Adding a user-friendly online booking engine (OBE) to your property’s website is essential for growing direct bookings, meeting customer expectations, and saving hotel staff time. These days, as guest demand for direct bookings and self-serve options increases—along with labor shortages—lodging operators should no longer be considering whether or not to use an OBE, but how to best integrate an OBE into their website to maximize bookings.
If that’s the question you have, you’ve come to the right place.
Once you’ve chosen your OBE, the next step is integrating the software into your website in the most user-friendly way for your guests and your business. If you haven’t yet chosen an OBE, make sure you look for one that supports the best practices outlined below.
Your OBE should be integrated with your property management system (PMS) so that you don’t have to update online inventory manually or double-handle bookings. When integrated with your PMS, the OBE automatically displays live rates and availability, and bookings made by guests online are automatically entered into the PMS. Without a direct connection between your OBE and PMS, rates, reservations and availability have to be updated manually—a process that takes a lot of time and poses a high risk of overbooking. Some cloud PMS like WebRezPro include an integrated OBE, but if you’re working with separate OBE and PMS providers, it’s important that the two work together to ensure your customers always have access to up-to-date availability and your front desk operations are running efficiently.
When a website visitor makes the decision to book a stay at your property, your brand—reflected in the design of your website—has most likely resonated with them and helped to gain their trust. When a customer clicks the “book now” button, they expect a seamless booking experience that is consistent with your brand; a mismatched booking engine can erode their trust and put them off booking.
That’s why it’s important to customize your OBE to reflect your brand, just as your website does. Use your OBE’s customization tools to add your property logo, a background and/or feature image, and a colour scheme that matches your website for an on-brand booking experience that maintains your customers’ confidence to complete their reservation.
Accessibility is also key to a positive user experience. Your OBE simply must be easy to access as soon as a customer is ready to book, no matter where they are on your website. Ideally, the OBE should never be more than one click away, which means it should be integrated on every page of your website—but not in a blatant or pushy way.
An OBE can be added to your website in a variety of formats, for example, via a book now button, a booking widget, an interactive availability calendar, or a combination of formats.
>> ‘Book now’ button
The most efficient and effective way to ensure your booking engine is always immediately accessible is by adding a book now button or link in the header of your website or in the main menu (not in a sub-menu). There it is obvious yet unobtrusive and always ready for action, taking users to an availability search form into which they enter their stay requirements (dates, number of guests, required amenities, etc.).
>> Booking widget
Many properties choose to use a booking widget instead of or along with a book now button, which allows users to skip a click in the booking process. While a book now button opens an availability search form when clicked, a widget is essentially a mini search form embedded into any or every page of the website, which allows users to input their stay dates and the number of guests and then takes them straight to the availability results.
>> Availability calendar
A website availability calendar presents availability in a grid, providing a visual overview of available units across a broader period of time. This option works well for vacation rentals, cabin resorts, and other properties that host guests who are often flexible with their dates. In this case, a “view availability” (or similar) button/link takes customers to the interactive calendar, from which they can navigate dates and book a unit by clicking on an available date and rate on the calendar.
>> Unit- and rate-specific booking links
Unit-specific booking links allow users to search availability for a specific unit or unit type without having to select the desired unit in the availability search form. Instead, a “book this unit” (or similar) button takes them straight to an availability search for that unit/unit type. This availability search shortcut is convenient for website visitors who are interested in a specific unit and works especially well for the likes of vacation rental websites and apartment hotels with dedicated pages for each unit. Unit-specific booking links can also be used on your website’s Rooms/Units page for each unit type.
It works the same way with rates. Availability for specific promotional rates and packages can be searched by clicking a “book this package” (or similar) button that searches availability for that specific package/rate only. Rate-specific booking links can be added wherever you are promoting the rate—whether you’re promoting a special deal on your homepage, or for various packages on your Special Offers page.
>> Multi-property booking engine
For hotel groups with multiple locations within the same city or area, a multi-property booking engine ensures customers can find availability within the group, even if the property whose website they are on has no availability. A multi-property booking engine is great for helping both loyal and new customers discover other locations in your group, and can be added to the brand website as well as individual member properties’ websites.
An OBE is easily integrated with your website by inserting html code generated by the system into your website’s code. Different html codes are used depending on the format you want to implement (a book now button, booking widget, calendar, or unit/rate-specific booking link, etc.).
When choosing how to add your OBE to your property’s website, consider the visual design as well as the navigation of your website (on both desktop and mobile) to integrate online bookings in a seamless and convenient way for your customers. A combination of formats often works best. Once you have added your OBE to your website, test it yourself to confirm it is working as you expect.
Last but far from least, when integrating an OBE into your website, ensure that it is set up to protect your customers’ data. A safe OBE will demonstrate a secure connection (HTTPS)—which is key to gaining your customers’ trust—and will offer SSL encryption and PCI-compliant payment gateway integration. In fact, your entire website should be HTTPS secure with a valid SSL certificate to show your customers you take their online security seriously.
If you want to increase direct bookings and efficiency and meet customer expectations, it’s no longer a question of if but how to add an OBE to your property’s website. Consider what’s best for your customers and your operations to implement a user-friendly, secure OBE that integrates with your PMS, reflects your branding, and is always accessible in a convenient way for your prospective guests online. In addition to the above guidance for integrating your OBE into your property’s website, check out WebRezPro’s recommendations for optimizing your OBE’s built-in features to maximize conversions.