Last 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.