A Definitive Guide to Booking Engines for Small Hotels
Booking Engine

A Definitive Guide to Booking Engines for Small Hotels

AxisRooms Marketing
AxisRooms Marketing

Table of Contents

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

A hotel booking engine is a software or tool that lets guests make instant online reservations. It allows you to sell your rooms on your website and other third-party platforms on which your hotel is listed (for example, Facebook).

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.

This means:

  • 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.

🤔Did you know?

About one in five online travelers drop off from online travel bookings because they have security concerns around payments. (Source: Worldplay)

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.

What to do:

  • Explore different vendors and evaluate their features, pricing structures, customer support, and integration capabilities. 

  • Choose a booking engine that aligns with your hotel's needs and budget.

2. Preparation

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.

What to do:

  • Gather all relevant information about your hotel, including room types, rates, availability, policies, and photos. 

  • Ensure your website is up-to-date, user-friendly, and compatible with the booking engine's integration requirements.

3. Choose a domain and hosting

This step is optional, so execute this only if you don't have a website already.

What to do:

  • Choose a domain name that reflects your hotel's brand identity. 

  • Select a reliable hosting provider to ensure your website and booking engine run smoothly.

4. Secure your website

This crucial step ensures that your guests' personal information is protected through encryption, fostering a sense of trust and security.

What to do:

  • Implement an SSL certificate to ensure your website has a secure and 100% encrypted connection.

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.

What to do:

  • Follow the instructions provided by your chosen booking engine provider to integrate their system into your website. This usually involves adding a booking widget or button to your website's pages, enabling guests to initiate the reservation process. 

  • Most booking engine providers offer APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) that allow you to connect their system to your website. Obtain the required API credentials, including API keys and authentication details. 

  • Review the developer documentation provided by your booking engine provider. This documentation will guide you through the integration process, samples, and best practices. 

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.

What to do:

  • Enter detailed information about your rooms, including descriptions, amenities, maximum occupancy, and photos. 

  • Define different room types and their corresponding rates.

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.

What to do:

  • Start by setting up your hotel's different room types and categories. This could include standard rooms, suites, deluxe rooms, etc. Assign each room type a clear and descriptive name. 

  • Divide the calendar year into different seasons or periods based on demand fluctuations. This could include high season, low season, holidays, weekends, etc. Each season may have different rates. 

  • For each room type and season, assign the corresponding rates. This can be done by entering the base rate for each combination. Some booking engines also allow you to set different rates for different days within a season. 

  • If your booking engine supports dynamic pricing, consider setting rules that automatically adjust rates based on occupancy levels, demand, and booking lead times. 

  • Define the maximum number of rooms available for booking on any given day. This prevents overbooking and ensures that the availability displayed to guests is accurate. 

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.

What to do:

  • Identify the essential policies and terms guests should know before making a reservation. Standard policies include cancellation, payment, check-in/check-out, and children & pet policies. 

  • Write clear and concise descriptions for each policy or term. Use straightforward language that is easy for guests to understand. 

  • Provide all necessary details, including conditions, time frames, and associated fees. Define your hotel's cancellation policies. 

  • Specify the cancellation deadline, whether there are any cancellation fees, and how guests should proceed if they need to cancel a reservation. 

  • Provide instructions for check-in and check-out processes. Specify check-in and check-out times, any early check-in or late check-out options, and how guests can request these options. 

  • If applicable, outline policies regarding children's stay and any additional charges for extra guests. Include information about the maximum occupancy for each room type. If your hotel allows pets, define your pet policies. Mention any associated fees, restrictions, and guidelines for guests traveling with pets. 

  • Review your hotel's policies and terms to ensure they remain accurate and up-to-date. Adjust them based on guest feedback, industry changes, or internal updates. 

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.

What to do:

  • Test the booking process on various devices, including desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Ensure that the process is responsive and user-friendly across all screen sizes. 

  • Test the availability feature by checking the availability of different room types and dates. Make sure the displayed availability matches the actual inventory. 

  • Start a test booking as if you were a guest. Select different room types, dates, and occupancy options. This helps you understand the booking flow from a guest's perspective. 

  • If you offer special promotions or discount codes, apply them during the test booking to verify that the correct discounts are applied. 

  • Check the total cost displayed before confirming the booking. Ensure it accurately includes room rates, taxes, fees, and extras. 

  • Complete the booking process until you reach the payment and confirmation stage. Use test payment methods if available, or select the option to simulate a booking without actual payment. 

  • If your booking engine provides reporting and analytics, review these features to ensure they provide accurate data about test bookings.

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.

What to do:

  • Develop a structured training plan that outlines what topics will be covered, the training schedule, and the methods you'll use to deliver the training. 

  • Assess your staff's existing knowledge and skills related to technology and reservations. 

  • Tailor the training plan to address any knowledge gaps. Coordinate training sessions based on staff availability. Schedule multiple sessions if needed to accommodate different shifts. 

  • Conduct role-playing exercises where staff simulate interactions with guests who have questions about the booking engine or need assistance with reservations. 

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.

What to do:

  • Highlight the booking engine prominently on your website's homepage. Use compelling call-to-action buttons or banners that encourage visitors to book directly. 

  • Post engaging content on your social media platforms about the convenience of booking through your website. 

  • Share success stories or guest testimonials to build trust and credibility. 

  • Send targeted emails to your subscriber list promoting the benefits of using your booking engine. 

  • Use pop-up windows or exit-intent offers on your website to capture the attention of visitors who are about to leave. 

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.

Key Takeaways

  • A booking engine lets your guests make reservations from your website. This reduces dependency on third-party platforms and OTAs, saving on commission fees and increasing revenue. 

  • A booking engine lets your hotel showcase unique offerings, including room types, packages, and amenities. This customization can attract a specific target audience and increase bookings. 

  • Implementing a booking engine streamlines the reservation process, reducing the workload on hotel staff. It automates tasks such as availability updates, confirmations, and reminders. 

  • Investing in a booking engine is a cost-effective way for small hotels to enhance their online presence, improve guest satisfaction, and boost revenue without significant capital expenditures.