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    Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference

    December 5–6, 2018
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Article by Lara Salomon

The end of the professional critic (and why you need to get over it)

GuestRevu 12 February 2018
Everyone's a criticNo longer does one person's opinion act as a placeholder for all. The advent of the internet means that every guest is a critic, all of their opinions holding equal weight when it comes to reviewing your hotel. It's no longer enough to have one room prepared once a year for the grading inspector. Instead, every room needs to be given that treatment. Every guest expects a great experience when they book your hotel, and it's up to you to make sure that they get one, or face the wrath of the bad TripAdvisor review.Why professional reviews don't mean as much anymoreHaving an outstanding review published in an internationally recognised magazine used to be the pinnacle, practically the definition, of success. It would see guests from around the world swarming to your hotel and booking for months and years in advance. Now, a review published in a magazine is nothing more than that -- one review. It may still carry weight with some readers, but is unlikely to be the only source of advice that they look to. It will be followed by a trip to TripAdvisor, a browse of or a glance at Google, and the reviews found there will tell the reader more than that single article ever could -- it will tell them what an average experience at your hotel is like.While some hoteliers and chefs may lament the death of the professional critic, for others, the more egalitarian review system allowed by an internet to which everyone is a contributor has been a decidedly positive development.Now, hotels that may never have come across the radar of professional critics get their time to shine too. Review sites cover wide ranges of accommodations, so while your safari camp or self-catering cottages may never get the chance to grace the pages of Cosmopolitan, they are exactly what some visitors to TripAdvisor are looking for, and potential guests get the chance to read about how others have found their stays with you.The rise of the publicly accessible opinionWith the rise of review sites like TripAdvisor,, Yelp, Trivago and thousands more, suddenly opinions are public, and you're seeing reviews from people who had good and bad experiences alike. Though it can feel as though all these sites do is provide a podium for disgruntled guests to rant, or unscrupulous visitors to blackmail their way to a better room, they're doing so much more - they open up the world for hoteliers and travellers alike. You're no longer relying on one or two reviews in magazines, newspapers or guidebooks to get your name out to the public, but could have hundreds of reviews for potential guests to base their decisions on. Not only do they give travellers the power to make better-informed choices, they're giving you the opportunity to learn more about the guest experience that you provide and to respond to any criticism that you might receive.People having opinions about their stays with you is nothing newThe fact is, none of this is really new. Your guests have always been critics -- they simply haven't had the public platforms before. Word of mouth is hardly a novel concept -- think of all those great stays that saw your guests suggesting you to their friends and family. But the other side of the coin wasn't quite as noticeable -- the awful stays that saw your unhappy guests telling their real-world social network to avoid you at all costs. You didn't notice those instances, because you didn't know about them. You simply never saw the bookings. You couldn't stop the negative word of mouth from spreading or add context to it, because you didn't know where it was coming from, or who it was reaching.You can add your voice to the discussion onlineNow, the negative reviews and naysayers may be reaching more people than they were before, but, while you should obviously be trying to ensure all guests have positive experiences, bad reviews aren't necessarily something you should be scheming to circumvent. Now, you also have the opportunity to address negative reviews, and make sure that more than one side of the story is being heard. Where before, you couldn't know who was talking about your hotel, now you can be a part of the conversation.Perhaps your guests are raising points that you haven't considered before -- you have the opportunity to improve what you offer, and raise your standards. Better yet, you can make sure that your unhappy guest, and all those who may read their review later, know that their opinion matters, and that you take their suggestions to heart. Showing that you care about your reviews and your guest experiences enough to change will encourage others to consider your hotel, and maybe even have that unhappy guest considering giving you a second chance. Research by TripAdvisor suggests that a professional response to a bad review may even improve readers' impressions of your hotel, and make them more likely to book.Creating a balanced picture and getting a better rating require more reviews, not fewerWhen it comes down to it, you should really be encouraging every single one of your guests to post reviews on travel sites! The more reviews you have, the more balanced a picture you can give, not only of the accommodation that you provide, but of the atmosphere and attitude that you inspire. And, while it might be tempting to just have the ten best reviews that you've ever received displayed on every site where a potential guest might see them, the algorithms that sites like TripAdvisor use take into account not only the score of reviews, but the number of reviews and their recency as well. Therefore, the more reviews you have (even if they could be described as average at best), the better you're likely to rank, and the more uncharacteristic those few negative ones will seem to readers.Use reviews to your advantage offlineNot only are the number of reviews and the opportunity to engage with reviewers fantastic for your business, but the content of the reviews that you get will be more helpful than information that professional critics provide. People who are paid to write reviews are reviewing you for their readership, not for your benefit, and whether they're packed full of praise or niggling negativity, it can be difficult to find information that you can actually use to improve what you've got to offer. When it comes to online reviews, on the other hand, there are no holds barred, and you have the opportunity to learn exactly where you are getting things right, and where work is needed. Whether they act as the basis for making operational decisions, or creating marketing campaigns that highlight what sets you apart, your reviews can be used online and off to improve your hotel and bring the right kinds of guests to stay.For better or worse, professional critics are part of the past, along with floppy disks and VCRs. Every one of your guests has an opinion to wield and air, and it's a wonderful development that you should embrace! After all, it's not going to be changing any time soon.
Article by Lara Salomon

Are you giving your guests a room or an experience?

GuestRevu 23 November 2017
Enticing guests to stay with you has become one of the biggest obstacles in the hotel industry, since guests now have a range of options available to them - many of which are far more affordable than a traditional hotel. What many guests want from hotels also seems to have changed. While some are still looking for the familiar comfort that hotels provide, others are longing for a local experience. Hotels are uniquely equipped to cater for both.What is an experience exactly?There is often a sense of sameness between hotels. It doesn't matter if you are in Barcelona or Johannesburg, you get to your room, and know what to expect. As GoCanvas explains, "In general, guests know what to expect when they walk into a hotel room. They know there will be someone at reception, a clean bathroom stocked with travel-size toiletries, a neatly made bed, TV, phone, closet with hangers, and maybe a couple of extras -- like a microwave or mini fridge." In short, hotels offer consistency, and it can be reassuring to find that some things never change, no matter where you are on the planet.While providing that sense of comfort works well for business travellers and guests who prefer to explore on their own, many prefer to be taken out of their comfort zone. They want to experience what a city or country is like, rather than simply sticking to the hotel lobby.A great customer experience is taking customer service to the next level, and going out of your way to ensure that your customers have the best possible stay, not only at your hotel, but in your area. Doing this doesn't necessarily mean making drastic changes like upgrading every guest's accommodation or buying iPads for every room. Perhaps the biggest change that your hotel needs is a change of attitude.Engage with guestsThe foundation for a great customer experience is getting to know your guests. This is where AirBnB has an edge, according to, and is part of what has made it so popular. "There's great appeal to staying in what feels like a home, feeling connected to the person who owns it," they state. "Perhaps even being treated to insider info about a true local experience so you may have one for yourself." Staying in an AirBnB, a guest has one point of contact, who will often go beyond simply providing a room; offering insight about the area, chatting to their guests and forming a more personal connection. Staying in a hotel usually involves minimal contact with staff, based on the assumption that guests have come to you, not to make friends, but to relax.Relaxation and enjoyment have never been exclusive though, and guests are looking more and more for an interaction that goes beyond a passing smile or a friendly waiter. The number of staff that you have work in your favour here. If your staff are engaging with your guests in the same way that an AirBnB host could, they can help you to understand who your guests are and what they enjoy.Encouraging your staff to read your guests' subtle cues can mean telling the difference between guests who would prefer to be left to themselves, and those who would appreciate advice and input. This can even serve as a motivator for your team, as they will have gone from simply doing their jobs, to being vital to your guests' experiences. Even better, your guests will feel more connected to your hotel, and this connection could see them evolving from a one-time guest to a loyal customer.Personalise their stayEngaging with your guests will often give you a lot of information about them - why they are in the area, what activities they enjoy, what amenities they are taking advantage of, even what their favourite meals or drinks are. This information can be used beyond just getting to know who your guests are. As Entrepreneur explains in their 6 Ways to create a memorable customer experience, and as we mentioned earlier this year, it can help you to personalise their stay with you by anticipating what they might need."Don't we all have a story about the coffee shop waitress who doesn't ever need to be told how we like our iced tea, or the diner where the cook starts to make the same thing you always order the minute he sees you walk in the door..." asks Entrepreneur. "These experiences add value, and they also instill an enormous amount of loyalty."Personalising a guest's experience will make them feel less like just another customer. It can be the difference between a good stay and a great experience. If you know what it is that your guests want from their stay, you will be in a better position to make recommendations for things outside of the hotel that they will enjoy. This kind of advice is always appreciated, and can leave guests feeling like they have a connection to your hotel instead of seeing it as simply a place to sleep.Show your appreciationPersonalising a guest's experience of your hotel doesn't need to end when they leave. As we've pointed out before, it doesn't even have to start when they arrive. Once a guest has booked with you, you already have information about them - how many guests there will be, how old they are, if they are travelling with others, etc. You can use those details to start their experience before they even arrive. Maybe you noticed that they have children. You could send them information about your kiddies entertainment, or family friendly restaurants in town. If it's a couple, romantic restaurants might be more their style.Once your guests have left your hotel, you can take the opportunity to thank them for their stay and offer them a chance to give you feedback. Perhaps they were visiting for a special occasion. An annual email sending them your well wishes will serve as a great reminder of their stay. And, as Routier points out, if they come and stay with you again, you could already have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips about their preferences to personalise the experience even further."Think about it - each time a customer comes back, they will have an even better, more customized experience," says Routier, "and as they grow in brand loyalty, they will be more likely to continue using the same hotel."Now that you know...Hotels are in a great position: they have the ability to not only provide the comfortable familiarity that they have for years, but they also have the opportunity to engage with guests on a more personal level. All that it takes is a change of attitude and a willingness to go out of your way (and perhaps out of your own comfort zone) to provide customers with more than just a bed, but an experience of your hotel, and your area. Succeeding has the chance to not only motivate staff, but to see your guests forming deeper connections with your hotel, and coming back year after year.
Article by Sarah Came

Are you keeping your guests' personal data safe? Interview with Alan D. Meneghetti

GuestRevu 23 October 2017
Having previously been a partner at Clyde & Co LLP and Locke Lorde LLP, and with a legal career that includes specialisation in data protection, privacy and IT, few are better equipped than Katten Muchin Rosenman UK LLP Partner Alan Meneghetti to offer guidance to hoteliers on how to handle sensitive guest data carefully.We chatted with Alan to get the expert's opinion on how hoteliers can ensure they are treating their guest data with the care it deserves, and in compliance with current and incoming data protection laws.Where did you first begin to work with hotels and the hospitality industry?My first venture into hospitality was working as a room attendant at Sir Rocco Forte's fledgling group's first hotel, the Balmoral Hotel, in Edinburgh. I went on from that to be a trainee hotel manager at the Balmoral and then to work as Restaurant Manager at Sir Rocco's first purpose-built hotel in Cardiff Bay, the St David's Hotel & Spa (which the group has since sold).I knew that I loved the hotel business and spent a long time trying to work out how I could combine it with law, which I had read at both the University of Cape Town and the University of Aberdeen.How do you think hotels will be affected by the new privacy laws coming into effect next year?Hotels, as with most other businesses, will need to ensure that they are up to speed with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which commences across the EU on 25 May 2018, and ensure that their systems and agreements with their contractors are compliant with the requirements detailed in the GDPR (many of which are either new or extensions of the requirements under the existing European legislation).It is also worth remembering that the GDPR does not only apply to hotels operating in the EU, but also to those which offer services to customers in the EU (for example, gift cards, mail order and so on).With the rise of personalisation and hotels asking guests for more data than ever and often on different platforms, do hotels in general put enough emphasis on data security?No, but then I don't think most businesses do! Hotels hold an enormous amount of personal data and, quite often, personal data which is of a sensitive nature (for example, information about guests' medical conditions or meal choices which may indicate a religious preference), not to mention credit card and billing information. As a result of this, the data that hotels hold is particularly valuable and presents a prize target for thieves and fraudsters wishing to exploit vulnerabilities in a hotel's IT network.Hotels need to ensure that they know exactly what data they hold, how long they are holding it for, where they are holding it and what security measures they have in place to safeguard that data (as well as whether that security is currently sufficient - something which requires constant evaluation).Can hotels expect increased pressure to be transparent about how they are protecting guest data?Not necessarily so, in a general sense, although if there is an incident relating to personal data held by or on behalf of a hotel, the hotel must be in a position to respond to that. It is imperative that hoteliers have a plan in place for handling data incidents that is agreed upon and rehearsed in advance. Hoteliers also need to be prepared to explain to an investigating regulatory authority how its systems are set up and why it believes them to be sufficient to protect the data which the hotel holds.What is the first question a hotelier should ask when assessing whether their security measures are good enough?How strong, and where, is the weakest part of my network? This is where the vulnerability lies.Is there a chance that hotel staff could unwittingly be breaching privacy laws or regulations, particularly in smaller hotels?I think that there is every chance that this is the case. For example, does the hotel use a cloud service provider to back up its personal data and, if so, where does that cloud service provider physically store the data? If it is outside the European Economic Area (EEA), is the hotel able to point to a lawful ground (such as guest consent) to permit the export of this personal data outside the EEA?What advice would you give to independent hoteliers to ensure they comply with the new privacy laws?Spend a little bit of time getting to know your obligations under the GDPR and your network infrastructure. You can then work out if you need to update your customer and supplier agreements and your IT network, and create a plan to detail the areas that need addressing in order of priority.What's the best hotel you've ever stayed at?May I have two please? I love the Balmoral in Edinburgh because it is just so beautiful and perfectly decorated and I have watched it evolve since I first went there in 1996. Hadrian's and Number One are also two of my favourite restaurants - amazing food, great service, and both in settings which perfectly complement the food they serve. And then the Imperial in New Delhi, which has the most amazing food and service, and is a haven of calm and tranquillity in the middle of a thriving, bustling and generally very busy city.
Article by Sarah Came

Technology and the luxury guest experience: Interview with Arun Kumar

GuestRevu 19 September 2017
From his first role on the front lines of guest satisfaction as a room service waiter to management positions at four- and five-star InterContinental and Hilton properties, Arun Kumar's impressive hospitality career has taught him a thing or two about keeping guests satisfied.With around two decades of experience in the hospitality industry, Arun is an indisputable thought leader in his field, and has been recognised on "The Brit List" as one of the UK's Top 25 Most Influential & Inspirational Hoteliers and has earned a place on the Boutique Hotelier Power List for 2017.Arun's impressive credentials attracted the attention of Indian luxury hotel group Lalit Suri, which afforded him the opportunity to oversee the redevelopment of a grade II listed building in London into the group's first European hotel, The Lalit London.We asked Arun to share some of his guest experience wisdom, and tell us how technology will influence the management of luxury hotel guest satisfaction in the future.Where did you begin in the hospitality industry?My foundation for a successful hospitality career started with my first role as room service waiter.What's your role now?I am now General Manager for The Lalit London.What would you say are the cornerstones of a luxury hotel experience today?I would say that humility, trust, a good personal rapport and personalised and professional service are essential for creating an excellent luxury guest experience.You were a key part of launching The Lalit London hotel, was there an initial focus on the guest experience and what would make this up?Everything we do here at The Lalit London revolves around our guests, both internal and external. Right from the construction and design stage of the Lalit London, every aspect of this project was focused towards guest experience.Based on your experience, have guest expectations and demands changed with the rise of mobile technology?I think there has been a huge change, the online world is changing how efficient our clients expect a business to be, and with mobile technology there is now an expectation of 24/7 service. Additionally, the word "fast" in the hotel business has been redefined by social media.Does the feedback you get from guests and your online reviews play a role in how the hotel is managed?Client feedback is vital for any organisation's success; a clear sentimental analysis of guest experiences has always helped us to prioritise operational and service improvements.A lot of hotel general managers talk about the importance of using big data in terms of exceeding guest expectations - what does big data mean to you at this point?Big data is invaluable in helping us to provide an exceptional guest experience. It helps uncover a lot of hidden patterns and opens up new opportunities, helping us to design new services and products to present to our clients. It also plays a key role in better and faster decision-making processes.How do you think guest expectations might evolve over the next 5 years?I believe it is clear that guests will want a more personal, connected and informed experience, and technology will be a major brand differentiator. Areas such as virtual experiences will play a major role. At the Lalit London we have already changed the traditional model of hotel check in with our in-room check in.What's the best hotel you've stayed in and why?The Royal Mansour Marrakech - the architecture of the building, service, food everything is perfect.
Article by Stuart Dickinson

Back to basics: What is a chatbot and does my hotel need one?

GuestRevu 12 September 2017
And chances are you've already interacted with a chatbot. Think about Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, Google Assistant or Amazon's Alexa - these are all advanced forms of chatbots. Or put simply, computer programs powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that are designed to simulate conversations with human users.What is a chatbot?If you're familiar with instant messaging platforms (like Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and so on) you'll understand the basics behind a chatbot. A chatbot is essentially the next generation of this instant messaging technology that we use every day. Run using artificial intelligence, a chatbot is basically a computer answering your guests, instead of a person.Talking to a computer may not sound like a very personal experience to offer guests, but with the help of natural language processing, chatbots can expertly mimic a real, human conversation.According to Chatbot Magazine, there are essentially two types of chatbots:A chatbot that functions based on rules:This bot only responds to very specific commands (it's only as smart as it's programmed to be). If you say something it doesn't understand, it will typically reply with an error message.A chatbot that functions using machine learning:This bot has an artificial brain (artificial intelligence) and gets smarter as it learns from the conversations it has with people. You don't have to be extremely specific when you're talking to it, and it understands language, not just commands.How can a chatbot help me delight my guests?So, if we consider that a chatbot is essentially your own messaging app powered by AI, that can plug into larger messaging platforms that you already use - like Facebook Messenger, text messages, etc. - and that no human needs to man it, hotels using chatbots to provide their users or guests with information will help them achieve their goals quicker, making their user experience quick and painless.Having a chatbot means that your guests can get on-demand information in a natural and conversational way, 24/7 and in just one click, and the chances of losing a guest during the booking journey reduce considerably.Large hotel companies like Hyatt and Starwood have recently installed chatbots to act as convenient, helpful customer service channels, while Expedia, Skyscanner and have also made use of this technology to assist their clients in different ways.Meet Edward - Edwardian Hotels use a chatbot called Edward to help guests with a variety of things, from online check-in, to letting them know their rooms are ready. In fact, Edward is so good at his job that many guests thought they were dealing with a real person, and praised him with glowing reviews on TripAdvisor."Edward kindly secured me a late check out and was keen to help with anything else I needed," wrote one happy TripAdvisor user. A guest even brought an envelope to down reception with a generous tip!In April 2016, created a chatbot in Facebook Messenger that interacted with people after they made a booking. The bot handled simple requests, while humans picked up the more complex questions. Thanks to a large tech team, this service has since evolved to allow people to share their train ticket with friends and book together via Messenger.Weighing up chatbotsChatbots are still relevantly new to the hospitality industry, with large hotel brands and OTAs mostly taking advantage of them. For independent hotels and smaller chains, human-maintained instant messaging systems are still providing a good, cost-effective alternative while the tech matures.Below we weigh up some of the pros and cons of implementing your own chatbot system.Pros:Help enhance guest communicationThey are always on, and provide guests with 24/7 smart communicationThey can be multilingual, catering for international guestsBots help move guests along the booking path faster and more efficientlyReduce workload of your staffImproved profiling of guests to help you later in your efforts to boost loyaltyCons:When needed, they can't provide that human touchThe complexities of languageThe best chatbots are expensiveLet's look at these in more detail...Benefits of using a chatbot1) Enhanced guest communicationBecause the messaging system is managed by AI, chatbots are there for guests 24/7. This promptness can help make them feel special and greatly enhances brand loyalty. Additionally, chatbots can be multilingual, helping international guests feel far more at ease when they deal with your hotel in their own language.A chatbot can also help guests check in and out on the fly with their mobile device, and provide a seamless platform to ask questions or raise complaints that can be dealt with quickly by staff.2) Increase booking conversions and reduce abandonmentA chatbot can quickly direct guests down the booking path, and reduces a hotel's dependency on online travel agencies to increase direct, non-commissionable booking revenue. If your bot is always present within popular messaging apps used by millions of people every day, eventually guests will start to use this method as a natural way to book their trips.3) Reduce workload of your staffA chatbot frees up staff from the often time-consuming task of responding to hundreds of guest requests. Now they can focus on enhancing hotel functions that only humans can do. And as mentioned above, hotel staff might not be able to give guests the instant satisfaction that only a ChatBot can.4) Improved profiling of guestsBecause a chatbot interacts with guests at most (if not all) stages of their stay, you're able to gather valuable information which can later be used to automate personalised services for current or future stays. This enhanced personalisation also goes a long way towards building brand loyalty.Read about pre-stay communication techniques that help improve guest experienceConsidering the negatives1) Failing to meet expectations"The expectations of people who use bots are very high," says chief experience officer at travel firm Travelaer Mike Slone. "They think they should operate like something they see in a movie, whereas the reality is that conversational bots are quite immature today."Certain situations require a human touch, and having a bot reply to a stressful request with an automated response will often only make the situation worse.2) The complexities of languageHuman language is incredibly complex. Words have different meanings in different situations and contexts, and getting artificial intelligence to fully understand that can be massively challenging. Guests will have to understand that to get the most of a chatbot, they should use simple, direct requests.Multiple languages can also pose a problem. How do you accurately communicate with guests from countries that speak different languages?3) ChatBots are expensiveIt's estimated that building a chatbot from the ground up can cost anywhere between $30,000 and $150,000. It's a complex task to build a friendly, reliable and helpful bot that won't give you headaches along the way, so be prepared to pay the premium.There are cheaper ways to construct chatbots through pre-built apps, but these are basic shells that will need to be fleshed out further by developers.All things consideredWhile chatbots still have room for improvement (and a few complex hurdles to overcome), it's an exciting new technology that has the power to help you improve customer service, increase revenue and drive bookings.If you have the budget and need to automate the guest interaction process, then a chatbot is definitely something worth considering.
Article by Stuart Dickinson

6 Must-ask questions to consider before buying a PMS

GuestRevu 28 August 2017
Change is a constant reality in the hotel industry - new technologies, online competition and modern guest expectations are just some of the major driving forces, and nearly all aspects of hospitality are affected.Keeping ahead of these changes, as well as new emerging technologies, is a daunting task for anyone. But to ensure that your hotel keeps ahead strategically, a good place to start is taking a critical look at your PMS and making sure that it supports your growth.A good PMS controls and automates a number of processes within a hotel, ideally reducing time-consuming tasks and inefficiencies within your operation.It's not just about capturing bookings or keeping track of finance, but as technology evolves and expands, so does the need for your PMS to play an integral role in guest experience and loyalty management. Ideally, it should form the core of almost all hotel activity.According to the 2016 Smart Decision Guide to Hotel Property Management Systems, the biggest benefits of having the right property management system include:Improved guest satisfaction and quality of the guest experienceStreamlined hotel operations and reduced costsIncreased hotel occupancy, revenue and profitabilityImproved performance reporting and business intelligenceThe considerations of a new PMS might vary depending on the size and needs of different hotels, so we have taken a look at some of the most important questions you should ask during the research and evaluation process, as part of the study mentioned above.1) Does the solution offer flexibility in functionality, including data access and performance reporting?According to 87% of hoteliers interviewed in the study, gaining access to PMS data and business insights is "important" or "very important".A good PMS offers unprecedented visibility that allows you to take full control of your hotel's administration, and will come with a wide array of options when it comes to data report dashboards. Having said that, it's still important to find out what level of custom reporting is available to you before buying.Tip: Confirm that the solution is flexible in terms of keys areas of functionality, including custom report generation.2) How easily and seamlessly does the PMS integrate with third-party technologies and data?With the constant development of new technologies, having a PMS with a growing integration partner list is becoming more important. An integrated partner could be anything from a channel manager to a mobile app or online guest feedback system. Less integration opportunities could mean that you end up with data spread over a number of different applications, or having to settle for apps that don't serve your needs like they should.A great place to start is to make a list of all the third-party providers or applications you work with, or would like to work with, and check how many of them can be integrated with the PMS you are assessing.Tip: Ask about PMS compatibility and interoperability with third-party technologies in place or anticipated.3) How long will it take for problems to be resolved?It's important to have a clear understanding of the PMS platform's customer support process before making a buying decision. It's also important to consider what kind of training is provided to hotel staff who will be using the system for the first time. More than 80% of hoteliers agree that user training is a key success factor in getting the most out of a PMS.Tip: Make sure that problems will get resolved in a timely manner. Some solution providers will go so far as to guarantee response and case resolution times.4) What is the total cost of ownership? Are there "hidden" costs?Thanks to rapid developments in technology, PMS platforms today aren't nearly as expensive as their predecessors.However, whether you choose a cloud-based or traditional computer-based system for your hotel, it's important to find out if you'll be making any surprise payments down the road - some examples include future software updates, technical support, infrastructure or maintenance etc.Tip: Ascertain that all associated installation, licensing, maintenance and ongoing service as well as support fees are included in the pricing.5) What return on investment (ROI) can be expected?How much time your new PMS will save in terms of managing front desk activities, like check-ins and check-outs, consolidating guest accounts, and managing rates and availability across all of your different channels (OTAs, travel agents and so on) is a critical consideration to make.How will the new system improve sales revenue? Will it help you increase bookings thanks to seamless booking engine integration, or allow you to increase your average daily rates using integrated revenue management and forecasting tools? Analyse how the PMS will improve your ROI.Tip: Keep in mind that enhancing the quality of the overall guest experience through the deployment of a next-generation PMS should lead to a greater number of repeat guest stays and a higher volume and intensity of positive brand advocacy. The correlation between favorable guest reviews and positive economic outcomes should factor into the equation.6) What is the PMS solution provider's track record of success?Lastly, it's important to look at the company's track record before making a buying decision. Even if they've been in business for years, check their client base to determine how reliable they are. The last thing you want is to be promised the world, only to be let down by poor service delivery.Tip: Seek information about what, if any, performance issues may arise through conversations with existing clients, preferably ones in the same hotel category.Making the right decision for your hotelThe right PMS can help you streamline your business and save you hours by automating repetitive front-desk tasks, help with bookings, channel management, housekeeping and finances, to name a few.But before you make your final decision, consider:Does the solution offer flexibility in functionality, including data access and performance reporting?How easily and seamlessly does the PMS integrate with third-party technologies and data?How long will it take for problems to be resolved?What is the total cost of ownership? Are there "hidden" costs?What return on investment (ROI) can be expected?What is the PMS solution provider's track record of success?Having a firm grasp of the answers to these questions will place you in a much better purchasing position, and set you on the path towards streamlining every aspect of your hotel's day-to-day operations.
Article by Sarah Came

Hotel valuations and online reputations: Interview with Nam Quach

GuestRevu 14 August 2017
With a background in investment banking and a solid portfolio of deals he has helped to facilitate, including the sale of the Danube hotel portfolio (seven intercontinental hotels in Europe) for MSREF to a private investor, the sale of four iconic luxury Concorde Hotels for Starwood Capital to Constellation Hotels and the sale of Hilton International to Hilton Hotels Corp, if there is one thing Nam Quach can spot excellently, it is value - particularly in the hospitality and leisure sector.We decided to find out what attracted this Managing Director of the UK branch of merger and acquisition firm, DC Advisory, to working with hospitality and leisure clients, what he looks at when evaluating businesses in the sector, and what he believes the true value of online reputation is for hospitality and leisure brands.Where did you begin in the hospitality industry?I started my professional career at a Swiss bank called Warburg Dillon Read (now known as UBS) and worked as an analyst in their investment banking division focusing on Leisure & Hospitality. It was a small team and I learnt a great deal from the people there. I enjoyed the sector so much that 17 years on, I am still focused on that industry.What is your position now?I've recently joined DC Advisory as a Managing Director. We're part of Daiwa Securities and we focus on mid-market M&A transactions as well as raising capital for our clients across Europe.What role do sites like TripAdvisor play when you're evaluating a hotel?When we assess potential hotel opportunities for our clients, particularly portfolios, TripAdvisor is a very useful tool in gauging customer feedback. In particular, it allows us to assess quickly on a desktop basis the relative quality of the hotels in question vs. competitors in the area.In some of our presentation materials to investors we would analyse the relative TripAdvisor ratings and highlight some of the feedback that comes up most often. This could be positive, such as great customer service or quality of rooms, or negative, for example the upkeep of the bathrooms. Nothing could replace an onsite inspection of the hotels, but if you had a portfolio of say, 30 hotels to assess quickly, TripAdvisor was a great initial tool to get an overall impression.How does a hotel's online reputation affect its valuation?Managing the online reputation of a hotel is very important. Valuation is made up essentially of two parts; the cash flow of the business, and the multiple that investors are willing to pay for this cash flow stream.Firstly, from a trading perspective, a better online reputation will lead to more visitation and higher spend. This will appeal to repeat customers and attract new ones, and increased cash flow will lead to higher values. Customers today analyse a number of different touch points before making a buying decision, and analysing the online reputation (through sites such as TripAdvisor) is one important component.Secondly, a better reputation online may signal other traits such as a well invested business, and therefore additional upfront investment required to address any shortfalls could be less. This could be in form of physical assets (carpets, the restaurant, etc.) or human capital. A hotel that has a good reputation online could also signal that it is well run from a CRM point of view and that it actively manages customer feedback.Are there specific things that you look at when deciding on a valuation?Every investor will look at valuation differently, and that is what, essentially, creates the market. The most common valuation factors when looking at hotels is a measure of profit and cashflow, say EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) or NOI (net operating income) and the yield or multiple which is applied to these earnings. DCF (discounted cash flow analysis) is another way of assessing value by discounting the future earnings stream of a business. Every investor will have a different view on the earnings potential and the future, and will have a different view on risk, and hence value.If a hotel wanted to ready itself for a sale, what are the key things you would advise it to do?The key thing is preparation. These intense processes last a number of months from start to finish. Preparation is not just important from the transactional perspective that I focus on, but is also important for the business itself and the people affected by the sale (be it employees or management). It is often forgotten that hotels are a people business. Not being fully prepared could add delays to the process, or, worse still, give the impression to investors that it is poorly run. Being upfront and efficient with material portrays to investors that management is on top of the details.Making sure that management and employees are continuing to drive the business forward during a sales process is also critical. This can be managed in a number of different ways (confidentiality, incentives, etc.) but the last thing we would want to see is a trading dip as employees are switched off. This will affect valuation.What's the best hotel you've stayed in and why?After 17 years in the industry I've stayed at a number of hotels, but for me the best hotel I have ever stayed in was the Conrad Pezula in South Africa. It was off-season, so very few guests were around. The hotel was beautiful and I had a lovely suite. I remember opening the doors in the evening as the sun was setting and just hearing nature play its song - truly spectacular.
Article by Francine Heywood

Where Guest Engagement and Technology Meet For Boutique Hotels

GuestRevu 22 May 2017
Technology has changed not only the hotel booking landscape, but is also creeping into the very job of being a hotelier. Hilton is even piloting a robot concierge featuring advanced artificial intelligence and the ability to "learn" from its interactions with guests.Most hoteliers, and their guests, for that matter, do still prefer to interact with real humans, but considering the impact that technology has on our day-to-day lives, even those guests looking for the most hands-on experience expect the speed and convenience that modern technology provides (and that we have all come to take for granted). This is even more true for hotel brands focusing on more personalised and intimate guest experiences.The ever-changing expectations of guests and fierce competition for online bookings mean that technological solutions have to be embraced. But which ones? Ironically, more technology can also mean more challenges for smaller or boutique hotels where budget allocations and staffing limitations can lead to wasted time and money. This confusion is compounded by the fact that two-way radios and clipboards can still get the job done adequately (although not excellently).Before you embark on a quest to become gadget-wise in your hotel - especially a boutique hotel - ask yourself what kind of guest experience you are trying to provide. A hospitality business exists for and because of its guests, and therefore all operational decisions, including choosing what technology to implement, should be informed by a careful consideration of what will improve and enhance the guest experience, what will help you to win bookings during the path to purchase, and ultimately inspire trust in your brand over your competitors.For boutique hotels especially, where the product is a unique personalised experience (in contrast to more homogenous commercial brands), trust is an immensely valuable commodity: your customers can't send the product back if they aren't happy with it, they can't test it with a free trial if they are unsure, and making a purchase (going on holiday) is costly in terms of both time and money.Thanks to the growth of user-generated content online, your prospective guests have the capacity to learn directly from your previous guests about the best and worst aspects of your hotel. People from around the world are sharing experiences with one another without ever having met. This highlights one of the first and most basic things all hoteliers need to address immediately: their online reputations.In 2009, researchers found that around 80% of travellers worldwide were referring to sites like TripAdvisor during their travel purchasing journey, and although there is an increasing awareness among consumers that not all online reviews are genuine, a 2014 study conducted in Germany found that 86% of people consider reviews to be "credible" or "very credible", and the European Commission's 2014 Study on Online Consumer Reviews in the Hotel Sector states that consumers are "confident in their own ability to make a balanced and informed decision on how to use the feedback."Not only is there a culture of sharing reviews, there is a culture of sharing experiences: EyeforTravel found that 70% of travellers update Facebook with photos and text posts while on vacation. According to research by Neilsen, personal recommendations are the most trusted form of 'advertising', because, at the end of the day, people trust people - not brands.It is clear that reviews are critical both in influencing guests during the path to purchase and inspiring loyalty. Online reputation management technology can help to maximise these effects in ways that do not detract from the personalised experience many hoteliers seek to provide for their guests, and, when used well, can help you to create an even more exceptional guest experience.Besides the clear positive effect on guest experience, having feedback and review data on hand allows hoteliers to compare their own performance to that of their competitors, and discover areas where they can achieve a competitive edge.Using your guest feedback and online reviews as a foundation, you can build up a technology stack that is suited to your guests' needs, while avoiding implementing technology just for the sake of seeming cutting edge. Evaluate your guests' feedback to find out where their experience needs enhancing or streamlining in order to determine which post, during or pre-stay technology you should implement.Remember that the technology that will improve a guest's stay isn't always technology designed specifically for the hotel industry - a Netflix account that allows your guests to choose their own in-room entertainment may be more valuable than key-less doors. Having a system in place to manage feedback and online reviews will help identify these instances.Online reviews and other user generated content, such as social media posts and blogs, are not only trusted, but are sought after by people planning to travel. Asking people for online reviews, and making it easy for them to post them, will increase your number of reviews, and may well increase your proportion of positive reviews. Also consider a marketing strategy that focusses on guest-created content to amplify a sense of trust in your brand.Engagement is essential for building trust, and with the right technology, engagement and feedback can become useful for marketing, operations and management.Hotel technology is becoming increasingly integrated and amalgamated, and the trend in guest relations technology is towards an integrated, consolidated solution that not only provides guest feedback and online reputation management tools, but also performs basic marketing tasks, such as email segmentation and social sharing.While you consider your marketing strategy and evaluate your choices for additions to your technology stack, make sure you have a strong foundation on which to build. Guest feedback and online reviews have the power to not only inspire trust in your brand and to foster loyalty, but can also inform your future technological and operational decisions.
Article by Sarah Came

What Hoteliers Need To Know About Personalisation Technology

GuestRevu 27 March 2017
In today's world of easily accessible big data, personalisation (admittedly in variably successful forms) is ubiquitous. People you have never had a conversation with in your life send you marketing emails addressed to you by name, and Facebook wishes you happy birthday, knows what news you will be interested in, and makes videos of you and your friends.Businesses in all industries are becoming increasingly digital and data-centric, and the data-enabled push towards personalisation hasn't passed the hospitality industry by. According to research by Samsung, nine out of 10 hoteliers believe guests will expect their stays to be personalised by 2020, and, if you're worrying about guests feeling uneasy about the invasiveness of technology, don't - Software Advice, an online technology reviews firm, discovered that even technology as powerful as facial recognition software would be welcomed by 41% of guests if it was used to personalise their stays.Your guests expect you to know them before they arrive, they assume that you know what they want and are ready to provide it, and they expect to be treated as individuals - the best (and possibly only) way to do this is with data analytics. The data on your guests is everywhere - in their social media accounts, in their interactions with your website, in their IP addresses, and, if you ask them for it directly, in pre- and post-stay surveys.Many hoteliers have begun to take advantage of the ease with which modern technology allows them to collect and interpret data to enhance efforts at personalisation, so what kinds of tools and resources are available to help hoteliers implement personalisation?1. Tools for basic personalisationBefore you stride confidently out into the world of data capturing, ready to serve guests their favourite dessert of their childhood on the anniversary of their high school graduation, you need to perfect the task of remembering what guests have already told you.To make personalisation possible, you first need technology that makes it easy to store, retrieve and use guest data collected during the booking process (and previous stays). At the very least, you should know your guest's name, how to contact them, how many people are in his or her party and what room (or room type) they have booked.Of course, this kind of data is hardly complex, and you could collect and store it with a piece of paper and a pen. However, as basic as this information is, it is the foundation upon which the rest of your personalisation data will rest, so it is wise to collect it electronically.Centralised guest dataThe vast majority of hotels these days will use some kind of property management system (PMS), which collects this basic data about the hotel guests. Because the data collected in your PMS is the primary data you will build guest profiles upon, it is best to choose a PMS that can be integrated with any other technology you have in place, or might choose to implement in the future.Guest pre-stay communicationAnother basic building block for personalising guest experiences is simply asking guests if there is anything in particular that they want. Pre-stay surveys are an easy way to get started with personalising a guest's experience - for example, you can ask about bedding, toiletry and minibar preferences or check if guests have dietary restrictions.2. Tools for better personalisationIf you want to take personalisation seriously, travellers' experiences with your hotel's brand in the digital space can and should be personalised long before they decide to book with you.Personalising prospective guests' digital experienceAs soon as a person lands on your hotel's website, it is possible to track where in the world the session originates from, for example. This allows you to partially "personalise" that visitor's experience with your brand; you could offer your content in that country's official language, or show them your prices in the local currency.While it is possible to do so without one, a sophisticated content management system (CMS) will track information such as location and make it easy for you to alter the content displayed depending on a variety of criteria. These types of CMSs also make it easy for you to use cookies* to 'remember' visitors to your website.Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can also help with delivering the right message to the right person at the right time by helping you to segment your contacts, as well as allowing you to find out more about previous guests so that you can further personalise their future visits.Personalising future visits, sales and marketingThe process of collecting data that can help with personalising guest stays needn't stop after a guest's first visit. Post-stay questionnaires are a vital part of gathering the information you need to learn not only more about your operations and where your hotel is doing well and where you need to improve, but also more about individual traveller's likes and dislikes.This information can be used to personalise guests' future stays at your hotel (or at another hotel in your group), as well as to help you to discover what kinds of marketing communication guests might be interested in in the future so that you can send them more targeted offers.Although we have listed it as a more advanced tool from a personalisation perspective, some kind of guest feedback system should be part of every hotelier's basic management arsenal.3. Tools for over-the-top personalisationWhen it comes to personalisation, the line between just right and over-the-top will obviously be dictated by your guests' likes, dislikes and expectations. However, the sky seems to be the limit when it comes to personalisation technology, especially when you consider the myriad of possibilities provided by the powerful technology in guests' pockets - smartphones.Some large hotel chains have begun developing custom mobile apps that act as concierges in guests' smartphones, helping them check in and out, make dinner reservations and plan outings in unknown cities.Other apps have been developed that allow guests to control "smart rooms" remotely via their smartphones, so that they are in charge of their own personalisation experiences. Such technology can allow guests to customise room elements like lighting, entertainment options and temperature remotely.What about Human Resources?Of course, technology can't do it all alone, and even hotels experimenting with robot concierges still have human staff. Human resources are undoubtedly still needed to manage data analysis and personalisation efforts (for the time being at least), and it is questionable whether it would even be desirable for the majority of hotels to eliminate human interaction.The human touch, rather than the technology, is probably what most guests will remember about their stays. When used well, technology helps to facilitate the human interaction guests need for their stays to be special, and when technology helps to automate processes, it frees up staff members' time so that they can attend personally to guests.While technology systems can help you gather, store and retrieve valuable data, and make personalisation that much easier, it is also important not to rely too heavily on technology. The warmth and genuine interpersonal connection of good hospitality will often outweigh a fancy app.What about privacy and safety concerns?As soon as you begin storing data about individuals, you accept responsibility for the safety of that data. Because of the amount of data now being collected and stored by almost every website people visit, people are becoming more concerned about security and privacy.Make sure that people are aware of what information you are recording, use the information responsibly (and never sell it to third parties) and make sure you have done everything you reasonably can to keep people's personal data safe.Remember that different demographics will take differently to the knowledge that their interactions with you are being recorded, so it might be wise to gauge your guests' sentiments when it comes to the matter of privacy versus personalisation.How can a hotel get the most out of personalisation technology?In every touchpoint that your guest has with your hotel, from the very first time they visit your website to months, or even years, after they have stayed with you, there are opportunities to gather data about that guest and technology to help you do it.The key to getting the most out of this technology and the separate data points it collects is integration. Making sure that your different technologies are as integrated as possible with one another will allow you to build a rich, consolidated portrait of each guest over time, and allow you to collect and retrieve data in such a way that it is actually useful when it comes to personalising your guest experience.Creativity in your use of the data you collect will help you to stand out from the crowd - having tech that automatically addresses a person by name in an email is nifty, but it's not real personalisation. Technology can't do personalisation for you, its role is to provide you with the tools and information you need to make sure that your establishment's natural charm and hospitality is felt by each individual in a way that is meaningful for them.*While most people take cookies for granted these days, there are laws in some parts of the world that may require you get consent from your website visitors before you use some types of cookies.

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