Why it is often much more savvy to make direct bookings
By Gery de Pierpont
Get into the habit of consulting historical accommodation websites directly
There are all kinds of on-line booking sites (On-line Travel Agencies – OTA) and review sites which offer travellers a vast choice of accommodation per destination. Here you will find practical information, plenty of photographs, comments (generally relevant) from other travellers and of course an on-line booking tool (calendar, tariffs, availability, secure payment system, electronic confirmation, etc.). Some on-line organisations even offer comparisons between the various intermediaries and refer you to the most competitive offers.
It is easy and reassuring to plan your stay abroad with such on-line travel agencies, a fortiori when their name appears at the top of the list on your search engine. The presentation of their site is clear, their reservation procedure explicit and their sales conditions secure, and that’s without mentioning their ultra professional marketing.
I would, however, recommend you contact the establishment of your choice directly to prepare your stay and reserve your room. This is most of the time your best bet. Here’s why.
Business is business
Firstly and above all, you need to know that on-line travel agencies always deduct commission on the amount you pay them, generally between 12% and 25% of the cost (sometimes more). Therefore you will easily understand that you will always be more warmly welcomed if you pay your host directly, particularly if you are staying at an independent hotel (not affiliated to an international chain), or with a private owner (of an inn, guest house, B&B or vacation rental), who operates on a tight budget.
Moreover, hotel establishments rarely offer these rental agencies all their rooms. In other words, it is not because your on-line booking platform tells you that all beds at the establishment you have selected are reserved, that this is in fact the case.
Reliable, up-to-date information
Apart from displaying actual availability, tourist accommodation websites are a priori also more up to date regarding recent developments, temporary offers or events in their area. Of course, you will need to spend a few minutes finding the information you need (ideally in your own language), as each site is set up differently. This exploratory foray will already give you a foretaste of your trip…
If the website is difficult to interpret or its design not very ergonomic (unfortunately, this still happens from time to time), email or telephone contact with the establishment’s reception desk will advise you of any last minute cancellations, less busy periods, the weekly menu, the most suitable transportation, etc.
Do you wish to have an extra bed for your child, to check that the bedframe is long enough? Can you arrive after 10 p.m.? Do they have Wifi? Once again, you will get clear and reliable information if you contact the establishment directly.
And what about the costs?
Aren’t you guaranteed the lowest cost when you contact the intermediary, best equipped to negotiate discounts? It’s true, the standard tariffs displayed on the sites of individual establishments might seem less advantageous than those offered by some fiercely competitive agencies. It’s worth checking whether these discounted offers come with a series of restrictive clauses attached (low season, second category room, minimum number of days, fixed menu, cancellation not possible …). In any case, it is better to contact the establishment directly to get the cost, as they will generally quote you the most suitable tariff (maybe the best) in line with your expectations.
Having said that, please bear in mind that tourist accommodation costs have an increasing tendency to fluctuate according to supply and demand, just like plane tickets. The tariff is likely to vary depending on whether you reserve a long time ahead or at the last minute. Moreover, prices tend to rise at peak periods (on long weekends, for example) and drop if the season is a bad one for local tourism. There is no hard and fast rule. Sometimes you may be lucky, at others not …
You are not like other guests
Above all, if you appreciate history and the decor of old buildings, I would encourage you to make this clear to the owner or manager of the establishment when you make your reservation. Those who have a period building in their keeping are more than happy to welcome guests who share their passion for cultural heritage: travellers who have deliberately chosen their establishment for its cultural atmosphere (and not because there were no rooms available in the other local hotels). Announce yourselves as such (don’t forget to mention you have come on the recommendation of intoHistory), and you will perhaps be offered a mini site visit (including some old rooms not usually accessible to the public). Occasionally, clients who express cultural curiosity are awarded a more historic room at the standard rate …
Because we are not machines
Putting travellers and hoteliers or clients and owners in direct contact, from one continent to another, cutting out the intermediary, is now possible thanks to internet. Good news for the international cultural exchanges! This is also the philosophy of IntoHistory, which sends history travel buffs systematically to these historical sites for more information or to make a reservation. Without charging commission to do so…
Today the importance of local businesses and local services is being rediscovered. Let us give tourism the opportunity to keep its human face! Thank you in advance for your comments on this subject.