At Porter we are independent when it comes to choice for and management of Internet Booking Engines (IBEs). However, we do find it most important that the connectivity between the hotel website and IBE is seamless as this results in a user-friendly customer experience, increase in direct bookings and therefore higher conversion (look-to-book ratio). Hotels ask us quite often which booking engine we prefer, and to be honest, there isn’t really one good answer for this question as the criteria may differ per hotel. In order to assist hotels with the selection of a ‘perfect fit’ when it comes to booking engine technology we have created the following list of criteria that hotels could use.
The first aspect of the booking engine to look into is the visual aspect. Is the look-and-feel in line with the expectations of your (potential) guests and is it in line with the layout of your website? When the step from your website to the booking engine means that guests have the idea that they are sent to a different system (although this is the case), it might influence the conversion. Website visitors might think it’s not safe to make a booking or feel that they are misled. Therefore the booking engine should be integrated into the website layout (ideal situation) or at least should work in a clear and trustworthy manner. The layout in terms of colours, logo, fonts, etc. should preferably be adapted to the ones used on your hotel website.
At Porter we believe it should be really easy to start the booking process. Therefore we have different places we add reservation buttons:
As mentioned in section one (look-and-feel) the best booking engine integration is, in our opinion, when the booking engine is loaded within the website itself. However this is technically not possible with the majority of booking engine providers. As an alternative the booking engine will be loaded in a new tab or window. Sometimes the booking engine is loaded within a lightbox ‘on top’ of the website. This is not ideal as this might not work well on smaller devices like smart phones and tablets.
Figure out in which ways your website should be connected to the booking engine and ask the booking engine provider if these ways of connecting are possible.
The easiness of opening the booking process from the hotel website, as described before, are obviously important. However the booking flow (the steps that guests need to carry out to find a suitable accommodation type and make a reservation) are maybe even more important. Therefore hotels should take a critical look at the booking steps. In the past there were providers that offered a ‘one screen’ booking functionality. However, since screens are getting smaller and the safe handling of personal data more important, this is not offered anymore.
Some booking engine require six or seven steps in order to finish a reservation, and some even open next steps in various screens, light boxes, etc.. This is not ideal. Potential guests might drop out on every step. Having different screens, tabs or lightboxes for different steps makes the booking flow less trustworthy, so this is not recommended.
Ideally guests will start the booking process with an actual overview of accommodations and rate plans that are available for the requested period. When an accommodation type with suitable rate plan is selected guests should go directly to the step where they can finalize the reservation, optionally upsell items are offered on this final step or in an extra step.
In order to find out how easy-to-use a booking engine might be, it’s a good exercise to count the number of clicks that are necessary to visit the final step of the booking process. In this case ‘the more the merrier’ isn’t quite applicable yet.
The costs of the use of a booking engine are an important criteria for many hoteliers. However, the actual costs are rather relative. A ‘cheap’ booking engine that doesn’t convert website visitors into hotel guests may be rather expensive (in revenue loss) in the long run. Globally booking engine providers work with a. a flat fee per month or b. with a fee that’s performance based (commission). When the fee is performance based there is an incentive for the provider to optimise the booking engine, this is normally not the case when you work with a flat fee for the use of the system.
Some booking engines offer the possibility to add more than one accommodation for different periods of stay to the ‘shopping cart’ of the booking engine. Some even offer the possibility to add additional services like breakfast, dinner, wellness treatments, etc. to the cart. Depending of the service level and type of guests that your hotel attracts, this might be a good ‘nice to have’.
As every (Porter) hotel website that is being developed is equipped with responsive technologies and tested for the use on all kind of (mobile) devices, the booking engine should be easy-to-use on all kind of screen types as well. Especially the easiness in booking flow should be carefully considered. When you take a look at the ease-of-use of the apps or mobile versions of major OTA’s, it is going to be difficult to compete. Therefore the booking flow on, for instance, smartphones should be pleasant and easy. Also be really critical when it comes to the fields that guests have to fill in. Are they really necessary? Filling in loads of personal data like date of birth, home address, etc. are a real conversion killer.
One of the advantages of direct reservations for a hotel are the possibilities to upsell items and services. This so called ‘ancillary’ revenue can be quite lucrative, if carried out properly. Many booking engine providers offer the possibilities to book extra’s like the obligate bottle of champagne or flowers. More interesting are services like a massage in the spa, a dinner or even bike rental or museum entrance tickets. Also the possibility to choose a better room type for an attractive amount is one of the possibilities advanced booking engines offer nowadays. If there is a potential in this area for your hotel, it might be good to check the possibilities when selecting the booking engine.
‘Connectivity is key’, especially when it comes to your booking engine. Please make sure the booking engine of choice has a proper ‘two-way’ connectivity with your Channel Manager or PMS. With this connectivity the actual rates and availability will be synchronised automatically. Also, when a reservation is made, the information will be transported (via the Channel Manager) to the PMS.
Guaranteeing or paying an overnight stay in your hotel should be very easy and it should be possible to do this via the payment method of choice for your guests. Therefore make sure the booking engine is connected to a professional payment service provider who offers the payment methods for your primal target markets. This is especially important when you work with pre-paid rates. If your hotel only works with rates that require a valid Credit Card number as guarantee method, then the connectivity with a payment provider is less important. Please do make sure the booking engine provider is PCI compliant and does everything in its power to prevent hacks or malicious use of guest information (see privacy and security).
Smart hoteliers use different tactics to distinguish themselves from OTA’s in order to drive direct reservations. One of these tactics is offering special offers, packages and promotions that are exclusively available at the official hotel website. In order to make effective use of this type of offers, the booking engine should be able to handle this kind of reservations. Preferably in an easy way so that offers can be booked in the same way as room types. This gives us, as hotel website developers, the possibility to make deep links from the offers page on the website to the specific reservation page within the booking engine. This makes it easy to book offers and packages and will increase the conversion rates for special offer reservations.
Another tactic that hoteliers can use in order to drive direct bookings is working with promotion codes. Promotion codes unlock special (discounted) rates to closed user groups. A commonly used strategy is offering guests a promotion or discount code for their next reservation upon check-out. This discount is obviously only available when guests make the next booking via the hotel website. Promotion codes can also be used for promotional campaigns on social media. By creating unique codes for each campaign, the effectiveness of a campaign can be tracked easily. Investigate if the booking engine provider offers the use of promotional codes, if this tactic is relevant for your hotel.
A practise that we are not so fond of is mentioning promotion codes on the website and letting potential guests copy/paste this promotion code within the dedicated booking engine field themselves. For the guest this is cumbersome and the use of promotion codes loses it’s exclusiveness like this.
Hoteliers with good relations with business or tour operators might offer dedicated, discounted rates. In order to disclose these rates corporate codes (just like promotion codes) could be offered. Make sure the booking engine offers this possibility when this practise is relevant for your hotel.
Some, more advanced booking engine providers offer the possibility of a loyalty program. There are also external loyalty program providers, however the integration of the loyalty program within the booking engine process might be technically advanced (read impossible). When hoteliers are looking for a smart way to create long lasting relations with recurring guests, this feature might be worthwhile.
As booking engines handle personal data and credit card details they are an attractive target for hackers. Therefore it’s important that the booking engine provider takes all measures necessary to stay and remain secure. It might be good to ask what kind of measures the IBE takes in this area. Also, the booking engine should follow the guidelines and procedures which come with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Guest information should therefore not be shared with external parties and it should be very clear and transparent what will happen with this personal data. A breach of this or a hack of the booking engine may cause both financial and reputational damage.
For us as hotel marketers it is really important to be able to track the performance of the hotel website and booking engine. In order to do this properly we equip websites with Google Analytics and activate e-commerce tracking. With e-commerce tracking we can measure statistics like number of reservations, revenue, average order value and conversion. Although the majority of booking engine providers understand the importance of this and offer the activation of e-commerce tracking as a service, there are some that do not offer this. Others ask a (ridiculous) fee for the setup of this. Please make sure the booking engine you are selecting offers this possibility (free of charge) as these statistics are paramount for an effective and successful online marketing and direct booking strategy.
Hopefully you will find this list of criteria useful. Please note that not all criteria might be applicable for your hotel, or maybe they are but you haven’t thought about it yet. As the industry of hotel distribution and hotel internet marketing is dynamic, over time the criteria or the weight in importance of the criteria may differ. Therefore it can be useful to get in touch with us to discuss which criteria or what kind of booking engine is the right fit for your hotel. We are here to help you reach the full potential in direct reservations so let us help you fulfill this valuable ambition.