During this time of rapid evolution and change during COVID, one of the winning strategies hotels are employing to improve profitability is driving more direct business. Though this has been a focus of hotels for years, many independent and smaller hotel groups did not have significant success with these efforts. Hotels are now experiencing more success with book direct strategies, which is providing a positive lift to profitability.
A hotel that Dragonfly helps manage in Florida had a significant channel shift by a renewed focus on driving direct business. In 2020, during a pandemic, the hotel increased BAR production by 100% and decreased dependency on OTAs by 40% with a successful book direct strategy. But the only way a book direct strategy will work is if hotels have the right booking engine technology. If you get guests to the booking engine and lose them prior to conversion, all of your book direct marketing efforts fail.
Online Booking Engines are the heart of every hotel and hospitality properties marketing and advertising conversions. There are many critical factors to consider for technology integrations with your Property Management System, Central Reservations System, and Content Management System, as well as price, features support, etc. But one of the most critical factors of any properties booking engines is how well it will convert lookers into bookers. A poor User Experience Design and User Interface can mean your thoughtful advertising and marketing campaigns fall flat at the endpoint of conversion when someone tries to make a reservation.
Significant Booking Engines also seamlessly integrate many upselling and add-on revenue-generating options and can increase your revenue per booking with the right messaging at the right time in the conversion process.
Here’s a list of the top things to consider when selecting a booking engine from the lens of marketing and a robust commercial revenue strategy from the hospitality industry experts at Dragonfly Strategists.
- Conversion Rate
The first question to ask each Booking Engine system is what is their average conversion rate for all of their properties and also the average conversion rate for similar properties in similar markets.
How many clicks does it take a guest to make a booking? The fewer clicks, the higher conversion. How complicated is the system? Do you need to collect your guest’s mailing addresses or just their zip code? The less a guest has to complete a form, the better.
- Mobile-First Design
How does the website and booking engine look and function on mobile devices? Is it responsive and easy to navigate on the phone? According to a recent Phocuswright report, more than 56% of hotel bookings were done on a mobile device in 2019, which has undoubtedly increased today.
- Basic Functionality of Websites
Many websites make modifying and canceling reservations more difficult than it should be. There should be direct links on websites not just for a booking button but to quickly move to modify and cancel the reservation without navigating to the booking engine independently.
- Upsell, Add-Ons, Merchandising, Itinerary Bookings
What can you sell on the Booking Engine? Will it integrate with your resort’s spa/golf/ski reservations systems? If a resort has experiences like skiing or spa services that tend to sell out, can your guest book these first before the room to ensure availability? Can the guest book the room and also any upsell items like wine and chocolates or room upgrade opportunities? Does the system integrate with your PMS, so your staff doesn’t have to enter the add-on items manually? Can the system display early check-in and late check-out fees and options?
- Design Integrations
Can the Booking Engine’s shell be designed to match your website branding, so it doesn’t look like a guest went to a third-party site? Can the guest control their journey by selecting to shop by date, packages, specials, and/or room type?
- User Interface and Experience Design (UI/UX)
Does the Booking Engine make the property rate and cancellation policies visible and easy to access? Hidden policies can confuse and frustrate guests. Can you use HTML-designed text in the room descriptions so you can utilize bulleted lists? Does the system support multiple images for each room? Can it display the room amenities as both text and icons for a more user-friendly experience?
- Shopping Cart Abandonment Recapture
Does the Booking Engine have a way to email or message guests who started to book and then never completed the transaction?
- Shopping Cart Functionality
The Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) have invested a boatload of time, making their booking engine shopping cart as user-friendly as possible. Can your guest clearly see all the prices and fees and add-ons for their booking? Does the end price clearly show all additional expenses like parking, resort fee, and taxes? Can you add partner attraction services like museum tickets or bike rentals to your Booking Engine?
- Email Integrations
Most properties use another third-party Customer Relation Management system to handle their confirmation emails and email campaigns. It’s essential to make sure your Booking Engine will integrate with your CRM If you plan on using the email functionality included with the booking engine, find out how customizable this email is. Does their email support HTML templates? How easy is the back-end system for your team to modify and make additions and changes?
- Comparison Shop & Check References
Find out what Booking Engine your competition is using and test out the functionality. It’s also a good idea to reach out to industry groups to find references to talk to about their honest experience with the Booking Engine services and support.
Overall, your booking engine can make a huge difference in revenue and your direct booking strategy. What would an increase in conversions and a decrease in abandonment mean to your property? Keeping the user experience top of mind when selecting a new booking engine will help ensure you maximize profitability.
About the Author
Caryl Helsel left a long and successful career in the hotel industry to begin Dragonfly Strategists, providing leadership and strategic direction to hotels. Dragonfly creates actionable strategies and transforms them into higher revenues and improved performance for a range of clients throughout the world.