Online Bookings: Implementing an Effective Strategy

03rd Oct 2010

Mike FordNB: This is an article written By: Mike Ford Founder @ SiteMinder

Any accommodation providers believe they need to spend significant time and money on establishing an effective online strategy. FALSE.

Obtaining online bookings for you property is much easier…and cheaper… than you may think. And it can be achieved in days – not weeks or months. This  four pronged approach will ensure your online bookings increase as well as allowing you to maximise revenue from each booking.

So, where do you start? Easy. You can achieve 75 per cent of your online strategy very quickly, cheaply and effectively. The remaining 25 per cent (if you need it) will take more thought and external assistance, but achieving the majority of your objectives instantly allows you to focus on getting the last 25 per cent right.

The first 75 per cent :

The first three  prongs of the approach require you to sign up to an effective channel manager, get yourself a top performing booking engine (a commission free one), and spruce up your website (the last thing you want is a great looking booking engine on a tired old site).

That’s the first 75 per cent of the strategy. Can it really be that simple? Yes, and here is why:

1. Channel Manager

This clever little piece of technology will allow you to list on a multitude of top performing online booking sites worldwide.  The good ones will also link to wholesalers, corporate booking sites and the like. Why is this so important?

Let’s look at a site like Expedia. Expedia invests many millions of dollars on internet search, TV and radio, travel agency relationships, affiliate programs and social media to ensure that your property is put in front of consumers worldwide. Not many accommodation providers can afford to give their property this kind of exposure, so allowing leading booking sites to do it on your behalf is a great way to participate, particularly since it is free to sign up, easy to manage through your channel manager, and you only pay a success fee when a booking occurs.

Have you ever wondered why the property down the road gets more customers from Asia or the UK than you? It could be because they are using their channel manager to update Agoda and, the two  leading sites in Asia and the UK respectively.

So what to look for in a channel manager?

– Make sure your channel manager offers a rich selection of major overseas sites; you are limiting your success if you can only update local booking sites

– Make sure you go with a trusted name, that has a significant support team behind them and offers extras like weekend support.

– Ensure your channel manager offers a 2 way, pooled inventory system where inventory is automatically adjusted on all sites when a booking is made on any site. This will maximize your chance of getting bookings while minimizing overbooking risk. Tools that force you to split your inventory across sites and only offer one way updates are yesterday’s news.

2. Online Booking Engine For Your Own Site

This is the one you really want to get right. This determines if people coming to your site with the intent to book, actually end up booking your property or abandoning the booking and going elsewhere. Results from a leading online research company reveal that more than 40 per cent of all bookings on a hotel’s own website are abandoned during the booking cycle due to a complex booking process, as well as sluggish performance by the booking engine on the site (wait time).

So what you are looking for is a booking engine that is:

1- Commission free (don’t pay someone else for bookings that are rightfully yours)

2- Offers an easy to use, 2 step booking process

3- Offers extremely fast response times.

It also won’t hurt if your booking engine looks sexy, allows rich media content like photo libraries of your property, rooms and online maps, and allows you to customise and colour match your website theme to ensure consistency of your brand.

3. Your Own Website

This is the face of your hotel to the entire world. Invest a little to make it appealing. It will pay you back many times. There are companies out there that can provide you with a quality hosted website, at a very reasonable cost.

One golden rule to remember when getting a new website is MAINTAIN OWNERSHIP OF YOUR OWN DOMAIN NAME! If you let your website provider own or take control of the ownership of your domain, you will be tied to them for life and at the mercy of whatever prices they want to charge you.

Owning your domain name means you control the destiny of your own website.

The last 25 per cent:

So, you now have 75 per cent of a solid online booking strategy. The last 25 per cent (the fourth prong of our approach) is a detailed and in depth subject, but is equally important as the first 75 per cent.

Assuming you are not 100 per cent occupied after getting a channel manager, quality booking engine and spruced up website, then you will want to consider: search engine marketing and search engine optimisation strategies (SEO and SEM), social media strategies (if applicable), and other direct marketing strategies to drive business to your own website – where of course your new booking engine will do a fantastic job of converting bookings.

If you do not have the expertise to devise and execute such strategies, then it is advisable to engage an external, independent online marketing expert to assist you.

An important note: If you intend on engaging an SEO expert to assist you in the future, then it is worthwhile engaging them prior to your new website being built. The website content and structure can affect SEO results significantly. The website designer/builder does not need to be the same person, but they should work together on the website to ensure best results.

Do not be scared of this last step. You do not have to spend thousands upon thousands – you can spend as much or as little as you want to achieve varying results. With SEO, you should ensure you establish a pay by the month deal so that you can stop at any time. On average, expect a time period of about six months for an SEO strategy to make a difference to the traffic coming to your website.

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