One-Screen vs. Multi-Step Booking Engines... Gibberish! You Have to Look at the Whole Picture.
By Neil Salerno
Monday, 24th July 2006
Every now and then I read an article which raises the little hairs on the back of my neck; I can't resist busting a myth before it festers into reality. The article outlined a comparison between one-screen booking engines and those which use multi pages.

It was a good comparison, but there are still so many dysfunctional hotel web sites, it makes the question of whether to go with a one-screen or multi-step booking engine pretty trite and after-the-fact. If your site needs a boost in production, start with its content; not at the end. If your site needs a booking engine, there are far more important criteria to consider than the number of pages it uses.

I have no problem with the conclusion that multi-step booking engines make more sense, at this time; it's the article's implication that all one needs to do is attach a multi-step engine to your site, and bookings will just flow-in. That's the most disturbing part. Frankly, there are far more important parts of your site that impact your online sales, namely its content and design.

The real nemesis of one-screen booking engines is that most use flash. At this point in time, the use of flash is not a good idea on any part of a hotel web site. Flash is invisible to search and data tracking engines and many firewalls block flash content. Flash can make a web site look cool, but for hotels, which rely on search compatibility, it doesn't make sense. This is the real reason why most booking engines in the U.S. are multi-page design; not necessarily because they function better than one-screen designs.

Progress comes with experimentation and innovation; those people developing one page designs are trying to bring online booking to a new level with fewer clicks. Frankly, I have a difficult time believing that consumers can't figure them out; or that we should only use multi-step because that's the current standard.

Some bright people predict that a new flash product is being developed which will be universally compatible; until then, a little flash is alright, but too much flash content will work against your site's goal to book business.

Look at the whole picture; content is still king. A site with a great multi-page booking engine, but with poor site content will still perform poorly. This booking engine emphasis is reminiscent of the search engine optimization (SEO) emphasis of the last few years. Hoteliers were told that all they need do was to apply SEO, and reservations will just flow- in. Unfortunately, many of them found that applying SEO to a dysfunctional site did little to drive additional reservations online; the same principle applies to booking engines.

If you are shopping for a booking engine, there are more factors to consider than simply the number of pages it uses. There are some very good multi-page booking engines and some that are pretty poor also; the same is also applicable to one-page engines.

Important Questions to Choose a Booking Engine

  • How easy is it to update rates and inventory? After-all, for most hotels, the booking engine is not interfaced with their front office.
  • What kind of data reporting does it provide? Be careful here, most hotels don't use the data they collect now. Choose one which provides the data you will use.
  • Will it handle packages, if so, how well?
  • What kind of support services do they provide? Can you get help on a Saturday night at 8:00 PM?
  • Can it mimic your site's colors and design so it looks like your web site?
  • How much does it cost? Is it commissionable; is there a monthly fee based upon reservations? Is there a flat monthly fee?
  • Do they have sufficient bandwidth to load quickly? Slow loading booking engines are a real problem.
  • How well does the engine handle room descriptors and rates? Does it give you enough room to sell your facilities?
  • If you do a lot of International business, does the booking engine have the capability of handling additional languages and currency denominations?
Frankly, my favorite booking engine just happens to be a multi-page design; but it's my favorite because it fits all the criteria above, not because it is multi-step.

If you don't have one, selecting a good booking engine should be your goal; but first, make certain that your site conforms to search engines requirements and has content which induces visitors to make a reservation. Since I specialize in independent hotels internationally, about half my client hotels are in foreign countries.

Many foreign hotel sites have had booking engines for many years; both one page and multi-page versions. Having a booking engine is essential in countries where other forms of communication are much less reliable than in the USA. One of the most popular booking engines in Europe & Asia just happens to be a one-screen engine.

I guess this booking engine controversy will go on, but multi-page designs are more popular right now because of technology issues. Consider the whole picture when evaluating your web site's production. Consider also that there are some multi-page booking engines that perform better than others. Choose a booking engine that best suits your needs in all areas, but first, make sure your site works the way it should.

Neil Salerno
Hotel Marketing Coach

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