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Online Booking Systems

Online Booking software, also known as Reservation software, manages hospitality industry reservations including web-based and onsite solutions. Online accommodation booking systems offer a variety of customisable features designed to suit a wide range of hospitality clients from hotels, motels, condos, and hostels to travel agents and tour operators. Organisations use Reservation software to speed the processing of information and increase the efficient use of available space. Online booking systems also typically provide integrated tools for a wide variety of business features from accounting and revenue reporting to maintenance and housekeeping management. Online Booking software is related to Hospitality Property Management software, Rental software, Tour Operator software and Travel Agency software. Find the best online booking system for your organisation in Australia.

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Online Booking Systems Buyers Guide

Introduction

Online booking systems are designed to assist businesses looking to streamline their booking process and facilitate online bookings or reservations. Software in this category will typically provide a wide range of customisation options, allowing the booking system to suit the specific needs of the business and its target audience. Online booking systems are primarily used within the hospitality industry, with some of the biggest adopters including hotels, travel agencies, and restaurants. Within this context, the booking system can be used by customers to book hotel rooms, flights and tables online without having to speak to a customer service agent.

Also known as reservations software, these systems not only help to facilitate online bookings but also help to keep booking information centralised so that it can be more easily accessed when needed. Such solutions also tend to offer a range of additional functions, with some of the main examples including availability checking and payment processing. Online booking systems can also be used within medical settings, allowing organisations to manage their appointments while allowing patients to more easily book appointments at a time that suits them.

In terms of their main benefits, online booking systems can aid businesses by allowing them to process bookings at any time of the day, even if no staff member is available to assist with the booking process. Customers also benefit from the self-service aspect of an online booking system, allowing them to book a room, table or other services at a time that is convenient to them. Moreover, online booking systems can lower workforce demands as much of the process becomes entirely automated, freeing up employees to focus on more complex tasks.

Given the nature of online booking systems and their various practical uses, they can be categorised alongside similar solutions, such as appointment scheduling software, hospitality property management software, and travel agency software, to name a few. In some cases, online booking software will have significant crossover with these products, while in others, they will be able to be used in combination with one another.

The exact features contained within online booking systems do vary, but there are also some core features, which tend to be seen in almost all solutions of this kind and which can be used to more clearly define this software. In almost all cases, an online booking system will allow users to:

  • Accept and process bookings online, while providing up-to-date availability information
  • Process card and mobile wallet payments, and send receipts to customers
  • Provide options for those booking to leave notes or share comments with employees
  • Deliver customer support where it is needed and allow staff to adjust bookings

What are online booking systems?

Online booking systems function as either on-site or web-based platforms, which allow businesses and other organisations to both streamline and centralise their booking processes. This is primarily achieved by providing the tools required for customers to complete a simple, self-service online booking process, where bookings or reservations can be completed without the need to communicate with customer service employees or a booking agent.

In addition to providing access to simple self-service bookings, online booking systems are typically also able to process payments and facilitate some form of communication between customers/users and employees. For this reason, the software is especially beneficial in areas like travel and hospitality, including hotels, airlines, restaurants, and similar businesses. With that being said, online booking systems may also be used in a variety of other industries, with examples including healthcare and any other setting that provides appointments.

As the name indicates, online booking systems rely on the internet to send data between customers and businesses or organisations. These solutions may also be referred to as reservations software solutions or online reservation systems. One of the defining aspects of an online booking system is the way it utilises data on the books, such as existing reservations or bookings, in order to provide both customers and organisations with important, live information about total inventory and current availability. This can then help all parties to gain a better understanding of the level of demand that exists and can also prevent costly errors, such as double bookings.

What are the benefits of online booking systems?

The benefits of online booking systems are primarily centred around the creation of a simple, user-friendly booking process, which customers or other users can turn to in order to make a reservation, book an appointment, or book access to a particular service. This occurs on a self-service basis so that bookings can be made without the need for human intervention from a customer service rep. However, it can be useful to explore the benefits of an online booking system in greater depth by breaking down each of the main benefits or advantages, such as the following:

  • Prevent the most common booking problems: using an online booking system can help organisations to sidestep some of the most common and costly issues associated with accepting bookings manually. For instance, because the online booking system is continually updated as new bookings or reservations are made, high-quality software will be able to prevent businesses from accidentally double-booking a hotel room or accidentally allowing too many restaurant table reservations in one night. Likewise, the software can help to prevent booking errors, such as the wrong time or the wrong date being reserved for a customer. This then means less time needs to be spent on resolving issues and cancelling bookings, and it avoids the potential damage to customer satisfaction too.
  • Facilitate bookings on a 24/7 basis: one of the biggest plus points associated with online booking systems is the ability to provide users with access to an online booking system that is fully functional on a 24/7 basis. This can be valuable for organisations of all kinds but is especially useful in the tourism and hospitality industries, where bookings may be made from different parts of the world, meaning timezones could otherwise become a significant obstacle. The self-service nature of online bookings means they can be completed at any time, from anywhere, on a wide range of devices, and this provides excellent flexibility for customers. Meanwhile, for businesses, this 24/7 offering means it is possible to generate revenue at all times of the day, regardless of whether staff are available.
  • Streamline the booking process: some of the other big advantages of using online booking systems are the ability to streamline bookings, centralise the relevant data, and capitalise on automation. Confirmation emails can be sent to users automatically, without requiring a human agent to perform any actions at all, while many booking systems also provide cancellation options too, meaning customers can cancel bookings without needing to communicate with service staff. All information related to both bookings and cancellations can also be continually kept up-to-date across the board so that insights into demand levels, inventory, and vacancies are always accurate.
  • Improve the quality of communication: one of the more overlooked benefits of investing in a top of the range online booking system is the software's capacity to improve communication between an organisation and their customers or business partners. The booking engine itself can play a role in this because users can be required to provide contact information, which can then be stored within the system, while reservation or booking numbers can also be allocated for convenience. In the event that the customer then gets in touch with a business, this can then make it easier for employees to access the relevant data and provide faster assistance. In addition, many online booking systems or reservations software solutions also include built-in communication tools, which may allow customers to start an online chat or make a quick telephone call when they need to.
  • Allow customers to serve themselves: as a concept, self-service is nothing new or groundbreaking, but it remains extremely valuable for customers and businesses alike. In fact, Gartner research shows that 70 per cent of customers now make use of self-service options at some point during their resolution journey. However, a critical challenge for businesses is related to the fact that only 9 per cent of these customers are able to resolve issues entirely through self-service alone, leading them to switch to live channels, which are more costly for businesses. A good online booking system should allow customers to book hotel rooms, flights, restaurant tables, or other products or services easily, without the need to use live channels. This gives customers the freedom to resolve their own needs in their own time while saving organisations money by reducing live service demands.

What are the features of online booking systems?

There is substantial variation when it comes to the features of online booking systems, especially when software is targeted towards specific industries. It is also true to say that certain solutions are more comprehensive, while others focus on providing simple, easy-to-use features instead. With that being said, there are some core or defining features to be aware of within this software category, as well as some common features, which buyers would expect to find in the majority of solutions of this kind. Some of the core and common features found within online booking systems or reservations software solutions are explored in greater detail below:

  • Online booking: accept requests for bookings or reservations online and continually keep inventory information up-to-date. A good online booking system will automatically accept bookings based on current availability, meaning customers or users will be unable to book slots that are no longer available. As a result, issues like double bookings can be eliminated completely, and businesses can track the availability they have remaining. Bookings should be able to be completed on a self-service basis, meaning the user selects the date, time slot and other specific details they would like, without the need to speak to a customer service rep. Systems can usually also be set up to automatically send confirmation emails or text messages, which can then be used upon arrival as proof of the booking.
  • Payment processing: process payments from customers, so that bookings or reservations are fully paid for in advance. Alternatively, the online booking system can be set up to take payments closer to the time of the visit or upon checkout in settings like hotels. In some cases, it may be easier for payments to be settled entirely separately from the booking system, but the online booking engine can still be used to take a deposit from customers for the reservation. This can then help to protect businesses against loss of earnings in the event that a customer does not show up or in the event of a last-minute cancellation. The best online booking systems will allow payments to be made via credit or debit cards, PayPal, and mobile wallets, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. In some cases, it may even be possible to accept payments using cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin.
  • Customer support: offer support to customers via live chat, telephone, email, or other channels. The best online booking systems will allow for integration with a variety of communication channels, making it easier to communicate with customers in the event that they need extra support or require assistance with completing their booking. In addition, the customer support component will typically allow staff to make adjustments to bookings that have already been made at the request of the customer, such as increasing or decreasing the size of the party or altering the time or date of the booking or reservation.
  • Booking notes: enable customers to add comments, notes, or share other thoughts during the booking process and then make these notes accessible by staff. This can be particularly useful for businesses that may often need to deal with special requests, such as restaurants that may need to handle special dietary requirements.
  • Group reservations: take bookings from groups of people who wish to book or make a reservation at the same time. Group reservations functionality will usually allow groups to book together so that they can attend at the same time and share the same space. Depending on the nature of the business, the precise logistics of this can vary, but it may mean allowing a group to share a table in a restaurant or book hotel rooms that are in close proximity. In some cases, discounts may also be given to groups, and these can sometimes be set up within the online booking system so that the discount is automatically calculated and applied.
  • Customer relationship management: manage communications with customers and access previous conversations. The ability to view past communications can be vital for delivering high-quality customer support and can also allow different members of staff to assist customers with an issue while minimising the amount of time the customer needs to spend repeating the nature of their problem. CRM features will usually compile communications from different channels, with examples including live chat, email, telephone calls and social media.
  • Third party bookings: accept bookings or reservations from third-party platforms or websites. This is especially common with cloud-based options, where the booking data is centralised, allowing for instant synchronisation so that availability information and current bookings are always up-to-date. The ability to accept third party bookings also makes it easier for customers and potentially increases an organisation's visibility and reach.

Capterra's software directory allows users to explore the features contained within different systems so that a more informed decision can be made about which solution to use. Using the filters provided, it is possible to save significant time and narrow down a search so that the only options displayed are those that contain the necessary features.

What should be considered when purchasing online booking systems?

When purchasing online booking systems or reservations software solutions, there are a number of important things that need to be considered or weighed up, as they can have a significant bearing on the final decision. The best approach here is to ask a series of important questions and think carefully about the answers. Some of the key questions that could be asked are as follows:

  • What will the online booking system be used for? Businesses exploring the available options should think carefully about what the booking or reservation system is actually going to be used for. As an example, the specific needs of a hotel could differ from the needs of a restaurant or an airline, and this may then have an influence on the eventual decision. It may also be worth thinking about the types of bookings that can be made, such as guaranteed reservations, which require a conformational payment and which help to protect the business against loss of revenue from cancellations, and non-guaranteed reservations, which are more informal agreements, without an upfront charge and with greater flexibility to either cancel the booking or make adjustments to it.
  • What additional or special features are required? Most online booking systems will share the same core features, even if the quality of their implementation varies. However, some businesses may require additional features, such as marketing-related features or integration with a particular software solution. Try to think carefully about the additional features that may be needed and the extent to which they need to be prioritised. This will then make it easier to narrow down the available options to those that are best suited.
  • Can a booking system integrate with other software? Hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, airlines, cinemas, healthcare facilities, and other settings that are likely to make use of an online booking system are also likely to make use of a variety of other software solutions. In many cases, a level of integration or compatibility between the booking system and these tools may be desirable, with some of the most obvious examples including integration with point of sale systems, customer relationship management tools, email clients, and database software. Such integration can make it easier to use the solutions in conjunction with one another while moving relevant information between the different software packages for greater convenience.
  • What is the best deployment method? Many decisions related to software will now require buyers or end-users to give serious thought to their preferred deployment option. Broadly speaking, an online booking system can be deployed on-site with direct installation onto company systems and with the business taking responsibility for handling data, or alternatively, the software can be deployed using a cloud-based model. Generally, with the latter approach, a third party will take responsibility for handling and securing data, while software will be deployed via the cloud, making it accessible to anyone with a compatible internet-enabled device and a web browser. This can be especially advantageous in an age where businesses are embracing remote and hybrid work models because employees may need to access bookings or reservations while working from home or while travelling.
  • How much can an online booking system be customised? Finally, it can be essential for businesses to contemplate the amount of customisation that is going to be possible when using potential solutions in this area. A good online booking system should offer some level of customisation so that each booking process feels tailored to the needs and requirements of the business in question and what it is they are offering to those who are making bookings. Customisation can also refer to both the front and backend, meaning it may be possible to make changes to either the presentation/visual layer or the data access layer.

The most relevant trends related to online booking systems are also an important factor to contemplate before making an eventual purchasing decision because buyers need to know that their chosen solution has been created with consideration for the future and with an understanding of how these systems are likely to be used. With this in mind, some of the main software trends to be aware of are:

  • Growing demand for chatbots: One of the biggest trends related to customer service of all kinds at present is the growing demand for chatbots, and this is especially true for booking engines in sectors like travel and hospitality. Chatbots offer a number of benefits, such as the ability to provide assistance to customers who may require help at any time of the day, regardless of whether customer service staff are available or not, and this is important for industries where 24/7 availability is expected. Conversations with chatbots can also be saved and referred back to in the event that human intervention is needed. Businesses may, therefore, wish to prioritise software solutions that utilise machine learning and artificial intelligence technology to allow for the best possible chatbot support.
  • The rise of cryptocurrency: Another trend that those purchasing online booking systems may need to be aware of is the rise of cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. Over the years to come, online booking systems that support payments made via cryptocurrencies may become more advantageous or even necessary for organisations looking to optimise revenue generation.
  • Increased use of predictive analytics: Part of delivering an excellent customer journey involves removing as many obstacles as possible and making the journey as smooth as it can be. Predictive analytics within an online booking system can play a role here by assessing past patterns of behaviour and making intelligent recommendations to future customers. This can help customers to make bookings or reservations more quickly and can help to draw their attention to extra offerings or special deals. From the perspective of a business, predictive analytics also has the potential to improve upselling and cross-selling efforts as well.
  • The needs of mobile users: In the past, booking engines were primarily designed with desktop users in mind, but this is no longer the case, and the trend towards mobile is only likely to increase in the years ahead. Aside from selecting an online booking system that allows the booking process to be mobile optimised for clear display on mobiles and tablets, it can also be important to think about related technology, such as voice control, which could allow customers to make reservations or bookings through the use of mobile virtual assistants and smart speakers. This modern need for mobile accessibility also raises questions about whether cloud-based solutions may be preferable in some businesses due to the ability to access the software from anywhere, using a mobile web browser.