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Intro to Online Booking Systems

Dennis Pitcock
Written by Dennis Pitcock

Hostel Online Booking SystemsEvery hostels should have its own website, and the ability for potential guests to make ‘direct bookings’ through that website, through what is commonly known as a ‘booking engine.’ Now there are many ways to achieve this, however you have the most control and could pay the least in commissions using an online booking system.

Both property management systems (PMSs) and channel managers have online booking tools that are simple to set up and have more options. Also, many of the online travel agents (OTAs) have widgets that will suffice if you need something simple. We will visit them later.

Now that the OTAs are on your mind, keep them there. When you think of your online booking system, you should want them to work the way that the OTAs do, or even better. Simply put, the OTAs spend hundreds of millions on research, development, and testing of new features to create one amazing bed/room selling machine. Many online booking systems strive to do exactly this, replicating a similar user experience based off research and reports to verify that those OTAs are doing one hell of a job.

The OTAs are very analytically driven. They focus on conversion more than anything, that is taking a visitor looking at your inventories and converting them to a customer. Your website should do more than that, however once a visitor to your website starts the booking journey, they should be converted just as easily. Here is a list of what the OTAs do, which is exactly what you should look for in an online booking system.

  • They use pictures: Pictures are worth 1000 words and truly sell the experience. Not only pictures of the facilities, but pictures of the room types make a major difference. This is more applicable to today than ever before, where new devices are very hungry for large beautiful pictures.
  • They show all the inventories: Some guests looking for 2 beds in a dorm might also consider a twin room if the price and experience was right. Perhaps they want to stay 5 days, but only three in their preferred room type is available. Well they most definitely should know that they can stay, in another room, or perhaps just move rooms. If this isn’t communicated well, they would go off and book somewhere else. The OTAs do this with rate mixing, but you can do it all the same.
  • They reach a larger audience: The OTAs have multi-language functionality built into their system., for instance, can easily change the site functionality to work in 40 different languages with a click of the button, and they use your visitor stats to determine which laungages to offer content in as well. If more than one language is important to you, make sure your tool offers this functionality.
  • They have special promotions: The OTAs can leverage the competition to get you to agree to flash sales, last minute deals, and lower your rates for guests who meet a certain requirements. You should be able to do all that too with your direct bookigns. Even so, you should be able to offer coupon codes and sell extras such as tours, activities, breakfast rates, and more. You can create entire packages that can really motivate potential guests to make a booking, so look for this here.
  • They show what is left: If a potential customer sees there is only a few beds or rooms left that they want, then they are more probable to make the booking then and there, rather than shop around some more. This act of immediacy is a true selling point.
  • As few steps as possible: Everyone hates the process of filling in all your info to make a purchase online. The OTA’s know that. The online booking tools know that too. Some offer integrations with PayPal Express, Google Wallet, and Stripe to make the process as fast and painless, increasing the probability of conversion. This is worth considering as well.

Now that that is all covered, you need to find out if you really need the trouble of setting up an online booking page on your site. You can do so by first asking yourself some questions. Does your site get much traffic? Check you host anayltics or google anaytics if you set that up. If it is not a huge amount, perhaps you should consider one of the easier options by using tools provided for free by an OTA. Here they are, and what they cost:

  • Hostelworld: Hostelworld has a widget form that will then take users to another domain where they can book your inventories, where you can make them feel they are still associated with your device. It works as if you are an affiliate, where they pay you on the commissions from bookings your own page has generated. Sunset Backpackers Floripa uses this. Read More…
  • also has a widget you can put on your website and they take 0% commissions from bookings made there. What’s the catch? Well, when your property isn’t available, even partially available, that widget will then take your website visitors to book other properties. Also, has more than just direct bookings. Their Booking Suite product builds websites, manages SEM campaigns, and takes direct bookings all at just 10%. We have an article about that in the pipeline. If you are interested, ask your account manager to help you.
  • OpenTravelExchange: OTE and their HostelHops brand offers a commission free bookings for using their site, via a link. They have no widget, but a novice web programmer can still make one and send data to their site. Also, like, when you have no availability, it takes your visitor to its main page for your destination. Bambu Hostels in Brazil/Argentina uses OTE.

Ok. So now you can see you already have some options, with no upfront cost to you. If you are unsure of what you need, you should use one of those for a month or a year, and see how many bookings they can send you. (It is up to you to keep track). Now, if autonomy is important to you, you should consider jumping ahead to one of these options:

  • Book Now: This Myallocator tool is as simple as it gets. You can customize an iframe widget and it allows people to book your beds, sending the reservation to the myallocator channel manager. It comes free, as part of the channel manager package. This tool lacks the bells and whistles, which could impact conversion, but at Myallocator’s super low prices, it could still be worth it. A good example of its execution could be seen at Bikini Hostel Miami.
  • MyBookings: Cloudbeds, the power being Myallocator also gives you an option to up your web bookings. This beautiful page is well worth the extra money.
  • TheBookingButton: This tool, from Siteminder, has all the bells a whilstles. It can be used alone or at a discounted price if you use Siteminder’s channel management service. Discovery Hostel Melbourne utilizes it well.
  • MaxBookingsThis tool has all the bells and whistles too, although the design can use an overhaul to match today’s sites.  Sir Toby’s Hostel in Prague executes MaxBookings well.

These are only a few, and there are plenty out there. Just like how many PMS systems have channel managers, they also have online booking tools. We have heard people using Sirvoy for the booking tool alone, and enjoy the email features usually associated with the PMS as a bonus. You would have to visit our page on PMS and check to see which ones offer only the online booking system.

There you go. This should be enough information to help you determine what you want. If you know of any not mentioned here, and what PMS and channel managers they work with, please mention them in the comments below.  We wish that everyone has many direct bookings in our future.


About the author

Dennis Pitcock

Dennis Pitcock

Dennis jumped into the hostel industry after a summer backpacking Europe in 2008. He went from being a guest to a manager within weeks, and currently does consulting for large and small hostels alike in 3 continents. Prior, he worked in eCommerce, so he has passion for the tech side of the industry and is now deeply entrenched in the hostel and activities industry.

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