On-request Bookings and the Waiting Game

on-request bookings, the waiting gameLast weekend my wee girl had an accident and I had to take her to the after hours clinic (she’s fine now, don’t worry). As we all know, a visit to the after hours clinic involves a lot of waiting around. But it struck me that it wasn’t the waiting that was the problem, it was the waiting without knowing how long the wait was going to take or what the outcome would be after all that waiting. Was she going to need a cast on her arm, was she going to miss her sleep, what would I get her for lunch?

Waiting for an on-request booking request response from an accommodation operator can be a similar experience. Will my booking be confirmed or declined? Should I wait to hear back before I request somewhere else? In managing Travelbug for the last couple of years, there is one thing that has been a constant thorn in my side. It is the cause of more support requests than anything else and the biggest cause of leakage on our reseller network than any other factor: poorly-managed on-request inventory.

On BookIt (as on Vianet), operators can manage their inventory in a variety of ways. They can be fully realtime and offer instant confirmation inventory managed through a direct link to their PMS, through a channel manager or by using our inventory manager tool. They can also manage their inventory on-request meaning that a traveller making a booking on any of our reseller websites must wait to hear back from the operator to see if their booking is going to be accepted or declined.

If it is accepted then that’s great, but if it gets declined then the traveller is faced with a decision. Do they go back to the website and find another place and try and book again (and possibly go through the same painful process) or do they give up on that website and try something else? Either way, significant damage has been done to their impression of that website and the property concerned.

Let me be clear, I’m not against on-request per se, just poorly-managed on-request. I understand that there are certain high-demand periods where operators may need to take extra care regarding double-bookings, and properties with only a few rooms that want to be distributed widely online may need to protect against that possibility as well.  On-request fills that need and allows a safety net.

Outside those two situations, however, if you are choosing to go on-request on a website then you should be actively managing your inventory and blocking out dates as soon as they become unavailable.  On-request as an availability option should not be treated as a free listing or a set-and-forget way of appearing on websites to drag-net for booking leads. It needs to be updated and managed pro-actively to keep the listing as fresh and accurate as possible.

Here’s four reasons why:

  • Your listing is the first experience a traveller has with you. Waiting for a reply for a booking is bad enough, but having a booking declined is even worse. A bad experience in making a reservation means that you are on the back foot already.
  • Travellers that have bad experiences spread the word, so declining a booking might not just mean you are unlikely to get that traveller’s booking, you might be unlikely to get their friends’ bookings either.
  • A declined booking is lost revenue. Many travellers have flexible dates and if they could clearly see which dates are unavailable, they’ll request the available date. This means you’ll be able to accept the booking and everyone wins.
  • The websites don’t like lost revenue or declined bookings either, and will likely have measures in place that will decrease your visibility on their site based on how often you have declined booking requests.

The best way around on this is to offer instant confirmation if you can manage it. Your visibility lifts, you have access to a far wider range of promotional possibilities, you don’t lose bookings and travellers have a great experience right from their first interaction with your property.

If you can’t manage instant confirmation then I’ll leave you with this one thought – don’t leave potential guests in the waiting room wondering if they are going to need a cast. Don’t use the on-request feature as a means of getting a free listing. Give it the attention it deserves and update your inventory as often as you possibly can. Use it as a way to increase your familiarity with managing your inventory online and you may be more comfortable with offering instant confirmation.

7 Comments

  1. Daniel Rode July 22, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    Nice post Daniel. Real time availability is a must for any business in this day and age.

    As an activity or accommodation operator, not having real time online confirmation is like hanging a “back in 5 minutes” sign on your front door. Today’s time poor consumers won’t wait, they’ll simply go next door to your competitor.

    With the growth of content aggregation sites, not only could you be limiting bookings from your own site, but potentially 1000’s of affiliate sites too.

  2. Gaye Miller July 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm #

    How true and I totally agree!

    Having just use my company’s site to book a short trip down to Wellington next week.

    I was delighted that my accommodation request was confirmed – instantly. Otherwise I would have had to go back and start again. The thing is being a domestic traveller – who knows Wellington – I do know there are others places I can book. So why would I want to wait for a reply when someone else can tell me that they can take me straight away?

    As a traveller and having got all my other items, like flights and rental cars, sorted online and in real time, I just expect the same from my accommodation supplier too. That way I can get back to the rest of my day knowing that that the trip is ALL sorted.

    Be that realistic or not! As a customer that is what I expect.

  3. John Owens July 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    Great post, Daniel.

    Why would would any accommodation provider NOT have real time booking in 2010? It really amazes me that so many motels (especially) do not have it and, in spite of the technology being available, have no intention of getting it!

    I also know of many who only answer their e-mail one a day and of just as many who run a computer reservations system (without online booking of course) and a paper system in parallel!!

    And, paradoxically, the reason they give when I look at them aghast is …… Simplicity!

    Regards
    John

  4. Motella July 22, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    Another great article Daniel.

    I am sure that regular readers of this fine blog will all agree that instant online availability is the only way to go. You are preaching to the converted. There is no argument here.

    The question I would put to you is why would an OTA offer an on-request option at all?

    Why put a potential guest through the anguish of filling out a form, including their credit card number etc and then put them indefinitely on hold with the distinct possibility of being either ignored or rejected.

    Why accept a property listing from someone that can’t be bothered to invest in the effort or technology to offer instant confirmation?

    I would suggest with the greatest respect that most credible reservation platforms have moved on from the archaic concept of on-request reservations.

    • Michelle Ackers July 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm #

      Good point Motella. I think OTA’s or booking systems that offer the option of “on-request” do so in order to cater for a broader range of accommodation types so they can offer travellers more of a choice for each destination.
      B&B’s, Lodges etc that only have small inventory numbers prefer the option of on-request for very short notice bookings for example (within 2 or 3 days of arrival) to avoid double bookings.
      We all know they should keep availability up to date but in reality they can get booked out for a date with just one phone call while someone else is booking online at the same time and they’re faced with having to cancel one – so it’s kind of a safety net to have on-request for short notice or peak dates.
      Daniels point is that if they do make use of on-request then they need to manage requests quickly.
      But I do agree with you – the best option all round is real time availability and managed with the use of automated links from their reservations system to online booking channels or the use of a channel manager. Many avoid this option though because of the costs associated with it.

      • Daniel Bridges July 23, 2010 at 8:11 am #

        Thanks Motella, and thanks Michelle. Michelle is right, for Travelbug the choice was to give our users wider choice and provide operators with an on-request option to help them sell their product online. Many would not even dabble in online bookings if it weren’t for on-request. On-request doesn’t kill bookings, bad on-request management kills bookings.

  5. Michelle Ackers July 23, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    Good discussions guys, the other point I’d make is that I think OTA’s should make it quite clear upfront to travellers when they book what dates can be instantly confirmed and what dates are “on-request” – this should be apparent to the traveller BEFORE they fill in a booking form, not after.

    That way the control is with the traveller to decide whether they are happy to request a booking or get instant confirmation. This will also encourage accommodation operators to have as many dates as possible available for real time bookings.

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