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Upgrade Your Booking Engine To Fight The Home Sharing Onslaught

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July 12, 2019
Larry Mogelonsky - larry@hotelmogel.com

This has been a great fiscal year overall for the hotel industry. Perhaps this has distracted us from properly addressing one of our greatest challenges – the problem of home sharing, alternate lodging providers or, more accurately, internet-based service fi rms (IBSFs) cannibalizing our occupancy rates.

You see this more and more with younger customers who are just beginning to accrue enough spending power to choose their own travel accommodations. Overwhelmingly they opt for IBSFs – foremost among them being Airbnb – instead of traditional hotels. The danger of this preference shift is that soon our properties won’t even be considered at all, let alone come in second.

While fighting back through legislation is gaining ground, the glass-half-full approach here is to view home sharing entrants as yet another reason to improve your own business. And for this, you can realize big gains in terms of attracting customers back from these alternate lodging providers by focusing solely on your booking engine.

Why Booking Engines Matter 
In a word: revenue! If occupancy is low, it doesn’t matter how great you service your guests or how beautifully appointed your guestrooms are. Putting heads in beds will always be a top priority. Your website is the one channel that’s wholly within your control (unlike the OTAs) to showcase the many facets that make your property exceptional.

While drawing people to your brand.com is more the job of marketing and public relations, your booking engine – or more accurately your guest-facing reservation interface – is what’s going to get them to fork over their cash. If there’s one lesson you can learn from the proliferation of home sharing, it’s that shopping for accommodations is no longer purely transactional. Guests want an experience; they want a platform imbued with a sense of discovery where they can fully explore a flexible product range and have fun making the final decision.

The website front-end should act as the tasty lure by displaying all that your property has to offer. But your booking software – interface, underlying engine and any integrations – can give you precise data on customer behavior so you can tweak and tinker to find what truly excites potential patrons.

Do you prompt future guests about room packages just as they complete initial queries or is it better to wait until they’ve picked a specific room type? How do you infuse more rich media into the booking platform without overwhelming viewers, so they have greater product transparency to more confidently reserve what they want? These are the sorts of granular questions you can start to ask once you have the data. Further, there’s an aspect of personalization here. You can use past guest data to reengineer displays and offers to suit a customer’s preferences.

Indeed, numerous tech vendors can help you do just that, either by providing you with dynamic software that bolts on to your PMS or by helping automate your marketing silos to improve funneling into your booking engine. Some names that come to mind include b4checkin, Cendyn, Revinate, SHR, SiteMinder, TravelClick and a myriad of other vendors, with some offering connected PMS solutions as well. Your first action should be to ask your existing suppliers how they can help you maximize your current tools.

Packaging Is Your Best Friend
While most of your guestrooms won’t be able to compete with home sharing in terms of providing apartments with full kitchens embedded in neighborhoods not zoned for short-term rentals, a core advantage for hotels is that we have staff. Yes, we have people who excel at service delivery and handling your guests’ needs for them.

Sure, your lower tier double queen may look somewhat boring when compared against a newly remodeled loft on Airbnb Plus. But you can fight back by offering guests fantastic deals for add-on services, amenities or activities to make their time with you exceptional. Free breakfast is perhaps the simplest, but you can expand this to include a full gourmet getaway, spa vouchers, in-room arrival gifts, VIP access or offsite experiences through third parties.

The key here is that a cluttered and cumbersome interface can’t accurately present your add-ons or convey their true value. Also, for guests to properly window shop and be enticed by your bundles, they need to see how much they’re saving.

Again, modern booking software can come to the rescue. It can revive the look and feel of your reservation portal so users don’t get a headache squinting to read all the details. Instead, they can actually have fun browsing all the options you’ve built into the system. 

One important caveat here is that in order to amp up your booking engine with lots of packages and extras, you have to first create those extras. And this task encompasses far more than just revenue management.

Why Booking Engines Matter
Where can booking engines make big gains in the coming year? They can effectively convince customers to upgrade their initial purchases so you can better fill your premium tier product. And they can facilitate individual room selections (for an incremental fee if you so desire) under the guise of an attribute-based sales (ABS) model. 

Coupled with your excellent service, your suites and villas will undoubtedly give guests a far better experience over some alternate lodging. But what’s lacking is an effective means through which to tell your inventory’s story via ABS. Sometimes we’re just as bad as OTAs when it comes to displaying our cheapest rooms at the top of the search results page. This subconsciously primes customers to select exactly those and not consider much else.

To remedy this, you could reorient the way product tiers are organized during an inquiry or look for alternate ways to get guests interested in your suites. To better understand what simple initiatives you can take, look no further than companies like Nor1, which has a myriad of solutions designed to, for example, give you better guest intelligence or increase merchandising sales at check-in.

Another great way to go about this is by letting guests book a standard room, then sending them an invitation to virtually tour your suites via a confirmation email, either immediately after they book or a few days later. This is a staple of the airline industry, but still an emergent niche for hotels. Companies like Koridor can manage this follow-up correspondence via private portals that let guests view then select individual rooms or upgrade to something fancier.

To circumvent PMS integration issues, you might also recruit your email marketing providers to send out prearrival messages. These can inform guests about the wealth of possibilities that go above and beyond your cheapest room. They can always be connected to private landing pages on your website or direct guests to call a hotline to let your reservations team do the upselling.

You Need More Than a Pretty Website
So many hotels have a great brand.com page that masks an abysmal reservation platform. By making this a more seamless and painless experience, you’ll help stem the tide of travelers who will otherwise opt for OTAs or IBSFs with more familiar, intuitive systems.

Your booking engine isn’t just a stopgap for growing direct revenues; it can also be used to better data collection and guest personalization. Hotels that adopt software capable of performing these tasks will ultimately be better able to navigate occupancy issues or any other future hardships. And they can maximize patrons’ use of their top tier products and ancillary services.

©2019 Hospitality Upgrade 
This work may not be reprinted, redistributed or repurposed without written consent. For permission requests, call 678.802.5302 or email info@hospitalityupgrade.com.

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