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This week's blog of the week is a bit unusual, because it actually shines the spotlight on a post that was published a few weeks ago. But that's for good reason, because today is a historic day for Britain, and if you work in the hospitality industry you're doubtless wondering how our exit from the European Union is likely to affect your job or business.

In truth, it's a question none of us can answer with any kind of certainty at the moment, but the following blog from recruitment firm Urban People delivers a considered opinion on both the pros and cons of Brexit for hospitality.

Exposing the lack of skilled UK hotel staff is cited as a key concern, along with the need to renegotiate trade agreements and supplier contracts. Urban People counters this with the fact that the potential increase in air fares and a weaker pound could force more people to holiday at home, thus boosting native tourism numbers.

Well worth a read, particularly now that the pubic has made its decision.

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8% OTA commission is coming

There’s a new kid on the block in the land of online travel agencies (OTAs) and it promises to challenge the notion that hotels have no choice but to pay significant commissions for bookings. But should your hotel take them at their word and join Hotel Bonanza?

Any new OTA is worth a sniff if you’re a hotelier and Hotel Bonanza is no different. Or is it? Head across to their website and you’re immediately promised that you’ll only pay 8% commission for the bookings it sends your way, nothing more - “ever”.

The consumer website is yet to go live (it is slated to later this year), and the team behind Hotel Bonanza are currently focussed on building the database of hotels.

So, should you join? Let’s take a closer look…

Just 8% commission?

In a recent interview with Hotel Owner magazine, Hotel Bonanza founder and CEO Suzie Barber explained the reason she devised the new service. “We understand the frustrations of accommodation providers currently being squeezed by large OTAs and that’s where we saw a gap in the market for a more logical way to do business which doesn’t cut so deep into profits,” said Barber. “We have had an amazing response from the trade so far. There’s a genuine appetite for what we are doing.”

The hotelier portal website makes note of the fact that guests are rarely aware of how much OTA bookings cost hotels and describes the situation hoteliers find themselves in as being “stuck between a rock and a hard place”. And they have a point - hotels need OTA business to fight through the melee on Google, but it often comes at a significant cost of 15% commission or more. Guests simply aren’t aware of this, and why should they be?

We’re informed that Hotel Bonanza settled on a commission rate of 8% after two years of research. They promise that the rate is fixed, but also explain there will be a membership model for Hotel Bonanza that will give registered guests a 5% saving on every booking they make in exchange for a £10 annual fee. What isn’t made clear is how that will affect rates and whether or not hoteliers are expected to take the hit themselves and drop tariffs accordingly.

Look and feel

Because the consumer website is yet to launch, we can only judge what is likely to be the finished product via a few animated screenshots on the hotelier portal page. And it looks rather nice. White space is used judiciously and the search process is refreshingly simple.

Google Maps integration clearly plays a big part in the user experience, as does clear pricing. The presence of what appears to be ‘Bonanza member’ prices confirms the existence of the aforementioned loyalty scheme for guests.

On the whole, Hotel Bonanza looks attractive, functional and approachable, but we’ll have to wait until later this year to give it a proper test; the team behind the website do make it clear that we’re not looking at the finished version.

Hotel Bonanza screenshot

Sign up process

Click the prominent ‘Join Us’ button on the Hotel Bonanza hotelier website and you’re asked for some relatively simple details - your name, hotel name, contact details and the channel manager you use (proof that the presence of such technology is now fully expected in the hotel sector).

Things start to get a little more involved once you choose a password. The following screens take you straight into the detailed setup of your listing with everything from room types to rate plans and cancellation policies requested. It’s quite a bit to be hit with immediately, but demonstrates Hotel Bonanza’s desire to avoid any faffing around when it comes to getting genuinely interested hoteliers on board.

Hotel Bonanza sign up

Are they alone?

No. Low-cost airline Ryanair is launching Ryanair Rooms on 1st October and, although they've declined to reveal the commission rate for hotels, it is safe to assume it will be somewhat lower than the 15% industry standard.

Summary

On the face of it, Hotel Bonanza is doing nothing more than simply lowering the commission rate for hoteliers, but combine that with what appears to be a compelling user experience for guests - and some encouraging rhetoric throughout the hotelier portal website - and that may just be enough to jumpstart the bandwagon.

Hotel Bonanza is a brand new website, and, like any new website, it’ll take time for it to permeate throughout the world wide web and gain a decent ranking on Google. It has sizeable competition, but jump on early and you may be one of the hotels that benefits from a fresh new OTA that clearly has more than a passing interest in helping hotels remain profitable.

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Snapchat Logo

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? Pah! Snapchat is where it’s at. But how can your hotel make effective use of one of the freshest - and, on the face of it - most perplexing social networks?

Snapchat first debuted in September 2011. Now, it is estimated to be worth somewhere in the region of $18billion and reportedly has more users than Twitter. Clearly, suggestions last year that Snapchat was about to become the ‘next big thing’ in social networking were bang on the money.

Tellingly, millennials account for 7 out of 10 ‘Snapchatters’, which may explain why Snapchat video views are now greater than Facebook’s.

But, enough with the big stats - we can almost guarantee you’re asking yourself one question…

What is Snapchat?

Confession time. I am a geek and have considered myself at the heart of tech for a very long time indeed, but I’ve previously installed Snapchat on my iPhone several times only to look at it, scratch my head, and then immediately consign it to the pile of deleted apps.

It just didn’t make a huge amount of sense to me, but that’s no surprise when you consider that the majority of active Snapchat users reside within the 18-24 age bracket. So, is Snapchat a platform aimed squarely at a younger audience? Now that I’ve had time to play with it again, I’m not so convinced.

Snapchat is an instant messaging service, but it is unlike any of its forefathers. Messages have a very short shelf life on this particular social network; senders can choose a lifespan for their videos and images that ranges from 1 to 10 seconds. Once the message arrives at the other end and is watched by the recipient, it disappears. Forever.

How does Snapchat work in marketing?

Just as with Facebook and Twitter, businesses can set up their own Snapchat profiles. Once created, they can add ‘friends’ and send out messages just like regular users.

The ‘Discover’ feature is rather more compelling for marketing departments, as it focuses on providing daily editorial on trending topics via collaborations with the likes of CNN and National Geographic. Discover content can even be targeted based on the needs of a brand’s audience.

Should I be using Snapchat for my hotel’s marketing?

The developers behind Snapchat were clever enough to recognise the importance of stories in all of our lives. Humans love a good story, which is why it is now possible to create our own and devour our friends’ via Snapchat’s ‘Stories’ feature.

With Stories, users of Snapchat can post a collection of photos and videos and have them automatically tied together in one package that their friends can watch (and re-watch) for 24 hours before they’re deleted forever.

Because of this little feature, we think the answer to the above question is a resounding “yes!”.

How hotels can use Snapchat Stories

Consider a day in the life of your establishment. How many people get to see the inner workings of your hotel? How many guests get an insight into what it takes to make their stay pleasurable?

If the idea of videoing the nuts and bolts of your hotel operation sounds rather unpalatable, bear in mind that we now live in what has become known as the ‘sharing society’, and giving others a glimpse into the mechanics of a business is a great way to drive interest in one’s brand.

The best thing about Snapchat, as with so many new advertising platforms, is that it is incredibly easy to get started and experiment with. All you need is a smartphone (Snapchat is free) and a willingness to begin recording the life of your hotel.

As you go about your job, start recording interactions with (willing) staff and glimpses at back office departments. Perhaps you’ve got a wedding this coming weekend - why not show off the on-going setup of the marquee and catering operation?

Your hotel’s story is fascinating. With Snapchat, you can begin telling it.

Which hotels have already started using Snapchat?

If we’ve whetted your appetite, there’s nothing like a bit of inspiration to get you going. You could do worse than read Mariott’s story, the first big hotel chain to begin a marketing campaign on Snapchat.

Conclusion

Give Snapchat a go. Like any social network, when you first begin, it’ll feel like you’re simply sending content out into an empty room with no potential guests in sight, but the more you do it, and the more you tell people you’re doing it, the more chance you have of attracting engaged followers.

Snapchat is devilishly fun, so there’s little to lose. Once you get the hang of creating your daily stories, start telling guests that they can follow you on Snapchat - you could do this in person at checkout time, within your confirmation emails or on your hotel’s blog.

If you’re a hotelier that already uses Snapchat, we’d love to hear your experiences - get involved in the comments below!

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TripConnectWe're aware that many of our customers have been informed about Tripadvisor's latest feature, TripConnect. Understandably, they're excited about it. And so are we.

If you're yet to discover TripConnect, it finally offers a way of displaying hotel website rates directly on TripAdvisor listings. All you need is a Business Listing and a compatible online booking system.

We're delighted to confirm that Welcome Anywhere will soon be integrated with TripConnect, enabling you to offer Tripadvisor guests a direct method of booking, alongside the agencies which usually appear on Tripadvisor listings. This means TripConnect could help further reduce your commission bill and increase brand awareness.

TripConnect is a high priority for us and we will be launching our interface in the new year. Please stay tuned - further information will follow in due course.

If you have any queries on the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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Gmail logoGmail has received some significant attention from Google developers this year. Most notably, the world's largest webmail client saw the introduction of a new tabbed inbox, which intelligently groups emails into specific folders in an attempt to separate personal messages from social media notifications and promotional emails.

Despite something of an uproar in the email marketing community, the feature appears to have worked rather well and has actually encouraged Gmail users to check their promotional tab in the hope that tempting offers nestle within it.

More recently, Google has added some nifty new features to Gmail and there's one in particular which we think could prove to be very useful for hoteliers.

'Quick Action' buttons are starting to appear to the right of email subject lines in Gmail users' inboxes. They work by scanning the content of the email and providing an action for anything deemed to be interactive. For example, it might be something as simple as adding a specific date to a calendar, or saving a file to Dropbox... or booking a restaurant table.

OpenTable has joined the growing list of developers making use of Quick Action buttons by giving diners the ability to quickly book tables directly from their inbox and without having to open the email from the restaurant. All the restaurant has to do is send an enticing subject line and the Quick Action lets the user do the rest with the minimal fuss. It could prove a very quick conversion technique.

Imagine doing the same for hotel bookings! It's something that has certainly caught our eye and we will be looking at ways in which we can implement the use of Quick Action buttons for the benefit of Welcome Anywhere users and hotel guests.

Got an idea how Quick Actions could be used in email? Get in touch!

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mobile hotel online bookingA recent study by PhoCusWright has discovered that mobile online booking is surging at an exponential rate. This trend is set to continue for at least the next two years.

Focussing on the American market, PhoCusWright's recent Online Travel Overview suggested that US citizens will book an astounding $39.5 billion of reservations on their mobile devices in 2015. If that turns into a reality, it will mean mobile devices will account for 12% of all travel sales. That would be a fivefold jump from 2012 figures.

This may well be a US-centric outlook, but with so many Americanisms and exports heading to UK shores on an almost daily basis, it is safe to assume that we'll see similar growth in mobile booking over here.

Although the report focuses on travel as a whole, delve further into its ninety pages and it becomes evident that the hotel industry is leading the way with online booking. As a result, lead times are being squeezed, meaning the sight of guests entering hotels at which they've booked rooms while en route is likely to increase. Certainly, the idea of same-day booking is something many hotel guests are becoming accustomed to. As a result, savvy hoteliers are jumping on the seizable marketing opportunity such late reservations offer with last minute deals becoming more commonplace.

Online travel agencies (OTAs) have seen just as positive an increase in use of their services on mobile devices with bookings made via tablets and smartphones likely to account for 29% of the entire OTA market by 2015. Orbitz, in particular, which accounts for around a fifth of OTA bookings made in the US, now sees 27% of its bookings passing through mobile devices.

 

Image courtesy of emptyglass / freedigitalphotos.net

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The Welcome Anywhere booking systemWe’ll admit it – we’ve been a little quiet on the Welcome Anywhere beta test front, but there’s a very good reason for that.

As we hinted in a recent blog post, there are some rather significant changes on the way; our development team have been working tirelessly on an overhaul of the user interface for Welcome Anywhere. Learning from beta test feedback and being mindful of our future plans for the system, we have greatly improved the look, feel and general workflow of the system.

We are currently conducting in-house testing, but hope to release the new version to beta testers next week. Here’s some sneak peeks of the new-look screens:

The old login screen:

Old Welcome Anywhere login page

The new login screen:

New Welcome Anywhere login page

The old Home screen:

Old Welcome Anywhere Home screen

The new Home screen (you'll note the subtle, yet visually-pleasing changes to the accordion panel and system as a whole):

New Welcome Anywhere Home screen

The old booking chart:

Old Welcome Anywhere booking chart

The new booking chart:

New Welcome Anywhere booking chart

The old booking enquiry form:

Old Welcome Anywhere booking enquiry

The new booking enquiry form (some of the biggest changes have been made here):

New Welcome Anywhere booking enquiry

The old arrivals list:

Old Welcome Anywhere arrivals list

The new arrivals list:

New Welcome Anywhere arrivals list

So, big changes are afoot, and they run a lot deeper than just the visual elements. The new Welcome Anywhere is now set for a 2014 packed full of exciting development.

If you're a beta tester, stay tuned - more information will follow in due course.

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revPAR rises for hotelsRevenue per available room (revPAR) and profits are on the rise in UK hotels, according to recent reports, giving experts reason to suggest that hotels are now 'out of the worst'.

HVS London and Zolfo Cooper's latest Hotel Bulletin, which focuses on Q3 of 2013, found that there had been an average increase in revPAR of eight percent at hotels outside of London. Average profits were up by 3%.

In the capital, revPAR actually decreased by 3%, although September's revPAR was up 9% compared to the same period in 2012.

The ongoing feel-good factor of the Olympics and fine weather experienced this year has certainly helped boost hotel trade this year, and HVS London director Tim Smith has claimed the sector is now 'over the worst'.

Bank funding is also now 'relatively accessible', according to the report, although it was noted that most new openings were limited to budget hotels.

 

Image courtesy of jscreationzs / freedigitalphotos.net

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Olympic legacy boosts hospitality figuresThe London Olympic and Paralympic games have been nothing more than a memory for over twelve months now, but their legacy is still being felt economically and not least in the hospitality sector.

It appears that the UK is still benefiting from the significant worldwide exposure London 2012 granted it with a noticeable increase in tourism numbers. Hotels have been the main benefactors.

The latest figures in the Hotel Bulletin: Q3 2013 from Zolfo Cooper, HVS and AM:PM show that the UK has avoided the slump in tourist volumes which other recent host nations experienced following their Games. There's no escaping the fact that the prospect of increased congestion and perceived high prices forced many non-games visitors to avoid travelling to the UK last summer, but they now appear to be returning in greater numbers.

A long-overdue summer of warmth and little rain boosted domestic tourism during July and August this year. That, coupled with the increase in international demand saw revenue per available room (revpar) figures increase by 20% in Edinburgh, 14% in Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath, 11% in Oxford and 7% in York. London, on the other hand, saw a fall in revpar of 8.5%, which is no doubt attributable to the increased pricing strategies implemented during the 2012 Games.

 

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Google Hotel Finder goes mobileHead to google.com/hotels on your smartphone and you'll notice that the search giant's hotel finder has now been optimised for mobile browsing. Simply enter your arrival and departure dates, pop in your intended destination and press the blue search button.

Listings appear almost immediately, and the user has the option to filter the results by price, hotel class, distance and user rating.

The hotel listing pages display photos, blurb, amenities, the map location and guest reviews. You can then proceed to book the hotel either via agencies such as Booking.com or, hoteliers will be pleased to hear, via the hotel's own website.

The mobile version of Google Hotel Finder is currently confined to the US, but Google says they "hope to expand more broadly soon".

Google Hotel Finder Mobile

The Google Hotel Finder on iOS Safari

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