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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > 2017 > March

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In the blue corner, we have the American Hotel & Lodging association. In the red corner, we have Airbnb.

And, boy, is the fight intensifying.

A recent study found that 40% of Airbnb's total national revenue came from hosts who rent out two or more units. This, experts say, proves that the alternative accommodation service has created a business platform which enables 'illegal hotels' to operate under the guise of regular Airbnb member properties.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association claims that a vast proportion of Airbnb properties are no longer offering home sharing - a form of accommodation rental on which the service was originally built. The same report suggests that traditional Airbnb operators (who ensure the owner is available for the duration of the stay) now account for less that 20% of the platform's revenue.

As you'd expect, Airbnb are fighting their own corner on this, suggesting that the statistics are 'misleading' and 'inaccurate'.

Check out our blog of the week for the lowdown, and then let us know what you think in the comments section, below!

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A 2015 report by U.S. network giant Verizon found that companies were ‘getting better’ at PCI compliance, despite 80% of organisations continuing to fail their interim assessment.

How’s your hotel doing on the PCI stakes? More importantly, do you even know what we’re referring to?

If you’re reading this post with a furrowed brow and vague recollection of ‘PCI’ as something that resulted in you spending far too long ticking random boxes in an attempt to answer meaningless questions contained within a forty page questionnaire from your credit card acquirer, we’d suggest reading on…

The PCI DSS Standards Council exists with a singular goal - to protect consumers from fraudulent use of their credit cards. And, as with any standard of this kind, it is littered with acronyms, reams of small print, endless requirements and - yes - the odd ambiguous rule.

Every business that handles credit card details in any way - no matter how small or fleetingly - needs to comply with PCI DSS if it is to avoid hefty penalties and gain consumer trust. Ignoring the PCI standard simply isn’t an option.

Despite the huge website and equally voluminous companion documentation, PCI DSS can be digested relatively easily - with the right support and insight. With that in mind, and because we’d rather you didn’t tear your hair out trying to make sense of it all, we’ve decided to pick out what we believe to be the six most important aspects of PCI compliance:

1. Protects guests

The hospitality industry is all about providing safe havens for business and leisure travellers, and beyond a comfy bed for the night and hearty breakfast, as a hotelier, you need to take care of your guest’s digital needs, too.

Personal data is a commodity targeted by cyber criminals, and if you remain PCI compliant, you can rest safe in the knowledge that the most important piece of guest data is safe while in your possession.

2. Boosts guest confidence

Consumers aren’t daft. When they hand over their credit card details, they want to be sure they’re going to be stored safely and handled with the utmost care.

If you can rubber stamp your hotel’s compliance with the PCI DSS standard, you can boost guest confidence by demonstrating how seriously you take the responsibility of retaining their credit card details. That means an awful lot to people, and they’ll repay you with increased advocacy.

3. Sets baseline security standards

For all its paperwork and seemingly endless rules, PCI DSS does force businesses to set a security standard by offering clear guidance on how credit card details should be handled.

Rules are rules, and if you implement them within your hotel as per the standard, there can be no confusion or misinterpretation among the staff base.

4. Steers you clear of hefty fines

A simple one, this; by becoming PCI compliant, you avoid some very heavy fines.

Non-compliance fees can run into several thousands of pounds, and we’re guessing you’d rather avoid that…

5. Reduces fines for data breaches

As previously noted, personal data is highly sought after on the black market, and if you hold customer data of any kind, it will always be at risk of a data breach.

If your hotel is PCI compliant and suffers a breach, the fines involved are reduced - providing you can prove you followed the rules of the standard.

6. Forces you to invest in the best tech

Is your hotel booking system PCI compliant? If not, you need to find one that is.

The best hotel booking systems and POS solutions on the market will be fully compliant with PCI DSS. That means you’ll have to invest in the best tech in order to remain compliant, and that can only be a good thing, because the best technology will enable you to build a relevant, profitable business.

Summary

It’s simple when you put it like that, isn’t it?

You will, however, still need some professional help to ensure you fully meet the rules contained within PCI DSS, which is why we highly recommend investing in the services of an expert.

We’d also suggest tuning in to our forthcoming webinar, which will dive deep into PCI and explore the facts (and myths) of processing guest credit cards. Places are limited, so why not book a front row seat today, by clicking below:

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What you NEED TO KNOW about PCI compliance

A Welcome Systems Ltd Webinar

When: 8th May 2017, 10:30am (UK time)

The handling and storage of payment cards is a thorny issue within the hospitality sector and there is confusion as to how payment cards should be handled, leaving businesses offering accommodation feeling vulnerable to penalties.

There are mixed messages as to how 'no-shows' should be handled and some acquirers do not provide the necessary clear instructions. In this 45 minute webinar, Welcome Systems will seek to unravel the truth and leave the viewer with a very clear picture of the requirements for handling reservations and payments within this sector, while at the same time ensuring the processes adopted comply with the PCI DSS standard.

The session will be chaired by More Fire PR’s Director Mark Ferguson, who will be joined by:

  • Industry and PCI expert Tracey Long (Senior Manager Payment Data Security, Worldpay, PCI SSC Board of Advisors Member 2015-2017 & Chair UK Acquirers Compliance SIG)
  • Connie G. Penn MIBC (Managing Director Kilrush Consultancy Ltd, Vice-Chair UK Acquires Compliance SIG)
  • Paul Brennecker CISM (experienced Principal Consultant / QSA, heading up the PCI team at Security Risk Management Ltd, formerly a member of the PCI compliance team at Barclaycard in Northampton)

Places are limited, so book yours today by filling in the form below:

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We live in a world dominated by big data. It's everywhere, thanks to social media and the many ways in which services like Google collect and use our personal information.

From a hotelier's perspective, data can be an incredibly powerful ally and enable a number of marketing methods that simply weren't possible a few short years ago. In our blog of the week, The Caterer takes a look at a recent panel held at the Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin where industry experts suggested that modern hoteliers should prioritise data. They also touched on the thorny topic of the dominance of OTAs, with one panel member claiming, "hotel websites leave much to be desired. There’s a reason OTAs are winning out.”

It makes for very interesting reading indeed, and we couldn't agree more when it comes to the ways in which hoteliers should be leveraging data in the digital age.

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Welcome Systems Ltd has appointed Hefin Morris as Head of Sales to manage an influx of new business from its independent hotel, restaurant and pub clients.

The Northamptonshire hospitality booking software business recently moved from Pitsord to larger premises at Moulton Park as part of an expansion to support its growing list of several hundred clients across the UK.

Discussing his new role, Hefin comments:

“Welcome Systems has established itself as a major player in online booking. We deliver resilient tools that allow property managers to ensure accommodation and restaurant spaces are efficiently coordinated and fully-booked.

“This is a highly competitive market, but we stand out by working closely with our clients to provide clear services and pricing, while constantly developing our systems and meet their day-to-day needs.

“Recent technological developments mean that online booking and electronic-point-of-sale systems (EPOS) can now be easily managed in real-time from a smartphone, tablet or PC on a 24/7 basis.”

With 10 years’ experience as a former hotel general manager himself, Hefin recalls the demanding challenges posed by no-shows, potential double-bookings, and guests’ growing expectations for instantaneous room availability through websites or ‘online travel agencies,’ such as Booking.com.

He continues: “The sector is packed with choice, so we aim to distinguish ourselves by providing straightforward and intuitive software in the form of our Welcome Anywhere and Welcome Table products.

“Welcome Anywhere offers essential reservation management tools for boosting room sales, managing room bookings, advanced customer profiling and automated guest correspondence. Welcome Table similarly delivers an online, cloud-based table booking system for restaurants of all sizes.”

Welcome Systems Ltd Managing Director, John Jones, adds:

“We’re delighted to have Hefin join us at this particularly challenging time for the market.

“Independent hotels, restaurants and pubs are increasingly well placed to rival their big chain competitors, but many need to improve their digital offer to meet the expectations of savvy online travellers and business people. Our mission is to make this goal a reality.”

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When I was an 11-year-old kid in the seventies, we had a book club at school. Every month, we’d be given a pamphlet from the incomprehensibly-named 'Scholastic Book Services' (I thought it must have been the same company my mum bought her corn plasters from) and asked to choose a book for delivery next month. It was a proper treat, as we had to pay real money for them - a fact that always had us eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Some weeks later, the class members and I would sit patiently as the teacher handed out our orders from a box containing not only lovely, shiny books but what looked like a massive bird’s nest of shredded cardboard. The smell of those books will stay with me forever.

The lad Cousins got a book about river monsters and my mate Bass one about Spain. I couldn’t wait for mine to be given to me, because I'd chosen one that was mysteriously called something like Technology of The Future. After school, I rushed home and sat looking at my new purchase with my brother.

How we laughed! There was an artist’s impression of a household robot which, we were told, would do your ironing come 1985 (it looked like an upturned ice cream cone with vacuum cleaner pipes for arms). Clearly, this was ridiculous. A house-cleaning robot? Pull the other one!

Another page revealed a personal jet car, complete with a business-like dad with massive sideburns, strapped in for his early morning commute through the stratosphere to his workplace at Hong Kong Plastics Inc. To my 11-year-old eyes, this looked far more plausible.

The page which had us falling about in hysterics at its ludicrousness, however, was one which alleged that the TV (the big piece of oak furniture which mum polished with Pledge every Sunday) would actually become as slim as a picture frame and hang on the wall at some point in the future.

How we laughed.

And we laughed some more.

TVs on the wall indeed...!

Then, we chucked the book and went out on our Raleigh Choppers to perform skids, just like Barry Sheene.

Fast-forward to now. Some hoteliers scoff at what is said to be coming next, and even at stuff that's already here. Customer profiling via social media feeds directly into the hotel booking system; mood lighting controlled from the hotel’s app; receptionless check-in and smartphone door keys; in-room comfort cooling temperatures set by social media profiles; food and drink preferences known before the guest’s arrival. The list is endless.

And then we have the guest journey, which is unrecognisable from what it once was. Driven by online reviews and a multitude of booking channels, modern guests have full control over the booking process and expect nothing but the best. When they enter the hotel reception, they bring with them preconceptions about the experience they'll have, derived from tech-laden journeys on commercial flights and devices in their pockets that deliver serious computing horsepower.

Hoteliers should ignore these predictions and emerging trends at their peril. I was reminded of this unavoidable fact as I watched TV last night; mine is now two inches thick and hangs above the fireplace.

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Much like the financial industry, the hospitality sector is rather fond of an acronym or two, despite widespread confusion as to what any of them actually stand for. ‘Global distribution system’, for example, is more typically known as ‘GDS’, even if its purpose is often misunderstood.

One of the most common misconceptions about the GDS is that it is far too big, cumbersome and expensive for smaller hotels.

We think that’s a little wide of the mark.

When utilised correctly, the GDS is a fantastic source of new business for hotels of all sizes, and can result in some very healthy customer relationships that offer plenty of repeat - and direct - bookings in the future.

Consider this blog post our mini guide to getting the most out of the global distribution system if you run a small hotel.

What is the GDS?

Ah, yes. Let’s start here.

It’s best to think of the GDS as a facilitator - a middle-man of sorts. Its main job is to connect hotels to a huge network of travel agencies. Much like working with an online travel agencies (OTA) such as Booking.com, hotels give the GDS provider their availability and rates, set a few rules about how it should all be distributed and leave the GDS to liaise with the travel agents.

The travel agents sell the hotel’s rooms based on the availability and rates supplied by the GDS and pass any confirmed bookings back to the hotel, via the GDS.

Another common misconception about the GDS is that it is primarily geared towards corporate travellers, but due to its links with airlines, car rental companies and various other leisure activity bookings, hotels can expect a fair amount of holidaying guests arriving via this channel, too.

There are a number of GDS providers, but the ones to take note of are:

  • Sabre
  • Amadeus
  • Travelport (which now incorporates Galileo and Worldspan - two previously standalone GDS providers)

However, one look at the websites above, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that the GDS really is only intended for large chain and corporate hotel use.

Allow us to dig deeper, because there are three ways you can use the global distribution system, and one of them might just catch your eye:

1. The ‘secret hotel’

Sometimes referred to as the ‘opaque’ GDS model, this is a process whereby guests find out which hotel they’ve booked after they’ve made the booking. Sound bonkers? Not necessarily. Consider Priceline, which uses a bidding system for hotel bookings. Similarly, Hotwire allows guests to place last minute bookings based on discounted rates, but without knowing the exact property they’re choosing.

This hospitality gamble on behalf of the guest can work well for hotels looking to fill empty rooms at short notice, and provides an added sense of adventure for the person making the booking. The downside for the hotelier is having to rely on heavily discounted rates, which can sometimes be as much as 45% lower than advertised elsewhere.

2. The merchant model

Chances are, if you’re working with OTAs such as Booking.com, you will be doing so directly, but GDS service providers offer another way to work with travel agents by once again playing the role of middle man.

As you’d expect, this can get very costly, due to the fact that, as the hotelier, you’ll pay both the OTA and the GDS service provider for providing the booking. The latter can charge as much as $12 per reservation in addition to the agency commission.

The upsides? Assuming we haven’t put you off already, the merchant model does offer a couple of benefits. Firstly, the service provider will take the hassle out of dealing with the OTAs, which may free up a significant amount of administrative time at the hotel. Secondly, the provider might offer additional services such as revenue management - again providing a professional service which will give you back time and provide a tangible business benefit.

The answer to whether or not the merchant model will work for you very much depends on any additional cost savings they’ll offer through service provision. Tread carefully here and do your research; out of the three models we’re listing today, this is likely the least appropriate for a small hotel.

3. Traditional GDS

The most common method for operating with a GDS as a hotelier is near identical to the OTA model:

  • the hotel’s rooms are sold through multiple channels that are connected to the GDS;
  • the website or agency that sells the room first earns a standard commission;
  • the guest pays the hotel, then the hotel pays the agent.

This is the default, traditional method for working with a global distribution system and is by far the most appropriate for smaller hotels.

Final thoughts

There’s no doubting that the GDS is a bit of a beast when viewed from afar, but its benefits are compelling, even for smaller hotels.

Thankfully, most service providers offer contracts that don’t tie you in, therefore trialling the GDS is a great option if you want to spread your wings a little wider online and see what effect its considerable reach could have on your room sales.

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In July 2016, Airbnb surpassed 100 million guests - a figure industry commentators suggested would only exacerbate the youthful accommodation business’s mounting growing pains.

Valued at over $30 billion, Airbnb is now worth as much as industry stalwarts Hilton and Hyatt combined. Not bad for a San Francisco-based internet business that quietly began operating in 2008, entering a marketing swimming with big name alternatives and trusted suppliers of accommodation.

Their premise was - and remains - simple; anyone (within reason) can provide an accommodation service, be it a traditional B&B or the spare third bedroom in Janet and Roger’s semi-detached house in Rochdale. By handing most of the power to the hosts and providing the online booking system to make the transaction and stay possible, Airbnb has won as many fans as it has detractors.

The service has evolved considerably since those early days. And there’s no getting away from it - one look at the Airbnb website today and it looks spookily similar to your average online travel agency (OTA). For hoteliers, this is a little too close for comfort, understandably, but what does Airbnb really mean for the hospitality industry? How will it impact hotels going forward?

Here’s four ways Airbnb might continue to disrupt hospitality:

1. Average daily rates

Airbnb’s number one market is Paris, and for the year ending July 2016, that particular city was the only one on the planet not to see an increase in average daily hotel rates.

The reason isn’t particularly clear, but it’s fair to assume that the myriad of bottom-end accommodation offerings from Airbnb and their dominance in one particular city will have had something to do with an average daily rate that simply wouldn’t budge.

2. Changes in guest behaviour

An STR report on Airbnb and hotel performance revealed that the average age of an Airbnb guest was 35, with 53% of all guests being female. According to a Lodging Industry Trends 2015 study, the equivalent demographic for hotel guests was an age range of 35 to 54 years for over 50% of all guests, 63% of whom were male.

Clearly, Airbnb guests are demographically different to traditional hotel guests, but it’s also believed that leisure breaks make up the vast majority of the service’s bookings. That sounds like a significant number of leisure reservations that simply aren’t making their way into hotels currently. Will they be encouraged to return and, in doing so, what Airbnb-influenced expectations are they likely to bring with them?

3. Lower utilisation rates

In the U.S. STR discovered that on average, hotels were selling eight out of ten rooms, day-by-day. By contrast, Airbnb properties regularly suffered from almost half an empty inventory.

Do Airbnb operators accept that this is par for the course based on fluctuating demand and regular single-night bookings? And, if they do, will that expectation one day carry over into the hotel industry? It’s an unpalatable thought, but again points to a possible change in guest behaviour that could proliferate beyond Airbnb customers.

4. Skewed growth rates

Sometimes, all is not at it seems. For example, STR found that demand for Airbnb accommodation in Tokyo tripled, whereas hotels saw just a 3.2 percent growth in the same region and timeframe. However, it should be noted that Airbnb data generally starts at a very low base due to the fact it is still - when compared to hotels - a young upstart in this industry.

Growth rates are often skewed in this way by seismic performance on Airbnb’s part, therefore, going forward, industry commentators need to be careful not to rely too heavily on what appear to be highly impressive statistics relating to Airbnb. Alas, big numbers make popular headlines and encourage plenty of click-throughs…

As a result, Airbnb looks set to dominate the hospitality headlines for a while yet, regardless of how skewed the figures are.

Wrapping up

Before you run for the hills and label Airbnb a hotel industry destroyer, bear in mind that the key question is whether or not Airbnb can sustain its levels of growth. More importantly, what will happen to its legion of guests if it either falls by the wayside or continues to breath heavily on the neck of the hotel industry?

Tell us what you think - get involved by commenting below!

Photo credit: DesignStudio/The Guardian

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We already know that the modern guest wants far more than just a bed for the night. They’re looking for a hotel experience that will tempt them to return and recommend the property to their friends, family and colleagues.

If you’ve already taken the desires of the modern guest to heart by developing a new rate strategy and integrating captivating offers - brilliant! But, what about when they enter the room for the first time? Does the experience of ‘more than just a bed’ continue after they cross the threshold?

If they’re simply met with the aforementioned bed, obligatory flat screen TV on the wall and a desk containing a bland smattering of tea and coffee facilities, there’s a good chance they’ll sigh, before muttering, “oh… this is ok.”

Let’s get them a little more excited than that. It’s time to improve the guest’s in-room experience with five simple strategies any hotelier can call upon:

1. Indulge them

When staying in a hotel for the night, a bit of luxury never goes a miss. And we’re not talking gold-plated bathtubs or hanging chandeliers that are worth more than your family’s hatchback, either - just a few simple touches that can turn an ordinary hotel stay into something far more indulgent.

Choose slightly quirky, affordable bathroom fittings; invest in the best sheets, pillows and mattresses your hotel can afford; add fresh flowers to each room. Try anything that feels a little luxurious - guests will remember you for it.

2. Make it homely

The only thing that beats luxury in a hotel is a homely feel. Make guests feel at home, and they’ll instantly warm to your property.

It’s the simple stuff that counts, too - allow pets (and don’t consign them to the low-end rooms only), offer big, comfy robes and install digital photo frames that enable long-staying guests to insert pictures of their loved ones. It’ll quickly feel like home-from-home, and that means a lot to most.

3. Focus on food

Food makes people happy, but the best food you offer in your hotel should never be consigned to the restaurant and bar.

Think about the last time you entered a hotel room to find a fancy box of chocolates placed on the bed or selection of free-to-consume speciality teas and coffees in which to indulge waiting for you on the desk. It delighted you straight away, didn’t it?

You can also try offering custom minibars, by prompting the guest to pre-order their favourite snacks and drinks at the time of booking as optional extras. Fancy capsule-based coffee machines never go a miss, either - so splash out a little and install them in your premium rooms to gauge guest reaction.

4. Tech, tech, tech!

We’re now living firmly in a digital economy. Apps, virtual assistants and immediate broadband connectivity follow us everywhere, therefore if we inadvertently book a hotel room that takes us back to the stone ages, we’re unlikely to take much of a liking to it.

Depending on your budget, offer your guests as much in-room tech as possible. Don’t charge for WiFi (and ensure you have a separate guest network for maximum speed), offer TV on demand and ensure there are plenty of plug sockets and USB inputs for the myriad of devices guests will bring for their stay.

5. Fill the room with as much information as possible

The ability to instantly access information about the hotel from the comfort of the room is vital if you want guests to feel secure and in control of their stay.

Invest time in the humble welcome pack. It might feel like an old-fashioned practice, but it’ll still be the thing that many guests will reach for first when checking in. Fill it with useful information on how to use the in-room tech, how to ‘use’ the hotel (no, really - treat it like a device) and detail on the surrounding areas amenities.

Wrapping up

We hope you find the above useful in your quest to offer the ultimate in-room guest experience. By combining luxury with a homely feel, just the right tech and plenty of information, guests will enter and leave your hotel as happy as they should be - and word of your property’s guest-focussed nature will spread, quickly.
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