Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Choose Us! (says every hotel you are researching!)
A Hotel Manager's Perspective - MariaV
Slow Travel focuses on staying in vacation rentals. Often though, even Slow Travelers need to stay in hotels, and here's some good background on how the booking process for small hotels works.
Okay, you've chosen your city, and you are armed with knowledge of how to decipher real from fake reviews of the hotels on your list. Now what? I would like to put forth a few general things, from the hotel's side and perspective of your (potential) reservation.
A quick side note about reviews and deciphering real from fake:
There have been many conversations about this topic and the trustworthiness of Trip Advisor. I won't go into that again, but one thing to keep in mind is this: you do not have to have stayed, or prove you stayed, in a hotel to place a "review" on Trip Advisor. I would suggest that as an addition to your search of reviews, check your hotel on sites such as Booking, Venere, WRI (and a few others) because one can only place a review on those sites after your stay (proven by that booking site and the hotel). This prevents any fraudulent reviews. The link to the review page is accessible only with the use of your booking/reservation number at the end of your stay (you are sent a link in an automatic email sent by said hotel booking site). Some hotel booking sites allow for a "management response", but this is just starting. The hotel's response is vetted by the booking site, and most times the site will contact the hotel for clarification, along with contacting the guest in cases of miscommunication. Just something to keep in mind.
So now you are ready to make a reservation. Do you choose to go through the booking site or directly through the hotel? How do you get the best price and how can you be sure availability is correct? Here I am talking mostly about smaller hotels (chain hotels have a bit of a different procedure, as they do not generally have a variety of room sizes and can "allocate" a certain number of "double rooms" without concern about overbooking) and bed-and-breakfasts in general. A very small B&B with only a couple rooms probably won't use booking sites and this may not apply to them.
Hotels can, and many times do, use up to eight or ten booking sites to help in filling their rooms. A hotel's website can only go so far in reaching people. Each booking site has an availability calendar, where rooms of each type are listed. This availability calendar is controlled by the hotel, not the site. The site depends on the hotel to keep this calendar up-to-date, which is why a site will generally take a "no responsibility" stance in the event of over or double-bookings. Every time a room is booked, whether through a hotel booking site or the hotel itself, it is the hotel's responsibility to update the availability calendar in all sites which it uses (including its own site). Should that not be done, the policy of any site is that it is the hotel's responsibility to either find a suitable available room whether in that hotel or another (we have all heard of "walking" – no hotel likes to do that, but sometimes it is necessary, and please remember that it is not the receptionist's fault that they have to "walk" you!).
A hotel will (or should) update their availability calendars immediately upon receiving a reservation of any kind. Most will leave those calendars up on their computer so they can get through them quickly, reducing the risk of booking problems. Sometimes mistakes will be made, unfortunately, especially if many reservations come through at the same time (for example, when the Royal Wedding date was announced, I was working in a hotel in London and was receiving reservations faster than I could keep up with and, inevitably, one or two mistakes were made – the guests understood and thankfully all was well!). Most hotels will contact the future guest and explain the problem, hoping that you will understand!
Can you depend on the hotel's own site's availability being correct?
Well, in all honesty, you should be able to depend on that! While not every hotel has someone sitting at the computer 24/7 to answer an enquiry email, they probably have someone updating their site's availability calendar at least once a day.
Making the Booking
In the same way, all booking and cancelation policies are set by the hotel itself. Each booking site relies on the hotel to make sure the policies are correct. While booking sites rely on a hotel for availability, a hotel relies the booking site to make sure its policies are perfectly clear. No hotel wants potential guests going elsewhere because their policies are not clear on a hotel booking site. My suggestion to everyone is to read everything on the booking site when you are checking availability and especially when you get to the booking page. By the time you are on that page, you should have already seen the booking and cancellation policies (e.g., one night's prepayment, prepayment in full, one week cancellation notice, forty-eight hours, etc.). Check the entire page, especially as not all hotels have the same general policies. Many times these two policies are in different colors, so there is no confusion, and usually always under their own separate bold headers. This should never be "fine print" and should always be right there where you can easily see it.
As an aside, always make sure, after you have made your reservation, that you have received confirmation. While this seems an almost "duh" statement, I once had a guest come in with a "reservation" that we had never received. It turned out that this person thought the "confirmation of availability" page was the final "confirmation of reservation" page; hence, the reservation was never confirmed. Luckily we had an open room and everything was fine.
Most booking sites will send a reservation confirmation to a hotel immediately upon receipt of the booking. Some will be sent by email, others by fax, sometimes both ways! This is generally received within minutes of the booking, automatically. If a hotel's email is down, or fax not working, they generally will contact the larger booking sites to let them know (there are dedicated phone numbers for this) in order to prevent overbooking.
Most booking sites (with the exception of ones such as Expedia) will never take a payment from you. Hotels pay a commission to agencies for each reservation received. Your credit card number will be required as a precaution for the hotel. The number is sent to the hotel along with the reservation, whose responsibility it is to check the validity of the card. The number is sometimes a two-step process involving half the number on the reservation and the other half available only through the hotel's extranet protected by password. Sometimes an amount equal to one night is taken as a guarantee (usually refundable in accordance with the cancellation policy), or the card will be "preauthorized" for said amount. It is only a precaution for the hotel against loss of revenue due to late cancellation or no-shows.
Most hotels will prefer you to book directly with them, so they can save the commission fee. Believe me, that fee can really add up at the end of each month!
Remember - whether a hotel uses a booking site or not, the only way they can make money (they are, after all, a business) is to make sure you are happy. If there's a problem, contact them! Be understanding that sometimes mistakes are made, but realize that they will generally do whatever they can to make it right. If you're not happy, you won't recommend them to others.
This is about all I can think of at the moment … I hope this has helped you!
About the Author
Maria is a traveler, and has been a hotel manager in Sicily and London. Her main interests are writing and, of course, travel, and refuses to stop until she's made a serious dent in seeing all there is to see! She is a long-time advocate of slow travel, mostly by upping and moving to a new country just for the heck of it, but also thinks spending a few days here and there is okay, too.
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