7 mistakes hotels make when upgrading their PMS

Photo credit: aurielaki//Getty Images

Upgrading a property-management system is a significant investment in time and money, so we went to the PMS experts to see what hoteliers should consider before purchasing their next system. The experts detailed seven mistakes hotels often make when going through the process.

1. Not knowing what you need. Many hoteliers they don’t know the capabilities and integrations they need to be successful, said SkyTouch Technology CEO Todd Davis. “Not only for today but for the down the road too,” he said. Properties need to understand their specific pain points in their current system as well, said Todd Sabo, president of RMS North America. “They need to have a comprehensive list when searching for a new system,” he said.

2. Only considering price. Hoteliers who solely focus on price don’t understand the overall value of a good PMS, Davis said. You’ll get what you pay for if that’s all you consider.

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3. Not having the support and partnership of your vendor. It’s important to choose the right partner who will provide collaboration and transparency, a high level of service and the support hoteliers need to meet their objectives, said Hazem Hussein, hospitality division CEO at Amadeus. Hoteliers should be looking at the cost to maintain the system, such as custom reports, support fees, integration fees, among other issues. “These should be carefully considered so they truly know what they will get in return,” he said.

Before upgrading a PMS, hotels need to understand their market and what drives their business to make sure their needs are met. Photo credit: SkyTouch Technology

4. Not preparing for the future. Hotels need to make sure their system is updated on a regular basis, StayNTouch CEO and founder Jos Schaap said. “They need to make sure they are up to date with regulation changes and the software is updated in real-time,” he said.

5. Not carefully considering the integration capabilities. Most hotels incorrectly assume that interfaces and integrations are “plug and play” when in fact they require two vendors to cooperate and use common protocol APIs to bridge and connect applications, said Xn protel Systems Chief Executive Greg Spicer. Hotels often do not giving adequate consideration to how “open” the PMS product is, the number of third-party interfaces it supports and effort/time required to interface the PMS with key industry vendors, said Chris Adams, VP of hotel strategy and solutions at Oracle.

Many times requirements around needed integrations are left uncommunicated until late in the purchasing process, said Springer-Miller Systems GM Chris Donahue. This leaves little time for the PMS and third-party system providers to build and certify these mission-critical interfaces. “This often brings additional risk and costs to the project as well,” he said.

6. Not grooming the staff. Many hotels don’t prepare their team for the new operating structure, said Audrey MacRae, senior solutions consultant, management services at Maestro PMS. “The staff needs to be prepared about what the management is doing and educate the goal of the PMS change,” she said. “Management needs the buy-in to the PMS change.” Hotels also need to appoint a lead person in charge. Too often in the independent market, there isn’t a person in charge of technology. “This person needs to understand the future goals and objectives,” MacRae continued. “You don’t want to implement a change to do what you’ve been doing before.”

7. Not considering the guest experience. The PMS should enable your staff to be more responsive to guest needs in every transaction, said Luke Pfeifer, director of product management for PMS at Agilysys. For direct guest interactions, self-service kiosks are becoming more popular for everything from check-in/check-out to ordering services, but think back to when kiosks were first introduced—they were clunky and time-consuming. “Automated PMS solutions must be easy to use and should reflect your guest service standards,” Pfeifer said. “Start by looking at the guest flow. What are the inefficiencies of check-in and check-out? How easy is it to meet every guest expectation? What single way would you like to make the overall stay experience more seamless for the guest?”

Preparing the team for a new operating structure is an important step in preparing for installation of a new PMS. Photo credit: Maestro

When is the best time to upgrade your PMS?

While there is no one right-size time to upgrade your property-management system, there are several factors that can help achieve the best implementation of a PMS. “The best time to upgrade your PMS is when you are not under pressure to replace the existing solution,” Donahue said. “For instance, the more time a hotelier has to plan, assess and review replacement options the better the outcome will be, typically. If a hotelier is making a snap decision due to an expiring contract or forced to replace an end-of-life product, the more opportunity exists for an unsatisfactory purchase.”

You don’t want to wait until your PMS is so outdated that it starts to negatively impact your operation and business, said Colin Findley, VP of business development at ProfitSword. “Make sure you have the conversation with your vendor regarding frequencies of both software and hardware upgrades,” he said. “You want to stay up to date, but it isn’t important to be on the bleeding edge if your current system is working efficiently and effectively.”

When generational technology change has moved past “early adopter” phase, it’s a good time to consider a refresh, Spicer said. “A key consideration is system integration, which must keep pace with the expectations of the property,” he said.

The key is to minimize a hotel’s downtime and the impact to its business, Adams said. “It might be time to upgrade when your existing PMS is not empowering your staff to offer the level of service you expect or your IT teams are spending more time maintaining your current PMS instead of executing innovation initiatives,” he said.

Often when new management or ownership emerges for a hotel, it is also a good time to upgrade, Hussein said. “As a newly independent hotel or, as a new brand member for a chain of hotels, you may have new processes and requirements that your current PMS cannot support,” he said. “This change cycle often includes budget lines for upgrades to hotel technologies and can be seen as an opportunistic time to modernize your PMS.”

As far as a calendar timeline, Davis recommends upgrading at the end of whatever a property’s busy season is, typically after the holidays, which allows the hotel to prepare for the busy summer.

In the past, it was difficult to upgrade but today it can be done as part of your day-to-day business, Schaap said. “In general, the upgrades are done at the client site and the schedule is typically four to eight weeks.”

Michelle Young, VP of sales at Springer-Miller Systems, agreed that installation of a new system should occur during a slower business time because it will allow employees to learn the new systems as well as allowing the management team to ensure the necessary integration into the PMS are working optimally. “Implementation of a new PMS should never affect your guest experience.”

Mobile check-in aligned with a PMS can promote things like room upgrades and other upsells. Photo credit: Agilysys

How to choose the best PMS for needs, budget

A good PMS automates decision-making to not only eliminate wasted time, but also optimize time in general during all interactions with guests, Hussein said. “According to our research, hotels change their PMS about every seven years so making the best decision on a PMS will rely substantially on solid references and testimonials,” he said. “If you are a full-service independent hotel, you need to seek out testimonials from hotels similar to yours.

“The testimonials should originate from similar-sized hotels located in the same country as your hotel so that you're confident the provider can delivery country-specific requirements, such as invoicing and fiscal items,” he continued.

In order to make the best decision for property-management-system upgrades, hoteliers need to fully understand the short- and long-term costs associated with their investment, Adams said. There are benefits to an open, mobile-enabled, cloud-based PMS. “The trend is to move away from capital expenditure to more flexible operating expenses based on cloud services,” he said.

Schaap suggests making a list of what a hotel is doing today and what it wants to get out of the system in the future, such as mobile check-in. Sabo suggests creating a list of pain points and researching online those systems that address the needs of a particular property.

MacRae suggests hiring an unbiased, independent consultant to assist with the selection process and to see the deployment all the way through. “It is a financial investment but in the end, it’s well worth the money spent,” she said. “There are a lot of moving parts and hotels need to know how to use everything to achieve the best guest experience.”

Hotels will make the best purchasing decision when they take the time to identify the following, Young said. She summarized what many of the experts said:

  • Clearly outline to all vendors your needs and your budget.
  • Identify your budget for a new PMS, including upfront and ongoing costs plus IT resources and any on-site hardware/network requirements.
  • Document limitations of the current PMS that need to be resolved.
  • Document critical features in the existing PMS that need to be replicated or improved upon.
  • Check PMS vendor references for installation, training and support.
  • When making a complex luxury/resort PMS change, conduct on-site visits to other hotels/resorts who run a similar operation to yours. Many systems look amazing in a demonstration, but in reality critical components of the solutions may be missing or not as easy to use as expected.