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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > 2016 > October

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In this week's blog of the week, one of our favourite websites, Skift, delves into the reasoning behind Airbnb's partnership with Qantas. It's a huge play for loyalty, they say, and an indication yet again that the accommodation sharing website is absolutely not a hotel company.

Will Airbnb launch its own loyalty scheme? And, if so, what does that mean for hotels, OTAs and the hospitality industry in general? After you've had a read, why not pop back here and continue the discussion in the comment section below? Tell us what you think about Airbnb and the increasingly blurred line between accommodation and the wider aspects of travel.

Check out the article by clicking below:

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There’s nothing worse than investing in a piece of software only to find that you have little control over its configuration. And we’ve all experienced this at some stage; in order to get even the smallest aspects changed, you need to submit a support ticket or call a number and ask someone to do it for you.

Frustrating? Not half!

From the software vendor’s point of view, the decision to retain control over the setup of their creation is usually made with the best possible intentions. Too much fiddling on behalf of someone else can result in a system that is nigh-on unusable, customised to the point of being unrecognisable and, as a result, somewhat damaging for the vendor’s brand.

It’s an incredibly fine line to tread, and one we have spent many years navigating. As a result, users of Welcome software have long been able to customise the majority of their system, whether it be rate configuration, guest correspondence or customer profiling. The tricky part, however, has always been the online booking system.

How far do you let hotels customise the only guest-facing element of their PMS? Clearly, the ability to upload room photos, descriptions and terms and conditions is vital, but the look and feel of the portal through which guests are expected to reserve rooms can easily be damaged.

With that in mind, we decided to re-think the configuration options for Welcome Anywhere’s forthcoming new online booking system. We wanted to give hoteliers ultimate control but ensure that guests would always benefit from a coherent, simple booking process, no matter the hotel they choose.

As a hotelier, you own your online booking system, and we want to keep it that way. Here’s how you’ll soon be able to retain control if you’re using Welcome Anywhere Plus:

Room images

A picture really does say a thousand words, and particularly in the world of hotel rooms. Our new online booking configuration tool enables hoteliers to easily upload room photos for each and every room type, directly within Welcome Anywhere:

1-room-images

Room descriptions

Ok, so the promise of pictures literally saying a thousand words isn’t strictly accurate. On the web, it pays to combine imagery with captivating text, and you’ll be able to do just that in the forthcoming update.

For every room type, a description can be added, along with five feature highlights and the all-important list of amenities. What makes your rooms special? Why should people book with you rather than the hotel across the road? With Welcome Anywhere Plus, you’ll be able to tell the story of each room.

2-room-descriptions

Header, footer and background images

Retaining your branding and colour scheme of the hotel website is crucial once guests delve into the booking process, and that’s why Welcome Anywhere Plus will enable hoteliers to customise the header, footer and background image of their online booking pages.

Under the hood

The customisation of an online booking system shouldn’t stop at the visuals. The forthcoming update will feature several key settings that can be adjusted to fine tune the guest journey and provide invaluable, actionable data for the hotelier. Here’s a snippet of the tools hoteliers, marketers and web developers will have at their fingertips:

  • Google Analytics integration
  • Google Tag Manager integration
  • Google Adwords integration
  • Custom script insertion (for web developers)
  • Settings for the max number of bookable rooms and nights
  • Customisable ‘sold out’ messaging
  • Minimum lead time setting and cap on future bookable dates
  • Integration with a number of leading payment gateways, including PayPal, Barclays EPDQ and WorldPay

Discount codes

Sometimes, you need to give a little in order to boost occupancy. That usually means creating discounts and special offers, and hoteliers will know that such decisions are often made at the last minute in response to changing market conditions or competitor activity.

Discount codes should therefore be ultra simple to set up and maintain. In the forthcoming Welcome Anywhere Plus update, they will be:

10-discount-codes

Room and rate allocation

If there’s one thing a hotelier needs ultimate control over, it’s how many rooms are made available for sale online. That’s why we have long enabled our users to carefully configure the rooms and rates available on their website’s online booking system. And the new system is no different - just much easier to use!

That’s all (for now), folks

We’ve seen far too many online hotel booking systems that have been ruined after too much tinkering. The new Welcome Anywhere platform will provide hoteliers with just enough control to make the experience unique to their business, while retaining a booking process whose look and feel has been refined over the course of thirteen years.

The update arrives in November and will be free for all existing users of Welcome Anywhere Plus. Full details and video walkthroughs will follow soon - stay tuned!

Discover the guest-facing element of the new online booking system here.

n.b. The screenshots shown and features mentioned in this blog post are representative of a system that is still in development and are therefore subject to change at launch.

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Online booking for hotels is booming. According to reports, 65% of same-day reservations are now made on smartphones. And, if you think OTAs always grab the lion's share, the fact that hotel brand websites account for over 64% of all bookings will give some hope to hoteliers drowning in commission bills.

OK, so you may not be the Marriott or Hilton, but one fact remains - guests expect an easy, convenient booking experience they can conduct anywhere and on any device. If you offer that on your own website, the likelihood is they'll book direct.

And we all want that, don't we?

With this in mind, we set about completely redesigning the online booking system for Welcome Anywhere Plus. Existing users of our hotel booking system will soon receive a free upgrade, but we wanted to take this opportunity to provide an insight into the changes we've made and the decision process that goes into creating an online booking system that will work for the new generation of hotel guests.

A new look

Design is subjective. But user interfaces? Not so much. In fact, they should always, without question, be simple and utterly intuitive from the moment you lay your eyes on them. It is for that reason our new online booking system is built solely with the guest in mind. Technical jargon was denied entry and we've ensured there are no rabbit holes down which one may fall.

The look and feel of the new booking process can be customised just enough to make it slot seamlessly into your existing website, but not so much that it can be left a shadow of its former self (we've seen this happen far too often with other online booking systems that have been tinkered with). The result is clean, addictive and entirely in keeping with your brand.

The example below features our logos, but the background, header and footer can be fully customised with your own imagery:

Online booking date selection

 

Tailored bookings

Every booking starts with an arrival date. But what if the guest wants to really fine-tune their stay? A ground floor room, perhaps? Or maybe a dog-friendly double with a shower? With the new fully-customisable preferences system, they can do just that:

Room preferences

As you can see above, after choosing the arrival date, the guest will be asked to enter their length of stay and the number of people coming, followed by any room preferences they may have. Simple!

One step at a time

We've retained the step-by-step booking process in order to avoid throwing everything at your guests in one, big, confusing screen of text, drop-down options and buttons. We've stuck by this method since 2003, because we know it works. The new system has just four steps, and the guest's current task is clearly highlighted:

Step-by-step online booking process

That'll get them booking direct!

Easy group bookings

We'll avoid calling it a shopping basket, but your guests will be able to easily create group bookings and keep track of the total cost of their reservation with the new 'Your booking' section:

Your booking section

Transparent rates

When adding a room to a booking, the new system will ensure there is no confusion over the chosen rate:

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Beautiful room pictures and descriptions

A picture says a thousand words, and will likely gain you thousands of direct guests. In our new online booking system, room pictures show off the best your property has to offer, and you can add detailed room descriptions, highlights and amenities. Tell your prospective guests what makes your establishment special!

online booking accommodation screen

As you'll note above, we've also included the ability to clearly display when a room type and rate combination is of the premium variety.

Clear calls-to-action

You simply won't sell a room without a clear call-to-action, and we've made sure every button is obvious and eminently clickable:

Call to action buttons

Options, options, options

If there's one thing you want to shower your potential guests with, it's optional extras. Boost your bottom line by offering more than just a bed for the night:

Online booking optional extras

Get to know your guests

Where did they hear about you? What's the reason for their stay? What else do they want? Defining and getting to know your guests has never been easier, nor more valuable:

Guest details

Simple, convenient sign-in

The trick to avoiding repeat agency commissions is to enable past guests to re-book quickly the next time they want to stay. Our new online booking system lets them do just that by signing in to retrieve their details and expedite the booking confirmation process:

Online booking sign-in

When is it available?

Soon! Hold tight, as we'll be sending more information your way once a release date is confirmed. Next week, we'll be taking a look at the ease with which hoteliers can keep their online booking system up-to-date and fresh, directly within the Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system.

 

n.b. The screenshots shown and features mentioned in this blog post are representative of a system that is still in development and are therefore subject to change at launch.

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[fusion_text]How to increase hotel website conversions

Is your hotel website converting enough of its visitors? Do you look at the stats in Google Analytics and wonder why on earth you're not tempting more people through your online booking system when so many are entering your digital doors?

It's a common problem for most businesses, and while it isn't easily solvable, there are plenty of things you can do to increase the number of conversions your website delivers. It should, after all, be one of the main channels for bookings in the modern age.

In our blog of the week, E-Marketing Associates offer 5 simple steps for boosting a hotel website's conversion rate. They focus on usability, the importance of imagery and establishing a clear path to conversion in an effort to help hoteliers get the most from their virtual salesperson.

A great read:

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Workplace by Facebook for hotels

The world’s largest social network, and the platform on which most people post holiday photos and ill-judged Brexit jokes appears to have donned a suit and tie, dug out its best shoes and updated its ageing CV.

Yep, that’s right - Facebook now means business. Literally.

Workplace is Facebook’s take on a business communication platform (or, for those of us old enough to remember - the venerable intranet). It’s a bit like Slack, which has long attempted to be the default replacement for email. The problem with Slack, however, is that few people understand what its main function is and, as such, you’d be hard pushed to say it has become a ubiquitous tool.

Facebook is different, though. With over a billion active users, an enormous percentage of the population is familiar with the way it looks, operates and its central purpose. And, even if that purpose is to share amusing videos of cats, Facebook can at least claim to be a common fixture within popular culture and an intrinsic part of people’s lives.

So, what does this mean for Workplace? Good things, surely? If they’ve decided to turn their hand to the world of work by effectively copying and pasting the Facebook experience into the commercial realm, a pre-existing user base will clearly be lying in wait.

Not necessarily. Just like Slack, the reason for Workplace’s existence takes some explaining, and in this post we’re going to consider whether or not it could be of use to hotels.

Enough, already! What is Workplace?

Workplace is a mobile and web-based app built by the team at Facebook. Originally called ‘Facebook Work’, it has actually been in use for several years within the confines of Facebook’s own offices. A beta test was also undertaken last year, which may account for some of the big names taking pride of place on the official website, that include Oxfam, RBS and none other than Booking.com.

Workplace is a single place where colleagues can chat, share information, conduct video conferences, create groups for specific projects, run polls and post important company updates. It’s a pin board, intranet and communication platform, all rolled into one.

Here’s what the main news feed looks like:

Workplace by Facebook

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Why could it replace my email inbox?

OK… it won’t. Sorry. Email continues to occupy an important role in the world of work and, despite its age, is one of the primary methods of communication guests tend to opt for.

Email won’t go anywhere for some time, but Workplace could help you reduce the amount of internal email.

The service includes built-in text-based and video chat and, if you’ve used Facebook for those purposes, you’ll know just how convenient they can be for asking quick questions or sharing something with a friend.

Hotels that adopt Workplace and encourage staff to use it for communicating with colleagues should see a reduction in the number of ‘reply all’ emails that make their way around the building. Because Workplace is instantly accessible on a smartphone, staff are far more likely to reach for that rather than their inbox when chatting digitally with their peers.

Is Workplace free?

No. At least, not after the initial three month trial.

Most independent hotels will fall into the pricing bracket for 1,000 active users or less, in which you’re asked to pay $3 per user, per month for the privilege of using Workplace. That’s about par for the course for such a tool.

What sets Workplace apart from Facebook?

So similar are the list of features (chat, groups, news feeds, events, etc), that you’d be forgiven for assuming that Facebook are pulling a bit of a fast one with Workplace, but that would be a little unfair.

It’s a devilishly simple distinction, but the difference between Workplace and Facebook lies in the fact that they don’t intrude upon one another. Workplace is for work, Facebook is for leisure - simple. The former doesn’t bother you with what Auntie Sally had for dinner last night and has zero advertising to get in the way of collaborating with colleagues.

They’re both essentially the same service, but minor differences (including custom domains for logging in - i.e. myhotel.facebook.com) appear to have successfully tuned Workplace for the role it intends to fulfil.

Is Workplace by Facebook right for my hotel?

This is a question only you can answer and one that will probably come to light once you’ve taken advantage of the free trial, but we think it’s worth a punt, if only to help reduce the amount of internal email.

Staff should feel comfortable using their own mobile device at work if it aids their productivity and ability to collaborate with colleagues, and the benefit Workplace has over its rivals is that it harnesses the power of a platform most people are familiar with. By putting it in place at your hotel, you’ll be staying ahead of the curve and demonstrating a desire to use new technology that delivers genuine benefits to the workforce.

Have you tried out Workplace in your hotel? If so, we’d love to know how you got on. Tell us your story in the comments section below!

Main image credit: Workplace by Facebook

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Tackling rate parity

The thought of not having full control over your rates or the ability to be strategic with your room pricing based on the channel through which it is advertised is understandably alarming for the modern hotelier.

We live in an age where there are numerous routes to market - many of which carry the budget-sapping burden of commission - and managing room rates effectively has therefore never been more important. Or confusing.

Which online travel agencies (OTAs) should you work with? What are you allowed to do with your room rates when distributing availability via these different sites? Can you offer a better deal on your own website’s online booking system? How do guests really shop for rooms?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘rate parity’, or if you know exactly what it is but fear for the effect it is likely to have on your business, this post is designed to demystify a subject that continues to trouble independent hoteliers the world over.

What is rate parity?

Put simply, rate parity is the practice of maintaining consistent room rates no matter where they happen to be advertised. For example, if your double rooms are priced at £110 on your website and one of the OTAs you have a contract with demands parity, you’re obliged to offer the same price on their site and any other website you use to sell rooms.

When entering into such arrangements, the hotel is not allowed to undercut the OTA in question via any means and  - usually - there is no sweetener for obliging (i.e. you’ll still pay the exact same commission rate, regardless of the hit on your margins).

Who benefits from rate parity?

There’s no doubting that guests benefit from rate parity. If they’re assured of the best rate no matter where they find your property online, it saves them time hunting around and provides peace of mind that they’re getting a good deal.

OTAs benefit too, because they can reliably inform guests that they won’t find a better price elsewhere - and that means a greater chance of a commissionable sale.

The hotelier? Well, on one hand - not so much; margins take a greater hit if they’re unable to increase prices to take account of commissions. But on the other hand, they’re still likely to receive the booking if the guest gets hooked in by the OTA (and, as we all know, the all-important task from that point onwards is to ensure the customer enjoys a great stay and books directly for their next visit).

OTAs continue to provide increased visibility for hotels online. They have massive marketing budgets and, as such, can do most of the leg work for the hotelier, thus justifying their commission fee. A sold bed is a sold bed, after all.

Do guest really succumb that easily?

The guest journey is a key factor in the rate parity debate and often overlooked.

Society is now driven by a desire to continually hunt for the best deal. It is therefore safe to assume that many guests will still be inclined to pick up the phone in order to quiz reception staff on the likelihood of getting a better price than that which has been discovered online.

Most guests will still look for the hotel website, too, and, providing an intuitive online booking system is available, may well finish their journey there.

What happens if you disregard rate parity rules?

Contracts with OTAs are binding, therefore if a hotelier decides to flaunt them by offering lower rates on their own website, they run the risk of being penalised or dropped from the site altogether.

How to tackle rate parity

Firstly - make sure you comply. Love them or hate them, your need your OTAs, and it isn’t worth turning off a valuable source of new bookings simply because you don’t agree with the rules. They’re highly unlikely to change, so you just need to be strategic in the way you deal with them.

Here’s three brilliant ways to avoid paying too heavily for rate parity:

  • Package up! Although you’re expected to offer the same room pricing across all websites, there’s nothing stopping you from offering better packages via your own website. If your hotel booking system allows it, create room rates that include more than just a bed and breakfast; include free, unfettered access to WiFi and a cut-price dinner if they book direct.
  • Create a loyalty club. It’s worth checking the terms of your OTA contract, but it is generally accepted that you can offer lower rates to a limited audience. You could do this by creating a loyalty club, Facebook group or some other official gathering that guests can join and benefit from lower rates in return.
  • Tool up your TripAdvisor listing. TripAdvisor is a brilliant tool for dampening rate parity woes. By using their TripConnect Instant Booking feature, your own website can sit alongside the OTAs on your listing as a method for booking. You’ll pay for the privilege, but it is based on a cost-per-click model that will usually be far cheaper than OTA commission.

Rate parity shouldn’t dominate your thoughts. Sure - there’s no harm in having a grumble about it (we all have), but once you’ve accepted it’s probably here for the long run, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and put the hard work into tempting guests to book direct.

Tell us what you think about rate parity and your experiences of working with OTAs by getting involved in the comments section, below - we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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