Online hotel and travel booking portals are coming up from every corner of world. Is it so profitable? Why everyone is into it? How to start a hotel & travel booking online business? What about income and expense involved? Here is a slip up analysis and how to guide. I know all these because I myself tried making a booking website recently but postponed the idea due to some professional issues.
Have a knowledge on the basics- How online hotel booking websites make money?
Online room and travel booking business all over the world is in a booming stage and each site is presenting growth rates of 20 to 40 % annually. Some sites have exceptional growth rates of more than 60 % too. That means room for improvement is still there and the market is left unexplored in many areas. The basic tools and work involved in the project are..
- Hotel booking wordpress theme, App,
- Photos, videos & data collection of hotel rooms & activities
- Money for travelling wherever you wish to spread the business
- Ability to settle down on best bargains
- Bank account for transferring money and payment gateway
- Data entry arrangement for uploading all data
- Customer service
- Advertising & publicity
- Income sources
- Expenses involved
1. Hotel booking wordpress theme, App
To start with, you must have a website with a short catchy domain name, Choose a good shared or Vps hosting for hosting the website. Once the business flourish, you should go for a dedicated hosting. A good wordpress theme is a must, assuming you use wordpress for creating the site. For my site, I used the BOOK YOUR TRAVEL theme from Themeforest which had features for hotel booking, activities reservation and travel booking. I know there are a lot many themes in market to try out. Here is a list of 7 themes. Once you have chosen the theme, do the home work. Setup the site fully so that only content addition process is left.
Android, IOS and Windows phone apps are also required. You can create web based apps yourself without knowing any coding, using website to app converters. Such software are available in internet for just $20 to $50. After creating app, upload them to appstores as well.
Flight & train booking APIs also can be included in your website as ready made units. You will receive commissions ranging from 0.5 to 5% of ticket costs using such APIs. This can make your site look bulkier but complete. So adding this is just a matter of choice.
2. Photos, videos and data collection of hotel rooms & activities
You should shoot the photos of rooms and amenities of hotels and activity providers by your own. Never use photos which are published in other websites; not even in the hotels’ own websites. You have to travel all the places you wish to add. During travelling, it is better to take photos and videos of the important tourist centers so that you can create Youtube documentary videos and photo galleries for advertisements. Ideally, take photos & note down data of
- Hotel fully (remove name using Photoshop, later)
- Room (3-5 different rooms per hotel)
- Balcony (if any)
- Details of facilities
- Distance to tour spots
- Features provided by the hotel
- A video of room and surroundings of hotel
- Video & pics of tour spots so that you can later compile it as Youtube video
For taking photos, your bulky DSLR camera is simply unnecessary. Get a small pocket-sized point & shoot camera of good quality. I recommend Canon IXUS series for the purpose. If you are using a DSLR, use a wide lens. High zoom lenses prove useless in shooting wide rooms and landscapes. Dont use your mobile phone for taking photos, as its camera is not as good and cannot give professional photos as a dedicated camera. Take photos of 8 mega pixel or less, as you need smaller photos in the website. Ideally, 3 to 4 megapixel photos are the best. Larger photos means more time for editing and larger memory cards needed.
3. Money for travelling wherever you wish to spread the business
Be well prepared with enough money for travelling to places where you wish to add. Choose some cheap mode of transport like bikes, public transport (bus, train) etc. to cut down costs. Diet also should be maintained well and under budget. Eating vegetables and fruits for dinner will help in cutting down costs and maintaining health. Use light weight and smaller gadgets for the entire travel to keep yourselves light on luggage. Bulkier luggage means tougher transport and more expenses.
4. Ability to settle down on best bargains
In this step, you should consult some hotels in the place you visit. Better consult 10-20 hotels in busy places and 5-10 hotels in not so busy locations. Talk with hotel management for the best prices they can provide. It must be at least 30% less than that they give to direct customers. Also, talk with local activity providers like boat clubs, paragliding, rafting, horse clubs etc. and settle on cheapest possible prices for providing customers. In some tourist places, there will be seasonal variations in tariffs. If it is so, get the increased rates for season from time by time. Also educate them of your system, app and payment schedules for successful deals. Assure them of payments during stay of client or soon after checkout. Try to keep money in your account as long as possible because banks pay you interest for money in your account, be it any small or big sum.
You may contact with reputed travel agencies and add data of packages available with them. Seal a deal of commission sharing before finalising.
Cancellation of orders is a regular thing and you should make arrangements for dealing that too. Service charge, cancellation policy etc. should be well documented and communicated with the hotel.
5. Bank account for transferring money and payment gateway
You should have a bank account with online transaction facilities and required apps installed in your phone for easier transactions. Be accurate in calculations and transferring funds. Be punctual in clearing funds so that relationships with clients and customers will stay strong forever. Arrange payment gateway setup for your site, if Paypal and similar systems are not preferred. Payment during check-in/presence also can be implemented so that hotels should pay you after receiving payment from client. Make arrangement for that while making the deals.
6. Data entry arrangement for uploading all data
After collecting data, sort it all out at home. You can even outsource the work of adding data to the website. Freelance sites can help you in this regard. Once data is uploaded, contact the hotels and send them links for cross-checking. This is crucial as no discrepancies will occur in the future. Check the working of entire system and make a few trial bookings in some random hotels/activity providers.
7. Customer service
This is the most important of all points. Customers are kings and treat them as such. Giving special offers, coupons, freebies etc. will make customers happy. But to make them satisfied, prompt delivery of service is a must. Promises must be met at any cost. Suppose a hotel which received the order has taken orders from other sites or directly and informed that they cannot give the room, arrange a similar or better hotel nearby and send communication details to the customer at the earliest. Service quality of the hotel/activity provider must be checked regularly. Feedback from customers must be carefully studied and actions taken accordingly. Major share of customers take safety and satisfaction as prime concern than cost.
You may appoint a few staff for addressing complaints. Also, creating alive chat will help you more. Whatsapp or similar messaging platforms also can be used for this purpose. A dedicated customer service phone is also recommended.
8. Advertising & publicity
Marketing your site is a major step as it involves the entire promotion of the site. Advertising it in all possible means so that people should know about your site. Present offers and packages regularly (all within economically viable limits) so that users will remember your name always. Being an online business, it is better to start advertising using online methods. I prefer the following
- Google Ads (paid)
- Facebook ads (paid and free using page)
- Twitter (Paid & free)
- Youtube (Own documentary videos with logo, offers, mentioning etc.)
- Television ads, Ads in magazines & newspapers (in later stages of development)
You can also make use of offline advertisements. Some methods to use are..
- Sign-boards in tour spots (require permission from local authority)
- Stickers in vehicles
- Stickers/signs in hotels
- Ads in packets of freebies given to customers (tooth paste, glasses, shampoo, creams etc.)
9. Income sources
Apart from the commission you can get income from some other sources too. However I do not recommend them as you may loose focus from main site. Some sources you can use are..
- Adsense ads (Carefully screen them and avoid ads from similar websites to avoid competition)
- Static ads from tourism related businesses, which are not included in your site (Hospitals, Shops etc)
- Youtube video ads from adsense
- Ads of shops in your Youtube videos
- Affiliate sale of products (travel bags, shoes, gadgets needed during travelling)
So, we have done with almost all steps except expenses. This is important in calculating how much expenses will be incurred and should be expected. However, I cannot calculate costs in general because of difference in area, number of hotels/activities you wish to add etc. So, I am presenting a percentage figure of total costs involved.
- Equipment needed =5%
- Website making & designing charges = 5%
- Travelling and data collection = 30%
- Data entry & content uploading = 10%
- Advertisements and marketing=40%
- Cash for routine expenses =10%
I have not included some points which are general to most of the businesses like- rents, office lease costs, salary of customer service staff, salary for data collection agents, legal registration fees, taxes to be paid in advance (if any) etc.
Hope this article is informative enough to start a booking website by your own. I am happy to hear from you for any doubts and suggestions.