‘Hey, could you help me get the best deal in one of the hotels in town?’

 ‘Could you please share the number of some leading travel agents, who could help me plan my accommodation at economical prices?’

 ‘Oh, it is such a time-consuming process, I should have planned well in advance to get a better deal for the hotel’

Well, gone are those days and these statements are quite unheard of in the current scenario, where the entire world seems to have moved online or on mobile. Technology has changed gears at an amazing speed – something we had never imagined before. Needless to say, our lifestyles have also undergone a dramatic change, as we look for increased convenience, in just a click!

Definitely, there is a multitude of choice available to a traveler, for booking accommodation. People are now rarely seen calling travel agents to book a travel or a stay. Apart from this, a host of Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) offer these services in quite a streamlined fashion, making the lives of travelers relatively relaxed, also giving them a platform to compare different hotels and their services.

However, a shift in trend has been witnessed lately, as many hotels are experiencing a significant upsurge in bookings coming directly, without any involvement from OTAs. This is clear from the latest revelations that 65.4% of hotel bookings are being made directly and only 19.5% of the overall hotel bookings are being made through intermediaries (Statistic Brain). This will definitely help hotels increase their RevPAR.

The trend has taken off well in 2016 – let us see what the remaining few months of the year have in store. Is a new trend going to emerge in the industry, or this one is here to stay – it’s a wait-and-watch game!

In the current scenario, the websites of most hotels allow their customers to book their stay directly with them. Well, it is important because an alarmingly high number of people now plan their travel online. But how does this work for hotels?

Making reservations directly would never have been possible without the use of an efficient booking engine, which is well integrated with the hotel’s website. Besides making the booking process simpler for the guests, it helps drive large profit margins, and hotels end up saving huge commissions, which they otherwise pay to OTAs.

So, it is important for all hotels, big or small, to invest in a competent booking engine, which induces travelers to book their stay with them. Without its use, hotels might lose out on direct bookings, thus closing the main revenue stream and also losing share in the eyes of travelers. They could be left far behind in the race… winning might seem tough, as the overall response is likely to go tepid, pushing the company in doldrums.

So, hoteliers all over the world have been relooking at their booking strategy and working out ways to secure more online direct reservations with minimum effort and cost. However, Online Reputation Management has a significant role to play to drive more direct hotel bookings. It makes perfect sense for them to invest in building up reliable, up-to-date direct booking engines, which betters the customer experience further. Being a key investment and a need of the hour for the hotels, it can increase their revenues by leaps and bounds and also help build a long-term relationship with the guests.

Now, what should be the key features of an ideal booking engine?

  • Simple and Intuitive – First and foremost, a user-friendly booking engine with a simple and intuitive design goes a long way in smoothening the reservation experience for guests, and offers them the readiness to book their stay instantly. If the details like availability of rooms, prices, etc. are available to them at just a click, the job is half done.
  • Payment Ease and Security – The booking engine must be well integrated with different online payment providers, making the booking process simple, effortless and secure.
  • Better Deals and Incentives – Travelers usually stick to the misconception of finding attractive deals only while booking through OTAs. Perhaps, OTAs marketed their offers in a lucrative and promising way. Hotels also run a flurry of benefits which are offered exclusively to guests who book directly. Some of these benefits are in the form of early check-in, late checkout, free city tour, thank-you gifts, free upgrades, etc. Well, it is important to beat your own drums at times. So, all these extras need to be clearly packaged and flashed on the hotel website under relevant heads, aiding the traveler in taking a quick decision. A study carried out by the hotel software evaluation firm, Software Advice found that 48% of people would value a room upgrade above anything else, with 23% choosing free room service. Clearly, incentives play a big role!
  • Global Reach – The online space gives hotels a fair chance to reach a global audience. Therefore, the booking engine must be well-equipped to support multiple languages and currencies, allowing the guests to transact with their choice.
  • Mobile friendliness – The booking engine definitely needs to integrate with your mobile platform – it is one of the most important aspects to be taken care of in the current scenario. A recent research indicates that 25% of hotel bookings are now mobile, and 50% more travelers complete the booking if the website is mobile-optimised (Tnooz).
  • Allow other bookings – If the visitor wishes to book a restaurant in town for dinner, or arrange for tickets to an event, or perhaps order some flowers, the hotel website should have it all. A happy customer automatically equates to – a happy you!

Booking is the ‘first’ interface of the guest in the hotel. And ‘firsts’ usually lay the grounds for the rest of the journey. ‘Firsts’ are known to sometimes make, or even break. So, why not invest our effort in making, and not breaking? A huge opportunity for hoteliers, it is time for them to come forward and strengthen their booking engines to become the drivers of growth and the masters of ‘firsts’.