How online booking systems work: Our guide.

Using an online booking system can change how you manage your business. With 2021 seeing a surge in online activity, it’s more important than ever to grow an online presence for your business. But how do they work? Choosing the right solution can be tricky, so we’ve put together our guide for how online booking systems work. In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • What is an online booking system?
  • What is the purpose of an online booking system?
  • How do they work?
  • Why choose an online booking system?
  • Key features to expect
  • Finding a system that’s right for you
  • Conclusion

What is an online booking system?

An Online booking system is an application that securely handles your event ticketing & reservations. It can either be on a 3rd party website or be embedded directly onto your website for a seamless experience. To understand these options more, read our guide to the best booking systems 2022.

Typically, an online booking system manages your calendar, customer bookings and automates the whole booking experience including emails & reminders. It simplifies the online booking process by automatically updating your calendar and handling the customer journey for you, whilst offering you features such as analytics and more. More advanced platforms allow you to manage staff & resources, set complex scheduling and retarget customers.

This article will give you a detailed look at how an online booking system works, how they benefit your business and the options available.

what is an online booking system

What is the purpose of an online booking system?

The purpose of an online booking system is to make it easier for customers to book with you and to reduce your admin time. It works 24/7, meaning you’re not limited by your office hours. Furthermore, it allows you additional features you might not get through other avenues, such as retargeting and discount codes.

How does an online booking system work?

An online booking system keeps track of your time slots & availability and allows customers to easily book with you. Typically these either sit on your website or are hosted on a 3rd party website. More advanced platforms can keep track of staff or resources such as kayaks, climbing equipment and more.

In our guide, we’ve split online booking systems into two parts: the Front-end and the Back end.

The front-end is what the customer sees. This could be the listing page on a 3rd party website, or it could be the booking page and checkout journey on your website. This is where customers book with you and can choose from the ticket options you offer, including any add-ons, extra options or cross-sell. For a 3rd party website, there might not be much room to customise this experience to make it look and feel like your brand. For specialist booking systems, you can change colours, branding, enable discount codes, gift vouchers and more.

The back-end of your booking system is the business side, that only you and your staff see. This is where you set up your experiences, manage your calendar, time slots, staff, resources and take manual bookings / walk-ins. Depending on the platform, you may be able to interact with customers here, customise drip-feed emails ahead of events and handle incoming queries. The back-end is where you can review the financial performance of your bookings, see and download reports or even integrate directly into your internal reporting or visualisation tools with API access.


Why choose an online booking system?

There are many reasons to choose an online booking system. Every year, more and more customers are choosing to research and buy online. Here are a few benefits for choosing an online booking system:

Be where your customers are looking – With more and more bookings taking place online, it’s important to have an online presence. We found that over 70% of bookings are from mobile visits, so it’s important to appeal to customer’s booking preferences.

Increased revenue – Not only does this allow you to target new audiences and leverage your online presence, many platforms offer options to drive incremental revenue, such as tiered pricing, add-ons and gift vouchers.

Fewer no-shows – Online booking systems provide ways to reduce or mitigate impact from no-shows. Funds are taken in advance, which mitigates the impact of poor weather. Also, if a customer cancels, the spot is immediately opened up for other bookings.

Reduce your admin – Online booking systems automate everything for you. No more tricky spreadsheets or manual reconciliations. Online booking systems make managing bookings, calendars and reporting faster and easier.

24/7 service – Allowing your customers to book online with you means they can book anywhere, any time. Customers can book without worrying about office hours.

Improved reporting – Having an online booking system gives you better insight into your customers and makes it easier to stay on top of your performance, keeping you ahead of the curve.

reporting features

Key features of an online booking system.

This will vary from partner to partner, but each online booking system should come with the basics. To start, here are the basic features to expect from an online booking system:

Checkout system & payments – Providing a way for customers to complete their journey & checkout with you. Online booking systems utilise secure, trusted payment providers so customers can complete their purchase quickly and securely.

Real-time booking – Taking, amending and updating bookings instantly. This means that spots are instantly updated if someone books or cancels, so you never miss the opportunity to secure more customers.

Calendar management – Each system should allow you to set your availability and/or time slots for your events and experiences, and automatically keep this up to date as people book with you.

Mobile friendly – With approximately 68% of all internet traffic now coming from mobile visits, having a mobile-friendly solution is a necessity, not a nice-to-have. If your booking system isn’t mobile friendly, you’re potentially losing out on a high volume of customers.

Guest checkout – This is another feature that, in our opinion, should be included in every booking system. Our testing found that 60% of users decided not to book if they needed to create and account. Offering guest checkout is a crucial step that all online booking systems should provide; Not offering this is a potential deal-breaker when choosing a provider.

mobile checkout

Now that we’ve covered some basic features, let’s look at what more advanced systems or more specialised providers include in their booking systems. These don’t necessarily come with increased cost, however this varies from provider to provider. Below are the features that help you maximise your revenues and provide a more tailored experience for your customers.

Add-ons & gift vouchers – A good system will provide you with ways to further monetise your booking experience, by utilising cross-sells or offering gift vouchers. This comes with the added benefit of attracting new customers you might not otherwise reach. A gift voucher is more than simply a gift, it’s a recommendation from a satisfied customer.

Group discounts – Encourage larger groups by offering group discounts, maximising conversion rates and driving more customers to your event, tour or experience.

Ticket Tiers – This can be useful to provide different ticket types / levels, for example selling VIP tickets or bundles to further maximise how much customers spend with you and create unique experiences.

Customisation – Allowing you to set up custom branding, colour schemes and tailor the booking experience to your event type.

Inventory & staff management – More advanced or specialised systems allow you to specify your inventory. This links with your bookings & calendar so that you don’t over-book. For example, if you offer Kayaking, the booking system will keep track of how many are in use at any given time, to ensure you don’t get any unwanted surprises when customers visit.

Retargeting – Retarget happy customers and tailor emails to drive repeat business. If you’re using a 3rd party website, this could be a double-edged sword if competitors can also target customers who’ve attended your event or experiences. However, a specialist provider allows you control and ownership of your data, meaning only you can retarget them.

Discount codes – Drive conversion rates, provide discount codes as part of marketing campaigns or utilise affiliate codes to attract financially savvy customers. Assigning discount codes to affiliate partners not only drives higher quality customers, it allows you to measure which partners deliver the greatest uplift in bookings.

gift vouchers

Finding an online booking system that’s right for you.

Managing bookings is a key part of your business, choosing the best online booking system is crucial to success. There are several factors to consider, such as cost, checkout options, ease of integration, features and customisability. But most importantly, it has to fit your brand and your business needs.

If you’re a very large company with highly specific needs, a bespoke, custom option may suit you the most. If you’re organising a one-off or free event, a 3rd party website might be best. If you’re looking for a booking platform for your events, attractions or experiences business, consider a specialist booking system that’s designed with your business in mind.

If you want to provide the best experience for your customers, take a look at Beyonk, the simple yet powerful booking system to help you delight your customers, maximise your revenue & reduce your admin.

Our mission is clear: to make it easier to manage and grow your business. Beyonk is packed with tourism and leisure-specific features, 24 hour support, a UK team, free sign up and no contracts or minimum term lengths.

In conclusion.

Online booking systems are becoming more of a necessity to getting the most out of your business. They’re designed to free up your time and make it easier for customers to book with you. Here are the key takeaways from our guide:

  1. Online booking system is an application that securely handles your event ticketing & reservations
  2. Typically these either sit on your website or are hosted on a 3rd party website
  3. A booking system is made of two parts: the Front-end and the Back end.
  4. The front-end is the customer-facing side, it’s where customers book with you and choose ticket options, add-ons or cross-sell.
  5. The back-end is the business side that only you and your staff see. This is where you set up experiences, manage your calendar, time slots, staff, resources and take manual bookings / walk-ins.
  6. Having an online booking system means you can drive more revenue and free up admin time
  7. Basic features of an online booking system include payment handling, calendar management, real-time bookings, mobile friendliness and offering guest checkout
  8. More advanced features include inventory management, add-ons, gift vouchers, group discounts, ticket tiers, customisation options and retargeting.

Online booking systems can be an important part of your business. However, it’s important to understand the advantages and drawbacks. Read our comprehensive guide to the advantages and disadvantages of online booking systems.