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How do I know what online reservation system is right for me?

11 May 2006
How do I know what online reservation system is right for me?
I have taken over an independent 70-bedroom manor house hotel in Hampshire and need to establish an online reservations system to boost sales. How do I know which system will be right for me? Renato Fantoni, Fantoni Business Input Whatever you choose should fit into a comprehensive marketing plan, which in turn should be a subset of your business plan. Generally, online reservations systems are good for bringing in individual guests. These are likely to be leisure guests seeking a weekend "special deal", or business people between Sunday and Thursday. You will be investing in a system that will not bring group bookings or attract the lucrative MICE market (meetings-incentives-conferences-exhibitions). If you are satisfied these markets are right for you, proceed with sourcing an online system. The companies I would suggest are Tiscover and Ramedian Netrification. Traditionally, hoteliers have signed to a global distribution system (GDS), too. You need to pay for the services of a marketing and representation company to put you in these systems but, once this is done, your hotel will be accessible to corporate clients and IATA travel agents all over the world. However, this method looks costly these days, and the return on investment looks poorer because travel agencies are declining. Of course, the key channel for business is the internet. To have a decent presence, you will still need to consider joining a consortium of some kind and/or investing something more than £25,000 to have a bookable website. If you want to be with an international representative, two of the best are Utell and Best Western. The pitfall is that some companies charge very high maintenance fees. On top of this, you will need a decent budget to invest in web optimisation - that's paying the likes of Google and Yahoo! to keep you on their first results page. www.fantoni.info](http://www.fantoni.info) Luke Mellors, The Dorchester, London You need to consider where your sales currently come from. Do you have a website? If so, what type of traffic and interest does it generate? If it doesn't generate much interest now, it is unlikely to convert bookings later. If your market is travel agent-, group- or tour-led, then this tool will not have an effect on this business. Online booking facilities generally only increase individual bookings. Beyond these questions and on to the technology: the first thing you have to look at is cost, which can be difficult to quantify. Most systems in the market will charge a fee per booking on the system, so the cost is relative to volume driven. Property management system (PMS) vendors have now incorporated web engines as modules in their products, which do not require a booking fee. As add-ons, they often don't have the same level of functionality, but they are cheaper and do the job. When looking at alternatives, consider integration - does the system allow for seamless transfer of reservations into your PMS system? And how easy is it to load availability and rates into the online booking engine? The best online booking engine I have seen was developed for MGM Mirage at its Belagio property ([www.belagio.com](http://www.belagio.com)). Others to consider are Seranata, Travelclick and MyFidelio.net. Also worth a look are hotel affiliation/membership groups such as Leading Hotels of the World. These provide a link to an online booking engine as part of their marketing agreement, and that usually includes voice and GDS bookings as well. Doreen Boulding, Hotel Solutions Partnership The online system will mainly be used by individual guests, but you can simultaneously take the opportunity to connect to the GDS, which will link you to travel agencies worldwide. Most travel agents use this system for making hotel reservations. If you use one supplier for both systems, you will be able to update your rates and availability via one source. When it comes to deciding a budget, unsurprisingly, you tend to get what you pay for. The no-frills options include Fastbooking, but other companies such as Utell can offer onsite training, marketing support, account management and additional services. My advice would be to choose a well-established company with systems that give you a worldwide connection to internet sites such as Expedia. All the fee structures are slightly different. A low-cost provider usually asks for an initial set-up fee, GDS fee and commission for business booked. The more expensive systems charge a higher joining fee, monthly fees, the GDS fee and commission. The total cost of a reservation should be taken into account. However, you get the benefit of their services. Ensure you have a broadband connection and your front office computer system is sufficiently up to date to support any new software. Review your website to ensure that it is accessible by search engines and that it promotes all your hotel's facilities. Finally, remember that systems don't run themselves. Make one person in your front office responsible for ensuring that your rates and availability are absolutely up to date and are shown on all possible channels - and don't forget that this includes your website. [www.hotelsolutionspartnership.com
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