RS view on booking.com & the like

Old Jun 24th, 2017, 06:49 PM
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RS view on booking.com & the like

From Rick Steves' Facebook feed today:

In the last decade or so it’s become almost impossible for independent-minded, small, family-run hotels to survive without playing the game as dictated by the big players in the online booking world. Sites like Booking.com and Expedia.com take roughly 80 percent of the hotel reservation business. Hoteliers note that without this online presence, “we become almost invisible.” But online booking services demand a 20 to 25 percent commission and, in order to be listed on their service, a hotel must promise not to undercut the price on that site. Without that caveat, hoteliers could say, “Sure, sell our rooms for whatever markup you like and we’ll continue to offer a fair rate to travelers who come to us directly.” But that’s no longer possible.

The work-around for making hotel reservations: Those who book direct through a hotel’s website (and not through the booking agency site, thus saving the hotel about 20 percent) can be offered a free breakfast or free upgrade. Or, simply don’t book “online.” Just book by direct email or phone, in which case, hotels are free to give you whatever price they like (usually able to split the difference: charging 10 percent less and making 10 percent more).
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 07:13 PM
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Since Steves' audience is largely comprised of Americans visiting Europe, it seems just a little cavalier to suggest phoning. Email is fine, and the way I've always done things in the past, before booking engines and booking engines on hotel websites were so prevalent. However, these days it seems to me that many, if not most, hotels want you to use their websites for booking.

I've sent inquiries and received email answers that give a link to the website booking engine, saying please book here.

On the other hand, this advice might help less experienced hotel seekers save a couple of bucks. And the Steves people have to keep fresh content on their Facebook feed.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 07:30 PM
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Yes, I saw the Rick Steves Facebook post about this today, too.

I did find a case on my recent trip where a property on booking.com gave me a lower price than advertised on booking.com or on their own website when I emailed them. So it's certainly worth a try.

On the other hand, while staying at a hotel in Italy on this same trip, I had booked just the first night and asked at the front desk about staying two more nights. I mentioned the rate I had paid online (this one from Hotels.com) and the front desk agent said she'd have to check with the manager (not in til the next morning) - that rate might be available only on the internet, she said. I said thanks - and booked the next two nights on Hotels.com . Oh, well, I tried!
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 08:19 PM
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I use booking.com to identify the places I want to stay. I am willing to pay a modest price for that service -- namely, the price above and beyond what I would pay if I booked through the establishment's own website or any other. It's a choice I make. To each his/her own.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 08:38 PM
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The hotels are paying for advertising and the booking.com messaging system. It's no different then using a newspaper.

In the old days you went to a travel agent they found you a flight and a hotel. Why did they pick a certain hotel?

I'll be cynical and ask why are travel writers suggesting certain hotels?

Those invisible hotels are invisible not because of the internet but because it's a big world and most of us only know our little corner day to day. There are cities I visit every year and often multiple times. I still have no chance of knowing every hotel.

If you're trying to contact a small European hotel it's almost always better to use the phone. Email may or may not be checked. They're better with the booking.com messaging system but some hotels don't even check that!
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 08:53 PM
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Hotels do whatever they need to do to be competitive and stay in business.

If responding to potential guests by email gives the hotel an advantage - more bookings - they'll use it. If not, other hotels will get their business. Some may still stay in business anyway - but economic pressures tend to coax them to use every practical advantage they can. Email costs nothing - it would be foolish for a hotel not to respond to email queries from potential guests. And hotels without English-speaking staff (fluent, anyway) can more reliably translate email text than they have a conversation with an English speaker on the phone.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 09:00 PM
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Email requires having somebody monitor the email with all that implies. Small things like keeping an eye on the spam folder can catch people out. It requires a working internet connection. In some smaller towns that's an issue.

The phone is right there at the front desk with a person next to it.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 09:23 PM
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I'd say hotels visited by tourists that lack any reliable internet connection would be extremely rare in 2017 - in Europe, anyway. Internet has become almost a requirement for doing business in the developed world - not just to communicate with guests but to communicate with other businesses, employees, etc. If the town can't get reliable wired internet service, it can probably get internet via mobile phone hotspots.

You'll probably find a few technophobe hotel owners out there who don't use email out of choice, but no doubt they are rare exceptions, not worth considering in this general discussion.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 09:36 PM
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I'm not going to dispute it would be nice but in large parts of Europe email is still not considered that important. Business owners often feel if it's important you'd call. I'm speaking in general not just hotels.

I've been on Greek islands and seen the town internet go down for a weekend.

I've been to Spanish islands that virtually no hotel offers wifi.

This month I emailed a Swiss company about a product. It took five business days before they responded.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 10:00 PM
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'in large parts of Europe email is still not considered that important'

Not true. That they don't offer wifi doesn't mean they don't use email. I've had American hotels that didn't respond to mails I send. For some I had a hard time even finding an email adress online - only an (American) phone nr.

In the 'old days' hotels used booking engines tied to airlines - but these went through travel agents and communication was by telex. These booking engines also took a cut, as well as the travel agent. I worked in a hotel in the 80s. Booking.com and others have taken the place of these systems and have also replaced the travel agent. Hotels used to give freebies to agents who booked a lot of guests with them. If your hotel got a lot of business through a certain agent (corporate accounts for example), the agent would be rewarded with free trips for himself and his/her family. People relied on recommendations from agents, or on information from guidebooks that could be years out of date - whereas now the pricing is more transparent, and there are recent reviews.

I wouldn't want to go back to that.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 10:36 PM
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I use mostly Booking.com because it contains a lot of useful info. that other sites don't have, like location relative to amenities or attractions, size of rooms, etc.

I like the reviews there, though they did a UI change this year which makes browsing and searching through their reviews more clumsy and difficult.

But I will book directly too on occasion. Earlier this year, I booked a place in Lermoos, Austria for an upcoming trip via email. To remit payment to put enough deposit down, I had to use international wire transfer, which wasn't as bad as it used to be. I didn't have to go to my credit union and pay a fee. Instead I used Transferwire service, which had a pretty good fee.

There are still small, family-run places which have basic websites but no online or secure booking capabilities. At least they don't ask you to fax a signed contract any more but some of them will ask you to send your credit card number by email, which is not a secure thing to do.

Some hotels will at least have a Skype account and you can send them the credit card numbers in chat, which is more secure than sending by email.

It may suck for small hotels but these small hotels wouldn't even be known to Americans and others outside the country or even the region without these big booking sites. So they get reservations that they otherwise might not have gotten.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 10:56 PM
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I look at Booking and then I go to the site of the hotel and see if there is a price difference.

One of our favorite hotels, Esbelli Evi in Cappadocia, Turkey does not use any third party booking sites. The owner wants to communicate directly with the potential guest to make sure they are cordial and respectful, so they will not upset the atmosphere of the establishment. But clearly this is the exception.

It is a bit hypocritical of Little Ricky to complain about this. His books basically appeal to novice travelers who rely on his word. And his recommendations carry a great deal of weight and mean substantial business for some hotels. Thus he directing traffic, and possibly effecting prices and availability.
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Old Jun 24th, 2017, 11:27 PM
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It's a little petty to say that Little Ricky's "books basically appeal to novice travelers who rely on his word."

People interested in travel read many books. I may want to visit a place because I have read a good book, fiction or non-fiction. Then I began the research. RS, Fodors, Frommers etc then I get to the websites.

I know what we're interested in and if RS can add to that interest it's time well spent.

I've also stayed in small out of the way hotel and guesthouses that appreciate booking.com b/c they got business. It's just as simple as that. All of the people who write reviews at booking have booked through them and I read their reviews thoroughly with particular attention to what is important to me about a place to sleep.

That's not to say I rely upon the online booking sites for all my hotels. There are many resources and I like to explore all of them.
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 01:14 AM
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Among the many things I've never liked about Rick Steves is his chisler attitude about traveling, or his assumption that all travelers are looking for a freebie. Here he is going to bat for his personal friends who run small hotels by trying to make booking.com look bad for running an amazingly useful service for small hotels & travelers in 40 different languages, Yet instead of saying: "If you want unique hotels like these to survive, book directly", he says "Book direct and you'll get a free breakfast." Or he implies you can haggle down the price. Doesn't all that cost the family running the hotel money?

I want both booking.com to survive AND the small family-run hotel, especially the ones to which I want to make a return visit. I act accordingly. Sometimes I use booking.com. Sometimes I book direct. But I don't expect either service to be handed to me to the disadvantage of the vendor.
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 01:32 AM
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Regarding "pick up the phone":

The last hotel I booked in Italy I booked with booking.com. When I arrived at the hotel, no one in the hotel spoke English. (This was in the very beautiful town of Lodi, about 30 minutes outside of Milan.) It's okay for me because I speak Italian (and even if I didn't, there is nothing about most transactions with a hotel desk that can't be done in sign language.)

Maybe if you are going to Venice or Paris or Capri you can always pick up the phone and dial any hotel and talk in English with whomever answers. But a significant number of beautiful places that only have family-run hotels are not visited in droves by English-speakers. But I guess if you rely on Rick Steves for information you wouldn't know that.
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 02:46 AM
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It depends...

There are whole areas of Western Europe where accomodation is not in booking.com, some of it is in AirBNB, some of it in other distrubition sites such as logis and some just advertise
through the local tourist info.

I do two types of holidays. Traveling ones and stationary ones, for the stationary type I use local tourist offices and google maps, that seems to draw out roughly 95% of all places and if the price is "wrong" I'll drop them an email.

If I'm travelling and booking at breakfast for that night, then I use bookings or AirBnB. Man got to sleep. When I can't find anywhere online I just walk into hotels and ask, they nearly always have rooms and at a low rate, hotels full at 100% is really unusual outside of the end of July and start of August.

Someone has to pay for publicity/order management etc.
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 03:33 AM
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Bilbo,

That's a great system as long as you are satisfied with getting "what's left."
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 03:53 AM
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I've spoken with owners of small family run hotels who said they love booking.com because since they signed with them they have far more business. The higher occupancy rate more than makes up for the commission.

As a guest I find it not only easier to find hotels I want (as stated by others b.com has good, very detailed descriptions of the rooms, property, location, etc. but the reviews are by people who actually stayed and I can easily determine if their pros and cons are important to me or not) but if I have to change dates or cancel it is easier to do on b.com than contacting each hotel individually. This year my credit card got "compromised" and they had to give me a new number and it was much faster to notify the hotels on b.com than sending the separate emails to the individual hotels.

So Rick is wrong on this point and he's a bit to 'goofy' for my taste, but his information is solid and very useful. All his videos are available free on line. Fodors, Frommers, etc. do not have videos.
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 04:27 AM
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Dukey, some of us just want a clean bed and bathroom (I grew up in Hotels so have no special interest in "enjoying" them, they are not destinations in my mind at all, they are where I dump the bags), I've never failed at finding a clean bed and bathroom, and yes I've had some amazing deals with upgrades and fantastic prices. I've even had my supper paid for ;-).

I don't see it as a "winner gets first dibs" thing at all. If I did, I'd just use bookings free cancellation tick box and just book up swathes of hotels
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Old Jun 25th, 2017, 04:54 AM
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Bilbo, please remember that "some people" like having a CHOICE of what clean bed they prefer. I don't understand why you have decided to frame this as some sort of "winners vs losers" situation.

I'm sorry that my opinion has upset you and I apologize for expressing it and I will try NOT to do so regarding anything you post in the future.
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