June 28, 2023
By Kim Campbell

Every day at hotels across the globe, front desk agents clock in, log into their hotel’s reservation system, and look at which guests are coming in that day. When reviewing arrivals, we rarely stop to think about where each reservation came from or where each guest found our hotel; we prepare for their arrival and the day ahead. Although hotel booking sources may be overlooked in the course of day-to-day operations, understanding where your business comes from is a vital part of capturing more.   

Whether you’re a seasoned sales manager looking for a refresher or a new hotel marketing manager just beginning to unlock hotel booking sources, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, you’ll explore the ins and outs of hotel distribution channels, explore where reservations come from, learn how to identify which channels your guests utilize, and more. Keep reading to learn more about where your business comes from and how to capture more.

How to take advantage of hotel booking sources

What is a hotel booking source?

In the modern hospitality industry, hotels receive reservations from many places, online and off. The source of a reservation is known as its booking source, and all hotel booking sources fall into one of two primary categories: direct and indirect sources.

Direct vs. indirect booking sources

Direct booking sources are offered by the hotel directly. Guests and clients may reserve guestrooms and event space using hotel booking software on your website, calling the hotel, or simply walking in. Adversely, indirect booking sources are much more diverse and utilize outside services to drive hotel reservations, typically at an additional fee or cost to the property.

While indirect booking sources are popular amongst travelers and vital to hotel success in many markets, direct bookings are considered most beneficial to hotels, as they do not result in additional fees or commissions paid to agents or other third-party sources. Direct and indirect booking sources exist both online and offline.

Online vs. offline booking sources

Online booking opens your hotel up to consumers 24/7, making it possible for guests to reserve rooms at any time. Online booking sources work on behalf of the hotel, increasing revenue by capturing reservations at all hours, even when staffing at the hotel is limited. Using third-party booking sites and other online channels, hotels can sell rooms at a broader range of price points and appeal to more customers at once.

Online booking channels offer more convenience for many guests, domestically and internationally, allowing clients to book travel when it fits their schedule, using their preferred language and currency to pay. While offline booking sources can significantly impact hotel occupancy, there is a catch: properties must pay for their services.

Understanding various hotel booking sources

Potential guests may encounter information or advertising for your hotel in many different places. From a billboard to a brochure to online video content, practically anything can be a booking source. Still, hotels receive the majority of their business through easily identifiable booking and distribution channels, such as:

  • Property direct. When guests call, text, or connect with a hotel directly to make a reservation, this is considered booking “property direct.” Hotel staff manages the reservation process from beginning to end, eliminating additional fees and commissions paid to outside booking channels.  
  • Hotel website. One of the most accessible and popular direct booking sources for hotels is their website. Customers can view various room types, read about hotel facilities, view photos, and determine whether your hotel is right for them. Websites with a built-in booking engine can seamlessly take customers through the reservation process, helping convert online lookers into real-world bookers.
  • Brand reservations. Guests may reserve a room at branded hotels through a Brand.com website (e.g., Hilton.com or Hyatt.com) or by calling the brand’s central reservations line. For example, travelers could visit Marriott.com or call Marriott reservations to reserve a room at one of the brand’s many properties. Brand reservations are especially popular amongst loyal brand members seeking to accumulate hotel rewards by booking with their chain of choice.   
  • Agencies. Various hospitality agencies book hotel rooms for their customers and clients, including travel agencies, tour operators, airlines, and even credit card companies.
  • Lead management systems. Many hotels use lead generation and RFP management systems like MeetingBroker, Hotel Planner, Delphi, OPERA, Lanyon, and Cvent. These systems send group travel and event proposals to participating venues, eliciting stay quotes to send back to the inquiring planner. Hotels may receive proposal requests for sports teams, social events, corporate travel, and other groups.
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  • Global distribution services (GDSs). Global distribution services are still popular hotel booking sources for traditional travel planners and agencies who rely on worldwide, real-time availability information. The most well-known GDSs include SABRE, Amadeus, Galileo International, and Worldspan (Travelport). In addition to hotel rooms, travel agents use distribution channels to secure flights, car rental services, and other accommodations.
  • NGOs/INGOs. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are non-profit institutions that operate independently of the government to address social and political issues.  NGOs operate domestically, and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) handle international matters. Both organizations provide accommodations and make reservations for employees and guests attending training programs, fundraisers, seminars, research conferences, and similar events.
  • Venue directories. Curated directories are popular booking sources amongst event and travel planners seeking a variety of vendor accommodations, including hotels, event venues, and other vendor services (e.g., catering and entertainment). The Cvent Supplier Network provides travel and event planners access to more than 290,000 event venues across the globe.
  • Affiliate networks. Affiliated networks are created when a hotel brand or chain links all of its properties together in one place, making it easier for consumers to locate properties under their brand umbrella. For example, Hampton Inns, Hilton Garden Inns, and DoubleTree properties can all be found within Hilton’s affiliate network.
  • Non-affiliate networks. Individual non-branded hotels and boutique properties that do not belong to a larger chain can link together to create non-affiliated booking networks.
  • Online Travel Agency. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) are third-party websites that boost exposure by distributing hotel booking information generously online. Recognizable OTAs like Booking.com, Agoda, Expedia, Travelocity, and others make reservations on behalf of a hotel and charge the property a percentage of the booking fee as a commission. Hotels partner with third-party booking agencies to reduce their number of unbooked rooms and capture additional revenue, especially during non-peak seasons.
  • Hotel mobile apps. Many travelers turn to their smartphones and mobile devices to quickly book with their favorite hotel or brand via a mobile app. Hotel mobile apps with booking services enable customers to reserve rooms quickly, with just a few clicks. Apps frequently include digital check-in services, allowing travelers to book a reservation, select their room, and go through the check-in process, all through the app. Mobile apps may also include digital key service, enabling guests to unlock guestrooms with their phones instead of a traditional plastic key.
  • Metasearch engines. Metasearch channels inform online audience members about the hotel but do not provide booking services. Metasearch engines like Trivago and Kayak show hotel availability but move customers to the hotel’s website or registered OTA to complete the booking process.
  • Corporate houses. Large companies, corporations, and international businesses have housing and travel management personnel responsible for booking transportation, hotels, dining, and other services for their visitors. Corporate travel agents frequently work with hotels to negotiate special rates and other perks for visitors, executives, and other company travelers.
  • Social media. Hotels may link their website to social media or install a booking widget that enables audience members to book right from the hotel’s social media page. Some properties also utilize social media messaging apps, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, to communicate with guests and confirm bookings.
  • Government channels. Federal government travelers are responsible for meeting Federal Travel Regulations when they travel domestically and internationally. To ensure that they comply with these regulations, many government employees turn to the General Services Administration (GSA) for their business-related travel needs. The GSA partners with hotels and other accommodations to provide lodging at or below per diem. Preferred government booking channels include SAP ConcurGov, E2 Solutions, MyTravel, and the Defense Travel System.
  • Guest reviews. Guests may find your hotel reading reviews on TripAdvisor or Google Maps. Hearing positive feedback from former guests with first-hand experience can help seal the deal for many potential guests, as reviews are a trusted source of information for many travelers.

Which hotel booking sources do travelers and planners use?

Prominent and relevant hotel booking sources vary from market to market. Properties located in high-demand travel destinations may see more bookings come through venue directories and online travel agents than hotels found in popular business districts, which are more likely to work with NGOs or receive traffic through GDSs.

Look closely at your market segmentation to identify which types of hotel guests book with you. After identifying hotel market segments, analyze each segment’s booking sources to answer questions like—

  • Are leisure travelers booking direct or through third-party sites?
  • Which guests book through OTAs and Brand.com advertisements?
  • How much corporate business comes in during the week?
  • Is there significant government travel in your market?
  • Is transient travel coming through a GDS, corporate house, or an affiliate network?

Determine which booking channels guests use with property management and reservation system reporting. Most systems have various built-in reports available to help hoteliers understand their business better. For additional data, use business intelligence tools to assess your hotel’s performance, identify growth opportunities, and better understand your competitive set.

How to boost business utilizing hotel booking sources

The goal of hotel sales is to drive bookings by selling the right room, at the right rate, to the right guest, at the right time. Follow these tips to utilize hotel booking sources better and meet guests, planners, and clients where they are in real-time.

1. Drive revenue with more direct bookings

Maximize the hotel’s revenue potential by driving direct bookings, helping the property save on OTA commissions and other third-party fees. Capture more online direct bookings by optimizing your website. Add a booking engine that shows room availability in real-time, and enable hotel text messaging services to open another direct booking channel. Offer incentives and promotions for customers booking direct, such as a 10% food and dining discount for consumers who book direct or include ten dollars in dining credits with each booking.

2. Diversify hotel booking sources

Identify high-performing booking sources, and establish which channels your hotel should target to increase market share. Diversify marketing strategies, and invest your advertising dollars in the most promising hotel booking sources. In addition, determine which regions provide the most business. For example, if your hotel receives a high number of corporate travelers from Phoenix, Arizona, consider connecting with travel agents and corporations in the region to drive more business from the Southwest.

3. Form strategic partnerships

Consider which partnerships will benefit the hotel the most when diversifying booking sources. Form partnerships with travel agents and tour operators to secure more leisure business or connect with companies nearby to secure more local accounts. Build a bond with the local tourism board to improve your relationship with businesses, residents, and leaders in the community.

4. Update all hotel listings and profiles

Update hotel photos, features, and amenity lists to reflect the current status of hotel facilities. Find and claim your hotel’s Google My Business listing if you haven't already. If a listing doesn’t already exist, build one. Turn on geolocation services, so your hotel appears in location-based consumer searches, like “hotels near me.”

Ensure hotel information is up-to-date and accurate across all platforms, which can improve the property’s search engine optimization (SEO) ranking. SEO content affects how high your hotel’s listing ranks in search results. The more optimized your content, the higher your hotel’s listing will rank, making it easier for potential guests and clients to encounter your product.

5. Enhance the booking experience for event planners

Make it easier for planners to book events. Promote instant simple meeting booking on the booking channels planners visit most. Instant book software makes contracting simple meetings a breeze for hotels and busy planners. Integrated booking tools allow planners to see real-time meeting availability, view simple meeting packages, select an event layout, and move through the entire contracting process in minutes. Link instant booking tools on the hotel’s listing pages, promote them on social media, and inform current clients of the new service via email.

For more complicated events, utilize event diagramming tools, like interactive floorplans and live chat features, to collaborate with event planners in real time. Show that your hotel is the right choice for their event by enabling planners to visualize every aspect of their layout, down to the finest detail, in captivating photo-realistic 3D.

Experience the power of photo-realistic 3D

6. Streamline group booking processes

Enhance the booking experience for groups and travel planners with rooming list management software, which puts planners in control of their rooming lists. Promote easy-to-use rooming list tools to advertise the organized and flexible group management experience the hotel can offer clients. Free up the sales team to focus on bigger business while streamlining the small meeting booking process for planners.

7. Read and respond to guest reviews

Regularly review hotel listing pages, the website, and social media pages to view and respond to guest reviews. Use a consistent voice across all platforms when engaging with guests. When viewing feedback, thank generous reviewers for their kind remarks, identify past guest issues, answer questions, and respond to concerns. Influence hotel reviews to accentuate the positive, displaying rave comments at the top of hotel listings and marketing materials.

For new hotels and properties just beginning to build their online presence, building up a strong base of guest reviews takes time. Increase the number of guest reviews your property receives by providing superior customer service, following up with guests after checkout, and encouraging patrons to provide feedback.

8. Retarget interested guests

Turn resilience into growth using retargeted advertisements. Ad retargeting is a strategy many businesses use to reach out to consumers who showed interest in their products or services but didn’t follow through with a purchase or booking. Have you ever received an email from an online retailer reminding you that you left items in your cart? That’s ad retargeting.

Follow-up with potential guests who viewed a room online but didn’t make a booking by sending a retargeted email. Include a discount offer or highlight particular amenities to move the website visitor closer to a conversion. Reconnect with interested planners who viewed meeting space on your venue website but didn’t follow through with a booking by inviting them to take a virtual hotel tour.

Frequently asked questions about hotel booking sources

Do you still have questions about booking channels or the source of hotel reservations? Check out our responses to frequently asked questions about hotel booking sources below for more information.
1. What is a hotel booking engine?

A booking engine is an application frequently used in hospitality that offers software as a service, or SaaS. SaaS applications make it possible for interested guests to book hotel rooms online. A booking engine is a software or program that performs core booking functions, integrating live hotel availability into online booking tools. Booking engines collect reservation details, guest information, and payment information before passing the data to the hotel’s PMS, customer reservation system, or other payment gateways.

2. Which hotel booking sources charge hotels a fee?

Indirect hotel booking sources, such as travel agents and tour operators, charge participating hotels a booking fee for their services. Third-party services may charge flat-rate booking fees for each reservation or a percentage of the booking value, which fluctuates with room rates.

3. How can hotels speed up the RFP process?

Optimize the proposal process with RFP automation tools. Automatically turn down business that isn’t an excellent fit for your hotel, and speed up hotel responses with attractive, pre-populating proposal templates. Automate manual RFP processes with productivity tools, so you can spend more time focused on bigger pieces of business.

Put your knowledge of hotel booking sources to good use!

Now you know the ins and outs of hotel booking sources and are ready to optimize channel performance. With an understanding of the critical guest demographics utilizing each booking source, you can create targeted advertisements that appeal to various market segments. Keep reading to discover essential hotel marketing strategies you can use to capture your target audience.

Headshot of Cvent writer Kimberly Campbell

Kim Campbell

Kim is a full-time copy and content writer with many years of experience in the hospitality industry. She entered the hotel world in 2013 as a housekeeping team member and worked her way through various departments before being appointed to Director of Sales. Kim has championed numerous successful sales efforts, revenue strategies, and marketing campaigns — all of which landed her a spot on Hotel Management Magazine’s “Thirty Under 30” list.

Don’t be fooled though; she’s not all business! An avid forest forager, post-apocalyptic fiction fan, and free-sample-fiend, Kim prides herself on being well-rounded.

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