What's A Booking Engine & Do You Really Need One?

In a time when most travelers find information online and look for the latest deals from the convenience of their cell phones, it's important for independent lodging businesses to keep up with the corporate chain hotels. The #1 way to capture the most motivated travelers in the market and generate the highest possible revenue throughout the entire year is to invest in a hotel booking engine.

While you may have heard of a booking engine and might even realize it’s a must-have, you may not necessarily understand what this tool is or how to start your search. Our guide provides everything you need to know about researching and choosing the right booking engine for your property.

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What Is a Booking Engine?

A hotel booking engine is a critical tool that you need to have in your arsenal if you operate an independent lodging property, such as a boutique hotel or bed & breakfast. It can be synced with your property management system (PMS) in order to allow you to accept direct bookings through your website, social media pages, and third-party directory listings.

Travelers can filter a search by date, number of rooms and guests, amenities and even special packages. Once they find what they’re looking for, they can securely provide any information you require, including credit card details, and walk away knowing they have a guaranteed reservation. All while you do… pretty much anything else.

a woman in a kitchen, simultaneously trying to talk on the phone, type on a laptop, and stir a pot with the quote: Multi-tasking is not fun. If this photo hits too close to home, you might just need a booking engine

When you offer online hotel booking directly on your website, you not only make the process of booking more convenient for your guests, but you also reap the benefits. These direct bookings mean you can accept reservations automatically without paying a commission fee to an online travel agency (OTA), like Booking.com or Expedia. Ultimately, with secure hotel booking on your website, you can generate more bookings while increasing the amount of revenue earned per reservation.

Keep in mind we’re talking about a booking engine that shares real-time pricing and availability and results in a confirmed booking. This isn’t a reservation request, where they simply submit what they prefer and then wait for you to get back to them. Those days are over. Guests want immediate results and a confirmed reservation or they’ll just go somewhere else.

That being said, there are some features you want to look for when evaluating your booking engine options because, of course, they’re not all created equal!

Must-Have Booking Engine Features

With many booking engines to choose from, it's important to find one that has the features you need to streamline your operations and boost your overall revenue.

These are some of the features you will need in a hotel booking engine:

  • Mobile Capabilities: You need a booking engine that will allow you to accept bookings from mobile devices. This is particularly important since the number of mobile bookings continues to increase year after year. And we don’t just mean you can see the booking engine on a mobile device. It needs to be mobile responsive, meaning it’s able to sense the size of the screen and type of device being used and automatically show the guest the right version.

  • Dynamic Pricing Support: If you’re using automatic rate adjustments with your PMS (and you should be!), you want to make sure that the booking engine you use will share your real-time pricing. This means if you yield your rates to reflect supply and demand, your guests will always see whatever that adjusted price is when they’re searching. This is one of the best ways to maximize revenue with each booking.

  • Customized to Your Brand: The key to getting people to book on your website is to make them feel 100% comfortable. They should never feel as if they’ve left your site to go to a third-party page. That means having the ability to style your booking engine to match the look and feel of your website, including the header menu, your logo, brand graphics, and footer. Be wary of products that only let you upload a logo and customize colors.

a man and woman looking at a cell phone together smiling with quote to the right: The key is to keep them on the booking engine once they're there. Make sure you can customize the design to match the look and feel of your website so it doesn't set off any sort of spam alarm.
  • Analytics Tools: Beyond offering the ability to accept direct bookings, your booking engine should give you insight into the data behind your bookings. Having the option to integrate with Google Analytics, for example, means you won’t lose visibility into what your guests do once they click from your website to your booking engine. Being able to see this data allows you to better understand your guests so you can adjust what you offer to meet their needs.

  • Photo Gallery Tools: Travelers rely heavily on images, and your booking engine should support high-resolution photo galleries. Make sure they can be easily viewed on desktop or mobile - it should be easy for guests to click or swipe through to see all the photos. You also want to check on a limit to photo quantity or size of files, so you’re not too limited.

  • Secure Payment Processing: Whether or not you choose to require a deposit for reservations, we highly recommend you collect a valid credit card to have on file at the time of booking. It really is a best practice to protect you and make sure your bookings are coming from people serious about keeping their reservation. Having a PCI-compliant payment processing vendor connected to your booking engine is a no-brainer. Guests need to feel comfortable sharing their payment information and you’ll be able to trust the data you receive is accurate and safe.

The Benefits of a Booking Engine

By investing in a versatile and customizable booking engine for your property, you’ll experience many benefits, including:

  • Increased bookings throughout the year: Regardless of what you use as your booking engine, you should see a rise in bookings at your hotel throughout every season. Not only can an online booking system help you fill your hotel to capacity during the peak season, but it can also help you generate bookings during the slower seasons when there are fewer travelers at your destination.

  • Higher revenue earnings per booking: An online booking engine can help you decrease your reliance on OTA sites, like Airbnb and HotelTonight. It can also allow you to easily implement dynamic pricing strategies. As a result, you can maximize the amount of revenue that you earn per booking and grow your hotel business.

  • Improved guest satisfaction ratings: Today's tech-savvy travelers prefer to take care of their bookings in just a few clicks. When customers know that they can access the best rates and availability directly through your website or social pages, they are more likely to trust your brand. An effective booking engine is essential to making a good impression on your guests.

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All-in-One Property Management System Versus Stand-Alone Booking Engine

You may have heard of all-in-one property management systems, such as ThinkReservations. What this means is that the PMS and online booking engine are designed to work together. You can’t use either separately with another vendor’s software.

While this might seem inconvenient at first, especially if you already have a PMS, you’ll likely find that the benefits outweigh the need to migrate everything over. You’ll find that these systems offer seamless integration with each other, meaning you’ll have real-time updates across the board. Because the tools were built to share information, things like automated rate adjustments and room availability will always be accurate.

All of your analytics and reporting will be available in one place, making it easy to stay on top of your business. There’s no need to log into two different accounts to get the full picture.

You’ll also appreciate having only one vendor to work with when it comes to setting up your account and working with customer success into the future. And payments should be a breeze - one vendor means one bill. And with ThinkReservations, our all-in-one subscription includes both the PMS and booking engine, so you get both for one low price, paid monthly, with no contract or minimum commitment.

Choosing the Right Booking Engine

Now that you know you need a booking engine, you’ll need to find the right one for your brand. Here are some steps you should take:

  • Make a list of the features that you need.

  • Begin conducting a search of reputable booking engine vendors. We suggest reaching out to other property owners for recommendations, as well as any red flags based on their experience.

  • Read hotel engine reviews and consider vendors that have been rated highly. Check to see how current the reviews are, so you know you’re hearing from recent customers. Sites we like are Hotel Tech Report and Capterra.

  • Find booking engines that are geared specifically toward independent operators, because these will have the unique and intuitive features that you need for your business.

  • Pay close attention to the experience from the guest perspective. Remember that many guests don’t book online reservations often. Make sure it feels simple and intuitive so they have no reason to abandon their booking before it’s complete.

  • Keep in mind that some booking engines will work only with PMS by that same vendor. If you like the convenience that comes along with that option, make sure to ask about this when you start scheduling demos.

    Now that you know what a booking engine is, that it’s really a must-have to be a successful property owner today, and some of the key features you need, what are you waiting for? Of course, our team at ThinkReservations would love to learn more about your business to help you figure out if our all-in-one PMS and booking engine could be the best fit for you. Give us a call at 877-736-4195 today or schedule a free 15-minute call with a member of our team.

    We look forward to helping you discover new ways to grow your business!

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