Hoteliers often pour immense effort into crafting their websites, yet the true test of this investment isn't just in the browsing—it's in the booking. The booking engine is where the guest's journey transitions from interest to action. As a result, it’s crucial that this tool not only matches your website's appeal but enhances it to seamlessly turn lookers into bookers.

Whether you're in the market to upgrade your existing booking engine or venturing to select your very first one, understanding the essential features your booking engine needs is crucial. This guide delves into the must-haves. From personalisation to seamless mobile compatibility, these features not only enhance the guest experience but also support your hotel's efficiency and marketing success. Let's explore what features make a booking engine ideal, and why these features matter.

Screenshot of a hotel website on which the 'Book now' button is being pressed to get to the booking engine
A well-crafted hotel website needs a good booking engine to seal the deal.

Key Features Your Online Booking Engine Needs to Have

1. Customisation for complete brand alignment

It’s crucial to offer guests a seamless experience from the moment they land on your website, guiding them smoothly through that ‘Book now’ button and all the way until they receive their booking confirmation. For guests browsing your website, your booking engine should feel like more than just an extension of your website. It should be a seamless continuation of their booking journey. And one crucial factor in ensuring that seamless experience, is maintaining a consistent look and feel.

Particularly if you have recognisable branding, booking engine personalisation is crucial. The last thing you want is for guests to have an inconsistent experience that leaves them confused and concerned. For starters, ensure you can customise your booking engine with your fonts and logos. This consistency in branding across all touchpoints enhances brand recognition and trust. But it goes beyond just being able to match the visual aesthetics of your booking engine to your website.

Every hotel has unique needs based on its size, location, target market, and amenities. Booking engine customizability allows you to select and prioritise features that are most relevant to your operations and guests. Think calendar views, room selection, upselling opportunities, and payment options. You also want to make sure you can freely customise the information you display like your cancellation and modification policies. To wrap it up, make sure you can freely customise your booking forms to suit your needs and brand voice. By tailoring your booking engine not just to your brand's visual identity but also to its operational essence, you create a booking experience that's seamless and deeply resonant with your guests' expectations.

image of a brand guide alongside a pair of glasses and a phone.
Alignment with your brand is crucial all across your channels—and that includes your booking engine.

2. Intuitive and easy design

Booking travel can sometimes feel like navigating a maze. 87% of business travellers and corporate travel managers say they want a simpler booking process. Even more so, 42% believe that planning a trip is more challenging than the journey itself. This goes to show how crucial it is to have a booking engine that cuts through the complexity. Ideally, your booking engine shouldn’t only offer the typical calendar views, language selections, and currency options. It would also make choosing the perfect room or special package as easy as clicking a button. A simplified user experience makes it easy for guests to find what they're looking for, such as room types, special packages, or add-ons. As a result, you’ll get better conversion rates and happier website guests.

And remember—a truly user-friendly booking engine is accessible to everyone. This means ramping up accessibility features to ensure that all guests can easily navigate and use the site. Remember, an intuitive experience isn’t truly intuitive unless it's inclusive.

Lastly, localising content and personalising options are not just about speaking the guest’s language but also about understanding their needs and preferences. Whether it's through offering rooms based on previous choices or suggesting special offers, these details can turn a routine booking into a curated experience. Like this, you can transform the booking process from a potential hurdle to a highlight of the travel experience.

Two people discussing in front of a whiteboard displaying the user experience of a booking engine.
Cut through the complexity with a seamless and intuitive booking engine experience.

3. Mobile-first design

It's no secret that the world has gone mobile. However, many still don’t take the leap from browsing to booking. 85% of desktop users and a staggering 91% of mobile users wave goodbye before sealing the deal. This becomes even more pressing when considering that 35% of all online travel bookings are now made on mobile devices. This gap underlines not just a preference but a demand for mobile-first design in booking engines. As a result, a seamless mobile experience is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.

With the majority of travellers scrolling through options on their smartphones, ensuring your booking engine operates flawlessly on mobile devices is crucial. This means more than just a responsive design; it's about prioritising the mobile user experience from the get-go. An intuitively designed mobile booking engine reduces friction and caters to the growing segment of users who expect to plan, book, and manage their travel in a few taps. By focusing on mobile-first, hotels can lower the chances of mobile abandonment, making the path from inspiration to reservation smooth.

Two women looking at a mobile phone.
As more travellers turns to mobile for bookings, hotels need to provide a mobile-friendly design.

4. Seamless and secure payment process

Navigating the checkout on your hotel’s booking engine should feel as smooth as sliding into fresh hotel linens. The big players, such as and Airbnb, have already spoiled guests with choices, including the handy "book now, pay later" options. To keep up and delight your guests, sprucing up your payment methods isn’t just nice—it’s absolutely critical.

But it’s not about playing tag with the OTAs. It’s more than that. It’s about rolling out the red carpet for guests from every corner of the globe. For instance, not everyone’s waving credit cards around; some places have their preferences, like iDeal in the Netherlands. Ignoring these is a fast track to booking abandonment—a big no-no if you’re looking to keep those reservations coming.

Expanding your payment options reduces those last-minute bailouts and turns the payment into a part of the booking process that guests can look forward to. When guests spot their go-to payment method, secured and GDPR-compliant, it’s like finding an extra chocolate on their pillow. Plus, that instant booking confirmation? The cherry on top. This isn’t just about securing a booking; it’s about crafting memorable pre-stay experiences that lead to glowing reviews and guests who can’t wait to come back. Tailoring your payment process is key to locking in those direct bookings and making sure every guest feels right at home, right from the start.

Person holding a mobile phone and a credit card.
As booking giants offer various payment methods, hotels need to offer more than just the typical credit card option.

5. Targeted discounts and offers on the booking engine pages

Making your hotel stand out sometimes requires more than just competitive pricing. It also demands the strategic allure of exclusive offers, upsells and promotions directly. And your booking engine is the perfect canvas for that. This is where the art of offering becomes a pivotal feature, transforming mere interest into confirmed bookings. By integrating targeted promotions and package deals, you can cater to the unique preferences of each guest and make direct bookings more appealing.

Incorporating these offers directly on your website and booking engine does more than reduce reliance on OTAs. It also establishes your hotel as the go-to for the best deals, fostering direct communication and nurturing guest loyalty. The ability to present these offers, tailored and tempting, at the right moment in the booking process is crucial. It's about catching the guest’s eye with something special, something just for them.

No-code Inline messaging plays a key role here—acting as the gentle nudge of a great deal that's hard to ignore. These messages blend seamlessly with the user’s journey, providing targeted offers without disrupting the browsing experience. Plus, they’re very easy to update. These no-code messages allow for real-time relevancy, ensuring that your guests are always in the loop with the latest deals.

Ultimately, the power of a booking engine lies not just in its functionality but in its ability to engage and convert through well-placed, compelling offers. It’s about creating a narrative within the booking journey that feels personal and irresistible, leading to higher conversion rates and enriching the guest experience from the outset.

Screenshot of a booking engine inline message.
Inline messaging can be great for informing your guests in the booking engine without overwhelming the design.

6. Integration of your booking engine with tech stack/other systems

The system of hotel operations is quite complex—and your booking engine needs to harmonise with the tech stack that forms the backbone of your hotel's digital presence. The key to this harmony? Seamless integration.

Imagine the seamless flow of data as your booking engine talks effortlessly with the channel manager, ensuring real-time availability is always in sync across all platforms. This means no more overbookings or last-minute scrambles to update room statuses—a relief for both staff and guests. Then, there's the magic of email automation. By integrating with your email provider, your booking engine can automatically send out confirmation emails, pre-stay reminders, or post-stay thank-you notes. Like this, you can effortlessly enrich the guest experience with minimal effort on your part.

But why stop there? A smooth handshake with metasearch providers puts your hotel front and centre in the places potential guests are searching most. And when it comes to the backbone systems like your Property Management System (PMS), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and revenue management systems, integration is not just convenient; it's transformative. It means every piece of data, from guest preferences to booking patterns, flows freely, giving you unparalleled insights and agility in how you manage operations and guest services.

This level of integration empowers your hotel to not just meet the current expectations of guests and staff but to anticipate future needs. In the end, it's about creating an ecosystem where technology enhances every interaction, making the complex simple and the ordinary extraordinary.

Several puzzle pieces on a table.
Your systems are not separate entities—they need to work well together.

7. Data and reporting capabilities

Measure, analyse, optimise. A customisable booking engine equipped with analytics and tracking tools is your crystal ball, offering clear insights into the effectiveness of your booking process. Diving into the world of optimisation and analytics for your booking engine isn't just about keeping tabs—it's about unlocking the secrets to more successful bookings and a healthier revenue stream. You should focus on data revealing guest booking patterns, like peak booking times and the most popular room types or packages. Plus, analysing dropout points within the booking process can provide critical insights for optimisation, helping you tailor your marketing strategies and improve user experience.

These insights enable you to polish your offerings, tailor your pricing strategies, and sharpen your marketing, ensuring they hit the mark every time. And in the landscape of today’s digital trust, ensuring your booking engine is a fortress of GDPR compliance is non-negotiable. This isn’t merely about ticking boxes for legalities; it’s about building a bridge of trust with your guests, showing them their privacy is not just protected but prized. After all, in the hospitality game, trust is your currency.

Two people looking at a printed page of data analytics.
Analysing data can help you offer a more personalised experience for your guests.

Choosing your next booking engine

The path to a top-notch digital booking experience is paved with features designed to engage, simplify, and personalise the guest journey. From the seamless integration of cutting-edge technology to the strategic implementation of data-driven insights, each element plays a pivotal role in transforming your guests’ online experience. In navigating the future of hospitality, having a booking engine with these essential features isn't just about staying competitive—it's about setting a new standard for guest satisfaction and loyalty.

Feb 6, 2024
Trends and Insights
Written by
Hotelchamp Team