Bookings are picking up!

Bookings are picking up, and this new system has had a few glitches but appears to be working well now.  Those that book early will get their choice of drivers and times!

We've just been through spring commercial vehicle inspections and permitting with the Juneau Police Department, so our vans are tuned up, cleaned up, polished, and ready for business when the first cruise ship arrives on May 4th.

I've already had a few early tours, and spring is here!  Trees are leafing out, grass is getting green, and the bears are out and about.  We've had warm sunny days this past week, and as usual, when spring happens here in Southeast Alaska, it happens quickly.

We're looking forward to seeing you soon!

Coming along, but not as fast as I'd like

All of the drivers who we'll be booking tours with this summer have been busy getting ready for our annual taxi inspections, getting the winter tires off, and waiting for the spring rains to wash the winter's muck off the roads before we detail our cars so they'll look the best when our guests start arriving in May.

The skunk cabbage popped up overnight.  Yesterday, there were none, but today every swampy area along Juneau roads had 6 to 8 inch yellow blooms popping up.

I'm finding that it's taking a little more time to pull together all the staff photos and tour info for our new tour partner Temsco Helicopters and several of our whale watch captains.

We've been testing the booking and payment options, and I'm hoping that this new site will be online sometime over this coming weekend.


A Major Website Change Isn't Easy

I was interested in having a site with more compelling images of the beauty of our town and its amazing scenery and wildlife.  

I also wanted to develop or find the tools that would help me spend less time answering emails about tour scheduling.  After spending 12 to 14 hours in a taxi van on either tours or regular taxi trips, I was just too tired to spend 3 or 4 hours every evening answering emails.  I wanted a web site that  would allow potential clients to quickly check the availability of our drivers and request a booking quickly without waiting several days for a reply.  Booking capability also encourages clients to book earlier in the season.  

And because since early last year I was booking not only trips for myself, but for other driver/guides, I wanted to be able to take online payments for tour deposits to help ensure that those booking trips were truly committed to taking tours.

I have enough experience with web development and development tools to know that if you want to do anything on the Web but display pictures and text, it's not a trivial task.

In a previous life, I worked as a programmer on large government DP systems, and I had been creating simple web sites for the past 10 years.  A year ago, I began evaluating the open source content management systems offered by my web hosting service.  After reading reviews and the developer's documentation, I decided that the next version of my taxi tour site would be developed with Drupal, which had some visually interesting themes and several choices of templates for developing a commerce site.

This has been more of an adventure than I wanted or anticipated.  I quickly discovered that the card processor that had been happily processing swiped transactions from my portable credit card terminal didn't have the tools available to simplify taking payments.  

Besides offering transaction tools that were far more complex than I needed or wanted, the company insisted that I fill out a complete new merchant application as if I had never been a customer.  Whenever I filled out one form, they sent another.  Then they wanted me to develop a complete "shopping cart" application that they could approve before they would allow me to process card transactions online.

Meanwhile, time was slipping away.  I had prototyped some of the pages and developed templates, but the email queries and booking requests have been ramping up as the summer cruise ship season grows closer.  

I took my preliminary designs to a retired DP manager who I have often consulted when I was evaluating various computer system options.  He suggested I look at Squarespace because their templates and themes were easy to use, would speed development, and had pre-programmed commerce capabilities that incorporated secure card processing.

He was correct that site design and layout were quick and easy, but Squarespace's catalog model, while suited for selling merchandise, had no way to book dates and times.  Fortunately, some research into Squarespace's payment system lead me to, a booking site that allows potential clients to book dates and times.  

When my portable credit card terminal died and I need mobile card processing in a hurry, I found after installing a Square card reader on my iPhone that they offered an invoicing service, the last part that enables me to accept deposits.

So now it's all a matter of tweaking the integration of the parts.  I'm hoping that the site will be fully up by early next week, and I'll be able to redirect potential clients from the old site address and get them booked quickly.  

Hope is the operative word, but hey, I'm a Chicago Cubs fan.  There's always Hope.