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Despite looking for the best online booking system, it still stands that no matter how crazy the world gets, people still need outlets to blow off steam and have fun, and there’s no better way to do that than a bit of outdoor recreation. From paddleboards to kayaks, jet-skis to flyboards, and twilight cruises to manatee tours, the great state of Florida has it all, and people will always be willing to pay for a great outdoor experience. And why not take advantage and generate income from idle rental equipment?
But as a Tour & Rental-Service-Provider, or in this article we will refer to them as rental-operators, there are only so many ways to grow your business; especially with the high level of competition all around you. So what is the #1 most important tool a rental-operator can choose to help grow his business? One word: Software.
Activity Booking Software, to be more specific. Choosing the best online booking system can save your business time and greatly increase your profits, but choosing the wrong software can result in steep learning curves, troubleshooting headaches, and more complications than you had before you implemented it.
Now, many online booking system companies will brag about all their nifty features and could talk your ear off all day about “advanced” this and “comprehensive” that, but at the end of the day there’s really only a small handful of questions that need to be answered by a rental-operator to determine if an online booking system is right for their business.
In this blog, we will go through each one of these important questions for three activity booking software platforms on the market in Florida: FareHarbor, Peek PRO, and Rockon Recreation Rentals. We chose these three because FareHarbor and Peek are currently the largest and most established in the space, and we chose Rockon because they are the most exciting up-and-coming platform that we’ve found and most likely to challenge the big boys in the near future.
Before we begin, I feel I should introduce myself. My name is Adam and I am an avid outdoor recreation enthusiast, entrepreneur, and aspiring tech writer. I have a fondness for new technology which makes life simpler, and a soft spot in my heart for small businesses (especially ones that cater to my love of the great outdoors.)
I found Rockon from a simple Google search of best online booking system and was intrigued by the company’s mission of helping small recreation rental companies compete with the big theme parks for tourist dollars by listing them all in one place and leveraging SEO technology to rank highly in popular searches.
I had to find out for myself if they were the real deal, so I did a deep dive into the activity and tour operator software space and decided to publish my findings in order to help the decision-making of rental-operators and customers alike, and try my hand at this tech writing thing, but without all the technical jargon that tends to fill up the posts of most technology comparisons.
My hope in publishing this is that someone will find all this helpful, and I hope that’s you!
Now, to the questions. We know each rental-operator or company is slightly different, but the vast majority all have roughly the same questions when it comes to utilizing a new platform:
“How will this help me, my employees, my customers, and my business overall?”
In our quest to answer this all-important question, we’ve broken it down into four unique questions to answer, that we feel best define the characteristics. Let’s dive in:
When computers were first invented, they literally took up an entire room. Then the personal computer came into fashion, but you still needed some training to know how to work one. After a few years, a little company called Apple came along and blew everyone out of the water by making computers (and eventually cell phones) intuitive and easy to use for even the least tech-savvy among us. So now, in the year 2021, we as consumers should have a reasonable expectation that any software for rental companies or technology product should be reasonably intuitive and easy for almost any user to navigate. With this lofty goal in mind, let’s take a look at each of the three platforms to see how easy they are to use.
FareHarbor was founded in 2013 in Hawaii by two brothers who saw the need for a simple and inexpensive platform that mom-and-pop rental outfits in Hawaii could use to simplify the reservation process. They have since grown to be one of the largest online booking systems in the space, famously taking on over 90% of a rival’s customers when that company shut down unexpectedly. They now operate 7 offices around the world, and were acquired by Booking Holdings in 2018.
As a user, we found their platform experience to be easy to use and work with on a demo basis, but have found some mixed reviews from long-time customers that caused a bit of concern. On the whole, however, users seem to like FareHarbor and they maintain a 4.8/5 rating on Capterra, and customers talk about their great customer service and user experience as reasons for their positive rating, but keep reading.
It does need to be said that there is a significant portion of customers who have a number of complaints about FareHarbor that should be addressed. A number of customers complained about their customer service experience, citing long hold times, failure to call back when requested, and too many issues to solve in one call. One long-time customer said he had to book a customer service call a week or two in advance, and they cut him off after 30 minutes where he had to schedule another call a week or two out.
There were also a number of customers who said various features of the software that were promised were hard to set up and some just didn’t work at all. As recently as October 2019 someone called the software a “work in progress.” There were also a number of complaints about the 3rd party waiver form software being hard to use. However, the vast majority of customers gave the company 5 stars for ease of use, so we can chalk this up to a few bugs in the system and a couple of opportunities missed for this big (and growing) company.
Peek is the other large company we are focusing on here, and they were founded in 2012 by former investment banker Ruzwana Bashir. In 2018 they raised a $23 million fundraising round and inked a partnership with Google. They now occupy one of the top spots in the industry and are poised to continue their growth in 2021.
As for ease of use, Peek PRO has a demo that makes it look very easy to use, and they also earn mostly high marks from their long-term customers. Most customers describe the experience as “easy to use” and say the software integrates well with their website. However, upon closer inspection, they have only been catering their online booking system to rental companies since 2018, and many of the worst reviews come from small equipment-rental shops. Considering the three companies I am reviewing here, I feel it’s important to focus on the experience for small equipment-rental shops as this is the common market for all three companies.
They also have a number of one-star reviews complaining about high fees, confusing and misleading fees, and terrible customer service. Many said they couldn’t get a callback, and when they ran into issues of a technical nature it was hard to get anyone on the phone who could explain a solution. However, the vast majority of reviews have high praise for the customer service, and the mixed bag definitely leans in the 5-star direction.
Overall, for most non-equipment-rental businesses, they found Peek PRO to be a great solution with satisfactory customer service and a sleek product that customers enjoyed. They also had a 4.8/5 rating on Capterra, with mostly glowing reviews of the software. Customers raved about the integrated calendar, the functionality of the software to use on the fly, and the reporting on the backend.
Now we come to Rockon Recreation Rentals, the largest directory of outdoor recreation rentals in Florida, but still an upstart in the software industry as a whole. Rockon has a simple mission: “To raise the tide to lift all boats”, or in other words to create a community where outdoor experience providers become bigger together as one. In this way, they can leverage technology to compete with the giant tourist traps and large theme parks that no small company could compete with alone. As native Floridians, they have a strong interest in supporting the local outdoor recreation industry and helping tourists to see the real Florida outside of theme parks.
We chose Rockon Recreation Rentals as our up-and-coming online booking system candidates in part because they leverage the most important aspects of technology to produce a powerful product while keeping simplicity top of mind for the rental-operators who use it. The real reason, however, is that for the lucky Florida rental-operators to who this platform is available, this company truly goes above and beyond the biggest companies by providing personal services and support beyond the online booking system, that the larger companies are unable to match. (More on that later.)
For now, we are focusing on the ease of use of Rockon’s booking system, and to be honest it’s hard to think of a more simple, intuitive, and easy to use platform than this one.
The calendar feature is robust yet elegant, the backend reporting is simple and helpful, and the customer experience is seamless from beginning to end. As Rockon is not a national company, there simply aren’t the same number of reviews as our two other platforms, but the only negative reviews we could find were from upset customers who had made a reservation with one of the rental-operators and could not fulfill the request. In terms of the platform itself, we can only find glowing customer experiences so far.
Rockon goes a step further in their attempt to be the best online booking system for its rental-operators, by adding the most important features to its calendar system such as being able to see customer information at a single click glance rather than having to go through multiple steps to obtain customer information for verification. They also have integrated waivers (necessary for most rentals) rather than needing to use a third party for waivers as the big companies do. Their redemption feature allows the rental-operator staff to simply scan the customers email confirmation barcode, to check in, and confirm payment for each customers order.
They also have a feature that can automatically adjust prices on weekends, days of the week, or many other desired criteria. It has the feel of a company that researched the best aspects of the current software options and decided to improve on as many little things as they could.
In terms of ease of use, we have three platforms that consistently rank at the top of all activity booking software and we could easily recommend all three. However, a deep dive into Rockon reveals that they are ahead of the game in terms of intuitive and helpful features that the big companies will likely be copying in the near future if they want to keep up in the innovation race.
Customers are, as we all know, the lifeblood of any business, and keeping them happy is essential to a business’ health and future growth. It is for that reason that we include this question in our discussion of these platforms.
However, it should also be said that an online booking system is like the spotlight operator at a comedy show: You only notice them when something goes wrong. And often when a online booking system goes wrong, the customer will either blame the business or the business can hide the issue until it’s resolved.
With that being said, I still feel it’s of the utmost importance to focus on the customer experience of a rental-operator who uses each software in order to get an idea of this important aspect of the software itself. So with the customer in mind let’s take a look at how each of the three platforms handles the lifeblood of the business.
On the surface, each of the three software platforms does a fantastic job of making the customer experience seamless. From calendars, booking confirmation, email reminders, and payments, all three platforms do roughly the same thing for customers: help them check availability, pay for the rental, and remind them of the trip.
Upon closer inspection, a few issues came up that are not entirely insignificant. One was that FareHarbor and Peek PRO use 3rd party waiver services while Rockon uses their own integrated system that saves time for the rental-operator and customer alike. I found a number of complaints online about the waiver system, but considering the hundreds of thousands of transactions these big companies make every day, it’s not a huge issue.
Considering how much we all use our mobile phones for just about everything, it also deserves a mention how each of the mobile apps for these companies stacks up. Luckily, all three of these companies have a mobile app for rental-operators and customers, but the FareHarbor mobile app seems to be the only one that has a number of negative reviews about it. (Both PeekPRO and Rockon have a full 5 stars) Customers complained about bugs and lack of notifications on FareHarbor’s app, and as such it only has a 4.4 out of 5. Mostly good reviews, but compared with a perfect score it’s hard not to notice the difference.
All in all, it seems that each of these online booking systems do a great job of helping the customer through the buying process. This should not be surprising as all three platforms have spent a great deal of time fine-tuning the customer experience in order to be seamless and helpful and luckily for us as consumers, they’ve all succeeded.
Ahh Time… the great equalizer. We all have 24 hours in a day, we each only get 60 minutes every hour, and success or failure in business often comes down to how we utilize the limited time we’re given. So as we consider the best online booking systems, the question deserves to be asked: Will this actually save me time? And how??
At a glance, all three of these powerful online booking systems will save your business time in the long run. And with software in general, some will save much more time after you get them up and running and fully understand how to use all the features, some save you time right away. In this section, we will be looking at the biggest ways that tour operator software helps a small business save time, and which of the three platforms in this article do that the best.
The first thing that all three platforms do very well is customer reminders. Instead of a business owner keeping track of every reservation and emailing them before their scheduled activity, the online booking system that they used to book will automatically take care of that and do everything possible to make sure the customer shows up at the right time and day.
After pouring over hundreds of reviews, I’ve noticed a pattern: The larger companies’ online booking system, for certain businesses, both take quite some time to set up and get trained on. This mostly comes up in FareHarbor reviews, but PeekPRO also has a number of customers who basically all say the same thing: It took us a long time to get trained on this software to really use it effectively. Compare that to Rockon who promises same-day setup and launch and a smaller rental-operator starts to wonder if the bigger platforms are just too big to effectively help them.
Now, once you’re trained on a online booking system, there’s no doubt that it will save you time in comparison to doing everything manually, but if you decide to go with another company then it stands to reason that all that learning is now obsolete, and you’ll need to go through that learning curve all over again with a new company. So you’ll want to choose a company that you’re likely to stay with for a long time.
From my research, it seems that rental-operators only notice missing features of an online booking system after they’re already up and running. FareHarbor and PeekPRO had a number of reviewers online say that they contacted the company about setting up a certain feature and were told to wait, often months if it ever came at all, for such a feature to be available in an update of the software. And on a number of reviews it said the update never came.
On the other hand, I found customers with Rockon who said their request for a feature was met in less than a week because Rockon put their developers on it right away. It seems that the advantage to being a smaller company is also being extremely nimble when it comes to meeting the requests and demands of individual customers.
As for the differences in the three online booking systems, this is the one category where it’s hard to pick a clear winner. FareHarbor, PeekPRO, and Rockon Recreation Rentals all help rental-operators save time by helping with backend reporting, automated customer emails, integrated website calendars, and payment processing. And all three online booking systems have mobile integration for both rental-operators and customers (some rated more highly than others), and all three have predominantly positive reviews.
So in order to differentiate even more than we already have, another question is required, and this question cuts to the heart of why any rental-operator would choose an activity booking software in the first place.
Fourth: How will this software help me make more money and help my business grow? And now we come to the most important question of all:
You’ve heard the old adage “Gotta spend money to make money” before I’m sure, and the only reason this type of activity booking software exists is for one reason: Rental-operators make more money when they use it. But how?
As it turns out, when it comes to helping a business grow, these three online booking systems have some pretty distinct differences.
FareHarbor, while being a robust online booking system, is unfortunately just that. While Peek and Rockon both have online directories of activities, FareHarbor is only a platform for rental-operators to help them run their business. Now, with that being said, when rental-operators are switching their system from a manual one to an online booking software they will eventually save a lot of time for their staff and the customers, which will allow a business to save money. This is a huge boost for a small business and should not be overlooked.
However, when we are making the comparison between these other two online booking systems, the difference can be a bit glaring. The way any business grows is through marketing, and while the software may be great, the lack of a platform to help drive customers to you means FareHarbor isn’t actually helping in a meaningful way to to drive additional customers through proper marketing methods. Now, this usually wouldn’t come up in a comparison of platforms, but when two out of three activity booking software platforms have features that help with marketing and finding customers, it’s hard not to mention such a discrepancy.
The one thing that FareHarbor does have going for them is an integration into sites like Booking.com, Yelp, and tons of other sites but most of the 3rd party integrations are related to hotels, airplanes, and other slightly irrelevant communities. The customers in those communities aren’t typically on these sites to book activities, although they attract a rogue customer every now and then. Of course a sale is a sale, but Peek and Rockon have dedicated sites for customers looking for the activities they offer; while FareHarbor can only give you suggestions on how to optimize the rental-operators own site on technical SEO, but then leave it to the low-tech rental-operators to figure it out.
Peek PRO is the next step up for rental-operators looking to grow their business through an online presence. Peek.com is a great website for travelers looking for adventures with many popular vacation destinations around the country listed as categories. Their website is clear, easy to navigate, and is highly recommended across the web. It is not clear if they give priority listing to their software customers, but they do have a marketing platform for listing services which puts them ahead of FareHarbor in this respect.
Peek PRO also has great reviews for their mobile platform, which will help a rental-operator retain more customers when so many online transactions happen on mobile devices. FareHarbor had a number of negative reviews that mentioned issues with the mobile platform, but Peek PRO has focused a lot of their attention on the mobile platform and as such have had almost entirely positive reviews when it comes to mobile functionality. This is less of a way to gain customers but most certainly a way not to lose any customers.
Now this is the part where I need to offer apologies to anyone reading this from outside the state of Florida, because helping a business grow is where Rockon shines in a major way over pretty much all of its competitors, especially FareHarbor and PeekPRO, but as of right now Rockon is only a Florida-based online booking system. They’re already Florida’s biggest directory of outdoor recreation rentals, and as soon as they take over the Florida market it would not be surprising if they branched out to other states.
For Florida rental-operators, all of my research points to the fact that hiring Rockon is almost a no-brainer for most activity rental software users. In addition to having Florida’s largest directory of outdoor recreation rentals, they also give priority listing to their paid users (they also offer a “free” plan that charges a commission to the customers) which means more visibility and trust from customers searching Rockon’s listing site.
Another big advantage Rockon has over these other sites is that they charge ZERO in credit card fees, while Peek and FareHarbor take a percentage of every transaction from the rental-operator. Rockon also has zero setup fees and a plan with zero monthly membership fees.
All of these costs add up, especially when compared with FareHarbor and Peek, who charge credit card fees with every transaction.
The biggest advantage that Rockon offers, and this is actually what makes their software stand head and shoulders above any other competitor, is that with their Hero plan rental-operators get a dedicated marketing professional to list their company or most popular activities on Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, and Pinterest, depending on where most customers can be found. And this is not one kind of plug-and-go marketing, this is an actual dedicated marketing expert who is assigned to your account and optimizes ad-spend each month based on which online booking system gets you the most engagement.
What’s also crazy about this is that most digital marketing professionals charge anywhere from $500-$2,000 a month (or more) for their services, and this is the cost BEFORE AD SPEND! The fact that Rockon includes this service as part of their Hero Plan package means that the bar has been raised, and in all likelihood we will see a similar offering from their biggest competitors in the near future in order to keep up in the marketplace.
With digital marketing as part of their software package, Rockon Recreation Rentals has gone the extra mile to set itself apart from all competitors.
The other competitors to Rockon rely on more narrow advantages and aggressive sales tactics to gain market share. With Rockon’s digital marketing solution for activity providers, they take a giant task away from rental-operators and put it into the hands of a professional who deals exclusively with rental-operators just like them. And any rental-operators who have tried to do digital marketing on their own before will tell you, it’s not an easy thing to get right, and takes more time than you want to put towards it. Rockon uniquely put together marketing and booking all in one to make it easier, and more simple for the Activity Operators.
Online Booking Software Comparison Conclusions
With so many different online booking software’s out there that are all designed to help you manage your reservations that includes lots of different features, and cost are very similar; it’s hard to figure out which one to choose.
But for rental-operators in Florida, who are up against pretty fierce competition for customers online, battling for top spots in search results with billionaire behemoths like the theme parks, and tourists traps; you are going to want to make sure your online booking software comes with some powerful marketing intelligence as well.
Rockon offers done-for-you marketing at a tiny fraction of the cost incurred for hiring a professional yourself. This means more exposure, more visibility, and more growth for your company and its all included in the online booking system.
Combine this with zero in credit card fees, same-day setup and launch, local knowledge, and overwhelmingly positive reviews from those who have already been customers for years, and Florida activity rental rental-operators have an easy decision to make. Rockon Recreation Rentals has come to Florida to take over; and to try to offer the best online booking system to its rental operators; and outdoor enthusiasts like myself, along with those rental-operators should rejoice at the news.
Hope this has been as insightful to you as it was for me, feel free to reach out if you have any questions! Wish you a lot of success with your search for the best online booking system!
Adam Trowbridge, Guest Blogger
Rockon Recreation Rentals is the best place on the web to search local rental adventures, compare prices, and book outdoor recreation gear & equipment all in one place.
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