How Karen Jefferson from Ahipara uses tour operator software

Ahipara is a New Zealand luxury tour operator which prides itself on putting together the most varied and exciting itineraries and experiences. They have satisfied grandparents, parents, young couples, teenagers, children, VIPs and corporates. They put together New Zealand vacation packages focused on sightseeing, on adrenaline, on discovery, on sport, on food and wine, on hunting and fishing, on helicopter touring, and so on.

Ahipara_Luxury_TravelThey produce unique itineraries and they never repeat one.

Karen was recently in Wellington for some down time and took the opportunity to catch up with the TourWriter team. She specifically caught up with our Publishing and Financial Management team but I managed to grab a few minutes to find out how her and the team at Ahipara are enjoying TourWriter.

Ahipara were a husband and wife team when they started using TourWriter over 6 years ago and now have 8 staff. I started by asking Karen how TourWriter was working out  for them?

Karen: For me personally it’s impossible for us to grow our business without TourWriter and that’s what we struggled with before we got it. We did actually try to employ various people, and each time it was like there was too much information in our minds, in particularly my partners, because it was all in his mind and what he charged people was subjective. And so even on a control basis, how many invoices we were expecting to come through, cash flow was terrible – I just don’t know how you could run a travel business of more than three people without a system, like TourWriter.

Jason: So hiring more staff wasn’t the solution having tailor made travel software providing you with a system was the solution?

Karen: Yes. You know part of my meetings these last couple of days have been to improve our efficiencies with using TourWriter. Because we’re growing rapidly at the moment we need TourWriter to be improving with us. So part of it is trying to work out ‘are we using it the best way we can?’.

Jason: And part of that was looking to use TourWriter for your publishing?

Karen: Yes. We’ve never used TourWriter for publishing because we had another program, but the problem with that is that we are cross-checking the whole time and so it creates another whole level of work and a lot more room for error, whereas if we can put it all into one system…

Jason: I’ve only been with TourWriter since we included itinerary publishing as standard so to me , it’s like ‘jump across’, it’s a big part of what TourWriter is now. So hopefully that will be good for you.

Karen: We started with TourWriter when they had the old publishing and we tried to implement that and it was just a nightmare, we just went why are we doing this? Our own system is quite smart and quite user friendly.

Jason: I’ve seen the way that you can push your itineraries onto the web as well?

Karen: Yeah, ours has a live link and then when they jump out of that it goes onto our website. So that will be nice if TourWriter can get their publishing to a point where there’s a dialog, well one that is live, and that the clients can comment on that itinerary and it be saved there. I think that would be ideal. Our website is capable of that but we don’t use our itinerary builder on the website as it’s just not user friendly. It takes too long and again you’d have two different systems.

But the other thing about TourWriter publishing is that is has to look good, that last document that they get, what you want is for them to be flicking that on to someone else. And I don’t think they’re going to do that in a PDF format, but if you’ve got a live link that while they’re travelling around the country they can upload their photos against your itinerary, that you’ve written, they’re going to use that to send back to their friends and say “hey look, keep track of what we’re doing”, and the power of that, from a marketing perspective is fantastic.

Jason: The good news is we are developing integration with both web publishing but maybe more importantly mobile app publishing so your clients can access itineraires whilst travelling. There has been a lot of work behind the scenes around how we can do this which is very exciting

So going from 3 employees would have been impossible basically without TourWriter. Obviously there are also financial benefits of having the link between the itinerary, the financials, and you’ve just been talking to Philip about accounting processes?

Karen: Yeah, TourWriter is very efficient in that regard. We export everything that’s in TourWriter, as soon as an itinerary is final we export it into Xero and it’s just sitting there waiting to be paid, so we can see our cash position at any point in time.

Jason: And do you use the supplier payment dates function to automate payments?

Karen: Not properly, we haven’t set up all the payment terms in TourWriter so when I import it into Xero it looks like I have to pay it on the day that the service is delivered. But we only pay when we get the invoice. TourWriter just gives you the ability to delegate, which is really critical. If you’ve got all your rates and suppliers there, all that information is in one place and you can build an itinerary in an email. You can tell they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that, then we just give it to a new member of staff and their just dragging the services across and then you’ve got a fully costed itinerary.

Jason: And so you do that?

Karen: Absolutely, and then from that point they’ve got the base then they take over the relationship and they fill it out. The basic where they stay, where they’re going, all comes from us. And so TourWriter will enable us to get out on that same day, a fully costed, possibly held [itinerary]… You know you’re sending one email out to 50 suppliers, if there’s a cancellation… Well the best use is actually if someone cancels because you’re holding all this accommodation in one email and you can just send out the cancellation and it’s done. Whereas before when you’ve got it in spreadsheets and emails and you’re there going…

Jason: And because the cost of the cancellations, you know the cost of quoting and not closing a sale is massive. So if you minimise the cost of your quote in the first place then…

Karen_Jefferson_AhiparaKaren: And the cost of the time. Like when you do come to cancel, if you’ve got another whole day that you’ve got to spend, then it’s just lost. When you’re at that small business stage it’s all cost and when you’ve got a business degree it’s alway spend your money and time on marketing. But when you’re actually starting up a new business you haven’t got the time to spend it on marketing.

Once you’ve got systems in place and you’ve got time to spend on marketing, you grow.

If you can’t deliver what you say you’ll deliver you might as well close down.

Thanks Karen for taking the time to talk with me. The team at TourWriter have long admired the success you have achieved in growing your business and we are glad to have played a part! We look forward to rolling out further enhancements to help with your itinerary publishing.

If you are struggling to grow your business and hiring more staff isn’t helping with profitability ask now how TourWriter can work for you.

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