By Audrey D. MacRae
It is not surprising that 2021 brought with it a lot of hotel operational changes as management had ample time last year to evaluate which technology solutions were working and which were not. What many hotels are discovering — based on the increasing call volume to our North America sales team — is that their current property-management systems do not have the breadth of features or the contactless tools needed to support returning guests along their journeys. Certainly, they want to offer a contactless and touch-free guest experience complete with mobile check-in and express check-out, mobile room keys, digital registration cards, and a digital guest itinerary. And their wish lists do not stop there. In speaking with prospective customers from the independent hospitality group sector over the past several months, we are repeatedly hearing the same requests for more choice, more flexibility, more functionality, and much more customer service.
One of the biggest problem’s that hotel and resort operators are facing is the inability to attract and retain staff. If you think this human resource issue cannot be addressed by the PMS, think again. Today’s hotel employees are wearing multiple hats. A person may be working the front desk on Monday, assisting in the restaurant on Tuesday, working the Pro Shop on Wednesday, the Spa on Thursday, etc. If a hotel has disparate systems across their outlets, that means team members must know how to operate multiple systems. That could be a nightmare, especially if the team member is a relatively new hire and is not familiar with hotel technology. Although staff may do their best to learn these different solutions, it’s likely not what they signed up for, and soon the employee may get frustrated and leave.
So, in addition to the demand for contactless tools, hoteliers are saying they want the ability to run multiple outlets from a single solution with one database. They want front office, sales and catering, spa and activities, booking engine, mobile and contact free guest engagement, mobile and contact free operations, data mining analytics, membership, retail point of sale, condo and owner/vacation rental management, loyalty, work order management, gift card management, guest experience management/surveys, mobile housekeeping, customer-relationship management, guest communications, and two-way text messaging to operate on a single platform.
Giving employees a single solution and a single login to learn and operate the technology, and the ability to cross book and view activity for all outlets, arms them with the ability to focus on their important tasks and not struggle with disparate systems and user interfaces. They will excel when they can use an integrated solution rather than rely on interfaces between systems with non-centralized guest profiles and stay data ultimately helping them do their jobs better, and with a lot less stress. It will enable them to hop from one department to the next if needed with ease. And, when the technology is quickly mastered, it will give employees pride in their work and a sense of accomplishment. In the end, having the tools to effectively do your job is satisfying and rewarding, and helps build better team players. Selecting the right PMS partner speaks directly to attracting and retaining hotel employees for the long term.
Next, hoteliers are saying they want complete autonomy and power of choice in their PMS platform deployment if the options support mobile and contactless guest engagement from booking to in house to check out. While some operators opt for a cloud-based PMS today — one featuring browser access deployed in a multi-tenant environment — there are others that for many reasons would prefer choices in their deployment, yet still desire a web browser-based solution.
Due to many factors, such as remote location with spotty internet, or simply wanting the data server under their own management, operators are asking for the best of all worlds, and want their modern browser solution with the choice to deploy self-hosted, private cloud, or on premise as well as cloud hosted. ALL have advantages dependent on the operations’ needs, and each can securely support personalized and mobile check-in, contact free technologies, and modern integrations. The key is finding a single PMS provider that offers flexible PMS deployment options. Whether the server is in the cloud, in a private cloud, a managed data center, or in the hotel’s IT room, if it has a connection to the Internet (generally firewall secured between an internal and external network) it can support a web browser-based PMS with touch free, contactless, mobile, and third-party technologies.
Hoteliers are also indicating they want multi-property functionality. We are seeing hotel companies acquiring new properties regularly now and expanding their portfolios, sometimes with a very short acquisition window to get new systems in place. How easily a new property can deploy the PMS and onboard employees will be key to PMS selection. Operators are saying they prefer a reasonable serviced based upfront set-up fee, coupled with remote training for greater efficiencies and expeditious implementation.
They want an enterprise PMS platform that’s easy to use with built in tutorials and learning materials, as well as easy to access help and support by the supplier. They want the system to provide centralized controls and reporting while enabling each property to run at maximum efficiency. They want a centralized chain wide database facilitating easy cross selling of properties and amenities plus a single client profile for greater guest recognition and loyalty management. They want corporate collection and individual property performance metrics and guest behavior reporting from a single central data repository. And they want increased efficiencies and productivity with centralized, standardized operational procedures across all properties.
Regarding remote training, while nothing takes the place of in person training, in today’s new normal, the need for virtual technology training is critical to following social distancing guidelines and keeping employees safe — whether protecting hotel workers, trainers or guests. Hoteliers say they want PMS companies to offer eLearning, including easy-to-learn courses for each module. They want to give their staff the opportunity to study key system features, functions, and reports at their own pace and on their own time. In addition to traditional live phone support, the PMS provider should also offer live chat help, online user guides, tutorials, and direct email support. And operators want to have the ability to guide and track the lessons completed by each user. If the PMS provider offers free version upgrades — something many hoteliers say they never knew existed but also highly welcome in 2021 — all employees will also need continuing education on these new versions. Finding a PMS provider that offers on demand live training as part of their annual subscription and maintenance fees is critical, along with one-on-one refresher training, both being a top selection criterion for operators.
Last, but certainly not least, hoteliers say they want 24/7/365 responsive, LIVE, and affordable customer support. Some hoteliers are telling us that because they have disparate systems in each department and paying for each vendors system separately, total support fees can be exorbitant. We are also fielding weekly calls from operators who are frustrated with their PMS provider because their service calls are not being answered or returned. People prefer working with a PMS company, and technology companies in general, that maintain a client first support culture at its core. They are responded to live via phone, or live chat, they have a voice in the roadmap of enhancements and innovations, they simply want their voice to be heard. The last thing anyone wants to feel today is isolated; the pandemic has caused enough social isolation damage for a lifetime. You can have the best product in the market, but without proper service to back it up, it is not a worthwhile investment.
Enterprise hotel management software with integrated modules to support all departments operating on a single database does exist, and it comes with contactless and mobile apps to power profitability, drive direct bookings, centralize operations, and enable operators to engage guests with a safe and personalized experience. Those wanting flexible and scalable deployment options with a full-featured and sophisticated web browser solution available hosted in the cloud, on premise, self hosted, or in your own private cloud are not alone. In 2021, hoteliers can have it all. They just need to know where to look.
Audrey MacRae is Executive Vice President of Maestro, the preferred cloud and on-premises PMS solution for independent hotels, luxury resorts, conference centers, vacation rentals, and multi-property groups. Maestro was first to market with a fully integrated Windows PMS and Sales & Catering solution and is continuing that trend with leading edge web and mobile based solutions. Platform and deployment independence present Maestro as an investment that will continue to grow and adapt as new technologies emerge.