While software is improving the efficiency and day-to-day operations of many businesses, those that offer bookable experiences — from back-country outfitters and urban tour guides and helicopter tour companies — have largely lived without that benefit. Because the world does not need another failed consumer-facing marketplace for “amazing experiences,” Xola is taking the business-to-business route.
The San Francisco-based startup is launching today with a unified, online solution to allow service providers to manage reservations, payments, calendaring and scheduling. The idea, says founder Scott Zimmerman, is to create a solution that offers these providers the ability to add online reservations capability to any website in three steps, giving small businesses and merchants the same access that’s traditionally been reserved for larger companies.
Like any other type of productivity and business management software, Xola wants to give small providers the ability to save time, stay organized and get out of the office and into the field. In other words, to leave the back-office management to Xola so that they can get out in the field and focus on what they do best: Making sure I don’t crash and burn on my next helicopter tour.
To do so, Xola allows tour operators to accept online reservations directly through their existing websites, giving guests the ability to view realtime availability, book excursions and pay for the trip without ever leaving the tour operator’s website. The company’s integrated back office also enables operators to enter bookings that come in via the phone, as well as in person or by email, allowing businesses to maintain a single, master schedule for trips, guests guides and gear — with realtime sync of scheduling, guest details and inventory.
Online reservation systems have transformed the travel industry — look no further than Expedia and Kayak, for example — and travelers expect the convenience of being able to book online, even when it comes to small operators. What’s more, over 80 percent of consumers use the Web to search for tours and activities, Zimmerman says, but less than 30 percent of tour providers in the U.S. offer this basic capability.
That’s really the crux of it for Xola. Consumers can book flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises from thousands of sites, because they all have end-to-end booking and distribution systems that connect the point-of-sale with consumer distribution. But not small tour operators. Small providers traditionally haven’t had access to this kind of affordable platform or software, the Xola founder says.
So Xola aims to give small to medium-sized businesses that integrated platform for booking, marketing and distribution that has eluded them over the years. And, to cater better to its audience, Zimmerman says that Xola’s system lives entirely in the cloud, meaning there’s no software to install or maintain, and no downstream IT cost.
Since it first emerged out of StartX in the summer of 2012, Xola has signed on over 50 tour operators and has even received some interest from acquirers. So, to help officially get its cloud-based tools off the ground and into the hands of small businesses, Xola has raised over $1 million from investors like Michael Burry, Google Analytics co-creators Scott Crosby and Brett Crosby, Bee Partners, TEEC super angel fund, early Facebook engineer Peter Kravtsov, PARSA co-founder Noosheen Hasemi and former CTO of Yahoo Farzad Nazem, to name a few.
By bringing flexible pricing to tour guides of any size and allowing them to start accepting online reservations in a few minutes, Xola wants to help bring these businesses into the 21st century — and it thinks there’s a pretty big market out there for the provider that does it best.