There's nothing quite like a group booking in the hotel trade. A single enquiry that results in several room sales is great for revenue, a boon for occupancy and nothing more than good, solid business which also levers food sales.

Unfortunately, hotel booking systems have often made something of a ham-fisted attempt at implementing functionality for the management and processing of group bookings. That's why we've always focused on refining this element of Welcome Anywhere to ensure it's as approachable and deeply functional as it should be.

We also understand that group reservations are just as important to the booker as they are to the hotel. Often, they'll be linked to a key occasion such as a wedding, anniversary, christening or important business event. As a result, such customers can become rather cumbersome to deal with. They'll call the hotel every day, with numerous requests from Uncle Albert to have his room moved or Sarah from accounts who needs a garden view of an evening to aid contemplation of the latest end of year figures.

While it's undoubtedly lovely for hotels to be given the opportunity of regularly speaking to guests, dealing with group bookings can become a burden, with reception staff rapidly growing tired of the endless requests and changes issued.

We'd like to put a stop to this, and we think we've done so with the latest feature addition for Welcome Anywhere.

Enter the guest group booking portal

So, how do you lift the burden from the reception team when it comes to group bookings? You put (some of) the power in the hands of the guest!

With that in mind, we put our development team to work on creating a guest-facing group booking portal, and the results are rather profound.

The new feature enables hotels to provide group bookers with a web address from which the customer can swap people around, change the numbers of guests and add special requests to their heart's content, without ever having to speak to the hotel:

Every change they make is automatically communicated back to Welcome Anywhere, without the hotel staff having to lift a finger:

The time saved on behalf of the hotel is vast, and by giving the group booker just enough control to make the many, common changes on the lead up to the booking (but not enough to do any harm to the hotel's occupancy) everyone benefits.

The guest group booking portal is available today. To find out more about this feature or indeed anything to do with the Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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ncedo1zg_400x400Earlier this month, we launched a brand new online booking system for hotels. Designed with a mobile-first mindset and drawing on thirteen years of experience, the new platform represents a seismic leap forward for Welcome Anywhere.

Forever a hospitality original, we were one of the first in the industry to develop an online hotel reservation system. Launched in 2003, it grew to become one of the most popular in the sector, thanks to its ability to slot seamlessly into any hotel website and provide a satisfyingly easy to use booking process.

Things are changing, though. Consumers are evolving. Technology will never, ever slow down. And, by 2020, experts predict 70% of the world’s population will be using a smartphone.

That’s 6.1 billion smartphones in use across the globe; a clear indication that when most people need to reach for a computing device, they’ll go straight for the mini computer in their pocket.

The new Welcome Anywhere online booking system isn’t just for now, it’s for the future. Pick up any device, and you’ll be able to book a room via a simple, step-by-step process we’ve refined over the course of thirteen years. Only, now, it’s fresher, more inviting, more addictive and more user friendly than ever before.

That means happy guests and - most importantly - more direct bookings for hotels.

But what goes into creating such a system? Who’s behind the bits and bytes?

We took some time out to speak to a member of the Welcome Systems development team, Jack McGuire, who played a pivotal role in the creation of the new online booking system.

WS: Hi, Jack. Congrats on finishing the first version of the new online booking system! What were your main priorities for the hotelier during the development process?

Jack: “When re-designing the new online booking system, we wanted to achieve a modern, clean look that worked great on mobile and desktop. We wanted to retain the customisation options from the previous system but build on them significantly to give the hotelier as much control as possible.

“We also wanted to build a platform that packed functionality into the booking process for guests whilst ensuring it was still easy for hoteliers to promote their rooms and better highlight what made the property special.”

WS: What did you want to achieve with the new online booking system for the guest?

Jack: “We wanted to create a consistent core experience across every hotel that uses our system, while ensuring that specific areas (content, background images and the like) could be customised for each hotel’s needs and branding.

“Most importantly, we wanted the booking process to remain the same, no matter where it was placed, increasing familiarity across the board.

“We also wanted to ensure it was easy to use, which may sound easy in itself, but including all of the features we wanted to pack into the system required a lot of planning and tweaking to make it usable. Lastly, the system is fully responsive, meaning the guest can access it on any device, be it a mobile phone, tablet or desktop PC.”

WS: What challenges did you meet along the way?

Jack: “The biggest challenge we had was the accommodation page. That particular page could have turned into a behemoth, as it includes all of the hotel’s room types, rates, room images, descriptions and more.

“To avoid it becoming a monster, we spent a lot of time thinking and re-thinking the user experience until we settled on something that was intuitive.”

WS: What single piece of functionality are you most proud of?

Jack: “The theme options and customisation. We could have taken the same approach as the old system by allowing techies to access the CSS code, but that requires the hotel to have a web developer or someone with good knowledge of CSS to make changes to the look and feel of the online booking system. Not ideal.

“We instead included theme options that enable anyone to go in and brand their own online booking system to match the rest of their website.”

WS: Which element(s) of the new system do you expect to shake up the hotel industry?

Jack: “The booking cart allows for very quick and easy group bookings to be made and provides a clear and concise view of the booking being made. Few competing systems we reviewed during the planning stage seemed to get this element right.”

WS: What new technologies and techniques did you have to adopt in order to take the new online booking system from concept to reality?

Jack: “We decided to take a different approach to creating the front end of the app by using a PHP framework. I haven’t done much development with PHP frameworks before and this required new learning and techniques for me to get going, but it was worth it - the app is really snappy as a result!”

WS: How do you see the system developing in the future?

Jack: “I would like to see a centralised system that can connect hotels within a group together (although we do offer this already for any hotel group that wants to build its own, bespoke online booking system).

“I would also like to expand on the accommodation screen, by allowing hoteliers to set a display order for rates and rooms. Lastly, it would be cool to give them the ability to set specific rooms as premium in order to add even more depth and customisation.”

WS: Thanks, Jack (and to the rest of our wonderful development team)!

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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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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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Since the beta launch of Welcome Anywhere earlier this year, it has received a number of tweaks to the look and feel of the user interface. We are refining it further every week and, as we near the launch of the system, we have once again been busy with the paintbrush.

In this blog post, we want to show a sneak peak of the new design. We're not going to show you much, though - you'll have to wait until next week for that. Here is the 'old' login screen:

Old Welcome Anywhere login page

...and here is the new login screen:

New Welcome Anywhere login page

There's not a huge difference, at first glance. Some clouds in the background, a more rounded login window and refined typeface... Big deal? Actually - yes! The changes run far, far deeper than that. We have significantly refined the entire user interface and we can't wait to show you it.

Stay tuned...

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