I’m sure there are many of you readers who see the word “Fax” in the post title and wonder who in the world are still using fax machines to take bookings. While you rarely hear about making reservations by fax, they are still surprisingly commonplace, especially for smaller and independent hotels and places to stay that have been using this method for years. Fortunately for travel consumers they are becoming rarer every year as the effort and price of integrating with electronic booking systems decreases.
In defense of fax bookings, it is still seen as a reliable and a more secure alternative to email and is more convenient than telephone bookings when the customer is overseas. The issue of security is especially important when it comes to transmitting credit card details and other personal information necessary to take initial payment and hold a booking.
Email messages are not encrypted so you should never ask for credit card numbers via email, though there are a few tricks that you may be using today to simulate security (more on that in a future post). Fax machines avoid the risks associated with Internet security (true and perceived) by sending sensitive data by phone line instead.
Eventually every hotel and place to stay will convert to an electronic online booking system (that day will not come soon enough for me) for current availability and direct bookings. Until that day comes your hotel or tour business needs to follow some basic standards to prove that your e-commerce transactions are done with the utmost in security. By promoting your secure practices on your website and fax booking forms, visitors will feel at ease and you will get more bookings.
1. Display a Fax Booking Security Policy Statement
The most important best practice is to write a “Booking By Fax” policy statement to share with your customers that are ready to book. This document should be a separate web page, pop-up, or PDF document that is displayed as a hyperlink on your booking request or enquiry page. Since you are not handling bookings using a self-service hotel reservation system, the customer must contact you first by web form or email to check on availability and actual pricing. The reality is that many visitors will feel unsure about making a booking by fax and can easily decide not to bother contacting you at all for a variety of legitimate reasons.
They could be worried about what happens after they fax their sensitive credit card number. Without offering a detailed policy statement, people ready to book may not feel confident that you have a reasonable method in place to protect their privacy and security. As faxing becomes less common, a potential customer may either think you are too low-tech for them or alternatively, they may think that faxing requires too much effort.
Reassuring both types of visitors is the best way convince them that you have their booking security needs in mind from the very start. To draft your book-by-fax policy statement, read through all these Top 10 best practices for hotels and tour companies to be sure that you include all the relevant details.
To get you started, here is a list of questions to consider as you document and communicate your booking policy and how it applies to faxing, billing and security:
- What customer and payment information will be required to make a booking?
- What are the options for completing the booking form and sending it back by secure fax transmission?
- What is the expected response time for your staff to confirm a booking made by fax?
- When will the customer’s credit card will be charged (or if it will not be charged unless there is a no show)?
- Where are paper faxes securely stored (like a locked filing cabinet)?
- How are electronic faxes received and securely stored (like on a password protected computer or encrypted file folder)?
- How and when will credit card details be destroyed after the travel services have been provided?
2. Implement a Secure Fax Receipt and Storage System
Since you will be receiving faxes from your customers, you need to define and implement a detailed in-house workflow to securely accept and temporarily store credit card information. The general details of this step-by-step process will be included in your fax booking policy that gets posted on your website. Unless you have a fax booking process documented and your staff fully trained, you cannot confidently ensure that your customer’s bookings will handled securely by fax transmission.
Follow these guidelines to define, streamline, and secure your fax reservation workflow:
- At what point do you send out a fax booking form?
- What fields get pre-filled on the fax booking form?
- Who monitors the receipt of hotel booking faxes?
- When you receive a paper fax, where is it stored before, during, and after processing?
- Which hotel staff members have access to faxes received and stored?
- What happens when the faxed information is incomplete or contains errors?
- How do you tell if a fax is suspicious and a booking request may be fraudulent?
- How quickly must fax bookings get processed and confirmed (business days or actual hours/days)?
- While awaiting for a booking form by fax, how long will you hold a reservation request (e.g. a room)?
3. Give Your Customers Instructions on the Ways To Fax
Faxing a booking form back to your office may seem like a simple matter and it usually is, however a customer has several options. Assuming that you have sent along a copy of your booking form with the proper information already pre-filled (like name, booking dates, and rates) the customer must print it to take the next step.
Aside: It is possible to create an electronic PDF form that can be signed and returned without printing and scanning, however it requires additional software tools to implement and integrate with your website. A third party electronic signature solution may also require your customer to use unfamiliar technology that is not standardized or typical for online travel bookings. For these reasons it is best to avoid e-sign for travel reservations at this time.
It is smart for you to remind your customer of the exact steps to take to complete and return the booking form by fax. The usual pattern is to print the form, fill in the blank fields with the required information using a pen, sign it (only if necessary for your payment merchant account), and finally fax the completed form to the listed fax number.
For the fax back step the customer may use a regular fax machine at their office or at home as part of a multi-function printer/scanner. Alternatively, some people have access to an electronic fax service such as eFax or Maxemail) which allows them to scan (PDF or JPEG) and securely upload a document to fax without the use of a telephone. The electronic fax option is not only more reliable, but will likely save the customer money compared with the international calling rates when faxing to a tourism business located overseas.
4. Do Not Ask Your Customers to Scan and Send a Booking Form By Email
On some travel websites I have seen mention of the option to return a booking form by email attachment (print, sign, and scan) instead of using a fax machine. Scanning a piece of paper containing an image of your credit card details can seem more secure than typing your credit card number into an email message. Unfortunately, sending a scanned document by email attachment has most of the same security concerns since the email is not encrypted when transmitted from server to server over the Internet. It could be intercepted in transit but even if it isn’t, the credit card number is still at risk. The scanned document will be sitting in your email inbox as well as the Sent folder of your customer which only opens yourself up to more security headaches.
Yes there are many ways to send electronic documents securely by using complex encryption, simple passwords, and other industry standard and third party technology. I am not going to explain or recommend any solutions here since in most cases it complicates the booking process and may be asking too much of your customers.
Here are several useful resources to learn more.
5. Send Out a Fax Booking Receipt Confirmation
As soon as you receive and process their fax booking form according to your secure internal policies, send out a reservation receipt confirmation by email. If anything on the form is missing, illegible, or was not filled out properly, email back as soon as possible. Your customer-to-be may be anxiously awaiting confirmation that the form was received by the correct reservation agent and their transaction was handled securely.
The only goal is to take and confirm their reservation securely and as quickly as possible. As part of the confirmation process, remind the customer once again how much was charged to their credit card or if the card number is only being used to hold the booking in the event of a no-show or cancellation.
6. Send Out a Fax Destruction Statement
During the check-out process or after your customer has returned home, send out a proof of credit card billing information destruction. Why? Your customers want to be confident that their credit card number, expiration date, and CCV code are not still sitting on your desk, in your email inbox, or in a file cabinet for potentially forever.
The best practice is to shred all paper booking forms that relate to this customer’s transaction. After that is done, tell your customer how and why their credit card information was destroyed to protect their security. For electronic faxes, you must instead delete the fax document file using your e-fax online control panel. Online fax systems may also by default send you a copy to store locally (e.g. by email attachment download) and also keep a copy in the cloud, so be sure to delete both if applicable.
7. Switch From Fax Machine To Electronic Fax Service for Added Security
Do you have a clunky old fax machine in your office and is it located in a secure place? While your customers may experience a sense of security when faxing credit card details to book travel, the weakest link may be your reliable paper fax machine. It is critical to limit access to the fax machine to only select members of your reservation and customer service staff, but what if that is not practical or possible? The best alternative is to sign up for an electronic fax service and benefit from improved security features.
Recommended Electronic Fax Service Vendors
These e-fax services and others offered online give you a unique dedicated fax number to use for secure bookings by fax. Typically you can choose the U.S. area code or select a toll-free number as a premium option. When a fax is received by their digital fax servers, you will receive instant email notification. It is best to configure your account to send email notification but not send the actual fax document as an attachment. This way you must login securely to your fax account and view the pages using a browser over an encrypted HTTPS connection.
Since the faxes are stored securely online in the cloud, it is much safer than sitting in your email inbox or on a physical machine in your office. Anytime you need to see a fax to retrieve or confirm booking and payment information, you can access it from anywhere in the world with your username and password (make sure to select a strong password and change it often).
In accordance with your fax destruction policy (see #6 above), be sure to add a step to your fax booking policy to destroy electronic fax copies at the determined time. From your electronic fax online dashboard, you can permanently delete faxes to further protect the safety of your customers.
Do you have a favorite electronic fax service for business that you recommend? Post a comment below and share the details.
8. Include the Cancellation Policies on the Fax Form
Your cancellation policies, or at least a bullet point summary of the terms of booking, should be included on the fax form. By treating the booking request as a written contact (similar to clicking the “I Agree to the Terms and Conditions” button for online booking forms), you will be taking one more step to protect your tourism business while avoiding any miscommunication with your customers.
Cancellation policies always apply, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that your customer will remember them at the time of actual booking. They may be in the process of booking several aspects of their trip at once and forget which cancellation policy applies to which hotel or tour. Being upfront and transparent about your booking policy is the smart way to prove that you are a trustworthy travel provider. Restate your cancellation policy not just on your booking request fax form, but also make sure you have a link to the same terms in your website navigation (like in the footer) and available by search box.
9. Include the Exact Amount Being Charged and in What Currency on the Fax Form
Since you may be charging customers for the first night or perhaps a 50% deposit for the stay or tour package, it is absolutely essential that you list exact charges on the booking fax form. State both the total amount for the booking followed by the amount you are charging to their credit card now or in case of a no-show or cancellation. When listing booking amounts on the fax form, use a large bold font and always list the currency symbol or abbreviation. For example either:
- $1,234.50 or 1,234.50 USD
- €1,234.50 or 1,234.50 EUR
- £1,234.50 or 1,234.50 GBP
By including the type of currency every time you list a chargeable amount, you will avoid surprises when your customer lives in a different country with a different currency. Also mention whether the booking total and deposits are inclusive of all taxes and fees (and which are excluded), and when and how final payment is due.
It is also a BookingCounts best practice to price your travel products and service using the currency of the travel business or destination country. That means the currency of the country where your travel business is based (like for a travel company based in the UK that sells holidays to Africa) or the currency of the destination country such as for a hotel based in Canada (Canadian Dollars). The only exception to this rule is when there is an industry standard in your country to always quote travel prices in a major currency such as U.S. dollars, British Pounds, or Euros.
Do Not Conversion Currency Without Permission
Travelers are becoming savvy about how to get to the most advantageous exchange rate when booking online and while traveling. Offering to convert to the currency of their credit card (like for a U.S. customer booking a hotel in Europe) at a “guaranteed” rate is never a customer friendly practice. In most cases the conversion and added “convenience” fee is higher than that which is offered by their own bank or credit card company.
Never convert to the currency of the customer’s billing address without asking since that can greatly harm your travel business reputation. Many customers feel tricked (usually afterwards when they realize what happened) by this all too common method of offering to convert the amount using a “guaranteed” rate for “their” convenience. This added conversion fee and unfavorable rate is simply another way for businesses of all types, including travel business, to increase their profit. Also, make it absolutely clear whether you are holding the reservation with the credit card or if you will be charging the card right away.
It is also important to realize that when it comes to booking overseas travel, credit card companies may flag transactions with a fraud alert. So your customers may need to get in touch with their bank promptly to confirm that the transaction was indeed made by them before it is allowed to go through. That is why it is necessary that you process faxed bookings quickly and notify your customers who may be monitoring their transactions for accuracy.
10. Advanced Security Options
As with all BookingCounts best practice Top 10 posts, there is always a way to go beyond the must-haves and stand out as a reputable, trustworthy, and secure travel provider. Consider these other ways to showcase your dedication to booking security at every stage of the enquiry and reservation process.
- Ask for the CCV (the 3 or 4 digit code on the back of the credit card) if it is required by your credit card payment system by email instead of by fax. That way the full details to charge a customer’s credit card are not all listed on one piece of paper.
- Send a premade cover sheet with the booking form as a PDF document so your customer does not have to create their own. This ensures their credit card details and signature are not the first page coming out of the fax machine.
- Send the booking fax form in PDF format and never in Word format since not every customer has Microsoft Word or they may not have a compatible version. In addition, consumers have been warned not to open email attachments in Word and similar document file formats as they may contain viruses or other malware.
- Instead of utilizing a paper fax booking form, create a hidden HTML form that can be hosted on your website but not submitted insecurely to your server (remove the Submit button). You will instruct customers to fill in the fields in their browser and print the page to be signed and faxed back. This process also avoids problems with illegible handwriting and fax transmission quality since typed informed is easier to read.