As online booking changes customer expectations, those that have outdated systems could be missing out on sales. Ross Bentley considers how you can improve your online offer
Technology in the form of the Internet, has changed customer behaviour and, in turn, hotels are having to adopt updated technology to respond.
One result of the increase in online activity, according to Paul Finch, director of the hotels business unit at leading software provider Micros, is the move by some operators to tweak their pricing models to match customer expectations.
Finch says, in some quarters, there has been a move away from dinner-bed-breakfast and bed-breakfast packages towards room-only rates, with add-on extras such as meals and Wi-Fi services. This, he says, creates good cross and up-selling opportunities that should be managed through the property management software (PMS).
"The increase in flexible packages is partly related to the growth of the web as a major distribution channel: the customer wants much greater transparency in what they're getting for their money and hotels are responding to that," he adds.
In terms of distribution, Finch says there has been technical innovation in PMS systems in two areas.
The first is allowing hotels to interact more effectively and in real time with online travel agents (OTAs) and secondly, giving hotels the power to use social networks to reach new customers directly.
They can then build marketing programmes and loyalty schemes that create relationships with customers that may well have come through a third party initially.
Manage your reputation
The hospitality software firm, Guestline has developed an Online Reputation Manager module that interfaces with its PMS system.
The software carries out a data sweep across the web, including social media sites, online booking agents, travel review sites, offering a snapshot of what people are saying about a property online - it gathers positive and negative reviews from a wide variety of web based sources.
Through the PMS, these reviews can be matched with customer profiles, providing a fuller picture of individual guests' preferences.
Offers published on twitter
The latest version of Suite 8, Micros Fidelio's PMS product, enables hotels to take advantage of the growing power of the web and social media by allowing them to publish offers and incentives directly on to Facebook and Twitter.
The system also provides integration with online booking agents, allowing hoteliers to dynamically control the inventory that is being distributed through online channels.
Standard PCI compliance security levels for online payments are also included.
Plough inn saves costs
The 14-room Plough Inn at Rhosmaen, has worked with software company Avon Data Systems to connect its property management system up to a wide range of travel sites using a two-way interface, which staff say has helped eradicate duplicate bookings and human errors.
Manager Fred Guillet says: "The interface has worked well within our business. Not only are bookings easily made, we have also seen an increase in reservations. The interface has also saved costs when considering the time taken by staff to allocate reservations with agents."
Stanwell House upsells online
Boutique hotel Stanwell House has installed an online booking system that links with its front of office system in real-time. The Lymington-based property implemented systems provided by Welcome Computers to allow customers to search immediate, up-to-date availability over the web. In turn, confirmed bookings are automatically transferred to its reservation chart without the need for any manual input.
Since implementation, Stanwell has been quick to make the most of its online revenue potential by offering guests the option to make additional purchases to their standard packages such as Champagne, chocolates and Z beds. "We especially like having the opportunity to up-sell to customers at the time of booking. This is a great extra revenue stream for the hotel," said proprietor Victoria Crowe.
Lancashire Manor improves sales management
Following a recent £1m refurbishment, the 49-room Best Western Lancashire Manor Hotel in Pimbo, near Wigan, deployed SoftBrands Medallion PMS this spring.
According to hotel director Tim Timmerman, there are two key reasons why the hotel went with the system. "Firstly, the reporting will help us improve our sales management processes and free us from the headache of having to manually develop and maintain a customer database manually. Secondly, it will enable us to operate far more efficiently. Because we have a high proportion of corporate users, it will help deliver better customer service."
Five ways to make the most of your property management software
1 Make sure your current PMS future-proofs your business. For example, you may not want to interface with web bookings now but it should give you option of doing so in the future.
2 Ensure your PMS gives you the ability to run a variety of reports on guests, such as length of stay, and personal spend and requirements. This information can be invaluable as a sales tool for repeat business.
3 If you have multiple sites, does your PMS give you a consolidated view of the business across all properties?
4 Can your PMS systematically manage online reviews and the customer feedback process to build customer profiles and improve business?
5 Work with your PMS provider to identify the priorities for your individual business and then make sure your system is set up to deliver on these.
Opinion: How to choose a future-proofed pms system
As major property management software suppliers replace key products and withdraw support for some systems, we are still finding that there are quite a number of hotel operators who are looking around to replace their soon to be obsolete PMS systems.
However, they are not just looking for like-for-like replacements, they are looking for enhanced functionality that ensures their new purchase is future-proofed. We can see two discernible trends that have become noticeable in terms of what hoteliers are looking for from their new PMSs.
Firstly, hotel operators that have multiple units are looking for a PMS system that gives them a global view of key business information across all their properties. This means they can, for example, look at availability or room rates at any property at any one time, they can see total amount of business they are doing with individual corporate clients across all properties or easily obtain a global sales ledger.
This type of system, which is typically hosted, is now affordable to smaller business owners and can be set up reasonably quickly as the user does not have to install servers and cabling on each site.
Businesses are now also looking for PMSs that offer a booking engine that will fully integrate or is able to interface with their own website. This enables visitors to check rates and availability in real-time and delivers bookings straight into the PMS, with no manual intervention at low or even no ‘per transaction cost'. This is all part of the trend of hotel companies driving clients to their own website rather than rely on third party websites, which typically eat into profit margins by charging higher commission fees.
Hoteliers realise that increasing numbers of clients want to book online and that it in the near future, for example, corporate clients will want to log in to the hotels website and book rooms and facilities online and obtain their negotiated corporate rate.
Many of the large hotel chains already offer this, but soon smaller hotel companies will be expected to offer the same service.
Jacqui Bentley Mckenna, director, Regoran