You might well wonder how any hospitality business survived before the advent of property management systems (PMS) - but back then the world was less data-driven and far less complex. Today's technology means you can manage every aspect of your hotel's operations, including reservations, room management, housekeeping, maintenance, payroll and the ever-important guest relations from a central hub.
This is good news for operators such as Chris Kearney, group financial director at Belfast-based Loughview Leisure Group, who brought in a Guestline PMS following the company's expansion to three hotels. "We needed a more complex, quicker system that would save us time and money and enable us to operate more efficiently across our three sites," he says.
Most cutting-edge hoteliers agree that a PMS that can synchronise all your systems and provide a stable environment for guest data is imperative. Andrew Williams, product strategy director at Guestline, explains: "Without this, day-to-day tasks turn timely, staff become demotivated and reporting or forecasting almost impossible. Collaborating with a PMS provider that has a wide selection of integrations available can change business performance massively."
One of the newest challenges being streamlined by PMS systems is self-service. By introducing automation - for example, at check-in - hoteliers save time and money while giving guests choice, resulting in guest satisfaction.
"The world of self-service is upon us and that is the main area of development for most. There are also huge advancements in the development of software to improve the guest experience and journey," says Williams.
There are compelling reasons why canny hoteliers are "automating the mundane". "Why spend hours checking 80 guests in, if they can or want to do it themselves? The forward-thinking hotelier is using their PMS to automate pre- and post-stay marketing, to drive detailed reports and forecasting, to optimise direct bookings and to connect to third-party solutions," says Williams.
Calum McIndoe, director of sales UK and Ireland at Infor Hospitality Solutions, agrees: "If more people check themselves in and out, then surely the hotel would need fewer reception staff - or maybe the staff can spend more time with guests wanting that personal touch, making happier guests who may spend more money," he says. "On departing, they check their bill on their mobile and, with a press of a button, they are checked out with their invoice whizzing over the ether."
A knock-on benefit of getting guests to use an app is that the hotel has immediately created a real-time communication with them. So, if the bar is quiet, a message could be sent to say "the football kicks off in 30 minutes and we are showing it live" or "we have some spa spaces today and are offering a 50% discount".
Mobility has certainly advanced since hotels first experimented with iPads. "We are now seeing hotels without reception desks," says McIndoe. "Check-in staff now greet guests at the front door and sit them in the lounge to check them in over a coffee from their dedicated iPad app, taking credit cards and cutting electronic keys from devices attached to the iPad."
Other departments, such as housekeeping, are also becoming paperless. "Maids can now have a nice, cheap Android device where they manage their daily rooms - from tagging when they go into a room, to changing status when it's cleaned, to logging maintenance issues," says McIndoe.
All of this is making the housekeeping department more efficient and potentially means it could manage with fewer staff. The fact the PMS alerts housekeeping staff when a guest has checked out in real-time also means guests don't get that knock at 7am as staff check to see who is still in their rooms.
"To increase revenue, hotels need to drive up sales and/or drive down cost. Technology and the PMS is achieving this by helping make staff more efficient," says McIndoe.
Which brings us on to the cloud. Not only does it serve these mobile devices, but progressive hoteliers are embracing cloud-based PMS and open APIs because they recognise that a closed one-stop-shop PMS can be limited and costly. As technological change gathers momentum, it's vital to be able to add new software (see panel) to evolve. And as the cloud is sold as a service, you can buy as much or as little computing capability as you need, plus it involves very little on-site maintenance as well as good security - vital in an age of cyber-attacks.
Aditya Sanghi, co-founder and chief executive at Hotelogix, warns: "If hoteliers think that just adopting any PMS, such as an on-premise one, will help them, they are wrong. They need to adopt cloud PMS to manage their operations, grow with agility and at the same time, reach out to potential guests," he says. "Hoteliers must adopt a cloud-based hotel PMS to leverage the power of third-party solutions that are essential to ensure seamless hotel operations. As almost all the third-party solutions are on the cloud, the integration between them and a cloud PMS becomes easy and frictionless."
Integrations are falling under two umbrellas, with the focus being either on the guest or the hotelier. A large number of solutions now connect into PMS - from channel managers to energy management, to door lock systems to internet billing - and more are in the pipeline. These solutions either help the guest or the hotelier.
McIndoe at Infor says: "Newer integrations tend to be down to solutions that can make guests happier, drive revenue or reduce costs, such as mobile passport scanners that support mobile check-in, guest mobility apps, revenue management and so on. In addition, there are companies that now provide an ESB (Enterprise Serial Bus) layer, which can provide real-time alerts and build rules into the PMS so that it can send key staff information instead of them having to log on to get it. For instance, it can send a real-time message to the general manager, chef, guest relations, and head housekeeper that a VIP has checked in. Similarly, an early check-in guest can pre-register and the PMS will automatically send them a message when the status of their room goes to 'inspected'."
What to look out for
So, what else should operators be looking for in a PMS? Williams at Guestline believes you should put as much importance on the quality of support from the provider as you do on functionality, and he suggests checking out independent reviews and user feedback before investing. "A company that offers a high level of support and customer service should be high up on the list, as this can really make or break a PMS," says Williams.
He adds: "Intuitive interfaces and a menu-driven system are great qualities, as are systems that break out features by user personas - that is menus specifically for housekeeping, revenue managers, general managers and so on."
But bear in mind that the size of your - property may mean you have different requirements in functionality. "It is always best to establish what your main areas of focus are, and use integrations to create the perfect "platform" for your hotel," he says.
Indeed, you don't have to be a big player to benefit. Eviivo's PMS software, for instance, is designed for small independent hotels, hotel groups and B&Bs, enabling them to market in the same spheres as large brands. Owners are able to drive up revenues by distributing available rooms across multiple online travel agents (OTAs), from Booking.com to Airbnb.
Business development director Ian Hardwick, says: "The heart of what we do is to provide an all-in-one booking suite, allowing independent properties to get into the global marketplace. It is harder for those properties to engage with their audience if they are not on those OTA sites alongside the big players."
The system also streamlines the nuts and bolts of running a small hotel, speeding up internal processes, such as credit and debit card pre-authorisation, and managing customer requirements and outstanding payments. It can even help minimise the financial impact of cancellations, which particularly hurt smaller properties, by being programmed to automatically take a deposit, say, 24 hours before the guest arrives.
"You can never stop no-shows, but the card validation tool means the property can contact the guest if a problem is flagged up with the card," says Hardwick.
The system also has a set of guest communication tools to send pre- and post-stay personalised emails. "Welcome" emails can be scheduled to go out, say, 10 days before the guest's arrival to provide information about directions and so on. The post-stay "thank you for staying" email prompts them to upload a review on TripAdvisor or the website and to book direct next time.
"These new tools allow operators to engage on a more personal basis," says Hardwick.
As with any PMS worth its salt, it drives direct bookings by collecting data for use in direct marketing. "We look at bookings and where they come from - it's CRM. The big guys are good at this and we are developing dashboard reports so operators can collect information about guest preferences within the system. It is all about personalisation," he says.
Case study: Loughview Leisure Group
Loughview Leisure Group, which has expanded to three hotels with a total of 261 rooms in Belfast, needed a more robust, sophisticated system. It now uses a cloud-based suite of Guestline hospitality solutions, including Rezlynx PMS, a channel manager and an advanced conference and banqueting software.
For Chris Kearney, group financial director, it means he has essential information across all three hotels at his fingertips: "All online travel agent bookings flow directly into the PMS without the need for time-consuming manual data entry and allocation. This saves the reservation team up to two hours every day as they were previously manually uploading up to 100 bookings daily," he says.
"The central reservations team handle reservations on behalf of all three hotels from one place, quickly and easily accessing availability and rates and confirming bookings. Check-in and check-out processes are quicker, which enables the hotel front desk to turnaround more guests at any one time, which is invaluable when large coach bookings arrive."
The accounts team also benefit as they can run a range of reports in seconds - from actual and forecast reports to month end and weekend revenue reports.
"The night audit report - is emailed to all the - executive team every morning at 5am, so they - can review the revenue generated for the three - hotels from the day before."
Rate-building is easier - as the reservations staff - can flex and manage rates more efficiently across their channels on a daily basis - from one place. And with live availability, all room rates are automatically updated across all channels and their own website to prevent the hotels from over-selling the rooms.
"We are now saving hours per day and can analyse - and forecast figures far more effectively with the range - of reports available to us," says Kearney.
Case study: Virgin Hotel Chicago
The 250-bedroom Chicago property was the first to launch under the Virgin name when it opened in 2015. The team wanted a robust PMS that could be customised to support the company's culture of service and innovation as it continued to expand, so they chose Infor HMS.
"We needed a partner that could work closely with us to interface with the other systems we planned to use to operate - the hotel," says David Moth, - vice-president of operations - at Virgin Hotels.
It's a progressive hotel. For instance, instead of a check-in desk, there is a smartphone system whereby guests scan a QR code and retrieve their room key from - a vending machine. Guests use - an app named Lucy to order more pillows, handle room service orders, control room temperature, serve as a remote control for both the television and the hotel's - music library - and co-ordinate messages with hotel staff.
For Moth, the improved workflow is a bonus: "If a guest calls down or enters a request through our mobile applications, it is logged and despatched to the team as part - of that system integration."
He has worked with Infor to enhance the system. For instance, updating the iTouches device the reception team uses for check-in. Similarly, the housekeeping team now carry mobile devices so - they can respond to early - check-outs, check-ins or - special requests in real-time.
"They are able to put that room next on their sequence and respond to specific needs efficiently," says Moth.
Maintenance requests can - also be sent back through the system, saving time and keeping teams moving.
What particularly impresses Moth, however, is the system's Dataspy tool, which allows staff to create their own desktop based on which elements of the PMS they use most. "The system does what you want, instead of being limited to whatever the system can support," says Moth, who adds that it is important to take into account your future needs - when customising systems.
Case study: Tudor Court Hotel, Paddington, London
Since introducing an improved PMS, Kazi Rahman, general manager at the 38-bedroom Tudor Court Hotel, says he has seen a 30% increase in OTA bookings, a 10% boost in direct bookings and a 40% increase in revenue. Other benefits seen at the three-star hotel include zero overbooking and no operational errors.
The system they have chosen is Hotelogix PMS, which Rahman describes as user friendly: "It has helped us manage our guests, and our hotel inventory, as well as the staff's time efficiently. Reservations, check-ins, and check-outs are streamlined," he says. "Thanks to the 24/7 support, we now have the luxury of time to decide on offers, promotions and marketing ideas for future. Time is money, and in many ways [the system] has helped us save on operational time that incurred into costs."
The many blessings of a property management system
Front office •Making, modifying, upgrading reservations
•Check-in and check-out
•Sending reminder/ confirmation mails to guests
â¢ Housekeeping software works in sync with front desk to improve service efficiency
•Assigning housekeeping tasks to staff
•Tracking tasks for timely completion
•Marking room status - occupied, vacant, under repair and ready to occupy
•Front office staff can also see room status in real-time
Other back office capabilities
â¢ Point of sale
•Sales and marketing
â¢ Night audit report
•Business source report, plus many more
Apart from automating the entire hotel operations, a PMS helps hotels to:
•Provide real-time information on rates and inventories to all their connected sales channels to enhance online visibility, drive more booking while successfully handling overbooking/zero booking
•Save significant number of man-hours, so that staff can attend to their guests personally
•Automate the process of collecting and managing guest reviews to improve online reputation and ratings
•Analyse and understand guest sentiment to improve services and increase repeat business
•Come up with flexible pricing strategy to sell more and increase profit
•Make better and informed business decision with actionable reports
•Set up automated guest communication process for targeted and personalised email marketing