Gone are the days of leather-bound reservation books and manual switchboards. At the heart of almost every hotel in the world is a property management system (PMS). Managing bookings, monitoring rates and dealing with check-ins/outs are just the basic operations of PMS, but as technology advances at speed, these systems can do much more.
Hotel giant Westin installed HotelType, the first reservation system back in 1947, a teletype machine which could instantly confirm a guest's reservation. In 1958, Sheraton launched Reservatron, the industry's first electronic reservation system, while Choice and Holiday Inn were the pioneers on online bookings through their own websites in 1995.
The PMS industry has grown at a rapid pace ever since. Modern systems not only manage rooms and sales, but can upsell services like restaurant, spa and golf bookings, interface with electronic locking systems and even set room temperatures. However, out-of-date software and clunky interfaces can be a headache for hoteliers.
I want to be able to look at the system, without training, and be able to logically guess what I should do next - Genevieve Langford, Hotel Ziggurat
"For me, the system has to be visually appealing," says Genevieve Langford, Owner of Hotel Ziggurat, a boutique property in St Peter's Port, Guernsey. "It has to make immediate visual sense and be logical. I want to be able to look at the system, without training, and be able to logically guess what I should do next. I also want my staff to be able to use the system with minimal training."
Hotel Ziggurat uses a system, which checks guests in and out using a drag-and-drop interface. "Finding software that speaks to each is the real problem for me,” explains Langford. “We have three pieces of software - hotel management, restaurant management and accounting, it’s hard finding good software that integrates all three. Some systems seem absurdly complicated, the back end may work well but the front end feels bulky and badly designed.”
Many hotels are moving towards a more relaxed approach to check-in, doing away with the formal desk. Photo: Dan Gold, Unsplash
And that's the key, easy to use, easy to manage and easy to accessorise. "We're about to change our system over,” says Vicki Ashmore, Revenue and Reservations Manager at Foxhills Golf Resort in Surrey. “[Our system] works from one profile for our guests, so we're able to understand our customers better. We can also integrate other systems for restaurant reservations.”
Christina Simons, Owner of Cottage Lodge Hotel, a 15-bedroom property in the New Forest uses a pay-as-you-go online reservation system, where running costs are related to booking revenue. "I chose it because it was more flexible than my previous package," says Simons. "However, it doesn't allow me to exceed rate parity with third parties, I can't personalise the invoice or add my own information like new deals to the post-visit email.”
One of the biggest developments is the growth of cloud-based systems. Rather than buying software, hoteliers use systems hosted by a third-party. “Cloud-based systems have the benefit of no capitalisation, secure backups and licensing,” explains John Trueman, CEO of Quadranet, a global software company which provides Quadranet Hospitality Suites to The Ritz London and The Pig hotel group.
“One drawback is that storing company information in the cloud leaves you slightly more prone to external hacking attempts. They can be also liable to technical issues and potential dysfunction that's out of your hands."
Changing check-in experience
Mobile access has been another big push. Many hotels are moving towards a more relaxed approach to check-in, doing away with the formal desk and checking in their guests in the lounge via a tablet. There's also been a rise in systems connecting to guest service apps such as ButlerPad, which acts like a concierge and can book a table at the restaurant, order room service or message housekeeping all from a guest's smartphone. While Hotelbird digitalises the entire guest experience from checking in and providing room keys to checking out and payment.
“Looking to the future, especially with potentially uncertain times ahead such as Brexit, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the hospitality sector needs to look at ways of retaining loyal customers,” suggests Trueman. “Loyalty systems have been a great success, such as phone-based QR codes and payment methods like Mastercard’s Qkr, where guests with an account are given a code and can pay it off at any time, creating a frictionless point-of-sale. We can expect to see more of these tools in the future of hotel management systems.”
While we're a few years away from self-making beds and hover butlers, investing in a good property management system is one way to stay ahead of the game.
Manage your property on the Extranet
- Integration of different systems is a big challenge for many properties, who might have separate systems for accounting and hotel management, for example
- Modern PMS can upsell services like restaurant, spa and golf bookings, interface with electronic locking systems and set room temperatures
- Cloud-based systems are the biggest growth in the industry. Using a third-party system can reduce costs and offer secure backup
- Mobile access is an important tool for PMS, enabling staff to be more flexible with check in and guest services
- The hospitality sector needs to focus on introducing more loyalty systems, and PMS tools can help with this
- Modern PMS systems can integrate with guest service apps and virtual concierges, encouraging a smoother client experience