Independent hotels, hostels, and inns of a certain size have specific requirements that shape how they evaluate technology, such as their hotel booking engine. Pricing is often paramount, which is why smaller properties prioritize affordable solutions with only the necessary functionality — and nothing more. There’s no budget to pay for extra features that will never be used. It’s much more impactful for smaller independents to customize a technology stack that fits a hotel’s unique situation.
When it comes to choosing the best online booking engine for your small hotel, there are several considerations beyond price. From integrations to usability, these are the most important criteria for small hospitality businesses when evaluating booking engine software.
Once you’ve eliminated over-priced options from consideration, the next criterion is integrations. The best online reservation systems for small hotels connect directly to other mission-critical systems, especially the property management system and channel manager. When guests book your rooms on an OTA, the booking engine must immediately relay information to both your property management system and channel manager to keep all of your distribution channels up-to-date and in-sync.
The booking engine must be accurate and play nice with other tech, because small hotels rarely have the extra resources to absorb any availability-related issues. Without near-real-time synchronization, the booking engine doesn’t have the latest availability and overbookings can occur.
Integration also extends to how the booking engine appears on your website. The best systems perfectly match the rest of your site. The colors match and the font is the same. The calendar feels on-brand. The experience feels modern and trustworthy. The last thing you want to do is give a potential guest a reason to book elsewhere; an on-brand booking flow gives the confidence to complete the reservation.
An advanced booking engine must be usable for both potential guests and hotel management staff. Here’s what makes a hotel booking system useful for your future guests:
One of the benefits of intermediaries is the support of many languages and currencies. If your small hotel does any trade with international guests, your booking engine must accommodate. Choose a booking engine with localization support so you can compete effectively across borders.
A lack of confidence in your hotel’s payment solution is a conversion killer. Use HTTPS for checkout and invest properly in payment security. The right booking engine allows you to use your preferred payment gateway to maximize control and reduce interruptions.
It’s painful when a hotel’s stunning website doesn’t translate to mobile. According to Google, over 50% of travelers use multiple devices while planning and booking hotels, so an effective hotel booking engine must be optimized carefully for mobile.
A boring reservation system won’t convert as well as one that includes rich imagery and descriptions of each room type. When researching a stay, travelers want to see exactly what they’re going to get — at both the hotel and the room level. Check the basics of hotel website design here.
The best-performing booking engine builds trust with potential guests, resulting in more direct bookings. One powerful way to build trust and convert more reservations is a Rate Checker widget. Be transparent and give users the confidence that they’re getting the best rate right here own website.
Usability also matters to your hotel’s staff. A solution that’s hard to use or difficult to navigate discourages adoption. It should be straightforward to add new rate types, manage promotions, and set restrictions (such as length of stay, group size, or age).
There’s also the additional staff training costs associated with a non-intuitive tool. If a new booking engine for your hotel causes headaches with either existing staff or new team members, it may not be worth the hassle. You want a booking engine that makes sense for staff by simplifying tasks and eliminating repetitive tasks.
Last but not least is reliability. If your hotel booking engine is not available 24/7/365, then you’re losing revenue. Uptime is essential for maintaining the strength of your direct booking channel. Your booking engine must be reliable when it comes to room availability, rate types, and pricing. Poor synchronization may cause unreliable search results, wreaking havoc on the guest experience.
Reliability extends to customer service — especially for managers and owners of smaller properties, who almost always wear many hats. When you’re responsible for customer service, IT, and revenue management, the last thing you want to do is struggle through uneven and unresponsive customer service.
Since your booking engine is your source for direct bookings, It should put you on a competitive playing field with the big OTAs. These platforms invest heavily to provide strong incentives for hotels to offer promotional rates. The best booking engine leverages the same technology used by the OTAs to manage promotional rates, with full support for last-minute and early-bird bookings.
All relevant rate details become inputs for personalized marketing emails, so you can craft confirmation emails for different types of reservations, including those with or without deposits. Email templates should also be customizable to match your property’s website branding. This type of marketing functionality builds consistency throughout each guest interaction and ensures a professional reservation process from start to finish.
Your booking engine can also become the portal for partners. It should facilitate the creation of promotional codes for existing marketing partners and travel agents. The ideal booking engine goes a step further with dedicated landing pages for partners that displays exclusive rates. This portal approach saves you time by empowering partners with a self-service tool.
When all else is equal, choose the solutions with the best value-added pricing. Ideally, you’ll only pay for the features that you need. Avoid commission-based models, as that defeats the purpose of building your direct channel. Equally pernicious are per-room pricing models. Vendors that offer flat-rate, commission-free pricing without lengthy contracts are most likely to see themselves as partners in growing your hotel’s business.