Earlier this month, we launched a brand new online booking system for hotels. Designed with a mobile-first mindset and drawing on thirteen years of experience, the new platform represents a seismic leap forward for Welcome Anywhere.
Forever a hospitality original, we were one of the first in the industry to develop an online hotel reservation system. Launched in 2003, it grew to become one of the most popular in the sector, thanks to its ability to slot seamlessly into any hotel website and provide a satisfyingly easy to use booking process.
Things are changing, though. Consumers are evolving. Technology will never, ever slow down. And, by 2020, experts predict 70% of the world’s population will be using a smartphone.
That’s 6.1 billion smartphones in use across the globe; a clear indication that when most people need to reach for a computing device, they’ll go straight for the mini computer in their pocket.
The new Welcome Anywhere online booking system isn’t just for now, it’s for the future. Pick up any device, and you’ll be able to book a room via a simple, step-by-step process we’ve refined over the course of thirteen years. Only, now, it’s fresher, more inviting, more addictive and more user friendly than ever before.
That means happy guests and - most importantly - more direct bookings for hotels.
But what goes into creating such a system? Who’s behind the bits and bytes?
We took some time out to speak to a member of the Welcome Systems development team, Jack McGuire, who played a pivotal role in the creation of the new online booking system.
WS: Hi, Jack. Congrats on finishing the first version of the new online booking system! What were your main priorities for the hotelier during the development process?
Jack: “When re-designing the new online booking system, we wanted to achieve a modern, clean look that worked great on mobile and desktop. We wanted to retain the customisation options from the previous system but build on them significantly to give the hotelier as much control as possible.
“We also wanted to build a platform that packed functionality into the booking process for guests whilst ensuring it was still easy for hoteliers to promote their rooms and better highlight what made the property special.”
WS: What did you want to achieve with the new online booking system for the guest?
Jack: “We wanted to create a consistent core experience across every hotel that uses our system, while ensuring that specific areas (content, background images and the like) could be customised for each hotel’s needs and branding.
“Most importantly, we wanted the booking process to remain the same, no matter where it was placed, increasing familiarity across the board.
“We also wanted to ensure it was easy to use, which may sound easy in itself, but including all of the features we wanted to pack into the system required a lot of planning and tweaking to make it usable. Lastly, the system is fully responsive, meaning the guest can access it on any device, be it a mobile phone, tablet or desktop PC.”
WS: What challenges did you meet along the way?
Jack: “The biggest challenge we had was the accommodation page. That particular page could have turned into a behemoth, as it includes all of the hotel’s room types, rates, room images, descriptions and more.
“To avoid it becoming a monster, we spent a lot of time thinking and re-thinking the user experience until we settled on something that was intuitive.”
WS: What single piece of functionality are you most proud of?
Jack: “The theme options and customisation. We could have taken the same approach as the old system by allowing techies to access the CSS code, but that requires the hotel to have a web developer or someone with good knowledge of CSS to make changes to the look and feel of the online booking system. Not ideal.
“We instead included theme options that enable anyone to go in and brand their own online booking system to match the rest of their website.”
WS: Which element(s) of the new system do you expect to shake up the hotel industry?
Jack: “The booking cart allows for very quick and easy group bookings to be made and provides a clear and concise view of the booking being made. Few competing systems we reviewed during the planning stage seemed to get this element right.”
WS: What new technologies and techniques did you have to adopt in order to take the new online booking system from concept to reality?
Jack: “We decided to take a different approach to creating the front end of the app by using a PHP framework. I haven’t done much development with PHP frameworks before and this required new learning and techniques for me to get going, but it was worth it - the app is really snappy as a result!”
WS: How do you see the system developing in the future?
Jack: “I would like to see a centralised system that can connect hotels within a group together (although we do offer this already for any hotel group that wants to build its own, bespoke online booking system).
“I would also like to expand on the accommodation screen, by allowing hoteliers to set a display order for rates and rooms. Lastly, it would be cool to give them the ability to set specific rooms as premium in order to add even more depth and customisation.”
WS: Thanks, Jack (and to the rest of our wonderful development team)!