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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > 2017 > February

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If truth be told, this blog of the 'week' was actually published last December, but boy, should it inspire some debate!

We'll let the piece do the talking, but the title should be all that's needed to either raise your hackles or have you nodding in agreement, if you work in the hospitality industry.

Have a read, and then tell us what you think in the comments section below!

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“It just looks like a great, big bowl of spaghetti,” mused Welcome Systems’ Managing Director, John Jones, as a slide depicting the current state of hotel technology appeared on the screen.

John was taking part in a webinar held jointly with Booking.com that dared to ask the question: “what technology do customers expect from your property in 2017?”. Billed as a unique insight into the requirements of increasingly tech literate guests, the presentation didn’t disappoint.

Joined by Sam Biddlecombe, who has been with Booking.com for over three years, John set the scene by suggesting that technology partnerships would help hotels become successful in the digital economy.

“Hotels need to partner with the best,” John explained. “We’re well aware that the industry has been through some tough times recently, with a squeeze on resources and impending difficulties surrounding recruitment making for a challenging time ahead.”

“No one talks to each other…”

As Sam explained during his opening remarks, “the industry is in a mess. No one talks to each other unless a fee is involved. This is why Booking.com wants to create a one-stop-shop that brings together PMS, online booking and rate management.”

This collective desire to connect and demystify hospitality technology led to a partnership between Booking.com’s BookingSuite utility and the Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system - the first integration of its kind to take place in the UK.

Next, Sam revealed some promising research from Visit Britain that suggests overseas visits to the UK are likely to increase in the coming months with both American and Chinese citizens in particular choosing these very shores for their annual getaways.

Perhaps more importantly, Visit Britain is making sure such visitors are encouraged to step foot outside of London and explore the surrounding areas. As John was quick to highlight, this is great news for accommodation providers, and offers plenty of opportunity to meet the challenging market conditions head-on.

Lessons from the airline industry

In order to capitalise on the expected influx of overseas holidaymakers and tech literate UK guests, John and Sam agreed that hotels could do a lot worse than learn from the airline industry.

“Although I’m not keen on the term, millennials are all about getting information fast. I sit within that generation, and I don’t own a laptop - the only computer I have is my smartphone, “ explained Sam. “For example, I took an extended break over the festive period and used only my smartphone throughout the entire booking journey.”

“I’m off to Heathrow a little later today, and I did the exact same thing,” agreed John. “I didn’t turn to my laptop once while booking the tickets. The airline sector relies heavily on tech comforts during the booking process, onboard the flight and for the aftercare. Experience is vital when it comes to travel and hospitality.”

Sam went on to highlight that everything is now made super easy thanks to technology, whether it be on board a plane or in an Uber taxi; “you’ll readily find free WiFi and can even connect your smartphone to the car in order to listen to your favourite music.

“The reason we’re talking about the flight experience in particular is because overseas visitors will have experienced a level of tech comfort during that part of their journey that they’ll expect to continue into their hotel stay. They want an amazing experience throughout.”

“The tech on offer in the airline industry is driven by the needs of the customer,” continued John. “Thankfully, this is now starting to filter down into the PMS world, too, as we recently demonstrated with the introduction of a guest-facing group booking system that enables bookers to take control of their stay.”

A great web presence should be top of the hotelier agenda

Google’s recent change to their search algorithm means that websites lacking mobile compatibility will begin to lose serious ground within search results. As both John and Sam explained during the webinar, the effects of this could be disastrous for hoteliers who don’t invest time in their web presence.

“Google aren’t doing this to demote websites - they’re doing it to provide the best possible user experience,” explained Sam. “There’s also a common misbelief that managing your own website is an expensive endeavour, but it simply doesn’t have to be, if you choose the right platform.”

“It also pays to find a web company that appreciates the hotel sector,” added John. “And definitely use professional photos. We’ve seen some shockers in our time, and great, unique, up-to-date photography will help reflect the spirit and values of the hotel. Likewise, hoteliers can build a sense of community by collecting reviews online.”

PCI compliance was also highlighted as an absolute essential for hotels in the modern age, along with clutter-free web design, clear placement of the ‘Book Now’ button and a focus on story telling, rather than dull, uninspiring hotel descriptions.

Data: the hotelier’s secret weapon

“The most important thing is always the customer,” concluded Sam. “Hotels have a huge advantage here, which lies in the data they hold.”

Sam proceeded to tell the story of the hotel at which he regularly stays, in part because of their recognition of his favourite mini bar snack, which he finds replenished in greater numbers whenever he revisits.

“Hotels that don’t profile guests are losing out,” confirmed John. “Guests are now engaged much earlier on in the booking process, and by offering a sense of authenticity and focusing on random acts of kindness by introducing the little things that people remember, hotels can increase the chances of repeat bookings.”

Conclusion

The hospitality industry has been through some tough times of late, and the road ahead still looks decidedly bumpy, but as John and Sam so eloquently explained during today’s webinar, there remains a huge number of opportunities for hoteliers, if they’re prepared to invest in the best technology.

Guests will increasingly expect their ‘tech comforts’, wherever they happen to be staying. Is your hotel, B&B or guesthouse ready for the modern customer?

The quotes contained in this post are abridged. Below is a recording of the full webinar:

[video width="1920" height="1080" mp4="/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/What-technology-do-customers-expect-from-your-property-in-2017-.mp4"][/video]

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Uh-oh, what’s Google up to now?

Last year, it was announced that the search giant would be introducing something called a ‘mobile-first index’. This sent the internet into a bit of a meltdown with web designers the world over suddenly making themselves very prominent indeed, suggesting that businesses, bloggers and anyone with a passing interest in being found online should immediately review their websites.

They certainly had a point, but is this something the hotel industry should be concerned about?

Not to spoil the surprise, but the answer’s “yes”. Firstly, though, let’s answer another question that is no doubt on the tip of your tongue…

What is the mobile-first index?

When you conduct a search on Google, the search engine delves into a massive repository of stored websites. This is known as the ‘index’, and is the primary way Google retains detailed information about virtually every website on the planet.

For many years, Google sorted through its index with the mindset of a desktop user; mobile versions of the same websites would be treated as important, but second to their desktop counterparts.

Not any more. The mobile-first index represents a complete about-turn on that strategy; Google is now expected to treat mobile websites as the primary pages to index, pushing desktop versions into second place.

We say ‘expected’, because no one really knows what Google is up to, but the mobile-first index seems rather overdue in a world that has seen smartphone adoption reach stratospheric levels.

Should you be worried for your hotel’s website?

There’s a simple test you can perform here to settle your mind a little.

Grab your smartphone and load up your hotel’s website. Take a look at how it displays. Is it instantly easy to use without any pinching or zooming? Can you interact with every page element including the all-important ‘book now’ button for your online booking system?

If so - good news, your website is mobile friendly and therefore already tuned for Google’s mobile-first index.

However, if you find yourself squinting, pinching, fruitlessly tapping and basically bashing the screen of your smartphone into oblivion in an attempt to make the website work, you really will need to do something about it.

What to do if your website isn’t mobile-friendly

Let’s assume that your website has failed the mobile-friendly test. What to do?

Well, while it might be tempting to utter a few swear words, have a quiet cry and sweep it all under the carpet in the hope that the mobile-first index is just a passing phase, it’d be rather more prudent to get to work building a mobile-ready web presence.

There are a significant number of things that go into creating a brilliant hotel website, but the most important thing you can do is seek help.

You can’t - and, indeed, shouldn’t - do this yourself. While there are plenty of self-build web design tools out there, nothing beats the steady, experienced hand of a professional web designer.

Good news: we can help. Contact our team today to find out how our web design service will ensure your website is ready for Google’s new focus on mobile websites.

We’ll get through this together!

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I don’t often get angry, do I? Hopefully I don’t, or if I do, I hope I don’t show it.

Sure, I have my moments, like when I flick to another channel during the Simpsons’ advert break, only to find that all of the other stations are on their ad break at the same time. Burning or cutting myself on microwaved ready meals due to stupid packaging design also makes me cross (in my experience, getting into a cottage pie when it is near thermal melt-down should really require a first aider on hand), as does the disappearance of my favourite screwdriver from my garage, only to find it re-appeared some time later.

Generally, though, my grumpiness towards these kinds of things lasts just a few minutes. Seconds, usually.

Folks, I am really mad about something and will be for some time. Today we were contacted by a prospective customer who wanted to move to the Welcome Anywhere platform from her current PMS supplier. The vendor in question is a relatively new entrant to the market with a big media presence.  The lady had evaluated Welcome Anywhere (and a number of other products, to be fair) but decided that she liked us and liked the product.

That's a case of “the best vendor wins”, in my book.

We didn’t win, though. The contract she was tied to with the big hitter was just outrageous, for a product which failed to deliver. Customers will vote with their feet and buy what they feel works for them, and reject what doesn’t. Would you believe that the PMS provider concerned had gotten the B&B owner into a contract which effectively had a three year tie-in with twelve months’ notice, for what is a software as a service ("SaaS") product?

Yes, I am sorry that we were not able to take on this customer, but I'm mortified that some of our competitors s in the industry – below the glossy exterior of their ads -  feel the need to secure their customers not by the quality of their product, but by bully-boy tactics and punitive contracts.

We don’t feel the need to do that, as the Welcome Anywhere range stands up to scrutiny and we know that we don’t need to ensure longevity by tying people down. That premise keeps us on our toes. Customers should be free to make their own PMS choices, with the emphasis on the PMS provider earning the right to service the customer’s business. We don’t have punitive clauses; we don’t need to and we have a rolling one month commitment.

We love our customers and if they don’t love us, we do everything we can to make it right.

Let me be clear: there is no place for these kinds of restrictive contracts in the SaaS PMS world. Glossy competitors - let your product alone do the talking, and the keeping.

Gosh, that was a bit of a rant. Apologies. Now where's my 13mm wrench?

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There's nothing quite like a group booking in the hotel trade. A single enquiry that results in several room sales is great for revenue, a boon for occupancy and nothing more than good, solid business which also levers food sales.

Unfortunately, hotel booking systems have often made something of a ham-fisted attempt at implementing functionality for the management and processing of group bookings. That's why we've always focused on refining this element of Welcome Anywhere to ensure it's as approachable and deeply functional as it should be.

We also understand that group reservations are just as important to the booker as they are to the hotel. Often, they'll be linked to a key occasion such as a wedding, anniversary, christening or important business event. As a result, such customers can become rather cumbersome to deal with. They'll call the hotel every day, with numerous requests from Uncle Albert to have his room moved or Sarah from accounts who needs a garden view of an evening to aid contemplation of the latest end of year figures.

While it's undoubtedly lovely for hotels to be given the opportunity of regularly speaking to guests, dealing with group bookings can become a burden, with reception staff rapidly growing tired of the endless requests and changes issued.

We'd like to put a stop to this, and we think we've done so with the latest feature addition for Welcome Anywhere.

Enter the guest group booking portal

So, how do you lift the burden from the reception team when it comes to group bookings? You put (some of) the power in the hands of the guest!

With that in mind, we put our development team to work on creating a guest-facing group booking portal, and the results are rather profound.

The new feature enables hotels to provide group bookers with a web address from which the customer can swap people around, change the numbers of guests and add special requests to their heart's content, without ever having to speak to the hotel:

Every change they make is automatically communicated back to Welcome Anywhere, without the hotel staff having to lift a finger:

The time saved on behalf of the hotel is vast, and by giving the group booker just enough control to make the many, common changes on the lead up to the booking (but not enough to do any harm to the hotel's occupancy) everyone benefits.

The guest group booking portal is available today. To find out more about this feature or indeed anything to do with the Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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[fusion_text]We live in very exciting times - particularly if you work in the hospitality industry. New tech surrounds us and arrives practically every day, but as a hotelier, how do you navigate the digital economy, suss out the solutions most appropriate to your business and invest in the stuff that will help you become more profitable?

Most importantly, what do your guests expect from technology and how can you leverage their interest in the latest devices and trends in order to fill more beds?

We think we have the answers, and on February 22nd, we'll be discussing this topic in detail with Booking.com. We'd love you to join us!

In this thirty minute webinar, John Jones from Welcome Systems Ltd and Booking.com's Samuel Biddlecombe will cover the latest technology available to hotels and discuss what the guest of 2017 might expect before, during and after their stay.

John and Samuel will discuss the following:

  • Optimism in the UK hotel market (visitor numbers and spend set to rise);
  • what customers expect today;
  • what today’s travel customer looks like;
  • how to create a great online experience;
  • untangling hotel technology;
  • how to use technology to drive revenue.

The live webinar will take place on Wednesday, February 22nd between 11:00am and 11:30am GMT.

To register for free, click below:

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[fusion_text]Take that, Florida, Prague and Belgium! And who says TripAdvisor isn't capable of delivering good news to UK hospitality businesses?

TripAdvisor recently announced the winners of their 2017 Travellers' Choice awards and in the top ten list of B&Bs and inns, UK properties absolutely stormed it, with  no less than five dominating the list.

"[The awards] are based on feedback from actual guests over the past year, which is what makes them so prized within the industry," said TripAdvisor spokeswoman Hayley Coleman of the awards that are now in their fifteenth year.

Great news for UK hospitality! Here's the final list:

  1. Bindon Bottom B&B - West Lulworth, Dorset
  2. The Cedar House Inn - St Augustine, Florida, US
  3. South Lodge Guest House - Bridlington, East Yorkshire
  4. The Welsh Hills Inn - Granville, Ohio, US
  5. Swallows Rest B&B - Brigstock, Northamptonshire
  6. Arcadia Residence - Prague, Czech Republic
  7. B&B Mondello Resort - Palermo, Italy
  8. Thornleigh Guest House - Keswick, Cumbria
  9. West by Five Guest House - St Ives, Cornwall
  10. Huis Koning - Bruges, Belgium

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