Getting Results with Your Hotel Online Booking Engine

Roy McClean
Aug 23, 2013
Getting Results with Your Hotel Online Booking Engine

If you have a hotel (or a property management company) a top priority for your website is most likely booking "heads in beds".

So if you are selling lodging you need to choose your online booking system (OBE) carefully.

We have built and integrated several online booking engines / e-commerce / shopping carts for tourism and travel clients. And here is what we've learned over the past 15 years.

1. A SINGLE Source for Your Lodging Data

If you have a property management system application (let's call this a PMSA) it's always best to feed this data directly to your website. This includes your property overview, maps, amenities, rates and availability. If your PMSA is cloud-based this is typically relatively easy to do. But PMSA's often run on a server on the lodging provider's location, corporate office and/or call centre. In this case, you need an interface between your PMSA server and your website. This is often referred to as a web link. The web link allows your PMSA to "talk" to your website ensuring that important details like rates and product availability are always up-to-date and accurate.

The bottom line? Don't input your room or property info once in your PMSA and a second time in your website's database. Doing this leaves you vulnerable for having your lodging details, amenities, actual rates and availability out-of-sync between your PMSA and website. Booking a room or property when your website reads it as available and your PMSA has it booked can't be nothing but bad.

Put another way… one data source to manage both your PMSA and your website = good. More than one data source to manage = bad!

Data Sources for Online Booking Engines

2. A Seamless Experience Works Best

Overall, we have found that we get the best OBE conversion rates when the online experience for website visitors is "seamless". This means that your website visitors don't "leave" your website to complete the booking.

Think about this for a minute. Your website visitors on your website, they select the typical vacation dates, nights, number of people on your website's booking widget and when they press the "search" button they get sent to a completely different website and a different domain in the browser address bar. Is this the best way to offer your products?

The other (better) alternative is to have your website address bar domain name and overall look and feel consistent after the search button is clicked. The website experience is "seamless". No going from a beautifully designed website to a stark looking reservations page. No changes in the address bar from your domain to a completely different website address.

As noted in point one, your property data might be served from your PMSA while your website is server from another web server. This is OK as long as the user experience is "seamless".

Just sayin' …. when it's done this way we typically see better conversion rates and average room rates.

I'm not suggesting it's the end of the world if people leave your website after their property search. In our experience, the results just aren't as good.

2 Design and Domain Consistency

3. OBE Funnel Best Practice Components

There are a number of components that the best performing OBE's have. Such components include:

  • a navigation bar that clearly shows each of the pages in the booking funnel and which page your are on;
  • the ability to easily edit booking details such as nights required no matter where you are in the booking engine;
  • "trust" components like booking guarantees, credit card and/or tourism association logos, etc.

Noted online conversion Bryan Eisenberg wrote a great post: "Hidden Secrets of the Amazon Shopping Cart 2.0". This is an excellent overview of OBE best practices used by one of the world's best online stores. Learn from companies like Amazon that already have the online shopping experience dialled in!

Best Practices for Online Booking Engines

4. You Should Have Control Over the OBE Page Layout

Some OBE's are well designed and optimized for the best conversions. Others… well, they suck! And if you can't control the presentation of pages in the booking funnel you have little chance of improving your conversion.

A lot of OBE's offer standard 'out-of-the-box' layouts. It's the same layout for every business using their software application. If you can't change the text and images for your offer and the colour of the "Book Now" buttons or utilize other OBE best practices then your ability to ideally optimize your booking funnel is likely very restricted.

Remember, the same structure and layout usually doesn't work at the same level of effectiveness for all applications. The more control you have over layout, the more opportunity you have to improve your bottom line!

Online Booking Engine Design and Layout

5. OBE Testing is Like Picking Low Lying Fruit

Forms and OBE's are often the most effective parts of your website that you can run tests with that will have the most impact on your online success.

The power of having control over the layout / look and feel of your OBE becomes most effective when you can run testing. Think A/B testing tools like Visual Website Optimizer (our favourite). Once of my favourite business quotes is "you treasure what you measure". Having the ability to test and thereby improve your OBE performance is a very, very good thing.

5 Testing

Hotel Online Booking Engine Results in Review

So what does the best online booking engine (or booking funnel) offer? Let's review:

  1. Property data on your website is provided by your property management system. There is only one source for this data.
  2. The design look and feel and domain in the browser address bar is seamless after the visitor performs a property search.
  3. The OBE follows best practices (that are often established by big operations like Amazon or TripAdvisor).
  4. The OBE allows you to update your content and layout.
  5. The OBE allows you to engage in A/B testing to continually optimize the booking funnel.

Happy OBE selection, layout and optimizing!

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