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Hotelier news, tips and advice from industry experts.

Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Articles by: Mark Ellis

It’s that time of the year again…

The time of the year when we all say, “I can’t believe it’s nearly Christmas!”. And, if you’re a hotelier, it’s often a time for panic as you realise you haven’t given the festive season enough thought when it comes to attracting last minute guests.

But before we explain how you can do just that with a limited budget, we thought we’d have a bit of fun!

What does your hotel want for Christmas?

We’re all get to open one or two gifts come the 25th, but what about your hotel?

If you could gift your hotel anything for Christmas, what would it be? Something practical? Something to cheer it up? A favour from the government?

Tell us what you’d buy your hotel this Christmas in the box below, and we’ll feature the best answers in a forthcoming blog post!

And don’t worry - it’ll be totally anonymous!

[contact-form-7 id="16725" title="Hotel Christmas Present"]

 

How to attract last minute Christmas guests

So, how do you go about filling that empty booking chart over the festive period?

Here’s three brilliantly effective tips for getting them in without spending a fortune on advertising!

1. Create some Christmas packages

Take a look at your current list of room rates and packages. How festive are they?

The simple injection of some Christmassy words “2-Night Festive Santa Special” (ok - that might be overdoing it) is often all you’ll need to increase bookings, but you could go a little further by including a Christmas-inspired romantic meal in the deal.

2. Market to locals

How often do you look on your doorstep for guests?

It might not sound like the most obvious thing to do, but come Christmas time, some people simply want to get away - even if that’s only a few miles up the road.

Offer to take the cooking duties off their hands and provide a hotel stay that will be as festive as being at home - albeit without the need to clear up after messy relatives.

3. Go ultra festive with your marketing output

Christmas gives marketing departments and business owners the perfect excuse to have a bit of fun with their branding, and while it might seem a little tacky at first, decorating your hotel’s logo in tinsel or wedging it in cartoon snow will have more of an impact on potential guests than you might think.

The more christmassy you make your social media posts, blogs and newsletters, the more inclined people will be to head to your property at this time of the year. Clearly, you’re enjoying the festive period as much as they are, so why wouldn’t they want to book a room in order to get away from it all and celebrate this time of the year?

Have fun with your Christmas marketing!

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Originally released in 2014, the Amazon Echo (more readily referred to as ‘Alexa’) is now a common fixture in homes across the world.

Cast your mind back to your last few visits to friends and family and it’s almost guaranteed that at least one of them will have attempted to wow you with their digital home assistant.

“Alexa, how old is Elton John?”, “Alexa, play the latest song by Paloma Faith”, “Alexa, turn the living room lights on”; talking to technology has become as familiar as switching the kettle on.

It should therefore come as no surprise that Amazon quickly realised how useful Alexa’s skills could be in the world of hotels. Thus, Alexa for Hospitality was born, and it’s slowly appearing on bedside tables in rooms across the country.

What does Alexa for Hospitality do?

Amazon touts Alexa for Hospitably as ‘the hub of the room’, offerings guests the ability to control in-room devices, find local businesses and play music by doing northing more than talking to the diminutive device.

Depending on the technology you have in your property, Alexa can also integrate with existing services, thus essentially becoming a digital concierge.

Asking Alexa to call the front desk, send additional towels, order room service or provide assistance with self checkout is a compelling way to conduct your hotel stay and one which guests will likely begin to yearn for as digital assistants continue to be such an important part of everyday life.

How does it work?

Thankfully, and as you might expect if you’ve installed an Alexa in your home, Amazon’s personal assistant is pretty straightforward to setup in a hospitality business.

Echo devices in hand, you’re guided through the process of connecting each one to a centralised console (which can apparently manage “hundreds” of devices).

Once connected, hotel staff can use the central console to control individual device volume, reset devices and check their status.

‘Skills’ (the mini apps you can add to an Alexa to make it more functional) can also be administered centrally, enabling you to add ever more wondrous ways for guests to interact with their in-room digital assistant as they become available.

So, what skills does Alexa for Hospitality currently possess?

At the time of writing (and depending on the existing technology you have within your hotel), Alexa for Hospitality will respond to the following guest requests:

  • contacting front desk;
  • assistance with checking out;
  • room service orders; and
  • ordering of certain hotel provisions and guest services.

New skills are being added all the time, but it’s clear at the moment that Alexa’s value for hotels and their customers most commonly resides in the area of digital concierge.

More recently, Amazon has added the ability for guests to sync their Amazon Prime accounts with the in-room Alexa, providing access to their own music playlists, audiobooks and even the ability to watch their favourite TV shows.

Conclusion: is it worth it?

So, the biggie: is Alexa for Hospitality worth it for independent hotels?

Cue disappointingly on-the-fence answer…

Possibly!

The cost isn’t as bad as you might think (Echo devices can be bought in bulk and the latest costs checked out on the Amazon Business website), but with guests becoming more accustomed to such technology in chain hotels, it’d be wise to at least start investigating this exciting guest service sooner rather than later.

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In episode 11 of the Welcome Systems podcast, we talk to founder and CEO of Flexkeeping, Luka Berger about how hotels can become more efficient and productive by using the technology that dominates our personal lives. We also touch on our favourite topic, Brexit, and consider how UK hotels can overcome the language barriers that might arise as fewer foreign workers begin to occupy roles in this country.

Find out more about Flexkeeping by clicking here

Check out the podcast below and subscribe on iTunes:

https://soundcloud.com/user-568165456/flexkeeping-october-2018

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With 2019 but a whisker away, it’s time for every savvy hotelier to start thinking about their marketing plans for the new year.

Marketing trends are advancing as quickly as the technology that powers them, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to lag behind if you operate a busy independent hotel.

To make your job a little easier, we’ve picked out three of the most important marketing trends you need to be aware of if you want to make a success of 2019.

1. Video marketing

Video has always been a powerful form of marketing, but the ability to create amazing content of this kind (be it pre-recorded or live) has never been so accessible, regardless of the size of your business or its marketing budget.

It’s not as though you can blame a lack of time for the absence of video in your hotel’s marketing plans, either. If you’ve got a modern smartphone, it’ll be capable of recording full HD video instantly and will even provide you with the tools needed to edit and share it for the entire world to see.

If you can’t afford the services of a professional videographer or video marketing agency, why not start shooting some footage yourself of what goes on behind-the-scenes?

2. AI-powered chatbots

If you’ve recently engaged with a business online via text chat, you may well have interacted with a piece of software designed to mimic human responses.

Were you tricked into thinking it was a human? If so, don’t feel as though you’ve been fooled; chatbots are brilliant ways for brands to offer an efficient and genuinely helpful service by relying on technology that isn’t designed to replace its human counterparts, but merely compliment them.

It’s likely that OTAs are investing significantly in this area, which is understandable, but while it might feel like a sledgehammer approach for your independent property, there are some compelling reasons you might want to look at using chatbots in the near future:

  • Facebook offers a great chatbot service for their messenger platform, enabling you to elevate your presence on that particular social network by offering help and answers about your hotel for anyone who stops by and clicks the Like button.
  • Chatbots don’t sleep, don’t need holiday pay and work 24/7 without breaking sweat!
  • Potential guests benefit significantly from chatbots, because they can be guided smoothly along their booking journey via a pre-determined path with human-like help.

Chatbots aren’t spooky, misleading or purely for big retail operations - they’re here, now, and likely to be found increasingly during the hotel booking experience.

3. Hey, voice assistant!

Research suggests that around 30% of all online searches will be conducted without a screen by the year 2020.

This is a clear indication of how important our voices have become as input devices. Rather than using a combination of mouse, keyboard and screen, we’re speaking to technology, and that’s influencing search engine optimisation (SEO).

Voice search is considerably different to text search; queries are far more conversational. For instance, “hotels in Northampton” becomes “where can I find a hotel in Northampton?”. Your website’s keyword strategy and SEO work will therefore need to follow suit.

Not sure what we’re referring to? It might be time to bring in that digital marketing expert! As 2019 beckons, such expertise will be a wise investment for hoteliers.

Wrapping up

Next year is set to be an exciting one for hoteliers. As we discussed in a recent podcast with Cendyn, modern marketing methods and technologies are fast becoming accessible for all, which means there will be some very exciting ways to put your hotel in front of a much wider audience.

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You’re a modern, savvy hotelier, which means you’ve got a website with an awesome online booking portal. Obviously.

It also means you understand what Google Analytics is. You’re aware that it provides vital insight into the way in which visitors interact with your hotel’s most important web presence. You also know that it offers data that enables you to fine tune your website to better engage visitors and ensure they click the ‘book now’ button.

There’s just one problem. It’s a bit cumbersome and you don’t really have the time to spend on it.

If you feel like this, you’re not alone. Google Analytics is a fantastic tool, but it does require a significant amount of time if you’re to get to grips with it.

…unless you know immediately where to head for the juiciest stuff.

And now, you do. Here’s the three most important Google Analytics metrics to review regularly:

1. The bounce rate

Of all Google Analytics stats, the bounce rate is the worst when it comes to crushing your digital hopes and dreams, because it indicates how many visitors enter your website - and leave, immediately.

A high bounce rate is anything above 60%; keep it below that, and you’re probably serving the right content to the right audience.

You can break the bounce rate down by page if you want, too, therefore if you’ve recently set up a new winter warmer offer and want to see how many people have immediately decided it’s not for them, Analytics will give you all the data you need.

Find it here: Audience > Overview

2. New vs Returning visitors

One of the best ways to segment your website visitors is to create two pots - one for new visitors, the other for people who have come back for more.

These are two very different audiences. The new people may never have heard of you before, and therefore probably need a fair bit more encouragement to book. Returners may be far ‘warmer’ and closer to the point of reserving a room.

Understanding how many of the total visitors are made up by these two groups is vital in helping you tune your website to best serve them. For instance, if new visitors have a particularly high bounce rate, you may not be providing enough information about the hotel, or the booking facility might be too hard to find.

Find it here: Audience > Behaviour > New vs. Returning

3. Average session duration

Second to bounce rate in terms of potentially demoralising web stats is the average session duration. As you’d expect, this refers to how long people browse your website on average, but the headline figure demands further exploration.

Once again, you can view average session duration by page, and by using the Users Flow report (Audience > Users Flow) to determine the most common journeys through your website, you can start to build a picture of where people are either hitting some kind of barrier or spending a significant amount of time.

It’ll take a bit of guesswork and experimentation, but the average session duration may indicate a usability issue or that you’ve absolutely nailed it with the page content.

Find it here: Audience > Overview

Wrapping up

You’ll notice that we haven’t once mentioned the page view, users or total session stats above. And this isn’t because they’re not important (they are), but the number of people visiting your hotel website is far less important than the quality of those visitors.

Invest the short time you have for Google Analytics in the above datasets and you’ll start to build a picture of how well your website is performing and what needs to be done to improve the number of direct bookings you’re receiving.

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Three letters which have remained something of a mystery for many hoteliers: 'GDS'.

They stand for ‘Global Distribution System’, which is a huge network dedicated to providing travel industry professionals with a wide choice of hotels and travel packages.

Until very recently, the GDS has quite rightly been the domain of large hotels and big chains. And we say ‘quite rightly’ because it was cumbersome, expensive and required an inordinate amount of someone’s time if it was to be used effectively.

Thankfully, things have changed. And thanks to PMS platforms like Welcome Anywhere finally making the GDS accessible and manageable for smaller operators, everyone can benefit from this brilliant guest finder tool.

So… how does the GDS work?

Good question!

There are countless travel industry professionals out there who’s responsibility it is to find their clients the best possible hotel rates and travel arrangements.

These agents use tools like the GDS to make their lives easier and their clients happier. And guess what - if your hotel’s rates and availability can be found on the GDS, you’re in with a shout of winning plenty of new business.

By connecting your PMS and channel manager to the GDS, you can advertise your hotel to this massive network and gain access to a market you simply won’t find on any OTA.

Should my independent hotel sign up to the GDS?

Not long ago, we’d have said “tread with caution” when asked this question, but not any more. The GDS is no longer a tool solely for the big boys of the industry.

The aforementioned travel agents are primed and motivated to find great room rates and decent hotels for their clients, and they could become some of your most loyal customers.

The GDS is brilliant for increasing brand awareness about your hotel, too. It contains market segments that may otherwise never have discovered your property, and the fees for making that happen are pretty reasonable when compared with the marketing budget black hole that is Google Adwords.

Not convinced? Here’s 3 reasons you need the GDS!

Ok, the GDS does still have a bit of an image problem within the independent hotel market, and you probably need a little more to go on if you’re to spread your wings wider online.

So, here’s three reasons the GDS should be in your hotel’s marketing plans:

  1. You’ll get more bookings. You want that, right? 2017 was a record year for bookings made via the GDS, and if you’re not on that network, you’re missing out.
  2. Your revenue will rise. More bookings = increased revenue. Simple. And, remember - if you’re worried about the profitability of those bookings due to commission fees, the GDS is more affordable than you might think, and there’s always a profit in a room sale if you price it right.
  3. You’ll discover new markets. We’ve mentioned this a few times but it bears repeating: the GDS puts your hotel in front of a brand new audience. New audiences open up so many opportunities for hotels to expand on their offering, widen their customer base and increase awareness of the brand.
  4. Travel agents will become some of your best friends. We all need friends in this industry, and with travel agents under significant pressure to find great hotels and reasonable room prices, the discovery of your property will put a great big smile on their face.

And finally…

With over 100,000 travel websites, agents and portals out there, the GDS can’t be handled manually. Make sure you have a PMS and channel manager that will connect to the network and automate the delivery of rates, availability and confirmed bookings!

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In the latest Welcome Systems podcast, we're joined by Nicola Graham, Director of Marketing at Cendyn - the team behind the brilliant Guestfolio CRM system that's designed specifically for the hospitality industry.

We talk about the modern guest journey, and think about how hoteliers can create memorable guest experiences by using the latest marketing techniques and technology.

To find out more about Cendyn and Guestfolio, visit cendyn.com.

Check out the podcast below and subscribe on iTunes:

https://soundcloud.com/user-568165456/the-welcome-systems-podcast-ep10-cendyn

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Wadworth is an independent family brewer that was established in 1875. Operating an impressive portfolio of managed and tenanted houses, the Wiltshire-based company currently has over two-hundred properties spread across the South West of England.

As Retail Training Manager, Chris Wright is responsible for the operational IT throughout the estate.

“Part of my job is to look for opportunities to raise productivity and efficiencies by integrating our systems,” explained Chris. “I love finding ways to remove manual entry and make the systems we use as automated as possible.”

The search for an integrated PMS and EPOS solution

In 2018, Chris was tasked with a significant systems change across the Wadworth pub estate.

“We’ve currently got twenty-five pubs with letting rooms, and last year we made the decision to change our PMS. This was partly because we needed a platform that would integrate with our till system in order to remove the manual errors we were experiencing, but we also wanted a much more innovative, forward-thinking PMS.”

Running two unconnected systems made duplicate effort a big problem for the Wadworth team.

“With our old system, we’d have to input booking details and charges into both the PMS and the tills, and that resulted in a significant number of financial errors being made,” said Chris. “We looked at a few options for a replacement, but one of the things we liked about Welcome was the fact they were happy to build an integration between the Welcome Anywhere PMS and our till system at no extra cost.

“They worked brilliantly with our EPOS provider Polaris and the two companies formed a strong partnership from day one in order to help us implement the new system and create the integrated setup we so badly needed.

“What I like about Welcome and Polaris is that they’re forward-thinking companies,” said Chris. “I actually see it as a three-way partnership; if we can help them continually improve their product and benefit from the innovations ourselves, everyone wins!”

A big roll-out - made easy

Switching PMS is no mean feat - particularly for a business as large as Wadworth.

“The thing I loved about Welcome Anywhere was its ease-of-use, which was a vital element in rolling out the system to all twenty-five properties,” explained Chris. “As you’d guess, there’s a lot of training involved, and for our managers, they want to spend as little time dealing with IT as possible; they need to be in front of customers delivering a great guest experience.”

Chris believes Welcome Anywhere “took away the ‘fear’” of a system change and quickly discovered that it could be integrated into the Wadworth teams’ daily lives without any problems at all.

With plans to carry out the implementation over a four week period, Welcome’s ease-of-use become of paramount importance.

“That might sound like an incredibly short space of time, but thanks to the speed with which Welcome Anywhere could be adopted and brilliant support from both Welcome and Polaris, it was successful,” enthused Chris. “Thankfully, we were able to import all of our existing bookings from our old PMS into Welcome Anywhere, which also made a massive difference with the speed of the roll-out.”

Chris was keen for the transition to be as natural as possible for Wadworth staff - a challenge Welcome were only too happy to take on.

“Welcome branded the system for us. This has resulted in Welcome Anywhere looking like a Wadworth platform, which makes it instantly recognisable, and, combined with the ease-of-use, made it a natural fit for our staff.”

Huge savings with new channel management

Channel management has alway been a very important tool for Wadworth, but as Chris was to find out, their overheads for online booking with their old system were needlessly high.

“Switching to Welcome Anywhere has already delivered some impressive savings when it comes to OTA commissions,” said Chris. “With our larger properties, the previous Expedia agreement managed by our old PMS company was costing us 23% commission per booking - much higher than the standard rate. Once we’d moved over to Welcome and had new Expedia accounts created, that commission rate dropped to 15% for certain properties!

“This is a huge saving, and one we probably wouldn’t have made if we hadn’t changed systems; the old contract was costing us far more than we realised.”

Wadworth found similar savings elsewhere, following the move to Welcome.

“With our old system, there was an integrated card payment system that was charging us 50p for every card transaction on top of the standard bank rates,” explained Chris. “This wasn’t made abundantly clear, and when you add that fee to the inflated commission rate, our bottom line was being hit significantly.”

Wadworth now pays a simple, flat monthly fee for Welcome Anywhere. Whenever a new development arrives, they receive it instantly and without having to pay to upgrade.

“It’s so much easier to budget for and has immediately driven down our overheads,” said Chris. “We also feel like we finally have full control over our OTA relationships, and that’s such a weight off our minds.”

The future

The Welcome Anywhere roll-out is only the start for Wadworth.

We’re always interested in new developments and additional services our suppliers can offer, and we’ll be implementing the Welcome Table restaurant booking system on a trial basis soon,” explained Chris. “I really like the look of it, and with my ‘one system fits all’ mantra, I’d rather use Welcome’s restaurant system due to it coming from the same company and benefiting from the same approach as Welcome Anywhere.”

Wadworth’s desire to expand its managed department in the near future was another key driver for seeking a new PMS partner.

“It’s reassuring to know that we’ve got a technology provider like Welcome Systems to support us as we continue to grow,” said Chris. “Nothing we’ve asked of them has been too much trouble; their service is exceptional and really stands out for me.

“I went on holiday recently, and the week before I went away, the Welcome team rang around each of our sites to introduce themselves and ensure our staff knew who to call while I was away. It’s little things like that which make such massive a difference. I’d recommend Welcome to any business that is as large and complex as Wadworth and which needs to raise efficiencies and lower costs with the best technology!”

Hefin Morris, Director of Operations at Welcome Systems, headed up the roll-out of Welcome Anywhere to the Wadworth estate.

“Our Welcome Anywhere PMS has clearly proved a perfect fit for Wadworth’s needs in what is proving to be an increasingly competitive hospitality sector,” explained Hefin. “The way guests anticipate a hospitality experience has completely changed over the last few years. From the moment they consider booking a trip through to the point they arrive, the focus is on a comfortable, unique and hassle-free stay.

“We’re determined to ensure hoteliers can take advantage of technology that works fundamentally to put guests at the heart of what they do.”

To find out more about Wadworth, visit wadworth.co.uk

 

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Whether you’re new to the hotel industry or have been part of it for decades, you’ll doubtless share one opinion on online travel agencies (OTAs).

No, no - not that one…

This one: there are so many of them. There’s the biggies, of course, but the number of smaller, niche OTAs has simply exploded in recent years.

This presents something of a problem for savvy hoteliers who want to maximise their presence online; how do you choose the right OTAs for your hotel?

As it turns out, it comes down to four simple factors. But first…

It’s about quality - not quantity

Spreading your wings wide online and having a presence on several OTAs has always been good practice, but that can lead to OTA overload if you get too carried away.

Your agency strategy should be one that focuses on quality rather than quantity. Even with the best channel manager in the world linked up and ready to go, you’re still giving yourself rather too much work if you sign up to every OTA under the sun.

Instead, it’s better to seek out the OTAs that best fit your hotel’s ethos, target market and, obviously, which are the most cost effective.

Here’s how to find them:

1. Check the audience

If you list your rooms and rates on an OTA that targets an audience you’d never target yourself your hotel might begin filling with customers who’s demands, tastes and expectations simply can’t be fulfilled.

For instance, if you cater mainly for couples seeking short breaks in kid-free environments, listing your hotel on a family-oriented OTA is probably going to result in some rather uncomfortable guest clashes.

Before you sign up to any OTA, find out exactly what type of audience they’re targeting by either asking them directly or scouring their website (the clues will be there).

2. Suss out the price

Every booking sent via an OTA comes at a price - that will never change. However, to avoid getting too grumpy over commission, you need to look at it more positively.

Which commission rates are going to deliver the best bang for your buck? If the OTA appears to target your perfect market, or is likely to bring in some high-spending guests, a slightly higher commission rate is probably a price worth paying.

Oh, and the commission rate should reflect something else you get, too…

3. …the features!

Not all OTAs are made the same; some offer specific rate management and listing features that you won’t find elsewhere - and some of those features may not be compatible with your marketing plan at all.

One of the key things to check during your OTA shopping trip is compatibility with your PMS and channel manager. Without that, an OTA is next to useless, because you’ll end up in double-booking hell and with a huge amount of work that should be undertaken by software.

OTAs spend a lot of time and money creating new features that hoteliers can take advantage of - just make sure they’re features you’re likely to use.

4. The guest experience

Time to put your guest hat on.

What’s the OTA like when it comes to booking a room? Is the booking process accessible, intuitive and likely to resonate with your audience?

A great feature set, cost effective commission rate and perfect audience is nothing if the OTA is a pig to use - tough but true.

Wrapping up

Happy OTA hunting! Take your time, but use the four factors above to narrow down your search to the most relevant websites for your hotel.

Been there and done it? What’s your OTA strategy? Have we missed something? If so, tell us in the comments section, below.

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Providing friendly, outstanding customer service is one of the key responsibilities for a hotel receptionist.

Unfortunately, if that’s the career path you’ve chosen, you’ll inevitably encounter the odd angry guest who is absolutely appalled with the level of service provided by the hotel.

While it may not be your fault or have anything to do with your specific role, you, as a front-of-house representative, are probably going to be the first port of call when people have a complaint.

Here’s how to deal with them when they stomp angrily towards the front desk.

1. Listen calmly

Without interrupting the guest, allow them to explain the situation. Listening to them will give them space to explain, and giving them the chance to express their views, should calm down the situation.

A problem shared is a problem halved, and all that…

2. Address them personally and show attention to detail

It won’t take you five seconds to reference the guest’s details on your hotel PMS. And, with that information to hand, you can directly interact with the guest and give them a more personal response to their issue, based on the details of their stay.

This should make them feel acknowledged and as though resolving their problem is important to you.

3. Apologise

Even if the problem has nothing to do with you, apologising to the guest is the best way forward – no matter how hard it might sometimes feel to do so.

This will let the guest know that you empathise with their situation and that you care about resolving the issue as quickly as possible. It also demonstrates that the hotel knows when it might have made a mistake, and that might even result in a favourable online review when the dust has settled!

4. Don’t allow emotion to affect your response

If you struggle to deal with people shouting or are likely to become emotional if someone is angry towards you, that could cause further problems in the communication between you and the angry guest.

Allowing yourself to remove any personal emotion from the situation will help you deal with and resolve the complaint as quickly as possible.

Remember, the guest is more than likely not angry at you, but at the service, so try not to take it personally - that should help you manage the situation professionally and efficiently.

5. Ask a relevant member of staff for help

Quickly decide if you can resolve the issue yourself, and if not, notify a colleague who’s in a position of greater authority. Remember, though - you should only pass such a problem onto another employee if the situation extends beyond your control.

If a more senior pair of hands is needed, it’s important to remember that you haven’t failed. In such instances, their level of authority will help deal with the angry guest quickly and take the problem off your hands.

Wrapping up

As you progress through your career as a hotel receptionist, you’ll find that each angry guest encounter is unique. You’ll also find that they’re few and far between, but by using our tips above, you’ll ensure a swift, positive resolution every time.

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