One important factor highlighted in my last article, Web Design for Small Hotels, is the basic functionality or ease of use for customers checking availability and booking a room. This article takes a deeper look at the options out there for small hotel owners, and is drawn from investigating the systems in use amongst Brighton hotels. I did a little investigation and had a look at what systems and software they were using (where it was possible to tell), but firstly, let’s consider a few key factors to a successful system:
Ease of Making bookings
This is the most fundamental consideration. For the customer, it’s essential that there is a smooth booking process without irritations. Most systems use a grid based system to enable customers to view availability and make bookings. Most also provide a basic booking widget to put on your own website to enable customers to check dates and availability.
Ease of Managing Bookings and Channel Management
Firstly, you will want to know that it is easy to manage bookings made through your own website, but the best systems and software offer easy integration with other booking websites (channels) such as booking.com, Laterooms, Expedia etc, so you do not need to keep updating endless websites. You will have to decide how important it is for you to be on how many of these sites. A good system will automatically update the information across a number of sites saving a lot of work and potential confusion over bookings. This usually costs extra. Not every channel is covered by every system so check to see which
ones are included. For example, many are not integrated with the booking systems of local tourist information sites.
Price and Commission Costs
Prices are charged on a variety of basis. Some charge an upfront fee, some a monthly fee and some charge a commission per booking and some do not. It’s important to look closely and work out what is best for you.
As previously mentioned, a great benefit of using these booking systems is the capability to update your booking pages and information across a number of booking websites, but pricing varies for this service. A major consideration therefore will be how many of these other booking websites are linked in to the system you choose and what you pay for this.
There may be other features that are important to you such as multiple language capabilities.
What Systems and Software are available?
There are a wide range of options out there and even within Brighton and Hove, there are a wide variety of systems being used. By far the most popular system in use with hotels in Brighton and Hove though is Eviivo. It is being used by at least a dozen hotels including traditional guest houses and boutique hotels alike.
Eviivo serves over 5000 businesses across the UK offering a total of 50,000 rooms a night and since starting out in 2005 has grown rapidly. It seems to be the default choice for hotels and is very comprehensive. The booking pages are almost a website in themselves. Its charges are reasonable if you are seeking a system with channel management. There’s a set up fee of £95 plus VAT for hotels with 9 rooms or under, and up to £250 plus VAT for 20 rooms upwards, and then there’s an additional 6% service fee per booking from your own website, and a higher one for other channels). For this though you get good quality booking webpages available in 12 languages which can be easily integrated into your website.
These pages are also linked into their partner distribution websites which include most of the main booking site players such as Laterooms, Expedia , Hotels.com and Visit Britain (though booking.com seems to be conspicuously absent), meaning both web pages and bookings are updated simultaneously.
To compare to other systems, you will probably need to work out how much that service charge will come to each month, as this comment on the Visit Britain Accommodation Know How Marketing and Booking Forum makes clear:
‘I think that Eviivo Frontdesk has been the gold standard for guest house booking systems up to now. If you have little IT skills, you can just open the box and it will set you up with PMS (property management system) online booking and channel management. I would recommend it to anyone starting up a guest house as the easiest way to get going online. But Frontdesk does have its faults, it is expensive typically costing £500 a year per room, it sells your rooms to channels but it sells all your rooms this way even in high season (a hotel would never do this) and its pricing model is very discount orientated’.
On the other hand, another user commented:
‘If you really are convinced that the local TIC and your own website cannot generate sufficient business and you really do want to be out in the internet. Then do look at Eviivo. They provide a first rate booking system for smaller users which is easy to use and has great reach into all sorts of useful channels at pretty low cost. For instance to sign up with lastminute.com for me is 20% commission but through Eviivo it is only around 12%. But all these bells and whistles do cost you 6% on all bookings taken through your own site plus commission on sales through other sites. But Eviivo does get the business for you and they have around 4,000 B&Bs on their books’.
(all comments in this article are from the same forum)
The Booking Button
Provided by Australian company, Siteminder, The Booking Button, with multi language capability, is probably the next most popular system and is in use by a number of the more boutique type of hotels. It charges a monthly fee but takes no commissions, and integrates into your website to enable you to take online bookings. It has easy customisation features to help it blend in with your own site, which may explain its popularity with boutique hotels, where image and style has increased emphasis. This basic services costs £19 plus VAT a month for 1-20 rooms, and £49 for 21-50 rooms. To integrate your bookings across all the main booking sites, however, you will also need Channel Manager. This looks to be extremely comprehensive but ups the price substantially – to £59 per month plus VAT for 1-20 rooms and £109 for 21-50. If you are small and can get enough visits to your own site, the Booking Button may provide a good option. Its booking pages are clean and clear.
Guestlink is another popular option, and is being used by several hotels. There are options to integrate with many other sites so again there is only the need for a single update. There are a variety of packages available but its Starter ‘pay-as-you-go’ package charges just 2.5% on bookings through your own site. This rises to 5% through iKnow and 10% through your local TIC, both of which are Guestlink powered. Indeed, Guestlink is very strong for its links with tourism sites so if this is important to you, this may be a factor. For the major channels, such as booking.com and Expedia, it’s 3% on top of their own charges. If you want to just stick with bookings through your own site, there’s also an option to pay £195 plus VAT a year.
‘I have used GuestLink now for some 10 years or so – for my sins I beta-tested the original system. Would not be without it – I do not use the invoice/email/confirmation systems involved, since I prefer to use my own formats, but as far as diary/bookings and getting my availability on the web via regional TB’s and VisitBritain nothing beats it!’
The Guestlink booking page is quite basic but very clear.
Several hotels are using Easy Bookings, which is immediately let down by having a slightly outdated website itself. It’s a smaller set up though and its prices are competitive. There are no commission charges, just a monthly fee. For small hotels of 1-5 rooms, it’s a modest £12.50 a month or for 6-10 rooms, it’s £17.50. This rises to £37 for 21-40 rooms. It’s slightly cheaper to pay annually. For channel integration, it’s an extra £10 a month, but there’s very little information on their website so it’s not clear what this gets you. The booking system is basic and not very attractive so overall not a convincing choice.
In use by a couple of hotels, MyUKTravel’s pricing is comparable to Easy Bookings, and based on number of rooms, and charged annually or six-monthly. For a hotel with 5 rooms its £129 a year, for 10 £199 and for 40, it’s £499. There are no commission fees. Channel management (which looks fairly comprehensive) is only available as part of their wider Property Management System (PMS) which for 5 rooms works out at £428 a year including the booking engine, £598 for 10 rooms and £1,198 for 40.
‘We have a 6 room B&B that we opened in August 2008. We were unsure how the business was going to take off and were persuaded to contract for the Eviivo online booking/PMS system by the local Tourist Board. Within a few months we found we were paying commissions of over £500 per month to Eviivo and were not, in fact, receiving the balance of deposits until the guests’ stay was completed ….. we cancelled the contract with Eviivo and re-contracted for a very similar service with MyUKTravel. They operate on a NO COMMISSION, very reasonable flat rate fee basis and offer very good support. We have been with MyUKTravel for over 2 years now and can highly recommend their service’
Q-book from the UK based Queensborough Group provide a commission free online booking system with free channel management. It links into major channels such as booking.com and Expedia as well as TripAdvisor. It also integrates with Guestlink powered UK tourist sites such as visitsussex.com and visitscotland.com. There are some channels missing such as hotels.com and laterooms.com but the price is only £149 a year plus VAT which does not seem too bad, especially for larger hotels. The initial booking interface is not too attractive but improves at the individual rooms stage.
Keep Me Booked
Relative newcomer, Keep Me Booked provides some nice interfaces and widgets with a contemporary feel so might appeal to those focussing more on style. Consequently, it is similarly priced to the Booking Button at £19 per month for a 1-5 rooms hotel which rises to £32 if channel management is required (provided by SiteMinder who also provide this comprehensive option for the Booking Button too). For 6-10 rooms its £25 and £38 respectively. They have also developed a booking plug-in for WordPress.
A few other providers
US based Beds24.com offers good value with a slightly unconventional pricing approach. For example, the booking engine for a 10 room hotel would be less than £5 a month, with prices from $1 per room extra for their channel synchronizer which integrates with most of the major international channels.
Freetobook is another potential option providing, as the name suggests, a free booking engine with no commission and no costs. It looks pretty good. The reason they offer a free engine is to make money from their extras but these are still good value. The main one of interest is of course the Channel Manager. This has a set up fee of £49 plus VAT, and then £1 per booking with a monthly maximum of £49, but is limited to booking.com, and laterooms.com.
The Best System?
The system you choose will depend on your requirements. Can you sell your rooms via a good booking engine on your own site or do you need to sell through other channels? Are you best going for a commission-based system or a monthly/annual payment one? And what systems do you best like the look and feel of? With most people now looking to find and book a hotel online, every hotel owner will need to decide.
I’d be interested to hear from any users of these systems and what your thoughts are on how good they are.