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Visit Scotland | Alba

min read

The majority of people plan and book their holidays online. In this article you will learn:

You may already be using some of these tools, but the video will let you see what options are available to make it simpler for your tourism business to be discoverable and bookable, reaching new markets and potential visitors. 

How to be discoverable and bookable

For maximum impact online, your business needs to be discoverable and bookable

It’s also important to tackle both together. There’s no point in allowing customers to book online if they don’t know you exist. It also doesn’t work to attract large numbers of customers online if they can’t book online. 

What do we mean by discoverable?

  • Oxford English Dictionary defines discoverable as ‘(of online content) tending or designed to be easily found by users via a search engine, within an application, or on a website’. 

It’s about how easy it is for a user to find your business online. Whether that’s when they’re searching generally, for example for walking tours in Edinburgh, or specifically for the name of your business.

What do we mean by bookable?

  • Oxford defines this as 'tickets are bookable in advance'. 

Although the definition refers to tickets, this is about whether a customer can book your service online ahead of their trip – regardless of whether that’s a room to sleep in, a tour, an entry ticket for your attraction, or reserving a table in your restaurant. 

Let’s look now at what technology you can put in place to be both discoverable and bookable. You may be using certain tools already, and some will give you access to certain features but not all. 

We’re going to look at the options you have by level.

 

Level 0 – A website

Customers can:

  • Read about your business

You can do this by having a website with content about your business.

A customer looks up a business online using her smartphone

 

Level 1 – A website with a payment gateway 

Customers can: 

  • Read about your business
  • Pay for your service

For attractions, tours and activity providers selling tickets without time or date restrictions, you can do this by having a payment gateway on your website. This means you can take card payments securely online. Examples include Worldpay, Paypal, Sage Pay, Stripe and Braintree. 

While this allows people to enter their payment details online, it doesn’t count as being bookable online if a customer cannot see live availability and confirm the specific time and date of the service they want. 

 

Level 2 – A website with a web booking engine 

Customers can: 

  • Read about your business 

  • Check availability of your service on the dates they want 

  • Book your service 

  • Pay for your service 

You can do this by using a web booking engine, which will display live availability and accept online bookings through your website. 

Examples include Evvivo, Freetobook, Supercontrol, Beds24, MyUK.travel, Queensborough Group, Bookster, Fareharbour, Bokun, Trekksoft, Rezdy, and Access Gamma. Some businesses also use Eventbrite to sell tickets but should be aware that this system is primarily designed for events and doesn’t have as much of the functionality that web booking engines allow. 

 

Level 3 – A website with a web booking engine, and a separate listing with an Online Travel Agent (OTA) 

Customers can: 

  • Read about your business 

  • Check availability of your service on the dates they want 

  • Book your service 

  • Pay for your service 

  • Find your business on travel sites 

You can do this by working directly with an OTA. Examples include Booking.com, Expedia, Hotels.com, eBookers, Lastminute.com, Laterooms, Airbnb, Homeaway, TripAdvisor Experiences (Viator) and Get Your Guide. 

But you would need to update your availability and price at least twice – once on your own website, and once on each OTA site you have a listing for. 

Where you want to be and why

The benefits of both of the following options is that you can update all of your listings at once, and you are discoverable on OTAs and metasearch sites. 

Your business has more chance of being found by a customer, and it’s easier for you to update prices. 

Did you know?

A metasearch site is a comparison site, that lets a user compare prices for your business across different OTA sites. Examples include Google Hotel Ads, Kayak, Trivago, TripAdvisor, Skyscanner and Reserve with Google. 

A business owner sits in his cafe reviewing his online presence on a laptop

 

Level 4  A website, and a web booking engine with channel manager functionality, distributing your service to Online Travel Agents and metasearch sites. 

Customers can: 

  • Read about your business 

  • Check availability of your service on the dates they want 

  • Book your service 

  • Pay for your service 

  • Find your business on travel sites 

  • Find your business on metasearch sites 

And you can:

  • Distribute your inventory and rates across OTAs and metasearch sites. 

You can take advantage of the booking engine’s channel manager functionality by upgrading your account with your web booking engine. This lets you list your business and update your product on your website and OTAs and in turn metasearch sites with one click. 

Metasearch or comparison sites are updated in different ways. You may be able to use your own web booking engine to ensure that your own website, or ‘book direct’ price is displayed alongside OTA prices. 

If you use an OTA, then metasearch or comparison sites will pull your availability and pricing information from the OTA directly. 

Using channel managers can cost and you may be charged a fee or commission by your web booking engine, but if it makes your tourism business more visible, it could be worth that investment. 

Metasearch or comparison sites are mainly used just now in accommodation and flights.

Things to consider when choosing a channel manager

Some channel manager accounts offer access to vast numbers of OTAs and metasearch sites with the potential to drive a large volume of customers to your website. 

It’s best to do a bit of research to work out which channel manager is right for your business as it can vastly increase the success of your listings and boost your bookings. 

  • Understand what functionality your business needs and what each system provides to make sure they match up. 

  • Next, check what OTA partnerships are in place – key ones would be Google, Booking.com, Expedia, and for experiences, Viator, TripAdvisor Experiences and Get your Guide. 

  • Check what training and support is available for set up and maintenance. 

  • Then crucially, you need to consider the price of using each channel manager and if it is worth investing in. Some managers will have a basic license, some may be commission-based and some might have additional features that come with added costs. 

 

Our top tips for being discoverable and bookable

  • Online vs ticketing

    Experiences should consider the added value of online booking versus ticketing, as ticketing can be limited in how it can be distributed through other channels and has little discoverability for last minute sales. 

  • Updated and available

    Get your pricing and availability updated as far out as possible, as the farther people travel, the more in advance they book – we’d suggest one year as a minimum. 

  • Call to action

    Make your booking call to action on your website as visible as possible at all stages of a user’s journey through the pages of your site. 

  • Upselling opportunities

    Build in upselling opportunities in your shopping cart. Can customers add on breakfast, a fast-track pass, or any extras you offer before they complete the purchase? 

  • Customer journey

    Go through the customer journey yourself on a regular basis to check for barriers or breakages. This helps you keep on top of your functionality and avoid bad experiences for potential customers. 

  • Analytics

    Set up ecommerce analytics and goals. This allows you to see which target audience is driving the most revenue, allowing you to invest in areas which will give you the best return. 

  • Stay competitive

    While direct booking is the most profitable overall, in order to stay competitive you need to make sure you’re also available to be found and purchased where we know your visitors are booking, such as TripAdvisor Experiences and Booking.com. 

Check out our video on Online Travel Agents for more information on how to work with them, and our video on the visitor journey to see what other digital marketing channels you should be considering.