I am proud to announce the recent launch of AZ-Birding.com, a custom reservation system for Arizona-based professional birding guides. I was involved in every step of this project from planning and prototyping to web design and development.
AZ-Birding.com, a free service of WINGS, launched in February 2009. I have worked with WINGS since 2005, and this latest project is exciting since it brings focus to Arizona (as compared to WINGS worldwide presence) and enables anyone to hire a local birding expert to explore the state’s wonderful birding specialties.
The site’s main focus is taking reservations, so the majority of the work revolved around managing calendars, the reservation process, and the guides’ availability with a custom CakePHP web application. The CakePHP app has two parts: public-facing pages with reservation forms and guide information and an administrative area for WINGS to manage all the details.
The goal for the administrative aspect of running AZ-Birding as a service was simple: automate the process as much as possible. To do this, the app has built-in functionality that runs automatically to produce reminders, late notices, and feedback requests (sent out to clients after their birding experience is over). This automation reduces the office workload for WINGS while ensuring a high-quality, consistent experience for clients. This hands-off approach safeguards against common situations where an administrator would have to step in and take action, like when a birding guide might be out of the country—or offline for a few days—and cannot respond directly to a reservation request.
The pages that don’t pertain to managing reservations are managed with WordPress. This decision was based on two realities: much more development time and effort would be required to cook up a CakePHP-based CMS, and WINGS is already familiar with the WordPress product and interface as the content editor and producer of the WINGS blog, Wingbeat.
As an added bonus, the site also tracks the latest Arizona bird rarities—meaning WINGS can post alerts when rare or special birds are sighted in Arizona. The home page and the “Latest Rarities” page both feature these alerts (entered into WordPress as blog posts) as well as custom data delivered by eBird, a free service of Cornell Lab or Ornithology. For example, the eBird data feed for “Notable Sightings in Arizona” not only brings more value to the AZ-Birding website as a birding resource, but it also provides potential clients with an idea of what to look for—hopefully enticing them to place a reservation if they see something that excites them. All the bird-related content on AZ-Birding is geared towards providing a reason to book the short-term tour with the service’s expert birding guides.
Two people contributed to this project outside of simpledream, and I owe them thanks. Sam Devore did the heavy lifting on the data modeling and backend CakePHP setup, and also contributed greatly to the project planning efforts, including work on user actions and workflows during the planning stages. The AZ-Birding logo (inspired by the gorgeous Elegant Trogon) was designed by Julie Hecimovich.