Finding the best booking engine for your hotel is tough. Many of them may fit your criteria. Choosing the best alternative from those candidates can make even the most cool-headed revenue manager sleepless. At its most basic, you must go with the one that puts you at the best position to succeed with your direct booking strategy. In other words, your booking engine must have the ability to let you drive as much direct traffic to your website as possible and convert lookers to bookers at the best possible ratio.
The question is how do you know if the booking engine you already use or are considering has these abilities?
Booking engines offer many features that promise improved business performance, and a lot of them are certainly necessary. These include accepting multiple currencies and languages, a high resolution image gallery, good graphic design, etc. But which of these features can not only support your scaling and optimization efforts but can also give you that first big breakthrough in direct bookings?
The latter are definitely the ones you should be looking for the most.
Here are five must-have booking engine features you need to make sure your hotel website can survive in the era of direct bookings:
Booking Engine Must-Have #1: Mobile Compatibility
Out of all online bookings, the percentage of mobile bookings is increasing day by day. A recent study by Criteo shows, mobile was involved in 52% of the US bookings in for Q1 of 2016. In addition, mobile took up a considerable portion of last minute OTA bookings at 67% and 41% on hotel websites.
“Mobile First” isn’t a slogan for future growth anymore, but is now a way of life. You only have one chance to persuade a potential guest before decide to book through a 3rd party website. Therefore, your website must allow easy and instant mobile booking. Doing all the hard work to bring direct traffic to your website just to lose a guest due to a bad mobile experience is a shame. Make sure that your booking engine offers a good mobile solution.
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Booking Engine Must-Have #2: Channel Manager – Metasearch Connectivity
A channel management supported booking engine isn’t only a safeguard against overbooking. It also allows you to display real-time availability, provide the best available rate at any given moment, and assures easy connectivity with meta-search partners.
Although meta-search might be expensive, sometimes costing more per acquisition than OTAs, it’s the fastest way to increase direct booking. But the good news is that metasearch channels can be optimized across time. It builds up your brand by sending the user to book from your website, allowing you to truly “acquire” guests. Then you can turn them into returning direct bookers via your email marketing retention and social media remarketing campaigns.
Booking Engine Must-Have #3: Enhanced Rate Flexibility
In the last 5-10 years, online booking cancellation policies changed, which led to a massive consumer behavioral shift. You may know this as “Free Cancellation” or “One Click to Cancel” practice from large OTAs. While this tactic worked perfectly for them, it has proven poisonous to independent hotels or chains struggling with direct booking. Here is why:
Related article: How to reduce your hotel cancellation rate?
The OTAs wanted to increase their conversion rate (look-to-book ratio), meaning they wanted to turn more visitors into bookers. Promising a free and instant cancellation was a powerful enticement to complete the reservation process. But the plan had an unexpected side effect. People started booking 4-6 reservations at the same time, then cancelled all but the cheapest one at the last minute. OTAs thrived from just that one booking commission, and the numbers played well for them. Unfortunately, hotels were inundated with unpredictable availability from the fast-growing number of cancellations, forcing them to adopt “overbooking” tactics.
More than that, hotels that changed their cancellation policies and included 1-2 night deposit. were pushed down on the OTA lists and lost sales.
And now when hotels work so hard to attract travelers to book through their websites, “Free Cancellation” has become almost a standard for hotels. Even when guests book a Non-Refundable reservation, often they demand a refund if they cancel, and even in case of a no-show.
This is an issue that must be addressed. While travel insurance companies may protect the guest, they are far from providing a great customer experience. It’s neither “free” for the guest nor profitable for the hotel.
But there is a silver lining to this cancellation cloud. Life Happens™ is a program integrated with several different booking engines already. It allows your guests to save money on a discounted, non-refundable reservation while being able to cancel at any time. They receive 80% of the money back in exchange for a very small commission. That commission is shared with the hotel, which not only benefits from a free feature that provides the expected cancellation policy of the consumers, but also gets paid for it.
So make sure that your booking engine offers the opportunity to provide good customer service and a rate flexibility that is in demand in today’s travel market. If you also get paid for it, what can be better than that?
(By the way, if your booking engine is already integrated with Life-Happens, ask your booking engine provider to turn the Life Happens feature ON for you. We can also help with that if you contact us here. If it’s not already, we can speed up the process, so let’s connect and bring it on.)
Booking Engine Must-Have #4: Simplified Booking Process
The conversion rate, or the click-to-book ratio, is one of the most important indicators of a good booking website. It is also one of the main parameters affecting your bottom profit line. Direct booking isn’t free. You have to invest money on direct traffic, branding, human and tech resources, and eventually you’d want to convert the traffic you attract to your website at the highest ratio.
Your booking engine must have a simple flow that doesn’t take more than 3-4 clicks (up to 5 webpages) to complete a reservation on your website. A more complex flow will reduce your conversion rate, increasing your CPA (cost per acquisition) of paid traffic, thereby reducing your global ROI.
Booking Engine Must-Have #5: Email Automation
Sending automated confirmation emails serves a CX (customer experience) purpose. But it also helps with marketing and customer retention. You should be able to manage a mailing list of your guests and market them special offerings. This email marketing can become a non-paid acquisition channel to encourage repeat business. Otherwise, you will be paying twice as much on unnecessary web traffic to bring even a returning guest back your website.
As usual we created a short slides presentation of this blog post just to give you one more way to share it with your colleagues who usually can’t read as much as you.
Provide guests the flexibility to cancel without the risk of losing revenue. It’s easy so let’s get started!
Related blog post: How to Increase RevPAR in 2017
I hope you will find this blog post valuable. Please leave any questions in the comments section below (I reply quickly), and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter for weekly hacks and tips that will maximize your direct booking efforts.
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