What should you be getting from your hotel booking engine provider? Which features are most important to your hotel, and which can you live without?
From our perspective, your hotel booking engine provider should be giving you a highly flexible, fully controllable, feature-rich solution, along with in-depth reporting and a team to support you.
Why is a booking engine provider important?
A good booking engine provider adds value in several ways. It aids you in:
- Brand promotion
- Lower costs than other online channels
- Increasing the lifetime value of the guest
- Retaining the loyalty of the guest
Our list below will explain how a good booking engine provider helps achieve these things.
Before we dive into 11 of the most important things to look for in a hotel booking engine provider, here’s a checklist of 10 top-level questions to ask yourself about your provider:
If you’re seeking out a booking engine, keep those questions in the forefront of your mind. Make a list of the features and functionality that are most important to your hotel, so you know what you’re looking for as you do your research.
Below, we’ve listed 11 of the most important things to look for in a hotel booking engine provider to get you started. We’ll be asking:
- Are they connected to all the channels your hotel is on?
- Do they have a mobile solution?
- Is their booking engine flexible enough for your hotel’s needs?
- What kind of customer service and reporting do they offer?
- How do they help promote a Book Direct message?
- Do they offer other services to drive bookings, such a digital marketing and design?
- Do they have an expert understanding of what drives conversions?
- Are they constantly innovating and preparing for future developments? How can you tell?
- Are their team experts in the hospitality industry and the technology sector?
- Are their features to help you build guest relationships?
- What range of client types do they have?
Let’s dive in.
1. Are they connected to all the channels your hotel is on?
As important as your website is, it’s only one of your digital channels. In a space where you can have hundreds of different channels selling your rates, it can be difficult to manage. To centralize your online strategy, it’s vital to manage your inventory in one place.
When you can see your availability and rates in the same place, you can hone your rate strategy and easily see how channels are performing.
Your booking engine provider should link with various channel managers to make your job easier!
Net Affinity works with all major channel managers, and offer integrations with a number of channel managers and PMS systems. When integrating and connecting, you are fully supported by a Net Affinity team member to ensure the transition is seamless.
2. Do they have a mobile solution?
As of Q3 2016, mobile contributed 53% of total website visits across all Net Affinity hotel clients. If your booking engine doesn’t work on mobile, or doesn’t work well on mobile, you’re losing bookings. Mobile bookings will be a huge part of a hotel’s direct online revenue over the years to come, especially as mobile payments become easier and more secure.
Here’s a look at mobile website visits aggregated over all Net Affinity clients since 2014:
First things first: Can you tell how your booking engine is performing on mobile? You should be able to see your performance on mobile separately from your performance on other devices, so you can hone your mobile strategy with accurate data.
Your hotel booking engine provider should offer you a booking engine that’s customized for every device. While most people use both mobile and desktop devices, we use them quite differently from one another. So, your booking engine needs to account for those differences. Ideally, the booking experience on mobile should be simplified as much as possible.
When we’re on our phones, we’re often either on the go or multitasking. That means complicated booking processes will be abandoned, and simpler booking processes will get much higher booking rates.
3. Is their booking engine flexible enough for your hotel’s needs?
Does your booking engine’s admin system give your hotel the features it needs to succeed? Does it:
- Display all the languages that your guests speak
- Prominently display your hotel’s logo
- Offer unlimited creation of tariffs, room types, special offers and discounts
- Provide online voucher redemption
- Offer wedding and corporate booking modules
- Show a pooled inventory
These are all good examples of administrative features that you should look for when you’re exploring different booking engine providers.
To figure out exactly what features your booking engine needs, consider your guests. Where do they come from? Do you see success with voucher sales? Are weddings or corporate bookings a large contingent of your guests?
When you know who you are persuading to book, you have a much better chance of succeeding. Your booking engine should offer you a flexible admin system to fulfil your guests’ needs.
4. What kind of customer service and reporting do they offer their clients?
Your booking engine provider should be open with you about your hotel’s performance. Their team should offer advice for improvement based on best practices and data.
What kind of reporting does your booking engine provider offer you? Are they transparent, in-depth, and do they give you full insights into your hotel’s performance? Ideally, you should be able to use your booking engine reports to find demand and booking patterns that will help you with your revenue and marketing strategies.
For the best suggestions to improve, seek an account manager with your booking engine provider who has extensive hospitality experience – they’ll know what challenges you’re facing and have the expertise to help. A good team is an invaluable tool in improving your direct bookings.
For example, they may have recommendations on:
- Gift voucher campaigns your hotel can run
- Ways to emphasize the perks of booking direct
- Advice for creating rate plans that convert large numbers of guests
These are the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to communications between you and your booking engine provider, make sure you have an open and productive exchange of information and ideas.
5. How do they help promote a ‘Book Direct’ message?
Your direct online channel (your website) is often the channel with the lowest cost-per-acquisition. That makes it the most profitable one, and your booking engine provider should be able to help you grow your direct bookings!
The issue of direct bookings has become more prominent over the last few years. The world has come out of a recession, and suddenly the easy bookings from online travel agencies are looking less appealing with the high commissions that come attached. While OTA bookings are still valuable, especially for low periods, you shouldn’t be reliant on them.
Direct bookings, properly handled, typically come with a much lower CPA, even when you account for marketing costs. Growing your direct bookings means growing your revenue.
There are a large variety of tactics that can improve your Book Direct Strategy. A few of these are providing a clear, compelling reason to book direct to your guests, a best rate guarantee if you’re able, and managing your rate strategy correctly on your online channels.
To get a detailed assessment of your Book Direct Strategy and improvements you can make, talk to your booking engine provider!
6. Do they offer additional services to drive bookings, such as marketing and design?
Often, an experienced, full-service booking engine provider can provide to your hotel with more than just a booking engine.
Digital marketing services can drive high volume, high quality traffic to your website and through your booking engine.
A great marketing team should be able to help you drive direct bookings through Metasearch channels, create a mix of digital channels that is successful for your hotel, and gain you huge brand awareness through paid campaigns on Google and other platforms. Net Affinity’s marketing team are also experienced with SEO, which is the practice of getting your hotel more organic exposure on search engines.
Web design is the third part of the triumvirate. If your website has been designed to be both visually impressive and with conversion principles in mind, it will be much more successful at driving bookings than a generic, run of the mill hotel website.
7. Do they have an expert understanding of what drives conversions?
Is your hotel website’s booking engine built to persuade guests to book? The science of conversion rate optimisation, or CRO, shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Done correctly, CRO matters because it makes your hotel more money. That revenue then allows you to grow your brand and get more exposure while keeping your hotel full and your ADR high.
You can think of CRO as a set of guidelines for success, which must be refined for the industry and the market. That’s where your booking engine provider steps in.
Your booking engine should be constantly improving, and dedicated to:
- Finding out where and why users aren’t booking
- Fixing it
That’s it. Don’t assume that a best practice for, say, online book stores will work for your hotel. However, within the hotel industry, there are a set of best practices for persuading users on your website to make a booking. Is your booking engine provider following those best practices?
At Net Affinity, we follow best practices and track user behaviour to make certain that our booking engine works for your guests. We have a Conversion Team who are one hundred percent dedicated to testing our booking engine, tracking how users move through it, and constantly making improvements.
8. Are they constantly innovating and preparing for future developments? How often do they release updates?
As hoteliers, you’re fully aware that it’s not enough to be ready for ‘now’. You should be looking 6 months or a year down the road at a minimum to truly call yourself prepared!
Your booking engine provider should be right there with you. They should be developing new features for their booking engine to cope with the changing landscape – and to prepare for the future. Does your booking engine regularly release updates or new versions?
If they do, what do these changes address? Do they meet new or ongoing needs of your hotel?
As we mentioned above, mobile bookings are becoming a much more important part of the picture. Ensure that your booking engine provider has a solution that works for your mobile bookings.
9. Are their team experts in the hospitality industry and the technology sector?
Online booking engines exist at the crossroads of traditional hospitality and tech – your booking engine provider’s team should have both on their minds!
The best software developers in the world still need product designers that know the industry. At Net Affinity, we pride ourselves on hiring from the hospitality industry and the technology sector.
Our conversion team and leaders all have hospitality experience, and we have experience working with every kind of hotel. Our experience, along with our data, allows us to create a booking engine that’s for hoteliers – not just in theory, but in practice.
Your account manager and point of contact with your provider should be passionate and want your business to succeed. At Net Affinity, our Account Managers have over 60 years combined hotel experience, making them extremely qualified to give your hotel advice on the best ways to drive direct bookings.
10. Are there features to help you build guest relationships?
Your booking engine provider should do more than just take bookings. The ideal booking engine allows you the flexibility to create unlimited tariffs and rate plans. You should also be able to create separate rates for guests booking corporate events or weddings.
Once those flexible features have helped you persuade guests to book, are they helping you build a long term relationship with that guest? The better the guest gets to know you, the more likely they are to stay again in future.
Net Affinity’s booking engine provides opportunities outside of the booking process for you to communicate with your guests. For example, you can send automated pre-stay emails with information about the guest’s stay several days before arrival. Similarly, post-stay emails can include an invitation for guests to review their stay.
11. What range of client types do they have?
Is their booking engine suitable for your property? While in theory a good booking engine is flexible and scalable for different property types, take a look at their client portfolio.
If they only cater to country guesthouses, consider looking elsewhere for your large city centre property.
On the other hand, if they have an extensive client list across a range of different property types, or they specialize in your type of property, have no fear! If your hotel has a focus on a certain type of bookings, like large corporate groups or weddings, consider asking how their booking engine can cater to those needs.
If you can, seek out a booking engine provider that’s the whole package – booking engine, marketing and design. It’s an all-in-one solution that means you have one point of contact with one team taking care of everything.
At the end of the day, take your list of needs – and your list of wants – and match that up with what a given booking engine provider can deliver. Look for the features that are most important to you, a robust mobile solution, and a depth of reporting that lets you know exactly how your booking engine is performing. Your ideal booking engine should have a flexible admin centre for you and a focus on conversion for your guests.
A good booking engine is absolutely vital to your hotel’s online success. Is yours helping you succeed?
Taylor is a Conversion Data Analyst & Distributor at Net Affinity. She graduated from Trinity College Dublin in May 2015, and studied Political Science, Philosophy, Economics and Sociology, all of which gave her a broad view of the social sciences and the way different disciplines approach a problem. She is passionate about writing, data, digital marketing, graphic design and dance, and does her best to apply the first four to her work at Net Affinity.
Focused exclusively on the hotel sector, Net Affinity has collated the brightest, most commercially focused, experienced and passionate team of online marketers, account managers, designers and developers whose combined skill set ensures our clients online success and continued growth. We created this blog because we wanted to share our expertise with you, and offer you the knowledge that over 15 years experience in the hotel industry has given us.