In this series we present you ideas of improving your companies IT – without paying a fortune for software license tools. Most of the presented solutions are based on free open source programs, combined with individual programming for the individual use case presented.
This article is about hotels, however it is worth a read also for all companies that sell products online. It is part of a series showing prototype installations – with a limited amount of time invested (a so-called “weekend-project”). If interested in more, also read Open Weekend #1 : Your own free GPS-Tracker
Recently a client who owns a small hotel chain in Germany had plans to renovate the hotel reservation system. His old software reached the end of the life. He asked me what things need to be considered for a revamp of both his online presence and his reservation system.
In preparation to the meeting I set up a small online demo, to show some features that are possible. This article sums up the most important key points.
A nice photo / video of the Hotel as a welcoming screen…
…descriptive texts about the amendities…
…a screenshot gallery of nice pictures of the facilities…
…and finally an overview about the rooms itself.
To note: For this demonstration I used free stock photos, and included a generic name for the demo-hotel. In a final website stock pictures should not be used. Invest in a good photographer who takes nice pictures of the location. Pictures help largely to form the final booking decision – and they should show the actual site. Nothing is worse then a guest who had a great stay at your hotel and writes a review like this one : “The Hotel is OK. The pictures do not show the actual site. The room looks like this ***inserted a smartphone-made amateur picture***“
One important thing is that a search area should be visible directly at the welcoming screen. Do not include too many selection boxes, ideally reduce this area to the absolutely necessary minimum.
All other details of your hotel(s) and rooms you can present on the results site. This two-step approach has psychological reasons: On the first page the visitor asks himself “Should I book or not?“. Do not interfere in this decision making process. Once your visitor entered the booking dates he decided that your hotel is suitable. Then is the right time to show the full menu of options.
On another detail site you can present specific features of a room type.
There are a few smaller presentation tricks that help to speed up the booking process.
Very simple but highly effective one is a counter with the number of available rooms.
Not all possible options are valid. Adding a review system just creates maintenance work, and seldom leads to more bookings. Unless you are having a travel agency – where you need to compare different facilities – including a review system is unnecessary. You want your hotel to get full, so no one believes the presented reviews anyway. Doing a comparison of your standard vs. your deluxe room brings not more visitors.
Adding a guestbook site can be an option in some cases, but refrain from making this too complex. If your hotel receives good reviews on the major holiday portals : include an external link. This adds credibility.
When it comes to the actual booking, split your form into multiple pages. Present the booking, then start with the most important questions first (First Name, Last Name, eMail). On a second form as for secondary information like phone number, date of birth etc.. Then check for the residential address, and as a 4th page optionally include a billing address.
Splitting up the data has one simple reason: If for some reason the order is not finished you still have a part of the information. Your back office can politely ask via e-mail or phone, if the potential guest has a technical problem with the website. This is sometimes the reason, but often the order gets cancelled because of a spontaneous feeling of “Lets see first if we find a better hotel for that price”. Especially for long term bookings a polite contact approach (ideally combined with a special price offer based on the length of stay) can bring you a new customer.
After you received the first contact details it is a good time to present a first confirmation screen, possbily combined with a confirmation e-mail like the one below. We will ask about payment details in the next step. We do not want to loose the customer at this point in time. A confirmation information creates obligation on the visitors end.
As you may have noticed, we have not asked for payment details yet. Next to payment on-site, bank wire or payment by cheque it is necessary to include at least the major credit card vendors as payment gateways. Depending on your location other payment systems should be added as well (e.g. PayPal or Skrill).
Credit card transfers can be processed for a small fee from external providers. Outsourcing the credit card transactions makes sense for a small hotel. A certification to process in house credit card data according to PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) makes only sense for larger hotels. Comparing the processing fees between the different payment providers however does help to safe money.
Finally, make sure that your guests receive confirmation e-mails for all relevant steps in your booking workflow.
In general, the key areas of your Website should be adjustable from you or your staff. Nothing is more annoying then having to contact your IT Partner for minor changes (like adding a new promotion offer). If you edit something by yourself, there is always the chance that you do mess up. Take yourself the time to understand how the different areas of your website function. A professional IT company helps you to identify areas that are “safe-to-edit”, and takes the time to explain you the inner details.
Room management should be simple and easy to use.
At some points in time rooms need to get deactivated.
Room reallocation should be possible within a mouseclick.
An overview on a monthly basis should be included.
Many bookings do come from external booking engines. Managing the bookings can be problematic. You do have to reserve a continent to avoid overbooking situations, and possibly only include a limited number of rooms on this channels. If you do not actively update the stock on this portals a few times a day you loose potential customers.
Most external visitors come from 3-4 larger websites. The larger websites do have an API (a way to communicate with the website over a computer language instead with a browser). Directly connecting this websites to your internal booking engine helps you to safe maintenance time and leads to more sales.
The Website should be mobile-ready, and also support tablet devices. This adds a bit of complexity in your website layout (you need 3 different versions). However, there are “responsive” layouts available that are a good basis. Especially Hotels are often booked from online devices, a good mobile layout is very important in this branch.
Depending on your Hotel Visitors it may be a good addition to add additional languages.
If you can afford the extra investment, link the reservation system to your invoicing software.
This is not possible with every program. some old-style cash systems are not able to communicate over the internet. If your current setup is inflexible, maybe it is time for a change. In an upcoming article I will show you how to get rid of the hardware, and use smartphones and tables for restaurant order processing.
There are other things to note, however this gives you a first general overview. If you want to find out more, we are always available for a personal meeting. Just fill out the below form to get in touch with us.