out of the ballpark with your pricing versus your competitors in search. Or do you just eat it? Well, none of those answers are good ones. Much worse ae listing sites that are non commissioned based, but charge some incredible monthly amount and lock you in for 12 months at a time- to be shoved into a directory format where again you are not the one who the user is shopping with. Nothing there makes you stand out, unless of course – you pay them even more to be “featured.”
Compared to Big Time Bookings (BTB)
So, let’s talk how BTB has solved all of those issues. First and foremost – the user stays with you. When a user lands on your site, likes what they see, and wants to do a booking – Boom! Conversion on the spot. Since the reservation system is an embedded interface, even the SSL (security certificate) for the online transaction is already covered for you by the system. And now, you just stood out from the crowd with a new level of professionalism by being the company with their own reservation system onsite. The reservation interface is not branded with your competition or links to them. You are now in total control from the moment the client reserves to the moment you meet at the ramp. You get the deposit in full in your account from the jump. Your client gets confirmation emails from you. Your client never left your site. Your client will remember where to go back to for their repeat business.
Now the costs. To recap, the other services available escalate with you – I’m sure they love that. But what if a system could be affordable and flat rate, all while not locking you into contracts? If you make one charter a month, you can still afford it. If you make 100 charters a month, the cost doesn’t change. Right now, BTB will let you go ahead and try it for nothing.. like nothing – with no strings. After you get used to the system, and your free window is over – you’re talking 50 bucks a month. Think about this, if the system gave you one full day charter a month, for most of you, that covers the system for nearly a full year. If you look at it that way, that system is taking charters, managing your clients, keeping in contact with them, and managing your schedule for nothing the rest of the year.. Now remember how the 3rd party guys are set up, they never stop charging when you get charters. Even if they are not charging on (God forbid) a month where you received no charters, how much are you shelling out a year? I guarantee, way more than 50 bucks a month in total. With the BTB reservation system, you can actually plan your budget and know what to expect, you can take care of it right off for the year – and not look back.
I know, the 3rd party site also told you they are paying for PPC advertising. Ask how many of those are linking directly to your profile. None. So, if you find that the extra costs of a 3rd party site is worth it just for this, why not just go ahead and save that extra money and run your own PPC campaign right to your own site? Or better yet, use it to run your own search marketing campaign where the results will last longer than your budget?
Important Notes on SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
This system in itself is best utilized with an effective fishing marketing campaign. This is because you are optimizing your own website for user traffic by means of both organic search via SEO and utilizing PPC advertising. When this rush of traffic comes in, the final call to action is right on your site – 24/7. It can be midnight, you can just have dropped your phone overboard, you might be at the bar and grill, or your kid’s game – the system is working for you.
Now to directly address a major factor in SEO that you are also missing when you utilize offsite services – is user engagement. User engagement is how long and how much a user stays and utilizes your site. When you have a complete system on board, you have just created a lot of engagement on your site. Google pays a lot of attention to this, and when your site is self contained from beginning to end, you reap all of those benefits. If you are utilizing a 3rd party offsite system, you are handing that benefit right to them – and again, your competition.
I’ll be honest, every time I explore the BTB system dashboard, I find more and more customizable features and tools. As a matter of fact, it is so diverse that someone with some ability in the system can truly create custom functions that will enhance your business and the user experience. That said, the main fishing charter reservation system features include support/training, ease of shopping and conversion, gift certificate functionality, reservation management, and the ability to directly take deposits. Add to this items like customized automated emails before and after the charter, the end to double bookings, and a true call to action on your site – you really can’t find a more effective and complete reservation system where the fishing charter business is truly kept in mind.
Support starts on day 1. The team will work with you to set up the system as required for your business. This means setting up what trips you offer, time frames, costs, business days available, the automated emails, deposit system credentials and settings, gift certificate customization, and installation on your site. This is then followed by training that shows you how to utilize the reservation management interface, your users, edit charters, and more.
Example Training Video:
When a customer shops your site for a fishing charter this is the real meat and potatoes of the system’s effectiveness. After the user has explored the options on your site and learned about you, they will be ready to reserve. Your appointment desk will be open 24/7. No more customer calls to check your availability, and no more phone tag. Your customers will love the convenience, and you’ll love the freedom from your phone.
The system includes gift certificate functionality as a built in standard. This will allow users to buy a gift certificate for someone else. They can choose to pay the deposit, the full charter, or any amount towards a charter for someone else as a gift. Once purchased, a gift certificate that is branded with your business logo will be sent to the user. They can offer the gift certificate to whom it was intended, and now the recipient can conveniently choose a date and trip that fits them best right on your site. It’s a flexible gift that means more sales for you. You can see the gift certificate entry field on the reservation interface screenshot below. This is also just another feature that you will not find on 3rd party offsite reservation system service providers – What are you paying them for again?
The reservation interface is simple and intuitive. The user starts at the top by selecting the desired date. The calendar shows what days and time slots are available. The user simply clicks on the date they would like to go. They select an offering, which is your charter types that were explained within your site. They then choose the available time slot. They input the number of passengers. That can also be setup to count children and elderly if you choose. They put in their basic contact details. If they have a gift certificate, they insert the redemption code, and then click “Checkout.” At this point they are prompted to pay the deposit, which is also set by you. Once complete, they receive a custom confirmation email and you get an email notification. They are then added to your reservation dashboard and that time slot is labeled as full (unless you have more Captains and boats, the system will leave enough spots open to cover all of your offerings depending on your business structure and setup).
The payment portion is covered by integration with the Stripe payment processor system. Stripe is free to sign up for and charges fees relative to the most common service providers. The reservation system will allow you to collect a convenience fee if you choose to do so. Users will be accustomed to this as all of the popular online reservations systems utilized today also include various fees. For instance, rental car and hotel companies. The deposit is then transferred to your account, usually within 2-3 days. An important note for Stripe, the very first time it is used it has a longer wait time for deposit. I recommend going ahead and manually charging yourself a few bucks to get over the wait before your first charter.
More Fishing Charters
This system will get you more charters per year. As mentioned earlier in this article, even just 1 full day charter can cover the costs for the entire year. How it does this is by that onsite call to action. Today’s internet users are used to service automation, specifically when it comes to reservations. When they are shopping via Google search, you will stand out from the crowd just by having this on your site. It offers a level of legitimacy to your fishing charter business, and puts the user at ease in the sense that they are doing business with just you.
After hours Reservations
Sometimes your phone can ring at crazy hours and inopportune times. Even though a certain percentage of potential clients will still want to talk with you before making a charter, most users will find that having the ability to confirm their charter for a specific date at anytime they want is extremely convenient. The dreaded “missed call” is a thing of the past with this system. And since the system automates your reservation management, there will be no double bookings. You can wake up to a charter reserved and deposit enroute on any given night.
Your clients will return. You stood out from the crowd, you offered an excellent trip, and they remembered the ease of working with you directly. The pre charter emails and follow up emails from the system kept them engaged, all while maintaining your branding and keeping them “in house.” 3rd party off site systems just cannot provide that. You have a digital record of all of your charter clients, and can utilize that information to offer them specials or discounts directly. It’s that personal approach that you will convey that will set you apart. All of this, while reducing your overall business workload.
Where to Get It
Big Time Bookings
M-F 8a-8p Eastern
Website: Online Reservation System
Facebook: BTB on Facebook