Simplifying hotel operations with cloud-based PMS

Charlestowne Hotels has three hotels on the same web-based PMS, with a fourth one under construction.
Charlestowne Hotels has three hotels on the same web-based PMS, with a fourth one under construction.

Charlestowne Hotels has three hotels on the same web-based PMS, with a fourth one under construction.

Cloud-based property management systems can not only simplify hotel operations for hoteliers but save quite a bit in infrastructure hardware and maintenance costs, as well.

Hospitality management company Charlestowne Hotels has three hotels in the Charleston, S.C., area that have made the switch to a cloud-based PMS, with another currently under construction that also will use the same system. Gavin Philipp, regional director of operations, said the cloud has simplified systems immensely. “From an IT infrastructure standpoint, we don’t have to manage IT on-site on a daily basis,” he said. “We can do everything remotely—backups and all.”

Michael Manuel, GM of the Point Pleasant Lodge in Halifax, Nova Scotia, started the cloud-conversion process for his hotel in 2005. Point Pleasant Lodge is a privately owned and operated, not-for-profit specialty hotel, exclusively for people undertaking medical-related travel in the Halifax area. Since the hotel is not-for-profit, Manuel said he likes to leverage technologies and business offerings to provide the best service and cost to his guests.

“When we saw the expenditures to upkeep multiple servers and when a dedicated IT person is overkill for our one property, cloud PMS was a great answer,” he said. “We were able to transfer the initial capital costs, maintenance costs and keep everything healthy in the ever-evolving IT environment. When we can transfer PMS to a specialist whose sole function is this, it gives us great leverage.”

As the hotel’s life cycles would come up on hardware, Manuel went to suppliers who had cloud-based offerings. In addition to switching to a cloud-based PMS, the hotel also has switched to cloud accounting software. “We have had very little problems with it,” he said. “The offerings are very dynamic and ever-changing, and cross-platform usability and functionality are great. And we don’t have to worry about maintenance every night.”

One important thing to consider when switching to a cloud-based PMS, both Manuel and Philipp said, is to make sure the property’s Internet is very robust. But PMS providers will suggest and make sure the bandwidth is appropriate for the PMS solution, Philipp said. “Web-based solutions can take up a lot of bandwidth,” he said. “Maybe pages refresh a little slower than if we had servers on-site but [it was] not an issue for us at all.”

PCI-compliance, credit card security and guest information security have always been a priority for hotels, but neither Manuel nor Philipp was concerned with the move to the cloud.

“Our checklist showed us increasing data security—it is far more robust than a hotel of our size could normally afford as a small business,” Manuel said. “All of the advantages far outweighed any risks with moving to the cloud.”

How to make sure your PMS is integration-ready

Making sure a hotel’s PMS connects with other systems can help ensure a smooth experience for both guests and staff. Here are some top tips hotels can follow to make sure their PMS can integrate smoothly.

A willingness to evolve is important to keep pace with emerging technologies.

A willingness to evolve is important to keep pace with emerging technologies.

Check both the PMS and third-party vendor: “Does the third-party vendor you’ve chosen have the ability to do this interface, and is the hotel a big enough partner to motivate that third party to do the interface for them?” said Kerry Brock, VP sales and marketing at PMS provider RoomKey.

Ask for the capability to develop the system further: “See what this system can offer guest-facing apps, mobile devices, and whether this system is able to perform device-independent applications,” said Dr. Peter Agel, SVP strategic customer relationships at hospitality and retail technology company MICROS Systems.

Don’t underestimate the effort involved: “Even when there is a standard in place that can be used as a foundation, there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Chris Donahue, senior product manager for specialty and integration at hospitality systems and service solutions company PAR Springer Miller.

Communicate: “It behooves the PMS buyer to give the provider as much information as possible,” said Warren Dehan, president of hospitality software company Northwind-Maestro. “New technology can come along or the hotel could go through business changes, and the more interaction that hotels have with their PMS provider, the more people will be equipped to solve those challenges.” 

PMS integration is a challenge of cooperation

As network solutions for PMS have matured, the technical challenges of integration have been surpassed by the challenge of getting multiple parties in the industry to cooperate, said Warren Dehan, president of hospitality software company Northwind-Maestro.

“If you look at Hotel Technology Next Generation [HTNG] as an organization, we’d have on the phone with us 12 or 15 different people from 12 or 15 different vendors, each with their own system, and their own interest in having a competitive advantage,” said Dehan.

PMS integration can aid in the development of online solutions.

PMS integration can aid in the development of online solutions.

Often developing a standard involves revealing plans for upcoming PMS capabilities, Dehan said. “Some of the intellectual property that’s generally protected by nondisclosure agreements between two parties basically becomes public knowledge, so you could lose some of your competitive advantage by working cooperatively,” Dehan said. At the same time, most PMS work similarly, so it is unlikely that any given PMS will be so far ahead as to make cooperation untenable.

Cooperation is also important between a PMS supplier and the hotel. “The biggest challenge is often managing people’s perceptions and expectations,” said Chris Donahue, senior product manager for specialty and integration at hospitality systems and service solutions company PAR Springer Miller. “Hoteliers for the most part know about HTNG now, and it brings the perception that integration should be plug-and-play. From our experience, that’s not the typical scenario.” Since systems on both sides of the integration might be implementing the standard slightly differently, the PMS and third-party vendors need to make adjustments.

Bringing hotels to the table at the organization level can also be a challenge. “If you look at the HTNG conference, I’d say about 80 percent of the people there are vendors, and 20 percent are hotels,” said Erik Weller, paradigm executive at hospitality software solutions company iTesso. “It should be a 50–50 split. I realize hotel companies are reluctant to spend money on it in times like these, because it’s not their core thing, but it doesn’t help in getting a widely adopted standard.”

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