Direct bookings are on the rise and for two good reasons.
- 👉One: Guests today prefer more control over their booking experience, and
- 👉Two: They want to have a direct relationship with the hotel to add flexibility to their stay.
For your hotel, this is incredible news, indeed! But more than that, direct reservations are an excellent opportunity to foster strong customer relationships and maximize revenue.
While OTAs (Online Travel Agents) like Expedia and Booking.com are crucial to getting your hotel listings to reach a wider audience and sell your rooms quicker, the privilege often comes with heavy commission fees for every booking.
With third-party sites, paying 15% to 20% is given. The result: they take a sizable cut from your profits! If that wasn't enough, OTAs make managing or optimizing your profile hard.
And that's where 'Booking Engines' come in.
A good booking engine for small hotels is a must, as it provides a valuable opportunity to complement and reduce dependence on third-party channels. It enables you to accept online bookings through your website, Facebook page, or metasearch listings. Additionally, the booking engine seamlessly integrates with your website, PMS (Property Management System), and channel manager to streamline the process.
Having said that, let's take a deep dive into booking engines, understanding their benefits, the features they should have, and ways to implement them in your small hotel.
What is a Hotel Booking Engine
Guests prefer using booking engines because of the convenience it provides. Rather than waiting for you to be available at your desk, they can quickly check room availability and reserve their stays. Your booking engine is vital for securing more direct online bookings with less effort.
For your hotel, a booking engine allows you to:
- Minimize commission fees
- Maintain a direct relationship with your guest
- Establish a secure shopping and payment experience on your website
- Customize guest communications
- Have better upsell and upgrade options
- Integrate seamlessly with other systems to store data and access reports
Why Small Hotels Need a Booking Engine
While larger hotel chains have the resources to invest in sophisticated reservation systems, small hotels often struggle to keep up. To deliver exceptional guest experiences and solidify their position in the hospitality industry, implementing a booking engine is no longer a luxury but a necessity for small hotels.
As a small hotel, you need a booking engine to:
1. Increase your direct bookings
It allows your hotel business to accept direct reservations through your website, reducing reliance on third-party platforms and avoiding hefty commission fees. Direct bookings lead to higher revenue and better control over your booking process.
2. Streamline the reservation process
It simplifies the reservation process for your guests and hotel staff. Potential guests can easily browse available rooms, compare prices, and make reservations directly from the hotel's website. This eliminates the need for time-consuming email exchanges or phone calls, providing a seamless experience that modern travelers expect.
3. Seamlessly integrate with other systems
It can integrate smoothly with hotel systems like your PMS, channel manager, and customer relationship management (CRM) software. These seamless integration streamlines operations and data management, reducing the risk of errors and improving staff productivity.
4. Ensure real-time availability
It provides real-time information on room availability, ensuring that your guests see accurate availability while reducing the risk of overbooking.
5. Have 24/7 accessibility
Guests can book anytime, anywhere, even outside your hotel's business hours. This constant accessibility enhances customer satisfaction and increases the likelihood of securing reservations.
6. Leverage upselling opportunities
It offers your business the advantage of upselling additional services, such as room upgrades, spa treatments, or dining packages. With targeted upselling prompts during the booking process or pre-arrival communications, your hotel can increase the average revenue per guest and enhance the overall guest experience.
7. Data collection and analysis
It gathers valuable guest data, enabling your hotel to better understand customers' preferences and behaviors. This leads to improved marketing strategies and guest retention.
8. Establish direct communication with guests
It enables your hotel to establish direct contact with guests, enhancing customer relationships and providing a platform for personalized interactions.
9. Improve efficiency
Automating the booking process through a booking engine reduces manual tasks, allowing your hotel staff to focus on providing excellent guest experiences.
10. Boost your online visibility and reach
A booking engine on your website improves your hotel's online presence and visibility too. It helps attract more potential guests and increases brand awareness.
Features to Look for in a Booking Engine for Small Hotels
Though hotel booking engines have been around for a while, they have undergone significant advancements and incorporated sophisticated functionalities.
Without delving much into the technicalities, let's explore the crucial features an ideal booking engine should have:
1. A user-friendly interface
Your online booking process should be uncomplicated, prompting guests to make reservations in just a few clicks.
- Having a concise booking process that doesn't go beyond three steps
- Adhering to a design approach that prioritizes mobile compatibility
- Offering multiple language and currency options
- Incorporating opportunities for upselling and supplementary purchases
- Leveraging promotional offerings for guests to capitalize on
- Robust and flexi payment options for a hassle-free experience
Lengthy processes often deter potential customers, so look for a booking engine that condenses all the necessary steps on a single page.
This ensures guests can access all vital information in one place, including your different payment modes and cancellation policies. With all their queries addressed directly on your website, guests are unlikely to seek further clarification, thus, contributing to a seamless experience.
2. Personalization options for branding
When it comes to marketing activities, things must be authentic, accurate, and real. Your website is your virtual shop front, and your booking engine mustn't look like it's from another planet.
Opt for a booking engine that gives you customization options or the ability to integrate custom CSS if needed. Just as your hotel's website strives to captivate visitors, ensure that your Booking Engine boasts visually compelling imagery to showcase your accommodations, facilities, and surroundings effectively.
However, aesthetics aren't the only thing to be focused on. Even your confirmation emails should be personalized to resonate with your hotel's brand identity and tone. For example, within the booking confirmation, you can include travel tips, insights about local events, and other pertinent information that complements your brand messaging.
3. Highly secure online payments
As more transactions move online, the importance of secure payments grows. Failure to actively safeguard your guests' credit card information exposes your enterprise and your valued clientele to substantial jeopardy.
While exploring different booking engines, look for one that's PCI DSS compliant. Also, request documentation proving their adherence to the PCI DSS standards. Hotels that prioritize payment security position themselves for long-term success in the competitive online booking industry.
4. Customization options with upselling, promos, and discounts
Potential guests visiting your website might look for unique options with your pricing structure, amenities, and the length of their intended stays. That's why it's crucial to highlight offerings that appeal to their preferences.
Undoubtedly, your website is the optimal platform for guests to avail special rates, utilize promo codes, and buy additional services such as local excursions, leisure activities, etc.
So, look for a hotel booking engine that can generate and employ promotional codes. Also, see if it allows you to customize your discounts and promotions based on the reservation date, corporate or travel agent affiliations, customer loyalty, and other pertinent factors.
5. Key reporting capabilities
Overseeing your revenue necessitates a clear view of your direct revenue sources. A good booking engine should let you easily track and measure which supplementary offerings, discounts, and promotions are working in your favor.
This comprehensive insight equips you with the right direction to implement pricing adjustments and experiment with novel packages, deals, and policy strategies. Not just that, a good booking engine should have a business intelligence tool to acquire meaningful market insights swiftly.
It should enable you to compare room rates offered by your competitors and set your rates confidently. On the other hand, check if it also provides a Rate Parity feature to help you vigilantly monitor your rates across prominent online booking platforms, ensuring that external parties do not undercut your prices.
Leveraging a channel manager can further augment your analytical capabilities by harmonizing your approach to your booking engine and third-party channels.
This integration comprehensively compares your direct channel's performance against your OTA sites and further helps you look into the following:
- Reservation revenue
- Channel yield
- Booking volume
- Average booking lead time
- Cancellation rate
6. Seamless integration with your online sales channels
Online sales channels such as metasearch websites and OTAs are crucial to increase your room sales online. While this is great, maintaining accurate inventory levels is a struggle.
That's why having a hotel booking engine that supports channel management capabilities is necessary. It prevents the risk of overbooking your rooms and displays accurate room availability across all channels in real-time.
7. Compatibility with your hotel tech stack
Your booking engine plays a central role in your hotel's tech stack. Failing to establish a mechanism for direct online bookings poses a substantial risk to the overall business health. Ultimately, you want a booking engine that works in tandem with other systems you are using to increase reservations, drive revenue, and deliver great guest experiences. Integration serves not only to streamline your operational processes but also to amplify and diversify the capabilities of your booking engine.
Integration is essential, as it ensures seamless connectivity between your channel manager and the following:
- Your Property Management System (PMS)
- Your Website
- Your Channel Manager
- Add-ons like metasearch tools and apps
Besides the above, integration lets you have a bird's-eye view of your reservations while giving you additional reporting functions to make the right business decisions.
8. Personalized automated emails
You know that there are some emails that every guest must receive automatically after booking confirmation, a reminder email before the stay, essential tips, and a feedback request after the stay.
A good hotel booking engine should allow you to schedule and personalize these emails, apply your brand colors for consistency, and ensure every recipient receives a personal greeting.
How to Implement a Booking Engine in Your Small Hotel
Implementing a booking engine for your small hotel is a transformative step towards enhancing guest experiences and streamlining operations. Here's how you should go about it:
1. Research and selection
Begin your journey by researching various booking engine providers catering to small hotels.
Before embarking on the integration process, ensure that your hotel's information is up-to-date and your website is user-friendly and compatible with the booking engine's integration requirements. This preparation phase lays the foundation for a smooth and successful implementation.
3. Choose a domain and hosting
This step is optional, so execute this only if you don't have a website already.
4. Secure your website
This crucial step ensures that your guests' personal information is protected through encryption, fostering a sense of trust and security.
5. Integrate the booking engine
Integrating a hotel booking engine into your website involves several technical steps to ensure a seamless and effective process for your guests.
Determine the integration method for your website's platform and technical expertise. Common integration methods include:
- Embedding Widgets: Some booking engines offer widget codes that you can directly embed into your website's HTML code. These widgets often provide booking forms, availability calendars, and room selection options.
- API Integration: For more advanced integration, you can use the booking engine's API to fetch and display real-time data directly on your website. This requires expertise.
Customize the appearance of the booking widget or integration to match your website's design and branding. Ensure that the booking process is intuitive and user-friendly.
6. Set up room information
Enhance your guests' booking experience by providing proper room information to make informed decisions.
7. Configure availability and rates
Configure your hotel's availability calendar to reflect real-time room availability. Utilize the booking engine's capabilities to set up pricing and rates based on various factors such as seasons, occupancy rates, and promotional offers.
8. Define the policies and terms
Transparency is key to building trust with your guests. Clearly outline your hotel's booking and cancellation policies, ensuring that guests are well-informed about any special terms or conditions that apply.
9. Test the booking process
Before making the integration live, thoroughly test the booking engine integration. Make test bookings, check availability, and ensure the booking process is smooth and error-free.
10. Train the staff
Equip your staff with the knowledge and skills to manage and update the booking engine effectively. Training ensures that your team can access and manage reservations, check availability, and make necessary adjustments as needed.
11. Promote the booking engine
Promote the new booking engine across various platforms, including your website, social media channels, and marketing materials. Emphasize the convenience and benefits of booking directly through your website to attract more guests.
12. Monitor and optimize
Regularly monitor the performance of your booking engine and website. Utilize data analysis to identify booking trends, peak periods, and areas for improvement, enabling you to optimize the guest experience and drive business growth.
13. Provide support
Offer prompt and effective customer support to assist guests with any questions or issues they may encounter during the booking process. Ensure that communication channels are easily accessible for guests seeking assistance.
14. Feedback and improvements
Collect feedback from guests about their booking experience. Leverage this valuable insight to continuously improve the booking process and user experience, further enhancing guest satisfaction.