How APIs Are Driving Digital Strategy for Big Bus Tours

With growing market demand for online sales options and a decline in traditional "on-street" sales using paper vouchers, Big Bus Tours has been looking to increase its digital and mobile channel revenues and drive an increase in conversion rates worldwide. Needing a new technology to effectively and efficiently integrate its internal sales systems with digital channels and partners, the company has been harnessing the power of application programming interfaces, or APIs.

The Need for a Sales Strategy Enabling Partner Integration Across Multiple Channels

Despite being the world's largest owner-operator of hop-on, hop-off, open-top sightseeing tours, in a changing market, Big Bus Tours knew that it had to dramatically transform both its sales strategy and the customer experience. With its extensive partner network and opportunities for new sales channels including web and mobile app access, the company didn't have a unified integration strategy.

Infrastructure presented operational challenges, with information locked in monolithic, legacy data handling systems. With this setup, the company had to establish disparate, inefficient point-to-point connections with each new partner that was added to their ecosystem.

To streamline and increase efficiency, Big Bus Tours needed a new digital sales strategy that would enable multi-channel integration with its various partners.

The Big Bus Tours Drive to Digitally Transform

Big Bus Tours has embarked upon a journey of total digital transformation, with an emphasis on mobile commerce in particular. The organization's overall mission is to centralize its global eCommerce operations into a single omnichannel experience and expand from the bus ticket industry into the lucrative attractions market. This will enable them to offer experiences like the Madame Tussauds wax museum in London or the Empire State Building in New York City.

Mobile is central to Big Bus Tours' ability to offer consumers a new and future-proof eCommerce solution — especially considering the increasingly global nature of the business. On any given bus journey, there can be customers from 60 different countries, dealing in multiple currencies and languages.

Besides maintaining a convenient, consistent experience for customers to purchase Big Bus tickets across multiple sales channels, the company also requires a digital strategy that enables it to rapidly integrate with new partners, providing them with real-time access to the Big Bus Tours booking system. The solution must also be adaptable enough to allow users to easily launch online and mobile sales channels, and other new functionalities.

How APIs Are Driving Transformation for Big Bus Tours

Application programming interfaces or APIs provide a common library and set of digital tools that enable developers to adapt and create software that can interact and maintain consistency across multiple platforms. In effect, APIs are the interchangeable parts for the new application-based machinery of innovation. But unlike physical interchangeable parts, every API call can be made with personalized, just-in-time information, so that customer-specific experiences cost no more to create than mass-market experiences.

For its transformation efforts, Big Bus Tours chose the MuleSoft development platform to build an API for its eCommerce operations. Once deployed, the Big Bus Tours IT team could develop APIs that enable sales across various digital channels, connect with a global network of partners, and deliver a seamless customer experience.

The first interface that Big Bus Tours constructed was a booking API that allows more than 1,000 partners across 27 countries — such as travel agents and online travel websites — to search Big Bus products, check availability, make and cancel reservations, and generate digital tickets.

Though the Big Bus Tours IT operations unit only boasts eight members, this small cadre can deliver the results of a much larger team by reusing APIs to rapidly develop new functionality and deliver it to market. Using APIs, Big Bus Tours has achieved a 30-50% reuse rate for bespoke integrations.

According to Richard Smith, Senior Vice President of Technology at Big Bus, "A growing number of partners are leveraging our APIs, which means the work on our side is minimal and the engagement with the partners is quick and easy. We are building reusable APIs that allow us to integrate with our partners faster and focus more on innovation to improve the customer experience."

With the APIs built in MuleSoft, it takes partners only two weeks to connect to the Big Bus booking system. Rather than having to spend valuable time establishing point-to-point connections, the Big Bus IT team can now focus on innovation and improving the customer experience.

"We can even reuse the APIs across our own website as well," Smith confirms. "Using API-led connectivity, we're able to build functionality once, and then deliver it across all our digital channels in a much shorter time. We're gaining real value from that reuse."

Customers are also gaining from APIs. Big Bus Tours now offers a convenient digital ticket with a barcode that can be printed at home or used on a mobile device. "Our customer experience has improved significantly by the use of APIs," Smith says. "When customers arrive in a city, they already have a digital ticket on their phone. They simply scan their ticket, hop aboard, and enjoy the experience."

APIs are definitely paying off for the company, generating a 26% increase in revenue every year. Big Bus Tours attributes this impressive ROI to streamlined and strengthened partner relationships due to easy API integration, user-friendly digital ticketing, and API-enabled direct to system bookings.

You can hear John Attwood, Global Head of E-Commerce at Big Bus Tours, speak at Digital Travel US 2020, taking place in May at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, CA.

Download the agenda for more information and insights.

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