Your booking engine has a lot more going on under the hood than you might imagine. Specifically, it has a huge amount of useable data. Broken down properly, that data can be used to give your direct bookings a strong boost.
Online bookings are essential to driving hotel revenue – in 2016, nearly half of all hotel bookings in Europe came through online channels. With OTA commissions so high, many hotels know that their own website booking engines are key to bringing in bookings with profits. Even with marketing costs, direct bookings are less expensive than other online channels.
However, your booking engine is more than a simple funnel for bookings:t it gathers tons of data, which you can use to improve your revenue strategy and give yourself an edge. Extract the data, apply the information, and watch the benefits roll in.
So, how can you unlock that competitive edge? Here’s 6 approaches to breaking down the data into something you can use to drive direct bookings.
6 Ways to Use Your Booking Engine Data
First and foremost, your booking engine is how you let your guests search for availability and book directly on your hotel website. The more intuitive to use and guest-friendly your engine is, the more conversions you’ll gather.
Your booking engine works for you through:
- Direct hotel website
- Your hotel mobile website
- Completing meta search bookings
- Social media sites like Facebook that facilitate direct bookings
That’s the obvious purpose of your booking engine. Behind the curtain, though, it lets you gather important guest information—especially contact information, which you can use to connect with guests and encourage higher value, repeated conversions.
Importantly, you’ll also get information on stay dates, inventory types booked, and other key information. This is just the tip of information iceberg available to you.
Your booking engine is a gold mine of information: dig deep and get demand patterns, lead time information, search patterns, customer insights and, ultimately, more conversions.
To get usable insights out of the massive amounts of data in your booking engine, you need to integrate it with your demand forecasting and sales strategy, where it can enhance forecasting performance and conversions.
To integrate this data, take a look at it after you’ve dug it up: how can tariff lead times tell you when to offer your Christmas packages? What does your geographic information tell you—how much should you be catering to American guests rather than Irish ones, and how can you appeal to both?
This may sound daunting, but the best way to boost direct conversions is your booking engine and the data it offers you. You’ll get insight into how your guests behave, what they want and the best ways to give it to them.
Here are some ways that your sales people, marketers and revenue managers can use this data:
1. Know When Price and Value Affect Bookings
One of the key factors affecting how customers choose hotels is knowing their price thresholds, but it’s also knowing what’s valuable to them.
As hoteliers, you have to know when price plays a bigger part in converting than value. In some cases, price is king, and it’s the only factor in the mix. This is often true for many budget hotels.
However, at other times, what guests perceive as the value of the offer can be more important: uniqueness can trump price. For example, if demand is high for the city because a concert is in town, the price can be secondary – and you can push your BAR up for those dates. If your hotel is a luxury property, the guest’s decision will be more about the product offered than the price.
So, how do you decide what your customers are interested in? What does ‘value’ mean to your customers?
Along with building solid customer personas, your booking engine can help. Look at which packages are the most popular, and then look at their price points and what you offer with them. Find the common themes. Look at less popular options, too: where they too expensive for what they were offering for most people, or did they not offer enough for the price?
Price and value aren’t two mutually exclusive strategies—instead, combined, they will give you a more sustainable conversion strategy.
2. Look at Rate Plan Lead Times
Look beyond simple lead time conversion rates on your booking engine and dig deeper: examine the lead time of all of your rate plans.
Find out which rate plans convert furthest in advance, and what the common characteristics of these rate plans are. For example, have a look at which ones are:
- Multi-night offers
- Discount stay and save rates
Knowing which types perform best will help you to convert more guests with more relevant offers.
If you discover that customers are more likely to convert based on value further in advance, work with that information instead of randomly running a sale or simply reducing rate.
Use your booking engine information to define the settings of your rate plans: find optimum days to set advanced purchase tariffs at, and discover whether there should be different advanced purchase for different times of the year—or even week!
3. Dig Deeper and look at Inventory Type Lead Times
Think about digging even deeper, and review the lead time conversion rate of your various inventory types and use this information to determine distribution strategy of your most popular inventory types. This will maximise direct conversion rates.
For example, if single rooms convert highly on all your channels, consider offering more availability for them on your direct site and reducing availability on booking.com. If you can get the booking without paying the commission or spending extra on marketing, why not?
4. Geographical Breakdown
Look to your booking engine to give you a better understanding of the geographical characteristics of your key geographic markets. For example, your booking engine can tell you the type of rate plans that people in different countries and regions book most often.
What do guests from different areas prefer? Identify common characteristics, like:
- Length of stay
- Board Basis
- Pre-Paid Vs Flexible Rate
You can set about targeting these potential guests with specific offers at specific times of the year. To do that, use the data you have on peak search and booking times for your key geographical markets throughout the year.
All of this data gives a more holistic view of geographical customer behaviour—a big-picture view based on real data. Use that data to create specific content for specific visitors to your site, along with either showing prices in their native currency or having a currency converter on site before booking confirmation.
5. Demand Insight
You should be using one or a combination of your PMS, Channel Manager and booking engine to review overall booking patterns. These are critical.
One of your booking engine’s key strengths in driving conversions is accurately tracking overall pattern of searches for future dates. Looking at forward demand is as key to good revenue management as historical data is. Revenue management is an essential part of your hotel’s conversion rate strategy—don’t neglect it!
This will allow you to see not only where your property bookings are strong, but also to see where searches are high and bookings are low, and vice versa.
The real value, though, is all in the level of detail that you look at. Don’t simply take the data at face value—look at:
- Searches patterns for midweek and weekends
- Bookings patterns for midweek and weekends
- Conversion rate for midweek and weekends
6. No Availability Data
Compare these future demand and booking stats along with your no availability data.
If you can, also review this data for each individual day of the week. It may not be the most exciting thing, but this level of data mining gives you insight into key opportunities.
For example, you’ll see where things like holding out for two night stay reservations will boost your revenue. You’ll be able to make these decisions with confidence, instead of guessing blindly or “following your instincts.” This, in turn, will result in more and better bookings.
Look at your no availability data in detail. Examine the dates with high levels of no availability, and examine the number of bookings on your own site compared to other channels. Highlight the demand and conversion rate on this date, and do the math. With a little more availability on your own site, how many more direct bookings could you potentially have converted?
Use data to build confidence
The data in your booking engine data should be used to build confidence in your property.
Your booking engine is just one piece of the puzzle.
However, it is more than just a source of bookings. The data it provides should be a central part of your conversion strategy. It highlight guest patterns and functions as a strategic tool in your sales strategy.
If you’re looking to grow your conversions, data is your friend. OTAs are mining the data from their booking engine, and you have access to equally rich data. Use it, and get that competitive edge.
Article written by Chris Kenny