Historically, as a business traveller, holiday-maker or tourist, you had a limited number of ways to locate and arrange accommodation.
Firstly you could book through your favourite or best known hotel or lodging chain. Depending on your needs and your budget, generally the bigger of these would (and still do) have at least one property in your chosen location, and provide a consistent standard around the world or around the country.
Another option would be to contact a travel agent to arrange your trip and your accommodation with it. Typically the agent would either sell the holiday maker a “package holiday” or the business traveller a “rack rate” from their GDS (Global Distribution Systems such as Sabre or Galileo) A little more explanation of what happens behind the scenes of these two methods: A package holiday was simply a “Group discount” airfare known as a FIT (Fully Inclusive Tour) where to get the reduced fare the traveller had to buy a certain amount of approved accommodation, often every night of the duration of the trip. This accommodation was packaged by travel wholesalers who negotiated with the individual hotels or chains offering them a minimum number of room/nights in return for a large discount. The downside of these packages was typically a lack of flexibility and that the rooms booked were mostly run-of-house, meaning that the hotel could put these discounted travellers in whatever room they had available on the night/s. Conversely a rack rate booking made via the GDS, although more expensive (partly due to the high cost to the hotel of participation in GDS, plus agent’s commission)was usually much more flexible and the client would have some choice of rooms.
Nowadays, of course there is the internet! The whole world of accommodation is at your fingertips, so its easy to find what you want. But is it? Unlike the telephone book like directories agents had years ago, the internet doesn’t have a contents or an index, and Google’s agenda my not be the same as yours. For example a search for “accommodation (in a) City’ may typically not yield a single real hotel property until page 2, 3 or beyond. Of course there are many different excellent sites offering a dazzling array of hotels in most popular locations around the world, so that should be it – problem solved. However, many of these sites’ offerings are restrictive in many ways and can be arranged in an order more in line with the site’s revenue from the individual property than what may suit your better. Besides, how do you know which one is giving you the best deal? So here’s what I suggest:
Take a multi-pronged approach to this with a view to getting the right property, in the right location at the best available price.
Let’s imagine you’re going somewhere new, that you’ve never been to before. Take my home town of Busselton in the beautiful Margaret River wine region of the south west of western Australia, for example. Where to start?
Firstly go to the one site that has (almost) all accommodation properties on it – Hotels Combined (No I don’t work for them or have shares or any other interest) In the light blue search box, input your destination and the arrival and departure (note that’s the date after your last night) dates, number of guests and click SEARCH. The first result will show (say) 25 hotels arranged in order of “Recommended”. You can modify this along the top line by: Stars; Distance; Price or Guest Rating, or down the side of the page in more depth by Star ratings, Price, Places, Hotel Name (if you know it), Property Type and/or Features. Note that you can only change one field at a time. This powerful tool enables you to narrow down the property you’re looking for by any or all of these variables. Once you’ve picked one, click on BOOK NOW and you will see a new box showing a number of booking sites and their price for the said property on the dates you want. When you click on GO you will actually be transferred to the booking site, as Hotels Combined isn’t a booking site, just an excellent directory. But STOP! Before you actually book, there are a few more checks and due diligences you may choose to do.
Firstly Hotels Combined doesn’t cover all properties nor all booking sites for example Triple A, or Wotif, and one of the downsides of many of these big international booking sites, although their cost to the accommodation property is much lower than the first two booking methods I outlined, you may still receive a run-of -house room, or face very restrictive conditions. You may also wish to independently verify what other travellers’ experience of the property was. So:
Have a look on Tripadvisor (searching by property name is the quickest way, but you can also search by location, etc.) to see how the property is rated by its past guests, and if you really want to get down to the nitty-gritty, read the property’s responses to the reviews, if they bother to do them, and you can even join up as a contributor, its free, and send a request to one or more of the reviewers to ask specific questions about their experience or about the property.
Having done that, if you’re still happy with your choice, or made a new one, in which case repeat the process with Hotels Combined to find the best offered price, there is one last step I recommend: Do a search for the property’s own website. Many accommodation properties make the wise choice, given that all booking sites and other outside sources of bookings such as Visitor Centres, the Auto Clubs, etc. charge varying levels of commission from around 10 – 18%, of guaranteeing the equal or lowest price will always be offered on their own website.
Finally, almost as a p.s. if you are planning to stay for longer than two or three nights, especially if its low season or midweek in a holiday area, or Fri – Sun nights in the city, and/or if there are more of you than need just 1 room, try phoning the property, particularly if it is a smaller owner-operated one, as you will more often than not be speaking with the owner who may be willing to negotiate the rates, and will certainly be well-informed about it and the surrounding region.
Whilst I hope that this method will be helpful to you and lead you of course, to our own property if you plan to stay in this region, I’m also very comfortable that it may not, as I am convinced that our happiest guests are ones who’ve have made the most conscious and informed choice to stay here.