Common Challenges with Booking Online Hotel Condo Units
By Rob Kall President, Bookt LLC | January 27, 2012
The lodging industry is always evolving and many new concepts have emerged to meet new market demands. In the last ten years the model of the Condo Hotel has gained worldwide popularity, especially during the last real estate boom. Condo hotels are typically categorized as a property where condo ownership and traditional hotel amenities are combined. There is also the older, more traditional condo rental community, where an onsite or offsite rental company manages a large number of units and rents them for their owners. This article tries to pin point some of the challenges and the best practices related to the booking of rental units owned by a 3rd party online.
What's the Same?
Regardless what type of lodging you are trying to sell online, some golden rules apply: Always make sure your website's home page has an emotional reason to visit your destination, e.g. a beautiful and engaging photo slideshow of your property and the surroundings. Equally important, make sure you have an easy call to action above the fold (the part of the website you see without scrolling), such as a simple quick search. Make sure your booking engine is fully integrated into your site. It shouldn't rely on "scary" popups, complicated framing or has any other quirks that would make an online booker's experience more complicated than it would be on one of the common OTA sites like Orbitz or Expedia. When evaluating your site, pay attention to things like bounce rate (how many people leave your site after seeing just one page), total monthly visitors and online conversion.
Generic vs. Unit Specific Search & Booking
When renting condo units, many times, you are not renting your hotel's own units but someone else's. In the United States we often refer to this as vacation rentals; in Europe terms like Holiday Apartments or Holiday Lets are common. Besides the fact that the variability of your inventory tends to be much greater (as opposed to a hotel, which most of the time only classifies a handful of room categories), you also have to account for the fact that these units are actually owned by a large and diverse group of condo owners. They are really the people who are renting out the unit and you are just collecting the rent on their behalf, while being entitled to a commission. This arrangement has significant accounting implications. Those are however largely outside the scope of this article, which will remain focused on the online booking aspects.
As mentioned above, Condo inventory tends to be more diverse then what hotels usually have. So how should you manage that online? There are two options: Either you go the hotel route, group similar units together (by attributes like number of bedrooms and view) and display a generic unit of each category on your site. Or, the alternative is to list each and every individual unit, its rates, prices and availability. So which works best? As always, the answer is "that depends". If you deal with a recently built complex, with a rental program that requires certain minimum standards in terms of furnishing and equipment, and the guest can reasonably expect to have a very similar experience if he rents unit 302 or 304, then by all means go the generic route. It's simpler to manage, most booking engines will support it better and it's easier to distribute the inventory to additional channels like OTAs and the GDS.