Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs. ~ Henry Ford

As hotel operators, you know first-hand that the lodging industry has experienced ups and downs in recent years.  But with all business down cycles, one thing remains constant – an upcycle will eventually occur.  And luckily for the lodging industry, the upcycle is happening now.

Leading public accounting firm PWC, in conjunction with Smith Travel Research, has forecasted 2014 to be an excellent year for hotel industry growth, both for large chains and independents.  For the independent hotel segment, PWC expects RevPAR (Revenue Per Available Room) growth of 5.9%, driven primarily by stronger ADR (Average Daily Rate).  Additionally, demand for hotel rooms is expected to increase 2.3% for US independents.

To briefly sum up PWC’s report – this is Good News.  Consumer confidence is growing, so business and leisure travelers are preparing to spend more dollars on travel than in years past.  Now the responsibility falls on hotel operators to capitalize on this opportunity to grow their business.

From global chains to a countryside inn, RevPAR is used by all operators to gauge the health of their business, and RevPAR growth is the sum of many parts: efficient operations, revenue management, balancing occupancy and ADR, marketing, seasonality, competition, etc.  The list goes on and unfortunately, there isn’t one cure-all solution to sync all the moving parts of your business that impact RevPAR.

However, by breaking these parts into smaller, more manageable projects, collectively you will better set yourself up for RevPAR growth.

We’ve put together a list of three tips that can help you to grow RevPAR in 2014 and beyond.

Your Guest’s First Impression

Information is only valuable when it is correct and consistent.

Starting with your property’s website, social media channels, Google and TripAdvisor listings, Chamber of Commerce directory and anywhere else information about your property is listed, check to ensure that:

  • All important information, such as physical address, phone number, website and email, is correct
  • All of the displayed images best showcase your property.
  • All of the online links work and provide guests with the information they need to make a booking decision.

Also, ask yourself if there is any information about your property, new amenities or special rates, which can be added to help convert a potential guest into a booked reservation.

On-Property

Have you accurately represented your property, so that your guest’s experience will meet their expectations?  Ask yourself:

  • Does my property visually match the description and images posted online?
  • Am I staffed appropriately to meet the needs of my guests?
  • What up-sell opportunities do I have to present to my guests?  Special amenities and services, such as late check-out and gift certificates to local restaurants or spas, are excellent ways to generate additional revenue.

Departure

What can be done to influence a return visit or guest referral?

  • If you have an email program, send out a note thanking your guests for their stay and encouraging them to follow you and leave positive feedback on social media and review sites, such as TripAdvisor.
  • Continue your relationship by sending regular email updates so your property stays top-of-mind when they are making future travel plans or referring a friend.
  • If you have a direct-mail program, add past guests to your distribution list so they regularly receive information about your property.
  • Evaluate your competition to see what they are doing to generate new and repeat business.  Using this information, begin planning what you can do to set yourself apart.

From your first online impression to checkout there are many things that can be done to improve RevPAR in 2014. The innRoad system can help you do many of the things listed above and save you a lot of time.

Try it out for yourself today: Personalized Demo

Today, many brands, both large and small, have a presence on social media.  It ranges from simply maintaining a Facebook page to integrating the major channels, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare and Google+, into their annual marketing plan. All of these social media channels are great tools that connect properties with consumers who appreciate and wish to engage with your brand.  However, from a hotel operator standpoint, being on social media should be viewed as an opportunity, not a requirement.

Social media isn’t a magical tool that will instantly bring you new guests.  It works the same as any other task or project – the more time and effort you put into it, the better your results will be.

Social media participation can be divided into three categories, what category do you fall in to?

1)     Non-participant – Has no social media presence and does not plan to in the future.

2)     Semi-participant – Has a social media presence, but does not regularly post updates or engage with guests.

3)     Participant or Soon-to-be-Participant – Has, or plans to have, a social media presence and regularly posts updates and engages with guests.

If you are a non-participant, it is completely OK.  Social media is not for everyone and every brand.

If you are a semi-participant, it may be time to evaluate whether you should move into the non-participant or participant category.

If you cannot devote the time needed to update your accounts and engage with guests regularly, you may be harming your brand more than helping.  It’s great to say, “I’m on Facebook!,” but if a potential guest visits your page and notices unaddressed inquiries or that your last update was posted in October 2012, it may change their perception of your brand enough for them to book a room elsewhere.  If you’re still not sure which category you fall into, a tried and true test of your participation social media is: If you cannot remember your password or the last time you posted, it may be time to delete those accounts.

If you consider yourself a social media participant, or soon-to-be participant, and wish to get the most out of your efforts, innRoad will be providing regular tips and tactics to help you achieve your goals.  We’ll be covering a variety of topics, including establishing a content calendar, crisis management and how to measure social media ROI.

Social media is a fun and powerful tool that can be leveraged to help generate awareness and ultimately revenue for your property.  Stay tuned for more social media tips from innRoad. In the meantime, tell us on our facebook page what has been your most successful social media campaign to date?

At innRoad, we provide independent hotel operators with our all-in-one, cloud-based property management software to help them enhance their daily operations and deliver first-class hospitality to their guests.

Our team, as well as our loyal customers, can easily speak about the ins and outs of our software.  However, we know that when it comes to understanding technology, there is often a learning curve for most people.  And now with “the cloud” regularly mentioned on TV and online, another layer of intrigue has been added to how technology really works.

To unfamiliar users, the cloud sounds like a mysterious place where information just floats around.  Because you cannot see, touch or feel it, there is a general curiosity about what it does and how it works.  Since innRoad relies on the cloud to deliver our software to customers, we wanted to take some time to answer some frequently asked questions, as well as explain why the cloud is such a great benefit to independent hotel operators.

To start, have you ever downloaded an app or song to your mobile phone or purchased a book on your tablet?  If so, then you’re already using the cloud.  Popular technology blog Mashable defines the cloud as, “A network of servers, and each server has a different function. Some servers use computing power to run applications or “deliver a service.”

What the cloud essentially does is remove the need to have special equipment or hardware so you can access and use software programs on your computer or other devices.  When you purchased a computer in the past, you most likely had to insert various disks to download software packages. Today, most software is either quickly downloaded from the cloud or you can simply login directly to begin performing your daily tasks.

With innRoad, hotel operators do not need any special hardware, disks or other equipment.  All the technology needed is stored within the cloud, so from day one, our customers simply login from their computer and begin managing their property easier, faster and more efficiently.

A question that everyone, both new and long-time users, asks is, how secure is the cloud?  In short, very secure.  As a partner to the hotel industry, we know that data security is a priority for owners and managers, so we take all the necessary steps to protect it.

Property data at innRoad is encrypted so it is safe while being transmitted and stored in the cloud.  We regularly backup data and store it in two separate technology centers, so our customers trust that it will not get lost.  And one hotel’s data will never get mixed with another’s while being stored on the cloud.  Your data will always and only be your data.

With the cloud’s cutting-edge technology and security features, it’s usually assumed that it’s unaffordable for independent hotel operators.  However, the reality is just the opposite.  Because the need for custom hardware and special equipment is eliminated, operating in the cloud provides a significant cost savings that we are able to pass along to our customers.  It’s a great benefit for all.

Hopefully this has helped you better understand what the cloud does and how it works.  More importantly, we hope that you are able to see how innRoad uses the cloud to benefit independent hotel operators and help them to deliver exceptional hospitality experiences to their guests.

FutureTechnology

At innRoad, we believe strongly that our industry is at a major inflection point in its technology and we’re intently focused on doing our part to lead the way forward. But as good stewards of the future and to understand where the industry is going, we need to first understand the past. So this week we’ll start by looking back at the history of hotel technology over the years in an attempt to do just that and follow-up in next week’s post to take it forward.

The History of Hotel Technology

From the beginning, it seems hotel technology has always been an afterthought. In fact, the very first systems to manage hotel inventory weren’t even built for hotels — the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) were originally built for managing airline reservations and only later adapted for hotel inventory. Then Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) sold airline tickets at the start, but now profit almost exclusively off hotels: in particular, independent hotels.

Even today’s Property Management Systems (PMSs) have outgrown their original purpose. The first PMS systems automated the posting of room charges and settled guest folios. Yes, refrigerator sized calculators. These legacy PMS systems have stubbornly held and even gained ground; they are sometimes referred to as the hotel’s central nervous system and or as “Guest Management Systems”.

… BUT DON’T FALL FOR IT. Ask yourself, how many hotel guests relish the opportunity to spend more time at the front desk?

…And Then Came the Internet

50% of all travel research today is done exclusively online, meaning no other source of information is even considered; full stop. “What about the other 50%?” stubborn laggards exclaim. While this 50% is ultimately consummated offline, even then most of this research is initiated online. The consumer shift to the internet has been consistent, thorough and perhaps most importantly, transformative.

In 2013, if you add up all room nights sold online (that is, on hotel websites, OTAs and the GDS) one out of every two room nights are sold and delivered electronically. This doesn’t include Voice through your CRS, which is sold on the phone, but also delivered electronically.

Now consider these statistics… Smartphones already outnumber PCs and Tablets will surpass PCs by 2015. Today mobile internet traffic just makes up about 20% of all web usage, but will rise rapidly, as will mobile eCommerce. Changes in how consumers consume and interact with data will necessarily change how hotels receive, interpret and deliver data.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

Yet, what hasn’t changed over the past decade are the systems hoteliers use. Most current Property Management Systems (PMSs) are in their teens. Here’s the reason why… for hotels reluctant to move forward, the internal processes around reservations haven’t changed much. Most Front Desk managers still see their roles as managing approximately the same number of reservations and guests per day, only different in that they arrive by new modes, namely email and fax. Their perceptions must change.

We’ve all seen the negative effects of manual data entry as reservations come pouring in through the faxes, emails and over the telephone; employees race to keep up. Guest facing resources get allocated to back office activities, front desk employees spend more time transcribing reservations, and moments of true customer service become less and less a priority.

An increasing number of front office staff sit in back rooms, up to their necks in reservations, ultimately leading to under-resourced front desks and missed opportunities, frustrating both guests and staff. (read more) And instead of reviewing the arrival list to identify VIPs, third shift duties are now spent identifying merchant and opaque reservations, followed by imperfect attempts to suppress guest room charges. What does your PMS system know about merchant or opaque reservations? (learn more)

But hotel managers attribute these problems to the increasingly fractured online distribution network created by an increasing number of online channels and focus new technology purchases on Channel Managers which aggregate these networks. This is a mistake.

Consumers are online, Hotels must be too

Hotels must meet guests where the guest wants to be, not where the hotel wants to be. The guest wants to be online, on their device, regardless whether they are home, at the office, or at the bus stop. In order to capture today’s opportunities, hotels need systems that are untethered from the front desk.

But instead of modern, intelligent and connected systems, hotels owners have just added more systems. They add layers of complication across disparate technologies and acronyms proliferate in abundance (think PMS, CRS, IBE, RMS, CMS) and they’re now adding Channel Managers… CMX anyone?

The PMS has become a giant repository of data – often with a tenuous interface to some systems and at worst it stands all alone, a relative black box of semi-actionable information. Finding relevant information in there is tough, but acting on that information in an efficient manner is often impossible, because those actions are unnecessarily spread across several other systems.

And beware of smoke screens; the PMS is a relic and has outlived its useful purpose. If your strategy for the future revolves around your PMS vendor’s new love for “the cloud”, then your likely swimming in a shallow pool, when you were promised the ocean.

But it’s not just about the PMS, why in the world does a hotel need to have FOUR(!) different reservation systems – even if they can be interfaced? (That’s right, most hotels piece together a PMS, a CRS, an internet booking engine and a Channel Manager — each managing rates, availability and reservations.) (learn more)

Follow the Data

Until recently, the daily amount of data a hotel managed was limited to the processing of approximately 33 new reservations per day (based on the typical: 100 rooms, 66% occupancy and 2 night lengths-of-stay). Additionally, maybe some related management activities, such as check-ins and check-outs, room assignments, and settling folios. Since their existing systems did these things, they’ve kept them.

Their largest technology challenges seemed to be upstream in managing inventory updates to new online channels, so they gave their Revenue Managers a Channel Manager. While this improved data propagation, it also bifurcated reservations data and worse, completely disconnected the reservation record from the guest record.

Ultimately, the industry saw this amount of data growth as a small problem and disparate systems as a necessary evil they could live with. But consumer behavior and the rise of the Internet Meta Layer is about to change all that.

Social Media is rushing hotels towards a tipping point. Websites like Trip Advisor, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare have crowd sourced the job of sharing information about hotels to the consumer. Meaning more data will be in more places, and it will be more relevant, more transparent and more timely… And this will dramatically heighten the data management challenge for hotels. Hotels who don’t change their systems now will find they have brought a knife to a nuclear arms race.

This is the context of the future hotel technology and it will require all new technology, based more on connected platforms than separate systems. But with these challenges comes opportunity. Next week we’ll discuss why “the cloud has a silver lining for independent hotels”.