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So, here it is; 2019. Another new year. Time to pack away the Christmas tree (unless you’re doing the whole ’twelve days’ thing), and start the new year with a bang.

But how do you do that as a busy independent hotelier? With chain hotels continuing to pop up everywhere and brands such as Airbnb redefining guest expectations, what new year’s resolutions should you be making?

The good news? They’re pretty simple and don’t require any immediate action - just a promise to yourself, the hotel and its team that you will make headway on them as 2019 progresses.

Review your hotel tech

Hotel technology evolves at a rapid pace. In fact, it’s so fast-paced that you can be forgiven for lagging behind a little as an independent hotelier.

However, there are a few areas in which you might need to invest if you’re to continue providing a range of services and an experience that befits the modern guest.

Pay particular attention to the following:

  • The property management system (PMS): is it web-based, reliable and fully integrated with both your website and the OTAs on which you rely? Does it connect to your other hotel technology such as your POS system?
  • In-room guest services and entertainment: you don’t have to spend big here - the simple addition of USB plug sockets might be enough to satisfy the digital needs of your guests, but if budget allows, perhaps 2019 is the year you finally upgrade the in-room TVs to be fully on demand and add complimentary iPads to rooms, complete with a bunch of boredom-busting apps for the duration of guest stays. Have a look at last year’s guest feedback on TripAdvisor to spot areas where you might be lacking.
  • The restaurant: can you accept online bookings for your restaurant? If not, you might be missing out on a raft of reservations; people are far more inclined to book tables digitally nowadays.

Schedule some events

Staging events at your hotel is a great way to find new revenue streams.

Advertising yourself as a wedding and conference venue is no longer enough. What about running networking events for local businesses, or cooking competitions hosted by your talented head chef?

Live music, social dining experiences and tie-ins with local events can all be explored this year and might just result in a host of corresponding room bookings and new advocates of your property.

Turn your website into a conversion machine

Hotel websites are no longer simply digital brochures - they’re designed to bring in more bookings for the property; lots more bookings.

They can only do this if they’re set up for conversions in the same way an online store is. And if that sounds a bit cold or lacking in the personal touch for your hotel, you might need to leave some of your preconceptions at the door.

When you buy something on Amazon, it’s hassle-free; they’ve mastered the online shopping experience. The same should go for your hotel’s website. If someone wants to book a room, they should be able to check availability and rates and place their reservation as conveniently as possible.

It should be just as simple on whatever device they have to hand, and fast no matter how weak their connection.

Try out your online booking experience with the mindset of a guest in a hurry for a decent room at a decent rate. If you get frustrated, it’s time to look for a new platform.

Touch base with your OTA reps

Yeah, let bygones by bygones and all that - it’s the new year!

The relationship between independent hotels and OTAs has always been rather tetchy, but OTAs aren’t going anywhere and with January hopefully making you feel more reflective, now is the time to get back in touch with your OTA reps.

If you don’t hear from them regularly, be proactive and seek out their help. For all you know, there could be much better ways to manage your listing and there might even be new tools you can use to optimise your presence on such sites which could result in better placements.

Make 2019 the year you foster a healthy relationship with the OTAs you rely on. Challenge them but accept their help when it’s offered. Combined with a conversion-tastic hotel website (see tip above), this is the best strategy for a stellar online presence that will result in plenty of profitable bookings.

Wrapping up

What’s your hotelier new year’s resolution? What have we missed?

Tell us what you’ll be doing this year to bring in more bookings and draw guests away from the big name competition by commenting below!

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In episode 12 of the Welcome Systems podcast, we're joined by two award-winning hoteliers - Frances Meeres Young of Stoberry House and Struan Lothian from Knockendarroch Hotel and Restaurant.

Having both picked up prestigious awards from the Good Hotel Guide this year, we decided to quiz Frances and Struan on what it takes to become a successful independent hotelier in the digital age.

This is a must-listen for any hotelier who wants to know how to raise occupancy, develop a consistent yet personalised service and make the most of the wonderful technology available today.

Find out more about Stoberry House by clicking here

Find out more about Knockendarroch Hotel and Restaurant by clicking here

https://soundcloud.com/user-568165456/the-welcome-systems-podcast-ep12-knockendarroch-and-stoberry

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Online travel agencies aren’t going anywhere - let’s get that particular fact out of the way immediately. That means savvy hoteliers will continue to pay commission for the new bookings generated by sites such as Booking.com.

But that’s not a bad thing. You see, if you’re running one of the latest channel managers for hotels, you’ll benefit from a set of tools that make online distribution a cinch.

Such tools provide you with something rather invaluable: more time to work on your direct booking strategy. And, with that in mind, here’s four direct booking strategies you should be working into your 2019 hotel marketing plan:

1. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly

How often do you encounter websites that don’t work properly on your smartphone? You have to pinch to zoom and read text and, nine times out of ten, you’ll hit the wrong link as you try and navigate the site.

In a 2017 survey by Google, 89% of people confirmed they’re more likely to recommend a brand after a positive mobile browsing experience. How compatible is your hotel’s website with smaller screens? If it’s a frustrating experience, make 2019 the year you go fully mobile-first with your web presence.

2. Reach out to existing guests

The guest email addresses you collect could hold the key to a significant uplift in return bookings.

With an email marketing platform such as Mailchimp or Campaign Monitor, you can finally make use of those email addresses in 2019 by sending tempting offers to stay with you again. And, if your PMS allows you to filter and export specific sets of customers (by business or leisure and demographical data, for instance), you can send highly relevant emails to people who are most likely to engage with them.

Oh, and the good, old-fashioned telephone and snail mail aren’t bad ways to reconnect with old guests, either!

3. Build a rate strategy from past performance

Providing you have a PMS that offers deep analytical data on your guests’ past staying habits, you should be able to create a rate strategy for 2019 that’s influenced by past performance.

Look for your most popular rates by booking channel and try and identify those which were most often booked directly. You clearly got something right, whether it was the inclusion of some free extras for booking direct or the name you chose for the package.

The more you study last year’s performance, the more you’ll be able to spot direct booking trends that will help inform the hotel’s rate strategy for 2019.

4. Find something unique about your hotel - and promote the hell out of it

Every independent hotel is unique. For some, that uniqueness is obvious (the presence of giraffes as dinner guests, for instance), while for others, it’s a little more subtle - but equally compelling.

Whether your property is supposedly haunted by a ghost, once played host to a celebrity or played a minor supporting role in an episode of Dr Who, make a big noise about it next year.

Booking via OTAs is a relatively soulless experience, simply because every hotel is listed in a near-identical fashion. When people reach your hotel’s own website, they want to be drawn into your world, and one of the best ways to achieve that level of engagement is to highlight the one thing that makes your property unique.

Don’t be shy - shout loud and proud about whatever it is that makes your hotel special and have some fun with it; create a special menu or stay package based on the unique element.

Wrapping up

You have the time to undertake the direct booking strategies above, even if it feels like the clock is forever ticking against you.

The trick lies in making your direct booking strategy a vital task that’s present on every day’s to-do list. Find the time, and you’ll find more guests who are willing to come straight to your website rather than book via OTAs. It’s that simple.

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A couple of weeks ago, we asked UK hoteliers what they’d like to buy their hotels for Christmas.

It only seemed fair. After all, on the 25th December, we all get to open our own presents - so why shouldn’t the fabulous hotels that can be found in every nook and cranny of this country get a little treat, too?

Well, we received a whole bunch of requests for Santa (some unpublishable), and we’d like to share the best with you today. Anonymously, of course…

All my hotel wants for Christmas is…

…“A new washing machine”

Clearly, this hotelier (and probably the guests) are a bit fed up with less-than-fragrant washing. Or perhaps the spin cycle has broken (which is understandable - hotel washing machines are hard workers).

…“New staff”

We’ll just leave that one there.

…“A new chef”

And… we’ll leave that one there, too.

…“A drop in VAT”

The 20% VAT rate paid by UK tourism businesses is one of the highest in Europe, and there has long been a campaign to see it slashed to 5%. There’s even a website that encourages those within the industry to rally against the high rate. Can Santa help?

…“A visit from Santa with chocolates for all the staff on Christmas morning”

This seems entirely justified. Long hours and early starts means sugar is a vital pick-me-up for hotel staff, and Christmas means you can eat as much of it as you like - as early as you want in the day!

…“A week off”

Run out of holiday allowance? Maybe Santa can have a word with the person in charge of HR.

…“Christmas off”

More hotels are now opening over the Christmas period as people search for alternative ways to spend time with their family during the festive season. Unfortunately, this desire to leave the cooking and clearing up to someone else inevitably means the responsibility falls on the shoulders of hospitality professionals.

…“A refurb of the reception to create the best first impression”

It’s the first impression most guests get of your hotel, and while it might be a big ask, we’re sure Santa will understand and be able to call on his friends in the trade.

…“Faster internet”

Super-fast broadband is still struggling to make its presence felt across the entire UK. Santa might have his work cut out with this one.

…“The car park resurfaced and spaces made bigger”

We can only assume that the later part of this request is in response to the increasingly massive SUVs and 4x4 ‘Chelsea Wagons’ people are filling their drives with these days.

…“More direct bookings”

We hear Santa knows a thing or two about channel management, so he’s probably in a great position to help out with this particular request.

…“More weddings and event bookings”

Have wedding and event bookings slowed in your hotel? These remain two of the hardest market segments to crack as an independent hotelier.

…“Room refurbs finished quicker”

With guest expectations continually rising for the in-room experience, it’s not unusual for hotels to refurbish rooms more regularly. But, yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if the paint dried a little quicker and the carpet guy turned up on time?

…“Wi-Fi and coffee machines in all guest rooms”

This sounds suspiciously like a guest request, but as these two things are essentially the fuel of life, who are we to question them?

…“A Christmas party for the whole group”

Depending on the hotel group in question, that’s probably one hell of a Christmas party. Although, we’re sure Santa can pull some strings (particularly those of the finance director’s purse…).

…“A staff coffee machine”

Yeah - why should the guests get all the coffee tech? As any hotel worker will know, attempting to get through a long shift without at least a couple of decent coffees is virtually impossible. Ok - harder.

…“Elves to come in and take over at Christmas so the staff can have time off”

Imagine how cool a hotel run by elves would be. This is our favourite; we’ll ask Santa to push it to the top of his list.

Let’s see what Santa brings on Christmas Day morning, eh?

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A recent story that’s shocked the hotel industry is the data hack at Marriott’s Starwood division. Affecting over 500 million customers, the cyberattack resulted in email addresses, passport information and, most worryingly, encrypted credit card data being compromised.

When news stories like this emerge, it’s a reminder that any hotel is at risk of fraud. A security breach can be very damaging - especially in the digital age where hoteliers are requesting more sensitive information from their customers.

Whilst hotel fraud is thankfully pretty rare (thanks in part to software security updates becoming a necessary part of everyday life), regularly assessing the associated risks within your own business should still be a top priority.

The scale of the task for Marriott’s IT security team is not to be underestimated, but this very unfortunate incident is a timely reminder that guest information security must be treated seriously by hotels of all sizes.

Let’s consider some of the modern forms of fraud that can take place in hotels.

1. Loyalty schemes

Loyalty schemes are a great way to ensure customers continually choose a stay at your hotel to keep racking up their points. By rewarding frequent guests with discounted nights or free use of your hotel amenities, you’ll keep them coming back.

However, loyalty schemes also feature an attractive database of information for cyber criminals, due to the belief on their behalf that customer loyalty scheme information is easier to obtain than encrypted credit card data.

By retaining names, email addresses and other sensitive information, your customers can become more susceptible to identity fraud. With the right cybercrime knowledge, their hard-earned points can be compromised or transferred to fraudsters to sneakily reap the benefits of your scheme.

2. Digital check-in

Offering a smartphone app to check in and out of hotels is a great way to increase guest satisfaction. It reduces reception desk queues and makes for a highly convenient stay, thus benefiting both your staff and guests.

However, you should always be aware of the increased risks this type of technology can have on the data you collect.

The depersonalisation of hotel check-ins can unfortunately result in guests being more susceptible to identity fraud. While fraudsters might not be able to bag themselves a free overnight stay, there’s still the possibility of skilled hackers bypassing the check in procedure to make use of guest-only amenities.

3. EMV fraud liability

Card preauthorisation via EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) terminals is by far the most secure way to take payments from hotel customers, be it at the front desk or via an online booking.

EMV-equipped terminals accept fraud liability, which means your hotel and its guests are covered if any fraudulent activity takes place.

If your hotel doesn’t use EMV or a member of staff inadvertently uses a non-EMV-equipped POS terminal at check out, the liability remains with your hotel, which is bad for business and reputation. You should therefore always invest in up-to-date payment technology for your hotel - not just for efficiency, but for the extra security it offers you and your customers.

Wrapping up

Even with adequate security measures in place, it’s important to consider the ways emerging hotel technology can be targeted by cybercriminals for fraudulent activity. Marriott’s recent troubles demonstrate that it really can happen to any business, no matter how deep their pockets for cybersecurity.

Investing in the latest tech to create better guest experiences is still an important strategy for modern, savvy hoteliers, but cybersecurity is unfortunately a topic that isn't going anywhere.

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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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