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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As hotelier problems go, this one is pretty epic.

You’re busy (really busy) but you have absolutely no idea why. As far as you can tell, it isn’t anything to do with the season, there’s no local events on, and your competitors, by comparison, appear to be struggling.

What’s going on? Why are you so awesome at this hotelier lark?

Hospitality is a funny beast. You’ll have periods where you are inexplicably busy and, unfortunately, the same goes when occupancy drops. Sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason for it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a closer look at what’s going on.

Chances are, you’re getting something (or several things) right. And we’d like to give you a head start on your investigations.

People have heard they’ll be getting a great experience

A great guest experience beats a simple bed for the night, hands down, and if you’re personalising the service you offer customers, word will soon get around.

To you, this is the stuff you do each and every day; it comes naturally. But to other, less discerning hoteliers, the idea of using a PMS to its full potential and leveraging guests’ personal and stay data to offer tailored experiences will feel like too much work.

Think about it - you’re not just a hotelier; when people check in, they’re also given detailed information about the area and a reminder that the team is always there for them should they need any assistance in making the most of their time.

The pre- and post-stay emails and text messages you send out are also making a real difference. Guests who stay at your hotel feel welcome, looked after and as though their booking has been tailor-made for them. And you know what? They’ll share that experience with their mates, family and the entire world on social media.

You reward guests

The rewards programme you set up a few months ago may have been a bit of a punt, marketing-wise, but perhaps it’s now starting to take effect.

Once again, as word spreads about the value of being part of your closed group of guests (better rates, room upgrades and whatever else you may have dreamed up for members), people will start to look your way as opposed to the chains.

You’ve nailed the room amenities

Nope, not to the desk…! You’ve nailed your approach to room amenities.

Wi-Fi is free (yes!), each TV offers entertainment on demand, and the money you invested in that keycard system that accepts entry via guest smartphones has all but replaced the need for physical cards.

The process of checking in, using the room and getting stuff done in the hotel when you’re a guest is seamless, fast, efficient and - most importantly - enjoyable.

This stuff really matters.

Your online booking process is mega easy

Lastly, one of the key reasons you’re experiencing consistently high occupancy rates is because you offer a great online booking service on your own website.

Direct bookings are hard to come by in an age where OTAs dominate the online hospitality marketplace, but guests aren’t stupid - they’ll shop around and visit hotel websites before making a decision. It just so happens that yours features an online booking platform that’s a cinch to use and on par with anything the OTAs have to offer.

Wrapping up

This isn’t a fluke - you’re definitely getting something right.

Use our pointers above to suss out where your secret sauce lies… and make some more of it!

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Encouraging people to book a room at your hotel will involve a number of different strategies.

Some are obvious (someone needs a bed for the night – your hotel is well priced, well located and has great reviews).

Others… less obvious (and require some proactive thinking and planning on your part).

One excellent option is to host regular events which will grab the attention of potential guests and give them another reason to choose your hotel over the competition.

These events don’t need to be all-encompassing and over-the-top; you can usually get a leg up with mini events that are interesting enough to turn heads while still being simple and cost effective to organise and run.

Here's three brilliant mini event ideas to get you started, each of which should help boost direct bookings and tempt guests to spend more with you during their stay.

1. Movie screenings

If your hotel is in a relatively isolated area, guests may be tempted to retire to their rooms early after a busy day of exploring their rural surroundings.

Coaxing them out can be tricky (that iPad won’t play with itself, after all), but if you’ve got a unique entertainment experience to offer, they might be more willing to head downstairs and give it a try.

Movie screenings can be an excellent activity, so long as you have a suitable space within the hotel to accommodate such an event.

You could showcase old classics, highlight recent releases or even theme the screenings around the season; just be sure to keep your audience in mind when choosing which films to exhibit.

2. Open mic nights

If your hotel has an appropriately sized bar area, you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to taking full advantage of it.

An open mic night is a good choice, because it’s not only a great way to get guests interested in spending time in the bar, but also helps boost your engagement with the local community and its artists. Of course, guests could have the option of performing themselves, alongside acts from the surrounding area.

It’s a tactic that works for pubs across the UK and is equally impactful in a hotel setting, so long as you make sure that things wrap up promptly and guests aren’t kept awake by the noise.

3. Quiz nights

Another great mini event option for hotels is a quiz night hosted on a weekly basis. The great thing about quizzes is that they’re relatively easy to arrange and run, and appeal to a wide audience.

Again, you’ll need to dedicate the bar or restaurant to the quiz (although a conference room could work, too), with mid-week probably being the best time to host - unless weekends are proving to be quiet in the bar.

You could even tie in the prizes that are on offer with the hotel itself. For instance, why not give the top three teams a discount on their next stay, money off at the bar or some other perk that will keep them coming back for more?

Wrapping up

Whatever route you decide to take with your mini events, it’s definitely worth promoting these added extras so that customers know what to expect when they book.

It could provide an added boost for the hotel’s social media profile, too, because guests will likely tweet and check themselves in on Facebook if they have a good time.

You can highlight your upcoming events schedule with a modern online booking platform and PMS that reminds both guests and reception staff of events taking place during a particular stay. In turn, this should help increase occupancy rates, drive up customer spend and enhance your hotel’s reputation.

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In a move designed to help hospitality businesses better engage with and retain their guests, Welcome Systems has announced a strategic partnership with Guestfolio, Cendyn’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform for hoteliers.

Guestfolio CRM will empower Welcome System’s customers to deliver the right message at the right time through marketing automation across multiple channels. This in combination with a robust email marketing platform, TripAdvisor integration and consolidated guest profiles will offer insights into guest reservations, room stays and inquiries, leading to measurable impact and revenue growth.

Welcome Systems, a UK leader in hospitality software solutions, will use Guestfolio to provide its clients with the ability to integrate every ‘digital touch-point’ before, during and after a guest stay, providing a cohesive view of visitor data in a single platform for tailored guest marketing.

John Jones, MD of Welcome Systems Ltd, explains:

“In an increasingly competitive hospitality sector it’s never been more important for hoteliers to communicate and engage with their guests. Our partnership with Cendyn is a major step in overcoming obstacles to this.

“The way people anticipate a hotel 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.

“Our Welcome Anywhere property management system (PMS) is a perfect fit with Cendyn’s Guestfolio CRM platform, meaning our accommodation business clients can now benefit from the best of both in a single package.

“Guestfolio simply plugs into Welcome Anywhere, extracts historical guest data and synchronises all present and future reservations. From here the system creates tailored marketing campaigns and notifications that can be actively pushed out to guests based on their known likes before, during and after a visit.

“This allows for seamless pre-arrival, confirmation, modification and cancellation messages to be neatly tied in with Welcome Anywhere’s cloud-based PMS, which works across smartphones, tablets and PCs.

“We’re particularly excited about Guestfolio’s Concierge App, which also works on mobile devices and desktop computers. It can be adapted to mirror a hotel’s brand and is instantly updated with guests’ travel requests, details of special hotel events and other attractions in a local area.

“All of this represents the effective use of granular ‘data mining’ and ultimately frees-up a hotelier’s time for other things.

“This is quite unlike anything else on the market and, as the hospitality sector becomes increasingly aware of the value and power of data, we’re thrilled to be at the forefront of these developments.”

Charles Deyo, CEO & President at Cendyn, adds:

“We’re delighted to be partnering with Welcome Systems. Adding them to our data connectivity suite is a testament to our dedication to provide the most integrated CRM platform in the industry

“One of the biggest challenges that faces hotels today is being able to take action on their data. By integrating their PMS with a CRM, as we are doing with Welcome Systems and Cendyn, hoteliers are able to understand and leverage their data to improve the guest experience like never before. We continue to work with robust and innovative PMS vendors like Welcome Systems to ensure hoteliers can take advantage of technology that works fundamentally to put the guests at the heart of what they do.”

Find out more

To find out more about the integration between Welcome Anywhere and Guestfolio, click here.

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Humans are visual creatures, so it makes sense that video is set to dominate internet traffic for the foreseeable future.

Hotels can leverage video to boost engagement with their guests, increase booking rates and secure repeat visits over time.

But where does the real power of video lie and what are the best ways for hotels to harness it effectively today?

Facts & figures

There has been a whole heap of work done to investigate just how impactful video can be as a marketing medium in the age of superfast connectivity and online streaming.

Some of the claims made might sound a little outlandish, but it’s impossible to ignore the weight of evidence that supports them.

For instance, Forrester Research made waves as far back as 2014 with its assertion that 60 seconds of video is just as influential as 1.8 million words of marketing copy. Which would you rather work on as someone tasked with marketing a hotel?

YouTube alone has over 1.5 billion users globally and plays host to an army of content creators, brands and businesses, all of whom are intent on tapping into the vast, ready-made audience the platform offers.

Facebook is also a key player in the video marketing field, with more than 500 million people viewing videos daily through its social platform.

In short, the idea that people engage with video more intensely than any other medium is well established - not just over-enthusiastic hyperbole.

From the perspective of an independent hotelier, the accessibility of video marketing makes it all the more powerful.

Video marketing options for hotels

If you want to sell more rooms and get people interested in visiting your hotel, video will open your doors to a wide, modern audience.

There are lots of ways to harness it effectively, starting with the obvious choice of creating a promotional ad for your hotel. This is easier than you might think, although it’s worth treading cautiously if you fancy the DIY approach.

You could tackle this task head-on yourself, but it’s probably worth investing in professional assistance if you want to avoid ending up with a video that looks amateurish or which ends up taking far more time than you can afford.

Once your ad is finished, you can embed it on your website, share it via social media and start racking up the views on popular streaming platforms like YouTube.

Another approach is to use video as a method to showcase customer testimonials in a way that feels more genuine than relying on a simple written statement on your blog or the emergence of positive TripAdvisor reviews.

Ask regular guests if they’d be happy to appear on camera to say a few words about what makes your hotel special and why they keep coming back for more.

You can push these engaging testimonials out across your social channels and your website. Some platforms - like Instagram and Snapchat - are perfectly designed for bite-sized video content of this kind, so don’t forget to experiment with them to get the best results.

There are even platforms built to facilitate customer-focused video marketing in a way that puts businesses in the driving seat, with StoryTap being a great example of a service that makes it easier and more convenient to control the narrative directly.

Wrapping up

Video creation tools are more affordable and accessible than ever before, so there’s no excuse for independent hotels to overlook this vitally important platform when it comes to optimising their digital marketing efforts.

If you’re a hotelier and you’ve experimented with video, tell us about your experiences in the comments section, below!

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Video is the new normal for marketing, especially in the digital age when streaming services are so widely used.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas to help you raise the profile of your independent hotel with the power of video.

Highlight the local landscape

If your hotel is in a picturesque part of the country, guests will probably be eager to visit because of the surroundings - as much as for the quality of the service you offer.

Try creating a marketing video which showcases the beauty of the local area to capitalise on this. You could factor in things like popular hiking trails, renowned sights and nearby activities to try, with your hotel shown to be the perfect base of operations for adventurous visitors.

Create a narrative

It’s tempting to take the easy route with a video to market your hotel; think grinning guests at the reception desk, smirking chefs preparing food and smiling staff going about their duties.

This is all well and good in theory, but in practice your ad will get overlooked online unless it does something different.

You can stand out by telling a story with your video, whether it focuses on the history of the hotel and the local area, or on some other narrative arc that you’ve conjured up on your own. Whatever it is, make sure it’s original and compelling.

Start a competition

You can get guests involved in your video marketing campaigns by encouraging them to submit their own clips captured at your hotel or recorded during their stay.

Offering an incentive will help drum up submissions. You could provide a prize for the best customer-made video, such as a free room for a night for the winner and a discount for everyone else who gets involved.

Focus on fundraising

Creating video content which is purely designed to market your hotel is a great idea, but there’s only so much promotional material you can pump out. So why not get involved with a good cause, raise some cash for charity and post clips that highlight your admirable efforts?

This is a great way of killing two birds with one stone; diversifying your video output and making your hotel look socially conscious.

Consider social media

Not every video you produce needs to have movie-quality production values and an Oscar-worthy story. In fact in the age of Instagram and Snapchat, audiences are more familiar with bite-sized promos than longer clips.

Stay on top of the latest viral trends and piggyback on popular memes in the social media world if you want to make videos that engage with younger customers. All you need is a smartphone and a knack for knowing what’s sharable (speak to some of your younger staff – they’ll have a great idea).

Embrace VR

OK, this one isn’t going to be suitable for everyone, but stick with us!

Virtual reality (VR) is taking the online video world by storm at the moment, and some large hotel chains are already hooked up to this bandwagon.

VR videos let you give guests 360 degree views of your hotel before their visit. The cost of creating this type of content is always falling, so don’t be put off if it sounds too high-tech at this stage.

Wrapping up

Whatever you decide to do with your hotel marketing video project, make sure you choose something exciting and fresh, avoiding traditional approaches that people will just ignore.

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