What is a hotel booking engine?
A hotel booking engine is a system used on hotel websites and social media pages to capture and process direct online reservations.
It’s your key to commission-free bookings, which allows you to optimise your property’s sales strategy and maximise profit.
While online travel agents can make your hotel known to large new audiences, the hefty commission fees can often be frustrating. A booking engine is a way for your hotel to balance your distribution strategy and reduce OTA dominance.
This blog will give you a detailed rundown of booking engines in the hotel industry, including how they work, how your hotel can use them to your advantage, and everything else you need to know.
Table of contents
Why is a booking engine important for your hotel?
Using a booking engine at your hotel is important for allowing guests to book rooms online in a way that is convenient and secure. It’s something that modern travellers have come to appreciate and expect.
This is because:
- Guests can easily self-serve – Travellers can check which rooms are available when, and for how much, without ever speaking to you.
- Guests trust online booking – When guests make a booking, your booking engine can securely accept credit card payments, and guest data is safely stored and accessible in one place.
- Guests can book quicker – Online booking puts an end to games of phone or email tag, with travellers and hotels liaising for days before confirming a booking.
- Guests look for direct booking perks – People will often head to your website in the hopes that if they book directly they’ll get something a little extra added to their stay. This is a trade-off many properties will make to save on paying third-party commissions.
- It’s more professional – Modern guests will be surprised if they can’t perform an online booking on your website. It’s likely to give them the impression that you’re not organised and they’ll end up booking another property.
It’s also important that you’re able to own the guest relationship. Once a guest books directly, you can do everything in your power to personalise their service and make them a return visitor. You can improve the profitability of every guest, one by one, just by securing their direct booking and earning their loyalty.
Your hotel website needs booking engine integration
Effective communication and cooperation between the systems you use at your hotel is always important. Your website and booking engine are two of the most important cogs in the machine.
To be optimised for potential guests:
- An online booking engine must be synchronised with your website
- Your website needs to display a ‘Book Now’ button
- The experience of your website and booking engine need to align on functionality and performance
- Design quality on your website must also be reflected on the booking engine and vice versa
- Your website will be HTTPS secure with an updated SSL certificate
Benefits gained from website and booking engine integration include:
- The ability to stay on par with the booking experience on OTAs, which is important if your hotel wants to remain a viable booking alternative to the third-party channels
- A consistently mobile-friendly platform which will help reduce user friction
- A quick and functional experience for guests given they won’t have to repeat actions or input the same information more than once
- A much easier way to manage rates and reservations since you won’t have to do any manual processing between the two systems, eliminating accidental errors
- Greater success with search engine optimisation because your content and functionality will be optimised on both your website and booking engine
- More traffic, more regularly, to your booking engine flowing straight from your website in a single click
How does an online booking engine work?
An online booking engine works by plugging into your hotel website and processing secure online reservations made through the site. The data is then passed onto your property management system so you can access and manage the bookings.
The booking engine will display your rates and availability in real-time and allow guests to select their dates and finalise the reservation. Other features may come with it – for example, the automation of reservation confirmation emails.
A booking engine can also integrate with a channel manager, so it can be managed in the same manner as the online travel agents you connect to. By connecting your booking engine with a channel manager, you’ll have access to powerful performance reports that let you compare your direct reservations with your third-party bookings.
Key benefits of booking engine software
While the core message around booking engine software is direct bookings, there’s a lot more potential than that.
With the right booking engine in place:
- You can increase conversions with a simple guest booking experience
- You can save time with quick and easy setup
- You can eliminate manual data entry with instant integration
- You can make better decisions with data
- You can gain an advantage over competitors who don’t have one
Here’s a full list of 10 benefits:
1. Improves your efficiency as a business
With PMS and channel manager integration your availability is updated immediately upon receiving a reservation, not only in your own system, but across all of your channels.
2. Simplifies the administrative process for you and your staff
Rather than requiring you to respond to email inquiries and accept reservations over the phone, an online booking system does the work for you. You can then spend more time interacting with your guests and keep the rest of the staff more organised and efficient, because everyone will have access to live information about the current occupancy at the hotel.
3. Allows you to collect valuable data about your guests
Data collection is absolutely critical, especially in the hotel industry where guests are demanding a more personalised experience. Guest data can help you tailor your marketing campaigns to attract the most motivated guests to your hotel brand.
4. Directly improves the guest experience at your property
A cloud-based system allows your guests to book their preferred room type on their computers, from their tablets or on their phones. With short forms and secure payment portals, it makes the process of online booking a room simple, easy and enjoyable.
Remember, this is their first impression of your hotel and it will have a lasting impact on their perception of your brand. It should be user-friendly if your guests will complete the process and book online.
There’s a lot of arguments for adopting an online booking system for your hotel and not many against. Let’s cement the advantages and identify the issues you have at the property that can be solved by this technology.
5. Enables your property to be instantly bookable through your hotel website
Research shows that most guests will look at both OTAs and the property website to inform their decision. By presenting an easy way for them to book right on your page, you increase the chances that when they’re ready to reserve, they’ll do it directly with you.
6. Reduces your reliance on OTAs
OTAs are a great way of getting your name out there. Your property shows up on search results for your destination, and guests find your presence there trustworthy, but it can limit your revenue to have all of your bookings coming through a third party. Why not take charge of your earnings by getting some of your bookings from your own channel?
7. Easily accepts credit cards and processes payments
A major plus of an online booking system is that guests can pay directly by credit card and the system will automatically process the reservation details – saving you time and hassle. This includes extra payments like deposits or charges for additional services such as breakfast and cleaning fees.
8. Controls the guest experience through the entire customer journey
From the moment a potential customer lands on your property website, they only interact with the content you have chosen. That means you can use your own branding throughout the process, and play a key role in making their user experience a positive one.
9. Gives guests the option to pay in their own language and currency
An online booking engine can enable your customers to book in the language they feel most comfortable in, and pay in the currency that makes the most sense for them. This gives them the comfort and ease-of-use most customers hope for, and sets their expectations even before they arrive at your property.
10. Creates flexibility on the type of promotions you offer
Your booking engine can easily set up last-minute deals and extended stay discounts with the click of a button. These kinds of offers increase loyalty and the likelihood that your guests will have a positive experience and leave a good review.
Essential features of an internet booking engine
As with any product you purchase for your hotel, quality will vary along with the price. Obviously you’ll want the basics covered at a minimum.
Here’s more than 10 of the most essential booking engine features you should expect:
1. An extensive image gallery
It’s already an established fact that visual experience through image galleries is one of the top factors to get guests over the line when booking. Being able to add a lot of high-resolution images to your gallery is important if you want to entice guests to book.
2. Banner images
What is the first thing that you notice on a website? Isn’t it the banner image that steals the show for first impressions? Your booking engine should allow you to display an exciting banner image.
3. Social media connection
A booking engine should connect with your social media pages, so you can effortlessly drive your social media followers to book via your direct channel rather than OTAs.
4. Room order auto optimisation
When you want your guests to have seamless and hassle-free booking experience, the best you can do is to present them with the options they searched for. This feature displays the rooms according to your guest’s search criteria on the top of the search results, making it quick and easy for them to book.
5. Intuitive booking summary
Whenever a guest chooses a room that is not close to the search criteria, a booking summary can alert the guests with a message that the rooms they selected do not match what they were looking for. This way, your guests are constantly engaged and guided to make the best choices for them.
6. Google Analytics integration
When you have a hotel business and most of your bookings are coming from online, you need to know exactly where they are coming from, and where your website visitors are exiting from. Data can be crucial in analysing the success of your hotel website, so your booking engine should empower you with Google Analytics integration to keep track of your website visits and make decisions based on crucial data.
7. Promotion codes
You can always be a step ahead of your competitors by attracting more customers with the help of promotion codes. A booking engine should enable you to create your own promotions and give a code to your customers to avail discounts. You can have something special going on during school holidays, local festivals, or even corporate promotions, and sell your rooms much faster with value-for-money offers.
8. Multilingual functionality
The hotel industry is one of the most diverse in the world. Since the hospitality business involves such a wide customer base from various regions and countries globally, your customers should be able to select the language they wish and have a smooth booking process without any language barriers.
9. Multi-currency enabled
Where there are multiple languages, there are multiple currencies too! Setting up your booking engine to receive payments in your local currency should be easy.
10. Extras and add-ons
Extras are a great way to upsell your rooms. These are the items or services that you can sell along with a room for an extra fee. You can actually keep the basic room rate low and earn from extras. Say your lowest rate is priced at $100, you can offer an extra massage worth $40 with the room for a more attractive offer for the guest.
11. Hide unavailable rooms
Sometimes, your customers can be turned off or navigate away from your hotel website because they see more unavailable rooms than available ones. Well, you don’t always have to show what’s not available – instead, present them with all you have and let guests choose from the list.
12. Quick and simple reservation process
Your booking engine should offer a short form for your guests to fill out when they are ready to book a room. They should not be redirected to a different site to complete their reservation or process their payment.
13. Mobile friendly
The number of mobile bookings throughout the industry continues to increase with each passing year so your hotel booking software needs to allow you to accept mobile bookings.
If you need help choosing the best booking engine for your hotel, download our free buyers guide.
Hotel booking engine providers
There are a number of hotel booking engine providers available on the market. Some are suited to large independent hotels or big hotel chains, while others can be perfect for smaller properties like boutique hotels or bed and breakfasts.
Ranked the #1 hotel commerce platform, SiteMinder offers a hotel booking engine that gives medium to large hotels everything they need to take commission-free direct bookings, personalise guest service, grow profit, and save time.
SiteMinder’s booking engine also integrates seamlessly with the platform’s website builder as well as hundreds of the most popular property management systems.
For smaller properties, Little Hotelier is a great option. It’s an all-in-one solution that includes a booking engine and is designed specifically for boutique hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, inns, motels, and more. Little Hotelier is also backed by SiteMinder’s technology, so the quality is among the best in the industry.
How to implement a hotel website booking engine
It should be straightforward to implement your hotel website booking engine, once you have chosen a provider.
In most cases, your booking engine provider will be able to integrate seamlessly with your existing website. If you don’t already have a website, providers like SiteMinder offer a website builder so you can easily create one.
How to use a hotel Facebook booking engine
Your booking engine provider should also be able to connect your booking engine to your Facebook page.
You can create a call-to-action on your business page that links directly to your booking page. This means you can take direct bookings without the guest ever needing to visit your website.