Technology Bells and Whistles in Hotels?

14 May Technology Bells and Whistles in Hotels?

Like any other business, hotels too are facing challenges. While challenges can be from internally or externally originated, an unresolved internal challenge could easily contribute to intensify external issues that ultimately affect the business as a whole. Technology is one of the internal issue prone areas that by proper planning, using and tweaking, can gain numerous direct and indirect results that improve overall operational efficiency and contribute for an improved bottom line.

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While most of the big names in the industry like Marriott, Hyatt, Four Seasons, Wyndham, Accor, Hilton or similar have understood the importance of how technology plays major role in their highly competitive daily game, smaller and stand-alone hotels have either not yet fully grabbed the idea or are lacking the resources, or being mislead is unnoticeably affecting the bottom line.

External Challenges and few are below:

Competition: It is getting bloodier day after day. There are more number of hotels getting opened every week than 50 years back how it was, making more providers competing fiercely to get a booking in the declining market, with deals as low as buy 2 night, get 1 free type of deals. And there comes giant OTAs with high sophistication to grab an unfair share of their profit given the fact that a hotel not having the technology to sell that room, unless that giant comes into picture. What more, recently, even hotel review giants have stepped into this game such as Google Hotels, TripAdvisor that makes this a more complicated challenge. Brand Loyalty? It is an online market, a deal market now. Brand loyalty is gone in the dust. Surveys indicate that only a fraction of guests still stick to brand loyalty.

Guests Expectations: I remember when I was working for a star class hotel back in 2000’s Wifi was a good revenue generating added package. Now, the hotels might even lose those bookings if Wifi is not provided complementary. As the competition raises, so does the guests expectation of high quality in services, facilities and amenities of a hotel. And fortunately or unfortunately, one of the items in modern high demand is technology.

Online Reputation: having a good reputation online and offline, reduces financial risks. With the popularity, and the major role social media and internet play in the society today, the guests are powerfully influenced with the tools either social media or hotel review sites to make or break a hotel’s reputation with not much time. Good reviews can bring better conversion than hundreds of advertisements, because customers have been empowered with modern technology.

The list can grow endless, and we focused just three of major areas. Similarly, we can have a look into some of the things that are internally controllable, challenging the hotels:

Internal Challenges and few are below:

Retaining professional and trained staff, is as important as retaining loyal guests as it takes time and effort to build that team.

Revenue, keeping the hotel as full as possible is essential to making budgeted revenues is no secret. Creative efforts of sales and marketing along with great customer service can help achieve targets, but it needs regular tweaking. Then comes, what strategies the hotel makes to sell nights as much as possible, greatly impact the bottom line of profit. Does the hotel promote the right products at the right time, at the right prices to the right customers? Does the Revenue Manager use the perfect rate strategy to the hotel with the help of tools that provide insights of the markets as well as the hotel’s historical data to raise ADR? An Online Travel Agent or OTA, such as Priceline is a ‘frenemy’ of a hotel. But a good friend to sell a hotel room at the last minute to the reach that otherwise is impossible for hotel website or hotel’s Sales to do. So, having a strategic approach towards channel distribution in using OTAs and other sources when needed is as important as avoiding them when not needed, to cut down distribution costs and commissions is crucial as well.

Similarly there are other issues that put a hotel manager in black mood, such as Raising operating costs, internal cost control and accountability, staff training, staff motivation, reducing staff turnover, keeping wage scale competitive, absence of technology and the list here too goes endless, while will focus into “absence of technology” (from must-have to luxury) below to keep up with our topic:

Technology Bells & Whistles in the Hotels:

Do you think that technology is outpacing the investment of a hotel? Well if you do, think again. And what sort of ROI these technologies at work can bring to the hotel among the competition?

Just about any guests, be it meeting planners, business travellers, couples on honeymoon, family on vacation or guests part of medical tourism expect and demand unobtrusive digital experience or latest technology being utilized to comfort their stays as much as possible. Success of any hotel is customer satisfaction, so what if an investment can have a substantial positive effect on guest satisfaction?

Don’t you think that a user friendly well design informative website with easy booking steps and usable on any mobile devices (responsive) can reduce your distribution cost and commission payments to OTAs and other resources? And more importantly with a live chat feature for easy communication with the hotel. Innovatively, having a 360 panoramic tour of the hotel or at least certain attractions? And, with a customized Google map solution showing near places such as restaurants, parks, ATMs and other important places and walking distance?

How about an automated check-ins via smart phones or interactive lobbies with check-in kiosks?

Wi-Fi, of course! It is sometimes considered not an amenity any more, rather a prerequisite. It should also be used to enhance other guest service areas; wouldn’t your guest be happier if your modern POS systems can take guest orders at the swimming pool or just around anywhere in the resort with the wireless handheld? Or, a wireless device can check them in from the valet?

Historical Data and/or Big Data: For a personalized digital or physical interaction with customers, for any business, it is vital to understand its customer, their needs and behaviours to better serve and retain them. This is exactly what you can get from historical data and/or Big Data. Wouldn’t it be nicer and professional, profitable to interact with the guests having known their needs? Or wow them time to time with over expectations while avoid them feeling a stranger on each stay with your hotel? (Probably it is not that new thing, but can get in depth advantage of it) In the back of the house, it can help your revenue, reservations, sales and marketing to make better decisions, be it yield management, promotions or forecasting, and land on the best strategies with fine-tuned more accurate results for their analysis. Most of the hotel PMS; do collect enough data about guests, such as Opera PMS (Advance Reporting and Analytics Cloud Service is available from Oracle for Opera PMS). But their analytic capability is very limited or full advantage of collected data is not utilised. So hotels might find some third party cloud based systems at help.

Digital Conferencing Facility: Taking full advantage of some of the best available cloud based conferencing systems such as BlueJeans, and equipped with optimized hardware such as from Polycom, Cisco can turn your conference facilities into your guests’ own corporate meeting rooms. Though most of the time, travellers will use their own preferences, will it not be good enough to have gadgets readily available for lending to guests on demand? You can also utilize these facilities in video demos of hotel’s facilities to a potential customer or take advantage in inter-hotel meetings if you are a multi-hotel, or use in organized distant trainings for staff development.

Taking Advantage of NFC Technology: What is NFC technology? As we see more and more companies, financial institutions and retailers adopt to accept mobile payments (some of Marriott properties are already using Apple Pay). A guest tapping a smart phone on a POS device to pay his bills, or guests using their smart phones to unlock their rooms would truly impress the guests, while making your hotel stand out with the very few that have already put the technology to work.

In-Room Entertainment: If guests can feel home while wowing at that extra luxury your hotel offers, along with other positive physical interactions, sure they will come back to your hotel, because these little things make a good memory in their short stay. But for example, if your budget does not allow changing TVs in time, surely many guests will feel that their TV at home is much better than the one in hotel room. There are quite a few very good cloud based entertainment technologies that provide very good customer insights themselves, while equipped with features like free guest programming, VOD, DVR and mobile connectivity that enables guests to access through their own mobile devices and display contents on room TV.

Digital Security: Hotels are another honey pot for cyber criminals due to obvious nature of their business. Though it is more likely that attacks targeted directly to guests devices rather than through hotel servers on the increase, it is vital to have digital security policies that include keeping systems up to date with periodic checks on vital areas implemented in hotels, and working with digital security services providers to protect hotel systems from malware, viruses and hacker attacks, because having a secure systems means, having efficient and faster systems too. Notably, Marriott and Starwood are among other chains to maintain a very good strategy and set of policies through their corporate office on this area too.

While above list might not suite every hotel’s budget, size, brand and resources are concerned, having any of the options gives a hotel great deal of competitive advantages over others.

The Centrepiece

Hotel’s PMS: Investing in all, if not any of above bells and whistle above is not going to help any hotel, if the hotel’s centrepiece of software, the PMS or Property Management System is not capable of handling your operations efficiently. Misleading reports, slow performance, complicated user interface, inability to integrate with larger number of third party hotel solutions, insecure, lacking in backup features are good samples for a bad PMS.

A PMS should be able to adapt to changing needs of the hotel with very good analytics capability, wide range of integration possibility (or you won’t be able to hang those bells and whistles), developed using modern technology for modern technology interoperability, faster, accurate reporting, user friendly, rich in functions with switchable for hotel’s needs, and so on. Not the one that the vendor promising to include a commonly used feature in the next version release. There are cloud-based choices widely available today. Though having cloud-based PMS has numerous advantages over on-premise systems, such as to avoid complicated costly hardware investment and maintenance, technically proficient IT team, responsibility of backup and security, cost of upgrades, and frequent downtime, I find these cloud-based widely available systems lack many of the features that are important in efficiently managing a hotel.

But there are quite a few very good PMS software that are highly advanced in features and usually are more expensive too. My choice of PMS would be, Opera PMS from Oracle Hospitality, which also offers cloud-based solution. However, if you are going for new install or change over, you should study these three areas, Operational Needs, Technical Requirements, and Hotel’s Budget in detail, in comparison to see if it is the one your hotel needs.  

By Alan Miles for www.operapmsexperts.com

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