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How to Create an Online Booking System (a Website like Booking.com)

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Yuri Musienko
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According to Statista, if people are given the choice between traditional hotel reservations by telephone and online reservations, then in 88% of cases they will choose the latter option, as it is simpler, cheaper, and no need to talk to anyone. When booking a car, a table in a restaurant, places on excursions or diving, the situation is similar. For resourceful entrepreneurs, this is a real gold mine, since you can reserve almost any service, therefore, you can make good money on it.

From our article you will learn how to create an online booking system, what it will take and how much it costs to implement such a project.

# 1. Booking system concept

Examples Create an Online Booking System

Examples of what you can book online

Project concept - a description of what and how your platform will do. In the case of creating an online booking system for concept development, you need to decide on the following things:

Service or object of reservation. This may be the usual reservation of a car, accommodation, a table in a restaurant or an airline ticket, or it may be booking a conference room, parking space, participating in a medical procedure or a place for a tourist space flight. Known Examples:

  1. Airbnb - short-term rental housing.
  2. Uber and BlaBlaCar - a place in a taxi / private car from point A to point B.
  3. Rentalcars - search, compare and rent a car.
  4. Cheaptickets - cheap bus and airline tickets.
  5. Divebooker - excursions and diving courses.
Marketplace (aggregator) or service of a separate company. Platforms such as Airbnb, Uber and Zomato Book are systems that work according to the marketplace scheme, when anyone can connect to them and sell their service. Their opposite is utilitarian systems, for example, Ryanair.com or Fourseasons.com sites, where you can use the service of only one company.

The choice in this case is quite simple:

  1. If you are creating a system for an existing business (hotel, car rental, restaurant, railway, etc.) in order to increase sales and / or reach a new audience, you need to create a utilitarian platform. The same decision is usually taken when creating state online booking systems.
  2. If you are creating a website and / or application for online booking in order to earn money on affiliate programs, advertising and commissions, it is better to create a market place (aggregator).
Closed or open system. The last thing you need to decide is whether your system will be open, and if so, how much. For example, the Ryanair.com website is an open system, since another aggregator platform can connect to it and sell tickets for Ryanair flights on its website, as well as tickets of many other airlines. In the case of Uber, the situation is different: it is a closed platform, the services of which can be used only through the application or the Uber website.

# 2. Mandatory reservation system features

Easy search. The faster and easier the user can find on your platform what he needs, the better, as this improves the user experience and, as a result, increases the attractiveness of your site. To do this, your platform’s search system should meet the following criteria:
  1. Intuitive navigation. The user at a glance should understand where the field for entering keywords, where the categories with filters and how to work with them.
  2. Proper categorization. The separation of reservation objects or services into categories should be obvious and common. New categories can be invented after the site becomes very popular.
  3. Correct titles and links. The names you choose for menu items, sections and various links should be relevant and intuitive so that visitors can understand which icon to click and what will happen after that.
Availability Calendar. The visual display of the reservation calendar allows visitors to personally verify whether the reservation is available on the desired dates. This feature is optional, but it greatly improves the user experience. Below is an example of a typical booking calendar:

Airbnb.com Create an Online Booking System

Availability Calendar on Airbnb.com

Usually, for convenience, dates already booked are painted with some color, while the free ones are left white or transparent. This is a common decision for everyone, therefore it does not require additional instructions (legends). Some services add to the calendar the ability to track the status of the reservation for a certain date or period, so that users can find out about the released date, if they are interested. So do restaurants and establishments in which, for example, they hold holiday parties, weddings or conferences.

Full verified data. Regardless of whether you create an aggregator site in which data from different services will be collected, or a website for a particular company, you need to provide users with accurate and detailed information about each reservation object.

information Create an Online Booking System

Airbnb.com provides complete information about each accommodation

If your site deals, for example, with hotel reservations, you should also describe all the amenities that the hotel provides. For example, the presence of an indoor pool, the possibility of checking in with animals, private parking, a bar, a nightclub, a gym, the distance to public transport or attractions, as well as a view from the window.

Product Image. Visualization has a greater impact than words and numbers, so when creating an online booking system, do not forget about the functionality that will allow people to upload high-quality photos and videos with the image of the booked object or service. Here's how Airbnb.com does it:

Photo Gallery Create an Online Booking System

Housing Photo Gallery on Airbnb.com

When implementing this feature, it is important that people use real and relevant images. To achieve this, you can either do the photography yourself, or hire the appropriate specialists, or ask users to leave feedback on the compliance of the photos on the site with the real situation.

Cancellation of service and clear terms of return. Almost all well-known online booking services allow their users to cancel a reservation with a full or partial refund. A full refund is usually made if the cancellation is made a few weeks before the reservation date, partial - a day or two before the reservation date. So that this procedure does not cause disputes:

  1. Write down the refund policy on your website / application and make sure that the user has read it before making a reservation, and before he begins the procedure for canceling a reservation.
  2. Clearly indicate the terms and penalties for canceling reservations, if there’s any. For example, if you intend to charge a cancellation fee of 3%, you must clearly indicate how much this percentage is taken away (amount of reservation, advance payment) and when it happens.
Adaptive and cross-browser compatibility. You can never be sure which device the visitor will use to access your system, so you need to make sure that it works equally well on computers, tablets, smartphones and as a separate application. You also need to check the site for compatibility with different browsers.

The presence of a separate mobile application is important, since more than 80% of mobile users prefer to use the application, rather than access the site using a mobile browser. It is simpler, faster and more convenient, and in addition, the application can use push notifications to inform or remind of important events: the approximation of the reservation date, the need to make a payment, a new chat message, cancellation of a reservation, etc.

Ease of use, ease of payment. Almost all of your future users will be ordinary people, not technical experts, so your web service should be so convenient, simple and understandable that a person who has never booked anything on the Internet can go to the site and easily place an order. To do this, when developing an online booking platform, you must adhere to the following rules:

  • ease of search and navigation on the site / application;
  • interactive hints and clarifications where needed;
  • relevant titles, titles, and images
  • availability of technical support and help desk contacts;
  • simple form of payment and cancellation.
Verification Ability. Some users of your platform will want to check whether you can really book a product or service or you are just a scammer. To satisfy this request, your site should have reference information: contacts and links to service providers (for example, hotels), with which you can check your partnership with them.

Best of all, if you have real phone numbers of suppliers on which you can call and talk with a real person. This is stronger than other methods to convince people of the honesty of your site. A little less convincing communication via email and links to your service on the listing owner’s website.

# 3. Approaches to creating reservation systems

Link to an external site. Linking from your platform to another site is the easiest way to create an online booking system, although this is not something that can be called development or integration. But it’s quick, simple, does not require any programming and web design skills, and is also absolutely free. These are very big advantages that would be important if such an approach would allow us to create something more than a template information listing.

The disadvantages of such an information listing:

  • you will redirect users to another resource;
  • an external website may be slow, buggy, or inaccessible
  • limited opportunities for monetization and branding;
  • anyone can create such a site.
Earn such resources on advertising and referral programs.

Insert Iframe. Integration of a part of an external site into your system, similar to how sites rebroadcast YouTube videos on their site. It’s usually easy to implement this, as many vendors provide everyone with their Iframe code and the ability to connect to their system for free.

Drawbacks of integration through Iframe:

  • the inability to control the contents of the Iframe field;
  • the inserted field is not indexed by search engines;
  • not all suppliers allow such a connection to their system;
  • security problems (there are precedents for hacking such a connection);
  • iframe field may not display correctly on your platform, especially on mobile devices and applications.
Plugin installation. If your site runs on WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, then you can connect a special plug-in that adds to your site an existing online booking system or functionality for creating and configuring it. This is a good (possibly optimal) solution for small businesses, as it is fast, cheap, and reliable enough.

Possible disadvantages of booking plugins:

  • the plugin you need may become outdated or support may stop;
  • good plugins cost money and require connecting other plugins (for example, WooCommerce for WordPress), a large number of plugins can affect the speed, reliability and security of the site;
  • security risks.
API Connection. Many booking providers whose sites are managed by CMS allow you to connect to their systems through an API or application programming interface. This is the best and smoothest integration method, in addition to self-development, as it is quite easy to implement and at the same time allows you to maintain control over the user interface and monitor user behavior, which is very important for feedback.

The main disadvantages of integration through the API:

  • it is quite expensive, because you need a development team;
  • API integration requires ongoing development / updating.
Developing your own system. The best option for large projects that want to stand out among competitors, avoid conflicts or code bloat, control the user interface and monitor all processes. Of course, the implementation of such a system is very expensive, requires a professional team and takes a lot of time.

# 4. Monetization of reservation systems

Earn online booking systems in the following ways:
  1. Collection of a certain amount or percentage when concluding a booking transaction, connecting additional services and canceling a reservation.
  2. Access fee. If the service is popular, then its owners may demand a fee from booking providers to include their offers in the listing. How does Zomato, where you can book a table in a restaurant.
  3. Premium features. Many reservation systems have a number of premium features for suppliers, connecting to which requires a one-time fee or monthly / annual subscription.
  4. Advertising and promotion. Traditional contextual advertising and / or promotion of certain positions in the listing.
  5. Selling user data.

# 5. Development cost

The price of creating an online booking system depends on the development method, functionality and hourly rate of web developers. If we take as an example a project such as Booking.com, then the estimated cost of its development will look as follows:

Create an Online Booking System

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