The market is awash with online booking systems for hotels. Hotel owner would be right to get the impression that they are spoilt for choice, but in reality there are very few systems that measure up. So, how do you choose an online booking system that is right for you.
An online booking system must be able to deal with multiple scenarios for any given stay. You should be able to set multiple rates for a room for any given date range. These could include rates based on time before arrival (Early or Late Bookings), Special Periods (Christmas, Easter, Weddings, Conferences, etc,), Length of stay Based rates (longer you stay, cheaper it is), Packages (add ons such as Spa, Golf, etc.), Vouchers (discount voucher rates), etc. These should be possible without having to create or duplicate rooms, which could cause overbooking and confusion.
Remember all online booking tools are essentially a database with variables that enable the software to make a decision on the price for a given period. If the options are too restrictive or too hard to programme, you will find your booking system will start to dictate your pricing strategy. This is not where you want to be.
It is critical that the inventory offered on the online system is 100% accurate and up-to-date. Any discrepancies could result in overbooking which is bad for business and your reputation.
You should also be able to manually intercept the inventory management system in order to take out rooms for reasons such as Manual Booking, Maintenance, Special Events, etc.
If you do sell your rooms via 3rd parties and portals, then your system should be able to manage inventory and rates by linking up to external databases and booking systems. This is very important for hotels and B&Bs regardless of the number of bedrooms. If your channel inventory and your real inventory are not synchronised, there is a high chance of overbooking and embarrassing conversations. These could also cost you money as most portals and booking agencies ask you to commit to finding an equivalent room for their guests at your cost.
Internet has opened up your business to the world wide audience, but the question is whether your systems and online presence are able to manage this. If you are addressing the world market, thinking “English will Do” is not an option especially in hospitality business. Your online booking system must be able to offer service in multi-language. Why would a French Guest want to make a booking in English? Or visa-versa.
This is not just for the big hotels and I suggest it is even more important for the small hotels. Small hotels are all about personal service and the nice warm fuzzy feeling, which your guests will not get if you insist to manage everyone in the language you are comfortable with.
If you are running multiple sites, you would want to use the same system for all your properties. Running a system that can handle more than a single property will make life easier, takes less time to manage and will require less training for all staff involved. Whilst you can install most system on more than one website, a system that can handle more than one property from single database will be much cheaper to run and easier to manage by offering single interface and single point of management.
Online booking system should be capable of handling payments but also allow you to choose how to offer deals based on payment method. For example, non-refundable rates which payment is taken advance, Deposit Only Rates, No Deposit Rates or No Cancellation rates that all have different payment options.
Online payment does have additional costs, so be aware. Your system has to be integrated with your credit card company’s gateway, which are not usually click-and-go. You may also have to comply with the credit card company’s requirements such as SSL certification, refund policy, etc. Make sure you factor these costs in or ask your vendor about the options they can offer you to reduce or mitigate some of these costs.
The online booking system should be able to handle processing of reservation including confirmation email for different types of bookings. For example different confirmation email should be sent out depending on whether the reservation is Pre-Paid, Non-refundable, Request Only, Special Conditions, etc. and each one in the language of the guest making the reservation. This is important as this is the first post-reservation interaction between you and the guest.
I have deliberately not called this “Price” as I have an aversion to making decisions based on price alone. Being expensive, cheap, or good value is really a relative issue, which is more about what you can afford and what the product or service can do for you. My concern is always Price Performance, rather than price in absolute terms. So the question we need to ask is how much of your time you would have to dedicate to manage the system, and most importantly, whether you have to change your business model or pricing strategy in order for the system to work properly.
The first part is easy. If it is difficult to manage, then it will take too much of your time and hence it will be expensive as it has hidden cost element, namely your time or your staff’s time.
Second and just as important, the booking system is here to serve you and not the other way around. Any business software that requires you to change your business model or pricing strategy should be avoided like a plague. You are not here to serve the software, but the application is here to serve you.
Additionally, there is no reason as to why you should pay commission or per booking fee. Cost of providing a hotel online booking system is not linked to your revenue and hence should not be in anyway linked to your revenue stream.
There are many options available for hotels looking for online booking system. The key in selection process is understanding your own needs clearly and asking the right questions. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by clever whiz-bang aesthetic design stuff, as they do not help with customer satisfaction, nor would they make your life any easier. Focus on functionality and whether the system is right for the way you operate.
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