What is a Booking Engine? Complete Guide to Hotel Booking Systems
By one estimate, only two out of 100 visitors to a hotel website make a hotel reservation via online booking. Online travel agents control a large percentage of hotel bookings – and charge high commissions in the process. It’s imperative that hotel owners implement the right booking engine to ensure that high margin bookings aren't leaking through your direct channel funnel and that you're driving a healthy percentage of commission-free bookings through your hotel website and online booking engine. All segments of the hospitality industry including both branded and independent hotels should have booking engines to drive commission free bookings.
A hotel booking engine like Bookassist exists to facilitate online reservations or direct bookings by clearly marketing different products like hotel rooms and other facets of the guest experience (e.g. travel packages). It moves traffic away from an OTA so hotels capture higher revenue, providing a seamless booking process for guests. Bookassist boasts boosting direct bookings by 44% with an average conversion rate of 14.8%. The right booking engine will increase your direct revenue, integrate with your PMS to ensure inventory accuracy, and provide deeper insights into your guest data to improve your product offering. Here’s what you need to know about hotel booking engines for 2020.
In this article we'll show you how to run an effective hotel booking engine comparison and give tools to vet hotel booking engine vendors and technologies so you can find the perfect fit for your property.
For more in depth analysis:
- Download the 2021 Booking Engine Buyers Guide
- Compare booking engines side-by-side
- View the 10 Best Booking Engines of 2021 as rated by hotel marketers
What is a Booking Engine?
A good booking engine optimizes your hotel website to capture as many direct bookings as possible. The biggest advantage a booking engine can provide is to make it easy for guests to easily check room availability, rates, and different room types. A booking engine should remove any obstacles preventing a guest from completing their booking: mobile optimization, the ability to accept a wide range of payments, even the layout and design of your website are all things a booking engine must synthesize.
Bookassist’s booking engine removes friction points throughout the reservation process that can lead potential guests to abandon their carts. Simple changes like minimizing the number of clicks it takes to book or adding a grid layout to your rooms page can increase through your own website. Many booking engines allow you to accept new payment methods like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, AliPay & Paypal, making it easy for a guest to click buy. More direct bookings mean a lower cost of acquisition per booking and an increase in revenue by double and triple percentage points– meaning more profit in your pocket.
While the core value of a booking engine lies in increased direct bookings, there are ancillary benefits from adding a booking engine to your technology stack. A booking engine that syncs with your PMS and channel manager saves time by automatically updating bookings and controlling inventory distribution to reduce overbooking. Marketers can glean insights from your booking engine to learn more about what and how your guests like to book. Improve your product offerings to upsell better and drive ancillary revenue. This year’s innovations in booking engine technology promise to help hotels gain even more ground in the OTA booking wars.
Hotel Booking Engines are a Property's eCommerce Shopping Cart
In the retail industry, one study found that “$200 billion in sales are lost each year due to friction in the checkout process, which is roughly a 50% abandonment rate.” The majority of the time, shoppers in the retail industry abandon their carts due to a long or complicated checkout process.
The hotel industry takes important lessons from this e-commerce trend. This year, booking engines have become more flexible by accepting different forms of payment to speed up the checkout process, resulting in higher conversion rates. Part of Bookassist’s mobile-first approach means hotels can accept one-touch payments such as Apple and Android Pay, PayPal and Amazon checkout. In 2020, we expect top booking engine providers to continue to focus on offering flexible payment options.
2019 also brought the advent of AI integrations to booking engines. These integrations pull data from internet browsers and in-house records to deliver personalized rates and offers that convert guests. Offers are curated from extensive data sets, resulting in more engaged users and stronger conversion rates over time.
Stronger conversion rates will continue to be a focus for booking engines into 2020. A/B testing is one feature many booking engines are adding to their product capability. An A/B test allows hoteliers to experiment with different implementations, designs, and intent triggers to see what converts best. Add ons like deals, price comparisons, timer countdowns, social proof, and intent triggered popups can be added to your hotel’s website to entice customers to book faster. A/B testing provides insight into which integration works best, allowing your page to convert better without sacrificing user experience. Learn from your booking engine what works best to create the most seamless booking experience.
Key Features of a Hotel Booking System
There are a few factors to consider in selecting a booking engine. First and foremost, a booking engine must not slow down your site’s load speed. Load speed has an extremely high correlation to conversion rates and can also impact your site’s SEO. Likewise, your engine must be optimized to handle mobile bookings – on average, 52% of traffic to a hotel site comes from mobile.
Top booking engines will include these features:
Mobile-first booking system: works seamlessly on mobile and is compatible with the social media websites that your hotel is listed on.
Fast load times: decreasing load time with a better user experience leads to increased conversions and more revenue.
Sync with your channel manager and PMS: make sure that your room inventory across all of your online distribution channels is automatically updated.
Language and currency options: Does the booking engine display the languages and currency that your guests are familiar with? Does it provide online voucher redemption or does it offer wedding and corporate booking modules?
Capture social media bookings: take advantage of Facebook’s booking tool to seamlessly integrate to sync inventory, availability, and content.
Group booking functionality: create unique booking experiences for groups and events based on rate codes or unique URLs. Hotel technology often focuses on leisure travelers but the best operators in the hotel business understand the importance of creating frictionless group booking experiences.
Data collection & reporting: get transparent, in-depth insights to find demand and booking patterns. You can get baseline metrics via Google Analytics but you'll want more comprehensive, custom and accurate reporting directly from your provider.
Flexible payment methods: accept new flexible payment methods like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, Stripe & Paypal to provide a faster and more frictionless booking experience. Ensure that your desired provider connects with the right payment gateways as well.
Ancillaries & gift vouchers: upsell add-on services, from local experiences to packages to gift vouchers to drive additional revenue per guest. Also have the flexibility to leverage promo codes via your hotel reservation system or CRS.
Purchase intent triggers: special offers , price comparisons, timer countdowns, social proof, and intent-triggered pop-ups to increase conversion rates. Some purchase widgets can even embed TripAdvisor reviews to build social proof.
Lastly, make sure your booking engine provides service and support. Does the team offer training, on-site set-up, and 24/7 troubleshooting? Find out whether or not a hotel booking engine is flexible to your needs.
How to Integrate a Hotel Booking Engine into Your Operations
Channel manager integrations work with a booking engine to provide a one-stop revenue management platform. Your channel manager can send and receive rates and availability from your booking engine for more intelligent revenue management. Update your inventory in real-time and proactively manage rates to maximize ARR. Rules and alerts set up via your channel manager allow the hotel to drive high volume bookings through the booking engine.
Integrate a booking engine with your payment system to make it easy for your guests to check out seamlessly. Work with a payment provider like Stripe / Global Payments to create rules for payments to be taken and at what time. For example, trigger the first night’s payment to be charged 24 hours before the guest arrives. This takes the manual function of storing and charging credit cards away from your hotel team and also helps you comply with PCI and Data Protection guidelines.
And, finally, when your booking engine feeds data from your website directly into your PMS, your team captures automatic room stock adjustment, significantly reducing their workload and reducing errors.
Confirm with the provider whether or not their tool integrates easily with your existing tech stack.
The final step to selecting a booking engine is to make sure you’ve thoroughly vetted your vendor’s feature functionality and capabilities. Ask booking engine providers the following questions:
What is the average conversion rate for booking engines in my market segment? This can help you project ROI and calculate the change in booking volume
What is the average page load speed of your booking engine? Load speed has a strong correlation with conversion rates: faster speeds lead to higher conversion rates.
What steps have you taken to make sure that your booking engine is mobile optimized? If your mobile experience is poor, expect a guest to book on an OTA; and, expect your Google AdWords and other pay-per-click campaigns to be less effective.
What kinds of optimization features does your booking engine have? Things like dynamic pricing, geotargeting, integrated rate match and rooms remaining widgets materially increase conversion.