More people than ever are searching for travel options online and actually reserving accommodation from their PCs and mobile devices, thanks to better internet connectivity and a move away from making phone calls to reception desks. However, not all of this welcome business is going directly to the hotel owners themselves.
According to the “HSMAI Foundation and STR”, only a quarter of online bookings are made via independent hotel websites, even though 42 per cent of reservations are made online. The rest is going to online travel agents (OTAs) such as Booking.com. We’ve discussed before on these pages how you can go about clawing business back from OTAs, but one thing that can make a real difference is having an online booking engine in place to facilitate automatic reservations.
Benefits of a booking engine
A good booking engine will allow you to sell your rooms not only through your own website, but also via other portals such as Facebook where your property is listed. It can also improve the promotion of your hotel’s brand without you having to spend large sums of money on marketing through additional channels, which is a bonus if you haven’t got a particularly large budget. Furthermore, you should see advantages in the form of increased loyalty and return visits of guests. Since they have come straight to you, they’re more likely to be invested in your brand and therefore to come back to you when they need hotel rooms in the future. On the flip side, if they have booked with an OTA, they might not even remember the name of your property and so probably won’t be back.
How booking engines work
The basics You’ll no doubt be familiar with this already, but a booking engine is simply a piece of software that can take credit card details and link up with portals such as Paypal to process payments and take deposits. Instead of your staff having to manually input all the information concerning the reservation, the booking engine processes and stores them automatically. This is obviously more convenient because it takes up fewer man hours, plus your reception desk is effectively open 24/7 and so it’s better for travellers across the globe.
What to look for in a booking engine
There are a number of features available in online booking engines that can be advantageous to hotel marketers.
- One of the best is a visual calendar that would-be guests can click on to view and choose travel dates, negating the need for them to have their own diary in front of them and making errors in reservations less likely.
- Remember that everything should be consistent with your hotel branding on your booking engine, otherwise it can lead to concerns over legitimacy and abandoned bookings.
- It’s also a good idea to display all the packages you have available once your visitors have selected their dates, as this can demonstrate value and result in more valuable reservations. However, do remember not to bombard people with too much information, as this can have the opposite effect and cause decision paralysis. If possible, you could try creating separate rates for guests who want different things (such as corporate events or spa days).
- Another important feature is security. Guests may be spending a lot of money with you and they need to be reassured that their payments are secure.
- Don’t redirect them to a third party to input their card details; put a booking engine in place that can handle it all, complete with SSL encryption.
- When you’re looking for a booking engine provider, don’t forget to ensure that you’ll have live room inventory to sync up with your other channel managers. If you don’t and someone reserves a room when you’re not there, you may encounter the issue of someone making a booking that isn’t actually available. If this happens, the only way to resolve it is to contact them, apologise, risk spoiling some of your reputation and hope they’ll agree to take a different room – so avoid the situation altogether using your booking engine.
- One vital feature for booking engines these days is mobile compatibility. Greater numbers of travellers are completing reservations on smartphones and tablets, so it’s essential to cater for them and check your booking engine pages display properly on these devices. If the experience is seamless and travellers can get their rooms in just a few clicks, you should really boost your revenues and avoid booking abandonment.
- Finally, check that your booking engine offers reporting functions that give you in-depth insights into your hotel’s performance. This will allow you to see booking patterns that could help with future marketing techniques, potentially providing a new source of income that hadn’t been obvious before.
A word on contracts
When you’re shopping around for a booking engine provider, do check what they’re offering in terms of cost and flexibility. Some will implement contracts that take a commission per booking, which you want to avoid if possible. Much better are the providers that establish contracts with a fixed monthly or annual fee that’s suitable for your own property’s budget yet provides all the features you’re after. If you want a good place to start, check out World Hotel Marketing and our booking engine Booking Direct. It’s easy to use and offers a seamless, responsive booking experience whether your guests are on mobile or desktop. It’s also fully customisable end to end, so let us know what your hotel really needs to meet its marketing goals and we’ll help you put it together using our industry-leading expertise.