Online bookings sound like a dream. Customers book and pay on your website, making things streamlined for them. You’ll have less admin, less phone and inbox time, and bookings can come in while you sleep. Or while you’re busy doing what you do best — serving your customers.
The best bit? This doesn’t have to be a dream.
The online travel market is expected to be worth about US$691 billion by 2026, and online sales have already overtaken offline sales. In 2021, 66% of tourism and travel sales were made online compared to 34% offline. An online booking system like Checkfront makes getting a piece of this pie easy.
Here’s how to increase bookings online for your tour, activity, or rental business.
Why should you work to get online bookings?
Before we get started, let’s explain why you should want more online bookings in the first place.
The first part of that answer is obvious: More bookings in general equals more revenue and more resources to make your business the best it can be.
But why should you strive to get more bookings through online methods in particular?
With online bookings, you and your team don’t need to be on the phone or in your inbox responding to booking inquiries. You don’t need to manually log every new booking in an Excel spreadsheet, change your availability by hand, or send out confirmation emails one by one either.
An online booking system does all of this for you. You can check out our complete guide to online booking systems here.
Customers want and even expect it
More people are buying online than ever before. Customers want to book at a time that suits them (38% of bookings made on Checkfront happen outside of business hours) or book without speaking to a soul. They want a smooth, automated experience that answers all their questions and gets them excited about their booking without having to pick up the phone or wait for your email response.
The faster the booking process, the less likely guests are to change their minds. The easier the booking process, the less likely guests are to change their minds. The smoother…you get the idea.
Guests can fly through the process when booking is a breeze and start getting excited about their experience.
Online bookings mean guests can get all the information they need in their inbox, and you can send automatic reminder messages a few days before, reducing the likelihood of last-minute cancellations. You can also avoid double bookings on your end with channel management.
Plus, if you get a no-show, you’ll already have their credit card details on file to protect yourself against the loss of earnings.
Now, let’s get into the strategies to promote online bookings.
1. Put a clear call-to-action on your website
Fine-tuning your website is the best way to get more bookings through it. And the first thing to focus on is your call to action, or CTA, which is what you’re asking customers to do. As you want to increase bookings, this should be something like “Book Now” or “Check Availability.”
Whatever it is, website visitors shouldn’t have to click around your site to make a booking. Make it as easy as possible for them by putting your booking widget front and centre and making it bold and clear.
2. Make product descriptions clear and concise
While we’re talking about your website, don’t forget about your product descriptions. Like your CTA, product descriptions should make booking as easy as possible for your customer.
You don’t want them reading a description and still having questions about your activity or experience. This will only lead to them phoning or emailing in for answers, or worse, not booking altogether.
- Write with your customer in mind: Are you writing for affluent retirees or 20-something party-goers? Tweak your word choice, tone, and the details you highlight to match your ideal customer.
- Share the juicy details: Describe what customers will see, taste, or feel. Give them sensory descriptions and make sure you answer all their questions about what’s included.
- Sell an experience: You don’t want to make your descriptions hard to read, but you also don’t want them to be dry and boring either. Instead of saying it’s a vineyard tour, talk about how guests can walk through the vines, smell the oak barrels, and taste the final bottles of wine from your tree-shaded outdoor tasting deck.
3. Make the pre-arrival check-in process easy
You may be noticing a theme here, but basically, anything you can do to make your customer’s experience easier will make them much more likely to book with you and much less likely to cancel.
Beyond an easy-to-find CTA and easy-to-read product descriptions, make your pre-arrival check-in process easy, too. You can do this by having as much of your check-in process happen online as possible.
- Collecting any information you need upfront: Depending on your business, you might need guests’ dietary requirements, room preferences, or measurements if you’re renting out equipment. Customize your booking form to collect this information upfront. Utilize guest forms to collect information about all the guests on a single booking.
- Getting guests to sign digital waivers: Make checking in faster, eliminate the need to file paperwork, and ensure you and your business are covered should anything go wrong with electronic waivers and release forms. Set automatic emails to ask guests to fill these in as soon as they’ve made a booking and send automated reminders to those who don’t do it straight away. Checkfront comes with digital waivers built-in for select plans.
- Using QR codes: You could do the above before guests even step foot near your business or make it faster in-person with QR codes. Instead of passing around paper forms and clipboards and trying to find a working pen, give your guests a QR code they can scan to get to an online form to fill out on their device.
With these things taken care of ahead of time, you’ll have more space in your office for walk-in bookings. You’ll save time so that you could perhaps squeeze in more bookings each day, and guests can get to enjoy their tour or experience straight away. Meanwhile, your staff will be able to focus on providing great customer service with all the admin already taken care of.
You can almost see the positive reviews rolling in already.
4. Reward online bookings
You may have converted a customer (yay!), but they want to book via phone or email. This takes up your precious time and staff resources and may not be the smoothest experience for the guest. That’s where rewarding self-service comes in.
Consider offering guests a discount or giving them a freebie of some kind if they book online. You could do this automatically by setting up your booking widget to apply a generic discount code, or you could track conversions with unique discount codes.
For example, add a discount code to your voicemail to track customers who switch from booking over the phone to booking online, and add another code to your automatic emails to track those who switch from email booking.
As well as a discount code, make it clear in your voicemail and automatic emails that guests can book online — they may even prefer it and simply not know it’s an option.
5. Manage your online presence and reviews
The customers searching for you online are also the ones most likely to book with you online. Make sure you appeal to them.
First, make sure all your business information is correct. Opening hours, activity or tour information, and how and where guests can book should be up to date everywhere you appear online.
In addition to your website, set up your Google Business Profile and social media accounts to let guests book through these platforms.
And don’t neglect online reviews. Online reviews can make or break a business, so don’t leave them up to fate.
Be proactive and encourage your guests to write reviews by:
- Training staff to ask for online reviews at the end of each tour or experience.
- Asking for reviews in automatic follow-up thank you emails.
- Using QR codes to take guests directly to Tripadvisor, Google, or wherever else you want to boost your presence.
Stay on top of Tripadvisor reviews too. Potential customers look for how businesses respond to reviews as much as they look at the reviews themselves. Here’s how to manage negative reviews to help you do some damage control.
Be sure to think beyond Tripadvisor, though. Google reviews can help boost your page ranking on the search engine, so it’s worth asking guests for these, too. Alternate where you ask for reviews specifically.
Once you’ve got good reviews coming in, you can let them work their magic on the review platform, of course, but don’t forget to use them in your marketing and on your website to get more bookings, too.
6. Maintain customer relationships
The work isn’t done when the experience is over. Now’s a good time to ask for a review, for example. Always follow up with guests via email to say thanks for choosing your business.
You can then add a discount code to use on their next booking or remind them what other tours, activities, or services you provide that they might be interested in.
Even if this customer never returns to your business again, by maintaining the relationship, they’ll be much more likely to recommend you to their family and friends, which may well result in more online bookings.
This step doesn’t need to be a lot of work, either. Check out the Notifications feature in Checkfront to automate the process.
Switching from taking bookings over the phone and via email to online bookings can be intimidating. And even after you’ve made the switch, you still need to entice customers to use this booking method.
Using the tips and tricks in this article, you can increase your online bookings, which will increase your bottom line.
And with an online booking system like Checkfront, you can offer streamlined online bookings for your guests and cut down on the manual work you and your staff need to do, making your business better for everyone.
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