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“Do we need to update our company systems?” - The when, why and how for owners and MDs in travel

When is the right time to update a cross-company system like email, reservations, or CRM – and how can you ensure your organisation gets what it needs? Firebird Director, Safia Bhutta, explores the topic for owners and MDs in travel, offering expert guidance on how to make positive change with a cultural review.

There’s a belief, almost a faith, among many people working in and running travel businesses (I’ve been guilty of it myself): that if their company could only get hold of the right systems for reservations, CRM, etc, then everything would be perfect. Even that there is a single system out there which will perfectly solve all their problems, virtually running the business by itself.


In my work for the sector over the past ten-plus years, I’ve met very few teams in SMEs who were perfectly satisfied with the systems they had. Many systems are overworked operationally. Often they are massive databases that need many different functions; often too many functions for one database to do well.


But more often than not, when you look closer, the issue is not so much the system itself as how it’s being used.

 “Teams will always take the path of least resistance”

Whatever system a business has, its employees often will not maximise its potential. They’ll use workarounds, use Excel, email information to colleagues rather than adding it in to the database; not leaving a trail. The system they have in place will be underutilised. Sometimes this will be because that system genuinely isn’t a good one. And sometimes this will be down to a lack of training. Either way, teams will always take the path of least resistance – especially when they’re pressured by time or targets.


Perhaps staff have not received appropriate training for a while. Perhaps they’ve never been formally trained. Perhaps the training everyone needs is not written down for new-starters, or there’s no official procedure to pass it on. What will happen in these instances is that the person who did the job before, or one of their colleagues, will simply show the new-starter what they do. In this way key information is diluted from person to person; getting less and less accurate; imparting less helpful knowledge every time.

“Owners or MDs might not be aware of requirement issues”

 Another common issue with systems is everyone working in a business will want different things. For example, an owner or MD may be all over a reservation system’s reporting requirements because they exclusively want trading updates and forecasts. Often this capability of the system is quite good – since the person asking for it is the person who’s in charge.


In terms of operational capacities however – such as the costings element, or the part of the platform where customer details are inputted – these aspects are often less efficient, or even not being used. An owner or MD might not be aware of this. Alternatively, an owner or MD might know it, but not have detailed enough knowledge to know whether this is an issue with the system, or an issue with how staff approach it.

“Even bespoke systems can be limited by what teams don’t know”

The first thing to remember is there’s no such thing as the perfect, ultimate-problem-solving system – although RezKit, a Firebird client, is doing exciting things to move towards this for reservations.


Leaving RezKit aside for the moment, even if the system you have is totally bespoke, your team will always be limited by what they don’t know it can do. So before impulsively commissioning a switch to something new, it’s worth taking time to thoroughly check what problems could be solved, and what processes made more efficient, with the system you have now. This thinking applies to any system – including reservation, emails, CRM and websites.


To be clear, I’m not saying it’s never right to replace a system. If your business has substantially grown and changed it’s likely to be worth it. However, putting in a substantial new system can take at least a year (and probably 18 months). The process is expensive. It’s time-consuming – for everyone in the business. Plus if that transition is not done right, and the right training not then given, you could end up in almost exactly the same position as when you started; with only a slightly better system than the one you had before. 

“Talking to businesses with the same system can be invaluable”

Helpful questions to ask before a major update include:

  • Exactly what issues do I want to solve in the system?

  • Is changing the system the only way to solve those problems?

  • If I talk to my current system provider, is there anything they could do?

  • Could I learn from other people outside the company who use this system?


On that last point, talking to businesses with the same system can be invaluable. After all the travel sector is a small place, and if you’re using one of the more common systems there’ll certainly be others out there using it too. At Firebird we often put clients in touch with each other for this reason, enabling them to establish if others are getting more out of a system than they are; if multiple businesses are experiencing the same problems; if others have found solutions that could make a difference. 

“You may want to think about trying a cultural review”

Once you’ve spoken to your system provider about what they can do, considered further staff training, and sought advice from other operators, you may then want to think about trying a cultural review. Because if colleagues are reluctant to put data in or efficiently use a system now, they could well be reluctant to use any system you want to introduce.


A cultural review is something an MD or owner can organise themselves – or call in expert advisors like Firebird to implement. The review looks in-depth at the ways people actually use company systems.


The process behind the review is straight-forward: it involves simply being observant, asking the right kinds of questions, and being ready to hear the answers from your team. Someone conducting a cultural review will want to watch people working at ease, ask them to explain their processes, run different scenarios past them to establish their routine responses, and above all openly talk to staff – finding out what they like, what frustrates them, what changes they’d like to see, what they would prioritise, and so on.

“Staff responses will likely surprise you”

Generally staff will be quick to share their complaints about a system – especially as it relates to software, rather than to a person they know or work with who might be offended. Requests will also be for very small things – a button to be on a different page; faster processing times, etc – so don’t be afraid to ask what isn’t working. Their responses will likely surprise you, and could help replace any collective resentment with the feeling that you’re heading in the right direction together.


Safia Bhutta is a Director of the Firebird Partnership, specialising in marketing, sales and commercial strategy – from pricing to product planning, margin analysis and yield management. Since joining Firebird, she has also become involved in M&A: working with companies to formulate and present their story, and preparing them to pitch to potential buyers and/or investors.

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