Opinion.

Instant bookings in holiday rentals: friend or foe?

Thibault Masson, Product Marketing Manager at Booking.com and former holiday rental owner, sheds some light on the benefits instant bookings can bring and explains why many property owners remain sceptical

by Thibault Masson, Product Marketing Manager, Booking.com

Topic: Guest experience Revenue management

Click. Takeaway

  • By being proactive with instant booking, you can actually focus on improving a guest’s experience, rather than spending time on booking requests for properties that aren’t available anymore
  • Ensuring your availability calendar is up to date in real time helps mitigate the risk of overbooking. There are also smart ways of consolidating calendars, so it doesn’t become a manual burden
  • Instant booking is often seen as a necessary evil or something that is unwanted
  • One of the worries is not being able to deliver a personalised experience for guests or not having the ability to personally check people

Imagine you’re used to going to your smartphone and opening Uber, Lyft, Didi, or another transportation app to instantly book a chauffeured car. How would you feel if, suddenly, you had to go back to a time where you had to call a taxi company in advance to make a booking? And along with this there was no guarantee that before you called  them there would even be a car available for you on that day?

We’ve become accustomed to on-demand services, from transportation to food delivery, right through to movie streaming.

We’ve become accustomed to on-demand services, from transportation to food delivery, right through to movie streaming

Hospitality has been through the same evolution: companies like Booking.com highlighted to hotels, more than a decade ago, that being instantly bookable was what guests wanted.

They wanted to search for accommodations, compare them and book. This booking not only had to be done online, but also had to imply that the hotel room shown was indeed available in real time and at the very price displayed. Hotels adopting instant booking saw their revenues soar. For hotels, instant booking is just the norm.

Necessary evil

When it comes to holiday rentals, instant booking is still seen as a necessary evil, or even as something unwanted. When I joined Booking.com two years ago, to be part of the newly formed division taking care of holiday rentals and apartments, our website was among the very few where all rentals, apartments, lodges, chalets and other property types had no choice but be instant bookable. Other competitors still made it possible to be booked on request.

Fast forward to 2018, and instant booking seems to be the new normal on all major platforms. It seems inescapable. I know firsthand what it’s like to be hesitant about the virtues of instant booking: before this role, I was running a holiday rental business full-time. I owned four luxury villas that I had planned, built, decorated and also lived in. I had been used to getting booking requests, looking at my availability calendars and replying to the request.

When it comes to holiday rentals, instant booking is still seen as a necessary evil

I was sceptical that travellers would ‘instant book’ luxury villas, but I was wrong. Young couples on a honeymoon had no qualms about booking my place.

Instant booking works best if the availability calendar is updated in real time: if you get a reservation from a guest, you don’t want to have to cancel this booking because one hour before you had just gotten a reservation for the same property from a different channel.

To solve this risk of overbooking, you can manually connect your calendar with the calendars on the other competing platforms you are using, and even with that of your own website. To do that, most platforms, Booking.com included, make available to you an exportable format called iCal.

If you are managing a lot of properties at the same time, especially in a high demand area, you may want to link your calendars even more tightly, with updates in real time. This is when you would use a third party tool, called a channel manager. It beats having to update every calendar on multiple platforms manually!

Exploring the pros and cons

One of the worries I had about instant booking was I would not be able to deliver a personalised experience for my guests. When people had to send me a request to book, it was then that I would engage in a conversation with them. I wanted to understand why they were coming – was it to celebrate their anniversary, for example? If so, I’d put a bottle of champagne in their villa on the day of their check-in, to welcome and congratulate them.

With instant booking, I could still to do that by systemically initiating the conversation with the guest from my side. By being proactive, you can actually focus on improving a guest’s experience, rather than spending time on booking requests for properties that are not available anymore.

The other concern about instant booking for holiday rentals is that you are opening your door to guests that you have not personally vetted. This is a fair argument. On our platform, as an example, you can ask for a damage deposit or for a prepayment of the stay to have some control on the booking.

For a holiday rental owner, going from being on request to being instantly bookable means changes

Behind the scenes we also have procedures to identify and keep at bay people who have a history of misconduct. We even use advanced algorithms to monitor suspicious behavior 24/7.

We are also working on other innovative ways to give our accommodation partners even more peace of mind about welcoming guests. It’s fair to say that it’s about trying to balance customer wants with the needs of the properties.

For a holiday rental owner, going from being on request to being instantly bookable means changes. Yet it opens the door to tapping into a way of booking vacations that people have now become accustomed to. Saving time from handling requests can help reinvest this resource into focusing more on providing a great guest experience.

Like this? Read what Booking.com’s Global Director of Customer Service  has to say on humans v. tech

Manage your property on the Extranet

Thibault Masson is Product Marketing Manager at Booking.com

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