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Case Study: Isle Of Man

How ZERO commission online booking has transformed the Manx accommodation sector

Overview

The Isle Of Man is positioned centrally in the British Isles, sandwiched between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the Irish Sea.

The island is technically not part of the United Kingdom or the European Union but enjoys a close relationship with the British Government which is responsible for its external affairs and defence.

Domestic affairs are governed by the Tynwald; the oldest governing body in the world.

Tourism Sector

At just 33 miles in length and 13 miles in width, the island is comparatively small, yet is popular with tourists due to its temperate climate, stunning scenery and rich history. The island is internationally famous for its 'Tourist Trophy' or TT motor cycle races which attract vast crowds over a two week festival every year. This (and the smaller MANX Grand Prix held in Aug/Sep every year) make a huge contribution to the island's economy and is the mainstay of the tourism sector's year. The island boast some 400 accommodation providers ranging from large hotels, to small B&Bs, guest houses, self-catering properties, campsites and homestays (especially during the TT fortnight).

The Pre-Existing System

Historically, the government's main tourism website (www.visitisleofman.com) was underutilised and contained little more than a list of all of the island's accommodation. Whilst the website could display room availability, very few of the operators were actually using the feature. The system was difficult to update and at times, due to the infrastructure of the system falling over, the provider (those that were trying to keep it up to date) couldn’t use it at all. The majority of the accommodation providers just left their availability open and refused any enquiries where they weren’t able to accommodate the guest. This ultimately meant that there was no accurate real time availability. For customers, it was a frustrating experience as room availability was often out of date and there was no ability to book online. Consequently, the big websites were filling the gap; at significant cost to the island's operators who were faced with an ever increasing commission bill. Lack of accurate live accommodation information was also proving a big headache for the government and the organisers of the island's big events. This meant that it was very difficult to find accommodation on the island especially during peak season and big events.

The Solution

After much discussion with stakeholders, MyUK.Travel pitched the radical idea of a ZERO Commission online booking service to the Manx government and after completing the contractual process we got to work.

The key point with the new system was that it had to be inclusive; in other words all operators are able to participate. For some of the smaller properties (especially in the self-catering and B&B sectors) it was clear that they would not be willing to pay to for full online booking - so we decided to offer a FREE simple 'request only' type of online booking specially for this group. This proved a great solution as customers could still see live availability and rates and even go on to make a booking request, which the operator could then either accept or decline. For the bigger properties who wanted proper instant confirmation online booking, our existing ZERO commission online booking was perfect. As an added bonus, operators could also use the service on their own websites.

We identified at an early stage that one of the key reasons why operators were not using the old system, was that it was not easy to use and took too much time to keep updated. To address this, we had to make the new system really easy to use, include lots of help resources and have proper support available if they got stuck. We also decided to run a series of workshops on the island over a couple of days to provide full hands-on training from basics. We ran these sessions with small groups of similar types of accommodation operators together - this meant that sessions could be tailored towards their special requirements.

One of the advantages of using an 'off the shelf' solution was that (almost) all of the features that accommodation operators would need to add photos and text to their listings was already up and running and available for use. This meant that operators can easily 'content manage' their listing and don't have to pay someone to do this for them. Some operators even use their listing / online booking service as their primary website - all they had to do was to purchase a domain name.

The Isle Of Man government had quite specific requirements about how they wanted the solution to look and operate and the booking system was specially customised accordingly. This included having options to list all accommodation operators regardless of room availability, and the integration of their special star rating, awards, accessibility and special interest schemes. Their graphic designers also wanted the booking system to be styled to match the look and feel of their website, so that customers would feel as though they were still on their website.

The Visit Isle Of Man Main Search Page

Map View: All 340 operators

Property Listing: All the key information required to book with confidence

Challenges

The biggest challenge for us was to bring the self-catering properties on board with a solution that met their needs. We learnt very quickly that these types of properties operated quite differently to the larger hotels, and we even had some operators tell us that they would need their own special online booking system. The majority of the issues stemmed from the way that many self-catering properties offer accommodation on a short-stay and/or weekly basis only. This meant that we had to radically redesign our system to allow for multi-day rates. Whilst this was a lot of work to add to the system, it really added a whole new dimension of flexibility to our system and is a feature that is now frequently used by even the largest of hotels!

Results

All round the system has proven to be a great success for the island. Individual operators have benefitted greatly from the revamped booking system, pushing more reservation sto them and most importantly not having to pay commission on them. Bookings that previously came from the high commission websites were now ZERO commission (and in the UK many of the large websites charge upwards of 15% commission!). The whole island's economy has benefitted from this as a significant sum of money stays within the local tourism industry and does not go offshore. The smaller operators now have their businesses on an equal footing as the large hotels, thus giving customers much better choices.

The experience for end customers has greatly improved. The information on the Visit Isle Of Man website is now much more comprehensive and useful. It makes finding accommodation even at the busiest times of the year simple and so much easier to track down the last few remaining rooms available during TT week.

In a recent survey that was undertaken by the Isle of Man Tourism dept. with customers that had made an online booking via www.visitisleofman.com - 90% of the customers confirmed that the system is very effective, they were able to easily make a booking and would definitely use the site again to book accommodation.

For the Isle Of Man government, they can access our website and run customised reporting on all sorts of generalised data - the number and types of searches being made, the numbers of and values of bookings and all other sorts of performance parameters etc.

We provided this solution to the Isle Of Man Government FREE of charge. They only paid for customisation of the online booking service to meet their needs.



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