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One of the primary victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global travel and tourism industry is recovering rapidly. In 2022, it is expected to generate 8.6 trillion USD, which would be only 6.4% below the 2019 level. The sector is forecast even to outpace pre-pandemic levels in the US, with projected revenue of $2 trillion USD, 6% more than in 2019.



This looks like a great time to build a hotel booking website or mobile app, online travel agency (OTA), rentals marketplace, or another digital solution for conducting travel business online.


Here, you can learn how to make a booking website for a tourism business, at the heart of which lies a booking engine.   


Why Create a Travel Booking Website or Mobile App in the First Place?

An online travel booking system ensures the accessibility of real-time information to a company’s employees and customers. A traveler may book a hotel room or airplane ticket directly from the company’s website, OTA, aggregator site, on the phone, or in the company’s office. The data will be instantly updated in the booking engine and all distribution channels. This essentially eliminates the risk of overbooking and information loss.


A convenient online reservation system reduces a customer’s path to their purchase. Since more leads can simultaneously interact with the system than with a human agent, more reservations can be made, increasing sales. It also means a reduction of workload and errors. Smoother personalized customer experiences will drive repeat business.


For tech entrepreneurs, an online booking system can bring together a tremendous variety of consumers and service providers and unlock rich revenue streams, such as fees, commissions, subscriptions, affiliate programs, app as a platform model, and ads.


Companies have several options for a ready-made booking system integration. The choice depends mainly on a website’s content management system and budget. For example, WordPress offers free and paid templates for hotel booking websites.


Those who want a unique product tailored to the specific needs of their company and customers may choose to create a travel booking website from the ground up. 


Travel Booking Website Development Step by Step

Let’s clarify the basic online booking website design first. An online booking system consists of three parts.


1. Back-end

A database stores information about travel products or other resources to be scheduled, customers, bookings, customer communication, etc.


2. Front-end

These web pages present information from the database to users and retrieve forms from them. Front-end web pages typically include:


  • a search function for requesting information from the database
  • a response page showing the requested info
  • forms where users enter and submit new info
  • confirmation pages…


… and business-specific details. For example, a hotel booking website features should enable visitors to find a hotel on the map, view a room’s details, read customer reviews, etc.


3. Middleware

This software moves data between the database and the web pages. It processes users’ input, pulling information from the database as necessary and submitting new data back into that database.


Here are the basic steps entrepreneurs need to take to create a booking website


Step 1. Organize the development team.

A skeleton team required for such software development projects should include:


  • a front-end programmer
  • a back-end programmer
  • a specialist in user experience and user interface design (UX/UI designer
  • a quality assurance (QA) engineer
  • a project manager (PM) 


You can assemble or hire this team before or after the research and planning stage. We recommend the first scenario because it offers valuable benefits.


Suppose you do not have qualified experts in-house, local specialists are too expensive to hire, or you plan only a pilot project of several weeks. In that case, it makes sense to outsource the job: your company can focus on the core business while saving time and money. A dedicated team that completed similar projects may provide the optimal solution.



Step 2. Conduct the necessary research and ideation.

Firstly, you need to decide on the type of a travel booking website you need:


  1. aggregator with price comparisons across multiple connected reservation platforms and often with their own booking functionality;
  2. airlines, hotel chain, or another travel company’s brand application
  3. a combination of the two.


Booking aggregators are the most common type of travel reservation apps. If you decide to create a hotel booking website, you will have to compete with the giants like Booking.com, Hotellook, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, and Trivago.


A brand online booking app is good when a service provider is big enough. However, direct bookings can also mean sales at higher rates for smaller businesses. A quality website increases brand awareness, creates new customer streams, and helps maintain customer loyalty.


A hybrid booking web app can aggregate offers from the top online booking services and offer travel products from your business(es) simultaneously. This will attract many users and earn additional income while increasing your brand awareness.


Another critical question involves the market. A family-owned hotel or local tour operator may start by targeting local audiences and, if successful, shift to the hybrid business model and expand their reach. Otherwise, it may be better to cover as many cities and countries as possible.


Your website can enable visitors to book a flight, hotel room, package holiday, cruise, sightseeing tour, etc., or provide the whole travel services cycle. Learn whether your target audience needs a one-stop solution, whether they will pay for booking local restaurants and events, rent cars, purchase gear, etc., on your website.


Develop your unique value proposition (UVP). Most travelers will be likely to look for the cheapest options first. It may be wise to specialize in deals on same-night bookings. If you want to concentrate on millennials and low-budget travelers, offer reservations at hostels and hotels for backpackers.


An affordable yet personalized travel experience is an excellent UVP. Airbnb became a leader thanks to its peer-to-peer business model, mass-market targeting, and global coverage. Misterb&b, which Onix-Systems helped develop and maintain, went further. The website and mobile application help gay people travel the world more safely. While booking gay-friendly accommodations, the users are also supporting LGBTQ non-profits.

Research your would-be competitors, evaluating each rival’s pros and cons. This research will help you select and prioritize the functionalities and features of your online booking app and plan the business model and monetization strategy for it.


Step 3. Develop your monetization strategy.

Most travel booking websites use advertising, agency, or merchant models.


Advertising

Booking apps can charge fees for placing banner ads about special offers, ongoing events, discounts, etc., or cost-per-click for redirecting users to partner airlines, hotel websites, and other service providers and OTAs. This model can be suitable for an aggregator or a new travel application.

 

Agency

The website is a middleman between travel service providers and consumers and takes a commission on every transaction. This model can be risky for a new booking application. It may be better to start with a lower commission, gain the trust of travel businesses and consumers, and only then consider charging up to 25% as a commission.


Merchant

The company buys flights, hotel rooms, or other services in bulk at a wholesale rate and markets and sells them with a retail margin on its website and mobile app.


OTAs often combine the merchant and agency models for broader market coverage.

 

There are other possible ways to monetize your travel application. For example, a booking web app can enter affiliate programs with major search engines and OTAs by integrating their APIs (application programming interfaces). This expands their services and brings in additional income via commissions on the sales. A website may charge users a fixed fee for booking services and hotels or other travel service providers for some of the platform’s extra features.

 

Step 4. Select the website features and formulate the product requirements.



Back-office software empowers owners or businesses to administer the websites, manage reservations, bills, and accounts, and control enterprise productivity, much like other companies’ enterprise resource planning systems. Back-office features must include at least: 


  • Customer relationship management system (CRM) for interactions with customers
  • Content management system (CMS) for uploading and managing the website’s content
  • Travel products availability management
  • Consumer loyalty program management
  • Customer support


The essential features of the front-office should follow the user journey:


  1. Search and evaluation
  2. Selection
  3. Booking / payment / opt-out


Arrange the essential features to help users book a service as quickly and smoothly as possible.


Search. The search parameters should start with:


  1. Destination (city or even particular address)
  2. Date (arrival and departure/check-in and check-out dates)
  3. Number of persons (adults, children, and possibly pets)
  4. Number of rooms or type of accommodation


Search for hotels nearby and GPS navigation are valuable features. Users may need to pick a location based on its proximity to the sights of interest they plan to visit. 


Results page. When users see listings that match their initial parameters, filters and sorting can provide refinement, e.g., enabling users to see the cheapest options or the hotels with the highest user rating first.


Listing details. The following accommodation details are essential:


  • The hotel’s address, description, check-in/check-out time, hotel policies, places of interest nearby, etc.
  • Hotel photo gallery
  • Map with the hotel location and environs
  • Amenities (e.g., Wi-Fi, accessibility, parking places, etc.)
  • Reviews and the average score
  • A list of bookable rooms, with pictures, descriptions, and price per day
  • Cancellation details
  • Pricing block with offers from different booking systems

It’s also helpful to include:


  • Room status that shows a room’s availability in real time
  • Social share buttons
  • Suggestions of other matching options and additional items

If you offer extra services at the time of booking, you can increase both customer satisfaction and revenue.


Payment. A travel booking website should offer both the ability to pay at check-in and a fast and secure online payment option. Users should see the total amount and the payment by day. Multiple payment options (credit card, debit card, PayPal, etc.) will help ensure a good customer experience and reduce the number of abandoned transactions. A printable reservation confirmation should include all payment details.


Messaging. Instant messages can inform users about their reservation confirmation, changes in rates, exclusive deals, etc., remind them about scheduled activities, provide personalized tips and advice, etc., increasing user engagement and winning customer loyalty. Travel assistant chatbots can answer frequently asked questions 24/7 and guide users through search, looking for deals, booking, and an entire trip.


Push notifications. These keep customers informed about relevant services, discounts, and changes. This is why a progressive web application and eventually a mobile app should be considered.


Registration. Sign-up should be optional, but you may suggest it once a user makes a booking or returns. Users should be able to sign up via email or their Facebook or Google accounts.


User profile. This page should contain the customer’s information, booking history, ongoing reservations, and wish-lists, and allow users to change their language, currency, locale, time zone, and other settings. This data enables businesses to make personalized offers.


Customer feedback. Reviews and rating blocks improve a service’s credibility, and customer feedback enables you to enhance your web application and your business.


A reliable web design and development company can help you with market and competitor research, selecting the necessary functionalities and technology stack, prototyping, and validating your ideas. For this reason, we recommend engaging experienced specialists from the onset.



Step 5. Design, build, and test your travel booking website.

The database development starts with creating a database diagram including several tables. The first should contain the resources to book, such as flights when you build a flight booking website. The second table should determine the dimension used to book the resources. Usually, it’s a calendar.


Complex scheduling, e.g., for a flight booking website to offer car rentals and hotels at the customers’ chosen destinations, requires pulling information from multiple tables. 


Dummy information is necessary for testing the database system as your team builds it.


The deployment of the database, web pages, and middleware should be tested with various booking options. Booking databases usually begin with simple structures and gradually expand to deal with more complex needs. The database and middleware systems should be scalable to handle growing booking requirements.


User accounts may contain sensitive user data, and booking web apps can be vulnerable. Secure authentication and authorization, data safety, and session management should be addressed early. Specialists should scan the source code regularly to spot vulnerabilities.


Penetration tests help diagnose how secure the servers are and check network weaknesses. Specialists should use containerization and encrypt database and virtual private network (VPN) and transport layer security (TLS) connections.


Best Practices for Online Booking Website Design 

The best practices of e-commerce UX/UI design generally apply to travel booking websites.



Vibrant imagery and vivid copy are a must but not enough to inspire visitors to book a trip. The user experience should enable them to accomplish their goal effortlessly. 


Your booking application’s back- and front-office interfaces should be welcoming, intuitive, user-friendly, and well-adapted to phones, phablets, and tablets.


Also, remember that website also communicates your brand’s story and values through color, shape, and other design elements. For example, Onix has a team of designers skilled at creating websites, mobile apps, and branding for tourism businesses.


Basic Booking Website Tech Stack

The technology stack is a set of programming languages, software tools, a database, and the server necessary for travel booking website development. When hiring software developers, pay attention to specialists in the following technologies:

 

Front-end

Languages: JavaScript, CSS, and  HTML

 

Libraries: Backbone.js, jQuery, React.js, and Zepto.js 

 

Frameworks: Angular, Ember.js, and Vue

 

The software developers may have to integrate various XML/API/GDS depending on whether you build a flight booking website or a hotel aggregator.

 

Back-end

Programming languages: PHP, TypeScript

 

Database: PostgreSQL

 

Server: NGINX


The Cost of Travel Booking Website Development

You can estimate the cost of travel booking site development by multiplying the time required to deliver the features listed above by the man/hour cost.


However, these variables depend on multiple factors:


  • the technical complexity of the features
  • app architecture solutions
  • tech stack
  • integration of licensed APIs and third-party services
  • the number of specialists on the development team
  • their salaries or hourly rates
  • their location and qualification 
  • the type of contract with the developers…


…and more.

 

Here’s Onix’s rough estimate of a mid-range travel booking website.

The salaries of specialists building your travel booking service are the other major factor. The gap between fees charged by IT professionals worldwide often enables entrepreneurs to save half of their planned budget without compromising quality.

Source: Accelerance


For instance, the same set of features built by the same number of specialists of like qualifications might cost $357K in the US and $200K in Ukraine.


However, choosing a dev team based solely on the lowest pricing or budget estimation would be a mistake. You need a partner that knows exactly how to create a travel booking website.

 

Wrapping Up

Searching and booking flights, lodgings, tours, etc., are the core of all travel websites and mobile applications. Tech entrepreneurs who decide to create a booking web app as a service can reap the benefits of an online marketplace.


All travelers expect that a booking web application should at least:


  1. find what they’re looking for quickly
  2. offer the best deal
  3. book the item quickly and smoothly


Regardless of the number of your ticket, tour, or hotel booking website features, both the back-office software and customer interface should be intuitive and user-friendly. The visual design should entice visitors to book trips and lodgings while inspiring confidence and trust. 

 

If you need help with implementing your idea or wonder how to make a booking app for your unique business — please feel free to ask Onix!