As consumers we’ve got to a point where we expect to be able to purchase just about anything online, from groceries to clothing to travel. In fact, when we come across certain businesses that don’t offer the convenience of purchasing products or services online, we’re likely to turn to another that does.
Well over half of all travel bookings are made on the Internet these days, indicating a preference among consumers to book their flights, hotels and activities online. While your customers should be given a choice of booking methods (online, by phone or in person), for many travel consumers the ability to book accommodation, tours and activities online is more convenient than making a telephone call. Just like your website, an online booking engine is available 24/7, allowing customers to make reservations whenever they want, no matter what time zone they are located in. Even if customers are not quite ready to make a booking, they can check your live availability, which can help in their decision-making process.
Online bookings are not only convenient to customers; they also save lodging and tour operators a lot of time and hassle and help maximize revenue. As mentioned above, your online booking engine is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when you’re not. This means that your business will never have to miss reservations because your office or front desk is closed for the evening or season.
An online booking engine significantly reduces your administrative workload; the more your customers book through your website, the less time you spend on the phone taking reservations manually. Online booking engines automatically check and update availability, record customer information, can accept payment, and send out reservation confirmation emails – leaving you free to focus on your in-house guests.
These days, lodging and tour operators that do not offer customers the ability to book online are likely losing a significant chunk of business. If you haven’t yet implemented online bookings on your website, now’s the time.
What to Look For in a Direct Online Booking Engine
>> User-Friendly Booking Process
Just like your website, your online booking engine design should be focused on the user experience. If the booking process is too long, complicated or confusing, most customers will simply abandon the booking. Make sure your online booking process is simple and quick. Other user-friendly features include displaying room photos (for hotel booking engines) and showing prices in the user’s currency. Most customers also appreciate being shown availability and prices for dates on either side of their selected dates.
>> Automatic Confirmation
To reassure customers that their booking was successful, your online booking engine should display a booking confirmation screen immediately after the customer has submitted their reservation request. It should also offer the ability to automatically send confirmation emails – for your customers’ reference and to save you time!
>> Live Rates and Availability
Make sure your online booking engine is directly integrated with your reservation system so that your online booking engine automatically shows customers live rates and availability to maximize inventory and avoid overbooking. When your online booking engine is integrated with your reservation system, reservations coming through your website are automatically sent to your reservation system and availability is updated in real time.
>> Special Rates and Discounts Look for an online booking engine that offers the flexibility to sell special rates and packages. For example, special rates, such as corporate rates and discounts, can be accessed by customers online via a promo code.
Get the most out of your online booking engine by choosing one that allows you to upsell by offering additional products or services or package upgrades. Most customers appreciate being shown optional add-ons and the convenience of purchasing them during the booking process.
>> Customizable to the Look and Feel of Your Website
While you want your online bookings to be obvious to your customers, you don’t want your online booking engine to stick out like a sore thumb. Choose an online booking engine that can be customized to the look and feel of your website to provide your customers with a seamless, branded experience that they can trust (and that looks good).
>> Data Security
With e-commerce now so widespread these days, consumers are much more comfortable with shopping online than a few years ago – and website security is more important than ever. It’s crucial to provide an online booking process that your customers can trust.
Make sure your online booking engine protects your customers’ personal and payment data through SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption. A web page with an SSL certificate ensures that any data sent is encrypted so that it’s indecipherable to everyone except the destination server. A secure online booking process with SSL encryption will display “HTTPS” at the start of the URL (instead of “HTTP”) and this tells users that the page is safe and will protect their information from prying eyes.
>> Commission Free
Skip online booking engines that charge a commission on bookings. Unlike bookings that come through third parties such as OTAs, which charge hefty commission fees, direct bookings should reduce your customer acquisition costs. So choose a commission-free online booking engine to maximize your ROI.
Your booking engine should be able to generate and export booking and sales reports easily and quickly, helping you to accurately analyze your business’ performance.
>> Mobile Friendly
In our mobile era, it really does pay to ensure your online booking engine is mobile friendly. Today’s travelers research, plan and book travel experiences online, on the go, so if your online booking process doesn’t work well on mobile devices, you’re probably missing sales. A mobile-optimized online booking engine will offer your customers a simple, secure, tap-friendly booking process that is easy to read and use on any mobile device.
In today’s Internet-driven world, it’s crucial for lodging and tour operator websites to accept online bookings to maximize sales and remain competitive. Make sure your online booking engine is easily accessible to your customers from any page of your website via prominent CTAs (calls-to- action) like a “book now” button or booking widget, as well as in the main menu, to maximize conversions.
In addition to creating websites exclusively for businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries, World Web Technologies Inc. provides robust, mobile-friendly booking engines for lodging and tour operators that can be easily integrated into any website. Ask us about WebRezPro for hotels and other accommodation types, and ActivityEngine for tour and activity providers.