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Late bookings: Guide to last minute bookings for hotels

  Posted in Resources  Last updated 1/05/2024

What are late bookings? 

Late bookings are often spontaneous, last-minute, reservations that often come in days, hours or even minutes before the guest’s intended arrival time. These bookings often occur due to sudden travel plans, business needs, or even whimsical decisions to take a quick getaway. 

While they can be a wild card in the hotel management game, they offer a unique opportunity to maximise occupancy and revenue. However, they do require a level of agility and real-time responsiveness from the hotel’s end to ensure a seamless guest experience. 

This blog will provide a full guide to late and last-minute bookings, and how your hotel can benefit from them.

Table of contents

What are the benefits of last minute bookings in hotels?

Last-minute bookings can be the answer to unused – and therefore unprofitable – vacancies, often filling rooms that would otherwise go to waste. However, it isn’t just a matter of “more = better”. 

Last-minute hotel room bookings have a range of benefits including:

  • Maximised occupancy: Filling rooms at the eleventh hour ensures that you’re making the most of your available inventory. An occupied room, even at a discounted rate, is better than an empty one.
  • Boosted revenue: Late bookings often come with higher price tags, capitalising on the urgency of the guest’s needs. This allows you to maintain or even increase your average daily rate (ADR).
  • Diverse clientele: Last-minute bookings attract a wide range of guests, from business travellers catching a late flight to spontaneous weekend adventurers. This diversity can enrich your customer database and allow you to access new audiences.
  • Reduced cancellation risks: The closer the booking is to the stay date, the less likely it is to be cancelled. This adds a layer of reliability to your occupancy rates.
  • Operational efficiency: Knowing you have a full house can streamline other operational decisions, from staffing levels to food and beverage orders.
  • Enhanced guest experience: Last-minute bookings give you an opportunity to impress – and provide relief to – a new segment of clientele with your impeccable service, potentially turning them into loyal customers.
  • Market competitiveness: Being able to efficiently handle last-minute bookings positions your hotel as agile and responsive, qualities that modern travellers highly value.

Last-minute bookings offer a multi-faceted advantage, optimising both revenue and guest experience.

The growth of late bookings from mobile users

If mobile technology has already transformed everyday life in ways we could not have imagined a decade ago, it is set to deliver even more profound innovations in the years ahead.

Almost three-quarters of the world’s population now has a mobile device, with practically everyone now having a cell phone in their pocket and available for booking hotel rooms.

If you think innovation is just the domain of nimble start-ups or big brands, think again. For hotels, it is equally a case of innovate or die, with mobile disruption extending into the familiar territory of travel and hotel bookings.

More and more customers are booking travel via mobile devices, according to recent research..

The report states that almost 45% of travellers used a mobile app to book their accommodation and tours, while nearly 85% of travellers booked activities using their mobile device.

Increasing last minute booking accommodation

The portability and immediacy of mobile devices seem to be driving a change in travel booking behaviour. Recent data from shows that 50% of travellers who book via mobile devices do so for last minute or next-day stays.

Similarly, Phocuswright found that 30% of searches are on online travel agent (OTA) mobile websites, and nearly one in four on hotel mobile sites are for same-day or next-day check in.

The trend towards mobile bookings and the accompanying trend towards last minute bookings represent a huge opportunity for hotels to sell their very final rooms, right up to the last minute. But only hotels with the right technology in place will be able to take advantage.

Many hotels are still operating on an inventory allocation model. With this method, the hotel allows each of its channels a certain number of rooms. 

This means splitting up inventory according to how much you think each channel will sell and reserving some for direct bookings. There are several drawbacks to this approach…

Preventing last minute overbookings

Firstly, you may overbook your rooms. For example, you accept a booking over the phone, but within minutes the room is sold via a booking site, before you can log in and update it.

With your room now double-booked, you have to upgrade your guests or turn them away completely. Many hotels keep back a number of rooms to avoid this happening, losing out on valuable revenue by holding rooms ‘just in case’.

This is not the only way the allocated inventory model creates waste. For example, you could give two channels 10 rooms each. Channel one sells them all, while channel two only sells one.

Channel one could have sold all the rooms, but instead you have nine rooms sitting empty because you allocated them to channel two.

The answer is a pooled inventory system via a tool like SiteMinder’s channel manager. This allows you to increase your revenue and reduce waste, by ensuring all inventory is available across all your channels – and you can keep all available rooms listed right up to the last minute.

When a room is booked, SiteMinder’s channel manager automatically updates it across all channels. You can also change the room rates across all channels without logging into multiple sites to make updates.

How to manage late bookings for your hotel

Real-time inventory management

Real-time inventory management is crucial for handling late bookings effectively. By synchronising room availability across all distribution channels, you eliminate the risk of overbooking. This real-time update allows you to confidently accept last-minute reservations, knowing that the room is genuinely available. It also enables you to make quick decisions about offering special rates or packages to fill any remaining rooms.

A dynamic approach to pricing strategies

Dynamic pricing is a game-changer for late bookings. By adjusting room rates based on real-time demand and availability, you can price rooms attractively for last-minute bookers without undercutting your profit margins. This strategy not only makes your hotel appealing for spontaneous travellers but also ensures you’re getting the best possible revenue for each room.

Automated communication

Automated communication systems streamline the reservation process by sending instant confirmations and essential check-in information. For late bookings, this is invaluable. Guests are sometimes already en route to the hotel, and immediate communication removes any uncertainty and enhances their experience, all while freeing up your staff to focus on other tasks.

Flexible staffing

Flexible staffing models, such as on-call or part-time staff, can be activated to handle increased workloads during high occupancy periods. When a late booking comes in, you can quickly ramp up staffing levels to ensure that the room is clean, amenities are in place, and the guest’s experience is seamless.

Express check-in/check-out

Late bookings often mean late arrivals. An express check-in and check-out service can be a lifesaver for weary travellers who’ve been on the road or in the air. By speeding up these processes, you not only improve the guest’s experience but also reduce the workload on your front desk, making it easier to manage sudden spikes in occupancy.

Mobile room keys

The use of mobile room keys can significantly expedite the check-in process, a feature particularly beneficial for late bookings. Guests can bypass the front desk entirely, heading straight to their room and unlocking it with their smartphone. This not only impresses the guest with your tech-savviness but also streamlines operations.

Pre-arrival upselling

Late bookings offer a narrow window for pre-arrival upselling, but it’s a golden opportunity. With the guest already committed to staying at your hotel, targeted offers for room upgrades, spa treatments, or dining options can be sent via email or app notifications. This not only increases revenue but also enhances the guest’s stay.

Post-stay feedback

Collecting feedback after the guest’s stay is crucial for continuous improvement, especially concerning how well you managed their late booking. Understanding the guest’s experience will provide insights into what worked well and what needs tweaking, allowing you to refine your strategies for managing late bookings in the future.

The future of late bookings in hotels

Expect further innovation in the hotel industry as these trends play out, offering the opportunity for canny operators to further grow revenue and reduce the waste associated with empty rooms.

With the UK hotel sector experiencing continued growth, hotel groups including Marriott, Novotel, Holiday Inn and Ibis are using hourly micro-stays as a way to increase occupancy and generate revenue from rooms that would otherwise be empty during the day.

Customers are using hotel micro-stays for a variety of reasons – such as a comfortable stop-over between flights, for informal business meetings or as a convenient base for a day’s shopping or sightseeing.

Today, independent hotel operators need to be on the front foot to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the boom in mobile and last minute hotel bookings. Change is a given – it’s what you do with it that counts.

Manage late bookings with ease and increase room revenue with SiteMinder

SiteMinder’s leading hotel platform has everything you need to capitalise on late bookings and secure unbeatable revenue results in the process.

  • Maximise revenue with intelligent rate management: SiteMinder’s business intelligence allows you to adapt in real-time, allowing you to attract last-minute guests without sacrificing profitability. Turn empty rooms into revenue-generating assets effortlessly.
  • Streamline operations with real-time inventory updates: Eliminate overbooking worries with SiteMinder’s real-time inventory management that synchronises room availability across all channels. Confidently accept late bookings while maintaining operational efficiency.
  • Enhance guest experience through automated communication: SiteMinder’s automated features send instant booking confirmations and essential check-in details. Elevate the guest experience and free your staff to focus on delivering exceptional in-house services.

Get started with SiteMinder for free or watch a demo to learn more.

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By Dean Elphick

Dean is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist of SiteMinder, the leading technology provider delivering hoteliers unbeatable revenue results. Dean has made writing and creating content his passion for the entirety of his professional life, which includes more than six years at SiteMinder. Through content, Dean aims to provide education, inspiration, assistance and value for accommodation businesses looking to improve the way they run their operations achieve their goals.

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