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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > 2017 > May

There’s no getting away from it - if you mention the acronym ‘OTA’ to most hoteliers, they’ll either wince, roll their eyes or suggest the conversation heads elsewhere.

The fact remains, however, that 76% of UK consumers booked their holidays online during 2016. That’s a huge number of people heading to the web in order to find hotel accommodation, and there’s a high chance the first website they land on will be an online travel agency.

This blog assumes you understand the value of an OTA listing for your hotel but haven’t taken the time to maximise the effectiveness of your profile.

Thankfully, optimising your hotel’s presence on the major OTAs is relatively straightforward and can be summed up in four steps any hotelier can undertake:

1. Think SEO

Effective search engine optimisation (SEO) ensures your website can be easily found on Google by the visitors you would consider valuable. The same goes for hotel listings on OTAs; to be found by the right type of guest, you need to employ some SEO tactics.

All OTAs feature some form of ranking system and most will give you plenty of advice on how to ensure your hotel climbs the search result pages. Pay attention to these instructions, and follow SEO best practises.

In the main, that means utilising plenty of keywords, but there’s a lot more you can do, too. We’d recommend a quick hunt through the Moz blog for inspiration. Although it gets a bit techy at times, their advice is invaluable.

2. Use only the best, highest-resolution images

To be honest, we could leave this tip at that, but it’s worth reiterating; don’t use photos of your hotel and its rooms that you’ve taken with your iPhone (no matter how many times Apple tells you it’s the ‘only camera you need’). Get in a pro snapper in to take photos of your property that show it off in its best possible light.

Lastly, if the OTA allows you to include videos on your profile - get someone in to produce an introductory piece for your hotel. Why? Because studies show that videos on website landing pages increase conversion rates by a whopping 80%!

3. Make friends with your OTA marketing manager

You know the person who rings you every so often to talk about your OTA listing? The one you always turn away because you’re too busy?

Yeah… we’re sorry to say you need to make friends with that person.

And, no, you’ll be glad to hear that doesn’t involve taking them out for a pint or inviting them to your first born’s christening - just a desire to hear them out whenever they get in touch.

You needn’t worry, either, because your marketing manager will no doubt be very nice indeed and their job is to help you get the most out of your presence on the OTA.

Remember: you’re paying the company for whom this person works significantly to do a job for you - so let them do it!

4. Finish off that profile… go on!

Think about the number of times you’ve searched for accommodation for your own getaway only to be frustrated by the number of hotels that have incomplete profiles on travel agency websites.

Annoying, isn’t it?

Don’t be that hotel. Make the last task for today that of fully completing your OTA profiles, right down to the very last field.

Final thoughts

Getting your hotel up and running on an OTA isn’t a ‘fire-and-forget’ routine; it’s something you need to spend a great deal of time on initially, and then continue to update as your business grows.

Many people will head for your hotel’s own website after finding the property on an OTA. It’s therefore vital that you make the best possible first impression if you’re to gain that direct booking via you own online booking system.

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The hotel industry has been revolutionized since the advent of the Internet and the ubiquity of the smartphone. The general public is now empowered to pick up their phone or tablet and report their opinion and feedback about a hotel experience to the greater world.

This is immensely powerful and the hotel industry has had to learn how to catch on as quickly as possible. TripAdvisor has allowed people to voice their concerns and complaints in a very vocal way and people are quick to vocalise when they have had a poor (or great) experience.

The key issue for the hotel is to know how best to deal with such a situation; the worst thing they can do is to ignore it. They need to address reviews but in the correct manner and tone.

Of course, at times, the hotel might feel that the review or comments are unfair but in the Internet age, it really doesn't matter as all people will want to see is how you react. This infographic from The Dunloe Hotel examines the topic of hotel reviews as follows:

  • it looks at some interesting statistics from TripAdvisor;
  • it examines the area of reputation management in the hotel sector and what it can do in a bad / good hotel reputation situation;
  • it looks at the best ways to deal with poor reviews and also includes some expert industry advice.

Check it out below!

Hotel review

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Earlier this month, we hosted a fascinating live webinar on processing card payments in hotels. The complex topic of PCI compliance was broken down brilliantly by a fantastic panel of industry experts.

Read the full transcript, below:

The panel

Chair

More Fire PR’s Director Mark Ferguson

Experts

  • 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)

 

MF: “Thank you for joining us today at Welcome Systems for this very topical discussion and Q&A on processing card payments and PCI compliance for the hospitality industry. I’m joined by an expert panel of guests who are going to talk us through this entire issue.

“We’ve gathered up a series of questions for our panel today. We’ve been talking to hoteliers throughout the UK about what it is that worries them about PCI compliance, what some of their concerns are and what questions they have going forward.

“Tracey - I think the first question would be a good one for you and sets the scene. This is from Phil and Liz in Windsor, and they ask: what is the point of all this PCI stuff? It is just more red tape invented by bureaucrats with no understanding of business? Is it just a ticket to make money and create more unnecessary costs for the hotelier? They’re trying to put us out of business.”

TL: “PCI is all about keeping you as the merchant safe and your customers’ card data safe, so actually, it’s to make business easier for you. What you want when you take bookings is to ensure you’ve got that customer confidence. It’s about making sure that all your systems are up to date - the way you take payments and process them adheres to the PCI standard. It’s not law, but it’s a mandate of standards.

"It’s there to make sure Phil and Liz do things correctly and protect their business.”

MF: “So, the point about red tape and bureaucracy - is there any way you can avoid PCI compliance or get around it? If you’re a smaller business, can you think ‘well, I can probably get away with this for another year or so’?”

TL: “No is the short answer, but I’ll expand on that!

“Everybody has to be PCI compliant - it doesn’t matter if you take one transaction per year or multi-million transactions. However, the smaller you are, the easier it is for you, but it’s not something anyone can avoid - it’s there to be done.

However, there are ways you can de-scope your environment, which is when you outsource your payment processing to hosted payment pages from companies that are accredited and approved. If you just have one terminal, then becoming compliant is pretty simple.

There are different questionnaires - you chose the one that fits your business model, complete it online or in paper format and that completes the de-scope process.”

MF: “So it varies depending on the type of business that you are?”

TL: “Yes, and also the size of the business and how much your acquirer can do things to help you.”

MF: “But the message remains that you can’t avoid it and need to take action now if you haven’t already?”

TL: “Absolutely - and you also need to remember that this is an annual certification.”

MF: “If you’re a hotelier watching this webinar and you’re thinking ‘it’s clear I need to take action but I haven’t done anything yet’, what’s the first step? Where should you go?”

TL: “Speak to your acquirer firstly, because they will have plenty of information for you. Just pick up the phone and ask to speak to the PCI department. There’s lots of online information, too.”

MF: “Paul - the next question is from Ruth Evans. She asks ‘why can’t I just keep a book of customer card details in my safe?’”

PB: “Very good question - this is something we see from time to time. It seems like the sensible thing to do when you think about it - you’ve got the card details from the customers, so why not just stick them in the safe?

“It’s a massive risk - that’s the problem. It’s as big a risk as keeping bundles of cash around, to be honest. That’s one of the reasons we say - if you don’t need to store it, don’t store it.”

MF: “Is there any kind of halfway house?”

PB: “You can outsource the storage of this kind of data to some third parties, as Tracey says. Let the professionals do it.

MF: “There seems like quite a lot of processes and boxes I need to tick. I’m starting to wonder how much this is going to cost me. How costly is PCI?”

PB: “It shouldn’t be too onerous. There are some reasonably low cost solutions for securing data. You’ve got to weigh up the cost of doing it properly versus things going wrong. If there’s a data breach, and you’re trusted to maintain it, that’s a big problem - you’ll be held liable.

“There’s a formal process if a data compromise occurs. The card acquirers will get in touch and start a forensic investigation, and that can be very expensive (you’re mandated to do it, too). You could incur costs per card compromised and end up with an assessment penalty fee for data you’ve been managing incorrectly.

“If you get it wrong and you’re unfortunate enough to be a victim of this kind of crime, you’ll be in a position where you have to spend a lot of money to get yourself out of that hole.”

MF: “Connie - this question is from Kathrine at the Jura hotel. She says: in order to process no shows, we need to store the security code. We believe we do this securely, however it does prevent us from taking online bookings. How can we get around this?”

CP: “Ok, let’s get back to basics. In the hospitality industry, we’re allowed to process a no-show transaction, and for that you only need the PAN (16 digit number) and the expiry date. But, also remember that no-shows are an unusual event.

“If you want to process a no-show, you just put through the PAN and expiry date. When you take a booking, you don’t really need to store the data at all, because you can use third parties to process your data. We always say: if you don’t have it, you don’t have to protect it. That’s why it’s best to give that job to a third party and only keep a token in your organisation.

“You are contractually obliged to be PCI compliant, even if you outsource your data.”

MF: “From your experience, how big an issue do you think this is for the hospitality sector in terms of poor practice of confusion?”

CP: “There is a lot of confusion. If we go back to the booking process over the phone, they booker will give a PAN number and expiry to secure the booking, but the transaction is not processed at that time. In Welcome Anywhere, for instance, you can enter the card data and it goes out to PCI Booking which is a third party. They hold the data and just send the hotel a token.

“You only need the card information if the customer doesn’t turn up. But normally, the guest turns up, they book in and you get a fully-authenticated transaction where the guest hands their card over and it goes into the Chip and Pin machine.”

MF: “So that’s the chain of best practice people should follow. If anyone is still unsure about this, though, where might they go for advice?”

CP: “Always back to the acquirer. The contract is between the hotel and the acquirer - they give the best information.”

MF: “This next question is from Colin Woods. He asks: ‘If OTAs don’t process payments on our behalf then why is there not a responsibility on them to transmit all of the card details including the card verification number?”

PB: “In the hotel industry, there’s often several stages for a card transaction - it can pass between many third parties before being processed. There is a responsibility on all of them to perform proper, secure practices and they have to pass data on in the most secure way possible.

“It’s always worth asking third parties like this to see their PCI compliance certificate. We’ve talked a lot about outsourcing your PCI problem, but the one thing you can’t outsource is responsibility.”

MF: “How sure can you be that you’re always going to get the correct information and best advice from a third party or acquirer?”

PB: “It’s very important to look at third parties, and when you de-scope your PCI compliance, that’s the one thing you’re left with. The likes of Booking.com will take this seriously - they’ll have certification they can provide if you ask for it, and the one you’re looking for is an attestation of compliance (AoC). It’s a bit like an MOT certificate for PCI. You can sometimes find them online.”

MF: “Is there the equivalent of an ombudsman?”

PB: “The global body for it is the PCI Council, which is an organisation based in America and run globally for the benefit of everyone.”

MF: “Finally on this point - have any of you experienced circumstances where there has been a problematic outcome? Does it ever go wrong?”

TL: “I wouldn’t say it goes wrong, but we definitely get people who don’t want to release their AoC. But it’s vital it is shown when requested, because if they have nothing to hide, there’s no reason not to display it.”

CP: “I think we’ve established that you have to be PCI complaint if you accept cards, but what I often find is that organisations are storing data that they don’t actually need. So, go back to the principal - if you don’t need it, don’t store it. Ask yourself - do you really need that card data within your organisation?

“There are some bad habits - particularly in this industry.”

MF: “We’ve got a question from Natalie at the Black Boys Inn. If a customer damages or takes something out of the room, can I charge them?”

CP: “Technically, yes, but it’s not about the storage of the card data. Your contract when the customer comes to the premises will say they’re responsible for additional charges, but under the card regulations you’re supposed to write to that customer and explain something has been damaged, which you’ll be charging for.

“If a phone call is subsequently made, you’ll have the card holder on the phone and can therefore request the CVV number, the PAN and expiry date. Unfortunately, in practice many hotels do this without asking the customer.”

MF: “And what happens if they do that?”

CP: “The cardholder has the right to get onto their issuer and say they don’t approve the transaction, but the hotelier should be able to show the contract that states they’re allowed to charge in the event of damage or theft.

“Doing it by phone is best because this would be referred to as a card not present transaction, which can only be processed with the CVV number if you’re interacting with the cardholder.”

MF: “This question from Nick Green says: how do we meet PCI compliance while being able to take payments for no-shows?”

PB: “This seems to be the big issue in hospitality. The whole no-show process is much easier to carry out if the transaction is performed when the customer is on the telephone. If you’ve got the card data, the hotel rules and regs are generally there to enable you to charge for one night’s accommodation.

“Within systems like Welcome Anywhere, there is the methodology to retain the card data securely via a ‘tokenised’ system. The token can then be used by the hotelier in the event of a no-show to process that one night’s charge.”

TL: “The tokenisation system is a really good de-scoping method that we would definitely recommend. These things have been put there to make the process easier for hoteliers.”

CP: “There is some confusion that to process a no-show you need the PAN, security code and expiry date. Even before PCI there was a rule that stated you didn’t need the CVV2 for a no-show - that still exists - providing its held securely via tokenisation.”

MF: “This next question says: the PCI guidelines says sensitive data like the CVV2 cannot be stored after authorisation, in which case it presumably can be stored before authorisation. Is that correct?”

CP: “You don’t need the CVV2 to process a no-show transaction, so the answer is you don’t need it after the initial transaction.”

TL: “Storing the CVV2 is the biggest no-no in PCI - you simply cannot do it. It puts you at great risk.”

MF: “Do you think there’s a sense of ‘if I hold onto this stuff, no one’s going to find out’ in this industry?”

TL: “I think there is. We’re all human at the end of the day, and it’s human nature to hold onto things. But if you are unfortunate to be the victim of a data compromise, you’ll have no defence.”

MF: “There is so much in the news about the hospitality sector being hit by fraud. This is not an unusual issue, is it?”

CP: “No, it’s not unusual. Hackers target this industry because they can get much richer information - names, addresses, card details - everything.”

MF: “Presumably, if an end consumer does have their details hacked from a hotel or OTA, this unleashes a whole bag of problems legally and I’d imagine reputations can be damaged, too?”

CP: “It’s not just reputations - you’ll also be subject to the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that comes in place within the next 12 months for the UK.”

MF: “I’m glad you’ve mentioned that! The next question asks ‘if my business is PCI compliant, do I need to do any more to become GDPR compliant?”

PB: “The GDPR is an EU mandate for the protection of all EU citizen personal data. It relates to all personal data. The information commissioner’s office has already identified that card data is unique to individuals and is therefore a piece of personal data.

“The GDPR takes the same stance, but will include all other data, so if you store things like the guest’s passport number, you need to do so securely.”

MF: “Will Brexit affect this? Will these new regulations simply fall apart once we come out of the EU?”

CP: “Absolutely not. If you’re taking a booking from someone in Europe, you still have an obligation to protect their data under GDPR.”

MF: “The next question says: ‘I get called all the time by salesmen from other PMS companies trying to get me to change to their system. They say their system stores the security number so I’ll have no problem charging for no-shows. Are they right?”

CP: “The basic thing is you don’t need the security number for no-shows.”

MF: “This question from Louise says: ‘I charged a no-show for his 5 day stay but he got really aggressive and said I can only charge for the first night. Surely that’s rubbish?”

CP: “The rules state that you can charge a no-show for one night’s rack rate.”

MF: “Lastly, someone has asked: ‘Do I have to alter my terms and conditions and where they’re displayed to be able to charge for a no-show without a CVV2?”

CP: “If you want to be able to do a no-show, you have to make it clear at the point of booking that the cancellation policy states a one night fee will be charged if they don’t turn up.”

MF: “Before we finish, is there anything else you guys wanted to highlight about PCI?”

TL: “I’d just like to say - if in doubt, ask your acquirer.”

PB: “It’s important to note that cybercrime is on the up. This isn’t something we can ignore any more - hacking is a real thing.”

CP: “Remember: if you don’t need it - don’t keep it!”

MF: “Thank you Tracey, Connie and Paul.”

Download a comprehensive guide to handling card data and processing no-shows by clicking below:[/fusion_text][button link="http://welcome-anywhere.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Handling-card-data-in-hospitality.pdf" color="default" size="" type="" shape="" target="_blank" title="" gradient_colors="|" gradient_hover_colors="|" accent_color="" accent_hover_color="" bevel_color="" border_width="1px" shadow="" icon="" icon_position="left" icon_divider="no" modal="" animation_type="0" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="1" alignment="" class="" id=""]Download Guide[/button]

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TrustYou hotel guest review platform

Pursuing the joint goal of facilitating the hotelier’s everyday business and enhancing bookings, TrustYou, the world’s largest guest feedback platform, and Welcome Systems, the British hospitality original behind the popular Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system, today announced their new strategic partnership.

Welcome Systems’ users now have free access to TrustYou Stars Lite, an advanced software solution to collect, analyze and market guest reviews. The feedback is collected through surveys that are automatically sent to the guest after their stay. Proactively sending out guest surveys helps hotels to increase the volume of positive reviews*, which leads to a better rating and online reputation as well as a higher visibility and better rankings across the web. Evaluating guest reviews also helps Welcome Systems’ users to identify areas for improvement and to manage the quality of their hotel better in order to enhance the overall guest experience and satisfaction.

“When it comes to bookings hotels need to be on top of their reputation to assure a positive reputation”, adds John Jones, Managing Director at Welcome Systems. “We are excited to collaborate with TrustYou to provide post-stay surveys and offer this additional service to our users for free. Our brand stands for constant innovation and we aim to partner with the best players in the industry which led us to the decision to work with TrustYou and its sophisticated survey solution.“

Welcome Systems benefits from over 30 years of experience in the hospitality sector with the goal of delivering a great customer experience and the ability to drive profitability in any sized business. TrustYou’s expertise lies on providing the best possible platform for feedback management enabling hotels to manage, market and react upon all reviews, guest surveys and social posts and comments worldwide.

Michael Menzel, CRO and VP Strategic Partnerships at TrustYou explains: “TrustYou Stars Lite is designed to give hotels important insights into their guest's opinions in an easy and user-friendly way. Our survey solution fits very well to Welcome Systems’ existing services and goals to improve the hotel’s operations. We are convinced that we can help a myriad of hotels to solicit and analyze feedback and thereby positively influence their review scores and ranking, as 85 percent* of all guest feedback is positive. This partnership is an important step for TrustYou to solidify our presence in the British hospitality industry.”

More information about TrustYou can be found at www.trustyou.com.

*According to TrustYou’s data evaluation

About TrustYou

TrustYou, the world’s largest guest feedback platform, provides hotels with insights to improve their guest experience and market to future guests. Guest feedback informs 95% of booking decisions, and TrustYou’s guest feedback platform incorporates hundreds of millions of hotel reviews, surveys, social comments, and direct messages through SMS, email, Facebook Messenger and more. This information is analyzed along each step of a traveler’s journey, including booking and pre-stay queries, real-time guest request, and post-stay feedback, to generate actionable insights for 500,000 hotels. TrustYou’s platform is made up of various components, including TrustYou Meta-Reviews*, verified global review summaries displayed on travel and search sites like Google, KAYAK, and Hotels.com;  TrustYou Messaging, real-time guest messaging service; TrustYou Stars, an advanced guest satisfaction survey tool; TrustYou Analytics, the world’s leading online reputation management tool and the accompanying app TrustYou Radar. PMS, CRM, IBE and other hotel software providers can make use of TrustYou Connect, a partner program to integrate TrustYou’s guest feedback platform with its products to help their hotel clients to positively influence every stage of the guest journey.

Find more information on TrustYou and the guest feedback platform at www.trustyou.com.

*TrustYou Meta-Reviews only contain verified reviews and do not include reviews from TripAdvisor

Press contacts

Welcome Systems: Mark Ferguson (More Fire PR Ltd)

TrustYou: Katharina Sickora

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[fusion_text]Basil Fawlty’s dislike of hotel guests was abundantly clear. We were left in no doubt that his business would run just fine if it wasn’t for pesky guests requesting impossible room upgrades, Waldorf salads or - occasionally - dying.

On their worst days, real-world hotel managers would no doubt agree with Mr Fawlty, because guests can indeed be very challenging customers. And we can say that, because we all ‘play guest’ (and are no doubt equally as irritating) at some point ourselves.

One of the worst things a guest can do is fail to turn up for their stay, and, much like the excuses given for bunking off work, their ‘reasons’ for last minute cancellations are, sometimes, frankly unbelievable.

If you’re a hotelier or have worked behind the reception desk, you will doubtless have heard plenty of far-fetched excuses. We’d therefore love to hear your favourites!

Below, we’ve listed some of the genuine no-show guest excuses we’ve already received. We’ll add yours here, too, but don’t worry - it’s completely anonymous; just enter the excuse below, and hit ‘send’!

My favourite guest no-show excuse:

[contact-form-7 id="15053" title="No-show excuses"]

Guest excuses for no-shows

  1. “I forgot I promised to make my wife dinner tonight.”
  2. “I accidentally went on holiday somewhere else.”
  3. “I completely forgot I made the booking.”
  4. “I spent all weekend at the casino and now I’m broke.”
  5. “What booking?”
  6. “I was in a very bad place when I made that booking…”
  7. “My doctor told me a hotel stay wasn’t in my best interests at the moment.”
  8. “My mother-in-law told me you were her least favourite hotel - after I’d made the booking.”
  9. "The dog ate my reservation!"

Unbelievable, eh? Tell us your favourites!

Join our FREE webinar

On a serious note, no-shows are a pain to deal with for hoteliers, which is why we’re staging a free webinar on May 8th that will feature a panel of industry experts delving into the mysteries, myths and hard facts of processing guest payments. Book your place today!

[/fusion_text][button link="http://welcome-anywhere.co.uk/pci-webinar/" color="default" size="" type="" shape="" target="_self" title="" gradient_colors="|" gradient_hover_colors="|" accent_color="" accent_hover_color="" bevel_color="" border_width="1px" shadow="" icon="" icon_position="left" icon_divider="no" modal="" animation_type="0" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="1" alignment="" class="" id=""]REGISTER FOR WEBINAR[/button]

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