Integrated Booking Portals: What Are They, Underlying Tech, and Complexities
What Is an Integrated Booking Portal?
An integrated booking portal (IBP) — also known as an integrated booking system — is a software application that connects to one or more booking applications to create a unified guest experience. For example, a hotel that has multiple brands in its group (such as a luxury brand, a mid-level brand, and a budget brand) can create a unified booking platform that will access each brand’s web and app portals, so its customers can use a single portal system and book reservations across all three brands.
What makes IBPs even more powerful is they can integrate additional booking systems from other vendors. For instance, the hotel’s budget brand may not have an onsite dining experience but can partner with a local restaurant to offer a guest to book a room and a dinner reservation at the same time through one mobile app or web portal.
How Is This Any Different From Using an OTA?
An online travel agency (OTA) uses a particular set of standards and out-of-the-box features to integrate your properties’ booking systems into a wider network. OTA technology can be used to put together an IBP equivalent, but the problems are the lack of customization and all the OTA fees involved. Moreover, you would not own the platform, and you could not invite any smaller third-party vendors into your ecosystem.
From the Customer’s Perspective
Another limitation of OTAs is that you are tied into their business model. OTAs have their own loyalty programs, guest incentives, and special offer cycles. With an IBP, you can give discounts to guests if they book within your family of properties without sacrificing a ton of profit because you’re not paying any OTA commissions.
From a Business Perspective
You might also want to use your booking portal to increase customer loyalty, which is harder to do with an OTA. An online travel agent is more concerned with making a commission on the actual booking, whereas an IBP allows customers to focus more on your brand’s long-term loyalty initiatives and maintaining their business over time.
An organization with a strong brand might have specific requirements for how the booking process should go, and you probably will not get that off the shelf. For example, you may want to bundle specific experiences together or take pieces from certain in-network facilities, such as spas and restaurants, and bundle them in unique ways that an OTA is not capable of accommodating.
From a Non-Profit Perspective
Economic development and tourist boards that want to have their own system may not be concerned with profit for their organization; rather, the goal is to drive people’s interest to their region. For instance, an IBP makes it possible for a tourist planning a trip to Tampa Bay to reserve a hotel at the new Marriott downtown, purchase tickets to Busch Gardens, and reserve a riverboat tour through a single system. This all-in-one experience makes it easier for guests to get a taste of everything the region has to offer. The properties are incentivized to work together cooperatively because they are sharing the pool of visitor dollars, and business friction is reduced because they don’t have to worry about paying commissions.
Integrating Smaller Vendors into an IBP
One of the best features of integrated booking portals is that in most situations you’ll be interfacing with large enterprise property management and reservation technology systems such as MXP, Oracle, and Resco on the cruise side, or Maestro, Hotelogix, and OPERA on the hotel side.
However, If you’d like to include excursions, spas, transportation, and local tour guides, those third-party vendors you want in your packaged offering may not have the time, money, or technical expertise to run an internal Oracle system.
IBPs can include a third-party vendor booking tool for your package partners to use, also known as an extranet. This is a system for third-party vendors to log in and add their inventory or their available booking times. Then they are seamlessly integrated alongside the large property management and reservation technology system and presented to the guest as a single experience.
For example, a guest can login and book a hotel near an amusement park, get tickets for the park, get a tour of the local cigar bars, and rent electric scooters for a tour of the historic town district. The proprietors of the cigar factory touring company and the electric scooter company can login to the system and add their available times and inventories directly into the application system. The third-party vendors have their own interface through an iPad or web app where they also can manage their bookings. Payments can be managed inside of the extranet experience, and the vendors typically can receive automatic deposits in near real-time.
Underlying Tech for IBPs
Integrated booking portals ultimately rely on solid hospitality middleware. This means that the integrator needs to be familiar with a number of property management systems and reservation technology tools, as well as best practices for web and mobile booking systems.
At the heart of any integrated booking portal are three main components:
- A reservation technology middleware component, which allows multiple booking systems to connect into the integrated booking portal.
- An extranet for external vendors to add their booking inventory and availability, which is also a portal for them to manage reservations.
- A well-designed user interface for passengers or guests for both web and mobile.
Integrated booking portals ultimately rely on solid hospitality middleware.
Complexities of IBPs
The most common challenges with integrated booking portals are payment management and vendor management.
Payment Management Complexities
Because integrated booking systems provide a single experience to the guest, they often have a similar experience to an online shopping cart. This means once the initial transaction is taken from the guest’s credit card, the funds have to be split between multiple vendors, also known as chained payments.
This can lead to increased complexities depending on the number of integrated systems. Integrated booking portals are not generally complicated for booking purposes, but they can be tricky when it comes to refunds and accounting.
To prevent issues from arising, be sure to have a clear strategy for how to handle refunds and voids to third-party vendors from the beginning of your process.
Vendor Management Complexities
Extranet ticketing for third-party vendors can also be tricky. When dealing with multiple small businesses, they may have slightly different processes and procedures from business to business. Even local tour guides may have different procedures for booking and ticketing within the same city, resort, or designated tourist area.
However, this is not a technical issue, but a business process issue of getting everyone on board. Ticketing can be unified inside the IBP through the use of QR codes, mobile applications, or printable tickets through email. However, it’s more about getting the vendors to use the IBP system, adopt it, and agree on a unified process. It is often not that difficult to convert them because using your IBP can help drive a significant amount of additional business to them.
Integrated booking portals are a great way to bring together unified brand experiences and smart tourist destinations. IBPs will become standard as cruise lines, hotels, and resorts become more competitive and expand beyond their purely property-based offerings.
IBPs offer a great way to create a community around a product without having to deal with OTAs. Most importantly, integrated booking portals allow complete control over the experience and branding for guest journeys.
Please contact Sourcetoad if you would like to know more about integrated booking portals and how they can be beneficial to you.