When travelers make a hotel reservation, they expect an efficient, seamless process, or they may decide to stay elsewhere. For hotels today, meeting this expectation means moving away from manual processes and investing in a booking system that allows travelers to book a room when they want on the channel of their choice.
For an increasing number of travelers, the channels of choice are online. Over the past decade, online hotel reservations have grown at a rapid pace, reaching 50% of total bookings in North America in 2019 and as high as 80% in Australia, according to Skift.
Whether online or offline, behind every seamless booking experience is a fast, reliable, and fully integrated hospitality management system. Here we explain how hotel reservation systems work, the key benefits of an integrated platform, and what to look for when selecting reservations software. We’ll also show you how to harness this powerful technology to capture more bookings, streamline processes, save time and costs, and increase guest satisfaction – whether you operate a hotel, hostel, motel, B&B, or vacation rental company.
What is a hotel reservation system?
A hotel reservation system is software used in the hotel industry to manage room inventory, rates, and bookings. Also called a central reservations system (CRS), it may be housed within the hotel’s property management system (PMS) or may be standalone software connected to the PMS.
The CRS acts as the central hub of the reservation ecosystem, which may also include a website booking engine, channel manager, and revenue management system. When integrated, these components work together to help hotels manage room availability, distribution, reservations, and revenue.
How do hotel reservation systems work?
First, the hotel’s revenue manager loads the hotel’s rate codes, inventory, and restrictions into the CRS. The information is then populated into the PMS and, with the help of channel management software, distributed to the hotel’s booking channels. These channels may include the hotel’s website booking engine, online travel agencies (OTAs), the global distribution system (GDS), wholesalers, and metasearch sites.
When a traveler books a hotel room on one of these channels, the information is passed back to the CRS and the PMS, where it is stored for retrieval when they check-in. At the same time, availability is updated on all distribution channels.
Of course, this process is contingent on two-way connectivity between the CRS and the other components. If the components aren’t integrated, the revenue manager must perform these tasks manually, a time-consuming and error-prone process.
The difference between a hotel reservation system and a booking engine
The terms “hotel reservation system” and “booking engine” are often used interchangeably in the hospitality industry, but they actually refer to different things. A hotel reservation system, or CRS, is the central hub where reservation information is stored from all booking channels, whether by telephone, OTA, GDS, sales department, or online booking engine. A website booking engine, also called an internet booking engine (IBE), is software that allows guests to make a reservation directly from the hotel’s website.
9 benefits of using hotel reservation software
While most hotels moved to a digital booking system years ago, a surprising number of small hotels, hostels, inns, B&Bs, and vacation rental operators still use manual processes. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage over their more tech-forward competitors.
Here are just a few of the benefits of using a hotel reservation system:
- Meet traveler expectations. These days, travelers want to book a room without having to email the hotel or wait on hold. With a website booking engine, guests can book online at any time, from anywhere – generating reservations while you sleep!
- Increase efficiency. By automating tasks like rate shopping, inventory management, and email confirmations, an integrated hotel reservation system reduces labor costs, prevents costly errors, and frees up staff to handle more complex tasks.
- Save on travel agents’ commissions. When guests book directly on your website, you don’t pay a hefty commission to an intermediary. That’s why direct bookings are typically a property’s most profitable booking channel.
- Offer multiple booking options. On your website or social media channels, you can advertise multiple room types, promotions, and packages, targeting a broad range of traveler budgets and tastes. Many third-party sites don’t offer this flexibility.
- Generate more revenue. When travelers book on your website, you also have opportunities to upsell them to premium rooms and cross-sell onsite services like breakfast, dining, spa, and recreation.
- Build guest relationships prior to arrival. Most OTAs don’t share guest contact details when forwarding a booking. When guests reserve through your website, you collect this information directly. Using email automation software, you can invite them to start planning their stay, upgrade their room, or order an amenity.
- Reassure travelers. Flexibility with date changes and cancellations continues to be a top priority for travelers, according to Cloudbeds’ Travel Trends Report 2022. When travelers book through your website, they can make changes or cancel directly with your property, giving them peace of mind.
- Manage rates and availability in real time. With a channel manager integrated with your reservation system, you can update pricing and availability on all booking channels simultaneously. This will help you increase occupancy, maintain rate parity, and prevent pricing errors, overbookings, and lost sales.
- Automate your credit card payment processing. With a payment gateway connected to your booking engine, credit cards are validated automatically and deposits are processed quickly, reducing input errors, delayed payments, and chargebacks.
What key features should you look for in a reservation management system?
There are lots of options when it comes to choosing a hotel reservation system. To find the best solution for your hotel operations, look for the following key features:
- An open, cloud-based platform that is easy to implement and maintain, is accessible from any device with an internet connection and can scale with your business.
- Integration with your hotel’s PMS to provide automatic updates to guest information rather than having to manually transfer data from one platform to another.
- Two-way connectivity with a channel manager and revenue management software to optimize distribution, pricing, and inventory.
- A simple, user-friendly, and commission-free booking engine that can be customized to match your website design.
- A built-in rate comparison widget gives visitors the confidence that booking directly is the best option.
- A mobile-friendly booking experience. In 2019, mobile bookings accounted for 43% of online bookings in the U.S., 41% in the U.K., and 79% in China, according to Skift – and those numbers are only climbing.
- Built-in reporting and analytics with powerful data insights to help you understand purchase behavior and preferences.
- Language and currency functionality to allow international guests to complete a reservation in their preferred language and currency to simplify the booking process.
- A secure system that adheres to privacy regulations and ensures guest information and payment details are processed and stored in a secure manner.
- Customer support staff who specialize in hospitality will be there when you need them and provide robust onboarding, training, and support services to improve the guest experience.
The 8 best hotel booking systems in 2023
Here are a few providers of hotel reservation systems that receive high ratings from hoteliers:
1. Platforms with a booking engine, channel manager, and property management system
Cloudbeds provides a cloud-based, fully integrated hospitality management platform with all the tools you need to ensure a seamless reservation process. See the section below for more information.
RMS Cloud features an integrated PMS, booking engine, channel manager, and revenue management system suitable for all types of lodging operators.
Frontdesk Anywhere is a cloud-based hotel management software with an integrated PMS, channel manager, booking engine, and revenue management system built for independent hotels and management groups
2. Platforms with a PMS + booking engine
Based in Prague, Mews is a cloud-based PMS system that offers integrated operations, payments, guest journey, BI, Marketplace, and API solutions.
Based in Germany, Protel is a legacy PMS provider that also offers a website booking engine, mobile app, and events software.
Based in the United States, Resnexus is a cloud-based PMS popular with bed & breakfasts and inns that offer a website and booking engine along with guest management, credit card processing, and automatic yield management.
3. Central reservation systems + booking engine
With its recent merger with Pegasus, Cendyn now offers a flexible, scalable reservation system with intelligent rate and inventory management tools.
Part of the Italy-based Zucchetti group, Vertical Booking offers a central reservation system with an integrated booking engine, channel manager, and central reservation office (CRO).
SHR’s Windsurfer CRS is popular with hotel groups, offering revenue management software, a customer relationship management (CRM) system, and call center services.
Exclusively designed for large, independent hotels and small groups, Guestcentric’s CRS features an integrated booking engine and a Partners Integration Marketplace.
Why choose Cloudbeds’ hotel booking system
Cloudbeds offers a cloud-based, integrated hotel reservation system designed especially for independent properties with these key features:
- An award-winning, user-friendly PMS with built-in reservations capabilities, drag-and-drop calendar, powerful reporting and analytics, and email automation.
- A channel manager providing access to 300+ booking channels, including Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, and Vrbo, with zero added commissions.
- A commission-free booking engine to help you convert more website visitors and grow direct bookings by up to 20% on average.
- A Pricing Intelligence Engine featuring a rate manager, rate shopper, and automated rules and alerts to maintain a dynamic pricing strategy and maximize revenue.
- An integrated hotel payment processing solution with a built-in payment gateway to make online reservations and payments quick, easy, and secure.
All these tools are fully integrated, meaning bookings, rates, and availability are always in sync. There’s no need to switch between multiple software tools or deal with multiple vendors. And additional integrations are available via the Cloudbeds Marketplace.