7 Software Tools for Managing Outdoor Tour Operations

By: Brandon Gonski, Glacier Raft Company

Over the past 15 years, I’ve served in many roles within the guided tour operations industry. I’ve seen the guided tour business from all sides and experienced the frustrations of trying to make software built for other industries work for the unique challenges of river outfitting.

It can be infuriating, and while no system is perfect, there are quite a few that have made it a point to understand our challenges and have helped me enormously over the years.

While every company is different, many of our problems are the same. The best solutions usually come back to two things: Simplicity and Communication.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. On the other hand, a whiteboard in the boat barn and a photo printer at the retail counter doesn’t get the job done at the speed you need it to in 2021. Our customers and our staff expect us to function with the same level of convenience and connectivity that they have in the rest of their life.

Here’s a list of the software systems that have helped me not only keep the lights on and the guide fridge full but grow the company year after year.


1. PicThrive

PicThrive is a digital platform for trip photo sales and delivery. Before Picthrive, we burned USB keys or CDs that I’d hand to customers to lose in their luggage on the rest of their vacation. Not only was it a time-intensive process, but it also wasn’t user-friendly. Now my customers instantly get their photos to their phones and are posting on social media about the experience while they’re still on vacation.


Why I use it:

  • Social engagement increases (especially when compared to prints or CDs).

  • Training is easy. I can get a new salesperson up to speed in less than 30 minutes.

  • The customer support they provide is unparalleled (they’re actively involved in helping me as their customer).

2. Slack

This instant messaging tool allows all my team members to communicate on topic-based channels.  At every company I’ve run, I’ve created a “same-day changes” channel for sales to easily communicate with operations on last-minute changes that arise. Some things get missed over the radio and texting every person who needs to know something is annoying and time-consuming. But with Slack everyone can see every message immediately, if they’re out of service they know what happened while they were gone.  For example, if a customer brings three more people than originally planned, sales can easily send a Slack message to operations to give them a heads up instead of running around and trying to find that manager or guide. 


Why I use it:

  • There’s no staff training involved — the tool is simple enough that I sign people up, log them in and walk away.

  • Slack works on any device, making it easy for staff in different departments to communicate with each other.

  • It’s free (with an option to upgrade if you need it, but I’ve never needed to).

3. Vend

Vend POS is a retail point-of-sale software system. It’s intuitive and easy to use. It also provides great insight into your traffic and sales.


Why I use it:

  • The analytics and reporting it provides are easy to understand.

  • Training staff is simple. I can train someone on nearly all the functions in less than an hour and how to make a basic sale in 5 minutes.

  • There’s an offline mode. When you operate in the wilderness, internet outage is inevitable, but Vend still works.


4. Deputy

Scheduling can get really complicated when you’re managing a large staff. I’ve juggled the schedules of over 165 guides — which is nearly impossible to do without technology. Deputy helps automate the process. The tool also has some HR capabilities, like payroll and staff engagement.


Why I use it:

  • Scheduling is automated. If you put the time in at the outset to set up shifts (trips), you can use Deputy to automatically schedule very complicated guide schedules in seconds.

  • Time-off management - most of our staff do not want to work every day anymore, planning and communicating keeps them happy and you staffed.

  • Certifications reminders. Put in your guides’ CPR expiration date and it’ll warn you not to schedule them if their certs are expired.


5. SurveyMonkey

If you’re not surveying your guests, you’re missing an opportunity. You have the chance to get in front of customer service issues before they take to Trip Advisor. Plus, some of the best suggestions have come from guests, we just need to take a moment to ask.


Why I use it:

  • The app suggests questions and answers when creating new forms. Surveys are a science, and SurveyMonkey helps make your survey better, giving you better response rates and more actionable, insightful results.

  • It builds in Net Promoter Score (NPS) questions. I believe everyone should be measuring their performance with this metric.

  • I don’t have to use another email platform to send the survey, I can send them from SurveyMonkey.


6. HubSpot

This is an advanced marketing and CRM platform. While there’s a free version available, the premium software comes with a big price tag. But, if you’re in that market, I think it’s worth looking into.


Why I use it:

  • Hubspot helps you streamline and automate sales, marketing and customer support.

  • They offer great customer support to me and my team.

  • It integrates with the tools I already use.


7. Sprout Social

Keeping up with social media can be a cumbersome task.  I have 3 Instagrams, Twitter, several Facebook pages and more, and I can’t keep up with logging in to each one individually — but I have to keep up somehow. Sprout Social is an affordable tool to help you publish on most social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram. The platform allows you to schedule posts in advance, analyze engagement metrics and see what’s working and what’s not.


Why I use it:

  • It’s affordable and easy to use.

  • The reporting gives me a deeper understanding of how social media is helping or not helping my business.

  • Sprout can automatically respond to messages for you.



Using the right tools can make a big difference in how you run your tour operations. Having too many tools, on the other hand, can be more work than it’s worth. After 15 years of trial and error — testing different tools to see what helps us and what’s not worth it — I’ve found a stack of digital tools that helps optimize how we run the business. When deciding which platforms to invest in for your business, consider the ROI, adaptability, training time and impact on the customer experience.


About the Author:

Brandon Gonski is the General Manager at Glacier Raft Company in West Glacier, Montana. In addition to managing Glacier Raft Company, Brandon is a product ambassador for PicThrive, a photo sales and marketing platform, and is currently earning his MBA, concentrated on business strategy.

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