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.

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.

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.

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.

An Independent Hotelier’s Guide to Upselling & Cross-Selling

If you’ve only ever thought of upselling as a way to increase revenue, think again. First and foremost, upselling and cross-selling are effective ways to enhance the guest experience. Done right, upselling offers more value to your guests, increasing guest satisfaction and loyalty. A rise in revenue will follow naturally.

Technically, there’s a difference between upselling and cross-selling, but the two go hand in hand:

>>Upselling is the process of selling a more expensive version of a product or service that the customer is buying.

>>Cross-selling is the process of selling a supplementary product or service to complement the product or service the customer is buying.

Both approaches result in providing the customer with greater value and enhancing the guest experience—as long as the offers are relevant and presented at the right time, in the right way.

What Can You Upsell and Cross-Sell?

From basic hotels and motels to luxury boutique inns and resorts, any property has what it takes to upsell or cross-sell.

Upsells

>> Room upgrades: Customers are often open to upgrading their room choice during their booking, or even after they have made their booking.

>> Packages: Same goes for packages. Make sure your customers are aware of available packages and the added value they offer compared to standalone room bookings.

Cross-sells

>> In-room extras: You don’t have to get fancy to enhance the in-room experience with additional in-room amenities. Baby high-chairs and cribs are as much appreciated by young families as champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries are by couples celebrating an anniversary. Yoga mats upgraded bath amenities and in-room massage services are other examples.

>> Activities: From bicycle rentals to organized tours and activities (whether provided by your property or by local partners), activities are a popular cross-sell that make organizing such adventures hassle-free for your guests.

>> F&B: On-site food and beverage services can be cross-sold by offering dining discounts and packages, promoting your happy hour, or simply having your serving staff recommend meal accompaniments.

>> On-site spa services: Spa services are hard for weary travelers to resist, especially when you can take the hassle out of booking them, and even more so if they’re discounted for guests.

>> Other hotel services: Think parking, babysitting, transportation…

How to Upsell and Cross-Sell Successfully

The secret to successful upselling and cross-selling is to put the customer’s needs first. Remember, upselling (and cross-selling) is a means for enhancing the guest experience. If executed correctly, upselling results in satisfied, loyal guests and, consequentially, improved profitability.

Be relevant

Upselling and cross-selling are practical ways to personalize service, but it only works when offers are relevant to your guests.

Use data from your property management system and CRM to learn about guest preferences, requests and booking history to target offers more effectively. Sending automated pre-arrival emails asking guests to let you know of any special requests or preferences is an effective way to gather valuable information that can be used to identify relevant upsell/cross-sell opportunities.

Don’t be pushy

Remember that as consumers we hate to be sold to but we love to buy! Employ a soft-sell approach that conveys your effort to improve the guest’s experience (rather than to make more money). That means not bombarding guests with messages promoting upgrades and add-ons, and training staff to suggest relevant offers at the right time (more on that below) and in the right way (more on that below too).

Make the value clear

In order to convert upsell/cross-sell offers, the value represented by the additional spend must be clear. In addition to clearly listing room amenities, photo slideshows are an effective way to sell more desirable rooms on your website and within your online booking engine. Make sure room and package descriptions emphasize added value and use emotive language to convey the actual experience (“…wrap yourself up in one of our plush robes and enjoy your Netflix favorites on a big-screen TV”).

When staff make upsell offers directly, highlighting the added value gained for an incremental cost can be very persuasive. For example, “For just $20 more, you can enjoy more space for the kids in our family suite, with a kitchenette for preparing snacks, and a pretty great view over the lake…”

Position offers at the right time

Timing is everything when it comes to upselling and cross-selling. If an offer isn’t timed right, it will fall flat at best, or at worst, annoy customers.

>>During booking: During booking is a great time to upsell room upgrades and packages. Including photo slideshows in your online booking engine within room search results lets your customers easily compare rooms during the booking process and visually portrays the advantages of more desirable rooms. As well, package rates should be displayed alongside standard rates within search results, clearly outlining added value, and with the ability to book. Emphasize the value of discounted rates by displaying the strike-through price alongside the lower price.

When it comes to cross-selling, be careful not to overwhelm customers with options at the booking stage. Forcing customers to choose or decline added extras at this point can put customers off, resulting in abandoned bookings. If you do choose to offer add-ons during the booking process, keep things simple with limited options and ensure add-ons are presented directly within the booking form (rather than within a separate page or window), without requiring the customer to accept (or decline) offers in order to progress with the booking.

>>Pre-arrival: The time between booking and arrival is perfect for both upselling and cross-selling. During this stage of growing anticipation about their trip, many future guests are open to upgrading and enhancing their stay experience.

With high open rates, email and SMS are the best way to communicate offers prior to arrival. Targeted offers can be automated by creating pre-arrival email templates that are attached to certain room types and/or rates. Read our recent post about how to upgrade the pre-arrival guest experience for some pre-arrival email tips. Emails can point guest requests to the front desk, or direct guests to your hotel app where they can purchase selections directly.

>>At Check-in: During guest check-in is another ideal opportunity to upsell and cross-sell, and can come across very naturally as front desk staff learn a little more about the guest’s needs. Remember to highlight the advantages of the upgrade or add-on, and don’t be pushy. Upgrades and add-ons can be promoted within self-check-in apps too.

>> During stay: Cross-selling opportunities abound during the guest’s stay and can be communicated through mobile messaging, email, your hotel app or in person—as long as they are relevant to your guest’s needs and/or interests. When communicating offers to guests digitally (by SMS or email), be careful not to bombard them with various offers and don’t push the same offer more than once.

Upselling and cross-selling are important strategies for personalizing the guest experience, adding value and increasing customer loyalty. When implemented successfully, offering relevant upgrades and add-ons to your guests at the right time, in the right way, not only results in more satisfied guests, but increased ADR and incidental revenue too.

Best E-Commerce Practices for Independent Hotels

When you think of “e-commerce,” online retail sites like Amazon, eBay and Etsy probably first come to mind. But have you ever thought of your property’s website as an e-commerce site too?

E-commerce refers to commercial transactions that are conducted electronically over the internet, so if your hotel website processes bookings through an online booking engine then, technically, you should think of it as an e-commerce site, especially if your goal is to drive direct bookings.

Retailers have shaped consumer expectations of the online shopping experience. Today’s consumers are used to simple, seamless and secure shopping experiences online and hotel websites need to provide a similar booking experience to maximize conversions in an increasingly competitive hospitality industry.

Hotel websites must go beyond compelling visual design and great photos; a frictionless user experience is key to the success of any e-commerce site. So, start thinking about your property’s website from an e-commerce perspective and follow best e-commerce practices to ensure your website provides a simple, seamless, credible and supportive online shopping experience that turns lookers into bookers.

Simple

The most successful e-commerce sites keep things simple. Even online retail giants like Amazon that sell hundreds of thousands of products across a multitude of categories offer a straightforward and intuitive shopping experience.

Consumers prefer websites that are visually uncluttered and easy to navigate and understand. For hotel websites that means a clean, modern visual design, a clear USP (unique selling proposition), well-organized content (one topic per page), images that specifically support page content, prominent and relevant calls to action (CTAs) like “book now” and “view deals” buttons, and familiar menu formats for intuitive navigation. 

The online booking engine must also offer a simple, intuitive user experience that guides users effortlessly through the booking process. Avoid overwhelming users with too many options and reduce the steps to complete a booking as much as possible by only asking for the minimum amount of information required to make a booking. Personalization is important here too; your online booking engine should recognize repeat customers and auto-complete information as appropriate to simplify the reservation process.

An uncomplicated path to booking is key to converting website visitors into paying guests.

Seamless

A seamless user experience goes hand in hand with simplicity. It’s important to eliminate any obstacles to booking—you don’t want to give customers any excuse to bail. As mentioned above, simplicity helps pave the way to booking via an easily understandable and navigable website and online booking process. 

As well, look at your website from a more technical perspective to ensure a seamless user experience that eliminates friction.

Ensure pages load quickly; approximately half of website visitors abandon a page that takes more than three seconds to load. You can run your website through a page speed test (like Google’s PageSpeed Insights) to find out how your website performs and what you can do to make it faster—because every second really does count.

Today’s online consumers frequently switch between desktop and mobile devices (and browsers), so a website that functions optimally across devices is key to a seamless online user experience. A responsive website and booking engine automatically detects and adapts itself to the screen it is being viewed on, adjusting layout, content and functionality accordingly to present an optimal and consistent user experience on all screens.

In addition to being mobile friendly, your online booking engine should offer a branded experience with a similar look and feel to your website to create a seamless booking experience and gain customers’ trust. Even basic customization of your booking engine with your logo and background colour helps support credibility of your business (which brings us to the next point)…

Credible

Successful online retailers earn consumers’ trust by establishing credibility. Professional product images, customer reviews, contact information, payment and shipping policies, affiliation badges and secure URLs are all important elements of an e-commerce website that help gain customer confidence.

Make sure your hotel website demonstrates your property’s authenticity and reassures prospective guests that it’s safe to book direct online.

Do this by investing in a quality website design and professional, high-res images of your property (avoid stock photos) that accurately portray the stay experience. Include guest reviews throughout your site or on a dedicated page, and add social media icons to your header or footer that link to your social channels, to provide your customers with the social proof that will convince them to book with you. Most review sites and social media channels provide widgets that display a live feed of your reviews, ratings and posts directly on your website.

Display trust symbols like a TripAdvisor badge (if your property is doing well on TripAdvisor), and affiliation badges for any relevant memberships you have, for example, with your local Chamber of Commerce, lodging association or eco-friendly certification, to show you take your business seriously.

Make sure you’re providing your customers with a safe shopping experience with secure URLs (secure URLs begin with https rather than http), and that goes for your online booking engine too. Display a Best Rate Guarantee and make booking and cancellation policies readily available for customers.

Supportive

Without easy and instant access to customer support, online shoppers are more inclined to abandon their shopping carts if they have a question about the purchase. The same goes for travelers booking accommodation online.

Live chat is a common element of e-commerce websites, allowing an agent to help customers via real-time messaging as they are shopping. Now, AI-based chatbots, which can handle basic queries well, are replacing live chat. An increasing amount of hotel websites successfully employ live chat or a chatbot to answer prospective guests’ questions and guide them down the purchase funnel.

Whether or not you use live chat or a chatbot on your property’s website, it’s crucial to display contact information—especially a phone number and email address—on every page of your website (ideally in the header) so that customers can reach out at any point. Including social media icons in your header too will catch those millennial customers who prefer to communicate with businesses through their social channels.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once a customer completes a booking through your website, continue to offer excellent customer support via booking confirmation and pre-arrival messaging that invites them to upgrade their stay, informs them of useful property information, or asks if they have any special requests. They’ll feel reassured about their choice to book with you, and you’ll have laid the foundation for a loyal customer relationship.

Much more than a pretty digital brochure, hotel websites today are highly functional e-commerce sites designed to drive direct online bookings. Make sure your hotel website engages proven e-commerce practices to maximize conversions.

8 Key Performance Indicators Hoteliers Should Be Tracking

Running a hotel is a complicated job with a never-ending list of responsibilities. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks that keep your property running smoothly and forget about taking time to assess your business’s performance. But, as they say, you can’t improve what you don’t measure – so start measuring.

Here are eight important key performance indicators (KPI) every hotelier should be tracking:

Financial KPIs

Average Occupancy Rate (AOR) >> The AOR measures the percentage of rooms that are occupied over a specific period. It is calculated by dividing the number of paid rooms occupied by the total rooms available (for the desired period) and multiplying that figure by 100.

Occupancy is an essential indicator of hotel success. Increased AOR typically means increased revenue, so you should pay careful attention to this figure. Check out our past blog post for ideas on increasing occupancy at your property.

In addition to providing insight into hotel performance, knowing your AOR is critical for operations. This metric can help you staff your hotel appropriately and manage inventory effectively.

Average Daily Rate (ADR) >> The ADR measures the revenue generated by each room on average. It is calculated by dividing total room revenue by the number of rooms sold. You should be comparing your ADR to the average costs per room to ensure profitable pricing decisions.

For tips on improving ADR at your property take a look at this past post.

Average Rate Index (ARI) >> The ARI indicates how your ADR compares to that of your immediate competitors. It is calculated by dividing your ADR by your competitors’ average ADR. This figure can help you determine if, and how, you should be adjusting your pricing.

Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) >> RevPAR is often considered the most important figure for analyzing hotel success. Although similar to ADR, it includes the rooms that are sitting empty in the calculation (RevPAR = total room revenue / number of available rooms).  Because this ratio accounts for both revenue and occupancy, it serves as a good snapshot of success and profitability.

Revenue Per Available Customer (RevPAC) >> RevPAC (calculated by dividing the total revenue from hotel guests by the number of hotel guests) reflects the average revenue generated by a single customer. This figure accounts for ancillary revenue sources (from spa treatments to food and beverage purchases to pet fees) in addition to room revenue.

Check out our past blog post for ideas on increasing ancillary revenue, and therefore RevPAC, at your hotel.

Customer Acquisition Cost >> This metric indicates how much cost is invested in acquiring each new customer. You can compute it by summing the total amount spent on sales and marketing and dividing that figure by the number of clients acquired through those efforts. Calculate the CAC for individual channels to determine which ones are worth continued investment.

Guest Satisfaction KPIs

Online rating >> In the age of the internet, hoteliers no longer have to wonder how their guests felt about their stay; online reviews provide explicit and measurable feedback. You should be aware of the number of reviews and overall rating your hotel has on sites like Google and TripAdvisor, and making efforts to improve both.

Read this blog post for tips on improving your ratings online.

Guest engagement >> People engage with the brands that they trust and love, so how much engagement you get online can be a good indicator of overall guest satisfaction. Track the number of likes, comments, and shares your content is getting on social media platforms for a sense of how contented and loyal your guests are.

Running a successful business requires constant self-assessment and adjustment. Track, and regularly assess, these KPIs so you can run a more efficient and profitable property.

Bizarre Hotel Guest Requests (and How to Handle Them)

From demanding a meal after the kitchen is closed to requesting a room change because the feng shui isn’t quite right, most hotels deal with challenging guest requests on a daily basis. But we bet most requests pale in comparison to the following real-life examples…

We’ve scoured the internet for some truly bizarre guest requests that were actually granted. Read on to find out how far above and beyond some properties will go for their guests—and how your property can too.

Celebrity Requests

Apparently rock star Don Henley has his bed follow him by truck wherever he goes. When staying at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, Colorado, he requested that his bed be moved into his hotel room. He then later asked for it to be removed as the hotel bed turned out to be plenty comfortable enough after all. Sure, why not? Moving large beds in and out of hotel rooms is a piece of cake!

You often hear of celebrities complaining about their lack of privacy, but it seems some complain when they get too much of it too. The staff at Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia, were trying to respect an unnamed celebrity guest’s privacy, but after three days of giving the special guest space and refraining from asking for autographs and photos, they were asked by the guest’s assistant to drum up some fanfare. The hotel’s concierge organized staff into three groups—one to request autographs, one to request photos, and one to learn all they could about the Very Important Person in order to gush about their past roles, award wins and charity involvement. Perhaps it’s really the staff at Tides Inn that deserve an Oscar?

Spanish artist, Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) once requested a small herd of sheep be sent to his hotel room at Le Meurice in Paris so he could shoot at them with a pistol filled with blanks. The mind simply boggles.

Requests for Animals

Thankfully not quite as disturbing as shooting at sheep, the following animal requests go way beyond a bowl of water and dog treats.

Twenty pounds of ice was requested for penguins staying at the Seaport Boston. The penguins were traveling as part of the Boston Globe Travel Show—and staying in a hotel room bathtub. Of course.

The concierge team at the Fairmont Copley Plaza, also in Boston, sourced a large egg incubator for a guest’s ostrich egg! At least it might come in handy for other guests traveling with ostrich eggs…

A guest requested the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris to find two lion cubs for their daughter’s birthday party. (Miniature ponies are so passé.)

Requests for Special Occasions

It’s not just birthday parties that warrant special attention… Just four hours before her wedding, a bride staying at the Hotel Vintage Park in Seattle asked hotel staff to have her wedding dress dry cleaned as she had only just realized she got it dirty celebrating out on the town the night before. The hotel concierge managed the urgent feat just in time, meeting the bride at the wedding venue with the freshly cleaned dress. Phew!

The concierge team at the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile staged an early Christmas for a couple staying in December, right before the husband shipped out for military service. The wife sent gifts and tree ornaments in advance, and the concierge team set up a real tree in the guests’ room, decorated it, hung the stockings and wrapped the presents—all ready for the guests’ arrival. Awwwww.

Upon-Arrival Requests

Speaking of in-room items requested for guest arrival, photos of famous people are popular. Staff at the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, California, filled a couple’s room with photos of Jeff Goldblum, as requested. The satisfied guests arrived to find framed photos of the star on the desk, in the bathroom and beside the bed.

A woman staying at the Hotel Indigo in San Antonio, Texas, for a boring work conference thought she might spice up her stay by requesting a photo of Nicolas Cage from Con Air. Hotel staff happily complied, placing the framed photo beside the bed with a note that said, “Sweet dreams!”

Pillow forts are another popular request made by bored guests. Staff at the Fairmont Winnipeg left a DIY fort kit in the room of a guest who made such a request. The W, Seattle also fulfilled a guest’s request for a pillow fort—along with a towel folded into the shape of an elephant and a picture of fruit on the night table. Yes, a picture of fruit.

Particularly Narcissistic Requests

While many of the previously mentioned requests are undeniably narcissistic to a degree, the following requests really take the cake.

A guest at The Savoy, London, apparently thought they were Cleopatra reincarnated and asked for a bathtub of wild goat’s milk to bathe in. Another indulgent bath was requested by a guest staying at The Ritz (also in London) who wanted to bathe in fresh seawater. Hotel staff had to bring the seawater all the way from Brighton, 56 miles away. Is there something wrong with London’s tap water?

An Australian couple planning their wedding at the Towers of the Waldorf Astoria New York requested near life-size statues of themselves—made of chocolate. The Waldorf’s pastry chef stepped up to the challenge. Working from photos and communicating with the couple by email, it took several months to create a likeness that met the guests’ satisfaction. For the Waldorf’s sake, we hope these guests were as sweet as their statues.

Granting Your Own Guests’ Special Requests

Thankfully, such extravagant requests are uncommon, but going above and beyond for your guests is the best way to earn their loyalty and advocacy.

While the practical side of fulfilling unusual guest requests (like finding lion cubs or creating chocolate copies of guests) can be complicated, the administrative side doesn’t have to be. With the right systems in place, all kinds of requests can be logged and tracked efficiently for quick resolution that leads to satisfied guests.

A modern property management system (PMS) features a range of practical tools to help ensure no request goes unaddressed.

Reservation reminders and alarms that can be attached to guest folios or set as daily reminders help staff keep on top of all time-sensitive tasks—whether it’s to call that ostrich farm about an egg incubator as soon as their office opens, or to send someone to fetch some goat milk in time for a guest’s bath.

A modern PMS will include an integrated housekeeping report too, allowing notes and/or alarms to be attached to individual units to help both housekeeping staff and front desk personnel keep up with in-room requests, from extra pillows to full-blown pillow forts.

Fulfilling guest requests, especially extravagant ones, can come with additional costs that are passed on to the guest. A PMS with point-of-sale functionality greatly simplifies invoicing (and accounting), allowing you to set up miscellaneous products and services, apply a cost, and easily add these incidental charges to reservation folios.

Some properties use hotel/guest communication management solutions like Nuvola and Zenya that provide guests with a convenient way to communicate with the property and make requests. Designed to personalize the guest experience and more effectively meet individual needs, these solutions streamline guest communications, tracking requests in real time and simultaneously coordinating all action items. When your PMS is directly integrated with guest engagement solutions like this, the administrative side of tracking and managing requests and tasks becomes fully automated for maximum efficiency and guest satisfaction.

In the hospitality industry, customer satisfaction is paramount. We think the above-mentioned properties—who handled such bizarre guest requests with grace and aplomb—are at the top of their game. Backed by a modern PMS, your property too will be equipped to manage all kinds of requests, increasing customer satisfaction and winning the loyalty of even the most demanding guests (whether you want to or not!).

Boost Off-Season Occupancy with Staycation Bookings

As we leave the peak travel season behind us, it’s time for hoteliers to implement strategies to maintain occupancy as best as possible. Beyond dropping room rates there are more resourceful ways to boost reservations—marketing your property to staycationers is one of them.

A staycation is a vacation taken close to home, normally within a comfortable driving distance. As our lives are becoming increasingly busier, staycations are becoming increasingly popular. Whether it’s an overnight stay in a local hotel or a camping trip at the beach, a quick getaway that doesn’t require getting on a plane is an attractive option for families, friends and couples who are short on time and looking for an easy, budget-friendly escape from their daily routine. In fact, staycationing is such a convenient way to get away from it all that staycationers tend to get away more often—at any time of year.

Attracting locals to your property not only helps maintain occupancy rates during the off season (and all year round), but offers the potential to grow a loyal customer base. Show local visitors a great time and they’ll come back again and again.

Focus on Food

A big part of travel and escaping the daily routine is enjoying local cuisine—and not having to cook! While staycationers are most likely already familiar with the local fare, the luxury of having it prepared for them is a compelling reason in itself to book a weekend away. Take advantage of this by promoting your property’s dining services and/or culinary hotspots in your neighbourhood through packages and discounts, or simply by highlighting recommended restaurants on your website and social media channels.

Cooking classes and wine tastings can attract locals looking to do something a bit different.

Promote Local Events

Staycationers often look for activities and events to spice up their normal routine, so get involved with what’s happening in your community to provide a stay that excites and refreshes. In addition to recommending local restaurants, promote local events and activities too. Consider partnering up with tour operators and event organizers to offer packages or discounted tickets.

Organize & Promote Your Own Events

If you have the space, consider organizing onsite events that attract locals. Think markets and fairs, snowman competitions, art exhibitions, live music, etc. Even locals who only turn up for the event but don’t stay the night will get the chance to familiarize themselves with your property and may then follow you on social media (where you can inspire them to try a staycation with you).

If your property caters to private functions such as weddings and corporate events, boost marketing efforts for these services to attract local clientele.

Create Packages

Long-distance travelers aren’t the only ones who enjoy value-packed and hassle-free vacations afforded by packages. Bundling accommodation with activities (from dining to spa treatments to boat tours) provides guests with an experience that allows them to save money and time compared to organizing everything themselves, and that appeals to locals looking for a quick getaway too.

Offer Free Parking

If you typically charge guests for parking, consider including it as a perk for staycationers. Because staycationers are more likely to arrive by car than long-distance travelers, free parking is a very relevant amenity that will be much appreciated.

If you typically charge guests for parking, consider including it as a perk for staycationers. Because staycationers are more likely to arrive by car than long-distance travelers, free parking is a very relevant amenity that will be much appreciated.

Highlight Local Gems

Vacationing close to home gives people a chance to get to know their region better. Help them discover experiences that might be new for them, from tourist-centered activities like Segway tours and wildlife viewings to hidden local gems like the new cat café or a family-friendly nature trail.

Reveal neighbourhood hotspots in a local guide section of your website, on social media and share local recommendations with guests on site.

Welcome Pets

It’s much easier (and cheaper) to travel with a dog in a car than on a plane, so many staycationers will choose to bring their pets. If you don’t want to rule these travelers out, welcome their fur babies with pet-friendly rooms and amenities.

Reward Loyalty

Because staycations are typically easier and more budget friendly than vacations in far-off lands, travelers staying close to home are more likely to staycation more frequently, whenever their schedule allows for two or three days away. Reward them for their loyalty to keep them coming back and inspire them to tell their friends about you.

Think discounted rates, a free drink, and personalized service and communications that cater to their preferences and needs—from dietary restrictions to their preferred room type to the special occasion they might be celebrating.

Be Active on Social Media

Guests from nearby are more likely to follow your property on social media. Because your property is part of their local experience, you have the power to be especially relevant to them. They will be eager to learn of specials, events and activities you are promoting, and to be reminded of the wonderful time they can have at your property.

Keep your property’s social media accounts active with regular posts and stories that highlight the distinctive local experience you offer.

Staycation bookings help properties reduce reliance on seasonality, and offer a great opportunity to develop a loyal customer base. Show local guests they can experience something new and special when vacationing close to home, and your property is bound to become their go-to weekend getaway.

With all these bookings coming in, you’ll want to make sure your reservation system can keep up! Read our recent article on what to look for in an online booking engine.

A Quick Guide to EMV for Independent Hotels

It has been a while now since U.S. consumers switched from swipe-and-sign to chip-and-sign (or chip-and-PIN) credit cards back in 2015. And there’s no looking back.

EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, and is a global standard for debit and credit card security. Designed to make card-present transactions more secure, EMV cards feature a small computer chip (microprocessor) that must be inserted into an EMV-enabled terminal (chip card reader) to authenticate and encrypt the transaction, and to prove that the card is present.  

Credit card featuring an EMV chip

Protecting cardholder data from theft and reducing credit card fraud, EMV helps lodging operators and other merchants to provide customers with a safer card payment environment on site.

It’s also important to know that with the transition to chip-and-sign/PIN cards there has been a liability shift away from the card issuer to the merchant. While at this point it is not a legal requirement for merchants to adopt EMV, the merchant can be held financially responsible for fraudulent card-present transactions if an EMV payment acceptance option is not available to a customer who presents an EMV-enabled chip card.

Merchants who do provide an EMV payment acceptance option are protected from financial liability resulting from fraudulent transactions, so implementing EMV technology is not only safer for your guests, but it protects your business too.

How does EMV actually work?

While on the surface it might not seem like a big deal, inserting a credit card chip versus swiping a credit card stripe makes a big difference to payment security.

With a traditional magnetic stripe swipe card, only the card number and expiration date is needed to complete a card-present transaction. Because this information is static (it’s always the same for every transaction), it’s relatively easy for credit card data to be copied via compromised credit card readers and used to make counterfeit cards.

When making a payment with an EMV chip card in person, the card is inserted into an EMV chip card reader to validate the card and create a unique, encrypted code for that specific transaction (a different code is created for each and every transaction). The dynamic nature of single-use codes makes it virtually impossible for thieves to steal credit card data that can be used fraudulently—even if the encryption is unlawfully captured and decrypted, it wouldn’t be valid for future transactions.

A chip card inserted into an EMV-enabled terminal

Combined with point-to-point encryption (P2PE) and tokenization, EMV is part of a robust solution that not only increases payment security but keeps credit card data out of the hotel’s property management system, greatly reducing hotel liability in case of a system breach.

To accept EMV chip cards on site, hoteliers must use an EMV-enabled terminal (chip card reader) that communicates with an EMV-certified payment gateway and processor.

WebRezPro PMS is EMV certified with Shift4 and USAePay payment gateways, which support a variety of EMV-capable terminals (chip card readers) that make it easy for hotels to implement EMV within their current operations. Both gateways are certified for EMV with various major payment processors, so it’s possible for lodging operators to adopt EMV without changing service providers, allowing properties to negotiate the best rates or make a switch if preferred.

Advantages of Implementing EMV at Your Property

EMV is currently the most secure method for accepting card payments on site, and significantly reduces card-present fraud and the associated costs. Lodging operations that adopt EMV are protecting both their guests and their business.

Providing an EMV payment option helps reinforce your business’s credibility and gain the trust of your guests, which impacts the overall guest experience of your property.

As mentioned earlier, the shift to EMV has also shifted liability from the card issuer to the merchant if the merchant doesn’t support EMV chip transactions. This alone is a big incentive for hotels to implement EMV to protect themselves from the very real possibility of financial losses due to counterfeit credit card transactions.

EMV reduces the risk of costly chargebacks too. Charges are harder for guests to dispute when EMV card-present transactions are considered proof that the customer was actually there.

Last but not least, because card-present transactions pose less risk of credit card fraud and chargebacks compared to card-not-present transactions (online purchases and any time a credit card number is manually keyed in), EMV transactions incur lower credit card processing fees, which can potentially save a hotel thousands of dollars per year. (The higher the security risk you pose as a merchant, the higher your fees.)

If you haven’t already adopted EMV at your property, seriously consider the benefits of doing so. Significantly reducing card fraud and counterfeiting, EMV technology protects your business from losses due to fraudulent card-present transactions, reduces credit card processing fees, and shows your guests you care about the security of their data.

What’s next? ​Contact your merchant provider to see if they work with either Shift4 or USAePay. Once you’re set up with an EMV terminal, contact WebRezPro to complete the integration process with your PMS.