Comparison of Installed and Hosted Booking Servers

By: Stephen Joyce

Stand-alone software or installed software as it is sometimes known is installed directly on a website. Generally speaking, stand-alone booking engines require an upfront license fee and require the tour operator to have access to a hosting facility, IT expertise, and the ability to install and manage the software. This means that the tour operator must have the capabilities to install the booking engine software on their own website. It is generally unlikely that a tour operator can install and configure the software themselves, in which case, they may be required to hire someone specifically to install the software or use the software developers installation service if available. The key benefit to a stand-a-lone solution is that the tour operator has complete control of their system and if the license includes access to source code, the tour operator can customize it to fit their specific needs. The biggest disadvantage of a stand-alone system is that the tour operator's products are only available from their website and cannot be distributed openly. Products, bookings, customer data, and reporting are generally stored on a single database that is only accessible through the software on one website.

In some cases the data can be accessed and integrated into other booking engines, but this may require some significant software development or integration and is usually only available to high volume tour operators. Stand-alone systems can also be very costly, requiring software, specialized hardware, and specialized skills.

In contrast, hosted solutions which are sometimes referred to as "software as a service" solutions do not require specialized hardware or software installations. Because hosted solutions are shared by many users, they are generally lower cost, although not always, and generally do not support customizations. In some cases, solution providers provide a hosted version of their stand-alone solution, however, these are quite often installations of the same stand-alone software but managed on the developers hosting environment. Quite often, software companies who provide these hosted installations charge both a one time licensing fee (same as the stand-alone installation) but then also charge a high monthly maintenance fee. In some cases, these providers also charge a commission for every sale through the system. Although some solutions, usually the very costly solutions, support distribution of products through a branded portal website, very few actually allow for the open distribution of destination products through some kind of global distribution system. In true hosted application environments, the core application is the same system used by all users of the system. The advantage to a hosted system is that changes and updates, when made live, are available to all users of the system. Each user pays a small monthly membership or subscription fee for access to a huge and often growing array of features and functions that would be too costly for any one tour operator to license.

In summary, stand-alone solutions are designed for tour operators who have very specific product management requirements that cannot be met by a hosted solution. Where hosted solutions are generally much lower in cost and offer a tremendous number of features for their cost, they tend to be less customizable and will seldom be a perfect fit for all tour operators. That said, if a tour operator is willing to adjust their business practices in order to improve their sales process, manage their inventory more effectively, and increase their revenues, then a hosted booking engine could be the perfect solution.

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