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Online hotel booking system

Here’s everything you need to know about finding an online hotel booking system for your property.

What is a hotel booking system?

A hotel booking system is a tool that allows your accommodation business to take direct bookings. It can also be known as a booking engine and is used to allow travellers to make reservations directly from your hotel’s website.

You can also link your booking system to your social media pages and metasearch listings to increase your chances of direct revenue. Your booking system will make up a core component of the technology your hotel uses to drive online success.

In the same way guests painstakingly choose their accommodation, you need to do the same with the systems that will attract them to your property.

This page will help you on your own customer journey, giving you tips and insights on choosing a booking system for your hotel.

How does an online booking system for hotels work?

An online booking system works by plugging directly into your hotel website. From there guests can easily choose their rooms, extras, packages, and confirm their reservation. You can use it to make things extremely convenient for guests by displaying a ‘Book Now’ button that they can access from any page on your website when they are ready to make a decision. When a reservation is made, the booking data is automatically shared with your property management system and your channel manager to ensure your inventory and guest information is always up-to-date.

The same process applies if your online booking system is linked to your Facebook page or Google Hotel Ads for example. The system will have its own interface that can seamlessly integrate with your branding, so guests always enjoy a smooth experience.

What are the advantages of an online hotel booking system?

An online hotel booking system allows you to diversify and balance your distribution. Instead of relying solely on OTAs, other third-party channels like wholesalers, or offline methods such as walk-ins, you can win direct online bookings.

This enables you to increase the potential profit of each reservation you take, since you won’t be paying commission fees and you’ll be able to upsell with extras. It also allows you to control the guest relationship.

With a direct booking, you are in close contact with the customer from the booking stage to the post-stay period. Because of this, you’ll have a better opportunity to personalise their stay, build loyalty, and secure repeat bookings.

An online hotel booking system also helps you reduce manual work, save time, and keep your property’s sales strategies running smoothly 24/7 – boosting the overall performance of your business.

How important is hotel booking system design?

The design of your hotel booking system is crucial. It’s vital that it’s designed to enable guests to make quick and easy reservations, including payment. It should take no more than a few clicks for guests to choose their rooms, choose any extras or add-ons, and confirm their booking. Multi-currency and multi-lingual design is extremely important for this.

It’s also a requirement that your hotel booking system is designed to integrate with your brand. You should be able to display a look and feel that matches your hotel’s website.

This will keep the experience consistent for your guests and prevent them from becoming confused. The last thing you want is for them to think they’ve been navigated to a completely different site.

Must-have features of a good hotel booking system

There can be many subtle differences between hotel booking system providers in the amount of features offered and the level of sophistication to these features.

So it’s good to have a checklist handy of the absolute must-have features when you’re assessing your options. It’s important that your system:

  • Has the ability to take direct reservations through your brand website, social media sites, and metasearch sites such as Google
  • Adapts to your unique brand vision and content
  • Offers control of the guest relationship with personalised messaging features pre-stay and post-stay
  • Is mobile-optimised to give travellers on the run an unhindered booking experience
  • Drives last-minute bookings with prominent promotions and codes
  • Offers a flexible date calendar
  • Is setup to offer multiple room types
  • Makes checkout simple with a seamless checkout experience
  • Includes an integrated payments solution
  • Enables the upselling of upgrades, extras, and add-ons
  • Auto-triggers guests to leave a review on TripAdvisor when they complete a stay
  • Integrates easily with your website and other systems to increase conversions
  • Attracts travellers from many countries, in many global languages and currencies

There are even more to take into account and as you compare providers you’ll begin to discover the differences. It’s your job to decide which ones are the most important to you. It can all have an impact on whether you think a product is worth the investment or not, or if certain providers offer significantly more value than others.

How much will your hotel’s online booking system cost?

Given you are running a multi-faceted business, your costs and expenses are big considerations. You want to be sure your investments are giving you a healthy return for them to be worthwhile persisting with.

Here are the considerations for your online booking system:

Is there an upfront cost?
Commonly there will be a small initial setup fee to get your property up and running on the system. This is a one-time only cost.

What’s the best payment structure?
The best providers will offer a flat monthly payment model with no lock-in contract. You should be able to cancel your subscription at any time you want and at no extra charge.

Are there transaction fees?
Preferably no. Top providers will only charge you a set monthly fee, no matter how many bookings you generate via your online booking system. This can change if you add-on a metasearch service such as SiteMinder’s Demand Plus. With Demand Plus, SiteMinder will manage Google and other metasearch sites for you to bring in additional direct bookings. For these reservations, there will be small commission fees.

How is pricing set?
Most commonly, the price your property pays will depend on its size and also what particular requirements you have. Often there will be flexible plans for you to choose from.

To get an idea of how this would look for your hotel, check out SiteMinder’s pricing scale here.

Can you get a free hotel booking system?

The simple answer to this question is that there is no truly free system that will perform on the same level as the paid subscriptions offered by the industry leaders.

The reason online hotel booking systems cost money is because the developers need funding to keep maintaining, updating, and improving the products. It’s sophisticated technology that requires a lot of work in the background to improve the booking experience for hoteliers and guests alike.

That’s why it’s always good to think of your payment as an investment, because the money is going towards an even better product that will deliver your property even greater benefits as time goes by.

‘Truly free’ options won’t have the operating power, infrastructure, or support that you want, and you would end up jumping from service to service, until you realise the quality you need has to be paid for.

The good news is that the best providers of hotel booking systems have nothing to hide and let you trial their products completely free before asking for any payment. Coupled with a payment model that won’t lock you in, this approach is always a good sign that the technology can be trusted to deliver on its promises.

SiteMinder offers a 14-day free trial of its hotel booking system, allowing you to get up and running immediately and see for yourself how the product will increase direct bookings – both from your website and other sources such as social media and metasearch sites.

You won’t be on your own either, your free trial includes the whole onboarding process with specialised staff to make sure you’re set up for success from the moment you begin your free trial. Additional support is also available after setup.

Will it deliver a positive return on investment?

Any business investment comes with the hope and expectation of a positive return on investment (ROI). Guarantees are always hard to make but there are a couple of reasons why you can feel confident.

Generally, even if you only increase your annual occupancy rate by two percent for example, which is more than achievable, the added revenue from these reservations will easily cover the costs of your monthly fee.

An occupancy rise of 5% is also very achievable and this would see your revenue and profits jump quite significantly. In this respect, the monthly subscription fee for a hotel booking platform is normally no cause for concern.

During your free trial you can also do some analysis, albeit from a minor sample size, and see if you can spot the potential of the system. If after two weeks or a month you don’t think your property will benefit your hotel to the extent you’d like, you can always drop-off thanks to the contract-free arrangement.

However, provided your online booking system and website are working seamlessly together with your PMS and a channel manager, there will be no reason you won’t enjoy a welcome increase in direct bookings and revenue that far outweighs the ongoing costs of the software.

How quickly can you get started with using a hotel room booking system online?

When you start your free trial you can be up and running within the week. An added benefit of going through your free trial process is that all setup will be completed at this stage too. This is on the provider’s time and doesn’t cost you any money. This way there’s no time wasted when you are ready to start paying for your use of the service.

When you do sign up for a free trial, you should expect to be contacted within one business day. An additional week may be required to get your booking system ‘live’ and ready to accept reservations on behalf of your hotel.

It’s important to make sure your system integrates well with your property management system, website, and channel manager if you have one. These four solutions together can really make a difference to the results you achieve for your business and help you grow,

Will training and support be offered by your provider?

Yes, leading providers should and will always have support on hand to troubleshoot, answer questions, and solve any problems. No piece of technology ever really exists without any teething problems. Even the most popular products in the world, such as Apple, certainly aren’t fool or error proof.

Every powerful and successful product needs training and support services. When you enter into a free trial you should expect your provider to give you full training. This should include hands-on guidance from a dedicated staff member and additional resources such as training videos and helpful articles in the form of a customer knowledge base.

Knowing you can make a call or request and receive help is very comforting – nothing would be worse than trying to run your business and being unable to do so because of a technology failure. Ensure your online booking system provider offers around the clock support so that your region and language is taken care of.

Questions your hotel should ask your booking system vendor

Even amongst all your research it’s likely you’ll still have questions you want to ask before you make a purchase decision. You should certainly make sure you’ve covered all the bases before you make a final call. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions if you’re struggling to choose between a few different options.

To help prompt you, here are some questions you could put to your hotel booking system software provider:

  • What’s the one reason I should choose your product?
  • How will my direct bookings increase?
  • What benefits will my guests see?
  • What is the extent of its integration capability?
  • Can you show me how it will adapt to my existing brand image?
  • How will guest payments be processed?
  • What are some ways I can increase revenue and profit with this product?
  • Is the technology roadmapped for continued improvement?
  • What level of training and support do you offer?
  • Do I need a channel manager in conjunction with an online booking engine?

You don’t have to ask all these questions immediately, some happen as a matter of course during your free trial, just as long as you are satisfied before it comes time to start being billed.

How to choose a system to manage your hotel’s bookings

You can make it easier to choose which software will take your hotel forward by directly comparing providers. There’s a few ways to do this.

Some independent research you can do is to analyse the general brand strength, industry reputation, customer and partner volume, presence at events, social media reviews/comments, and the knowledge and professionalism of content. This will give you a good overall picture and if the provider ticks all your boxes then they’re probably a safe bet.

You can also use dedicated review sites as a resource to help you out. HotelTechReport is the best of these. This site will aggregate a number of factors such as ease of use, support, ROI, implementation, integration, and more, into ratings so you can know where each product ranks compared to its peers.

The platform also gives its own in-depth review and lets you know how recommended a product is and what properties it’s best suited to.

You’ll also find written reviews from other hoteliers detailing their experience with the product, including pros and cons. This is a good way to find any key points of interest you have and see what previous users have to say.

After this, you should feel more confident in any purchase decision you make.

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