When most hotels build out a direct distribution system, they often treat the website and booking engine as two separate entities—you work with one company to build out your website, and another to handle the booking engine and CRS. This has been a standard for a long time, mainly because the two platforms ran on different technologies and did not talk to each other.
But technology has advanced rapidly, and this old way of thinking has become quickly outdated. Today, APIs and platform integrations mean that the website and booking engine should work together seamlessly as ONE unit. A single direct booking platform. Travelers who book rooms see it that way, yet most hotels still treat them as two entities.
In the meantime, OTAs have developed booking sites where travelers can now browse rooms, check availability, and make bookings at lightning speed. Offering a great user experience online has become the new expectation. If hotels are to keep up, they’ll need to do the same—and that means integrating the website and booking engine so they operate as one seamless platform.
But how does such a system function, and what specific benefits does it offer?
Live and instantly updated rates
Traditionally, checking room rates on a hotel website meant a user would have to enter dates into a booking widget. The search results would then open in the booking engine. In instances where the two systems don’t talk to each other, users are forced to repeat actions. In an example, here is the website search bar for an NYC hotel:
Most users would expect to see rooms and prices after clicking “Book Now.” But after entering their dates, users are then taking to a booking engine page where they are asked to confirm their dates again:
This clunky process might once have been accepted. But not today. In the hyper-fast e-commerce age, sluggish design stands out like a sore thumb and users are far less patient.
Now, new website systems can dynamically pull information out of the CRS so that pricing shows up right on the website. For instance, Washington Park Hotel in Miami now displays its current night right directly on its home page, as well as a rate comparison with some of the major OTAs.
On the rooms page, travelers can even see the current prices as they browse different room types:
Clicking on the Reserve Now button even brings up a calendar with pricing, allowing potential guests to see how prices look for the potential dates they want to book. After selecting dates, the total price is updated to reflect the cheapest available option. And all of this is possible without the user having to go to the booking engine.
Live rates not only makes for a great user experience, but it helps to facilitate bookings on the website, instantly engaging you in a decision-making process that’s intended to minimize any friction on the way to the checkout. It also improves conversion rate: travelers who are simply browsing can check general prices without having to start the booking process on the booking engine and abandoning it.
Halve the time spent on updates
When the CRS/booking engine and the website CMS are not connected, updating any details involves inputting them separately into both systems. When you consider how often room types, descriptions, pricing, availability, and special offers need changing, it adds up to a lot of wasted time. And if you need to make updates through a separate website agency, the delay is worse.
In contrast, a seamless platform eliminates needless replication. When a hotel updates any information on the CRS, that same information should automatically update on the website. Over the months and years, the amount of time saved becomes substantial.
On the website for Stanford Court in San Francisco, for example, room types and photos are synced directly with the CRS. When a hotel wants to change the room name, or update a photo, they can simply update it in the CRS and it will appear instantly on the website.
But more than winning back cumulative hours, revenue managers are also able to respond at speed to changing market conditions.
As things such as rates and availability alter, they can quickly create deals and rate plans in the CRS without also having to manually update them on the website or notify their website agency to do the update. Speeding up this process means that offers and special prices can go live much sooner and give the hotel an immediate competitive advantage.
A seamless mobile experience
In some cases, the hotel website is optimized for mobile but the booking engine is not. Not only does this disjointed experience look pretty unprofessional, it makes reserving a room extremely difficult on mobile devices. In particular, hotels with a poor mobile experience could lose out on a lot of last-minute bookers with limited time on their hands.
The beauty of an integrated system is that the website and booking engine are both optimized for mobile. This optimization isn’t to be underestimated—offering a mobile-friendly experience (at every stage of the travel journey) is a big reason OTAs dominate mobile bookings. The modern consumer expects nothing less.
Beyond winning direct business, an integrated system can also be used to segment audiences by device and then market and merchandise to them separately.
For example, CRS tools like RezTrip’s dynamic pricing module enable hotels to design rate plan rules that offer special offers and discounts only to mobile users. Given the fact that OTAs promote mobile-specific offers and rates, pricing strategically through the mobile channel has now become a priority to remain consistently competitive.
Boosting conversions with other technologies
A seamless system also makes it easier to experiment with other technologies that can boost conversion rates.
Countdown clocks with limited offers and “rooms remaining” widgets can be used to create added urgency, while price checking tools offer guests the ability to price shop without having to browse elsewhere.
Features such as automated best rate guarantee and TripAdvisor badges can enhance things further by increasing confidence regarding room rates and adding important social proof that indicates a hotel is popular with other travelers.
It also becomes easier to partner with third-party software companies that provide a variety of innovative conversion-boosting tools.
With StayWanderful, hotels can offer instant rewards that chime with the interests of their audience. Properties such as Park Central Hotel NYC use StayWanderful’s “incentive engine” to prompt direct bookings with offers including United flight credits, discounts off Broadway shows, complimentary Starbucks coffee and restaurant gift cards.
Meanwhile, platforms such as Voyat are giving hotels the ability to customize their messaging based on a user’s previous interactions and place in the booking journey. By delivering the right message at the right time, a hotel can significantly influence a user’s behavior as they browse the website.
Voyat also allows hotels to personalize greetings to past guests across all devices, while “Facebook-style notifications” on the hotel website highlight the benefits of booking direct, all of which influences the likelihood that a potential guest converts.
In most cases, integrating with third-party widgets from companies such as Voyat and StayWanderful requires minimal effort. Dropping a line of code into the hotel website is usually all that’s required for the widget to go live.
A necessary evolution
In the modern age, a disjointed and clunky website simply won’t cut it. OTAs and “on-demand” travel companies such as Uber and HotelTonight have raised the game, making it easy for consumers to easily browse and book on their sites. Hotels must also make this a priority, or else risk being left behind.
Instead of the website and booking engine being kept separate, they need to be integrated into a single e-commerce entity. As online bookings continue to grow, this vital next step is now imperative to ensure hotels keep pace with the rest of the travel industry, maximize conversions, and deliver the best possible user experience.
Interested in learning more about new platforms and technologies available to your hotel? Join us for our webinar on April 26 to learn more:
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