We asked industry experts if NOW is the ideal time to review and re-think your technology systems
Is it a good time to invest in improving your management systems and guest experience – even when budgets are tight and staff numbers are low?
During a recent webinar, hear what our panellists - Sally Richards (Managing Director at RaspberrySky), Richard Palmer (Managing Director at Devonshire Hotels and Restaurants), Craig Ewan (Operations Director at Kingsmills Hotel Group) and Vicki Jackson (Deputy Hotel Manager at Gisborough Hall Hotel) - had to say on the subject…
Question: Many hotels are now reviewing their PMS and Distribution solutions…Can you suggest any reasons why, despite everything that is happening, this might actually be a good time to invest in improving your management systems?
- Sally Richards - Covid has accelerated the need for a digital guest journey, especially the need for contactless payments and communication on-property, which has made hotels look into cloud-based systems and their overall technology stack. Often their current system isn’t sophisticated enough especially if it’s a hosted, legacy solution.
They’re now finding the new cloud systems are more cutting edge and have commercial benefits. Another motivation is how quickly they could implement a new system which sometimes involves multiple providers - how easy it is to integrate third party systems and whether their PMS has an open API.
This will determine if their system is fit for purpose - and if not, hoteliers should look at other options that will help improve guest touch points and make efficiencies in back office operations.
- Vicki Jackson - We migrated to Guestline PMS on 20th January. The lockdowns gave us the time to review our systems and our business to see where we could improve to the benefit of our guests and our team.
We also looked at cost lines to see where we could make savings and moving to Guestline has saved us money. We were so unhappy with our previous legacy system [from when we were a Marriott hotel] and the provider’s lack of support and understanding of an independent hotel. We’ve been talking about it for so long, so we knew this was the right time and opportunity to actually move.
- Richard Palmer - It’s the perfect opportunity for management to look at every area and critique it - without any of the other day to day operations disturbing you.
In terms of PMS, people are pushing for the joined-up approach and wanting to achieve an aligned and sophisticated customer journey like online retailers. We’re aiming for a one stop shop, a platform where everything can be facilitated online, to deliver an enhanced guest journey and a more efficient back of house system – ultimately giving our staff more time to focus on the guests and give great hospitality.
- Sally Richards - Technology is an enabler and should provide the guest with choice – it should allow the customer to automate their experience if they want and support a guest journey in the most frictionless way possible. Guests are generally short of time, no one wants to spend 10 minutes checking into a hotel when they could do it online. Hotels should put systems in place that not only saves time but gives customers the choice.
Q: Changing your PMS is a big decision and with less staff at the hotel it’s hard for a hotel to follow the normal process - what guidance would you give a hotel operator who ‘knows’ they need to act now, but are nervous about making a wrong decision?
- Sally Richards - Hoteliers should a devise a list of business requirements and engage all areas of the business that use the system to see what requirements are critical versus what’s ‘nice to have’. Make sure you’ve future-proofed your list so you’ve covered what you want to get out of your system in 3-5 years’ time. Then ask PMS suppliers if this is something they can help you with so you can make an informed decision. Find out what their capabilities are, what’s on their roadmap and speak to other customers to get testimonials.
- Vicki Jackson - In some respects, it was easier to make the decision with fewer people in the hotel - as long as the key players in the hotel [front office, finance, management etc.] were happy with our decision then we felt we’d covered all bases. Gut instinct helps too – speaking to the team and other hoteliers for recommendations, you get an impression of what the company is like and whether you could partner with them - word of mouth goes a long way!
- Richard Palmer - Don’t be tempted to take any legacy process workarounds into your new systems because ‘you’ve always done it that way’. Be prepared to review and validate your internal processes – from accounts to operations - and look at new, more efficient ways of doing things.
- Sally Richards - Yes, be open to change and re-engineer existing processes that aren’t fit for purpose anymore. It’s important to think differently and approach it with fresh eyes to see how you can transform your business and get bang for your buck!
- Craig Ewan - We inherited an old system when we were a Marriott hotel and the lack of support as an independent was appalling so that was the biggest reason for us going to market. We wanted to have one reservation office for our group of hotels so we now have that flexibility. We didn’t have to provide the capital outlay as we were able to use the SaaS model and pay for the system on a monthly basis which really works well for us.
- James Cannon - Yes here at Guestline, we’ve had to change our approach and offer new payment models so cash stays within the hotel, especially during this crucial time. We now offer SaaS commercial models [compared to the legacy licence fee model] which are proving popular.
Q: Hotels might be reluctant to make any changes to processes or systems while key members of their teams are furloughed. What advice would you give them?
- Vicki Jackson - All the training was conducted remotely by our Guestline trainer to me and a small team here in the hotel and on key dates more staff came in for socially distanced training. They all welcomed the opportunity to be back in the hotel, for a little bit of normality, and to engage their brain! It took a bit of time to get back into the swing of things, but it all worked brilliantly. As the hotel is still closed, we have a training plan so when we re-open and the team come back, they’ll have some refresher training to make it a true success.
- Richard Palmer - Online training has become the new normal - it has helped us as we’re spread over 2 estates. It’ll be something we make more use of going forward and it will evolve to become as good, if not better as a classroom environment, so it’ll definitely stay for the future.
- Craig Ewan - A benefit of changing over whilst in lockdown, is that it’s a lot easier and quickly to manually transfer your bookings as you won’t have as many reservations at the moment [unlike when we switched systems and had to transfer 24,000 bookings!]
- Vicki Jackson - I agree... I’ve live loaded a number of reservations in the past, and although it’s not ideal to have less business on the books, it does make life a lot easier to do it this time with fewer reservations!
Q: Investment in better systems to drive incremental revenue / operational efficiency is all well and good, but at a time when literally every penny needs to stay in the hotel’s bank account how does a hotel even contemplate a program of improvement?
- Richard Palmer - Look at how it will improve your back office operations and guest journey – go back to the existing provider and see what they can do. I’d always prefer to deal with fewer suppliers and work with my existing partner to see what’s achievable with the existing system.
- Vicki Jackson - This past year has made us really realise how important our team and our guests are – providing our team with a system that’s slow and forever failing, who are trying to hide their frustration from guests, is really not what you’d expect from a four-star, luxury hotel. Check-in shouldn’t take 15 minutes because the system isn’t working and you can see the lack of eye contact and engagement with the guest as you‘re so tied up with a system that’s failing you.
So having a system that’s quick and slick, that supports everyone’s efficiency and effectiveness and removes so much frustration from the team, is reason alone for the investment we’ve made.
"The lockdowns gave us the time to review our systems to see where we could improve"
"It’s the perfect time for management to look at every area and critique it - without any of the other disruptions"
"Covid has accelerated the need for a digital guest journey, especially with payments"
Gisborough Hall Hotel
Kingsmills Hotel Group
Devonshire Hotels and Restaurants
- Kate Fuller, Marketing Manager, Guestline
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