Hotel Booking Engines – A Thought Piece

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the blog of the hospitality digital marketing company, buuteeq, prior to its acquisition by in June 2014.  The opinions expressed here are specific to buuteeq, though many of the technology insights remain relevant to customers and admirers of our new business, BookingSuite, a unit of Visit for our latest thought leadership in the hospitality digital marketing space.

Securing online reservations for hotels is a complicated process. It must take into consideration various currencies, languages, locations, taxes, pre-existing financial arrangements, pre-sold inventory, various inventory distributors, and more. Getting an online booking engine set-up so that hoteliers can accept direct bookings has traditionally been a laborious process. Many providers charge a commission for each reservation made through the engine, further reducing the hotel’s revenue.

buuteeq’s philosophy is to make direct, online bookings simpler, easier to set up and more profitable for the hotel owner, not middle-men.

The Need, Challenges & Rewards

With the decline of traditional travel agents, hoteliers find themselves in the position of needing to provide accurate, high-quality, real-time hotel information and room availability directly to guests, who are making travel plans themselves.

Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) have more-or-less replaced traditional travel agents. Guests frequently flock to OTAs due to their convenience of available inventory and advantageous pricing. Because of this, OTAs can help drive new bookings to hotels that need to sell their inventory quickly.

Since OTAs take a commission for every conversion they refer, many hotels look to supplement those guests with guests from other channels. Many hoteliers take advantage of search engines, 3rd-party referrals and the billboard effect by using a proprietary Central Reservation System (CRS) with an Internet Booking Engine (IBE), allowing guests to book a room directly with the hotel. Even then, many CRSs themselves charge a small but not inconsequential commission on every transaction.

A quality CRS has the following characteristics:


Not every hotel has the same needs. A CRS needs to be flexible enough to accommodate all hospitality types, providing options from simple contact forms to complicated Global Distribution System (GDS) integration.


Reservation systems are inherently complicated. They try to juggle transactions, guest information, and inventory availability in real-time. The goal of a quality CRS is to simplify the process while maintaining functionality. This will lead to fewer mistakes, less confusion and greater revenue. 

User Experience

User experience is arguably one of the most important but often neglected aspects of any quality CRS. User experience has two facets. The first is the experience hoteliers have while managing their inventory and processing reservations. The second is the experience guests have when checking room availability and making an online reservation from an IBE. A CRS with poor user experience will discourage both hoteliers from using the tool and guests from making a reservation.

Cost Effective

Hoteliers spend much time and energy marketing their inventory. Quality services amplify marketing results while simultaneously increasing ROI and reducing marketing costs. Finding a cost effective solution with minimal up-front charges and little-to-no transaction commissions will help any property do better business.

The Technology – History & Terms

CRS – Central Reservation System

hotels communicate to a central reservation system

A CRS is an inventory and rate management system that features a channel manager and can integrate with a booking engine. Hotels and airlines use CRSs to manage their own inventory. A CRS can communicate with GDSs, which stores information from other CRSs. In this way, hoteliers can inform GDSs and OTAs that they have available inventory for sale, allowing guests to book rooms using other systems besides the hotel’s own CRS.

IBE – Internet Booking Engine / Online Reservation System

An IBE is a GUI (graphical user interface) that communicates with a CRS. It is used by guests to make a reservation directly with a hotel or airline, which then communicates this information to its own CRS.

For example, a hotel website can have an IBE which guests use to check availability and make a reservation request. This allows some reservation records to be added to the CRS automatically by the guest instead of necessitating a hotel manager to manually record a phone or walk-in reservation, saving time and money.

guests access a crs using yoru hotel website booking engine

GDS – Global Distribution System

There are four major GDSs in the world today: Worldspan, Amadeus, Galileo and Sabre, and many other minor ones. GDSs are used to make reservations for multiple airlines, hotels, car rentals, and other vendors. The airline industry first created GDSs to save time on manually inputting and processing flight reservation data. GDSs are today used by various entities, including airlines, travel agencies, OTAs, car rentals, hotels and more to manage and process reservations.

GDSs run on legacy systems, meaning that they are powered by outdated code and methods. This is a large problem for the travel industry for many reasons. Old code can only run on old hardware, which is becoming hard to repair and replace. Those who knew how to repair and adapt legacy systems retired or forgot how to use them, and the information was lost with them. This was the cause of Comair’s legacy system crash in 2004, causing 3,900 flights to be delayed or canceled and stranding as many as 200,000 passengers. Comair fired their CEO over this legacy system failure.

For these reasons, it is important to own or use a CRS powered by updated technology. The best solution is to use a SaaS CRS that is updated over time as technology advances, to prevent future incompatibilities and system failures.

Today, GDSs are still used in one way or another by airlines, hotels and OTAs all over the world. For the time being, it is still important to integrate an independent hotel CRS with GDSs in order to benefit from the additional transactions they provide.

travel agents use a gds to reach crss

A GDS communicates with various CRSs providing various services, such as airline tickets, hotel bookings, and car rentals. Historically, travel agents accessed GDSs to help guests make travel plans.


OTA – Online Travel Agency

OTAs are consumer-facing web interfaces for travel bookings many are familiar with due to their far-reaching advertisement campaigns. OTAs include Orbitz, Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity and others. OTAs were created to give travelers the ability to book their own travel plans without need of traditional travel agencies. OTAs communicate with many GDSs in order to process reservations, but they also use their own proprietary software.

OTAs typically drive a great percentage of online reservations to hotels, though they do take a percentage of the profits. They can help sell a hotel’s unused inventory. Many hoteliers make it easy for guests to book travel directly through their own booking engines instead of OTAs, and then list their room inventory with OTAs and GDSs when they expect it to otherwise go unsold.

Data shows that guests are increasingly booking travel directly from hotel websites, due to the attractive user experience of trip planning using search engines like Google, and due to the billboard effect—a phenomenon whereby guests discover hotels through OTAs, then in the course of doing independent research using search engines, book travel directly from the hotel website.

It will be important for hotels to partner with OTAs for the foreseeable future due to their popularity. Many guests prefer to purchase package deals, including airfare, car rentals and accommodations, which is the benefit of using an OTA, since it communicates directly with GDSs. However, it is becoming increasingly important to have an alternative direct booking option for guests who prefer to book directly with the hotel.

guests can see your inventory in a crs connected to a gds by using a booking engine

The Solution

buuteeq’s Commission-Free Booking Engine Powered by Cloud DMS

buuteeq sat down with hoteliers and innkeepers all over the world in order to understand their online reservation needs. With this information in mind, buuteeq produced a booking engine integrated with their Cloud DMS software that hoteliers can use to create, update, and edit their property’s inventory, rates, seasons, promotions and more. It takes on the look, feel and brand of the hotel’s website and other marketing content generated by Cloud DMS. buuteeq took careful steps to ensure that their booking engine solution fulfills the four characteristics of a quality CRS.


buuteeq’s commission-free booking engine was designed to be as flexible as possible, to accommodate the various and diverse needs of individual hotels. buuteeq offers a number of reservation options that all integrate with buuteeq’s 360 Analytics, and their booking engine communicates and integrates with a variety of 3rd-party services for maximum flexibility.

Simple, HTML Email Form

Some clients prefer to handle reservation requests via email. For them, buuteeq offers a completely customizable online reservation form that sends queries to the hotel manager’s email inbox.

buuteeq's booking engine email form

Example – Tierra Atacama Hotel & Spa

An example email form powered by buuteeq

Custom Reservation URL

Other clients already have booking engine solutions hosted elsewhere, and would prefer not to disrupt their current, working solution. For them, buuteeq provides a custom reservation URL redirect, so that guests are directed to the hotel’s booking engine after clicking the reservation button on the website.

This is what a custom booking engine url looks like in buuteeq's backoffice

Example – Garden Court Hotel

An example of a third party booking engine running with buuteeq

3rd Party Booking Engine

buuteeq connects to 3rd-party booking engines, wrapping their engine in buuteeq’s UI, providing clients with consistent branding and a better user experience.

Shows how buuteeq integrates with other booking engines

CRS Synchronization

Hotel owners can use buuteeq’s CRS Sync function to integrate with third party booking engines and channel managers to offer inventory to OTAs. The integration is complete. Any changes made to inventory or marketing content, such as photos, are reflected in the booking engine, and any changes made to rates and availability from the 3rd party channel manager are also reflected in the booking engine.


Example – Adrift Hotel & Spa

An example of a booking engine integrated with a central reservation system

buuteeq’s Commission Free Booking Engine

Hoteliers can choose to use buuteeq’s CRS to manage their property’s inventory, rates, seasons and availability. They can log-in to BackOffice to set-up their inventory, and make changes real time whenever they wish.

buuteeq's commission-free booking engine

Example – Fox Hollow Bed & Breakfast

An example of buuteeq's booking engine


The goal of a quality booking engine is to have it run itself with minimal hotelier interaction while maintaining power and flexibility to handle complicated requests. 3rd-party integration takes a little information and the push of a button to fully set-up. Getting started with buuteeq’s commission-free booking engine has a number of steps depending on reservation complexity, but each one is presented in a straight-forward, simple manner.

User Experience

Each module within the BackOffice has a dedicated function and purpose designed with attractive chrome that improves usability. Data is clearly organized and presented in a readable, intuitive, interactive way.

Showing off buuteeq's user experience

Guests see an attractive booking engine GUI that they already know how to use—it comes with intuitive controls used by established OTAs and booking engines, organized in a logical manner.

Cost Effective

Unlike other CRSs and IBEs, buuteeq’s booking engine is commission-free. They don’t take a dime from any transaction processed by the booking engine. 3rd-party IBEs or CRSs integrated with buuteeq’s Cloud DMS may still charge a commission, which buuteeq cannot control, but buuteeq’s proprietary IBE is wholly commission-free.

Hotel owners keep 100% of every transaction processed by buuteeq’s commission-free booking engine, for buuteeq’s goal is to help hotels improve ROI—a service completely covered by the Cloud DMS subscription.

buuteeq’s Commission-Free Booking Engine

buuteeq’s commission-free IBE is an incredibly powerful state-of-the-art CRS that gives hoteliers complete control over all aspects of the reservation process. It combines rich data and intelligent reports with an intuitive interface, simplifying the set-up process and providing detailed results in real-time.

The Booking Experience

buuteeq has refined the online booking process into three primary steps: Search, Select and Complete. They’ve organized their IBE according to a logical flow that not only functions but also looks visually appealing.


Guests can search a calendar for availability and input basic stay information, including number of guests, number of nights and any promotional codes.


The IBE then shows guests the available room inventory based on their previous selection. From here, guests can see room details, photos and available rates.

After selecting a room, guests are presented with a list of available add-ons as up-sell opportunities.

Selecting a room in the booking engine

Selecting add-ons in the booking engine


Once a selection is made, guests can complete personal details, review the hotel’s reservation policy and, if desired, input credit card information. Clicking ‘Confirm and Book’ finishes the reservation process, whereupon guests can start over and book a new room, if desired.

The guest information form

Mobile Booking Engine

buuteeq’s commission-free IBE is also optimized for mobile devices, designed to take advantage of the influx of last-minute mobile bookings. Like the web IBE, the mobile IBE is integrated with Cloud DMS to take on the hotel’s look, feel and branding, so that all changes made from within BackOffice are instantly reflected to the mobile booking engine.

An example of how buuteeq's mobile booking engine looks on mobile devices.

An example of how buuteeq's mobile booking engine looks on mobile devices.

360 Analytics

Whether or not the hotelier chooses to integrate with a 3rd-party CRS or use buuteeq’s commission-free booking engine, buuteeq gathers all booking data and presents it in the form of detailed, interactive charts and graphs called 360 Analytics. Here, clients can see their total bookings, where they came from, which channels drive the most online bookings, which rooms are worth more money, the dollar amount of organic search engine keywords, and more.

This is what 360 Analytics looks like in the BackOffice


Hoteliers can use buuteeq’s commission-free booking engine to list their full, rack rate, and as many best and qualifying rates as they choose.

Full Rates

Full Rates are the maximum price a room can ever go for, with no discounts or seasonal effects in place.

Adding full rates to your booking engine

Best Available Rates

Best Available Rates are the cheapest prices hoteliers will allow rooms to be sold for. Clients can specify unique rates per room and per day, if desired.

Adding best available rates in BackOffice

Example – Seasonal Best Available Rates in Effect

An example of seasonal and best available rates in effect

Qualifying Rates

Qualifying Rates are special discounts that can only be obtained when guests meet the qualifier, such as having an employee friends and family discount code, for example.

Adding qualifying rates to buuteeq's booking engine

Example – Qualifying Rate Code Insertion

Example qualifying rates on a booking engine

Child and Multiple Adult Rates

Clients can choose whether or not there is a different rate per room for multiple adults and children. Hoteliers can specify the maximum number of adults and children allowed per room when defining room structure, and then add different rates from the pricing module.

Adding child and extra adult rates

Taxes and Fees

Every nation, state, province, and region has its own unique tax and fee structure. buuteeq’s commission-free booking engine adapts to this by providing clients with a customizable, detailed tax and fee structure system. Clients can create as many taxes and fees as they wish, toggle them on or off, select what kind of fee they are, give them a percentage value or a flat value, charge them per room or per person, and more.

Adding taxes and fees to the booking engine


Hoteliers can create seasons that manage different rates over time. For example, clients can apply more expensive best available rates to a ‘low’ season, and more expensive rates to a ‘high’ season.

Adding seasons to the booking engine


Hoteliers can create and design the marketing content for as many promotions as they wish from the marketing module. They can then assign rates to them and choose which seasons they wish the promotions to work with.

Adding promotions to booking engines


Add-ons are up-sell opportunities hoteliers can present to guests during the reservation process. Clients can choose which seasons and rooms they wish the add-ons to work with, and set the price for each add-on.

adding add-ons to booking engines

Example – Add-Ons As They Appear in the Booking Engine

how add-ons appear in booking engines

Credit Cards

Clients can choose to require payment information or not. If turned on, they can specify which credit cards they accept, whether or not they require a security code, and whether or not to automatically send a cancellation email to guests. If active, credit card information obtained through the IBE will be securely stored with the reservation information within BackOffice. Clients can then process the credit card information when ready.

adding credit card information

Custom Messaging

Hoteliers can customize their booking engine messaging to keep a consistent hotel brand and provide specific directions.

Guest Information

This custom message appears on the booking engine ‘check-out’ page, where the guest inputs personal information and credit card details.

adding guest information messaging

Thank You Page

Hoteliers can customize their Thank You page, which is presented to guests after they complete their online reservation.

creating custom thank you pages

Reservation Confirmation Email

Hoteliers can write custom emails that are automatically sent to guests by the system after they finish their online reservation. This can include further instructions and contact information.

How a confirmation email looks

Reservation Cancellation Email

When a guest cancels a reservation, hoteliers can go into the BackOffice and manually cancel the reservation. This email is automatically sent to guests after the reservation is canceled, and can be customized by the hotelier.

reservation cancellation email


Custom messaging within the IBE can be localized into any number of languages using buuteeq’s localization tool. Clients can manually translate each piece of messaging, which is automatically presented to guests based on their language selection, or they can use Google Translate to automatically translate the original copy into the targeted language.

Adding custom localization to the booking engine

Reservation Management

From one screen, clients see a high-level overview of their open, closed and canceled reservations. They can manually create new reservations for phone or walk-ins, make notes about customers, process special requests, search for past reservations and export this data to spreadsheets.

reservation management in a booking engine

Customer Information

Clients can save and access customer information for future reference. They can download customer details as a spreadsheet, for marketing purposes like email campaigns.

finding customer information in a booking engine

Inventory Availability

Clients have precise control over the availability of their inventory. There are two options: manual and automatic mode. With automatic mode, a room is automatically removed from available inventory as soon as it is reserved by a guest using the booking engine. With manual mode, all rooms remain available for booking until the client manually closes a room from within BackOffice—even if the room is already reserved using the booking engine.

Manual Mode

inventory management manual mode

Automatic Mode

This high-level overview acts as an availability calendar to show hoteliers what available inventory they have. They can manually override each listing if they choose by closing or opening days and rooms.

inventory management automatic mode

Example – Availability Calendar

Guests will see a real-time calendar of the hotel’s available inventory.

example availability calendar


buuteeq has striven to create an online reservation system compatible with a wide range of extant solutions. Their own IBE is completely commission-free, saving hoteliers money while increasing occupancy and improving ROI. Their IBE can be integrated with CRSs in order to communicate with GDSs and OTAs, and their mobile optimized solution enjoys all the same features as the web version.


For more information, buuteeq, inc. can be reached using the following contact information.

Glossary of Terms

OTA: Online Travel Agency. They retrieve information from GDSs and CRSs to provide travelers with a centralized way to book many types of reservations.

IBE: Internet Booking Engine. A GUI that communicates with a CRS, allowing guests to book rooms directly from a hotel online.

CRS: Central Reservation System. A system hoteliers use to manage and organize their inventory availability and to open, close and otherwise process reservations.

GUI: Graphical User Interface. This is the visual aspect of an IBE or CRS that communicates functionality and allows guests to manipulate data.

GDS: Global Distribution System. Communicates with CRSs from airlines, hotels, car rental services and more all over the world, combining them all into one database.



BILLBOARD EFFECT: Hotels notice that they see more direct online reservations after listing rooms with an OTA. This is because guests use OTAs for discovery, and then continue their travel research by going to the hotel website directly, where they can make an online reservation. This is called the Billboard Effect.

DIRECT ONLINE RESERVATION: A reservation made directly from the hotels own CRS.

SEARCH ENGINES: Websites like Google that guests use to find hotel websites.

SAAS: Software as a Service. SaaS is subscription-base. Because of this, SaaS developers are free to update the service over time as technology evolves, ensuring that he product never becomes outdated.

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