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Why and How to Build an Automated Travel System in 2022

August 30, 2019

Are you looking for ways to modernize and grow your online travel business? Contemplating a travel startup emphasizing automated operations? Wondering what it takes to build automated travel software? If yes, you are in the right place. Our team has deep experience in travel software development, so we will cover everything in detail in this guide. And if you have any questions, please contact us.

Businesses in the travel industry, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, live a tough life. The competition is fierce while the consumers’ expectations are ever-growing. Giant booking platforms dominate the online travel agency (OTA) market. Niche agencies survive if they manage to access the best deals, reach new customers, offer unique services, and cut costs.

 

 

Smaller businesses and startups can succeed only if their digital infrastructure promotes higher efficiency or provides a better customer experience than competitors do. Custom automated travel software, such as back-office systems for travel agencies, hotel property management, and reservation apps, can grant them total control and the ability to innovate and tweak the functionalities as required by their unique business needs.

 

This is where big data and robotic process automation (RPA) can make a difference. People generate incredible amounts of valuable data while searching for destinations, flights, tours, rentals, etc. RPAs can be used across websites, social networks, email services, enterprise productivity software, and databases.

 

Two types of automation can be distinguished:

 

1. Rule-based automation. Rule-based travel and tour systems involve human-crafted or curated rule sets, such as what data to collect, where to save files, when to launch, etc.

 

2. Cognitive automation. This method involves independent, self-learning digital workers that can recognize human speech, handwriting, images, data patterns, etc., analyze them, and generate data-driven forecasts.

 

Automation often comes in the form of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data mining algorithms, and other cutting-edge technology. Even small travel agencies, hoteliers, or tour operators can leverage these technologies to enhance their existing systems or create a custom automated travel system from scratch.

 

Alternatively, a startup can develop an automated system for travel companies and market it as an innovative service (SaaS) that streamlines their business processes as much as possible. They might emerge as a new leader while others come to their senses.

 

The sooner travel businesses implement back-office automation and other innovations, the higher their odds of success. 

 

This article explains how to build an automated travel system by focusing on functionalities that best promote process automation. If you are still not convinced, here is a breakdown of its benefits for travel businesses in general.

 

Read Also: Travel agency startup costs

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Main Benefits of an Automated Travel System Implementation

 

1. Faster sales

Immediacy and urgency are critical in travel sales. A system for travel agencies and tour operators can automate and speed up reservation management, creation of tours and complex travel packages or groups, booking of travel products from third-party suppliers and global distribution systems, communication with suppliers, etc. 

 

Customers send requests to several travel agencies, and sales automation features help respond to clients’ inquiries faster.

 

Imagine you’ve received an inquiry consisting of three items: accommodation, transfer, and a one-day tour. Having all the information about the inquiry and customer in one system, travel agents can start creating a quote immediately. 

 

The software quickly searches for the necessary travel products in the company’s inventory or checks the offerings of all international providers available on the product search interface without logging into each one’s system. Access to the latest special deals and packages instantly makes the offer more competitive. Inquiries are automatically emailed to suppliers, and upon their confirmation, the customers would automatically receive quotes and itineraries and the suppliers – confirmations.

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An automated travel system calculates all prices, discounts, and special offers and enables invoice generation and processing virtually without any human intervention. Once the customer confirms your booking, the software will automatically create and send them an invoice and voucher.

 

2. More sales

If a business takes inquiries only during working hours, it loses many potential clients. Automated communication systems can reply to customers 24/7.

 

Faster quoting with appealing tailored travel itineraries increases conversion rates. Specialized travel software facilitates simultaneous sending of multiple product offers and the creation of coupon codes, early booking discounts, special and last-minute offers.

 

Instead of reaching out to each potential customer separately, specialized travel software allows for fast and error-free automated email communication from within its interface. An automated series of customized emails can increase the inquiry-to-booking conversion rate. The number of reservations that employees can manage may rise tenfold.

 

Integration of a website with Google Analytics or Facebook Pixel may help retarget visitors for additional bookings. Businesses can identify the best-performing website traffic segments, create similar audiences, and run highly targeted marketing campaigns.

 

Modern travel systems can automatically send travel info to customers, collect their feedback, and help conduct loyalty programs to stimulate more purchases. For example, the sales team can configure sending follow-up emails every few days or upselling emails based on a customer’s purchase history a few days before a trip, further boosting sales.

 

3. Happier customers

Access to high-quality travel products at the best prices worldwide, personalized offers, recommendations, and other abilities powered by automation foster the consumers’ freedom and control over their trips and expenses.

 

Travelers may be synced with newsletter software to receive updates about disruptions, news, or promotions. The system may automatically request customer reviews, e.g., after they’ve checked out of a hotel, and generate reports to help improve offers and services. 

 

When automation helps a travel company’s employees perform their tasks easier and faster, they can better serve more customers and solve queries and problems more effectively.

 

4. More productive employees

Machines can carry out high-volume and repetitive tasks quicker and more accurately than humans. Machine searching, data collation, and analysis save the employees’ time on the initial tasks and minimize errors and inaccuracies. 

 

For example, machines rapidly process large amounts of data and present key performance indicators (KPIs) in readable formats. Business and employee performance reports help the management improve productivity and efficiency and reward and motivate employees. 

 

In automated sales and operations workflows, lots of communication with customers and suppliers occurs via automatic inquiry emails, invoices, reminders, alerts, etc., freeing up human resources for more meaningful and creative tasks.

 

5. Increased efficiency

 Automated travel systems facilitate the ordering process, inventory management, role assignments, and creation of rooming, transfer, bus, and flight lists. Employees can handle more leads and bookings thanks to automated communications and sales operations. Companies thus can do more business with the same staff.

 

Travel business software can provide an instant overview of all booked products and assigned and unassigned reservations, identify unconfirmed reservations, automatically assign reservations to specific employees and notify them instantly, and track their status. Availability reports help prevent overbooking or signal when additional inventory is needed. 

 

Automated accounting processes also increase efficiency. Modern software makes verifying suppliers’ invoices and tracking invoices and payments easier. For example, it may generate invoices both for each customer listed on a reservation and in batches, simultaneously for several reservations. Automatic reminders sent to customers accelerate payments. Import of payments automatically linked to reservations from bank accounts will save time.

 

Besides these primary benefits, we should also mention:

 

Money-saving. This results from the advantages mentioned above, e.g., automatic data collation, mining, and analysis or supplier inquiry and confirmation process. Accurate reports on nearly all performance KPIs empower the management to reduce costs. Smart automation results in cost savings of 40-75%.

 

Centralized data and documentation. For instance, proper travel ERP software automatically tracks all relevant client information, empowering companies to create in-depth customer profiles. It’s especially important with corporate clients. Read Also: ERP business software solutions

 

Reduction of errors and risks. In operations with minimal to zero human intervention, the error rate comes to nothing and nearly eliminates the risk of situations like overbooking.

 

Greater online visibility. For example, automating your marketing processes can boost traffic to a business’ website, potentially increasing sales.

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These are just a few reasons to purchase or develop an automated travel solution. If you are interested in the latter scenario, it’s crucial to understand what functionalities are essential to a travel business software and what parts can be automated.

 

Read more: How to Create a Booking Website for a Tourism Business

 

Key Features of Automated Travel Systems

The essential features of a travel agency software include:

 

  • Online booking service for travelers
  • Booking and reservation software for travel business employees
  • Inventory management, reservation, and tour building tools
  • Customer relationship and marketing management system
  • Billing, invoicing, and accounting software
  • Customer support 
  • Content management system
  • Performance management functionality
  • Reporting features

 

You can learn more about each of the features from our article about a travel agency’s needs. Now, let us concentrate on those aspects that can be automated in an internal solution or SaaS.

 

Search and pricing rules

Behind an OTA’s web and mobile pages with search, listings, and booking functionalities, price aggregators should instantly offer visitors the best available flight, hotel, tour, and other travel product prices. A travel booking engine connects to suppliers via travel APIs, receives the necessary information, processes it, and displays exactly what the business wants to show on the search results page.

 

Booking engines can be programmed to show search results favorably using search rules. They dictate what products from what suppliers at what price and to what users to show. AI can help predict who will pay more under certain circumstances. 

 

Pricing rules allow businesses to always choose the most profitable pricing considering multiple factors, such as season, suppliers, customer acquisition sources, etc.

 

Self-learning ML tools can also predict fluctuations, e.g., in hotel pricing and room availability, using historical data, seasonal trends, current demand, competition, weather forecasts, special offers from airlines, and other factors. It’s also possible to identify the best destination pairs and the most profitable routes. Automated price tracking software also helps gain market intelligence for dynamic pricing. All of this allows adjusting the prices to increase revenue automatically.

 

A commission rules engine automatically calculates commission and then the final booking price. OTAs write commission rules depending on multiple factors. For example, they can set a larger commission ahead of high season or popular events. Customers with more complex itineraries can get a discount. It’s also reasonable to cut the commission for users on the metasearch website and raise it when they come directly to your automated travel website. OTAs can use analytics, tweak rules, or configure the engine to deliver the best deals consistently.

 

Customer-facing booking and reservation software

Consumers like it when online services remember their preferences and personalize their bookings with add-ons. AI-powered engines help address these customer needs and customize offerings using various data, such as

 

  • Metadata (location, browser, device, referral source, etc.)
  • Behavioral data (previous bookings, searches, subscriptions, and other online activities)
  • A detailed history of purchases and preferences
  • Social media data (ratings, customer feedback, shared photos, comments, geo-tagged locations, etc.)

 

Modern software can create user segment types based on their role, location, behavioral patterns, and other factors and automatically adapt interfaces, layouts, feeds, and other website elements to different user groups’ needs.

 

More cases of process travel automation involve bots:

 

  • Chatbots, AI-based assistants, can guide visitors throughout the search and booking journey.
  • These assistants can be integrated into Slack, Telegram, or Facebook Messenger. For example, they can use input data, customer-specific info, and other external factors to recommend the best flights, check room availability, provide travel ideas, update customers about booking status and flight schedules, etc.

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Booking office for the employees

Instead of creating a reservation from scratch, travel agents can use templates for similar reservations. The system will then calculate the net prices based on component costs, add a margin, and produce the selling price.

 

Travel software can be programmed to fill out auto-filling forms. For example, passenger name records (PNR) hold passengers’ names and contact and ticket details. RPA bots can enter and update PNR information for travel agents quickly and accurately. 

 

RPA software can also check document accuracy, verify signatures in uploaded scanned documents, and automate approval or rejection recommendations. 

 

Tour and itinerary building

Travel and tourism management software should enable a tour company to respond to incoming customer requests 24/7, automatically analyzing the details and comments submitted by users, gathering the requested information, and creating proposals with a personal touch. 

 

Tour planning software helps create a package, tour, or group itinerary by combining components previously made in the travel system and automatically extracting photos and descriptions. It should also allow for dynamic generation of packaged tours, validating dates, opening hours, and other important info, and calculating tour prices in the background.

 

Customer service

Travelers often demand instantaneous advice and support. Many apps and websites offer chatbots that provide automated answers to general queries. AI helps reduce  average response time to minutes, effectively substituting travel agents. 

 

Advanced algorithms can process weather forecasts and info from carriers to help predict disruptions, such as flight delays, and anticipate extra services for their clients. This information can be automatically sent to travelers and companies so they can plan alternative routes or check for available hotels to spend the night. Up-to-the-minute risk reports and GPS tracking systems also enable better communication between travel companies and customers. It’s possible to use AI and ML in conjunction with trackers to plan regular services.

 

You can get client feedback through automated emailing to find out what they liked and what your business needs to improve on.

 

Customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing systems

The system should capture all inquiries made via a website directly into a CRM and create lead and client profiles using data provided by visitors, such as names, desired destination, dates, number of people, etc.

 

Companies also may automate

 

  • the distribution of requests among their agents
  • classification of customers by travel-specific categories
  • order processing
  • confirmations and notifications about the main touchpoints of the booking journey via emails, SMS, and push notifications for agents and clients
  • departure and arrival notifications
  • emailing to reach potential customers
  • social media posts for each new blog published on the website
  • real-time recommendations to staff based on the guest preferences analysis
  • billing, invoicing, cancellation, issue resolution, and refunds
  • compliance reporting
  • spreadsheets updates

 

AI-powered applications can process thousands of factors to predict users’ needs, help tailor deals to a customer’s family status, goals, favorite cities and hotels, etc., and market them through the optimal channels at the right time. Analytics should help you understand what works and what doesn’t.

 

 

Natural language processing and sentimental analysis technologies can process user reviews on websites and social media to provide insights that can improve your service.

 

Billing, payment processing, and accounting

Automatic invoice generation and processing after a booking are essential. In the case of currency fluctuations, the software would automatically calculate the difference and charge the customer for it a few days before the trip. You can also set due dates and automatic payment rules for supplier invoices, preventing delays and improving relationships with vendors.

 

RPA software can track down and notify businesses about malicious data patterns and evaluate transactions to detect illicit activity, reducing chargebacks.

 

Content management system (CMS)

Travel portals need to automate the creation, organization, and management of their content. RPA software also helps moderate content, e.g., identifying inappropriate images and texts.

 

Reports

Bots can provide customer insights and analytics from social media, company websites, booking websites, and top destination pages, classifying them based on demographics, average spend per annum, and other criteria.

 

The software should automate the needs to sort through your organization’s data, clean it up, and present the findings via instant reports and spreadsheets to various departments.

 

Besides sales and growth trends, bots can track competitors and their strategies and alert you when they change their prices. 

 

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Tech Stack for Automated Travel System Development 

It’s possible to build an automated travel software using a variety of programming languages, frameworks, libraries, and integrations. The list of options includes, but is not limited to:

 

Front-end programming languages: JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, TypeScript

 

Frameworks: Angular, React.js, Vue, RichFaces JSF, Apollo, NextJS, JSF, Rebass, Jest, JQuery, Entity Framework, Kendo

 

Back-end programming languages: PHP, Node.js, Java, Ruby, Python, C#

 

Frameworks: Ruby on Rails, Spring, ActiveAdmin, Hibernate, Laravel, CakePHP, Django, Node.js, Meteor.js, Flask, Express.js, .NET, ASP.NET, Micronaut, gRPC, RxJava, CloudCMS

 

Cloud storage: Amazon S3, Google Cloud Storage, Azure Storage

 

Cloud hosting: Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Heroku

 

Automation frameworks: RSpec, Capybara, PhantomJS, Selenium

 

SQL data storage: PostgreSQL, MySQL

 

Key-value/data storage: Redis, Memcached

 

Web server: Nginx, Apache

 

Cloud-native platforms: MongoDB, AWS DynamoDB

 

Native mobile app: Kotlin or Swift

 

Cross-platform mobile app: Flutter, React Native

 

Global payment s: PayPal, Braintree, Stripe, Adyen 

 

Messaging and communication: Twilio, Vero, MailChimp, SendGrid, Intercom

 

Other integrations: WordPress, Sentry.io, Skylight

 

Estimated Cost of Developing an Automated Travel System

One can calculate the cost of travel software development by multiplying the time required to deliver the listed features of automated travel systems by the man/hour cost.

 

However, even these two variables are tricky to project because too many factors can impact them, such as:

 

  • the number of desired functionalities
  • the technical complexity of the features and their automation
  • the number of platforms and devices the system is designed for
  • app architecture solutions
  • technology choices
  • whether licensed APIs and third-party services are used
  • any set deadline
  • the number of specialists on the development team
  • their salaries or hourly rates of the outsourcing partner 
  • cooperation model
  • location and qualification of the developers…

 

…and more. For instance, a development team for such projects may include:

 

  • 1 UX/UI designer
  • 1 product architect
  • 2 or 3 programmers, with at least one senior developer 
  • 1- 2 QA engineers
  • 1 project manager

 

Here’s Onix’s rough estimate of a mid-range OTA project.

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The developers’ salaries strongly determine the cost of developing an automated travel system. The broad range of fees charged by IT professionals worldwide, also varying from vendor to vendor, enables entrepreneurs to cut costs by outsourcing their software development.

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Source: Accelerance

 

Asia much cheaper than in the US without compromising the quality. For instance, the same set of features built by the same number of specialists of like qualifications might cost $255K in the US and $85K in Ukraine.

 

Challenges to Automated Travel System Development

 

Data dependency

For example, AI needs large amounts of data to generate actionable insights, which may be problematic for smaller businesses. Collecting sufficient data sets for ML may take months. They also need a reliable and secure platform to collect and analyze large volumes of data from different sources, e.g., social media and review platforms. 

 

Third-party restrictions

 Some data aggregation APIs prohibit agencies from analyzing data. A custom data processing platform may offer a solution.

 

Data security

Customers expect their financial information and personal details to be safe when making online bookings. Data leaks and violations of international security standards are fraught with huge penalties and litigations. Cybersecurity should be an essential part of your automated travel services platform from the onset. Read Also: Overview of Online Travel Fraud and Means of Its Prevention

 

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Finding the right automated travel system development team

Robotic process automation in the travel industry has certain workflow-related technicalities. The team you plan to engage must confirm their expertise both in custom travel software development and ML and AI implementation. You can test it by asking them to assess your existing systems and whether they could interfere with the rules-based and cognitive automation, or developing proof of concept for an automation case that raises most questions.

 

Onix-Systems counts over ten years of user-oriented travel software development and partnering with travel, tourism, and hospitality companies. Our team acquired a wealth of skills and knowledge of industry-specific challenges on multiple and diverse projects. We apply best practices and tech stacks to help our clients save costs and launch quickly.

 

Aside from developing end-to-end software, we can augment your existing workforce with dedicated development teams.

 

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Final Thoughts

Data science and automation profoundly affect businesses across multiple industries, from finance to construction. The changes range from how they communicate with customers to the manufacturing processes.

 

Travel agents, hoteliers, and tour operators can also automate document generation, marketing efforts, customer communication, invoicing, finances, reporting, and other processes. This automation reduces the expenses and time spent on day-to-day and periodic activities and frees up employees to spend time on more creative tasks and provide added value.

 

Automated travel systems let you efficiently manage the sales process and keep records of customers, suppliers, and travel agents. Automatic management of multiple sales channels increases sales. Early bid actions help stay competitive, and appealing itineraries win more deals. Engines can quote and invoice customers faster.

 

Sales and marketing automation tools help resell, upsell, and cross-sell travel products. Improved services and communication boost customer engagement, satisfaction, and loyalty.

 

In the ever-evolving cut-throat market, automation is essential for staying afloat. A company may leverage either an off-the-shelf software or a custom solution. In the latter case, please don’t hesitate to contact Onix.

 

Our specialists can answer any questions, advise you on implementing AI and ML-powered middleware, chatbots, custom booking systems or speech recognition tools for your particular business case, recommend a tech stack and experienced developers of automated solutions, or create a custom automated travel system from start to finish.

 

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A thousand thanks to Alex Belous, Onix’s CTO, for assistance in writing this series of posts!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

  • What are the benefits of automation in the travel industry?

An automated travel system can help a travel agency, tour provider, or hospitality business:

 

  • boost sales
  • accelerate sales and service provision
  • increase customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • improve the employees’ productivity and satisfaction
  • increase the efficiency of the key business processes
  • cut costs
  • centralize the organization’s data and documents
  • minimize risks and errors
  • enhance a business’ online presence.

 

  • What travel business processes should be automated first?

Automation is best implemented for processes that are: 

 

  • repeatable
  • not subject to frequent change
  • rules-based and have no exceptions
  • need to be error-free
  • taking a big part of the employees’ work time
  • potentially better performed by a machine than by humans

 

Some of the use cases for process automation in the tourism industry include:

 

  • pricing
  • booking and reservation request processing
  • approvals
  • answering calls and queries
  • cancellations
  • accounting
  • marketing
  • analytics

 

  • What are automated travel system examples?

Amadeus uses a data science-powered engine that identifies disruptions and helps address them promptly.

 

booking.com’s ML algorithm uses information on past purchases to suggest the best destinations and hotels and the best additional services, such as taxi or car rental.

 

Bookinglayer is a booking engine for online travel agencies that focus on camping, mountain biking, and other adventure travel. It helps automate booking processes and client management with a built-in CRM.

 

HotelTonight uses AI tools to detect signs of fraudulent activity when a user logs in.

 

Kayak automates customer support through virtual assistants on Twitter, WhatsApp, and other services.

 

LeadSquared Travel CRM, besides the CRM function, automates all marketing and sales tasks, supporting detailed reports, customized dashboards, and lead distribution based on trip location and budgets.

 

TravelWorks supports Billing Settlement Plans (BSP) by IATA and the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), offers exception reporting that automatically identifies errors, and simplifies group planning with templates.

 

Zoho’s Travel Agency CRM provides a lead capturing machine, lead classification and distribution, and quota templates to send out to customers according to a company’s rules.

 

  • How to create automated travel software?

Here are the basic recommended steps of automated travel system development:

 

  1. List the functionalities to build or improve, research and identify the processes you need to automate, determine the project requirements, and plan the budget and timeline for the implementation.
  2. If you do not have an in-house team with the necessary expertise, engage external help, such as consultants, software developers, and designers, to do the job.
  3. Create a proof of concept to validate each automation idea.
  4. Update the project specification and budget/timeline considering the automation of functionalities that proved practical and feasible.
  5. Design visually appealing and easy-to-navigate consumer-facing web pages and mobile screens and user-friendly interfaces for the OTA employees.
  6. Program and test the platform, ensuring that it is fast-loading, effective, and secure.

 

  • How much does it cost to make an automated travel system?

Travel software development costs directly depend on the number of required features, their complexity, team size, etc. For example, a version with only essential features may take ~1,700 hours. As the average hourly rate in Eastern Europe is $50 per hour, the same set of features built by the same number of specialists of like qualifications might cost $85K in Ukraine against $255K in North America or Western Europe.

Written by:
Serhii  Kholin
Serhii Kholin

COO at Onix-Systems

Effective product development. Aligning an organization's technologies to the needs of the business.

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Mila  Slesar
Mila Slesar

Writer