COVID-19 May Benefit Direct Bookings—Is Your Hotel Ready?

According to Larry Mogelonsky of Hotel Mogel Consulting, COVID-19 might be a boon for direct bookings. As OTAs (online travel agencies) struggle with mass cancellations due to the pandemic, travelers are finding it difficult to access overloaded customer support systems (online and on the phone) to process cancellations, refunds and credits.

As Mogelonsky pointed out in his article, the frustration and uncertainty resulting from difficulty reaching customer helplines and not knowing if or when refunds or credits are available may put many travelers off using OTAs, at least for a while. Instead, making the effort to book direct with hotels and airlines for personalized and immediate service might give peace of mind to cautious travelers.

Whether such a behavioral shift eventuates is yet to be seen, but using the downtime now to rethink your distribution strategy and optimize your direct sales channel is a good plan in any case.

Now’s an opportune time to review systems like your website booking engine, or to get online bookings up and running on your property’s website if you haven’t already. Check with your property management system (PMS) provider to find out if they offer an integrated website booking engine. If you’re using WebRezPro, a commission-free online booking engine is included with your PMS.

Below, we’ve outlined important elements of a future-proof website booking engine to help you make sure you’ve got one that will maximize direct conversions and profitability going forward.

What to Look for in a Website Booking Engine – A Checklist

Travel consumers are used to the kind of streamlined online booking experience provided by OTAs. It’s important to meet the expectations of today’s travelers with a simple, seamless and secure booking process on your property’s own website to maximize conversions.

>>PMS integration

Your online booking engine should integrate with your property management system and channel manager (if your PMS is integrated with third-party distribution channels, the PMS will essentially act as your channel manager). This will ensure that room availability and rates are always up to date across all distribution channels—a necessity if you want to avoid overbooking—and that reservations coming through your website are automatically entered into the PMS.

Integration with the PMS also supports customer loyalty through recognizing repeat guests, streamlining the booking process by auto-filling fields and awarding reward points.

>>Secure

An online booking engine accepts personal and payment data from customers, so protecting the privacy and integrity of that data is critical—for both your customers and your business. Choosing a PCI DSS compliant system is extremely important. Look for security measures that include SSL encryption, secure data storage and certified integrations with payment processors.

>>Simple booking process

Complicated booking processes have higher rates of booking abandonment. The simpler, the better. Think no more than three steps: 1. Search for availability and select room; 2. Complete required booking information; 3. Booking confirmation. Only require the information you absolutely need to confirm a booking. Any additional data or options should be voluntary—strive to keep booking forms as short as possible. Remember, additional information can be collected after the booking is made, via pre-arrival communications or at check-in.

Upon completion of the booking, the system should automatically trigger a confirmation screen, instantly reassuring the customer that their booking was successful, and also a confirmation email containing the reservation details.

>>Flexible

To maximize revenue, your website booking engine should be able to accommodate all the pricing strategies you use. It should offer the flexibility to sell packages, group rates, add-ons, password-protected rates and so on, applying length-of-stay and other booking restrictions as applicable. Flexibility is more important than ever during these uncertain times. As the world recovers from the pandemic, hotels must be ready to pivot their marketing and pricing strategies to capture demand.

>>Reservation modifications and cancellations

As proven by the travel disruption caused by this pandemic, a simple, accessible process for modifying or canceling existing reservations is desired and expected by travel consumers. Going forward, this may have an even greater impact on the traveler’s decision to make a booking.

Allowing customers to modify or cancel bookings online through your website booking engine is convenient for customers and saves front-desk agents time—as long as the process is quick and easy. For example, customers should be able to retrieve their booking information by simply entering their email address and booking confirmation number, and then make changes without having to re-enter personal information. Confirmation emails are key to reassuring customers by confirming the change, and should be automated for efficiency and consistency.

It’s also important that your cancellation policy is clearly stated within your website booking engine at the time of booking. Following this crisis, it’s likely that the majority of travelers will need time to regain confidence in travel and spending. Clear, flexible cancellation policies will help provide the reassurance they need to make a booking.

>>Commission-free

Direct bookings carry a lower cost of acquisition than bookings coming through third parties that charge commission. If your PMS includes a direct online booking engine, make sure it’s commission free to maximize profit. This can make a big difference to your bottom line, especially as your direct channel gains more weight within your distribution mix.

>>Analytics

As a core component of your distribution strategy, your online booking engine should track performance so that you can measure the success of your direct booking strategy and identify areas for improvement. Automatically generated reports should provide insights into conversion rates, booking lead times, revenue from special promotions and so on.

>>Mobile-friendly

Today’s travel consumers research, plan and book travel across devices, so be ready to maximize conversions when travel bounces back with a mobile-friendly online booking engine that provides all users with an optimal experience. On mobile, that means a simple, secure, tap-friendly booking process that is easy to read and navigate on a small screen. An online booking engine that utilizes responsive design will have you covered on all devices (from desktops to smartphones).

>>Customizable to your brand

Your website booking engine should offer a degree of customization to display your business’s logo and images, as well as customizable messages and descriptions, to reinforce branding and help build credibility and trust.

>>Facebook compatibility

Very effective at attracting qualified traffic, social media has become much more than a platform to stay in touch with friends; it is also an important sales and marketing channel for businesses across industries.

Connecting your property’s Facebook page with your website booking engine makes it easy for your customers to make a booking directly from Facebook, a convenience that will help create a seamless online experience for your customers and result in increased direct bookings.

>>Inclusive

Make sure your website booking engine welcomes all by providing all customers with a user-friendly experience. Currency and language options simplify the process for international customers, and ADA-compliant features, such as ALT text for images (for screen-reader compatibility) and alerting bookers that the property offers accessible units, makes booking easier for customers with disabilities.

Many things have changed since COVID-19 swept the globe. It will take a while to get back to “normal” and it will happen at different rates and in different ways for different regions. People will travel with enthusiasm again, but it may take time for consumers to regain confidence in travel spending. Make sure your property is ready to meet future demand with a website booking engine that supports your customers through a simple, seamless and secure booking experience.

Harbor Hotel Provincetown

Located in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in the heart of Cape Cod, the Harbor Hotel Provincetown offers 129 guest rooms include 10 super spacious suites. Amenities include free WiFi, onsite dining, some pet-friendly rooms, a swimming pool, a fire pit and a seasonal cabana bar. The Harbor Hotel Provincetown has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their operations. Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro to accept online bookings!

Castle Accommodation

Castle Accommodation offers great places to stay at Castle Mountain Resort, just 45 km southwest of Pincher Creek, Alberta. A variety of accommodation types are offered, ranging from hotel rooms to hostel beds to on-hill cabins, there is something to suit everyone. Castle Accommodation has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their rentals. Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro to accept online bookings!

Denali Tri-Valley Cabins

Offering a uniquely Alaskan experience, Denali Tri-Valley Cabins in Healy, Alaska, provides accommodation in 10 comfortable cabins and one three-bedroom house. Each cabin has two queen beds, a flat screen TV, a small refrigerator, a microwave, a Kuerig coffee maker, free WiFi and a private bathroom. Denali Tri-Valley Cabins has chosen to use WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their operations. Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro to accept online bookings!

Crown City Inn

Located in Coronado, California just steps from the beach, the Crown City Inn offers 35 guest rooms and a wide range of amenities like an outdoor swimming pool, an onsite bistro that serves breakfast and lunch, a business center and free use of beach cruiser bikes. This hotel has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their operations! Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro’s integrated web reservation software to accept online bookings!

Inn By the Bay Monterey

Located in beautiful Monterey, California, the Inn By the Bay is just a short walk from area attractions like Wine Trolley Tours, the Monterey Museum of Art and Dennis the Menace Park! The motel offers 26 guest rooms and a host of amenities like free WiFi, air conditioning and some pet-friendly rooms. The Inn By the Bay has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help with their operations. Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro to accept online bookings!

Grand Staircase Inn

When visiting spectacular Bryce Canyon National Park, make your home base the Grand Staircase Inn in Cannonville, Utah. The park is just 15 minutes from the inn and plenty of amenities are available onsite including a fully-stocked country store, a food court and WiFi. Choose from standard rooms or opt for a suite with a Jacuzzi! The Grand Staircase Inn has chosen to use our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System to help manage their property! Check out their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro’s integrated Web reservation software to accept online bookings!

Keep it Simple: The Benefits of an All-in-One PMS

Running a successful lodging operation involves staying on top of a lot of moving parts. From taking online bookings to managing reservations to overseeing on-site operations, the responsibilities of hoteliers are both immense and diverse. Hospitality technology has fortunately kept up and offers a variety of solutions for all aspects of hotel management. But it’s important to think critically about the options you choose. While there are a lot of excellent stand-alone systems out there, the inefficiencies and challenges that arise from trying to juggle too many at once can end up adding to your burden, not alleviating it. Avoid the pitfalls of using disparate systems by choosing one property management system that does it all. Here are four benefits you’ll surely reap:

Simplicity

Integrating multiple systems requires a tremendous amount of time and effort. And it’s not a one-off investment. Every time one of the systems is upgraded, there’s potential for new complications to arise. Even the act of troubleshooting these issues is further complicated by the involvement of so many parties. If two (or more) systems aren’t communicating properly you will likely have to deal with multiple support teams to resolve the problem. An all-in-one solution, on the other hand, minimizes the potential for issues and offers a simple, one-stop shop for support—should any complications arise.

Reduce Double/Overbooking

Using disparate systems to take bookings can cause some dangerous lag time when updating inventory. If you manually add a reservation to your PMS, and the inventory on your independent online booking engine hasn’t been updated, it’s incredibly easy to end up with double bookings. Obviously, as an independent property, that’s a tough problem to fix after the fact, and will probably result in some very dissatisfied customers. An all in one system minimizes the potential for these frustrating situations. Whether a reservation is entered manually or through the online booking engine, inventory is automatically updated system-wide.

Easier Reporting/Analysis

Do you want to spend hours compiling data from multiple sources? Do you even have the time? If your property uses a collection of standalone systems, assessing hotel performance can be a frustrating and time-consuming process (involving collating multiple reports and making adjustments for overlapping data). But with an all-in-one system, you can generate holistic reports at the click of a button. This can have huge effects on your property. Easy and accurate analysis means you can make informed decisions and implement changes quickly and with confidence.

Maintain Rate Parity with Ease

In a time where hotel inventory is sold on so many different platforms, rate parity is essential. Not only is it your legal obligation to offer the same rates across all distribution channels (if you’re dealing with OTAs), but it’s a practice that will maintain credibility in the eyes of potential customers. With a separate online booking engine, channel manager, and PMS, this can be a frustrating thing to stay on top of. Consider adopting a system that does all three so you never have to worry.

 

The hospitality technology that is now available for properties (of all size) is terrific. Tools like online booking engines, PMSs, and accounting systems will certainly help your business succeed and grow. But choosing which systems to implement can be incredibly overwhelming. There are a lot of options out there. When shopping for tech solutions remember to consider not just the performance of each system independently, but how they will function in conjunction with every other system you use.

If you’re interested in an all-in-one PMS, contact WebRezPro for a free demo today.

White House Napa Valley Inn

The White House – Napa Valley Inn is located in beautiful Napa, California, and offers 17 modern guest rooms and a host of amenities include luxurious linens, fireplaces, lush gardens, on-site spa treatments and curated, small plates breakfast. This boutique hotel is a unique blend of downtown Napa inn and refreshingly modern wine country boutique hotel. The White House has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System. Check out their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro to take online bookings!

North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin

Located in Stehekin, Washington, the North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin offers rustic yet comfortable guestrooms on the shore of Lake Chelan. Additional accommodations are available in the fully furnished Lake House available that can sleep up to 12 guests or four cabins with kitchens.This pet-friendly property has just started using our cloud-based WebRezPro Property Management System! Visit their website to see how they’re using WebRezPro’s integrated Web reservation software to take online bookings!