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Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Business Texting

by
Hotel Tech Report
2 days ago

Looking for a way to easily communicate with your guests?  Business texting is the answer. Guest messaging platforms have long been the best way to reach travelers – and continues to be one of the best ways to interact with guests unobtrusively and conveniently. Hoteliers are taking advantage of conversational automation capabilities built into tools like Zingle to bring greater operational efficiency to their hotel properties. Guest messaging platforms are changing the way hotel staff interact with guests and across teams. GMPs can automate service requests, answer frequently asked guest questions, and enable service recovery. In the process, hotels are using guest messaging platforms to increase guest engagement, boost customer service scores, and receive key insights into guests’ sentiment. All it takes is finding the right guest messaging platform for your property.    Why Add Business Texting to Your Tool Kit?  Beyond the obvious ability to communicate directly with your guests, guest messaging tools allow for your team to work more efficiently, upsell ancillary services, troubleshoot problems with guests during their stay, and increase guest satisfaction scores with relatively little effort. For some hoteliers, the greatest advantage of a messaging platform is to improve operational efficiency by answering fewer phone calls, automating responses to frequently asked questions, or keeping teams in sync with dispatch tasks and daily bulletins. Zingle’s guest messaging tool, for instance, uses AI to distribute service requests thus reducing call volumes. Messaging allows hoteliers to serve more guests per hour than any other medium (in-person, phone, email, or live chat); a platform like Zingle resolves common guest requests with intelligent routing. Categorize service requests and work orders from guests, and automatically dispatch and track the tasks. Intelligent routing reduces the amount of time staff spends on repetitive responses while also quickly getting guests the information they seek. Empowering your team to provide better customer service makes a significant impact on your guest satisfaction scores. Companies that use messaging achieve 2.9x greater annual increase in Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as compared to all others (12.3% vs. 4.3%). Zingle allows your team to proactively engage with guests to promote customer service and enhance their experience, resulting in improved scores. More specifically, guest messaging leads to an increase in service recovery opportunities, which lead to higher guest satisfaction. For instance, Zingle’s modules, called “zings,” can be customized to respond to specific triggers. Use zings to personalize a checkout survey, escalate a lost-and-found request to the right person, or make it known throughout the property when a guest has a specific allergy. The level of personalization without pestering the guest leads to an overall better experience at your property.  Bottom line: your guests are communicating key information about your hotel all day long. When they do so over your guest messaging platform, you can capture their sentiment, build a profile about your guests, and run reports with other analysis to inform your service offerings, marketing, and more. Identify guests that are having a great time and encourage them to post positive reviews online. If an issue arises, guests will only report it 25% of the time; but sentiment analysis can help you quickly identify the problem and alert your staff for service recovery. Build a better reputation through data points gathered in your guest messaging platform.   What Does Guest Messaging Look Like in 2020?  Guest messaging software continues to add new integrations: PMS, voice activation, tablets, and CRS for transactional messaging. Overall, this has led to a more streamlined experience for both the hotel and guests. We expect to see new integrations built into guest messaging platforms, including natural language processing (NLP) and the growing use of AI and machine learning to ensure that requests and issues are tracked and followed up with properly. NLP applies artificial intelligence to language data so while your messaging software may not understand requests and inquiries it learns over time how to best respond based on keywords and other signals. Advancements in NLP will give guest messaging platforms the ability to implement AI/ML models. For instance, Zingle’s AI and advanced analytics continuously learn over time, understanding how guests articulate a specific need, recognizing the beginning and end of guest conversations, and auto-categorizing those conversations by their intent. This allows the guest messaging platform to categorize and understand guests’ messages more accurately and take appropriate action immediately. Messaging use is expanding into new departments such as food and beverage. More department heads are looking to adopt messaging to help eliminate friction and miscommunication. GMPs will continue to reduce staff workloads and increase efficiency in teams where automation can eliminate some of the routine, time-consuming messaging and dispatching tasks.   What to Look For in a Messaging Tool Key to finding the right guest messaging tool for your property is making sure it doesn’t add work for your team, but automates and streamlines communication among housekeeping, the front desk, maintenance, and your guests. Make sure your GMS is equipped with the following features: Multi-channel guest messaging: give guests a way to communicate via their preferred channel (e.g. SMS, Messenger, email, and more.) Team messaging and task dispatching: streamline internal communications via messaging and eliminate the need for radios. A GMS should automatically create and dispatch service requests and work orders that can be tracked via an integrated task management system or right within the guest messaging platform. Automated messaging (auto-replies and chatbots): reduce the workload of hotel agents and provide a better experience for the guest. Analytics and reporting: see text and sentiment analysis from guest feedback Integrations: connect with your existing PMS, voice activation, and staff management tool to sync and organize your data. Sentiment analysis: identify trends over time and get alerts when topics are sensed via automated data mining of conversations. Message templates: create a library of response templates for commonly asked questions to save time. Notifications and escalation procedures: set up notifications and alerts based on response times and follow up to ensure ticket prioritization and eliminate dropped requests. Upselling and payment functionality: allow guests to purchase items (e.g. spa services, late checkout, food and beverages) without leaving messaging. The right GMS for your property should integrate easily with your existing property management system to pull a guest’s information and use relevant data points in automated and transactional messaging. A guest messaging platform can utilize data from your PMS to add consistency and reduce the work your agents have to do when it comes to being proactive in serving a guest’s needs. Likewise, your GMS should sync with your staff management tool for automated dispatching, eliminating any potential error and improving operational efficiency.    Questions to Ask When Vetting a Vendor Not every guest messaging tool is right for your hotel. During the procurement process, ask these questions to assess if a guest messaging platform has the features, support, and integrations you need.  How long is the training and implementation process? The tool should be relatively straightforward to set up and use, so look for a GMS that can be set up and learned in a week or less.  What integrations do you offer? Find a tool that can integrate with your systems while keeping data clean and mitigating dropped requests and glitches. Can you schedule and automate messages? Gain precision and operational efficiency by automating certain messages or transactional events. Can I identify unhappy guests? Real-time analytics and reporting will indicate where guests are having an issue; sentiment analysis and surveys should provide real-time insight into positivity/negativity.  Which mobile messaging and chat channels are supported? The more channels the GMS provides, the more chats your hotel can have in aggregate. Look for the capability to message via SMS, email, live chat, Facebook Messenger, and more, depending on your guests and country.    For more on finding the right guest messaging tool for your hotel, check out our 2020 Guest Messaging Buyer’s Guide.  

The Best Kept Secret About Wellness Tourism

by
Hotel Tech Report
1 day ago

It’s no secret that the wellness tourism market is exploding right now.  While hotel chains have taken note, many hotel owners are still missing out on investment opportunities that can help their properties appeal to these highly sought after guests. The wellness tourism industry drives $639B of spend globally and that spend is growing at more than twice the rate of the broader tourism market (nearly 7%). Domestic wellness tourists here in the U.S. spend a whopping 178% more than non-wellness travelers (Global Wellness Institute).  Wellness minded travelers have significant discretionary income and are willing to pay a premium to feel good both physically and mentally. Smart hoteliers and brands are identifying creative ways to tap this market. In this article we'll educate you on the data around wellness in travel, review successful hotel wellness tourism initiatives and empower you to bring wellness into any property regardless of location or market segment.   What is Driving the Wellness Tourism Market’s Growth? It’s not hard to see why the wellness market is exploding.  The western world has undergone a health consciousness renaissance and it’s in large part thanks to ancient eastern philosophy.  This is very much a global phenomenon. A quick review of Google search trends highlights the burgeoning demand for wellness related products and services.  823,000 consumers search Google each month to learn about ‘meditation’ techniques and there are more than 50,000 searches for the term ‘yoga retreat’.  Those numbers don’t even include the massive list of long tail of searches around each of those terms. Needless to say, we are talking about huge numbers here. The latest advancements in science and medicine have generated knowledge that is empowering everyday consumers to live healthier lives.  Today’s so-called unicorn companies show that despite its massive market size, the wellness revolution has really just begun. A wave of wellness unicorns like Peloton, 23andMe, Fitbit, Beyond Meat, ClassPass and Hims are experiencing exponential growth by meeting the demands of modern consumers and those same consumers are traveling to hotels like yours every single day.   How Major Hotel Chains Appeal to Wellness Travelers From Hyatt’s partnership with meditation app Headspace to Hilton’s Five Feet to Fitness guest room concept and Equinox launching hotels it’s clear that major brands understand the importance of appealing to wellness-minded travelers. Westin was arguably the first major global hotel chain to successfully center its entire brand around wellness through advertising, dedicated programming and innovative partnerships.  Newbalance has been one of Westin’s longest standing and most successful wellness partnerships.  The partnership enables guests to rent running shoes and gym clothes on property so they don’t need to carry dirty laundry or hefty running shoes in their luggage. Westin has since forged similar wellness partnerships such as RunWestin (guided running maps) and Peloton (world class digital spin classes).  Another key area of wellness focus for Westin has centered around sleep.  The brand is synonymous with the award winning Westin Heavenly Bed identifying sleep as a major area to improve well being, health and mindspace for guests.  Westin has also focused on sleep creating its own Sleep Well Lavender balm and healthy bedtime snack menu. It’s no secret that travel takes a toll on our bodies and minds which is why it's natural for hotel brands to focus on helping guests feel better during their stay to foster loyalty and create a better travel experience.  Westin has seen so much success with its wellness programming over the last decade that it recently decided to double down with its $30M “For a Better You” wellness-centric advertising campaign.  The campaign builds off of a study where 71% of travelers told researchers that the biggest pain point they experience while traveling is the difficulty of maintaining their ordinary routines while on the road.  Ultimately, keeping our routine is what makes us feel good and that’s what wellness is all about. The ways we do that are through healthy eating, sleeping, fitness and ridding ourselves of stress.   Better Breathing & Sanitation is at the Core of Any Wellness Program When examining these successful wellness programs, they all center around one thing: helping hotel guests recreate home environments and routines while they’re on the road which ultimately helps them feel good and be their best.  Air quality and sanitation are underserved facet of wellness that fosters better sleep and decreased stress levels through peace of mind. Sitting on a confined airplane with limited oxygen, it’s hard not to feel like you’re surrounded by germs, virus and bacteria.  The same is true of highly trafficked airports, ride-shares and even hotels. Heavy use commercial spaces are breeding grounds for virus and bacteria and even when we can’t physically see it, breathing virus, bacteria and ultra-fine particles impacts how guests feel each and every day.  For years, travelers have been wary of virus and bacteria in these heavy use spaces and recent data validates their concerns: “About 81 percent of hotel room surfaces sampled held at least some fecal bacteria. And television remotes are, in fact, among the most bacteria-laden surfaces, ranking up there with toilets and bathroom sinks.” (Scientific American) Bacteria and virus on both surfaces and in air particles can lead to illness when transmitted through our skin and lungs. Researchers have identified a clear inverse correlation between air pollution and physical health.  Whether you’re from Beijing, Bangladesh or Los Angeles you understand that air pollution has become such an issue that not only can we feel its negative effects but we can see them.  The number of premature deaths due to outdoor air pollution is due to increase from 3 million people globally in 2010 to an estimated 6-9 million in 2060.  The lion's share of this increase comes from non-OECD economies with less stringent air quality and pollution controls. The effects of poor air quality outdoors has become a global concern and while air quality indoors may not be as lethal, it’s a problem for wellness travelers and when presented with a solution - many travelers are happy to pay a premium for cleaner air in hotel rooms. Germs are a non-issue at home because it’s our own personal space.  When we experience poor air quality at home we buy air purifiers. So how are hotels delivering bacteria and virus free environments without air pollutants in highly trafficked rooms? Many of them turn to Pure Rooms.   Pure Room Conversions: A Turnkey Wellness Initiative for Every Hotel Pure Wellness patented 7-step process and technology treats every last surface and air particle in a room, giving guests more comfort in their surroundings and peace of mind. Pure Rooms feature medical grade purified air, a hypo-allergenic wellness environment and allergy-friendly bedding and shower filtration to more than 3,000 hotel rooms globally.  Guests have enjoyed the Pure Room experience in over 3,500,000 room nights. Pure Rooms is trusted by more than 30 major hotel brands ranging from midscale properties like Courtyard by Marriott, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inns Inn to upscale hotels like Westins and even ultra luxury properties like Ritz Carlton, J.W.Marriott and Waldorf Astoria. Ultimately Pure Wellness helps hotels convert anywhere from 1 - 1,000 of their rooms into Pure Rooms through a patented 7-step room conversion process that creates a best-in-class wellness environment for the wellness-minded travelers.  The conversion process delivers ultra purified air and treated surfaces that keep harmful bacteria and virus away. The end result - guests are willing to pay more for a Pure Room because they wake up feeling better rested and get peace of mind knowing that the room has undergone specific investment with their health in mind. First, the Pure team leverages its technology and know-how to get rid of all the invisible bacteria & viruses that hotel guests might not see (we hope) but can definitely feel.  Once the conversion process is complete the Pure Rooms team the room on 6-month maintenance intervals. Maintenance of Pure Rooms technology does not interfere in any way with housekeeping or engineering teams and the process is completely turnkey. Hotels that provide a Pure Rooms alternative for guests are rewarded with increased rates paid for those rooms and are able to differentiate their product in hyper competitive markets.  Room conversion has minimal downtime and the best part is you can start small to test the product and ratchet up your offering over time as demand rises for that offering.   This article was created in partnership with Pure Wellness  

How to Up Your Game With Business Intelligence Software

by
Hotel Tech Report
3 days ago

Data siloes are one of the biggest problems keeping hotel managers up at night and business intelligence software is key to addressing this barrier to growth and profitability. Many properties struggle to share information between revenue, marketing, and sales teams.  Additionally, hotel groups have access to extremely valuable data that they can't unlock when they're independently analyze each business at the property level. As a result, hotels and groups are missing massive opportunities for better strategic decision making and revenue growth. Business intelligence is about synthesizing data from different sources to uncover new opportunities for growth through constant improvement. Some hoteliers use business intelligence tools to measure the true ROI of their marketing campaigns; others dive into lead time analytics to find the best booking window for an Advance Purchase sales drive. Business intelligence tools like Revenue Insight by OTA Insight are designed to provide fast, thorough, and accurate insights through user-friendly dashboards, reports, and analytics. The best business intelligence tools slice, dice, and filter data, so sales can monitor performance, distribution can keep track of channel performance, and marketing can quickly spot opportunities for data-driven campaigns. Know when is the best time to run a discount on rooms, when to order more inventory for an upcoming busy period, and when a dip in bookings is industry-wide – or something more concerning. Here’s what Business Intelligence software can tell you about your hotel, and how your teams can use BI data to take advantage of opportunities that are otherwise hidden by noise.   How Business Intelligence Software Makes You a Better Hotelier Hotels have a large amount of data at their disposal. This data comes from a wide variety of sources such as website analytics, property management systems, central reservations systems, compset data and guest feedback tools. It’s impossible to synthesize and act on that data in real time when it is living in a dozen different systems, so how can your hotel make that data actionable?  Business intelligence tools parse data collected throughout the guest journey from marketing, guest experience teams, and business intelligence to surface ideas for new marketing campaigns, pricing, and e-commerce opportunities. The right business intelligence tool gives your property the ability to forecast for operational efficiency, more targeted marketing, and smarter sales campaigns. Too many hotel revenue managers are still relying on spreadsheets to make calculations and manage reporting. Spreadsheet-based reporting is clunky, time-consuming and error-prone. It’s also not a great way to extract deeper insights from the wealth of data available through your PMS. A tool like OTA Insight’s BI platform Revenue Insight can leverage your hotel’s PMS data for improved pricing and profitability – all with greater efficiency than a spreadsheet formula. “It is so easy to use and to get the information on time that helps me to take better revenue, parity and strategy decisions. I have no revenue staff so I need simple and complete information just on a glance,” says one reviewer. With dynamic PMS analytics, your manager can crunch the numbers and present unique intelligence and analytical views in seconds. During meetings, business intelligence tools allow you to get granular and give your teams the information they need to succeed. For instance, one manager compares rate codes with customer segmentation to see how different strategy changes impact booking rates. Reporting capabilities within a dedicated hotel BI tool like Revenue Insight makes it easy for Sales, Marketing, E-Commerce, and Revenue Management to share reporting and analysis using a “single version of the truth”. Work within a property, across a portfolio, or between the corporate/property-level divide. The user-friendly modules show your Sales team useful data points on corporate performance and for negotiating new contracts. Your Marketing team can monitor channel performance and create new campaigns anchored in data insight. Management teams are able to access reports that combine key performance indicators such as rate codes, channels, room types and more to provide a clear picture of ways your teams can drive revenue. Overall, business intelligence software offers more comprehensive data for optimizing performance. View analytics for one or multiple properties, for historical and forward-looking dates, from the highest to the most granular level of business. Process, organize and present large amounts of data quickly. BI tools use predictive analytics to make more accurate forecasts free from errors that result from manual reporting. Managers can plan rooms inventory management more strategically with granular yet actionable sales and forecasting data. This ability leads to less wasted resources and higher profit margins.   Business Intelligence Software Trends Business intelligence tools have gotten more advanced in their forecasting, self-service, and user interface. Today’s BI software, includes even better predictive analytics and the ability to compare your performance with competitors. BI tools use historical data and machine learning to predict future performance across a number of metrics – for instance, managers can compare actuals and on-the-book sales with previous time periods, booking windows, historic trends to analyze and predict your revenue KPIs. Or, save on one of your biggest costs: labor. In addition to predictive analytics, BI software add the ability for users to develop and create customized dashboards and reports, depending on their role within the organization. Self-service business intelligence makes your valuable data accessible to more teams. BI dashboards are making it intuitive for the average business user to create their own reports on the fly. Overall, these workspace tools allow for greater collaboration, moving siloed systems into unified digital workspaces. We expect to see predictive analytics get even more accessible moving forward; rather than simply forecasting at a market segment level, hotel teams will be able to plan across multiple dimensions like distribution channels, feeder markets, and room types. 2020 will bring big innovations from Microsoft, whose BI solutions are moving ahead of the competition in terms of their ability and vision. While not specifically designed for the hospitality industry, Microsoft’s Power BI tool is the technology that many hospitality focused BI solutions are built upon. There are many BI offerings in the hospitality market; it’s important to choose one that leverages the best technology for your property and Power BI is the cream of the crop. STR’s Forward STAR reports will change the competitive landscape by providing a 360-degree view of actual business on the books. This report compares your upcoming daily performance with that of the overall market and your competitors. Hoteliers no longer need to analyze their pace and pickup in a vacuum. Compare against your competitors with forward-looking market intelligence.   How to Select the Best BI Software To derive the most value from a business intelligence tool, there are a number of important features to consider. Cloud infrastructure: offers inexpensive, easy and flexible access to business intelligence data across multiple devices. Enterprise-level reporting: view the performance of multiple hotels using unified standards for easier reporting at an area or portfolio level. Depth of information: view statistics and figures; dive deeper into the data to understand what’s impacting those results.  Data management: manage & clean data to maintain data and reporting quality and accuracy. Forecasting and budgeting support: use budgeting data to maintain data and reporting quality and accuracy. Interactive dashboards: crunch huge amounts of data, contextualize, compare, and conditionally format your insights. Conditional alerts: set up the tool to notify you \when critical thresholds are met; respond sooner to take advantage of opportunities while they still exist Predictive analytics: use current and historical data to inform projections of where your business is heading. The right BI software must integrate with your PMS, guest feedback tool, and market intelligence platform. A property management system fuels your BI with the right data to create reports and predictive analytics. The guest feedback tool provides critical guest review and survey data to existing BI sources, allowing your teams to tap into potential benefits. And, just as importantly, a Market Intelligence integration allows you to view your performance in detail as compared to your competitive set, as well as spot any market opportunities or threats to your business. Make sure as you go through the vetting process you ask potential partners the following questions:  Which PMS and source systems do you connect with? Make sure your business intelligence tool can sync with your existing technology stack.  Can your tool be used across multiple devices? A good BI tool should provide widespread access across multiple devices, with as few limitations as possible.  In what ways can users customize and interact with data? Make sure the BI tool allows users to manipulate data to optimize reporting capabilities.  Do you have different security settings for different user levels? The right BI tool can restrict certain abilities and areas to specific users, so only the right people have access to your proprietary data.  Does your tool have data visualization categories? A good BI tool should make less work for you, not more; find a platform that can aggregate large quantities of data from multiple sources in an easy-to-digest format.   For more information and advice on buying business intelligence software download Hotel Tech Report’s 2020 BI Software Buyer’s Guide.  

How to Connect Front of House and Back of House with Technology

by
Hotel Tech Report
4 days ago

If you manage a hotel - or if you’ve ever worked in one - you know that there’s often a disconnect between front of house and back of house positions. It can be frustrating to try to get these employees in sync, especially when they work different shifts and in different areas of the hotel. It can be hard for staff in various departments to communicate, and, in a worst case scenario, this gap leads to a negative guest experience. What can you do to streamline operations and ensure guest satisfaction? With a little help from technology, it’s possible for front of house and back of house teams work more efficiently and hold each other accountable. In this article, we’ll define exactly what we mean by front of house and back of house, and we’ll share tips on connecting the two with technology.   What is the Front of the House? Simply put, the front of house departments are guest-facing. They work directly with guests and handle operational tasks, like check-ins and check-outs. Front of house employees often work in shifts, with some covering overnight shifts so that an employee is always available whenever a guest needs assistance. What positions make up the front of house team? Front Desk Agents:  These employees usually have the most contact with guests. Front desk agents check in guests, handle inquiries throughout the guest’s stay, and check them out at the end. Since guests often come to the front desk whenever they have a question, even if it concerns a different department, the front desk staff must be able to communicate well with the entire hotel team. Bellman: Bell staff are responsible for helping guests with luggage during their arrival and departure. Sometimes bell staff also store luggage, deliver items to guestrooms, and assist with valet parking. Concierge: A concierge assists guests with things to do during their stay. Concierges often book restaurant reservations, arrange tours, find concert tickets, and coordinate transportation on a guest’s behalf.  General Manager: The hotel’s general manager oversees all of the staff and daily operations. While a GM usually does have an office, he or she spends a lot of time in the front of house, interacting with guests or resolving issues. Depending on its size, a hotel may also have an Assistant General Manager, a Director of Rooms, or other members of the executive team who work in the front of house.   What is the Back of the House? While the front of house positions are important, they can’t run a hotel alone! Often invisible to guests, the back of house team keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes. They have minimal guest contact, either working in offices separate from guest areas or in guestrooms when the guests are out. Back of house employees usually work during normal business hours. Which positions would you find in the back of house? Marketing: The marketing team is responsible for maintaining the hotel’s public image and brand. Marketing tasks might include sending email newsletters, managing social media, and brainstorming special offers. Revenue Management: Depending on the hotel, a property could have one revenue manager, a revenue management team, or a corporate revenue manager who supports the hotel remotely. Revenue management sets rates, manages the relationships with OTAs, and implements promotions and availability restrictions. Housekeeping: This team is arguably the most important in the hotel; without housekeeping employees, there would be no clean rooms! Housekeeping tasks range from cleaning rooms, doing laundry, cleaning public areas, and  Finance: A hotel’s finance team oversees all financial aspects of the hotel’s operations, from accounting to payroll. You may have also heard the terms “front of house” and “back of house” when talking about the restaurant industry or food and beverage department. In F&B, front of house also includes the guest-facing roles, like servers and hosts, while back of house includes cooks and stewards.   Technology Brings the Front of House and Back of House Together Coordinating employees in various departments who also work different shifts is no easy task. And when you throw in the industry’s high turnover rate, it seems next to impossible! With traditional offline methods, bringing the front of house and back of house together is indeed difficult. But with intuitive and integrated technology, like the solutions Amadeus’ HotSOS product, front of house and back of house can collaborate effortlessly. When a hotel’s technology doesn’t integrate, the hotel’s operations are inefficient and, often, ineffective. Gaps in tech integration can lead to a lower standard of guest service, limited proactive maintenance, and overloaded employees who spend a lot of time on manual tasks. How exactly can integrated tech solutions solve these problems?   Deliver better guest service Imagine you’re a guest, and upon arriving in your room, you find that the light doesn’t turn on. You call the front desk, and the front desk assures you that someone from housekeeping will be up shortly to change the light bulb. You wait and wait, and nobody shows up. You’re frustrated, and your experience at the hotel is now less than ideal. What went wrong? What likely happened is that your request got lost somewhere between the front desk and the housekeeping department because there was no system in place to easily communicate requests like this one. In a hotel that uses integrated technology, the front desk agent could have submitted a request in their property management system, which would be delivered directly to the HotSOS housekeeping module spurring that department to action. The housekeeping staff could have been equipped with radios that alert them real-time when a request comes in.   Streamline proactive maintenance and inventory management Going back to our light bulb example, integrated technology can help the hotel ensure no guest walks into a room that has maintenance issues. The hotel could implement smart sensors on all of the lights - both in guestrooms and public areas - that send alerts when a light bulb needs to be changed. Without these sensors, the housekeeping or maintenance team relies on the busy front of house staff to communicate issues as they happen, rather than preventing them before they happen. Amadeus’s integrated systems can also assist with inventory management. Whenever a housekeeper loads a cart with bars of soap, for example, they can track how many bars they took. The inventory management system delivers alerts when inventory is low so that the housekeeping or procurement manager can order more.   Reduce manual tasks Besides making communication more efficient, an integrated technology stack can also help employees become more efficient by reducing the amount of manual work. Pulling reports, managing inventory, sending messages to guests, and more can all be automated to free up employee time and reduce the chance of human error. For front of house staff, spending less time on manual tasks means more time can be dedicated toward providing top-notch service and personalized attention. For back of house staff, automation allows them to spend more time on strategic projects rather than routine reporting. In conclusion, to run a great hotel and deliver exceptional guest service, the front of house and back of house teams need to be 100% aligned - especially across shifts. Integrated technology, such as Amadeus’s solutions, is the key to keeping everybody on the same page in real time, ensuring that nothing slips through the cracks.  

Google Travel is the Elephant in the Room, Is it Good or Evil?

by
Hotel Tech Report
4 days ago

Spend just a couple of hours at any given industry conference and there are two topics bound to come up: Airbnb’s end-to-end platform ambitions and Google’s continued push into travel. When these conversations turn to Google Travel, the emotions often oscillate between outrage (“biting the hand that feeds them”), capitulation (“it was bound to happen eventually”), and excitement (“someone that had to take on the Big OTAs”). For hoteliers trying to understand what Google travel means for their business, there are two key questions: is the company going to be evil by further leveraging its dominant position to charge hotels more for customer acquisition? Or will it be good, by expanding the pie and giving hotels greater options for acquiring high-intent consumers? There’s no easy solution to the “good or evil” question -- but one thing is certain: more competition is a good thing for hotels, as it creates new ways to connect with customers outside of the OTA ecosystem. As Google takes on the OTAs head-to-head, hotels benefit from a significant new distribution channel which (alongside Airbnb) is a major shift in industry dynamics. It’s a game-changer and hoteliers need to understand how Google works to adapt their distribution strategies accordingly. Here’s what you need to know about Google Travel, and what it means for your hotel’s business in the months ahead. Armed with this information, you’ll be more prepared to make your own assessment on Google’s impact on your own business.   How Google Travel Makes Money While it may not seem like it, a business model can be good or evil. A good business model incentivizes actions that create value and an evil one destroys it. The success of Google's business is predicated on delivering the best possible end-user experience (search) which is undeniably good; however, recent questions have come to light around whether monopolizing the results page with its own content could be perceived as evil. Google has expanded its advertising pool from traditional AdWords to include hotels everywhere via its Hotel Ads product. The Hotel Ads product is an undeniably better experience than search was previously and we’d argue that it’s a significantly better product than slow loading and overly promotional/confusing OTA index pages. Major OTAs are facing existential headwinds related to the staggering costs of driving demand from the Google advertising monopoly but the truth is that the problem isn’t that Google is flexing monopoly power, the problem for OTAs is that Google is delivering a better user experience.     When a user Googles a term like “New York Hotels” -- a term that 116,000 people search for each month -- advertisers place bids on the term in what’s known as a Dutch auction. That’s where the lowest winning bid is the price for all bids. For example, if the 4th place bid was $1.50, then the top 4 all pay that cost per click when their ad is clicked. The top bidders show up in the results (SERP), with the highest bidders appearing first and the winning bids determined by multiplying the bid’s price with the ad’s Quality Score. In order to make more money from the service it provides, Google only has 3 levers to pull. Here’s a brief overview; we’ll go into more detail later:   Display more ad units. Theoretically, each new ad increases the probability that a user will click the ad. Of course, there’s a tipping point when ad saturation pushes users to new platforms. Introduce competition. This is harder for Google to control but in general, the rules of supply and demand state that more advertisers for the same number of ad slots results in higher bids. Capture more of the value chain. Think of this like Amazon (or Wal-Mart or Target) introducing private label products to capture market share and increase its profits. For example, Google could start managing the entire hotel booking process and capture more of the value chain as an OTA.   Google Travel: Good or Evil? Google can certainly be seen as evil by monopolizing its status as the dominant player in search and prioritizing its own results but in reality, lots of other players do this.  Think about private label products in major supermarkets like Kroger or Amazon’s foray into creating their private label brands. These platforms can parlay their control over access to the consumer and take market share from those that rely on the platforms for  distributing and selling their products. The reality of travel today is that consolidation has dramatically reduced the industry's distribution options. Hotels face a “take it or leave it” situation, where only the largest brand portfolios have enough leverage to negotiate favorable terms. That’s where Google is most definitely not evil: Google levels the playing field, especially for brands that do not have enormous marketing budgets to compete against the OTAs via traditional search ads.  And Google definitely does not have a monopoly on user experience. It has successfully incentivized the best search and booking experience while also increasing ad inventory. Google’s Hotel Ad module innovation is evidence that Google continues to provide real value to the ecosystem. This ability to steadily monetize its real estate, without substantially alienating users, is what makes the company valuable. The only way for OTAs to compete is to get users coming to them directly. And the only way to get them to do that is by providing the best possible search experience -- or at least better than Google’s, which is something that Booking Holdings’ CEO Glenn Fogel recognized in his Q4 2019 earnings call: “What’s most important for us to get customers to come to us directly. For us to have our own future is to create a service that is so wonderful, so good that people just naturally will come back to us directly. And we will not be as dependent on other sources of traffic.” Ultimately, Google today is amoral. It’s neither good nor evil. It makes a lot of money from delivering the best possible search experience; as long as users reward it with their attention, it will continue to sell that attention. We’ll know that Google is more evil than good if they stop innovating on the search experience and growth attempts begin to alienate end users (searchers).   Google Travel vs. the OTAs: What Is Google Likely to Do? Between organic SEO and paid advertising, Google is responsible for much of OTA’s inbound demand. This vulnerability was laid bare in Q4 2019 earnings calls, where TripAdvisor and Expedia CEOs both lamented dips in organic visibility and rising advertising costs.  Ultimately, this is a high stakes chess game with billions of dollars at play -- $10.6 billion in 2018. With so much money at stake, for both Google and OTAs, Google has 3 potential moves to make -- none that will make everyone happy, especially as it walks the tightrope between its own products and those of its advertisers. MOVE #1: EXPAND AD INVENTORY One of the fastest ways to grow revenues is to expand overall ad inventory. It's always a trade-off between revenue and user experience.  Where we’re at: Google has already done this, increasing from three standard ads to four. Ben Thompson from Stratechery calls this The Google Squeeze. The consequence here is that organic results are pushed further down, reducing organic reach. As a simple example, let’s say the search engine results page (SERP) used to be 30% ads and now it’s 40%. Once you add the Google Hotel Ads module, that pushes ad inventory to 50% -- making paid placements as prominent as organic results. And, as Google adds more featured snippets, “zero-click searches” are now the majority. No clicks, whether paid or organic!  Even so, Google maintains a tight focus on the user experience; if users stop coming, there’s nothing to sell. So far, Google has avoided the point where users turn to new platforms. The Hotels module is easy to browse and it's convenient, two things consumers prioritize.  “[Google] has the dominant position largely by providing a better product. Search was better to start, but Google didn’t rest on its laurels: it made search better on mobile in particular with these sorts of modules. While users could download another app or go to a different URL, they simply don’t want to.”  -Ben Thompson, Stratechery Will Google do more of this? Yes, Google continuously innovates around better user experiences, as well as finding ways to monetize that innovation. While we don’t expect more of the organic rankings to be taken up as a percentage of results, we absolutely expect more innovation. And that should worry the OTAs,  even as they simultaneously benefit from the growing velocity of Google Hotel Ads. Expedia CEO Mark Okerstrom said on Expedia’s Q4 2019 earnings call: “We are able to pick up some of that volume and that resulted in spending more on sales and marketing than we otherwise would have. We are happy with the returns, but ultimately, not as good returns as we would see from the SEO channel.” MOVE #2: INTRODUCE COMPETITION More companies competing for limited space is generally good for an intermediary that makes money by selling access to its users. The competitive auction-based system ensures that the company always optimizes the value for its inventory. Where we’re at: Google’s Hotel Ads is exactly that: a product that turns advertisers into suppliers and offers hotels an end-round around other gatekeepers. Google built a new channel to compete for bookings -- and then used its competitive advantage to prioritize that channel above organic search results.  Ironically, Google’s demand engine helped Booking and Expedia create a duopoly -- which is bad for business -- so Google made tools to make it easier for hotels to bid for bookings. Whereas the OTAs were arbitraging their expertise in demand generation, Google closed that gap and gave hotels a new way to compete head-to-head with OTAs. Remember that, even if it's somewhat cannibalizes search ads, more competition for limited inventory is great for Google’s top line. Will Google do more of this? Yes, Google will absolutely continue to innovate making it easier for hotels to compete against the major OTAs. The competition will ultimately increase bid prices. After all, Google's leverage (and pricing power) rises alongside usage; whether OTA, meta or hotel direct, the more advertisers the better. Google is a brand-agnostic gatekeeper; it just wants everyone to pay its toll. MOVE #3: CAPTURE MORE OF THE VALUE CHAIN Google Hotels is a way to capture more of the value chain by shortening it. Rather than hotels distributing to OTAs, who charge commissions for capturing demand from Google (almost like advertising arbitrage), hotels can advertise directly on Google. This shortens the value chain and somewhat balances the  distribution power dynamic in hotels’ favor. Ben Thompson from Stratechery sketches how Google inserted Hotel Ads into its flow.   Where we’re at: But will Google become an OTA? Absolutely NOT. Google never has and will never want to deal with customer support, inventory onboarding, contracts, etc. It’s a huge hassle that doesn't align with any existing core competencies. The media is blowing this out of proportion, saying that Google wants to disrupt travel by capturing more of the value chain, but they’re wrong. I think the seller of record for travel it's a tough business, with low margins, that Google doesn’t want to be in. It wouldn't really add much to its bottom line or its competitive positioning. Why pay for all that overhead when you can just skim from the top? Will Google do more of this? Yes -- as long as it aligns with its objective to offer the most comprehensive search platform for travel. Most recently, Google expanded its reach into vacation rentals, trying to capture more of that demand from OTAs. This is simply an effort to give consumers access to 100% of all inventory across all categories. To be the most useful to users --  and to make as much money as possible selling access to those users -- Google needs access to all of the inventory. And, in a tie-up of the two Headless Horsemen of the travel apocalypse, Airbnb is running a pilot to distribute its inventory on Google. One final thing on OTAs versus Google: There's still a fair bit of regulatory uncertainty, with government hearings leading industry pundits suggesting a forthcoming “regulatory comeuppance.” And the OTAs certainly aren't taking this lying down, using their visibility and market power to agitate publicly for a level playing field in search results. There’s growing mainstream awareness around the potentially monopolistic characteristics of Google's position as the place where the majority of the world start their online searches.   What Does Google Travel Mean for Your Hotel? Really, all this is business as usual. The mainstream media is always going to hype new developments. You shouldn't change direction with each breathless opinion piece or buzzy article. The competitive dynamics of distribution is ever-shifting, and it will always remain in flux. For your hotel, the same strategies apply today that applied five years ago. First, focus your energy on the direct channel, as organic direct bookings are always the most profitable. To achieve direct booking success, use a guest acquisition tool like SiteMinder Canvas to create a high-converting website. According to Google, an easy-to-use website is more important for high-value travelers than reviews or loyalty programs. A modern website will build trust with potential guests, giving them the confidence to book direct. To enable those direct bookings, that website must also have a fast loading, intuitive and mobile friendly Booking Engine, like SiteMinder Booking Button. Consumers want a self-service option to book direct, so give them what they want -- and to capture those bookings with zero commissions.  Furthermore, Google’s quality score uses conversion rates as a rating factor so if your hotel website and booking software don’t convert guests you’ll end up paying more for ads. Few hoteliers really understand this.   A modern look and feel, coupled with a “Book Now” button, will transform your hotel’s online experience and get your hotel more commission-free bookings.   Next, once you’ve fortified your direct channel, you must implement a balanced distribution plan that doesn't rely too much on any single channel or third-party. You’ll want to use a channel manager like SiteMinder to easily distribute to as many OTAs as possible who give you reasonable terms...then let the OTAs fight it out in search bidding since you’re paying the same commission regardless. Your distribution plan should also include paid channels, such as metasearch, Google Hotel Ads, and possibly even OTA ads. Be sure to balance Google Hotel Ads along with metasearch bidding and carefully analyze profitability trends over time. For many hotels, it's advisable to use a digital marketing agency for hotels and/or metasearch management tools that can optimize your bidding and ensure that you are optimizing every marketing dollar. Finally, keep your head up and stay aware of the ever-shifting distribution dynamics. Keep a careful eye on earnings reports from metasearch, the latest product updates from the OTAs and HotelTechReport’s hotel industry blog to stay on the cutting edge. Google certainly isn’t going anywhere -- and neither are the OTAs --  so it's up to you to stay informed and ride the waves the best you can!  

Panera Delivery’s 5 Lessons for the Hospitality Industry

by
Hotel Tech Report
1 week ago

Worried about a recession? A new survey reports that 97% of CFOs believe there will be an economic slowdown before the end of 2020. Luckily, the success of Panera delivery and it's overall digital strategy and its commitment to investing in technology, even when the market segment suffers from declining sales, provide a blueprint for fortifying sales at your property and meeting evolving guest demands. Panera 2.0 is the title of the company’s commitment to digitizing the ordering experience that launched in 2014. Within this initiative, Panera has focused its technology investment on opening new digital channels, launching an in-house delivery fleet, providing new ways to surprise and delight customers, and future-proofing their sales. The hospitality industry can learn plenty from Panera’s proactive digital transformation strategy. Investing in digital and catering pays off – here’s what hoteliers can learn from the phenomenal success of Panera 2.0.    Lesson #1: Panera Delivery shows that consumers want to self-order At Panera, 30% of sales come from the brand’s digital channels. Panera’s digital channels include the company’s smartphone app, Google Assistant integration, and self-order kiosks in-store at select Panera locations. This omnichannel approach lets customers interact with the brand across multiple touchpoints, thereby exercising a new degree of control over their Panera experience. Consumers can order lunch and dinner service from the Panera website or from their mobile app. The brand, in return, collects data and receives deeper insight into their customer’s behavior than if they partnered with a third party like GrubHub or Uber Eats. As the Panera EVP chief growth and strategy officer reported to Forbes, customers “purchases go up, their frequency goes up and the incremental value of their orders go up. The return is very clear for us. If you go through a third party, you don’t have that visibility.” This return might be surprising given the hospitality’s long-standing belief that face-to-face service is what builds customer satisfaction. But what Panera Delivery has discovered is that speed, efficiency, and ease outrank interpersonal communication. Mundane and impersonal things like ordering and waiting on the phone or in line at a restaurant aren’t driving customer satisfaction. What does this mean for your hotel? Let guests “do it themselves” and drive incremental sales by giving guests every opportunity to purchase through digital touchpoints. A web app like Crave Appless or on a physical in-room tablet are both ways to create a frictionless, self-determined ordering experience. The ability to order with a few finger taps creates an “Amazon Prime” style effect where guests can purchase in a click. The end result: higher revenue from ancillary purchases and a better customer experience.    Lesson #2: Voice is the future Initial testing of voice-activated ordering has shown promise for Panera, who began testing delivery and Rapid Pick-Up with the Google Assistant on their mobile devices at locations in St. Louis and Silicon Valley. “Placing a voice-activated order in many cases is more than 80% faster than a traditional app order,” says Blaine Hurst, president at Panera. Panera’s app works with Google Assistant using AI to allow customers to place an order through simple voice commands – ”OK Google, ask Panera for delivery” for instance. Through the app, Google Assistant will display menu items, suggest products based off someone’s order history, and allow users to pay through saved wallet information. While the experience might seem futuristic for a fast-casual brand, voice activation has exploded over the last year. At the beginning of 2019, Amazon announced that more than 100 million Alexa devices had been sold; analysts estimate that 55% of American households will have some kind of voice-activated device by 2022. Voice is exploding and is already a huge asset for hotels.   Lesson #3: In a tight market, digital prowess separates winners and losers Quick-service restaurants have suffered in recent years: same-store sales at most QSRs are down 3.4%. Panera breaks the mold, posting an impressive 6% same-store sales growth at their company stores. Analysts and experts at Panera attribute their trend-breaking success to the brand’s investment in digital. Even when the market was in decline, and times were tough, Panera was making investments in technology. While the rest of the industry battled declining sales, Panera doubled down on digital – a commitment that paid off. In 2018,  “Digital sales now represent $1.2 billion, or 29% of company sales, and the company’s MyPanera loyalty program now has 28 million members, or more than half of its customers.”  By adding a new segment with rapid growth, Panera was able to offset the decline in same-store sales. “Moving Panera forward took a willingness to share in a dream,” Ron Shaich, the former Panera CEO told Restaurant Business Online. “And it took countless hours of assessing, reassessing, iteration and tough decisions.” What that tells hotel owners is that you should constantly be investing in technology, even in a declining market. Two areas where you can focus your technology budget are upsell software and in-room tablets, like Crave. Crave Interactive works as an in-room concierge to help guests find information easily and quickly. In room tablets also boost incremental revenue by promoting destination-specific activities and on-property hotel amenities like spa and room service. More money from existing guests makes a healthier, more resilient business that can survive – and thrive – regardless of market downturns.    Lesson #4: When working on tech initiatives, flexibility and integration are key Panera developed its delivery service in partnership with Bringg, a delivery logistics platform. Bringg provides the digital infrastructure and industry knowledge; while Bringg’s agreement with Panera allows the brand to have its own in-house delivery fleet, Bringg also has partnerships with Postmates and DoorDash. A hotelier might look at this arrangement and judge it unfavorable to Panera. Wouldn’t it be better to control the entire experience, end-to-end, than to partner with someone who works with your competitors? Certainly in a perfect world, that’s a nice thought; however, in reality, Panera gains the flexibility to shift direction and pivot with demand by working with Bringg. It’s far more expensive, burdensome, and time-consuming to create a unique, native platform entirely owned by Panera Hoteliers can learn from Panera’s example: don’t build your own tech. Partnering can add flexibility to your marketing approach. Make sure that you have an integration infrastructure to quickly switch out solutions when they’re not working. Case-in-point: don’t work with vendors who lock you into contracts. A firm like Crave will rent tablets to your property in a model that allows you to pay as you go. This kind of business model helps ensure that your vendors are always looking out for your best interests and care about your success.    Lesson #5: Panera’s catering segment shows that business is booming Catering has always been Panera’s bread and butter (pun not intended). The catering market in the US is massive – in 2017, it reached $58 billion. Panera has cornered about 2% of business catering sales, worth over $40 million. The brand has become virtually synonymous with office lunch delivery, a position that hasn’t changed despite increased competition from QSRs like California Pizza Kitchen, Au Bon Pain, and Applebees. Rather than continuing to focus on lunch orders, Panera leveraged their dominance in catering to expand their breakfast offering: Dan Wegiel, Panera’s chief growth and strategy officer, told CNBC that expanding the breakfast menu would lead to more opportunities for Panera’s catering business, and vice versa. Catering gives Panera a competitive edge in the so-called “breakfast wars” with brands such as Dunkin’, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. Thirty percent of Panera’s catering orders come from breakfast; adding new menu items, such as breakfast wraps and premium coffee, incentivize customers to order more often. STR research found that catering is driving higher revenue at hotels; in 2017, catering-and-banquet revenue per available square foot (RevPAS) rose 2%, outperforming all other segments of hotel F&B performance. Hoteliers can’t ignore catering as a key revenue stream. Get smart and creative about catering: how can you change up the menu or repackage existing menu items in a way that incentivizes big group orders? Are there new and unique market segments within your existing bookings that might be interested in catering? Are there changes you need to make to your F&B that can refresh your catering menu? Take note of Panera’s example to leverage catering for higher revenue.  

4 Unconventional Content Marketing Strategy Ideas for Hotels

by
Hotel Tech Report
1 week ago

If you’re reading this article, you probably want to increase the traffic coming to your hotel website and having a smart content marketing strategy is one of the best ways to win more bookings online. You also probably know by now that attracting more potential guests isn’t something that happens overnight. Perhaps your competitors have hired expensive website designers or you get a big share of bookings from OTAs. What can you do to get more direct bookings than last year - and more than the hotel down the street? Our best advice is to create high-quality, compelling content that grabs a potential guest’s attention and keeps them engaged all the way until they click “book now.” But you don’t need to be a professional writer or photographer to make your website content shine; with these four unique content marketing strategy ideas, you can start driving hotel website traffic today.   Strategy #1: Location Jacking We pay a lot of attention to competitive hotels, but we can’t forget that many guests can be shopping around for destinations too. Think about what attracts people to your area - is it the restaurant scene, some famous museums, or outdoor highlights like beaches or mountains? Once you’ve determined some big drivers, then you can figure out which other destinations your guests might be looking at. To help sell your destination (and hotel) to these guests, you can create an article that “jacks” the location highlights of these other areas. For instance, the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal in Cabo San Lucas is a fabulous place for a yoga retreat. However, search trends show that only 40 people per month search for “yoga retreat in Cabo.” In comparison, yoga retreat-related searches for other destinations get a lot more traffic: Yoga retreat California: 2,400 monthly searches Yoga retreat Costa Rica: 6,600 monthly searches Yoga retreat Bali: 14,800 monthly searches The Waldorf’s marketing team could write an article such as the “10 Best Yoga Retreat Destinations in the World” and create rich content around each of the high volume destinations above.  Within that article they could talk about all of the reasons why Cabo might be a more desirable yoga retreat destination than Bali, and more people would see it when they’re searching for “yoga retreat Bali” than “yoga retreat Cabo.” For U.S. based travellers, Cabo is a much shorter commute and less expensive. The Waldorf could alternatively create an informative article about top yoga retreats around the world, potentially including other hotels in yoga retreat destinations who could share or link to the Waldorf’s post. When researching these search terms, you may be wondering how to find the search volume and competitive keywords. Marketing professionals can use one of the many keyword research tools, like Google Keyword Planner, or for more support and resources, consider partnering with a hospitality-specific marketing company like Cendyn who’s digital marketing agency arm can do all of the heavy lifting for you.   Strategy #2: The Restaurant Megalist Chances are, your hotel guests will be dining out at some point during their stay. They’re probably scouring the web for restaurant recommendations while you’re reading this article. Give your guests a valuable trip planning resource by compiling a meaty “Restaurant Megalist” blog post or page with dozens (maybe even 100) of restaurant recommendations. Add a short blurb about each, or just organize it intuitively with price ranges, cuisine types, rich imagery and the distance from your hotel with a Google Maps link. For example, you could title your guide “45 Restaurant Recommendations in Sausalito.” A restaurant blurb might look like this: Scoma's of Sausalito: Waterfront restaurant known for fresh fish, crab, scallops, and more with stunning views of the bay. 3-minute walk (0.2 miles away) ← Include a Google Maps link here to make it easy for guests to find their way. While a comprehensive restaurant guide is an excellent resource for guests on its own, that’s not where the value in this content marketing strategy ends. Those restaurants that you included in your guide are also competing for website traffic, so they’ll be thrilled to hear you included them in your list. Once your restaurant list has been posted, we recommend reaching out to each restaurant and gently asking them to add a link to your post on their website in the press section - or at least share the article on their social media accounts. Even if only a handful of restaurants share your post, it will still lead to incremental (and free!) website traffic, which is a nice skill to add to your online marketing toolkit.   Strategy #3: Event Tag-Along Along the same lines of destination-related content, hotels can snag website traffic by writing articles related to popular local events. Guests coming into town for an event usually have a lot of questions about the area and the event itself. What’s the event schedule? Where do attendees register? Who are the speakers? What are some nearby restaurant recommendations? As an example, a San Francisco hotel could create a guide to the annual Salesforce conference, Dreamforce. The keyword “dreamforce 2019” received 33,100 monthly searches and scored .06 for competition, so it would be relatively easy to appear high in the search results. A Dreamforce article could include information about registration, fees, concerts, background on the speakers, and the event agenda.   Strategy #4: The OTA Effect Why do guests use OTAs? Sure, some guests are loyalists who stick with one particular OTA for their loyalty points, but many guests use OTAs as research tools. They want to compare hotels quickly and easily. While one hotel can’t really compete with an OTA in terms of marketing dollars, a hotel can “out-OTA” the big guys by creating better content that ranks higher in the search results (it’s not easy but with creativity it can be done). Similar to the “restaurant megalist” we mentioned earlier, a guide to area hotels can be a great resource for potential guests - and an informative exercise to get to know your competitive set. Start this article by compiling a list of nearby hotels or hotels within a particular niche, like “independent hotels in New York” or “new hotels in Miami.” General “hotels in…” searches get a lot of traffic, so you have a nice opportunity to gain significant traffic. “Hotels in New York” generates 70,000 monthly searches, for instance. What gives your article a leg up compared to the OTAs is your local market knowledge. You’ve been inside these hotels and know what makes them unique, so you can write strong content that really speaks to what travelers are looking for when it comes to your local area. Once you’ve published the post, don’t forget to reach out to the hotels you mentioned and ask for some social media shares! -- While any of these content marketing strategy ideas can be a good starting point for improving your hotel’s online marketing, some hotels may be ready for more a sophisticated marketing plan. Hotel marketing experts like Cendyn offer additional reporting and analytics, website design, and automation tools that go beyond what you can find online for free. If your hotel is ready for the next step, consider partnering with a specialized digital marketing agency that can provide tailored expertise. After all, any investment in driving hotel website traffic can pay off quickly as your rate of direct bookings increases.  

Payment Processing: Here's What You Need to Know in Plain English

by
Hotel Tech Report
1 week ago

You might be thinking that it’s not the most exciting topic in the world, but payment processing is an important factor in your hotel’s overall financial health, especially as more guests pay with credit cards. Whether you’re setting up a payment processor for the first time, considering switching to a different system, or just taking stock of your hotel’s operations, we’ll show you how to make payment processing as easy and affordable as possible. Imagine cutting your costs just by switching to a new payment system! In this article, we’ll define what exactly payment processing is, explore the vendor landscape, and offer some advice for choosing the right systems for your hotel.   What is Payment Processing? Back in the days when cash was king, payment processing was as simple as opening the cash drawer and handing back change. These days, especially in hotels, credit cards have surpassed cash as the preferred method of payment, which brings new challenges and complexity.  For a hotel, receiving money from a credit card transaction isn’t as straightforward as receiving cash, and it’s also more expensive. When a guest swipes their credit card at the front desk or uses your online booking engine, the bank or association that issued their card must issue credit to cover the purchase. This credit comes with a set of fees, called interchange. Hotels cannot access the funds straight away; a payment processor, like a middleman, actually receives the money, then charges the hotel a markup when the funds are paid out. Because the fees vary depending on the type of card and the bank that issued it, payment processors charge hotels flat fees ($0.15 per transaction, for example), percentage fees, or a combination of both. To make sure you’re paying a reasonable amount for credit card processing, it’s important to understand the fee structure.    Merchant Account vs. Payment Gateway We hear a lot of confusion about the various types of systems that hotels can use to process payments. Depending on their financial services needs, businesses can choose between comprehensive payment solutions, standalone merchant accounts, and third-party payment gateways to handle credit card payments. Wondering what the differences are?  In short, a simple payment gateway allows your hotel to charge credit cards. It’s the link between the hotel and the credit card issuers. When a guest books a room online, for example, they’ll enter their credit number, which allows the payment gateway to communicate with their bank, and upon approval or denial of the transaction, the payment gateway will circle back to finish the transaction. When the transaction is complete, the funds need to go somewhere. Some businesses opt for immediate deposit into a bank account, while other businesses use a merchant account. While a merchant account is not a bank account, it acts as a sort of “holding area” for funds so that they can be easily refunded and so that balances can be deposited into a bank account in bulk on a regular schedule. For hotels, merchant accounts can make a lot of sense, because they allow for easy refunds if a guest cancels, and they can orchestrate bank transfers on a regular cadence to make things easy for your accounting team. If using a separate payment gateway and merchant account sounds taxing (pun intended), there’s a third option: an all-in-one payment solution that offers both a payment gateway and merchant account.   A Brief Overview of Online Payment Processors If your hotel has a website that accepts online reservations, then you’ll need an online payment processor to allow your hotel to collect funds online. Payment gateways, also known as payment service providers, make charging cards a breeze, but they aren’t free. You have to spend money to make money, right? Fees vary by system; for example, Stripe charges 2.9% plus $0.30 on each transaction, no matter what kind of card is being charged. Other systems, like PayPal, for example, charge an increased fee for American Express cards and international cards. Just like the property management system landscape, you have a plethora of payment processors to choose from. Each one has their own pros and cons, so we recommend doing some research instead of opting for one just because it’s popular. Here are some of the top online payment processors: Authorize.Net Stripe PayPal Braintree Amazon Pay Square BlueSnap WePay As with any type of sensitive data, hotels must be careful to keep their financial information secure and compliant with PCI and PSD2 regulations. Some payment processors offer resources to help you stay compliant, and the systems constantly adapt to changes in financial technology, like accepting digital wallet payments, for example. When choosing a vendor, you might be tempted to just go with the cheapest option. However, we recommend researching a few more factors so you can choose a system that’s truly right for your business. Don’t forget to look into these criteria: Monthly fees and transaction fees Countries and currencies supported Card types accepted On-form payments or redirects to another site to complete payment Mobile payments PSD2 compliant With a little research, you can find a payment service provider that’s right for your hotel.   Payment Processing for the Hotel Industry Do you know exactly how much you’re paying for each credit card transaction? If you don’t have access to a variety of processors, you could be paying exorbitant and unnecessary processing fees. Don’t want to pay fees that you don’t need to pay? If you use a popular PMS, such as Oracle OPERA, then you likely already have access to several processors. If you don’t use a common PMS yet, then you may want to consider switching to avoid getting gauged by payment vendors who know you have no other options. Using a payment processor that’s integrated with a PMS can streamline many operational tasks. For example, Oracle OPERA’s integrated payment solution makes it easy to run pre-authorizations (for incidentals, for example), release authorizations, complete purchases, issue refunds or reversals, void transactions, and more. Imagine if your front desk team needed to switch to a different system every time they placed an authorization on a card during check in; a PMS with payment processing integrations like Oracle OPERA makes your front desk more efficient. Integrated payment processors aren’t just beneficial to the front-of-house. Back office tasks like issuing invoices, paying vendors, and collecting membership fees can be handled more easily when all of your systems communicate easily. And when the payment processor can communicate with your PMS, you can pass details like check-in date and folio number through with the transaction, so guests and banks have full clarify as to what the charge was for.   Key Takeaways for Choosing a Payment Processor Even though selecting a payment service provider may not seem like a major technology, remember that you will pay more in processing fees than for any other technology. In this case, doing your homework can really pay off. Compare vendors to find not only the best price, but also the best value, because a system that costs slightly more but is completely PSD2 compliant could save you a lot of headache down the road - not to mention reducing the risk of a security breach. In addition, using a popular PMS is critical to ensuring you have access the right integrations. A widely used system like Oracle OPERA has connections with a variety of payment processors so you can always take advantage of the best rates. Payment processors might not be the most exciting part of hotel operations, but saving thousands of dollars by switching to a better system certainly is.  

Minimum Wage is Rising and It’s Surprisingly Good For Hotels

by
Hotel Tech Report
1 week ago

Over the last year, you may have seen headlines about rising minimum wages across the US. Many state legislatures voted to raise the minimum wage in 2020 – a good thing for most people, but can be anxiety-inducing for hotel owners. The hotel industry is one of the biggest employers in the world, accounting for 1 in 25 U.S. jobs as one statistic shows (and employing more than 15 million people). Many of those workers are hourly – meaning changes to the minimum wage would have material impact on their income. In an economy where the gap between the richest and poorest is at an all-time high, increasing wages in the hotel industry will do a lot of good for many American families. But for hotel owners worried about their bottom line, even a 2% increase in salaries is alarming. There are, however, many hidden benefits to increasing your hourly minimum wage. These benefits can offset the increased labor costs at your property – especially when you have the right tools in place to manage your labor force efficiently. In this article we’re going to show you why minimum wage increases are actually good for your business and we’ll even show you how to offset higher wages with more efficient staffing practices by leveraging a labor management system like Hotel Effectiveness. Here’s what you need to know about changes to the minimum wage in 2020 and how to prepare your hotel.    Higher Minimum Wage Offsets Income Inequality Income inequality occurs when there’s a large gap between the wealth of one part of the population as compared to another. Income gets concentrated usually in the hands of a small segment of the population. Following World War II, there was very little income inequality in the US; however, the gap between the lowest-earning individuals and the wealthiest families grew steadily and peaked in the 1970s. During this decade, slow economic growth, high unemployment, and inflation caused high levels of income inequality. Investopedia reports: “In 1976, the richest 1% possessed just under 8% of total income but has increased since, reaching a peak of just over 18%—about 23.5% when capital gains are included—in 2007, on the eve of the onset of the Great Recession. These numbers are eerily close to those reached in 1928 that lead to the crash that would usher in the Great Depression.” More recently, the Census Bureau reports that in 2019 income inequality hit its highest level in the last 50 years – despite the fact that unemployment is also at record lows. While there are many macro-level reasons for growing inequality – job outsourcing, a supply of cheap labor from China, education, deregulation, and unfair exchange rates, to name a few – the bottom line is that many Americans are earning far less than others. This discrepancy is why the minimum wage is so important. Minimum wages have risen in more than 20 states over the last year, having a significant impact on income for those on the lower end of the payscale. “Over the past year, paychecks for those in the bottom 25 percent of the workforce grew almost 1.5 times as fast as those in states where the minimum wage did not budge. Also, workers age 20 and under fare better in states that raised the minimum wage,” reports the Washington Post. There’s a long way to go to close the income gap, but early data suggests that a higher minimum wage helps close the inequality between high-income families and low-income families.    Federal Minimum Wage Trends: Focus on California, Georgia and Texas The Federal government mandates a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for those employees protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, states are permitted to set their own minimum wage rates, as long as they don’t go below the federal law. The states with the highest minimum wages are Washington DC ($14); Washington ($13.50); Massachusetts ($12.75); and Colorado ($12.10). States with the lowest minimum wage are Montana ($4.00), Georgia ($5.15), and Mississippi and Alabama, where there is no minimum wage law on the books.  The big news for 2020 is that twenty-one states have raised their minimum wage. Some states enacted wage raises in response to the rising cost of living, but 14 states increased their rates to exceed simply offsetting inflation or living expenses. California, for instance, raised their minimum wage from $12 to $13, applicable to employers with more than 25 employees. In Silicon Valley, the minimum wage rose to $16.05. Georgia remains something of an outlier, as the state has no plans to raise the minimum wage from $5.15. Georgia and Texas perfectly exemplify the difference a minimum wage increase can make. According to one report, in each of these states, “two working adults with two children making minimum wage would only earn about half the amount of money needed to make a living.” Not coincidentally, Texas and Georgia rank within the top ten states with the highest income inequality.    Explore more about the minimum wage rates around the US on the Department of Labor website:   Here’s Why The Rising Minimum Wage Is Good for Your Hotel What do all these data points mean for your hotel? Labor costs – including salaries, wages, contract labor, bonuses, and payroll-related expenses – account for more than 42% of a hotel’s total operating expenses. Labor costs are the biggest component of a hotel’s operating budget, and as a result, rising minimum wages are cause for concern among many hoteliers. It may seem like a bad thing to increase your biggest P&L item and in a vacuum it absolutely is; however, rising wages have positive effects on the hospitality industry that offset some of the budgetary burden. First, well-paid workers are happier workers – and happier workers deliver better service. When workers are paid better, up to a total annual income of $75,000, they are more content. Happiness at work leads to lower stress and higher productivity; and for hotel teams, this translates to better guest experiences, more positive guest reviews, and more repeat bookings. As data from Texas and Georgia prove, the lower wages go the more likely it is that your minimum wage workers will need second jobs to meet the cost of living. The financial burden of working overtime coupled with the stress of trying to make ends leads to exhaustion, stress, and decreased quality of work. Secondly, higher wages are a big selling point if you’re trying to recruit new employees. Salary and benefits are the top two factors a job seeker considers when looking for a new role. In a competitive labor market, anything that sets your property apart from the competition can give you a winning edge. Higher wages make it easier to attract talent since people feel like they’re being paid fairly for their work. In addition to improving your hiring KPIs (time to hire, cost-to-hire, and position fulfillment rates) higher wages can lead to lower rates of absenteeism and lower employee turnover. Last but not least, when we talk about minimum wages rising we aren’t talking about just one industry.  When wages rise, consumers have more spending power which means more travel (i.e. hotel stays), more dining out in your F&B outlets and generally better economic conditions.   How to Maintain Profitability When Wages Are Rising If you’re worried about the rising minimum wage, there are some great tools that can help you mitigate increased labor costs at your hotel. Labor Management Systems, like Hotel Effectiveness, ofter a way to reduce labor costs by effectively allocating resources and scheduling shifts. Labor Management Software delivers real-time insight to help managers schedule hourly workers more efficiently, so you can afford to pay workers more fairly. Hotel Effectiveness claims to reduce total labor costs by 5% or more by setting labor goals such as hours worked per employee, housekeeping minutes per room (MPR), and percentage labor win/loss to benchmark against industry standards. The platform features dynamic scheduling and automated labor monitoring to adjust hourly employees based on forecasted occupancy labor standards, productivity issues, and other risk areas. At the corporate level, you can access trackable, real-time reports to understand where properties are underperforming. Rising minimum wage will impact income inequality, and that’s a good thing for most people. Hotels, as one of the biggest employers in the country, have a responsibility to do right by their employees – especially if it leads to higher profitability, productivity, and sustained growth. Higher minimum wage is a win-win for hotel owners and teams alike.  

What is a Content Management System?

by
Hotel Tech Report
2 weeks ago

Working with the right partner to build your hotel website is hard enough and knowing what kind of content management system to build it on makes things even more complicated. The CMS that you choose has a huge impact on your business.  A bad CMS inhibits your ability to update content such as images and text - both of which are critical to rank in search engines and get found by travellers. You probably feel a little overwhelmed or unsure of how to take your website to the next level. In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of using a content management system to optimize and organize your website content. Looking through a hotel lens, we’ll show you how you can make your website stand out among the competition to improve your conversion rate and increase direct bookings. Since a CMS makes website editing easy, it’s possible to launch a beautiful website without hiring an expensive web design agency or investing lots of your own time. Ready to see how you can build a better hotel website? Keep reading for our essential tips about content management systems.   What is a Content Management System? You already know about property management systems and revenue management systems, but what exactly is a content management system? In short, a content management system (CMS) is a tool that allows you to build all of the pieces of your website - from text to photos to widgets - via an easy-to-use interface. With a CMS, you don’t need to write your own code; instead, you can apply pre-created templates and plug-ins to quickly and efficiently build a website. These systems make web design accessible for people with little to no web design experience.   Popular Content Management Systems There are tons of content management systems are on the market but the most well-known is WordPress. All kinds of websites use WordPress, from blogs to online stores, and even many hotel websites. In fact, it’s estimated that 32% of websites worldwide use WordPress! But WordPress isn’t the only option for content management, and some hotels benefit greatly from using a hotel-specific content management system, as we’ll discuss in a bit.   Is WordPress right for your hotel website? WordPress is popular for many reasons, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right choice for your hotel’s website. What makes the most sense for the skill level and time commitment for yourself or your colleagues who will be managing the website? Millions of marketers and website creators choose WordPress for the following features: The system is highly customizable, so your website can look exactly the way you want it Templates and third-party widgets and apps are available for a huge variety of industries and design styles Your website content always lives within WordPress, so you can change themes or hosting providers without losing your content Drag and drop editors like Divi allow you to build and manage content yourself WordPress websites generally load quickly The standard system is free of cost, with optional fees for some add-ons or templates However, WordPress isn’t perfect. It’s not a one-stop-shop for website building since you’ll need to use plug-ins and add-ons to optimize your website, so you’ll still need to configure your website hosting and domain services, which requires some technical knowledge. Also, if a glitch happens, you’ll likely need technical know-how to resolve it. Because WordPress offers so much customization and functionality, new users might need some training to fully understand how everything works.   Other Content Management Systems If WordPress doesn’t sound like exactly what you’re looking for, perhaps another content management system will do the trick. Two other popular CMS options are Squarespace and Wix, which both offer plenty of features but are less customizable than WordPress. Wix has a few hotel-specific templates, including some for bed and breakfasts, but both systems support considerably fewer plug-ins and third-party apps than WordPress. In addition, Wix and Squarespace charge fees, but they require less technical skill than WordPress.   Content Management Systems for the Hotel Industry Though the lion’s share of hotel websites use WordPress, thanks to the system’s speed, flexibility, and ability to switch to new vendors, some hotels opt for a custom CMS like SmartCMS by NextGuest Digital. Wondering what a custom CMS can offer that a system like WordPress can’t? Keep reading to discover if a custom CMS is right for your hotel.   Why use a custom CMS? When the “big guys” like WordPress and Squarespace are designed for literally any type of website, hotels can enjoy the benefits of a custom CMS, like SmartCMS, that’s specifically built for hotels. A custom CMS can integrate with your existing hotel systems and leverage guest browsing history to deliver personalized content that increases conversion. With built-in A/B testing, a product like SmartCMS knows what works for hotels and what drives conversion rates higher, with a full suite of reporting services and analytics tailored to the needs of hoteliers. Does a custom CMS sound too good to be true? Let’s not forget about a couple potential downsides of using a custom CMS. Because the tool contains all of your website data, if you decide to go another direction and use a different CMS in the future, you’ll likely lose all of your content and need to start from scratch. In addition, you wouldn’t be able to implement any of the third-party apps available to WordPress sites, and the actual content management could become a bit more tedious if you need to contact the agency every time you want to make a change. Despite being called a “custom CMS,” you may find less customization than a general CMS like WordPress.   What does a website built on a custom CMS look like? Curious to see all of those hotel-specific benefits in action? Take a look at these eye-catching examples of NextGuest client websites built on a custom CMS and see how they incorporate strategies that increase conversion. Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal  We love this website’s calendar of events and integrated Instagram feed. The blog incorporates a lot of visuals, which encourages potential guests to click. The slick booking widget is always visible and easy to use, so guests can seamlessly reserve a room. Try viewing the website on your smartphone; you’ll find that it’s totally mobile-optimized. Viceroy Hotels and Resorts This multi-property website would have been expensive and time-intensive to build on a generic CMS like WordPress. The hotel-specific CMS features make a lot of sense for a portfolio website. The template creates a sense of cohesion despite Viceroy having three hotel collections and properties in several geographic areas.   What kind of CMS is best for your hotel? Choosing a CMS requires some thought and consideration for any type of hotel. Does your hotel have the budget for a custom CMS, or does a free tool like WordPress make more sense? Does your team have the time to learn the WordPress system, or is outsourcing the work to a custom CMS a better solution? And what happens if sometime goes wrong - does your hotel have on-site IT support, or would you prefer to call up a dedicated account manager from your agency? While you likely won’t need all the customizability of a platform like WordPress and can trust a custom CMS like smartCMS by NextGuest to have your best interests at heart, we encourage you to make sure you deeply understand the pros and cons of the system before you begin a vendor relationship. During conversations with your rep from a custom CMS, you’ll want to ask a few questions: What are your conversion rates and how do they compare to WordPress-based websites? What happens if we have a disagreement down the line? Who owns my website content? Why did you build a custom CMS instead of building client websites on a platform like WordPress? Whether you choose a custom CMS or a widely used one like WordPress, a content management system can help you build a website that showcases your hotel and drive direct bookings.