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booking engine

Contributor(s): Kate Brush

A booking engine is a software as a service (SaaS) application used by hospitality businesses to provides guests with the opportunity to reserve a property online. In computer programming, an engine is a program that performs a core or essential function for other programs. Booking engines have two sides: the back end and the customer-facing side. The back end is used by companies to set up, manage and review reservations and the customer-facing side allows guests to self-book rooms.

A booking engine can gather credit card information and collaborate with an online merchant service or payment gateway to process deposits and payments. The software can also automatically process all online reservations, input them into the company's system and calendar and safely store customer data as well as provide guests with real time updates on availability and rental rates.

Most guests consider online booking to be a convenient and easier solution since they can create their reservation whenever they want instead of waiting to talk to someone on the phone. Therefore, businesses that utilize booking engines primarily benefit from the creation of a system that allows guests to easily access booking and payment processes without the assistance of hotel staff or travel agents. As a result, gross revenue will grow as direct bookings increase.

How does a booking engine work?

There are five major steps involved in the implementation of a booking engine. They are:

  1. Input business information such as room descriptions, rates, photos and inventory.
  2. Guests interact with the software.
  3. Property availability is continuously updated across all channels.
  4. Automatic emails are sent to confirm the reservation and greet guests before they arrive.
  5. Review requests and promo codes are distributed to customers.

Many booking engines are web apps that exist entirely on the company's website; customers are not required to install any programs to complete an online reservation. When a customer lands on the company's website, they will be asked to choose which service they would like to book. Clicking on an option will lead the guest to the booking page where they can pay for the service through a secure payment gateway. The booking process is completed when the guest's payment is transferred to the host company.

Booking engine features

Various software providers offer booking engines to hospitality businesses -- including Zaui Software, roomMaster, Easy Innkeeping and Little Hotelier -- and each engine possesses different features. This variety helps make one service more suitable for one type of business, such as a small, independent hotel, and another service more fit for another type of business, such as a larger chain of hotels.

Some of the most commonly offered features include:

  • A user interface (UI) that is easy to understand and operate;
  • an image gallery;
  • a search option;
  • the ability to customize and edit the booking engine;
  • integrated, secure payment gateways;
  • a review system;
  • simple room management and tracking;
  • the ability to support various languages and currencies;
  • adaptability to mobile devices; and
  • offline booking capabilities.

Benefits of booking engines

Booking engines are designed to ease reservation processes for both businesses and their guests. Specific benefits include:

The ability to increase bookings - Guests are more likely to book through a site with an integrated booking engine. The software provides flexibility that allows guests to make reservations whenever they want instead of waiting to speak with a staff member on the phone. Furthermore, having a booking engine on the website allows guests to easily click and reserve without getting distracted by other offers or deals.

Control of the customer's experience throughout the entire journey - The customer's experience (CX) begins as soon as they land on the company's website. Their only interaction with the business prior to their stay is through the content specifically chosen for the website. Therefore, companies can use booking engines to enhance their branding and improve customer relationships by ensuring their booking process is a positive experience.

Businesses pay less for commission - Reservations made directly through the company's website will cost less in commission than those made through an online travel agency (OTA) -- such as Expedia, TripAdvisor, Trivago and the Priceline Group -- thus increasing gross revenue.

Decreased dependence on online travel agencies - OTAs can help businesses by spreading the company's name, increasing the presence of the company in search results and providing a trusted website for guests to book through. However, if all reservations are made through OTAs, then businesses may experience a major decrease in revenue. As mentioned above, reservations made directly through the company's website will cost less in commission than those made through OTAs. Therefore, embedded booking engines help preserve company's revenue sources by providing an alternative to OTAs and keeping the reservation process on the company's website.

Guests are able to pay in their own language and currency - Many booking engines have the ability to work with multiple languages and currencies. This provides an increased level usability and comfort to guests and generates high expectations of the company from the first interaction.

Freedom to offer different promotions - Incorporating booking engines into the website allows a company to easily and quickly offer last-minute deals and discounts. These promotions can be used to foster brand loyalty as well as increase the chances of guests having positive experiences and leaving flattering reviews.

Other advantages include:

  • The staff spends less time on the phone and more time assisting current guests in person.
  • Booking engines can reduce the amount of guests that do not show up for their reservation.
  • Online booking facilitates faster payments.
  • Data gathered by booking engines and other booking software can provide valuable insights about business processes.

Booking engine security

Sharing financial information online can be risky; using booking engines is no exception. Therefore, it is important to confirm that a booking system is secure before using it. Secure booking engines will protect user data against eavesdropping, masquerading, corruption and denial-of-service attacks using a combination of Hash Function and Public and Private Key Cryptography. Offering a secure booking engine will instantly provide a business with credibility and trustworthiness as well as protection of their reputation.

To ensure the complete protection of customer data and payment information, a booking engine should maintain Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) Compliance. PCI DSS compliance demands that:

  • A security policy is maintained which addresses the business's and the system's security.
  • Credit card information is only available on a need-to-know basis.
  • The website is confirmed to be properly secured.
  • Exclusiveness is set and members-only pages are hidden from the public.
  • Managers are provided with administrative accounts within the booking engine.
  • Activity and security is properly logged in the booking engine.
  • Sensitive cardholder information is protected through encryption.
  • Systems are regularly tested to ensure compliance.
  • Antivirus software is up to date on all systems.

Routine PCI DSS scans confirm that a booking engine fulfills the minimum compliance requirements by checking for vulnerabilities and common security flaws in the server configuration. If a company produces less than 6 million transactions per year, then both the scan and the report can be performed and produced through an online service provider. However, if a company produces more than 6 million sales per year, then they will need a Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) to perform on-site audits of both the company's facilities and server hosting environment.

The future of booking engines

As booking engines continue to develop, they are expected to focus more on delivering exactly what the customer wants on any device they choose to use -- such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Data mining, machine learning, artificial intelligence and deep learning will all greatly enhance the abilities of booking engines and enable the increased personalization of services. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will produce relevant results throughout the guest's decision-making process which makes the booking process easier and increases conversion rates. Furthermore, the increased amount of gathered customer data will help companies build brand loyalty and ensure repeat business.

This was last updated in September 2019

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A hotel booking engine is essentially the shopping cart equivalent for a hotel website and it’s sole purpose is to drive and convert direct bookings. A good booking engine is optimized for conversion by providing a seamless booking process where your guests can view rates and room types and complete a booking as simply as possible. An effective booking engine should map data directly into your property management system through a channel manager.

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