Wednesday 26 June 2019

Pól Ó Conghaile: How one phone call to a hotel saved me €30

In an online world, it can still pay to pick up the phone reports Travel Editor, Pól Ó Conghaile

Checking in... Photo: Deposit
Checking in... Photo: Deposit
Brian McDermott from the Foyle Hotel. Photo: Lorcan Doherty
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Last week, I booked an overnight stay in Cork. Settling on a hotel, I found a B&B rate of €169 online. Before booking, I picked up the phone.

After a quick chat with a lovely reservations agent, I got B&B for €139 and a promise that she would do her best to find me a room with a view.

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When I arrived, I'd been upgraded.

In travel, as in life, we're encouraged to do almost everything online. It's quicker and cheaper, we're told. And while that's often true, there are times when slowing down, dialling up and speaking to a human being pays off... both for guests and businesses.

How can this be?

For starters, sites like Booking.com or Hotels.com charge accommodations a commission of anything from 10pc to 25pc on bookings. Airbnb has a fee for both hosts and guests.

Brian McDermott from the Foyle Hotel. Photo: Lorcan Doherty
Brian McDermott from the Foyle Hotel. Photo: Lorcan Doherty

By booking directly, these charges are bypassed, leaving room to cut a deal. That goes even more so for group bookings, repeat visitors, longer stays, or if the hotel senses that you are likely to spend on food, drink or spa treatments as a guest.

"We encourage a call as a boutique owner-operator, as we can always do the best deal and give an instant quote that doesn't require approval by a line of people," says chef Brian McDermott, who runs the Foyle Hotel on Donegal's Inishowen Peninsula. "We are your booking engine. We are humans. We are helpful."

It's not just cash savings. By picking up the phone, you get a better feel for a place. Is there a corner room with a better view? Can they accommodate you away from noisy lifts? Or with space suitable for a solo traveller?

Even if a price isn't reduced, you might come away with an upgrade or an add-on like breakfast, which is routinely charged as an extra on hotel websites. For overseas trips, I advise people to call travel agents for the same reason.

"A phone conversation will always yield more insights and benefits," says Garry Walsh of the Hodson Bay Group, where 52pc of bookings at hotels like the Sheraton and Hodson Bay in Athlone are made over the phone. "The package you end up booking will be put together as exactly what you are looking for."

How do hotels benefit?

As well as cutting commissions, a conversation is a better opportunity to build loyalty in an era of soulless communication. Engaging a guest early helps them to feel valued, Walsh says, and in turn helps the hotel win valuable repeat business.

Sure, sometimes the quickest, most convenient thing to do is book online. But where bigger spends, longer stays or groups are involved, it really can pay to talk.

Read more:

Pól Ó Conghaile: Why do hotels keep making this short-sighted mistake?

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