5 Practical Ways Your Hotel PMS Makes Your Workday More Efficient

As the hotel industry recovers from COVID-19 it will be important to maintain daily operational efficiency despite reduced staff levels and new operational protocols.

A modern property management system (PMS) is designed to make not only the hotel staff’s workday more efficient but the guests’ experience more satisfying. Streamline workflow and communications while offering more to guests without any extra effort from your staff. The following PMS features are examples of how a modern PMS automates daily tasks that result in a more personable customer service experience while increasing hotel productivity and efficiency on any given day.

Housekeeping Report

Responsible for the cleaning, maintenance, and preparation of rooms, housekeeping has always played an essential role in the guest experience and, therefore, the success of your property. Now, with even stricter cleaning and sanitization protocols in place due to COVID-19, the efficiency of your housekeeping team is more important than ever.

The housekeeping report provides users with a complete overview of room status and occupancy in real time, allowing for improved organization, efficiency, and guest satisfaction. Housekeepers can view their schedules and update room cleaning status from their mobile devices as they work, emphasizing accountability and improving communication.

Elevate every part of the travel journey, starting with the check-in process. Integrated with the front desk, the housekeeping report allows front desk agents to view live room status as housekeepers update their reports, making check-in simple and easy.

Convenient Check-in

Guest check-in is a hotel’s initial opportunity to make a good impression on site, a crucial step in building loyal customer relationships and an integral part of the guest experience. Efficiency and convenience are highly valued by today’s travelers, especially during these times of physical distancing. Through data automation, modern PMS streamline administration requirements for a quick yet personalized check-in process that reduces (or even eliminates) physical interaction with the front desk.

Your PMS makes it easy to create and look up reservations, access and edit guest data, recognize returning guests, assign rooms and manage billing and payments. A modern PMS also makes mobile check-in a realistic possibility for guests. Similar to pre-flight self-check-in for airlines, hotel self-check-in is available through mobile apps and is supported through integration with the PMS, giving guests the option to bypass the front desk if desired.

Integrating the PMS with other hotel systems like payment gateways, electronic locking systems, and self-check-in apps streamlines the check-in process even further, eliminating the need to manually consolidate data between systems.

Automated Guest Communications

As the travel industry recovers, guest communications will be key to driving bookings and reassuring guests your property is operating safely.

Automated guest communications ensure routine messages are consistent and timely to boost guest engagement and satisfaction. Today’s consumers are used to constant connection. Manually managing customer communications would be a full-time job, but creating automatic email templates allows you to send consistent, personalized guest communications that increase engagement with little effort.

Communicate with your guests throughout key parts of their journey and send real-time updates and offers by setting up email templates for booking confirmations and pre-arrival and post-stay emails, etc. These emails can be triggered manually or automatically within the PMS and appeal to consumer demand for relevant and responsive engagement.

Automated emails also increase your hotel’s bottom line by providing the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell ancillary services and amenities throughout your guest’s stay. By increasing your guest engagement and maximizing revenue, automated guest communications result in boosted staff productivity and guest satisfaction.

24/7 Access to Direct Online Bookings

While physical front desks and front desk agents can’t be available to guests 24/7, your PMS makes it possible for your property to accept direct bookings at any time and from anywhere. Never miss a reservation opportunity and save your staff from spending hours on the phone with travel bookers.

Furthermore, when integrated with your PMS, your online booking engine automatically sends reservations made through your property’s website straight to your PMS, instantly updating availability within the system. Rate and availability overrides made within the PMS can also be automatically reflected in the online booking engine, allowing customers to see the most up-to-date information when booking online. An integrated online booking engine makes your staff’s workday more efficient by significantly cutting back time spent manually adding and updating reservations, availability, and rates.

Booking Channel Interfaces

Booking channel interfaces provide a direct, two-way connection between the PMS and booking channel partners and save time by streamlining communication and automatically updating booking information.

Through a booking channel interface, a property’s live availability and rates are automatically relayed to third-party booking channels (OTA and GDS channels) while capturing OTA/GDS reservations in the PMS. Additionally, reservation modifications and cancellations are automatically retrieved and updated to existing OTA/GDS reservations in the PMS. Booking channel interfaces automate communication between the PMS and booking channel partners, eliminating the need to manually enter third-party bookings into the PMS and reducing the risk of overbooking or other manual errors.

A modern PMS allows you to go above and beyond for your guests while increasing your staff’s productivity and efficiency, not their workload. Streamline communication among staff and between your property and your customers to create an elevated, more satisfying work and guest experience.

Maintaining the Human Touch in a Touch-free World

COVID-19 has sped up the adoption of guest-facing mobile technology that reduces the need for physical interaction in hotels. While mobile check-in and messaging solutions were steadily gaining traction in hotels before the pandemic hit, these applications are suddenly more relevant than ever in a touch-free new world governed by physical distancing and sanitization requirements.

But such technology was never meant to replace the human touch. Without human connection there is no hospitality. Travel isn’t about seeing new places (you can do that online); it’s about connecting with and experiencing new places—the culture and the people. When it boils down to it, travel and hospitality are all about people.

Mobile solutions like self-check-in and guest messaging were designed to augment the guest experience and improve workflow by expediting administrative touchpoints. As consumer demand for mobile grew, the hospitality industry answered with the same kind of convenient mobile applications that we all use (and have come to rely on) in our everyday lives, from text messaging to online shopping to checking in. But whether guests check in online using an app or in person at the front desk, they expect to be greeted by smiling, welcoming hotel staff either way. While at this time hotels must be careful to limit physical interaction, they have to take even more care to maintain the human touch despite physical distancing protocols and increased reliance on self-service applications.

Communication is Key

Communication before, during and after a stay has always been key to increasing guest engagement. Now, with the threat of COVID-19 still out there, hotels should be stepping up digital communications to reassure, assist and connect with extra-vigilant guests.

In addition to reservation confirmations, pre-arrival and check-in communications are more important than ever to make guests feel safe and valued during these unpredictable times.

Whether by email or text message, pre-arrival and check-in messaging should be helpful and reassuring, providing clear information about new hotel protocols designed to keep guests healthy and safe. As well, include relevant information about hotel amenities and offerings to excite guests about their stay and let them know you are looking forward to their arrival.

While guests may prefer to avoid excessive physical contact with the front desk during their stay, guest messaging can be used to touch base with guests shortly after their arrival and to invite them to reach out via messaging if they have any questions or requests during their stay.

Upon departure, instructions for a contact-free check-out can be sent to the guest. Thank them for their stay and invite them to leave a review on your preferred platform, or contact your property directly with any complaints. As hotels begin operating under new health and safety guidelines, guests will appreciate being asked for feedback that will help refine the guest experience. At a time when businesses are attempting to minimize physical touchpoints, connecting with guests via digital communications throughout the guest cycle shows guests you care and is essential for strengthening the guest relationship and helping guests to confidently navigate their stay.

High-Touch Hotel Tech

Digital communication is essential to maintaining the human touch in our new touch-free world, but it must be personalized to be effective. Just as it is important for guests to be greeted warmly in person and not treated like a reservation number, it is important to communicate with guests in the same personable manner via email and text messaging.

Today’s hotel technology allows hotels to personalize guest communications at a level that surpasses what’s possible when greeting new guests in person for the first time. In order to identify a new guest arriving at the front desk, the front desk agent has to ask them for their name or reservation number. But with integrated messaging and check-in solutions, communications are automatically personalized with and triggered by guest reservation data, resulting in personable, proactive messaging that makes guests feel recognized and valued at every touchpoint.

The key here is data integration, with the property management system (PMS) at the core. When integrated with the hotel CRM, guest messaging solution or hotel app, reservation data from the PMS (including guest data, check-in/out dates and room and rate types) is used to automatically personalize messages and trigger message delivery at the right time. Incoming messages from guests (such as requests and enquiries) can be automatically matched to the guest’s reservation for timelier service delivery and resolution. Through data transparency and automation, integrated hotel systems result in high-touch digital solutions that increase guest engagement and reinforce the human touch. And as automated digital communications make it easier to manage routine messaging, hotel staff are freed up to focus on ways to make each guest’s experience special.

Delivering personalized digital communications throughout the guest cycle helps to maintain the human connection, especially during our physically disconnected times. Data integration allows hotels to automate communications at key touchpoints and personalize messaging for strong engagement. Integrating PMS data with guest communication solutions is key to personalizing the guest experience, improving staff workflow, and maintaining the human touch now and in the future.

Uncharted Times Call for Flexible Hotel Management Systems

COVID-19 changed our daily lives in the blink of an eye. We’ve had to act fast and drastically in our efforts to contain the virus and, in doing so, we’re reminded that agility and flexibility are key to navigating an unexpected turn of events.

The travel industry has been one of the hardest hit, and many lodging operators have had to make some tough decisions. These turbulent times not only call for quick, rational thinking and action, but also for tools that help us implement operational changes effectively.

For hoteliers, a flexible property management system (PMS) is critical to maintaining and improving efficiency and customer service as operational processes evolve during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Check-in

One of the most important guest touchpoints to get right, the check-in process is changing in line with physical distancing precautions the whole world is taking. A “no-touch” approach requires hotels to offer guests the ability to check themselves in, reducing or eliminating physical interaction with the front desk.

In addition to a quick face-to-face check-in process, a flexible PMS should provide self-check-in functionality through either inbuilt applications or direct integration with third-party mobile check-in apps.

WebRezPro’s Guest Agreements feature for e-check-in allows guests to submit an online agreement that confirms their acceptance of the terms and conditions of a stay before arrival so that they may be checked in remotely. The completed guest agreement is automatically attached to the guest’s reservation and triggers a personalized message informing the guest how to access their room upon arrival.

Integration of mobile key technology and online payments eliminates the need to stop by the front desk at all as there’s no need for guests to pay in person or pick up a physical room key.

Inventory

COVID-19 travel bans and restrictions have decimated hotel occupancy around the world. Many properties have been forced to close temporarily or close a portion of their inventory to cut costs. Managing quick changes to availability across all channels is greatly simplified with a PMS that offers intuitive closeout functionality and also acts as a channel manager.

When temporarily closing a property or a portion of a property, existing bookings must be considered. Room closeouts should offer the flexibility to honor bookings already in place over the designated closeout period, and automatically close rooms attached to bookings that are cancelled for that time. The closeout period should be easily adjustable, and automatic stop sells applied to all distribution channels integrated with the PMS.

For hotels that continue to operate or are reopening, new operational guidelines recommend guestrooms to be vacant for at least 24 hours between stays to allow for stringent cleaning and decontamination. This is much easier to manage with automated room closeouts that can be set to automatically close any booked rooms the day prior to check-in and for 24 hours upon check-out, ensuring new guests cannot be checked in within that window.

Rates

These uncertain times for the hotel industry have certainly highlighted the importance of agile rate management tools. While drastically slashing rates is rarely a good idea, the ability to respond quickly to changes in demand is essential for maximizing revenue. Flexible rates (and cancellation policies) help to secure bookings when demand is low.

Your rate management tools should allow you to be nimble, with instant rate overrides and closeouts that can be applied to both pricing and restrictions (like length-of-stay and closed-to-arrival/departure restrictions), and the flexibility to discount reservations on a case-by-case basis to help clinch walk-in and phone bookings.

A PMS that supports deft and dynamic pricing strategies is key to optimizing profit, especially during uncertain times when the situation is changing rapidly.

Cancellations

Flexible cancellation and change policies have helped hotels preserve customer loyalty during this crisis and, going forward, give customers confidence to book during the recovery phase.

But at a time like this it’s also important for lodging operators to have additional ways of securing future business. Some PMS like WebRezPro allow cancelled bookings to be converted into gift certificates in place of issuing a refund in order to protect revenue.

As well, your PMS should track all cancellations by code so that in an event such as the current COVID-19 crisis lodging operators can identify resulting lost business for insurance purposes and to assist with managing cancellation and refund policies.

Communication

Communication is critical during a crisis, and a flexible PMS will provide various ways to keep guests informed.

In addition to automatically triggered confirmation and pre-arrival emails that can be customized as required, bulk email functionality is useful for contacting specific groups or segments of customers as needed, for example, guests arriving within a certain timeframe.

A hotel’s website booking engine can help clarify property status to customers too. Whether informing customers of limited services (for example, COVID-19 restaurant, gym and spa closures) for all availability searches, or updating the “no availability” message to explain that the property is temporarily closed, customizable messages can be easily managed through the PMS as long as the online booking engine is integrated with the PMS.

PMS integration with mobile messaging solutions and CRM platforms also helps streamline guest communications by using real-time reservation data from the PMS to fully automate and personalize messaging. A reputable PMS will offer integration with numerous leading industry solutions.

Quite unlike any other challenge the travel industry has seen before, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us into unfamiliar territory without a map. Flexible hotel management systems are crucial to maintaining and improving efficiency and customer service while navigating these uncharted times—and any other unexpected turn of events that may come our way in the future.

Futuristic Hotel Tech for Future Hoteliers

The world has been a strange and scary place lately as we battle COVID-19, but as our combined efforts to beat the virus are starting to prove effective, we can look ahead with optimism and prepare for a more positive future. When it comes to hotel tech innovations, there’s much to be excited about.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago we were writing about futuristic hospitality technology like mobile keys, mobile concierge apps and robot butlers. While still exciting, such innovations are no longer almost within reach—they are already in the grasp of hotels today, on their way to becoming mainstream. 

So, what does the future of tech look like for hotels beyond 2020? Technology is moving at such breakneck speed that we’re sure it won’t be long before the below advancements are also within reach of both global brands and independent hoteliers. But for now, here’s a glimpse into the kind of hotel tech innovations we can all look forward to in the not-too-distant future.

Super Smart Rooms

Imagine a hotel room that can be accessed by biometric data, such as a fingerprint or facial scan, and pre-programmed with default preferences, from your ideal room temperature setting to your favourite music playlist. A voice-activated digital assistant like Alexa for Hospitality heeds your commands to close the drapes, turn on the lights, order room service and set a wake-up call. Smart mirrors and windows can display hotel information, your social media feed, or transform your real inner-city surroundings to virtually real views from the highest peak. It’s all possible with the digital connectivity afforded by IoT (Internet of Things) technology.

While we haven’t quite reached the level of the above experience in its entirety, smart room systems that control temperature, lighting and entertainment from a mobile device or smart speaker already exist, as do biometric access control systems and smart glass technology. Hotel research labs like Marriott’s Innovation Lab are currently working on how to bring such technology together to create the kind of seamless guestroom ecosystem that today most of us can still only dream of.

AI-powered Sales & Marketing

The concept of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning has lost a bit of the intrigue and apprehension that came with its once sci-fi allure. Now, far from fiction, AI is an everyday reality, powering email spam filters, credit card fraud detection, your Facebook news feed, online search and shopping recommendations, virtual voice assistants like Siri and Alexa… the list goes on.

As well as facilitating exciting smart room innovations, AI and machine learning promise a new level of sales and marketing personalization that will deliver exactly what every customer wants, where and when they want it. From intuitive customer service chatbots that recognize customers, to hyper personalized messaging, to sophisticated online booking experiences tailored to each customer and powered by voice command, AI will automate marketing communications and drive distribution and revenue management strategies to a degree we have not yet witnessed. Through the consolidation of data (more on that next) and advanced analytics, AI has the potential to create a “living, breathing” sales and marketing system that is constantly learning and adapting to your customers, automatically delivering the right messages at the right time, through the right channel, to generate more revenue. Next-gen CRM platforms like Cendyn and Revinate are ones to watch in this space.

Integrated Everything

Key to the innovations mentioned above, data integration is the foundation upon which both personalization and automation depend. The various systems in a hotel’s tech stack—including the property management system (PMS), point-of-sale (POS) system, CRM, revenue management system, payment gateway, and online distribution systems—all process and collect data. Until relatively recently, the data contained within these separate solutions could not be easily unlocked and shared between systems, resulting in a data disconnect that impeded both efficiency and guest service. Now, with the widespread adoption of cloud-based hotel technology, things have changed.

Modern hotel tech solutions utilize cloud APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to facilitate fast, inexpensive system integration that consolidates data between systems, resulting in smarter technology that automates previously manual tasks and provides deeper business insights. With the PMS at the core, direct connections to distribution channels, POS systems, payment gateways, CRM platforms, revenue management systems, etc. help to streamline operations and elevate the guest experience.

Upon the implementation of cloud systems, hoteliers quickly caught on and have been embracing the benefits of system integration for years already. So, what’s next? Imagine an online marketplace where hotels can select and implement software at the tap of a button for instant, frictionless and easily scalable tech integration that empowers hotels to discover their perfect combination of technology. Such fluidity will allow hoteliers to evolve and innovate along with technological advancements, market changes and shifting guest expectations, to maximize efficiency and revenue at all times.

Technology moves at lightning speed, but the hospitality industry is catching up. Modern hotel tech is key to operational efficiency, the guest experience, and remaining relevant in a competitive and evolving market. Make sure you’re prepared for the future by keeping your finger on the pulse of hotel tech innovation and how it can help you understand and meet the ever-changing expectations of your guests.

Staycation Destination: Marketing Your Property to Local Travelers

The world will likely see a reduction in international travel for the foreseeable future. Uncertainty around border restrictions and a wariness to book expensive flights in such an uncertain time means many people are going to be staying on their own soil for a while. But that doesn’t mean they’ve lost their yen for a getaway. They’re just going to have to get away a little closer to home. That’s why it’s the perfect time for you to be marketing your property to local travelers. Here’s how:

Identify your niche

Just like their international counterparts, domestic travelers come in a variety of types—families looking for space and amenities, couples hoping for a romantic getaway, weekend warriors seeking out a quick adventure, and escapists in search of a tranquil reprieve from regular life. You’ll need to identify which type(s) of domestic traveler your property appeals to so you can develop your marketing plan accordingly.

Focus on experiences

Local travelers aren’t as interested in seeing the sights as those coming from abroad. They already live nearby, so accommodation isn’t a necessity for them to explore the area. Rather, staycationers are driven to book overnight stays for the experience. A getaway filled with conveniences, luxuries, and special moments that aren’t available at home is just the thing to justify a hotel stay for the local traveler.

Consider offering special packages to create a one-of-a-kind experience for your guests. Maybe build a “Couples Wellness Retreat” with morning yoga, a couple’s massage, and cooking classes, or combine a bottle of champagne and a round of pedicures to make the perfect “Girlfriend’s Getaway.” You could offer a “Family Fun Package” with kayak rentals, and a complimentary breakfast. Whatever you choose, a well-curated package will provide your guests with the exciting, hassle-free experience they’re looking for. You can even offer special promotions to locals like waived pet fees or free valet parking.

Another option for enticing the experience-driven traveler is by hosting special events. Your options will depend on your property and location, and physical distancing restrictions, but experiences like a “Movie-in-the-park” night, or an intimate “Chef’s Table” event can be a fun way to stand out from your competitors.

Collaborate with local businesses

Now more than ever people are invested in supporting the local businesses in their communities. In the wake of COVID-19 shutdowns, there is a renewed sense of responsibility to patron small businesses and get money back into the local economy. Try collaborating with other brands and businesses in your community to create the perfect, cross-promotional opportunities for local consumers to do just that.

Promote local travel

In addition to marketing your property and packages specifically, it might be beneficial to promote the idea of local travel in general. There are so many positive things about vacationing close to home that are worth a dedicated social media post. Reducing one’s carbon footprint, renewing an appreciation for one’s own backyard, or supporting the local economy (as previously mentioned), are all powerful motivators to turn a vacation into a staycation. And if you’re the one that convinced them to do it, it’s likely you’ll be the property they’ll ultimately choose.

Tourism is sure to look a little different in the post-COVID-19 world, but it has always been an industry of constant evolution. The trick, as always, is to adapt. Taking some time to focus on local travelers—at least for a while—is a good way to keep getting heads in beds. Besides, a loyal guest that’s only a quick drive away is a valuable commodity. They have the ability to visit often, spontaneously, and will likely recommend your property to friends and family.

Hotel Tech for a Touchless New World

COVID-19 has pushed us all into a world of caution. Social distancing regulations and fear of infection have impacted our daily lives as we avoid physical interaction. Even as cases drop and official restrictions ease, a level of cautiousness will likely remain with us for some time. Hotels and other businesses are operating under new guidelines that include sanitization, physical distancing and contact tracing protocols, possibly permanently.

Businesses across all industries are turning to technology to help streamline new processes and maintain customer service. While it seems contrary to the notion of hospitality, right now it is important to reduce physical touchpoints during a hotel stay to help keep guests and staff safe. Modern hotel technology makes this possible through automation that also augments and personalizes the guest experience.

Over the past decade, more and more hotels have been implementing mobile technology to improve workflows and the guest experience. Now, in our touchless new world, such innovation is more crucial than ever.

Self check-in

First impressions count so check-in is an important touchpoint to get right. Guests expect an efficient, personable welcome; a bad one can taint the rest of their stay.

While the check-in process traditionally involves physical interaction between the guest and hotel staff, online technology has spurred consumer demand for self-service applications and many hotel brands have already met that demand with a mobile self-check-in option.

Integrated with the hotel property management system (PMS), mobile self-check-in applications provide guests with an efficient yet personalized check-in process while reducing time at the front desk. In fact, when integrated with online payment and keyless entry solutions, self-check-in apps allow guests to bypass the front desk entirely.

A “touchless” check-in process has never been more relevant than it is now. Self-check-in solutions not only help keep guests and staff safe during the pandemic, but improve efficiency and personalization through data automation too.

Mobile housekeeping app

Although there are less guestrooms to clean at most properties due to low occupancy levels brought about by COVID-19, new housekeeping procedures to mitigate the spread of the virus have made housekeeping responsibilities and schedules more complicated.

Right now, many travelers are wary about physical contact with other people and surfaces. To make guests feel more comfortable, some hotels are offering guests a choice between varying levels of housekeeping service. Some hotels have halted housekeeping service altogether during a guest’s stay to protect the health of both guests and housekeeping staff. Many properties are enforcing a 48-hour or longer room closeout between stays to allow for deeper cleaning and decontamination.

While COVID-19 is still a threat, staying on top of cleaning protocols, schedules and housekeeping requests is of utmost importance. Equipping housekeeping staff with mobile access to the housekeeping report ensures staff are efficient and informed at all times while they work.

Integrated with the PMS, a mobile housekeeping app improves internal communication and workflow by allowing housekeepers to view the live occupancy status of rooms (due in, occupied, do-not-disturb, checked out), and front-desk agents to see which rooms have been cleaned, inspected and are ready for guests in real time. Housekeepers can attach notes and maintenance alarms to rooms as they work, to help keep track of special housekeeping requests, maintenance issues or sick/quarantining guests.

Mobile messaging

Mobile messaging provides a way for hotels to offer guests a convenient, open line of personalized communication, without physical interaction. Rapidly growing in popularity well before COVID-19 hit, mobile messaging solutions for hotels are now truly an answer for the need of the hour.

With an impressive open rate of 98 percent, text messaging is an effective and efficient way to keep guests informed about COVID-19 protocols and hotel services. For example, an automated pre-arrival message could let guests know you are looking forward to their arrival, include a link to a dedicated URL containing relevant hotel information, and invite them to let you know if they have any questions or special requests.

As a COVID-19 precaution, hotel information folders have been removed from many guestrooms because these high-touch surfaces are difficult to clean. In many cases, properties are shifting this information online. An automated text message sent to guests upon check-in can link to online hotel information, ensuring guests are aware of house rules, the Wi-Fi password, etc., and remind guests that they can easily reach out via text messaging if they need anything.

During their stay, guests can use mobile messaging to make requests without having to make physical contact with the front desk, and on the day of departure, self-check-out instructions can be communicated automatically.

Direct integration between the mobile messaging platform and the PMS facilitates the personalization and automation of messages. In this case, reservation data is sent from the PMS to the messaging platform in real time to automate routine message delivery, and to match incoming guest inquiries with reservation data for more efficient and personalized responses and resolution. This can make a significant positive impact on productivity and customer service, not only when occupancy is high, but also when operating with skeleton staff as business begins to recover.

Smart room tech

Light switches, thermostat controls and TV remotes are high-touch points for guests that can be avoided through the use of smart room technology. Powered by IoT (Internet of Things) technology, smart room functionality can be controlled via mobile app or voice-activated digital assistants like Alexa for Hospitality. Guests can close the drapes, turn on the lights, adjust the room temperature, select entertainment programming, order room service and even turn on the coffee machine using their own smartphone or simply by voice command.

Not only does smart room technology offer an elevated level of convenience that modern travelers desire, but reducing physical contact with high-touch surfaces will make guests feel safer while COVID-19 is still out there.

Smart room technology is a significant investment and doesn’t suit all lodging operations, but it makes sense to consider such solutions for our touchless new normal and beyond. In the meantime, make sure guests know that all high-touch guestroom surfaces are disinfected after every stay.

Many aspects of daily hotel operations have changed in the wake of COVID-19. As long as the virus is a threat, operational protocols that enforce physical distancing and thorough sanitization will be our new normal. From self-check-in to mobile messaging, modern technology can help hotels improve efficiency and customer service as they adapt to new processes and prepare to welcome both guests of today and tomorrow.

Hotel Guest Expectations in a Post-COVID-19 World

It’s hard to know exactly how fast hotel occupancy levels will bounce back as COVID-19 cases drop and travel restrictions lift around the globe. Will travel consumers, confined at home for so long, burst out of the gates as soon as borders reopen? Or will they cautiously hang back, waiting to be sure that it’s safe to go out into the world again? Either way, travel demand is resilient and occupancy will recover, but uncertainty and fear of reoccurring outbreaks is likely to inhibit consumer confidence for a while.

To maximize occupancy and revenue in a post-COVID-19 world, it’s important for hotels to prepare for evolving demand and guest expectations.

Demand driven by domestic market

Health and safety concerns and financial hardship due to the pandemic will deter many travelers from air travel even as international borders open. In the short- to mid-term aftermath of the crisis, a large portion of travelers will likely avoid airports and crowded urban centers, in favor of cheaper, safer domestic trips to less-populated, drive-to destinations.

This initial trend will bode well for boutique properties in quieter areas that can adapt their marketing strategy to the domestic market. Good food, outdoor activities and self-guided or small-group tours will be attractive inclusions in staycation packages during the pandemic recovery phase.

Large chains and convention hotels that typically cater to international travelers will probably experience a longer path to recovery, however luxury resorts situated off the beaten path may see a near-term resurgence in international bookings, especially those located in regions less affected by the virus.

Stricter health and safety measures

The virus’ high infection rate and the resulting promotion of physical distancing and handwashing has made the public keenly aware of sanitization protocols. Going forward, stricter, visible health and safety measures will be required to reassure and attract guests back to airports, hotels, restaurants and other public venues.

Cleaning has always been extremely important to hotel operation, but, unlike before, it will no longer be a hidden process. Instead, guests will expect and desire to see sanitization measures in practice in order to feel safe, perhaps permanently.

Visible demonstrations of health and safety measures may include regular cleaning of surfaces, official clean certification, frequent accessibility to hand sanitizer, temperature screening of guests and staff, furniture placement for increased physical spacing in common areas (including restaurants and gyms), signs requesting physical distancing compliance (like limiting elevator use to one party at a time), removal of shared amenities like breakfast buffets and in-room minibars, implementation of self-check-in and other self-service apps, and promotion of less visible policies like the deep-cleaning of rooms and 48-hour room holds between stays.

Flexible change and cancellation policies

Many hotels have implemented flexible change and cancellation policies during this crisis to help preserve customer loyalty. Going forward, it would be wise for properties to maintain flexible policies that give customers confidence to book during the recovery phase when fears of a resurgence of the virus are still very real.

Consider temporarily reducing or eliminating cancellation and change fees for both existing reservations and new bookings on all rate types until the situation stabilizes. For cancellations, offering credit or a voucher in place of a refund will help secure future business.

Flexibility should be applied to rewards programs too. Extend point expiry dates and status validity accordingly to make sure your loyal customers don’t lose program points and benefits due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Increased sustainability

Lockdowns and travel restrictions around the globe have given our planet a bit of a breather, and the positive effects on the environment are obvious. As a result of the reduction in pollution, the canals in Venice and the sky over Beijing are clear for the first time in decades and smog levels are down over several major cities around the world. Seen by many as a silver lining and evidence that the environment can indeed heal given a chance, there may be renewed vigour for increased sustainability efforts following this crisis.

While pollution levels will likely return with a vengeance as economies push to make up for lost time, consumers may be more motivated than ever to take action by making sustainable choices. It makes sense there will be a focus on local, environmentally friendly and socially responsible business practices as we emerge from a world of highest caution. 

As this global crisis subsides, businesses that have a positive impact on their community will shine.

COVID-19 has had a deep impact on our daily lives and will continue to impact the way we live, work and travel for some time to come. Be prepared to meet evolving demand and guest expectations as we emerge from this crisis. A focus on guest safety, flexible policies and community involvement will help contribute to a positive guest experience that wins loyal customers and maximizes occupancy and revenue in a post-COVID-19 world.

COVID-19 May Benefit Direct Bookings—Is Your Hotel Ready?

According to Larry Mogelonsky of Hotel Mogel Consulting, COVID-19 might be a boon for direct bookings. As OTAs (online travel agencies) struggle with mass cancellations due to the pandemic, travelers are finding it difficult to access overloaded customer support systems (online and on the phone) to process cancellations, refunds and credits.

As Mogelonsky pointed out in his article, the frustration and uncertainty resulting from difficulty reaching customer helplines and not knowing if or when refunds or credits are available may put many travelers off using OTAs, at least for a while. Instead, making the effort to book direct with hotels and airlines for personalized and immediate service might give peace of mind to cautious travelers.

Whether such a behavioral shift eventuates is yet to be seen, but using the downtime now to rethink your distribution strategy and optimize your direct sales channel is a good plan in any case.

Now’s an opportune time to review systems like your website booking engine, or to get online bookings up and running on your property’s website if you haven’t already. Check with your property management system (PMS) provider to find out if they offer an integrated website booking engine. If you’re using WebRezPro, a commission-free online booking engine is included with your PMS.

Below, we’ve outlined important elements of a future-proof website booking engine to help you make sure you’ve got one that will maximize direct conversions and profitability going forward.

What to Look for in a Website Booking Engine – A Checklist

Travel consumers are used to the kind of streamlined online booking experience provided by OTAs. It’s important to meet the expectations of today’s travelers with a simple, seamless and secure booking process on your property’s own website to maximize conversions.

>>PMS integration

Your online booking engine should integrate with your property management system and channel manager (if your PMS is integrated with third-party distribution channels, the PMS will essentially act as your channel manager). This will ensure that room availability and rates are always up to date across all distribution channels—a necessity if you want to avoid overbooking—and that reservations coming through your website are automatically entered into the PMS.

Integration with the PMS also supports customer loyalty through recognizing repeat guests, streamlining the booking process by auto-filling fields and awarding reward points.

>>Secure

An online booking engine accepts personal and payment data from customers, so protecting the privacy and integrity of that data is critical—for both your customers and your business. Choosing a PCI DSS compliant system is extremely important. Look for security measures that include SSL encryption, secure data storage and certified integrations with payment processors.

>>Simple booking process

Complicated booking processes have higher rates of booking abandonment. The simpler, the better. Think no more than three steps: 1. Search for availability and select room; 2. Complete required booking information; 3. Booking confirmation. Only require the information you absolutely need to confirm a booking. Any additional data or options should be voluntary—strive to keep booking forms as short as possible. Remember, additional information can be collected after the booking is made, via pre-arrival communications or at check-in.

Upon completion of the booking, the system should automatically trigger a confirmation screen, instantly reassuring the customer that their booking was successful, and also a confirmation email containing the reservation details.

>>Flexible

To maximize revenue, your website booking engine should be able to accommodate all the pricing strategies you use. It should offer the flexibility to sell packages, group rates, add-ons, password-protected rates and so on, applying length-of-stay and other booking restrictions as applicable. Flexibility is more important than ever during these uncertain times. As the world recovers from the pandemic, hotels must be ready to pivot their marketing and pricing strategies to capture demand.

>>Reservation modifications and cancellations

As proven by the travel disruption caused by this pandemic, a simple, accessible process for modifying or canceling existing reservations is desired and expected by travel consumers. Going forward, this may have an even greater impact on the traveler’s decision to make a booking.

Allowing customers to modify or cancel bookings online through your website booking engine is convenient for customers and saves front-desk agents time—as long as the process is quick and easy. For example, customers should be able to retrieve their booking information by simply entering their email address and booking confirmation number, and then make changes without having to re-enter personal information. Confirmation emails are key to reassuring customers by confirming the change, and should be automated for efficiency and consistency.

It’s also important that your cancellation policy is clearly stated within your website booking engine at the time of booking. Following this crisis, it’s likely that the majority of travelers will need time to regain confidence in travel and spending. Clear, flexible cancellation policies will help provide the reassurance they need to make a booking.

>>Commission-free

Direct bookings carry a lower cost of acquisition than bookings coming through third parties that charge commission. If your PMS includes a direct online booking engine, make sure it’s commission free to maximize profit. This can make a big difference to your bottom line, especially as your direct channel gains more weight within your distribution mix.

>>Analytics

As a core component of your distribution strategy, your online booking engine should track performance so that you can measure the success of your direct booking strategy and identify areas for improvement. Automatically generated reports should provide insights into conversion rates, booking lead times, revenue from special promotions and so on.

>>Mobile-friendly

Today’s travel consumers research, plan and book travel across devices, so be ready to maximize conversions when travel bounces back with a mobile-friendly online booking engine that provides all users with an optimal experience. On mobile, that means a simple, secure, tap-friendly booking process that is easy to read and navigate on a small screen. An online booking engine that utilizes responsive design will have you covered on all devices (from desktops to smartphones).

>>Customizable to your brand

Your website booking engine should offer a degree of customization to display your business’s logo and images, as well as customizable messages and descriptions, to reinforce branding and help build credibility and trust.

>>Facebook compatibility

Very effective at attracting qualified traffic, social media has become much more than a platform to stay in touch with friends; it is also an important sales and marketing channel for businesses across industries.

Connecting your property’s Facebook page with your website booking engine makes it easy for your customers to make a booking directly from Facebook, a convenience that will help create a seamless online experience for your customers and result in increased direct bookings.

>>Inclusive

Make sure your website booking engine welcomes all by providing all customers with a user-friendly experience. Currency and language options simplify the process for international customers, and ADA-compliant features, such as ALT text for images (for screen-reader compatibility) and alerting bookers that the property offers accessible units, makes booking easier for customers with disabilities.

Many things have changed since COVID-19 swept the globe. It will take a while to get back to “normal” and it will happen at different rates and in different ways for different regions. People will travel with enthusiasm again, but it may take time for consumers to regain confidence in travel spending. Make sure your property is ready to meet future demand with a website booking engine that supports your customers through a simple, seamless and secure booking experience.

A Hotelier’s Guide to Social Media Messaging during the COVID-19 Crisis

As a company and brand it can be hard to know what to say when the whole world seems to be grinding to a halt and business is far from usual. For the time being, travel restrictions and physical distancing have devastated demand for travel services, including airlines, hotels, restaurants and attractions. While COVID-19 is a unique challenge, we know from past global tragedies and recessions that the travel industry will recover. Humans have always traveled, and once we beat the threat of COVID-19, we will travel again with enthusiasm and renewed appreciation.

In the meantime, it’s important for businesses to maintain a connection with their customers. Take this opportunity to strengthen your customer relationships so that your hotel will be top of mind when travel bounces back.

Focus on your property’s social media channels and take advantage of organic traffic. Social media, including your hotel blog, is the least expensive form of marketing and—right now—may be the most effective. People are turning to social media more than ever to stay connected, informed, entertained and inspired during this time of lockdowns and physical distancing.

But, what do you say to your customers who, like you, are experiencing varying levels of fear and uncertainty as our daily lives have been disrupted to the core? Content you scheduled before this crisis is probably no longer appropriate, so hold it back for now or at least review it from our current perspective to avoid coming across as insensitive, irrelevant or, worse, exploitative.

Now, more than ever, the right message is key to building customer relationships as the focus shifts from selling to caring.

Be helpful

During these uncertain times, we all have a lot of questions. In relation to your property, customers want to know about your COVID-19 status and how you are helping to keep people safe. The clearer you can be, the more helpful and reassuring you are to your customers. Is your property open for bookings or temporarily closed? What procedures are in place, or will be in place, for keeping guests and staff safe? What, if any, are the ramifications of canceling or changing bookings during this time?

If your hotel is able to support the community in some way, get the word out. Hotels in areas under lockdown may be open to frontline workers and members of the public needing to self-isolate. Some properties are adapting to current needs by providing services such as meal deliveries, food donations and laundry services. Providing real solutions to current needs will be noticed and appreciated by customers—both those who require the support and those who don’t.

Even properties that are temporarily closed can stay connected to customers with helpful suggestions about how to stay positive and healthy under stay-home orders. Sharing recipes from your restaurant or at-home relaxation techniques from your spa, for example, can provide a welcome distraction for customers in quarantine and allows them to enjoy elements of your property in their own homes.

Content Ideas:

>> Provide updates about your property’s status (open/open with limited services/temporarily closed/opening soon…)

>> Outline or demonstrate protocols and precautions you are implementing to keep guests safe when staying at your property, for example, enhanced housekeeping measures.

>> Highlight safe places and things to do in your city that comply with physical distancing rules and other restrictions in place, for example self-guided outdoor activities, viewpoints, scenic drives.

>> Share your efforts to support the community during this time.

>> Promote (sensitively) special offers, amenities, and flexible cancellation policies available for immediate or future bookings.

>> Share recipes, work-out routines, at-home spa treatments, and kids’ activities from your property’s experts that people can use at home.

Be positive

There’s enough bad news out there at the moment. We all need some positive input to help see us through to brighter days. Be a part of that light for your customers with messages that comfort and inspire, and reinforce the feeling that despite physical distancing rules, we are all in this together.

This doesn’t mean that we should make light of the situation, and we should definitely not ignore it. This is indeed a grave situation that we are in, and many are dealing with significant loss. Messages should convey a compassionate and hopeful tone, highlighting the good coming out of this crisis and reminding customers of what there is to look forward to.

Content Ideas:

>> Introduce/interview your employees; what do they love about their job, how are they staying positive, and what are they most looking forward to when the COVID-19 crisis is over?

>> Remind customers of what makes your property special and that it’s waiting for them when they return (the dazzling sunset views from your patio, private hot tubs, or exquisite menu…).

>> If your property is open, share positive reviews coming through at this time.

>> Share interesting or little-known facts about your city to drum up inspiration for future travel.

>> Share feel-good news stories about your local area, from acts of kindness to community initiatives to positive impacts on the natural environment.

>> Share livestreams, webcams or virtual tours from local venues and attractions that allow people to share in experiences from their own homes, for example, Shedd Aquarium’s penguin walk.

>> Ask guests to share travel memories (photos) from past stays with you.

Show customers you care

Now is the time to stand behind your brand values and show customers you care. Reinforce your commitment to their wellbeing and to customer service. Be sensitive to their needs and emotions and show them you understand the issues they are facing.

Review all messaging before publishing, carefully assessing how it may be perceived. Position your offerings as providing value to customers and relevant to real needs in the current climate. Modify calls to action (CTAs) to downplay urgency and excitement in favor of a more helpful tone, for example, instead of accompanying a package promotion with a “Book now!” button, consider choosing a less urgent CTA like “Learn more.”

Focus on strengthening existing customer relationships through messaging that empathizes, supports and inspires. And be responsive. Responding quickly and thoughtfully to comments and questions is one of the best ways to show your customers you are there for them.

Whether your property is able to remain open or has had to temporarily close, maintaining a connection with customers during these uncertain times will help set properties on the right foot when the industry recovers. As the focus shifts from selling to caring, the right messages will earn loyal customers who will stick by your business through this crisis and beyond. Don’t go dark. Be there for your customers and they will be there for you.

How Hotels Can Come Out Stronger from COVID-19

COVID-19 and the travel restrictions and lockdowns required to reduce the spread of the virus have brought about an unprecedented drop in occupancy for hotels and other lodging operations all over the world. Some properties have had to close out floors, suspend certain services such as dining and event services, or temporarily shut their doors. While the novel coronavirus has had a profound impact on daily operations, try to take advantage of this forced downtime to reflect on your business and the changes you can make to ensure your hotel is well positioned to maximize revenue when the gates of travel open again.

Review Your Marketing Strategy

There are a lot of predictions about what the new normal of travel will look like after COVID-19. As borders reopen and fears subside, will travelers still travel like they used to? There’s a general consensus that domestic travel will see an increase, while business and international travel will decrease—at least for a while.

Recovery of the travel industry will be fluid and uneven, so it will be more important than ever for hotel marketers to adopt a flexible marketing strategy based on close analysis of their reservations data and market. As the world recovers from the pandemic, hotels should prepare to adjust their marketing spend and channels to align with shifting market segments.

What is certain during these uncertain times is that maintaining communication with customers is crucial. It’s important to reassure potential guests by clarifying your property’s COVID-19 status and policies, and to stay top of mind for guests looking forward to traveling again once this is all over. While marketing messaging during COVID-19 is a topic that deserves a blog post all of its own, now is a good time to evaluate the systems you have in place to reach out to guests. For example, if you aren’t already, seriously consider automating customer communications such as reservation confirmations and pre- and post-stay emails to take advantage of these key touchpoints to build the guest relationship and generate revenue through upselling and cross-selling opportunities.

Take a good look at your website and make sure content is current, updating text and images yourself where you can. If your budget allows, consider getting that website redesign underway. Look at creating fresh photo and video content for your website and to use for future ad campaigns and on your property’s social media accounts. If you haven’t yet started a blog for your property, now might be the right time. A blog is a great way to stay connected to your customers during these uncertain times, and provides good content for your property’s social media accounts and e-newsletters too.

Read Your Online Reviews

Spend some time reading through (and responding to) recent online guest reviews to become more aware of what your guests love about your property, and what they don’t. Reviews shine a light on the areas that really need improvement—which can sometimes differ from the areas we think need attention. Let positive reviews provide encouragement during these tough times, acting as a reminder of what you are fighting for.

If your property’s online reviews are looking a bit thin, consider ways to generate more. From asking at check-out to sending post-stay review requests, review management can be handled manually or via automated solutions that make generating and responding to reviews easy.

Online reviews were critical to a hotel’s reputation before COVID-19 and are likely to be even more important after. Hotel and room cleanliness, for example, has always been a significant rating factor within guest reviews and, going forward, will carry even more weight. Paying some attention to your property’s reviews and review management strategy now can help put your property on a stronger foot when the industry starts to recover. 

Get to Know Your Hotel Operating Systems Better

Your hotel operating systems—including your property management system (PMS), revenue management system (RMS), point-of-sale (POS) software, customer relationship management (CRM) solution, among others—are designed to drive revenue and efficiency, and they will be key to maximizing both in our post-pandemic industry.

Make use of this time to delve deeper into your hotel systems to discover ways of doing things better. Explore features and reports you are unfamiliar with and consider how they might help make your workday easier or provide deeper insights into your business. What would you like your systems to do better? What cross-system integrations would improve workflows and the guest experience at your property? Now is a good time to reach out to your technology vendors with questions and customization requests. If any of your systems are holding you back, dedicate some downtime to researching alternative solutions. Although you might be hesitant to invest in new technology right now, contact solution providers, ask questions, and be ready to go with your top choice when brighter days come.

Cross-train Your Staff

As roles across departments have become quieter these days, consider using this time to cross-train your staff. The flexibility afforded by cross-training staff is always beneficial to a business’s bottom line—both during tough times and when business is going well.

The decision to cross-train staff within or across departments depends on each business and your employees’ strengths and skill sets. Giving employees the ability to step outside their primary roles when needed not only maximizes flexibility and efficiency in scheduling staff, but results in a more productive, engaged and cohesive team that delivers a better guest experience.

Reassess Your Expenses

The COVID-19 crisis has already driven most hotels and businesses across industries to reassess their expenses, looking for ways to reduce costs. While it may never have been so urgent to cut costs as it is now, identifying wasteful or excessive practices has always been key to maximizing profits.

Look for ways to become more cost efficient going forward without negatively impacting the guest experience or brand image. Assessing staff scheduling efficiency, cross-training staff, identifying opportunities for automation, sourcing F&B supplies from fewer vendors and reducing frequency of deliveries, implementing energy-efficiency controls, and sourcing cheaper office supplies are some examples of how and where costs could be minimized without affecting quality of service.

Find Ways to Go Greener

For the world’s population the novel coronavirus is a health tragedy, but for the planet, COVID-19 has brought about a much-needed breather—from us. Satellite imaging has shown a significant reduction in pollution all over the world as a direct result of lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Climate change and the need to live and operate our businesses in a more sustainable way has been front of mind long since before this pandemic hit. Recent research showed that sustainable travel options were becoming increasingly important to today’s travelers. Tomorrow it will be even more important.

If you haven’t already given it much thought, consider ways you could go greener at your hotel and how you can promote your sustainability efforts. Some methods require little upfront investment, like installing energy-efficient lightbulbs, implementing towel and linen reuse programs, and replacing single-use packaging (water bottles, mini toiletries, salt-and-pepper packets, etc.) with refillable solutions. Other ways, such as adopting alternative energy sources like solar and wind power, and implementing automated energy management systems, involve much more significant upfront costs, but dramatically reduce operational costs and your environmental footprint.

These are the toughest times for the hotel industry in recent history, but try to stay positive and focused on the horizon. Use this time wisely to take a close look at your business and how you can emerge from this crisis even stronger.