B & B Online Availability vs. Online Booking
Should Guesthouses, Bed and Breakfasts and Independent Hoteliers go the extra step with their online availability and allow guests to book their rooms online?
Here's a look at the pros and cons of online booking
Many people are now booking their holidays and business trips using the internet, and this number is set to rise dramatically with the explosion in broadband and the increasing number of tourism related websites available.
Almost all guest houses, even the smaller establishments, now have a web presence, whether that is a single page in an accommodation catalogue, or their own dedicated website. Consumer expectations of websites are increasing all the time, and people will view your site as a reflection of your establishment and the quality of service offered.
The case for online availability
The standards expected of bed & breakfasts and guest houses are increasingly converging on those demanded of hotels. Whether or not this is fair is debatable, given the price differentials between these types of establishment, but it seems to be a fact.
Most hotels offer a comprehensive online availability service, where you can enter your holiday dates and the number of people in your party, and be given an indication of whether the hotel has rooms available at that time and, in some cases, which rooms are available.
Many of these hotel websites also allow you to reserve and pay for your rooms, so that the booking process can be completed without any human interaction. People will naturally expect these type of features to appear on guest house and bed & breakfast websites, and those sites that don't provide at least an availability indicator may struggle to attract online bookings.
It is not good enough in this day and age to offer a simple e-mail enquiry form; people are often making their arrangements under time pressure and will not wait a few hours - or even a few minutes - for you to reply. Having an availability service on your website could make the difference between someone booking your guest house or going elsewhere. It's as simple as that!
The case for (or against) online booking
The case for a full online booking facility on your guest house website is not as overwhelming as it may first seem from the above account. Yes, there will be some customers who won't even go to the trouble of phoning to confirm a booking and will therefore favour a fully automated booking process. On the other hand, most people should still be prepared to make their final arrangements by telephone, provided they know you have rooms available and they won't be wasting their time calling.
There are other drawbacks to accepting online booking. The most obvious of these is the cost: you can expect to pay a commission to the credit card provider and/or online payment merchant of anything up to 5% on this type of booking. Less obvious, but perhaps more importantly, you won't speak to all your prospective guests before they complete their booking. A telephone conversation is a great way to find something out about your visitors, including any special requirements they may have for meals or sleeping arrangements.
The worst-case scenario would be a party of visitors turning up at your establishment waving a perfectly valid booking confirmation e-mail, without you having any prior knowledge of their booking (perhaps you missed the automated e-mail notification sent out by the booking website). This is potentially very embarassing, particularly if you are unable to accommodate them because you have already filled the rooms. There is also a very strong onus on you, as the business owner, to ensure that the live availability information on your website is right up to date. Whereas an availability indicator on it's own can be considered as being subject to telephone confirmation, giving you a chance to double-check the availability manually, a fully automated booking service will permit booking of any room or rooms that appear to be available.
So if you take a booking from a source other than your website and then don't update your online availability data for even a short time, you run the risk of a room being double-booked during this interval. Although you could insert a confirmation clause; that is, the booking is not complete until you send the guest a confirmation e-mail, some guests may ignore this and assume the process to be finished when they make the online payment.
If you run a guest house, bed & breakfast or small hotel and you want to attract bookings through your website, you should strongly consider investing in an online availability service.
Whilst this can be developed from sratch as a bespoke addition to your website it will almost certainly be cheaper to use a third-party solution such as Angelfish Availability, at least in the short term while you determine its effectiveness. You need to think more carefully about a full online booking service.
Before committing to this you must be sure that that you are happy to pay commission on all your online bookings, that you can commit to keeping your availability information up to date at all times, that you are happy to welcome guests with whom you have had no prior communication and, finally, that your administration is efficient enough to catch and process all online booking notifications