5 things small hotel operators should consider before buying a property-management system

Small hotels are not simply smaller versions of large hotels, which means their needs often are different when it comes to technology. To determine what those needs are, Springer-Miller Systems suggests hoteliers perform a thorough needs assessment in advance of issuing a request for proposal and beginning to participate in system demonstrations.

“With a documented needs assessment you can more accurately check-off that the new system meets your functional requirements and integration needs,” said Amanda Wisell, marketing manager for Springer Miller Systems. “In addition, documenting your current network environment, hardware inventory and connectivity speeds will better prepare you to choose a system that will perform best at your hotel.”

After that step is complete comes the hard part: taking systems for a test drive and deciding which is best. HOTEL MANAGEMENT interviewed property-management-system experts about what small hotel operators should consider before buying a new PMS so that it fits their requirements. We narrowed the list down to five key things small hotels should contemplate before purchasing a PMS.The top five things small hotel operators should consider are:

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1. Security.

 PCI compliance is a must for a property-management system. “Without it, it’s a nonstarter; don’t even consider that solution provider,” Skytouch Technology CEO Todd Davis said.

2. Ease of integration, including channel management and distribution.

Make sure APIs have inbound and outbound connections to ensure a fast-as-possible integration with whatever solutions you might use, Davis said. That includes customer relationship management and rate management that integrate with the platform. Warren Dehan, president of Maestro PMS, said PMS providers should invest in solid partnerships with other vendors for deeper integration options with third parties the property prefers to work with. This can easier enable sharing of guest profile data and real-time two-way exchange of information, rates and availability across all channels.

3. Ease of use.

This is key for hotel management and staff as well as for hotel guests. With turnover at hotels as high as it is, the system must be functional for novices and expert users. This element also includes a superior, intuitive guest self-service experience from booking through check-out, said Luke Pfeifer, director of PMS product management at Agilysys.

4. Mobile capability.

Hotel staff and executive teams cannot be limited to receiving information only when they are their desks, said Jos Schaap, CEO and founder of StayNTouch. The capabilities of modern technologies and delivery methods now ensure that all the information hoteliers need to not only run the hotel at its optimal effectiveness but also deliver amazing guest service is available on their mobile device. Look for features that prioritize communication and mobility. There are also operational efficiencies to be gained by being able to access the hotel PMS on a mobile device.

5. A proven vendor with a track record of delivering and evolving technology.

The vendor can offer protection for a hotel’s PMS investment with technology that will sustain market trends, and maintenance fees that cover all new software versions and enhancements free of charge because this can present itself as a significant investment if they are faced with product obsolescence, Dehan said.

Lee Horgan, CEO of Amadeus Hospitality, Amadeus IT Group, said hoteliers can tell a lot about the vendor with its training and learning material. “Does the PMS provider offer online e-learning for new and existing staff?” he asked. “You can tell a lot by the quality of product documentation and the support they offer. How long did it take you to get a person on the phone and did that first person just get your info to have someone call you back or were they prepared to troubleshoot with you.”


PMS unsung quality: Unifying fragmented systems

The property-management system is the master of all inventory, rates and reservations data for your guests. Most external systems within a hotel operation need to have access to that information—whether it’s point of sale, call accounting, spa systems, sales and catering systems, or group sales systems, said Davis. “PMS vendors need to provide the capability for these third-party systems to integrate to the most current and relative information in order to complete guest transactions or execute on the guest experience,” he continued.

A property may need to access four to five different systems to get the full picture of a particular guest, incident or report, Wisell said. At the center of all these systems, the PMS holds most of the data.

“Choosing a PMS that has the ability to act as a CRM can simplify data access and help operationalize that data,” she said. “Whether it’s presented within the PMS itself or interfaced to another third-party system, the PMS has the keys to all of the data the hotel needs.”

The PMS is at the core of driving the frictionless guest experience because it’s the touchpoint the staff uses to manage the experience while guests are on property. Therefore, a PMS must ensure it integrates easily and shares data seamlessly through the entire solution enterprise, Pfeifer said. This enables hoteliers to provide a unique and frictionless experience for their guests while increasing levels of efficiency and effectiveness in their operations. With next-generation PMSes focused on offering rich APIs and often being built natively for the cloud, the movement to unify fragmented hotel systems is well underway.

“Creating a consistent, frictionless guest experience is near impossible with fragmented systems,” Pfeifer said. “A great PMS works with these various systems and sets of data to provide a single conduit of information for hotel staff.  Having all these systems work together seamlessly allows you to create self-service experiences for your guests that are well-rounded and enhance their entire experience. As a result, your staff and systems are now enabled to provide a true frictionless experience to guests.”

Good integrations help reduce manual staff efforts, providing business intelligence and data mining tools/analytics with power of centralized data mining for management reporting, guest preference and history focused and directed marketing campaigns, Dehan said.

“When systems integrate well, it provides robust tools to help the property stay competitive and ahead of their comp set, including integrated yield and rate-management tools with analytics-based pace performance analysis dashboards and reporting, mobility of staff with tablets and interactive guest-engagement tools for optimum guest service initiatives,” he said.

Several years ago we were in an era where solution providers built their product portfolios with an isolationist mindset; the thought being they would sell an entire bundle of solutions that were self-integrated, Horgan said.
 
“In this period of rapid innovation in hotel tech, hoteliers often don’t want to buy everything in one place, instead they want to customize their apps and build new value around their own branded experiences,” he said. “For all of this to work, the PMS has to be flexible because everything runs through it; it’s the operating system of a hotel.”

Additionally, if you think of all the different systems a hotel works with, the guest profile is important in all of them, Horgan said. “Unifying hotel systems and data means the guest profile is more complete, which empowers hotel staff not only at property but chain level to interact and better the guest experience,” he said.

How PMS can improve the on-property experience

A good PMS is the key to a successful on-property guest experience. From the most basic experiences, a fast and simple check-in and the delivery of a room that meets or exceeds booking expectations, to the more sublime experiences such as recognition of special events or personalization of a stay, Wisell said.  “Tracking all this data and information at these different levels is what makes a great, guest-centric PMS stand out,” she said.

A good PMS can be invisible within the hotel—when you combine workflow and decision automation with an intuitive user experience it translates into the hotel staff naturally having more time to be proactive in service delivery, Horgan said. PMSes can improve guest experience by absorbing intelligence from external systems and subtly delivering insights at the right time for the right guest.

“A good PMS automates low-end decision making to eliminate wasted time during interactions with guests,” he said. “For example, it auto-assigns the room based on preferences and other factors such as who they’re traveling with. Is this guest part of a group? Do they have two rooms reserved traveling with children and therefore might need connecting rooms? A good PMS first and foremost is able to collect the right information and then secondly it uses that information to automate decisions that apply to the guest. This results in quicker, more intuitive interactions with guests and a more informed and personable service delivery.”

When it comes to guests, the PMS needs to show you instantly what value a guest is to your hotel, and enable you to recognize that guest for his or her loyalty, Davis said. “Whether you are checking somebody in or booking a reservation over the phone, having instant history of that guest can help you speed up the process and provide guest preferences,” he said.

Dehan agreed that the right PMS will offer guest-engagement tools before, during and after stay with an integrated loyalty engine to facilitate a program and help build the hotel's repeat guest business and preference-based marketing campaigns. “You should be able to offer guest self-serve online and mobile tools to pre-check-in with preferences and eliminate front desk congestion and time, and rate integrity to book direct on a proprietary website with an integrated online booking engine, as well,” he said.

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