What Exactly Is an Online Booking System?

By Erick Tomaliwan

Booking ManagementBooking Management

An online booking system is a software solution that allows potential guests to self-book and pay through your website, and other channels, while giving you the best tools to run and scale your operation, all in one place. 

But if your business has gotten far without an online booking system, you might think: do I even need one? What’s with all the hype anyway? You’re getting enough reservations already. Why bother taking on that extra expense?

Well, let me ask you this: is your email inbox a war zone? Does your phone ever stop ringing? Are you drowning in paper waivers and booking forms? Is your Excel booking system getting harder to understand with messy formulas and mistakes?

Case closed.

The purpose of an online booking system

A booking system can help you do way more than just passively accept bookings and payments online. Reservation technology (res-tech) has evolved to the point that it’s become a central hub for managing every aspect of your business, from marketing to distribution to operations.

Here are just a few things you can do:

  • Track your growth with real-time reporting 
  • Avoid double bookings with channel management
  • Keep track of your partnership commissions
  • Assign inventory and staff to individual activities 
  • Gather details about your guests before they arrive
  • Break down your day to day priorities 
  • The list goes on and on 

But don’t just take my word for it. Before you adopt a new system, you should always consider if it’s right for your business. So, let’s quickly go over the pros and cons of an online booking system.   

Advantages of an online booking system

1. Your business is always open

One of the biggest advantages of an online booking system is that you can stay open for business 24/7, no matter your hours of operation. Similar to how your website allows guests to find out more about your business without getting hold of a brochure, a booking system makes it so they don’t have to wait until they can get a hold of you to reserve their spot. 

Instead, they have the convenience to book on their own, when it’s right for them — on the train to work, while the water boils, or sitting in the airport doing last-minute trip planning. Which brings up a good point. If you serve mostly internatioal travelers, many won’t have a phone plan in your country or the time to standby for an email reply.

In other words, an online booking system opens doors, rather than closing and locking them at the end of the day. 

Online booking page on the London Experience website

2. Offers more security than spreadsheets

With a cloud-based booking system, your business information will no longer be confined to a desktop computer. Although it seems strange to think of your data floating around in cyberspace, it’s actually a far more secure solution.

Think of it this way. A hard drive crash or computer virus can wipe your entire system, whereas online booking software relies on highly protected servers to safeguard your hard-earned sales. I’m not trying to scare you. It’s just the reality you shouldn’t ignore until it’s too late. 

Plus, everything’s more accessible when it’s online. Just like travelers who can book on the go, you can run your business from anywhere, using a mobile app while out and about with guests or with your laptop when you want to keep tabs on how things are going while away on vacation.

3. Cuts your workload in half

Manual data entry might be your one chance in the day to turn off your brain and listen to a podcast, but it always takes way more time than you expect, doesn’t it? Time you shouldn’t have to give up in the first place. 

You don’t have to be chained to your desk as a business owner. You can make it home in time for dinner, spend weekends with your family, go on local adventures, even on a Monday, and be the face of your business by meeting and greeting guests.

An online reservation system can help you save time by tackling mundane tasks, whether it’s sending thank-you emails, creating cash-out reports, or updating availability on every channel. Everything runs in the background so that you and your staff can focus on more important things — like your guests and having a healthy work-life balance. 

Reservation software dashboard

4. Creates a better guest experience

Guests today expect instant gratification. Thanks to smartphones, they’ve been hardwired to believe that anything’s accessible in a matter of seconds. Meaning they’re usually impatient if they ever have to wait on a slow loading website, busy phone line, or neverending queue.

Reservation technology speeds everything up from booking to check-out. In just a few steps, guests can book, pay, and sign required documents while getting a confirmation in their inbox right away. And they rarely have to hear a “one moment please” upon arrival either, because check-in will be just a few clicks for your staff, too!

Not to mention, you can enhance the guest experience by adding personalization. Whether it’s using tokens in your automated emails, showcasing relevant add-ons during the booking process, or giving guests the freedom to customize the message and total amount on Gift Certificates

5. Helps you stay organized

Let’s be real. Does it look like someone pranked your desk with sticky notes? Do you write everything down in a daily planner that’s only legible to you? Or worse, do you keep everything in your head and expect others to read your mind?

If your operation feels chaotic, on a good day, it might be time to get things in order. As mentioned, an online booking system is like a central hub. It stores all of your business information, including guest details, revenue, waivers, forms, invoices, inventory, staff, partners, and more. 

Everything is all in one place. All you have to do is login and you’ll see a breakdown of your daily bookings, which guests still have to pay and sign, what inventory is available, etc. You can even leave notes for your staff on individual bookings, so they’re always in the know. 

Daily Manifest for individual booking breakdown

6. Prevents cancellations and no-shows

When someone books online, with or without a deposit, they’re more likely to feel on the hook to show up. And if they neglect to read your cancellation policy and let you know they can’t make it, you’ll already have their credit card details on hand so that you don’t lose money for a last-second empty seat.

Plus, with an online booking system, you can always set up automated reminder emails or text notifications to stay in a guest’s good graces because we’re all only human, and sometimes people simply forget.

7. Provides insight into your business

If creating reports makes you want to pull your hair out (we can all relate), why not let a program automatically create them for you, in real-time? 

Since a booking system keeps track of every reservation and the details tied to it, you can see what products make you the most money, better understand who your typical guest is for targeting, and get a snapshot of your business trajectory. Analytics are all right there.

Cast-out report in online reservation system

8. Connects your favourite software tools

Some business owners like using Quickbooks Online, whereas others prefer Xero. You might be a fan of ActiveCampaign rather than Mailchimp. That’s okay. There’s a reason why you use the software tools you do. Your business is unique, and so, you probably have a particular way of doing things, a system that works well. 

Here’s the thing. Booking software doesn’t have to throw it all out of whack, but rather, complement the processes you already have in place. Most booking solutions have popular integrations and tools you can use at your disposal to help grow your business and optimize your workflows.

Disadvantages of an online booking system

1. It takes time to set up

While it’s relatively easy to get a booking system up and running, you still need at least 24 hours for implementation. You might be eager to get things live ASAP, but it’s best to learn how to set up online reservations properly first. That way, you can get it right from the get-go rather than having to fix misconfigurations later. 

Of course, there is a learning curve, but the best booking software company should provide you with all the support you need — as well as options for configuration assistance — to execute a successful launch. 

Booking system configuration for timeslots and attributions

2. You have to train your staff

After your booking system is set up, you have to show your staff, especially the front desk, how to use it. Fortunately, booking software is super user-friendly, especially once everything’s configured correctly. It can take as little as five minutes or an hour, depending on each individual’s role. 

That said, it’s still downtime you have to account for, not just in the beginning, but for every new hire. However, you can always speed up this process with software training videos or checking if there are any recommendations on the fastest way to train staff on booking software

So, is an online booking system worth it?

When evaluating software, you should always consider the initial investment, both time and money, and whether it’s best for your business. We covered the benefits of an online booking system (and a couple of disadvantages), but there’s a lot left to go over. So, let’s dive deeper and explore more of the ins and outs of booking systems.

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