E-commerce Anyone?

AL ERRINGTON, ERRINGTON'S WILDERNESS ISLAND RESORT

The internet is the greatest marketing tool that has ever been available to our industry and e-commerce is one of the internet’s most interesting tools. E-commerce is a great tool for selling a lot of identical products. But is it applicable to the nature and outdoor tourism industry? The answer is yes but with some significant qualifiers.

The most obvious use of e-commerce is on-line reservations. For most of us, this is probably the least useful application of e-commerce.

Remember, e-commerce’s strength is in selling a lot of identical products. There is no problem setting up on-line reservations. You can either use an on-line service like Pay Pal or hire a reputable website designer to design a reservation framework as an aspect of your website. The problems relate to our need for customization of our products and product delivery. The strengths of most of our businesses are those little extras we put into a product, including our own personalities. This is very difficult to deliver through the electronic medium and very expensive to set up if you try. Product delivery becomes a problem if all of a sudden you have 2-3 parties booking the last of your 10 cabins at the same time. You either need 24 hour live inventory of your available accommodation on the internet or a buffer to lessen the likelihood of overbooking.

Where is e-commerce applicable to our businesses? What do we sell a lot of that are identical. How about fishing and hunting licenses or park permits? I have a form on my website where my guests can fill out their fishing license information and then get their license in an email. I have my staff fill out the licenses during down times. Before I started this approach, we would really get tied up filling out licenses for 30-50 guests as they came off the train. Now all they do is sign the license upon arrival and they are set to go. Although I charge the license fee to their account one could easily set up an online payment system. A thing to consider if you choose this route is that the system be reputable and secure.

There may be e-commerce opportunities as well for operators that are road-side, have a souvenir shop or restaurant and sell licenses. These operators could use on-line license or permit orders as a way to get more customers. For example, make the license or permit form and payment available on-line through your website, but have the customer visit your business to pick up the permit or license. Once the customer arrives, it only takes a few seconds to get their signature and the customer is now in your establishment and might take this opportunity to stretch their legs and browse around in your shop or sit down for a bite to eat in your restaurant.

Now how about those extra services and products we offer our guests. What about beverages or staple foods in their cabin upon arrival, tackle, or a guide for a day or two? All of these services can be available to your guests on-line allowing them to have as much of their trip planned before they arrive.

Forms on your website can definitely become an asset to your business and a convenience to your guests. But be sure to consider the amount of time that will be required on your part to maintain the site as well as how cumbersome it may be for some of your guests to use.


This article was taken from page 8 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Spring 2005 Issue

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