Are you ready for inbound bookings?
Successfully working in the international market requires procedures to be in place to support the international distribution process from the time of booking, through to the visitor’s arrival and post visit.
The inbound booking process
When a customer buys your product from a travel agent in their home country, they set in motion a sales process that involves a retail agent and wholesaler based overseas making a booking request via your Inbound Tour Operator (ITO) to your product. There are several variations of how this system works, with the increasing amount of crossover roles.
Your role in a typical inbound booking:
- International visitor visits and books with a retail travel agent based overseas
- The retail travel agent sends the booking request to the wholesaler, also based overseas. The wholesaler sends it on to their Australian ITO, which sends it to your business.
- You quickly confirm the booking, and this is communicated back up the chain to the customer, who is issued a booking code or travel voucher to present to your staff on arrival.
- Your staff welcome the customer, collect the booking code or voucher and you send an invoice to the ITO.
From the initial booking enquiry to the confirmation of service, to welcoming the customer and the post visit invoice - with these systems and procedures properly in place you’ll be equipped to handle an inbound booking professionally.
Revisit the commission breakdown through distribution channels via the Commissions section in How to sell products to international visitors.
Inbound bookings - operational processes
You need to have systems, processing and training in place to ensure you can not only effectively manage bookings and enquiries from the international travel trade, but also ensure that you are delivering on the ground when the customer arrives.
Consider the elements a visitor economy business would need to have in place to ensure this booking process runs smoothly.
What should I have in place?
Booking and pre-arrival
- Clear rate contracts in place with trade partners that set out your terms of trade including booking and payment conditions. See Tools for the Trade for details on preparing these.
- Ability to turn around booking and quotation queries as quickly as possible, preferably in less than 6 hours.
- Booking confirmation templates to streamline responses and ensure you receive any required guest information.
- Availability of a current inventory of product, to quickly confirm a booking (or offer an alternative time if at capacity). Alternatively, the business may have a free-sale policy in place, meaning the travel trade buyer does not need to confirm the booking before making a sale. This works well for larger attractions and museums unlikely to reach full capacity on a given day.
- Training of reservation staff to ensure they understand rate structures and who is contracted at what rate.
- A payment system should be in place, in order to accept trade bookings on credit terms and follow up with an invoice. This includes a credit application and approval process to vet your ITO partners before extending them credit.
On arrival and during the visit
- A record of who is booked in each day (e.g. a passenger manifest) to ensure that staff know who is arriving.
- It is essential that the staff who greet the prepaid inbound guests on arrival understand about accepting booking codes or vouchers. This will avoid embarrassment and confusion.
- Staff have undertaken cultural awareness training and understand the needs of your international visitors.
- A complaint management processes, so if a complaint does arise your staff know how to manage it. With inbound visitors it is important that the process also involves advising the ITO of the complaint and resolution.
After the visit
- Recording and reporting to keep track of where your business is coming from. Report back to your ITOs and thank them for the business that they send you.
- A record of ITO accounts contacts for invoicing (different to the sales contact), the nett rates agreed to and the rate validity dates.
- Accounting processes, which consider cash flow. In the traditional distribution system, payments must flow from the retail agent to the wholesaler and to the ITO before you receive it.
- Debt recovery processes. In the event that a supplier doesn’t pay their bills, you need to have a process in place to recover the money.
The administrative processes around booking, payment and invoicing; the legal terms of your sales partnership and training your customer-facing staff are all important operational aspects to address before you start developing your inbound business.
Consider these processes and have your systems in place to ensure you are delivering a professional product and client services at all levels. Continuously review your process to make sure they are working effectively particularly as your inbound business grows.