An insight into booking UK accommodation and how to save money doing it.

Why is it best for me to book a UK holiday or break directly? It’s much easier to book online!

As an accommodation provider I am often asked why we encourage our customers to book direct. The question derives from the ease of using online booking sites and the impression that it must be easier all round with neither side having to do much to reserve a room and receive reservations.

Accommodations can (without question) upload any photos they want to onto an online booking site to advertise their rooms, add prices to them and create deals to entice people to book. Simple!

Customers can browse any accommodations online that they want to, look at the pictures, read the reviews, look at the advertised facilities & policies and then just click to book the one they decide on. Simple!

What can go wrong? Nothing, in a perfect world. But this isn’t a perfect world:

1

  • How does someone browsing an online booking site know that the pictures they see are correct and don’t belong to somewhere else or have not been stretched or enhanced?
  • Even if the pictures are correct, how does anyone know the pictures they are looking at, actually belong to the room they would like to stay in?
  • Many bookers assume that a suitable room can be allocated to them on arrival for example, easy access rooms, larger rooms, better views etc but when booking most accommodations (unless they have other available rooms) the room that is booked online is the actual room and the only one that is available to them. If this booker is the last one to arrive that day there is no possibility of the room being swapped for another! a.) This can be a problem if a person requires a walking stick to walk and then has 2 or 3 flights of stairs to climb to get to their room. Accommodations are not obliged, nor have the capacity to indicate through an online booking site how many stairs lead to the room. b.) You could be looking forward to a glorious sea view but unknowingly book a room in the basement instead. The list could go on…
  • Accommodation providers who advertise through online sites are usually restricted to advertising generic policies due to having to have worldwide uniformity which may not necessarily reflect their own policies exactly such as children’s age limits, check in/out times, deposit details, single sex parties etc. This can lead to situations where customers could be turned away after a long journey and still be required to pay for the room.
  • The accommodations that appear at the top of the online site’s browsing page aren’t usually the best ones. They’re generally in that position because of other reasons I will highlight in a bit.
  • You can regularly see TV advertisements from online booking sites claiming they will search for the best price by comparing all other accommodation prices for you. You simply have to enter your dates and the place you would like to visit, and it’ll filter the results by either their recommendations, the price or review scores. This isn’t entirely correct information as none of these sites actually search all accommodations! They only search for accommodations that are affiliated with them and the searches for **their recommendations are determined by extra financial commitment from the accommodation provider. ***There are more online sites that are not affiliated with the big players so don’t be misled by these claims.
  • If, within a review posted on a generic online review site such as TripAdvisor, you read about a particular facility such as homemade welcome cakes in the room, well stocked hospitality trays, top quality toiletries etc, don’t assume they will be available to you if you have booked through an online booking site! Some accommodation providers will provide these things and some will remove them or replace them with lower quality versions.

I can tell you about these very common issues through my own experience over the years as an accommodation provider and through my knowledge of some other people’s experiences in the same profession. There are many more issues I could cover. (maybe in my next article)

2

So, this doesn’t explain why I encourage our customers to book directly so here goes:

When we tell our customers who ask us this question, they are generally shocked to hear that when we receive a booking online we are subject to paying the online agent a fee (often called commission or compensation). This fee is usually a minimum of 15% of the room price. This may be higher for some if they have opted to financially enhance their ranking on the online sites to be more visible than their competitors. It is for this reason that accommodations appear in the order they do when you are looking for somewhere to stay (**their recommendations). Customers don’t even imagine that there would be a fee to pay and think that the money they have paid is for the accommodation provider alone. ***There are some other online sites that work differently which I’ll talk about later.

  1. When a person books directly they have the opportunity to talk about any requirements they have regarding mobility or diets etc, or ask any questions they are unsure about regarding what’s on offer, such as which room would be best suited for what they want, or about what’s happening when they want to visit. A whole host of things they can get off their chest.
  2. Not only does this benefit the person who is booking a room, it benefits the accommodation owner as they also know what to expect, how to address the customer, what facilities to have in place, what sort of vehicle we can look out for at time the customer intends to arrive so that parking up is a smooth procedure, we can obtain any particular ingredients beforehand in case you arrive during the evening and it’s too late to buy them before breakfast. Again, a whole host of things that can be done to enhance a customer’s stay.
  3. If a customer books directly, accommodations obviously then don’t have the minimum 15% fee to pay. This can be used in any way the accommodation provider wishes such as: A lower room price could be offered by splitting the otherwise 15% fee between the provider and the customer, or more can be spent on better quality items such as locally sourced breakfast ingredients, luxurious toiletries etc, or more facilities can be added to rooms such as the homemade welcome cakes in the room or all of these things and more.

The internet is a fantastic platform to advertise and attract new customers and most accommodation owners still encourage potential new customers to browse the online sites to narrow down where they want to stay but rather than pressing that button, they look for the phone number or email address instead and contact directly for all the reasons mentioned above.

3

*** I mentioned some online sites work differently to the main sites you would come across whilst browsing Google, Yahoo or whichever browser you use, and these are usually the online sites that are affiliated with the local tourist authority. They work independently to the usual big budget sites and are equally as easy to use, if not better as because of their affiliation with the tourist authorities they also contain information as to what’s happening in the area. The way the online booking works on these sites is:

  • The accommodation providers that advertise on these sites have paid an annual one off fee to be able to use the site to advertise. This fee also enables the accommodation provider to appear in the holiday guide (formerly called a ‘brochure’) and the availability of rooms is accessible to the tourist authority office to see should anyone call them to ask who has rooms available. (Believe it or not, some people don’t like to use the internet.) There is no other fee for the accommodation provider to pay should someone book a room through this site.
  • This is why many websites use a link to these sites for people to book online.

Contradictory to this, if an accommodation is annually assessed by ‘Visit England’ or the ‘AA’, depending on the grade, there is a requirement to have a booking facility on their websites as part of the grading scheme but if the accommodation provider doesn’t participate in this particular scheme then they would have to use one of the big budget online sites instead so you may indeed, whilst looking at a particular accommodation’s website, click on the ‘book now’ button and find yourself redirected to a big budget online booking site which although does the job, will cost the accommodation provider more in fees which again could lead to the issues mentioned in section 1.

Having got all this information off of my chest, I have to say I have nothing against any of the online booking sites as they all do a fantastic job in advertising, generating business and usually making life easier for all those who use them, but all of this convenience also comes at a premium to all that use them.

So, to recap:

If you want to be sure about exactly what you are booking in terms of UK accommodations, you don’t want any nasty surprises when you arrive and also want the true best price then 1.) browse online 2.) locate the contact details of the accommodation you like, then 3.) take the extra couple of minutes to contact them directly.

I hope you have found this useful. I have more articles to come.

Thank you

Gary Smith,

Kilbrannan Guest House, Great Yarmouth

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