Monday, 6 February 2017

Property management systems: the heart of a hotel’s IT setup



Sitting at the heart of a hotel’s IT setup, a property management system is key to many operators’ business. Ross Bentley explores the latest trends

A property management system (PMS) is a fundamental part of any hotel’s operation. It sits at the heart of the property’s IT system and its core function is to manage room bookings and inform staff and managers how many rooms have been sold or are vacant for any particular night, as well as the rates for individual rooms.

PMSs can also interface with electronic locking systems, allowing key cards to be encoded and managed. Many larger hotels also integrate their energy management system with their PMS to set room temperatures upon guest check-in and automatically switch to energy-saving mode when they check out.

Likewise, because they are at the centre of operations, PMSs have traditionally linked to telephony and in-room entertainment systems, restaurant and bar points of sale, and golf and spa booking facilities, so in-property services that have been used by a guest can be centrally captured and billed for.

In addition, PMSs are being integrated with travel management systems to manage corporate bookings, as well as revenue management systems, so rooms are sold at the right rate, at the right time.

More recently, the advent of the internet and online bookings has meant that PMS providers have opened up their systems to be more outward-looking. A PMS can sit behind a property’s own website and offer availability and current room rates to online bookers. PMS providers have also partnered with third-party websites, social media platforms and online travel agencies (OTAs), such as Booking.com and Expedia, to enable hoteliers to maximise their revenue by updating their real-time availability to these different channels and manage the different terms and conditions from these sites.

Continuous innovation

With this history of continuous innovation it comes as no surprise, then, that PMS companies are continually innovating and adding new modules to their systems to provide hoteliers with supplementary functionality.

Guestline, for example, recently launched a new price comparison tool called Price Assure to enable hoteliers to display live OTA prices on their website to drive direct bookings. Guests can compare the total cost of their stay on the hotel’s website against five other online channels to give potential guests the assurance that they are getting the best rate on the market if they book direct.

Another PMS provider, Infor, has introduced several new modules, including an activity scheduler that manages any activity that might take place within a hotel, taking into consideration factors such as the duration of the activity, any age restrictions, equipment hire and even if any car parking spaces might be required.

According to sales director for hospitality, Calum McIndoe, another addition to the Infor suite provides hoteliers with “a 360° view of the guest” displaying their historical spend and preferences and suggesting future offers for them based on this information.

McIndoe says: “Twenty years ago, hotel management technology was about the need to sell rooms, while a decade ago it was about selling rooms at the appropriate rate. After this it became about managing and promoting an entire suite of services, such as spa, golf and restaurant. Today, it’s about understanding the guest and maximising the guest experience.”

However, according to Thomas Messett, chief marketing officer at hospitality technology provider eviivo, not all operators require this level of functionality, which is aimed at larger hotels or hotel groups who are seeking more sophistication from their systems to support their marketing and rate management.

Eviivo, he says, targets properties with a smaller footprint – the sub-50 room category, such as pubs with rooms, boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts. Its suite of products includes a booking diary with a website that can take online payments and can also share availability across core OTA websites.

“Not all operators need complexity,” says Messett, who believes from a technology point of view that many properties need to get the basics right before they start considering any bells and whistles.

He adds: “Across our sector, 66% of properties still do not offer booking and payment on their own website and 69% don’t have websites that are responsive to mobile devices.

“We are offering technology that allows small businesses to compete online for an average of £40 per month.”

Move to the cloud

A key development in the PMS world that has helped models such as those offered by eviivo come into the market has been the move to cloud-based systems.

Rather than a hospitality operator owning the software and running it on a server kept on their premises, today in the UK the majority access their system via the internet with the system hosted remotely by a third-party provider, in much the same way we access e-mail services like Gmail or online banking services.

This cloud computing, software-as-a-service model means access to PMS systems tends to be more affordable for operators and more straightforward to manage and upgrade.

At Hotelogix.com, co-founder Aditya Sanghi predicts 2017 is likely to witness more operators migrating to cloud-based solutions.

He said: “Owners are beginning to realise that the cloud-based PMS is much more than an instrument to organise internal operations – it is an integral part of the business’s development and growth, helping the hotel scale and increase profitability.

“This paradigm shift has contributed to the gradual demise of on-premise systems, especially in the small and mid-sized segments of the market. In countries like the US and UK, the vast majority of hotels adopting management technology are opting for cloud-based systems over legacy ones.”

Cloud-based PMSs are also increasingly being built on common web standards and open application program interfaces (APIs), which makes them more open to integration with external systems and mobile apps.

Sanghi continues: “Since the modern PMS is cloud-based and supports real-time integration to a variety of third-party tools, they are used for a lot more than just hotel management today. All the property’s information flows through the system, and the data can be mined to provide the hotel’s administration with valuable insights that enable further optimisation.

He says revenue managers, for instance, can use pricing trends to compare their rates against the market and determine their performance, and whether they should increase or lower rates.

Other examples include Guestline’s cloud-hosted PMS, Rezlynx, being able to interface with a third-party tool called GuestRevu, which can be used to automatically send hotel guests a customised email after checking out, encouraging them to send feedback as well as enabling them to post reviews directly to TripAdvisor.

Properties using the software can see all the comments, but only the TripAdvisor reviews are public, providing the hotel with valuable feedback.

Rezlynx also interfaces with third-party ResDiary, offering hotels a cloud-based restaurant reservation system for confirmed reservations, enquiries and table management.

Mobile access

The delivery of PMS via the cloud has also made possible the shift to users accessing the system from their mobile devices – a major trend in the PMS space.

A key benefit of mobile access, according to Kate Fuller, marketing manager at Guestline, is that property owners and managers can access their systems on any device at any location and see in real time how room sales are going for a particular day or what the rates are.

“From a managerial perspective, mobile access allows managers to keep on top of operations on the go and off-site,” she said.

From an operational point of view, mobile access can improve the way information about services is shared across a hotel, especially if it is a large property or there are multiple sites.

Maintenance and housekeeping teams, for example, can use a tablet to tell the PMS system whether a room has been cleaned or to log any issues.

Some hotels use mobile access to improve their check-in and check-out processes. In place of the reception desk, staff can now greet guests in the foyer with a tablet device in hand.

Guest service apps

Of course, it is not just hotel staff who are turning to mobile devices these days. Guests are also increasingly likely to interact with hotels through their smartphone. Messett at eviivo says a survey of 5,000 properties in the UK found that more than two-thirds of same-day room bookings came via a mobile device.

This move towards mobile has given rise to the guest service app – third-party apps that integrate with PMSs and can be downloaded by guests to use from their smartphones.

Guestline, for example, has integrated its system with a concierge app called Butlerpad which, among other things, enables guests to book a table at a hotel restaurant, send a message to housekeeping, request room service or order a poolside drink – all from their phone.

The latest app that Guestline has incorporated is Keez, which allows guests to check in to their pre-assigned room and open their door, as well as order room service, all from their smart phone.

Different apps have different pricing models. With some, guests are charged to download the app, while others are free but take a commission on any services booked using them.

Another example is Infor’s interface with an app called Hotelbird, which guests can download onto their phones and use to check in and check out as well as unlock the door to their room.

McIndoe at Infor says: “It can also be used to push offers to guests using real-time marketing. This isn’t for everyone but for tech-savvy, younger guests who are used to using their smartphones in this way, this kind of self-service is important in their stay.”

Leading guest service apps

iRiS Guest Valet
Enables guests to interact with a range of in-house facilities and services and even control the in-room television via their mobile.
www.iris.net
Butlerpad
Enables guests to access concierge services, research local attractions, and book theatre tickets and restaurant tables at nearby venues.
butlerpad.com
Keez
Allows guests to check in to their pre-assigned room and open their door, as well as order room service from their mobile.
keezapp.com
Hotelbird
Enables guest to check in and check out and make payments direct to the hotel from their smartphone.

Lindeth Howe hotel drives revenue with Guestline

The property
Overlooking Lake Windermere in the Lake District, Lindeth Howe is a four-star country house hotel with 32 rooms, a bar, a swimming pool and a newly-refurbished restaurant.

The challenge
The hotel’s owners required a fully integrated property management and booking system with automated processes that would help them become more efficient and drive additional revenue. They didn’t want disparate systems from multiple suppliers.

Lindeth Howe hotel
The solution
The hotel installed a number of Guestline products, including Rezlynx PMS, Distribution Manager and Online Booking Manager.

The outcome
Since the system has been installed, occupancy has increased by over 11% year-on-year. The team boost room sales by creating promotions that can go live immediately and accessing more channels. There is more flexibility to open and close channels depending on performance.

As the systems operate in real time, the hotel can sell down to the last available room.
They now only need to update their rates once as the system automatically distributes them across all online channels.

Prior to installing Guestline solutions, they used to manually update their rate card on 13 separate channels, which took one to two hours per day.

General manager Alison Magee-Barker says: “The system is multi-functional and has helped us improve the way we do things and the time it takes. This has resulted in significant business improvements and revenue gains, which we hope to continually take advantage of.”


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