The Online Booking System Game – Which One to Choose?

Online Booking system solutions for accommodationThere are plenty of choices out there in the market for accommodation operators in selecting an online booking system that suits them.  You can view a list of New Zealand booking systems available on this article “Online Booking Strategy for Tourism Operators“.  One notable change since that article was published is the merge of Bookit with Vianet – now both owned by Trade Me Travel with plans to phase out the Vianet system for bookings later this year.

The decision on which online booking system you choose will come down to a few key areas that are relevant to your business:

Cost model

Is it commission based per booking or a set monthly fee?  The certainty of a set monthly fee will suit some and not others.  Those will lower volume bookings are likely to be better off using a supplier with a straight commission model.

Flexibility with Inventory Management

Can you opt to offer real time or on request bookings?  Can you mix it up between the 2 options?  There are definite key benefits to having control over your availability type for different time periods – particularly for smaller suppliers who don’t have the luxury of large room inventories to always offer instant bookings.

Distribution opportunities

Does the system offer a retail distribution channel or network to increase your booking opportunities?  Many of the key systems either have set up their own retail website, work with key retail websites or have been purchased by a large retailer.

Functionality

Does it come with all the bells and whistles of a full reservations system or simply accept online bookings?  Can you choose what you use in the system to suit your business?  Pick a system that will work with your needs.

Channel Management

Does it offer an automated link to updating key retail travel websites or at least link to a channel manager that does?  This ability opens up the opportunity for you to gain broad exposure and easily manage your pricing and availability with key online travel agents.

Easy to use

For both yourself and your customers.  It’s an important consideration as to how your customers experience the booking process on your own website.  It should be simple, quick and easy to understand (likewise for you!).

How Do New Zealand Online Booking Systems Score?

To me, a great system would offer you options in all of these areas and give you the choices to make it work for your business without dictating how you use it.  Does any of the New Zealand systems offer all of this right now?  Not really, there is no perfect system yet that will suit every type of tourism business.

Don’t get me wrong – many of the systems work fine and offer comprehensive solutions, but I think all of them fail in one respect or another so it’s a matter of picking the one that is the best fit for your business based on some of the criteria discussed above.


25 Comments

  1. Robyn Bolton May 24, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    Great article thanks Michelle. I have a number of clients grappling with these issues at the moment.

    One in particular offers accommodation and activity as part of the product mix. Am I correct in thinking that Tourism Exchange is the only one that offers accommodation and activity booking capability?

    • Michelle Ackers May 24, 2010 at 10:38 am #

      Actually no, not just Tourism Exchange – both Bookit and Seekom also offer systems that cater for both accommodation and activity products.

  2. Andrew Robertson May 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Michelle nice article.

    The Tourism Exchange does offer a property management system that caters for both accommodation and activity providers.

    eviivo frontdesk is an easy-to-use, inexpensive property management and reservation system that is also an online booking system. frontdesk has been created specifically to meet the needs and resources of independent serviced and non-serviced accommodation businesses, as well as tours and attractions. It enables tourism owners and operators to sell their rooms/products online by connecting them to leading travel and leisure websites in addition to enabling their own web sites.

    With frontdesk the manual updating of multiple sales and distribution channels is a thing of the past! By updating the frontdesk diary, all distribution channels are automatically updated with real-time, last-room availability – saving you time and hassle!

    This product is best suited for properties up to 30 rooms/products and is primarily charged on a success fee basis with no minimum term.

    There are plenty of companies offering software for a fixed annual or monthly fee. Prospective buyers should ask themselves “how do I benefit?” There is no guarantee you will get any online bookings processed through the software once you have paid for it. The company that has sold you the software has no real incentive to ensure you get online bookings as they already have your money!

    The success fee model is designed as a simple user-pay model. If you are not delivered online bookings, neither party makes any money. Ask yourself the question: “Which company is going to work the hardest to make sure you get the most online bookings?”.

    Real-time availability – a true picture. It is important to remember that if you provide a booking link to a 3rd party website, chances are you may only be making an allocation of a sub-set of your stock to the third party. This means that the third party website is unlikely to feature an accurate picture of your true availability. This can be misleading and confusing to customers. eviivo frontdesk is designed to provide your customers with a real-time view of all your available inventory and not just a sub-set of allocated inventory. Allocations also raise the potential for double bookings, which we all want to avoid.

    The online booking system game is currently very competitive and customers need to look consider all the options when making this critical business decision.

    • Michelle Ackers May 24, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

      Thanks for all that “sales” info Andrew.
      I definitely agree that the success fee model is the better option for most operators.

      In terms of real time availability I’m the first one to advocate operators should try to be 100% real time with their online bookings and to use a front desk system that helps them to achieve that without messy allocations.
      But in reality there are far too many small B&Bs, lodges etc that don’t want/need the pricier reservation/front desk systems and so there needs to be a middle ground to cater for this grey area – it’s not all black/white.
      Their choice of real time online booking system therefore should be flexible enough to adjust dates to “on request” where needed – as a traveller I prefer instant booking confirmations provided I can trust that I’m not getting overbooked, so if I have to request a booking sometimes to get a definite response then so be it – as long as it’s all clear upfront when the booking is being made.

  3. Daniel Bridges May 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Hey Michelle, one more recent change to your previous post is that BookIt now charges a total 4.5% rather than 6% for accommodation self-retail bookings. This charge includes credit card processing + invoicing (3%) and the BookIt commision (1.5%).

  4. Jason Morehouse May 25, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    Good article, thanks Michelle.

    We are a new Saas based booking system. We’d love to have your feedback. More information is available here:

    http://www.checkfront.co.nz

    Thanks!
    -Jason

    • Michelle Ackers May 25, 2010 at 10:59 am #

      Looks good Jason, I like the plugins for a few of the big website content management systems.
      Are there plans for Checkout to also provide channel management?

      • Jason Morehouse May 27, 2010 at 7:38 am #

        Thanks Michelle.

        Yes, we are currently developing our channel management system. I expect to see the first version of it made available within the next 6 weeks.

        Great blog!

  5. Justin May 31, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Hi Michelle,
    Not as much feedback as I thought you would get on this subject. I have worked with a number of PMS, Channel management and self retail booking solutions. The costs and functions vary quite a lot.

    I would recommend anyone looking at an online booking system to look at the big picture before making a decision. Look at the total cost of sale for an online booking through your own site over the year not just this month or this week. A good system will give flexibility in price and function to cater for big and small operators. The commission based systems are fantastic for new properties getting started and your average small operator. Having little or no set up costs with virtually free training is a win win. For some medium to large operators I am not so sure.

    Some questions to think about some of Michelle has mentioned as well…
    Does the system provide the option of request and or instant availability?
    Is it easy to use? does it charge a guests credit card through my website? Does it link to my preferred sales channels and Property management system?
    Do they charge monthly fees or commission on every booking?
    Can I get flexibility with my booking system to interact with my customer the way I want?
    What are their plans for improvements?
    What support do I get and where is it based?

    Links to sales channels and Property management systems has become a requirement now for an operators own website booking system. Having this function is reducing the risks of double bookings and improving access to inventory for sales channels. If only they could get more price parity they would be happy indeed!
    These types of links is I think slowly encouraging operators to have price parity across all their online sales channels which is a good thing. However it is easy for us to say price parity is key but giving operators choices like this with their booking system is important.

    Would be interested to know a little more about Andrews prices for Tourism Exchange compared to Daniel’s!

    User pays is great when you are not getting bookings, a fee based structure has a good argument here too. If they stop working for a customer whether they are getting bookings or not then that customer will potentially look elsewhere.

    Perhaps someone should organize a live debate for these types of providers to state their case and for their potential customers to put them on the spot!

    Ditto from me, Great blog!

  6. gay sweeney June 12, 2010 at 9:42 pm #

    hmmm – timely blog for me as a Vianet customer about to be merged into BookIt – hence I am mulling precisely what this blog is all about. Since a couple of things I valued in Vianet have been deleted without consultation, I am wondering if I should check out other options.

    What is missing is a handy dandy chart which lists the various businesses offering these systems and in brief, the features, benefits and base costs for each.
    PS Andrew – reckon your system may be very good, but wow your explanation on the blog was mind-numbing. For us out in accommodation-land, less is better. Thanks Michelle for making a start on the things to weigh up.

    • Michelle Ackers June 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

      Thanks Gaye – funny you mention a chart, I did consider doing that for this article. Maybe I’ll relook at doing one and add it as a follow on article…
      …in the meantime if you are having to make a decision about what to change to from Vianet, I’d suggest Bookit as an option as it is very similar to Vianet with no set up cost and no term contract (4.5% fees for bookings through your own website) – worth a try to see if it suits you.
      Cheers,
      Michelle

  7. Gina July 29, 2010 at 8:55 am #

    Hi Michelle, Save yourself some time! I actually created a chart comparing all online booking engine options, features, cost and connections. It was published in the Accomm guide but will forward to you.

    To clarify –

    Availability’s ResBook is NZ’s oldest and largest booking engine.

    Resbook handles accommodations, activities and rental cars.

    The pricing model is a monthly or annual fee because there is no free system (always read the fine print).

    There are many considerations when choosing a booking engine (1)user friendly for both tourism supplier and potential guest (2) costs (3) distribution/integration options (4) agent portal optioin (5) functionality.

    Funny to think that just 8 years ago Availability was launched as the first online booking engine and look at the players in the market now!

    Fun and exciting time.

    Cheers
    Gina

    • admin July 29, 2010 at 10:15 am #

      Thanks Gina – it would be great to receive your chart and provide it in an article for the blog. Feel free to write an article for us if you like 🙂

    • Robin Munch May 31, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

      Can I have a copy of your chart please!

  8. Duncan Waterman August 10, 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Agree – great post – one metric that can go alongside ‘Easy to Use’ is conversion ratio. Accommodation providers should ask the system provider about any data or tools they provide to measure conversion rates. If the tool is easy to use the stats should reveal this also.

  9. Jamie Cameron August 12, 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    We use Siteminder for our Channel manager and also their Bookingbutton for our website. We have google anayltics on both sites. Can’t fault Siteminder or their booking button. Very easy to use and links into our PMS system – Guest Centrix.

    • Duncan Waterman August 12, 2010 at 5:03 pm #

      Hi Jamie – coming soon will be Google Analytics E-commerce tracking in addition to the Adwords and existing GA functionality there today. Glad to hear its going well.

  10. Stephen Joyce September 3, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    Great post Michelle. You are absolutely right that there is no one system that works for all business models. I prefer the model of using specialty systems in partnership with each other. For example, if you are a tour and activity provider, use a software designed for type of business and make sure it works with your newsletter management system, your Google Analytics, your CRM, your accounting package, etc. The likelihood of finding a really good all in one system especially for small businesses is low. All in one systems tend to be “stretched thin” because they provide a lot of features without a lot of depth.

    Not sure if you and your readers have taken a look at the tutorial that the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse put together for on-line booking engines. Our tour and activity booking software, Rezgo.com, and number of others are listed in the tutorial along with comparisons. It’s really well put together. You can find it on the ATDW site at:

    http://www.atdw.com.au/tourism_e_kit.asp

  11. Justin August 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    Anybody used Strait Solutions. Know of any review sites comparing PMS? Have a friend wavering on what to chose
    thanks

  12. Joanna February 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I’m a bit late in responding to this post, great source of information. We are a new web based booking system and we would love to hear your feedback-Rezdy.com

  13. Craig Macdonald August 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    How about links to some options. Maybe a review of the options.

    • admin August 28, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

      There are some links in this article referred to above, written a while ago but many of the systems mentioned are still valid option.

  14. JeeShen April 12, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

    I run a company that provides booking engine specifically for small hotels or independent hotels.

    Recently, revisited the same topic like Michelle Ackers did 6 years ago in this post, here’s what i have came up with
    https://blog.mysoftinn.com/2015/11/13/what-are-the-criteria-of-good-instant-booking-engine-for-independent-hotels/

  15. Hotel reservation system September 21, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

    We are also into the run to become one of the best online booking system in Australia and we will love to get feedback from you how far we deserve to be in the pace.

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