Credit Card Transaction Best Practices for Tour Operators

28 May 2013     |    Taz Bareham

In today’s world, travelers almost exclusively use their credit cards and debit cards to make reservations, book tours and pay for their vacations. That’s why tourists are looking for businesses that accept credit cards, largely because it is more convenient than cash.

So regardless of whether your tour company is a one-man show operating one tour per day, or you’re a larger corporation with several activity centers, you will be dealing with credit card transactions.

But what’s best practice for tour operators? What do you need to know? Make sure you implement these best practices:

1. You must be PCI compliant.

Let’s start with the basics. You need to honour the law. You probably use an online booking system to allow your customers to make their reservations quickly and easily, but this means they are providing you with their credit card information in order to save their spot.

PCI DSS, or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, is the set of guidelines and requirements for any business of any size that accepts, stores, processes or transmits credit card data. These standards were developed to protect the consumer from fraud.

It’s essential for any type of tour or activity operator to understand these regulations, as vendors can face significant fines and penalties if they are not complying with the standards. Fines can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per month.

There are two ways that you can make sure your system meets these strict standards:

  • Run a PCI compliance scan. This is an automated tool that helps find any vulnerabilities in your system. The PCI Compliance Guide notes that you are required to run a scan every 90 days in order to stay in compliance with the guidelines. You must use a PCI-approved scanning vendor to complete this scan.
  • Submit a PCI compliance report. This form must be submitted to a merchant processor. It’s a questionnaire that asks yes-or-no questions. If you fail the questionnaire then you must adjust your system and policies, correct the form and resubmit it. You can complete this form online if you do less than $6,000 each year in credit card transactions, but if you do more than $6,000 per year, you must have an on-site audit performed by a Qualified Security Analyst.

Understanding and complying with the PCI DSS regulations is essential to the overall success of your business. It allows customers to trust you with their personal information, and at the same time it protects you from facing significant penalties.

2. Keep your customers well-informed.

The following tips also will help you ensure your customers that you conduct credit card transactions in a safe and professional way:

  • Explain to your customers how the payment process works, addressing how you will keep their credit card data safe.
  • Once a booking has been made, send a confirmation email, and in it, tell your customers how your charge will appear on their credit card statement (ie. under what business name).
  • Display your cancellation policy clearly and make sure your customers have to agree to it before making a booking. Also don’t forget to enforce your policy.

It’s important to every consumer that the businesses they work with comply with the strict safety guidelines that are designed to protect them from fraud.

By letting your customers know that you’re doing your best to keep their details safe when they interact with your business, you will quickly develop a trustworthy relationship with them.

3. Don’t charge the credit card until you’re 100% sure you can run the tour.

This is to save you from all the unnecessary administrative hassles that accompany refunds.

While it might seem easier to simply charge a customer instantly for their tour or activity, it’s important to wait to charge their card until you’re sure you can provide the tour – especially if yours is weather-dependant.

If you charge their card immediately, and they don’t show up, you have to deal with the administrative hassle of providing a refund. Instead, simply post a cancellation policy and charge your customer the cancellation fee if they don’t show up for their tour.

Many people might argue that prepayment helps to reduce the amount of no-shows on your tours, but collecting credit card details and posting a cancellation fee will be just as effective. That way, you will maintain a positive cash flow for your business.

If you’re looking for a reservation system that supports this function, take a free trial of Rezdy – there’s no obligations and no credit card needed.


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