When I was young, my grandmother and grandfather owned and ran a small resort in Northern Wisconsin. I remember her notifying the nearby Visitor’s Information Center on Friday evenings when they had open, unsold cottages. It was a friendly conversation that was often repeated just before the cottages ‘turned-over’ for the next weekly rentals. These phone calls often resulted in new guests and increased occupancy for the resort.
The days of putting up a sign and then advising the local Visitor’s Center of your hotel’s availability just isn’t enough anymore. To survive you’ll need to realize that hotel marketing has changed. Influences such as social media networks and the global marketplace can make your new sales world seem like you are the smallest of fish in a very large ocean. Sometimes it can even seem like there is a minefield in that ocean, just waiting for you. BUT, it doesn’t have to be THE END. Independent hotels and resorts, yes, even the small- and medium-sized ones, that invest in technology to streamline operations, sell globally, and enhance the guest experience can navigate through successfully.
Today, selecting an outstanding hotel property management system (PMS) is the essential element to maximizing occupancy rates and increasing profitability. As online systems’ integration and the influence of a global marketplace become more and more important to hotel sales, selection of the right property management system, your hotel’s core business tool, is the most critical component to success. Choosing one that easily and efficiently manages and organizes hotel inventory and tasks, while seamlessly coordinating marketing channels to maximize occupancy is the key to a successful implementation.
How do you find a PMS that can do all this? Here are a few steps to get you on your way:
Form a Plan
Form a Team
Unless you’re a small ‘mom & pop’ hotel, where the owners are the team, the first step in selecting a property management system is to form an integration team that includes managers and staff. It’s important to do this to make sure the property management system addresses most of the needs throughout the hotel and is evaluated through various viewpoints. It also helps to get the ‘buy-in’ of the eventual users. For small lodging professionals, the ‘moms & pops’, sit down and discuss this throughly. Treat it as the important decision it is. Don’t let the day to day operations push this decision aside. It WILL make your life easier -and allow your property to make you more money.
Conduct a Needs Assessment
- It’s important to clarify all the property’s business processes, beginning with guest inquiries, moving to reservations and then ending with check-out and ‘thank you’ letters.
- Also gather a list of the numerous functions that, depending on the size of your property and the amenities it offers, can include anything from room service to bicycle rentals.
- Consider how and who you want to partner with. Integrating with the many online sales channels today will provide the highest occupancy levels, but not without significant cost. Choosing the ones that best match your guest demographics is the key.
- What type of support will be important to you and your team? Typically, most hoteliers’ first choice is 24/7 support with a support team based in the same country.
Prioritize the list of features
Create a list of basic requirements that must be included to create a platform suitable to your hotels’ operational and marketing needs. Then evaluate the ‘nice to have’ items and determine implications like ROI and guest happiness and add those top features to the list as well.
Determine your budget
Typically today, a cloud-based system will end up costing you less, provide unlimited software updates, and relieve you of the problem of having the system go down without the right personnel to fix it. In-place systems are usually a better fit for the large hotel chains that have enterprise-level demands and deeper pockets.
Evaluate the Options
Find the most cutting-edge, hospitality approved PMS systems. Ask for recommendations from colleagues at similar-sized properties, your local hotel and lodging association and staff. They have likely used a variety of systems over the years and can offer suggestions and warnings about the available PMS systems on the market. Create a comparison chart to capture the myriad pieces of information.
Common considerations for choosing a property management system are:
1. Functional design. The level of design may be a clue to finding the technology right for your hotel. A clunky, out-of-date interface should give cause for concern; the technology underlying it is probably no better. Look for a system that has a intuitive interface, is easy to navigate and organized logically. Tip- Count how many mouse ‘clicks’ it takes to complete routine functions.
2. Robust Property Management Functions. Fully-integrated front- and back-office operations, detailed guest profiles, management of guest folios and charge routing, housekeeping, special request management and task lists are all required of your multi-functional team and should be part of a basic PMS. Automation of routine communications should be embedded as part of the reservation process allowing your staff to interact with guests, while tracking the information.
3. Sell via new marketing channels. Today, hotels need to be able to directly access the global marketplace. This means systematic support for selling via your website, global distribution systems and social networks. The importance of social media in hospitality sales is now proven. Watch for trendsetting PMS vendors to capture and add guest social profiles to their CRM (customer relationship management) systems and add features for interacting in these new ways.
4. Integration with other systems. Your PMS should interface with your online services and marketing channels. Complex components like the online booking engine of your website, merchant accounts for credit processing, and linking of global distribution systems that will enable you to sell on Expedia, Booking.com, etc. should all be integrated into one easy-to-use interface. Your property management system will be the common control system and should be therefore be the easiest and most robust of all. Automatic synchronization is the key to successfully implementing these various functions.
5. Flexible reporting. Your system should be able to generate custom reports and queries. This will enable you to track your marketing efforts, predict opportunities and determine the partners that provide the best ROI. Do not overlook the importance of your accounting backend. Can you easily track all transactions as they process into your bank? Your PMS should either exist as a full accounting package, export in ready-to-use formats like Excel or .cvs OR both.
6. Positioned for growth. Select a property management system that accommodates future trends and growth. Look for a system with a structure that enables you to add services and functions as your needs evolve.
Narrow the list, based on the data in the chart, to 3-5 property management systems. Then arrange testing and more research for each of the systems. Arrange for system demonstrations with the vendors. Provide each vendor a detailed list of needs. This will ensure that your concerns are addressed and allow you control over the sales conversation.
It’s most likely that vendors will demo their property management system through an online demonstration where you will be able to see the software in action and ask questions about the system. Sometimes, vendors will give you a temporary account, where you can actually add info and test the system with little guidance.
This is also the time to firm up your budget. Request quotes as you evaluate the systems. Obtain references.
Before You Sign
1. Dig into the Real Costs. What is included in the final costs? Does this integration include all the items on your ‘must have’ list? Is the design and implementation of your online booking engine included fee-free? How is the global distribution (gds) set up? Are there additional costs? Are there 3rd party set-up charges that need to be paid? What commissions and transaction fees will you pay and to whom? I.e. Expedia and Booking.com have pass-through commission fees and some PMS vendors add on their own additional transaction fees, as well. Pay attention to vendors that are forthright and transparent in the costs you pay. Watch for warning signs from vendors that are not forthcoming with the costs you will pay (gds integration, etc.) and who will perform the integrations. As a rule, the more people involved in the middle, the more control is lost and the more time is involved for the integration.
2. Agree Upon A Timeline. After you’ve agreed on your ‘must have’ list with the chosen vendor, set up a delivery timeline. Determine key milestone’s and related delivery dates. Sometimes there are actions that are out of control of a vendor and depend on 3rd party implementation; these should be clearly defined and best case/worse case scenarios should be given.
3. Technology Partner. As you make your final selection, keep in mind that this choice will become a vital component in your technology requirements. Be sure that the services offered are encompassing enough to support your needs and skill-level. If not, then consider a 3rd party project manager, that can help with implementation, can fill in the technology gaps and will advocate for you to the many vendors that are in your global circle.
4. Additional Things to Ask.
• How is training implemented? One-on-one? Group? In-person?
• Is there an appointed account manager/trainer?
• System documentation, how to videos and updates should be up-to-date as the software changes.
• Support times (i.e 24/7)
• Guaranteed turnaround times for phone calls and emails.
• Country of Origin of the support team. Will language issues be a barrier? Can you wait several days for a resolution to a problem?
• How does the support team track and manage your requests? Do they have a robust support system for supporting their clients?
• How does your info export? Can you perform the export? Does it come out in usable MSExcel-ready files?
The hospitality environment is ever more competitive and challenging everyday. Selecting the right advisors and vendors to fully-integrate software systems to maximize occupancy, serve your guests well, and ease staff workload is the key to your hotel’s future success.
As an e-business advisor to the hospitality and leisure industry, Social Energizer helps with the selection, integration and implementation of property management systems, online sales channels and social media networks with a special focus on independent hotels, inns, resorts, and campgrounds.
Social Energizer integrates inbound marketing techniques into each marketing plan, creates dynamic and affordable websites fully optimized for Search Engines, then utilizes digital channels and strategies like Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and web-integrated Email Campaigns.