Monday, 28 September 2009

Booking Engines. Are You in Need of Change?

What is that old saying? The only two certainties in life are death and taxes. Well there is nothing more certain than change and hasn’t the last year’s economic crisis reinforced that truism?

One of the downsides of change however is that all too often it’s done on the spur of the moment and for the sake of change itself rather than strategic thinking or as part of a laid out plan.

We’ve had several website clients converse with us over the decision on whether to change booking engines; it’s all too prevalent. A competitive market leads to multiple offers from all sides and the opportunity to change vehicles mid journey without checking the map first! Sure sometimes the mode of transport may not be right but all too often decision are taken in isolation and the change doesn’t identify the root problem; a new vehicle may simply carry you away in the wrong direction more quickly!

So if you’re thinking of changing your booking engine supplier you need to rationally go through your tick boxes and make sure it’s not just change for the sake of it and that indeed clear benefits and increased business can be identified.

There are no easy growth solutions to your online conversions and under no circumstances have we ever seen a changing of booking engine turn a business around on its own. It requires recognition that online business beds developed like any other part of your business; it requires commitment to taking the time to update, manage and develop your online web presence and pricing. It needs to become an integral part of your thought processes on an ongoing basis.

Your website cannot and will not grow on its own. Nor can your direct online bookings.

To increase bookings on your website you need more than just a booking engine; you need three things
  1. A website that visually does not turn your customer off.
  2. A website that can be found for appropriate search terms
  3. A website that has a fully integrated and easy to convert booing engine

It is only when you have stitched all three together are you in a position to analyse whether your booking engine is working well enough for you.

If for example you have a three or a five year old website, with old style copy, even, god forbid, out of date content, pictures, promotions and events.

If your site is built on technology that doesn’t work with Internet Explorer 7 never mind IE8 or a site that has no Metatags or sitemap or hasn’t been submitted to the Search Engines for years then changing your booking engine will make little or no impact on the neither traffic nor conversion rates through your site.

If you’re being asked to change you with an incredible commission offer or sign up promotion be sure that you know how your site traffic is going to be increased. Could it be that this promised new traffic is coming through third party distribution channels? If so that’s a channel distribution issue and not your online booking engine issue.

Accommodation providers need to be offering their client with the easiest method of booking online possible DIRECTLY. This is not advocating a ditching of your high performing channels; far from it. The benefits of developing channels in a managed way are critically important for the smaller operator. However it should be part of an online strategy not the driver for an online marketing campaign.

Interestingly we note that there is a tendency for some booking engines to offer competitor availability if you don’t have any showing on your own site. This may be great if you’re a group of hotels or even a marketing consortium working closely together with like minded product but to be honest we’ve never seen the business logic of sending someone from your website to a competitor even if you don’t have availability. We would always suggest that accommodation providers think very carefully before losing this site visitor so readily.

So if you’re thinking of switching your online provider here’s some food for thought.
  • Determine exactly what it is you need your booking engine to do for you?
  • Is it easy to update availability and rates?
  • Does it need to link to a front desk operation and does the size of your operation justify it?
  • Is it low cost and if so what level of support?
  • What about upgrades?
  • Does it include multiple languages and currencies for overseas bookings?
  • Does the booking engine fully integrate into your own website? Will the customer close a new window down if they think it’s a different website?
  • Does it offer competitor rooms if your rooms not available? Are you willing to give your competitor business from your site?
  • Does it feed third party distribution channels? If so at what commission levels?
  • If you’re being promised increased business what are the parameters? Are you going to improve design, content and optimisation? If not how is the site traffic going to grow?

These are just a few questions that should be considered when looking at what option suits your accommodation.

If you think you may be in need of an online audit email us at The Edge or give us a quick call.
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