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How to choose a booking engine

Aug

2011

There are two key elements in hotel websites, (1) that the website converts and (2) that the booking engine converts. Of course you’re telling yourself that this is obvious and why are you wasting your time reading this. Well how to choose a booking engine isn’t quite that obvious. In this article we’ll try to give you some guidelines on making that choice.

There are plenty of booking engines out there. High-end, mid-range and low-end, as with most products you’re either aiming for great quality or an incredibly good price. Nobody wants to buy a product which is neither very good nor very cheap.

What are the elements to take into account when choosing a booking engine and in what priority. We’ve compiled a list of questions in their sequence that you should ask yourself before choosing your next booking engine upgrade.

First you need to understand the basics of selling. What every sales man has understood (but not necessarily web designers) is that the toughest moment of the sale is the close. This is the moment when you have to turn a customer from interested in your product to paying for the product. Many websites do a great job at getting people interested, the job of the booking engine is to close the sale.

Fact: 44% of the time spent booking a hotel happens on the booking engine see our infographic for more on this.

So any hick-up, anything confusing, any unclear navigation is a road-block on the way to a sale. You’re probably telling yourself that you already have a booking engine and it works, or that if they want to book on my site they’ll book no matter the booking engine. And to some degree you are right, but consider the fact that your competitors in this regard aren’t the other hotels, your competitors are the other distribution platforms and we can guarantee you that they study their booking process down to the last pixel.

Fact: The user who is on your site visits on average 17.5 different travel sites before booking. More facts on our hotel infographic.

If the interested user wants to book at your hotel, chances are he has another window open with your hotel on their preferred distribution platform. At the first problem that user will close the window and complete the booking on the distribution platform. And the cost of that booking just raised from a few dollars for a booking fee to 20% for a distributor commission.

Thus we can agree on two points 1. Not any booking engine will do and 2. Price isn’t all.

With that in mind, let’s consider how to choose your booking engine. The following point are the points to take into account and in that priority.

Navigation: Can you easily find your room, rate and next button.

Ask yourself if someone who has never booked a hotel room will be able to do this without fumbling around.

Presentation: Are the photos and rates in plain sight and neat.

Is the interest from the website continued with great presentation of the images and rates, are there multiple images per room without needing to open a new window.Is the use of “negative space” properly done to focus the user’s attention on the points that help the sale or is the screen cluttered up with lots of information.

Click count: How many clicks until you reach the end of the booking.

Count the number of pages or screens that the user needs to go through before completing the booking. Actually try to book and see how many times you had to take your hands off the keyboard to click “next” or scroll down.

Rates: Are the rates clearly displayed including the savings.

Do you see the savings you’ll make by the dates you selected? Does it actually SHOW the user that he has made the right choice and that he’s getting the best deal?

Customizable: Can you access the CSS and other design functions of the booking engine to fit it into your design.

If you’re not a web designer get your designers to contact the booking engine and ask them how much control they can have on the design elements, the look and feel of the booking engine? You want something that can like your site if there’s a culture shock from site to booking engine you’ll scare your users away.

Up-sell: Does the site assist you up-sell more services or products?

Are the additional products on the bottom of a list that you’ll never find or do they come in smoothly at the right moment of the sale so as not to distract from the essential part (selling the room).

Cost: is this a commission base or a fixed price.

Compare the price with your average daily rate and do the call. This is the last point on the list since it is the least important. It’s like hiring a bad salesman because you want to save on costs, don’t expect your sales to do well no matter how much marketing money you put into it.

Choosing a booking engine isn’t something to do without good consideration. With the money the hotel invested in renovations and creating a great website choosing the right booking engine can mean the difference between a highly efficient site or mediocre results that’ll barely give you a return on investment.

The information in this article is based on years of testing and working with multiple booking engines tracking the conversion rates and comparing results. We study and test the sales funnel before implementing any booking engine on our sites.

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Author

Martin Soler

VP Marketing and Sales

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