Peak Season Prep: An Independent Hotelier’s Checklist

As we head into summer in the Northern Hemisphere, many properties around the world are gearing up for peak season. Preparing for a wave of summer vacationers (or winter adventurers in the Southern Hemisphere) can both excite and intimidate lodging providers. On one hand, occupancy and revenue are up (yay!), on the other, the pressure is on to maintain top service levels with less time and more stress (eek!).

High season is a crucial time to make a good impression on guests; welcoming a sea of new and repeat customers provides an ideal opportunity to earn a big bunch of loyal fans. It’s important for everything to go smoothly during a property’s busiest time, especially when the competition is also heating up.

For everything to go as planned, there needs to be a plan! Here are our suggestions for preparing for your peak season…

  • Spruce Up Your Property

Evaluate your property through the critical eyes of a guest; take a good look at the guestrooms, lobby, dining area and outdoor space and fix or replace anything showing obvious signs of wear and tear. Do room curtains need washing or mending? Do bathtubs or showers need re-grouting? Are all the coffee pots and TV remotes working? Is the patio furniture in good shape? Are exterior walls in need of a splash of fresh paint? Even minor improvements, such as hanging flower baskets, can make a world of difference.

  • Review Data for Optimal Pricing & Distribution

Review last year’s occupancy and revenue data to help you price your rooms and packages right and to optimize availability across distribution channels. It’s also important to take nearby competition into consideration, as well as other factors that impact pricing and availability (like major annual events), to ensure your property is priced competitively.

You might like to consider restrictions like minimum and maximum length of stay and closed to arrival too. If managed correctly, these strategies can be effective for increasing RevPAR during high demand periods. For tips on when and how to use length-of-stay strategies, check out this eCornell Blog post.

To optimize distribution, review which channels most of your bookings came from during last year’s peak season. Have you added any new channels since then? Use your data to help work out your optimal distribution strategy across channels. For example, if direct bookings soar for summer stays, consider reducing OTA inventory as appropriate and save on those commission fees!

Automated revenue management systems (RMS) are designed to simplify the complex task of yield management — and integrating your RMS with your PMS saves even more time.

  • Streamline Online Reservations

Dealing with reservations from multiple channels manually might suffice during quiet times, but it’s a risky practice during busy months. Without automated and centralized reservation management, properties are especially prone to accidental overbooking and data entry errors, resulting in lost room nights and unhappy customers.

To avoid this, and to reduce your administrative load, automate online reservation management by integrating your online channels (OTA and GDS channels, as well as your website’s own booking engine) with your property management system (PMS). Connecting your PMS to your online booking channels allows the PMS to send live rates and availability to online booking channels and to capture bookings coming from those channels automatically.

Your direct online booking engine (the one on your property’s own website) should also be user friendly, allow the sale of packages and special rates, be mobile optimized, and commission free.

Automating online booking management is key for busy properties, especially during periods of high occupancy.

  • Strengthen Customer Relationships

In addition to reviewing occupancy and revenue data, it’s also important to review guest profile data in your PMS or customer relationship management system (CRM) to get a picture of who your guests are. Guest data can provide such insights as where guests are coming from (are they weekend nearcationers or international vacationers?), how far in advance they book, what types of travellers they are (families, Baby Boomers, corporate eventers…), and their preferred ancillary services.

Once you know who your guests are, you can strengthen customer relationships through tailoring services and content marketing more effectively.

Creating seasonal packages and offers based on the interests and stay history of guests is a great way to add value and helps you stand out from your competitors.

Use your data to create segmented email lists for targeted email marketing campaigns too. CRM and guest communication systems like Guestfolio and Constant Contact make managing segmented email campaigns easy, and can be integrated with your PMS.

  • Gear Your Website for Summer

Fresh, relevant content is key for search engine optimization (SEO) and customer engagement, so shake the dust off your website to reflect your property’s summer vibe. Swap any cozy winter images for photos of your property’s best summer features (like the sparkling pool) and make sure all content is up to date, including rate and package information. Descriptions, images, videos, event calendars, local information and blog posts should all promote the seasonal appeal of your property and location.

  • Integrate Social Media in Your Summer Marketing Plan

Travelers use and are influenced by social media at an astounding rate, so any independent hotelier’s marketing strategy should incorporate social media.

Once website content is freshened up, share it on your social networks to help expand visibility and engage with prospective guests. Create social media posts about your property and location, and link back to relevant content on your website whenever appropriate — to the local events listing page, attractions and activities, special packages, blog posts, etc.

Peak season is a great time to ramp up your blogging efforts. Although time is short during the summer rush, it pays to produce regular blog posts when your online audience is larger. Blog content is personal, engaging, and provides good fuel for social media posts too.

To encourage online engagement and user-generated content, make sure guests are aware of your social media presence. Include social media buttons on your website and in guest email communications, and add your social media handles to printed materials like front desk signage and in-room welcome packages.

If you need some guidance on your social media strategy, check out our recent blog post on the subject.

  • Review Your Review-Management Process

The peak season is a prime opportunity to boost review volume with more guests to ask for feedback and more eyes on your reviews. Don’t forget to respond appropriately to any negative comments that slip through and act on feedback. Read our blog post about managing online reviews for tips on how to gather, monitor and respond to reviews.

  • Prepare Your Team

Smooth operation hinges on hotel staff. When preparing your team for periods of high occupancy, open communication is key. Regularly communicating goals and KPIs with your whole team, and discussing how every staff member plays a role in the property’ success provides clear direction and breeds a sense of ownership.

When occupancy levels are high, tricky situations are bound to arise, such as the inability to facilitate requested room changes and delays in tending to housekeeping requests. Reviewing policies and procedures and even role playing difficult situations can help boost staff confidence in dealing with various requests and complaints. Encourage staff members to bring up concerns during regular staff meetings or privately so that any issues can be nipped in the bud fast.

It’s also important for all staff members to have the tools they need to perform their jobs effectively, from vacuum cleaners to property management systems. Modern PMS improve efficiency and inter-department communication through integration and automation.

Last but not least, motivate yourself and your staff for the hard work ahead! Pizza nights, time off, and positive feedback are some ways you can show appreciation.

We’ve blogged before about how to keep hotel staff happy and motivated — it might be a good read now in preparation for the busy season.

The peak season is a hectic and stressful time for the whole team, but it’s so important for operations to run smoothly. A little preparation can earn a lot of loyal guests — and pave the way to a more enjoyable summer for you and your customers alike.

Pre-Arrival Email Tips for Independent Hotels

Many independent properties email booking confirmations to customers that book direct, but are they taking full advantage of this crucial point of contact? For a soon-to-be guest, the pre-arrival stage is one filled with anticipation and a desire to make sure their upcoming stay meets their expectations, so confirmation and pre-stay emails typically have high open rates. This means that pre-arrival emails offer great potential for building a relationship with the customer and driving incremental revenue before the guest even sets foot through the door.

If you’re a lodging operator and want to make the most of your pre-arrival email campaign, consider the following tips.

Confirmation Email

Reservation confirmation emails are important for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important of which is to reassure the customer that the reservation was successful. I recently made a telephone booking with a small hotel in a tiny town. Because of my accent I had to repeat myself a few times and wondered if my details were recorded correctly. The hotel manages reservations manually on paper and did not email me a reservation confirmation, so I was a little nervous that I would arrive at the property and find myself without a room. To my relief, my reservation was intact upon check-in (although, my name was wrong) and I had a great stay, but a simple confirmation email would have alleviated that niggling worry leading up to my trip.

Confirmation emails are also a great opportunity to:

>> Thank the customer for choosing to stay at your property. This shows that you value and appreciate their business.

>> Find out more about the customer. Finding out more about customer preferences or special requests before arrival will help you to personalize their stay. While you don’t want to bombard them with questions, simply inviting them to contact your property directly with any questions or requests is often all the encouragement a future guest needs to get in touch. If your property makes use of pre-stay surveys or a mobile concierge like that provided by Guestfolio CRM, you can invite customers to start personalizing their stay by linking to these platforms directly from the confirmation email.

Pre-Arrival Email

The stage between booking and arrival is one of the best times to reach out to your customers, catching them when they are excited about their trip and particularly receptive to opportunities for enhancing it. Pre-arrival emails are typically most effective a week or two before a leisure guest’s arrival, while corporate guests tend to appreciate pre-arrival information and options closer to their check-in date. Determine the right timing for your property and guests.

>> Remind guests about their upcoming stay (not that they’re likely to have forgotten!) by letting them know that you are looking forward to welcoming them to your property. You can include helpful details about their stay, such as dates, check-in time, room type and directions.

>> Upsell. Including relevant upsell options in your pre-arrival email is a great way to enhance the customer’s stay and boost incremental revenue. In addition to room upgrades, you can upsell amenities like spa services, in-room extras and transportation (consider offering discounts for services booked before arrival), or offer to make restaurant reservations. The more targeted the offer, the better. Include a strong call to action that invites customers to contact the hotel directly to make their request, or links to a portal on your website or digital concierge for adding extras to their stay.

>> Be helpful. Inform guests about onsite amenities they might find useful, and local events and attractions. Again, the more targeted, the better; business travelers would likely appreciate knowing that you have a small meeting room available by the hour, while those traveling with kids would no doubt like to know about family-friendly local attractions. Link back to specific information on your website, like the business amenities page, or your blog post about local family attractions. Take the opportunity to again invite the customer to get in touch with any questions or special requests they may have.

Optimize for Mobile

Now more than half of all emails opened are opened on mobile. Most of us have experienced the annoyance of trying to read non-mobile-friendly emails or websites on a smartphone — we wouldn’t want to do that to our customers, right? Design email templates for the small screens of mobile devices and the variety of email clients your guests are likely using; in other words, keep it simple. Images are great for branding, but if your templates aren’t responsive, it’s best to keep images to a minimum — perhaps just your logo. Email marketing services like Guestfolio and Constant Contact provide beautiful, customizable mobile-friendly email designs that take email communications to the next level.

Automate

Automate your email campaigns to save time and ensure that no guest is missed. A property management system (PMS) like WebRezPro allows you to create various email templates and set them to send automatically, depending on arrival date and other parameters like room and rate codes. Setting parameters like room codes allows you to target relevant offers such as room upgrades to the right guests and to tailor communications to different customer segments like group reservations and corporate customers.

If you are working with an email marketing service like Guestfolio or Constant Contact, integration between your PMS and email marketing program makes professionally designed email campaigns that are automatically timed, targeted and tracked even more effortless.

Personalize

The main purpose of a pre-arrival email campaign is to start building a relationship with the customer, which is bound to be more successful if you use their name. It’s the first step to personalizing the guest experience. Automated email programs will allow you to personalize emails by inserting keywords into template text that are replaced with information from the guest’s reservation, for example, the guest name, stay dates, room type and so on. Be sure to also make it clear who the email is from, preferably signing off as an actual person — and use a relevant, official reply-to email address.

Targeting email content and offers to customer segments by setting parameters or conditions based on reservation data (as mentioned above) takes personalization to the next level.

Include Social Media Buttons

It’s a good idea to include social media buttons that link back to your social pages on all email communications with customers. This gives customers an easy way to connect with your property on social channels, opening up more opportunities for you to build a loyal relationship.

Aim to take full advantage of your pre-arrival email campaign to get a head start on engaging your customers. And don’t forget: customer responses to pre-arrival emails — from questions about your property to upgrade requests — should be recorded in guest profiles and used to personalize the guest experience and future offers.

How a Cloud Property Management System Can Help Your Hotel Stand Out

Battling inefficient hotel management systems and processes takes time and focus away from guest service. Without the right technology, your property could stand out for all the wrong reasons — like long check-in lines, generic service and archaic amenities — or, at best, be just another run-of-the-mill hotel.

To be something special and stand out for all the right reasons, a property needs smart technology at the heart of operations. We’re talking about technology that streamlines processes, allows you to reach your customers online, and empowers you to personalize guest service and make smarter decisions.

A cloud property management system (PMS) can help a property stand out in all the ways mentioned above. Let’s look more closely at how:

Streamlines Operations for Smoother Service

From automating guest email communications to integrations with online distribution channels and other core systems, a cloud PMS makes daily processes more efficient by removing manual steps that take up too much of your time.

But perhaps the most impactful characteristic of a cloud PMS when it comes to productivity and guest service is mobility. Cloud PMS are optimized for mobile devices, meaning the system can be seamlessly accessed from a desktop, tablet PC or even a smartphone. Such mobility frees staff from the bounds of the front desk so that they can attend to guests and operational issues more efficiently.

Take, for example, WebRezPro PMS’ paperless check-in feature, which allows guests to sign registration cards digitally on a tablet, streamlining the check-in process (and saving paper!) and impressing guests. The Mobile Housekeeping Report is another popular cloud PMS application that improves productivity and inter-staff communication by enabling housekeepers to view and update room status from their mobile device as they work, and providing front desk staff with real-time information about which rooms are ready for guests.

Working with inefficient systems causes hotel staff frustration and stress and takes focus away from guests. Staff are much happier working with modern, efficient technology that supports them with the tools they need to deliver great guest service. By automating processes and being accessible on the go, a cloud PMS helps to bring the best out of your staff — and it’s that friendly, efficient service that makes a property stand out.

Expands Online Reach

Cloud PMS offer direct online booking engines that can be incorporated into any (and every) page of a property’s own website, greatly increasing booking accessibility; customers shopping online from anywhere in the world can easily make a reservation as soon as they are ready.

The simple convenience of an easy online booking process is appreciated by customers, and the better the engine, the more you stand out. Consider booking options or add-ons, such as cots, wine, roses and tours, which can be added to reservations with a single click during the room booking process, allowing customers to effortlessly personalize their stay. Even if a customer doesn’t opt for extras, they’ll take a mental note of the ability to do so.

Through direct integration with third-party distribution channels (like Expedia and Booking.com), cloud PMS centralize and automate management of channel inventory, rates and reservations data through the PMS, making effective online distribution more accessible to small properties — and, therefore, expanding online visibility.

Even guest email communications, which can be automated via a PMS to ensure no guest is missed, can help to expand online visibility. WebRezPro PMS’ integrations with Revinate Post-Stay Surveys and guest communications system Guestfolio provide automated delivery of post-stay guest surveys, which can be submitted directly to TripAdvisor to boost online visibility and reputation. Simply including links (or social icons) to your social media pages in email templates can also help boost your online presence by increasing customer engagement online.

Through direct online bookings, seamless integrations with online distribution channels, and automated guest email communications, cloud PMS help your property stand out online.

Powers Personalization for Stand-Out Service

Cloud PMS offer numerous features that help hoteliers personalize and enhance the guest experience.

Detailed guest profiles and integrations with other hotel systems (such as CRM, POS, in-room entertainment systems and concierge apps) enable cloud PMS to break down the data silos of yore, to provide hoteliers with centralized, more accessible guest data that can be more effectively used to inform smarter marketing decisions and more personalized guest service.

In addition to empowering staff to provide personalized service during a guest’s stay, easy access to rich guest data allows lodging operators to target guest email communications more effectively, design packages that are truly relevant to their customers, and to implement loyalty programs that offer their guests real value — all of which enhance guest service… and all of which can be managed through a cloud PMS like WebRezPro.

And then there are features like booking options (mentioned above) — which provide customers with an instant and easy way to customize their own stay experience at the time of booking — and paperless check-in (also mentioned above) that impress guests by facilitating efficient yet personalized service.

Going back to mobility; with the PMS in the palm of their hands, hotel staff have instant access to guest data as well as housekeeping, maintenance and guest requests logged in the system, enabling them to tend to service issues in a much more timely and informed manner.

It’s that kind of personalized, attentive service that gives a property the “wow” factor.

Informs Business Strategy to Stand Out in the Market

One of the advantages of a cloud PMS is accessibility to data, and the breadth of reports that can be generated at the click of a button. When PMS data is used as the foundation of operational and marketing strategies, it has the power to drive reservations and boost revenue.

Look for a PMS that provides all the necessary reporting for your property — revenue and occupancy reports, reservation reports, ADR and RevPAR, booking sources, rate/pricing reports, accounting reports, etc. — and includes a custom reporting feature that allows you to pull very specific data as required.

The rich data contained within a PMS can be used to inform overall business strategy in many ways. Guest data can tell you who spends the most and who keeps coming back so that you can design marketing efforts and packages to better target the demographic of your best customers. Reservation reports will show you things like which rooms and rates are selling fastest. Online booking engine analytics will reveal conversions through your website, providing insight on the effectiveness of your website and booking widget. Review booking sources to discover your most profitable channels and optimize distribution spend. Rate reports expose pricing patterns used to make revenue management decisions (PMS with revenue management system integration offer more advanced, automated yield management). The list goes on.

Centralizing data, cloud PMS make analysing the numbers easier. Comprehensive reporting functionality arms lodging operators with the information they need to gain a clear view of operations, marketing and finances, and to implement smarter strategies for more effective results that can really make a property stand out in the market.

Cultivate Loyalty with Targeted Guest Communications

It’s getting very competitive out there in the world of hospitality, and the expectations of today’s technology-savvy travelers are only getting higher.

To stand out, hoteliers are directing more energy toward refining their brand, and travelers are responding to that. Guests are looking for properties with personality and expect more personalized service; they’re looking for a relationship with brands they enjoy — if you can give your guests that, they’ll keep coming back.

Targeted communications are key to cultivating personal, lasting hotel-guest relationships and it’s getting easier and easier thanks to modern CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or GRM (Guest Relationship Management) solutions like Guestfolio. Customized, well-timed messages, designed to match your unique branding, increase guest engagement and create opportunities for upselling, recapturing cancellations and getting to know your guests better.

Keep In Touch Throughout the Guest Lifecycle

Using (and building) rich guest data, CRM systems deliver automated yet highly targeted communications to guests during the entire guest lifecycle, improving the guest experience every step of the way through personalized service.

Messages can be automatically customized and triggered based on data contained in reservations and guest profiles, like check-in and check-out dates, rate codes, stay and spend history, preferences, etc. This translates to personalized, reservation-specific communications that maximize value for the guest and reaffirm customer loyalty.

We’re not just talking about a lone confirmation email; a series of communications should be delivered throughout the guest lifecycle to successfully grow hotel-guest relationships.

Pre-stay > Most properties deliver reservation confirmation emails to guests soon after bookings are made, but other pre-arrival messages can help get guests really excited about staying with you and provide a great opportunity for upselling and gathering guest information too.

A few days before arrival, you can reach out to guests to offer room upgrades, early check-in and relevant special offers, or to ask if they have any special requests or preferences. You could simply highlight property amenities or local insider information that could enhance that particular guest’s stay. Couples might like to be reminded of your spa services and specials, while those traveling with kids may appreciate information about babysitting services, kids’ programs or nearby family attractions.

Some properties include a link in pre-arrival emails to the guest’s personalized mobile concierge app featuring content tailored specifically to their reservation, like local attractions and maps, appropriate room upgrade options, on-site amenities and extras, special requests, and a personal itinerary. Guestfolio notes that, on average, guests visit their mobile concierge six times before check-in.

During the stay > As you know, earning loyal guests takes more than getting them in the door. Long-lasting relationships require effort. Shortly after check-in, welcome messages — via email, SMS or mobile concierge apps — can be sent to guests, inviting them to enjoy particular services or offers that are relevant to their profile, and encouraging them to request anything they might need. Imagine a wine lover’s delight at receiving a special invitation to your wine tasting event, or a repeat guest’s appreciation upon receiving an e-voucher for their favourite drink at the bar.

Mobile concierges are a great way to keep communication open between your property and guests while they are in-house, allowing guests to access the information they want whenever they want.

Post-stay > Staying in touch with guests after they leave is also important for nurturing a lasting hotel-guest relationship. Although out of sight, you don’t want your property to be out of mind.

Common post-stay communications sent shortly after a guest checks out include thank-you messages and requests for feedback on review sites or via post-stay surveys. Targeted return offers based on guest data can be triggered a few weeks before the guest’s booking anniversary or wedding anniversary, for example.

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These days, with approximately half of all emails opened on mobile devices, all digital communications sent to your guests should be mobile optimized. And remember to invite guests to follow your property on social media by including social media buttons in communications too.

All message interactions (clicks) are tracked by the CRM to measure the success of your communications and to collect guest profile data that enables you to personalize service and improve the guest experience.

CRM + PMS Integration

Integrating your PMS with your CRM automates the process further to save lodging operators even more time. Such an integration allows the PMS to automatically send live reservation data to the CRM, which uses the information to help build detailed guest profiles, select the appropriate templates and content, and trigger message delivery. In other words, PMS integration with CRM technology streamlines the process of delivering the right message to the right people at the right time.

We’d love to take this opportunity to congratulate our partner Guestfolio on their recent win at the World Travel Awards in December. Crowned the World’s Leading Hotel CRM Technology Provider 2014, Guestfolio works with properties in over 400 cities worldwide, empowering hoteliers to better engage with guests via targeted digital communications throughout the guest lifecycle to build long-lasting relationships.

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