Is Your Booking Engine the Right One for You and Are You Utilizing it to its Capacity?

By Drew Rosser VP of Business Development, Whiteboard Labs | January 27, 2012

This is a rather fundamental question for any hotel or chain. Have you ever truly asked the question? Do you even know the answer? I will make a general assumption here that most hotels chose the booking engine they use primarily on the fees charged by the booking engine provider. That certainly needs to be considered but there are so many other factors that go into that decision.

There is no shortage of booking engine providers available today. When we deployed our first engine back in 2000 I actually had hoteliers tell me, "The Internet is a fad" or "Our guest's like to call. They won't book a room online." How times have changed. Having a booking engine on your hotel web site is SOP these days. Having the right one or using your current one to it's fullest is more about proper execution than expectation.

First I would like to make a suggestion and offer up a more encompassing term to the online application so many call, a "booking engine". I really see it as a conversion engine. A conversion engine should in theory do more than just put heads in beds. I think any hotel or chain needs to first have a clear understanding of what their goals are for online distribution.

  1. What is your business mix, corporate, leisure or both?
    a. Allow Groups to book online?
    b. Allow Negotiated Corporate to book online?
  2. Sell Packages
    a. Need dynamic packaging capability?
  3. How important are room images?
    a. Do you have multiple images per room type?
    b. Do you have video?
  4. Do you have a Loyalty program?
  5. Do you offer Promotional rates to specific bookers?
  6. Do you have an advanced rate management strategy?
    a. Offer different rates based on length of stay?
  7. Do you offer merchandising or add ons to Packages and standard rates?
    a.Sell additional products and or services that allow your guests to customize their stay?
  8. Do you offer Guest Preferences?
    a. Allow guests to choose certain preferences such as feather vs. foam pillow, high vs. low floor, smoking or non-smoking room.
    b. These are configurable on the admin side of the booking engine and are attached to the guest profile.
  9. Do you need Multi language capability?
  10. Do you need Multi currency capability?
  11. Do you need complex tracking associated with the engine?
    a. Integrate tracking codes within the booking engine to gather analytics of the online users
  12. How well does the engine integrate into your Web site?
    a. What level of customization is allowed?

Your decision on any conversion engine should be based on how you sell. Are you selling a price point? If so then maybe the more complex engines that focus on images and dynamic packaging is less important. You need something a bit simpler that gets your online guest to a confirmation as quickly as possible.

If you are a hotel or chain that is selling an experience, a lifestyle, an image then the conversion engines that allow for more marketing via imagery and complex rate and packaging might be in your best interest. Visual Browsing lets users find things with pictures instead of text. A quality engine should have an array of room type or package photos instead of just a text name. This is not a new concept. For example, iTunes has several views that let users find albums and songs by viewing album art instead of an album or song list. The Mac Finder has a 3D "CoverFlow" view that shows small thumbnail previews of the file contents. Bing now has a "visual search" that displays user search results as images (bing.com/visualsearch). Viewing photos (and videos) of rooms can help users make decisions faster without having to read and digest too much text.

The conversion engine and your Web site should work in tandem to funnel the online user to that conversion point. Also if you do have a complex room type offering you really need an engine that allows you the ability to have room descriptions that are Web friendly. GDS descriptions sometimes do not translate very well to the Web. Due to the character limitations of the GDS, abbreviations are used and shortened descriptions that really do not allow for a full detailed overview of the room. This really comes into play when the same description is repeated over and over for all room types. Other than the image there is nothing that differentiates one room over another.

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Social Media: Getting Personal

There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.