Parking management systems with online reservation technology have helped to modernize the parking industry, giving parking operators the same tools as other travel suppliers such as airlines, hotels and car rental. Whether you own an off-airport, off-cruise port, downtown or hotel parking operation, it’s no secret that online parking reservations help increase revenue, raise brand awareness and sustain customer loyalty. But which is better: to have a direct booking system on your parking website or to use third-party parking websites, also known as aggregators? Here’s a look at both.
Pros. At first glance, a third-party site may seem to have the advantage over a direct online booking system.
- User Friendly – Customer information is stored and easily retrieved for future use by the customer.
- Low Prices – Special pricing and promos are featured.
- Wide range of options – Third-party sites host a variety of parking business, giving the consumer the options they love to have.
Cons. Taking a closer look, it’s easy to see that third-party sites may not be as attractive as they appear on the surface.
- Fees and Commissions – One of the biggest negatives are the fees and commissions that parking operators pay third-party sites. Whether charging a day of parking or a percentage fee, these costs can range from 15-30%, taking a bite out of your parking revenue. Often the consumer pays extra fees too, making the daily rate not as attractive when added to the lowball price.
- Hard to change – Booking changes often must be handled manually through phone calls and emails, cancelling and rebooking at the risk of losing the booking, or other problems. For most travellers, changes are the norm and these types of hitches are most undesirable.
- No Customer Loyalty – While some third-party parking websites offer their own brand of customer loyalty, most do not, disengaging the customer even further.
- No Customer Data – Customer data is a valuable marketing and yield management asset that is collected by third-party aggregators, but not usually shared with the parking operators they serve.
- Poor Customer Service – Most third-party sites remove themselves from any customer complaints, so when issues do arise it’s easy to blame the parking operator. The lack of customer engagement also reflects poorly on the parking operator.
Direct Online Booking
Pros. The perks of having a direct online booking tool on your parking website far outweigh any negatives, for both the parking operator and the consumer.
- Part of your website – A white-label parking reservation system can be custom built directly into your website, under your own brand, driving traffic to your own site.
- Always Open for Business – Online booking allows for booking 24/7/365 – a huge customer convenience.
- Customer Perks – Studies prove that it costs 5-10 times more to gain new customers than to keep existing ones! An online booking system equipped with a customer loyalty program will allow for those customer rewards.
- PrePay – You get paid immediately with the benefit of prepay with online booking.
- Easy to Upsell – Parking operators have an easy upsell opportunity in the online booking process by allowing customers to add car washes, oil changes, pet services, dry cleaning and more.
- You Keep the Data – Online booking gives you valuable real-time data that provides insights into your business. This rich data is used to maximize inventory management, revenue control, operations, staffing and more.
- You Get Marketing Tools - The customer data that’s collected with online booking and customer loyalty programs is yours to use for re-marketing.
Cons. There are very few disadvantages to having a direct online booking system on your parking website.
- Give It Time – You will need to carve out time to find the best parking reservation software. It is best not to rush the search, because there are many software providers with varying degrees of expertise.
- Internet – The most advanced online booking systems will be cloud-based requiring internet access. Not an issue for most businesses but might be a con for some.
- Ready to Grow – With the installation of an online system, if marketed right, your parking business will grow quickly. Your business will need to prepare with a strategy to accommodate the growth.
When it’s time to choose, a parking operator must ask “What is best for my business and will generate the most revenue?” Weighing the pros and cons will help, but knowing consumer behavior is also important. Extensive studies show that when it comes to surfing vs. buying, consumers love to surf for best prices and options on third-party travel sites but usually end up booking a reservation on the direct site. Why? In the end, seasoned travelers are brand-loyal and will choose a parking brand with a customer loyalty program and excellent customer experience, over price. The balance of cost savings and customer loyalty make direct online booking the obvious choice.