Booking Engines and Channel Managers for Bed and Breakfasts

Booking Button on Computer

In today’s market, when innkeepers have limited time to try to concentrate on running a business, online marketing and more, the use of technology for guest management is almost a must have!

Plus booking management systems can streamline finances, track reservations, record and report on a variety of aspects of your business and keep online an updated visual availability calendar so guests and potential guests can see if you have rooms free, without having to call or email you.

As with website designers, there are hundreds of Booking Engines and Channel Managers out there in the Hospitality Industry. Some of them designed specifically for smaller properties, some for larger, and many service both. Most of the booking engines out there integrate with OTAs, but some don’t integrate with all of them. Some of them also integrate with Airbnb for those legal B&Bs that are leveraging the service to compete.

Here are a few of the better known ones for the B&B industry:

Do your homework first when selecting your reservations systems. Most of them now have demos that you can sign up for and test the features.

Call or email each company with your questions prior to taking the time to do a demo, and pick what is most important to you, ease of use, what it integrates with, price, etc.

Those specifics will help you choose when it comes time to make a decision on what systems to use for the first time, or when you consider switching to an alternative booking system.

Book Now Image OTA

Here are some considerations when choosing a booking company:

  • Does it integrate with OTAs and if so, specifically which ones?
  • How long have the companies been in business?
  • How many current users do they have?
  • Is the software easy to use for both yourself, and most importantly the guest making a reservation?
  • Is it mobile friendly?
  • How customizable is the booking engine itself in the ability to match your branding? Does it offer the ability to add large scale and multiple pictures to it?
  • Can it keep track of guest preferences and options, and does it have the ability to flag past guests, or inquiries for potential or past issues?
  • How often and when are the systems backed up?
  • Is it web based or desktop based?
  • How can you access the backend of the system? Is there an app, or is it easy to use the back-end on a mobile device?
  • What is their plan in the event of a data breach (on their end for their system)? And on your own end if you have a data breach? (very important!)

Optional:

  • Can you add packages and specials to the booking process?
  • Can it send emails at specific dates to guests in the system?
  • Does it integrate with a online gift shop, or have gift shop capabilities?
  • Can you offer gift certificates or gift cards through it?

When in doubt, go with a company that offers a few more features than you need, switching reservations systems is a time consuming, and often problematic exercise.

Make sure the systems are compatible with all computer operating systems and browsers (Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer), both from the innkeepers end, and the guests end. Some reservation cloud based systems can only be used in Internet Explorer by the innkeeper for the back end, and I.E. is one of the most unsafe browsers out there.

This should be standard, but check that they are PCI compliant. And what current standard they are at. For more information about PCI compliance visit https://www.pcicomplianceguide.org/pci-faqs-2/.

Attend some lodging trade shows, and talk to the reservations systems people one on one. This will give you a better idea of the type of company they are personally, as well as be able to do a little comparison shopping at the same time. Many state and regional lodging shows have multiple booking software vendor booths, including the yearly PAII conference (http://paii.com/Innkeeping-Conference) and AHLA’s yearly conference (http://www.thehotelexperience.com).

Ask fellow innkeepers what they use, including listening in and asking questions on innkeeping forums. Ask about ease of use, options and customer service as priorities. Of utmost importance is finding out how quickly and how responsive they are to fixing problems.

A suggestion when evaluating booking software, is do some trial run reservations on some websites that use the software before even calling the vendor for a demo. From a guest’s perspective, is it easy to use? Is it clear and well laid out? Is it mobile friendly?

Booking abandonment is a huge issue in the lodging industry. If it takes more than 2 minutes to make a reservation, or if options are not clear, you may be losing a lot of potential bookings. Test them out first.

Gaming Airbnb for Innkeepers

Gaming the System

We recently did a VERY well received webinar at PAII (Professional Association of Innkeepers International) on how to “game” Airbnb, “Airbnb is the frenemy of the legal B&B / Inn world. And while we won’t say, “If you can’t beat them, join them”, we will say, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” If you look at Airbnb as an opportunity because it is cheaper to deal with than most OTAs, take advantage of it and we mean “take advantage” in the purest sense of the word. The non-legal, non-inspected properties are using it, and while we here at PAII are working hard with AHLA to level the playing field so that Airbnb hosts are paying their fair share, let’s not miss an opportunity while we fight. Learn how to leverage an Airbnb listing properly to be able to compete – and beat – those Airbnb illegal rentals stealing business from your property. Learn what pictures, text and additional information to include to make a stand-out Airbnb listing over those that are not legal, while educating the public about why staying at a legal B&B has a lot of benefits over the non-legal listings.” 

The recording is available in the member’s section of the PAII website.

Here are notes from the webinar, gleaned from talking to many B&Bs who are listing, including inn clients who I help manage their listings, and also talking to many very successful Airbnb hosts as well.

Gaming the Algorithm

  • Respond Quickly to every inquiry, Airbnb gives preference to hosts that respond within an hour of email, Even a quick “we will get back to soon with more information” stops the clock.
  • Actively manage your availability calendar, make a few small changes at least once a week.
  • Link your account to social media, Twitter and Facebook.
  • SEO your listing, Create a Headline that’s SEO friendly “Hudson Valley Romantic Suite”, Not “Charming Victorian Mansion in the Heart of the Valley”.
  • Be location and accommodation specific, don’t use catchy phrases or jargon.
  • Do a Google search for relevance, when you label photos of the area, Google Search your description.
  • Share your listing online, FaceBook, Twitter, Google+ etc. often.
  • Review the calendars for each competitor properties, see what their actual prices ranges are, Do a spreadsheet of your competition, high rates, low rates, specials.
  • Link your account to social media, Twitter and Facebook.
  • You have fifty words to get the basics across, look at the area competition and focus on what they DON’T offer.
  • What are your five best selling points?
  • In the end of your description add a call to action. “We book up fast for the weekends, Email us now to guarantee your reservation” or offer a deal, don’t forget if you have specials or offers you can mention them here.
  • Make sure your profile photo is SMILING!
  • Fill out your personal profile giving as much background as possible, the more professional and hospitality related the better.
  • Don’t put your lowest price and lowest price room on, you get the deal seekers and the ones who want to negotiate.
  • Remember use this as a directory that’s good for SEO, don’t expect to get a lot of business from it, but you can if you leverage it correctly.
  • Don’t forget to highlight the legal aspects of the B&B, licensed, insured, plus no room cleaning fees (it is included), Repeat guests won’t book through Airbnb again, they will book direct to avoid having to pay the service fee. Make sure you capture their email address when they come to stay.

Photo Tips

  • 12-15 photos, min. of 5 to show up in mobile search results.
  • 1024 x 683 pixels is the best sizing for listings.
  • Your most important photo is your primary photo, if it’s not interesting enough to click through people won’t, put your best photos first in the listings.
  • Bathroom photos are important.
  • Add text and annotations to your photos to highlight certain aspects.
  • Take your photos in landscape format: Vertical photos won’t showcase your space as well.
  • Use catchy captions on photos, instead of “This is the dining room” jazz it up a bit like “Awake after a good night’s sleep to a delicious homemade breakfast, our Pecan Waffles are a signature recipe!”
  • Non-cluttered rooms get the most bookings.
  • The biggest mistake B&Bs do on is just show just the room that’s available, add area photos and photos of the rest of the house and exterior including some highlights of things to do in the area.
  • Add screenshots of some of your reviews from Tripadvisor, make sure you highlight unique things at your B&B and in your area.

Airbnb resources:

Winning the Battle with Airbnb

Jack North, Mayhurst Inn https://paii.wildapricot.org/resources/Pictures/GET%20A%20VICTORY%20IN%20THE%20WAR%20AGAINST%20AIRBNB.pdf

Online Photo editors

Use composite/collage photos to show multiple aspects of your neighborhood around your B&B in one picture

Showcase your high speed WiFi network by doing a speedtest and adding a screenshot of the results to your listing

A good Internet connection speed varies depending generally in the number of users and the functions of the connection, however, 8 megabits per second is usually considered decent. Connection speeds less than 8 megabits per second are considered slow. There are cable broadband speeds capable of moving at 100 megabits per second.

Display the layout of your house by creating a floor plan

Online Free Planners

Smartphone Apps