If you look at the home pages of most hotel websites, they are more often than not characterised by ‘woffle’, which is really not relevant to most travel shoppers wishing to book that property at any given time, Furthermore modern shoppers are well past the stage of ‘reading’ (especially heavy) website content. And yet hoteliers constantly moan that they are unable to gain meaningful channel shift away from the big on line travel companies, and consequently gain the benefit of lower selling costs.
Two essential meassages have to be
1 That hotel website bookings come with a best rate guarantee
2 The benefits to the travel shopper of booking direct with the hotel (as opposed to the third party)
Why? Because countless surveys and traveller experiences have shown up numerous inefficiencies in booking via third party websites, most particularly in the area of customer service. This is particularly acute in times of travel disruption. When a travel shopper books with a third party system, the contract is between the travel shopper and the third party, not between the travel shopper and the hotel. Why do you think these TP sites block any communication with the hotel as far as possible? You become an Expedia customer, a Booking.com customer, and so on. So, during serious disruptions such as last year’s volcanic ash cloud, your ‘service manager’ if you don’t book direct is the third party booking site, not the hotel. I heard horrendous stories of customers being socked for large cancellation fees not of their making, going to hotels which were fully booked or had no knowledge of their reservation &c &c – and when the TPI was approached, they simply didn’t want to know (and/or said ‘contact the hotel’).
That’s because their business is a numbers game, not a service company. Some of our clients, following encouragement from us, posted notices on their websites during the ash cloud debacle reassuring customers re cancellations &c and offering to assist wherever possible, with e.g. prepaid bookings being refunded or being usable against further bookings &c &c. However the caveat was that in order to qualify, the booking must have been made directly with the hotel. And why not? The hotel does not own the third party customer, the travel company does.
And don’t score an own goal by having rates on your website which are less favourable, like for like booking and conditions, with those available on a TP website. A best rate guarantee means what it says. You’d be amazed how many, especially small hotels, either don’t get this, or just don’t manage their rates efficiently, or don’t fully understand the concept of ‘cost of sale’.
Also – very important – your customer booking experience must be, at worst as good as, but ideally better than, the booking experience on the third party network. Far too many hoteliers adopt the false economy of low cost or even free booking links and systems. These links are often provided and promoted by PMS companies. PMS companies specialise in property management systems, not ecommerce. All but the very smallest independent accommodation providers should adopt a CRS approach, it will pay off handsomely in the long run. For there’s far more to the cost of an on line booking solution than just the commission. Many many travel shoppers leave the booking process prior to conversion, and our research and failed availability reports show that a weak on line booking system can contribute to this failure. We strongly recommend Sabre’s Guest Connect booking engine and related CRS connectivity (including IDS and GDS, and more recently, smartphone and social media) provided and fully supported in the UK by our partners Navarino Services. Our hotel clients who have adopted this solution have never looked back. Sabre’s solution is used by many world class hotel chains and groups. Th GDS is still a very significant, and growth, channel, despite many commentators trying to talk it down – especially if you are a city hotel or a hotel near an airport.
There seems to be a paranoia about commission charges in the industry, probably a derivative of the high (and often hated) commission charges levied by third party intermediaries. Don’t let this rule your decision about your own on line ecommerce. And remember that with a solution like that offered by Sabre, independent hoteliers will not only have a better booking experience than with third parties, in most cases it will also be better than that provided by their brand and chain rivals (some of their systems are awful, clunky, &c). Remember too that systems such as Sabre’s undergo massive research to arrive at, and develop the best process, and this is a continuous process.
Another piece of advice – if you are irritated by high credit card processing costs, offer probably the dearest, American Express, on your own low commission cost ecommerce channel, but don’t offer it to the third party websites as a payment alternative if it irks you. It beggars belief that some hotels don’t take Amex at all, but will happily pay up to 30% to LateRooms and far more to Groupon and similar concepts.