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Welcome Anywhere Property Managment System > Blog > Hotel technology

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Research from the UK Card Association confirms that contactless payments totalled a whopping £25 billion in 2016 - up from £7.75 billion in 2015.

This new breed of payment technology - which enables consumers to pay for transactions worth up to £30 with a tap of their payment card or NFC-equipped device (such as a smartphone) - is fast becoming the default way people make every day purchases.

Do you accept contactless payments at your hotel? If not, you need to get on board - quickly.

If you need convincing, we’ve got five quick-fire benefits of accepting contactless payments as a hotelier:

1. Contactless payments are secure

On 8th May, we’re holding a free webinar that will unravel the facts and myths of processing payment cards in the hotel industry. It’s a thorny topic, and one which has created countless issues for the independents.

Thankfully, contactless greatly reduces the risk of card data theft and is therefore something of a relief among a sea of PCI-related anxiety.

There’s no magnetic strip involved, no contact (obviously), and each transaction is ‘single use’, therefore if a hacker attempts to read them and re-use the details, they’re useless.

If you want to learn more about payment card processing for hotels, we highly recommend tagging along to our webinar (it’s free!):

[/fusion_text][button link="http://welcome-anywhere.co.uk/pci-webinar/" color="default" size="" type="" shape="" target="_self" title="" gradient_colors="|" gradient_hover_colors="|" accent_color="" accent_hover_color="" bevel_color="" border_width="1px" shadow="" icon="" icon_position="left" icon_divider="no" modal="" animation_type="0" animation_direction="left" animation_speed="1" alignment="" class="" id=""]REGISTER FOR WEBINAR[/button]

 

2. There’s a growing number of form factors

The old forms of payment (magnetic stripe and even Chip and Pin) rely on a card for the transaction to take place. With contactless, the applications for the technology are almost limitless.

Beyond traditional payments cards, the latest breed of smartphones and smartwatches typically feature Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, which enables them to transform into payment devices.

Key fobs, vehicles and virtually anything that can contain contactless technology will open up a whole new world of payments for both businesses and consumers.

3. It’s ultra-convenient for all

Given the aforementioned statistics from last year, there’s a strong chance you will have used contactless to pay for something. If you have, you’ll know how ridiculously convenient it is, too.

Just retrieve your card, tap the Chip and Pin machine, and you’re done. There’s no fumbling for change on behalf of you or the retailer and the entire transaction is completed within mere seconds.

Contactless payments are convenient for everyone. They’ll raise guest satisfaction, improve the working lives of reception staff and keep check-out queues to a minimum.

4. There’s plenty of opportunities for further innovation

We’ve already established that the application of contactless technology can take place in a whole host of devices and environments, and that makes it ripe for innovation.

Magnetic stripes and Chip and Pin cards could only be taken so far, but the sky is the limit with contactless. Get on board now, and you could benefit from some serious hospitality-led developments featuring this form of technology in the not-too-distant future.

Combining payments with door entry and in-room entertainment systems will be just the start.

5. Contactless is about far more than convenient payments

It’s important to remember that one of the main benefits of contactless for hoteliers is how convenient it is for guests. And, beyond payment processing, it can do far more for the people who enter your property.

When combined with a smartphone app, contactless can offer detailed payment history (no more confusion over who paid the last bar bill!), user-configured pin protection (more security!) and even remote deactivation.

Wrapping up

Have we convinced you to invest in contactless technology for your hotel? Thought so. The good news? It’s very straightforward and won’t break the bank. Speak to your card acquirer or bank today to find out more.

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The hospitality industry continues to benefit from some wonderful innovation. Hotel booking systems are now affordable, intuitive powerhouses and in-room services have moved far beyond the provision of a flat screen TV and WiFi internet connection.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved in this industry, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But, what’s next? Where else will these wondrous technological advances take us?

We think there are three hotel tech trends on the horizon that will change the experience for both guests and staff forever (and for the better).

1. Cashless, card-less, wallet-less payments

If truth be told, the payment revolution is already taking place, with people swapping cash and cards for tap-and-pay chips installed within their smartphones and smartwatches. But, equally, this is still a relatively nascent technology and one that hasn’t achieved world domination.

Yet.

If you’re a hotelier operating in the UK, chances are you’ll be familiar with guests using contactless payment cards to settle bills below £30. Some may even be using the aforementioned tech to do so, and it’s hard to discredit the convenience offered by this evolution of payment.

In the not-too-distant future, everyone will likely do away with cash and cards. Near Field Communication (NFC) technology is now present in virtually every new smartphone, and as services such as Android Pay and Apple Pay become household names, they’ll be relied upon by vast swathes of the population. It’s infectious, too; once you’ve seen the ease with which a friend can pay for their drink at the bar with a simple tap of their phone, you’ll want ‘in’, too.

The hotel booking system will play a vital role in the payment revolution, with the systems of tomorrow integrating payment functionality directly into the software itself. That potentially means the end of fiddly Chip and Pin machines and costly acquirer contracts.

If your hotel booking system is PCI complaint (if it isn’t, you need to look for one that is), it will also offer the ability to keep a safe record of guest payment card details. And the change afforded by this functionality will be more of a strategic one, forcing hotels that have perviously relied on what are effectively gentlemen’s agreements for securing bookings to switch to far more secure, reliable methods that offer full protection for the business.

2. The end of the traditional hotel check-in?

This is a tricky subject, because on the surface it involves digitising and - as far as many independent hoteliers are concerned - de-humanising the guest check-in experience.

It demands exploration, though, because we’re living in an increasingly automated society. As discussed during our recent webinar with BookingSuite, the digital, convenient experiences offered by other elements of travel, such as flights and Uber rides, needs to continue once the guest reaches the hotel.

Similarly, the rise of digital personal assistants like Siri and Amazon Alexa is offering consumers functionality within their homes and while travelling that was once the stuff of sci-fi movies. If you can walk into your living room and ask a small circular device to turn your lights on (which it does - instantly), why shouldn’t you expect an autonomous check-in experience when you enter a hotel?

Independent hotels will always set themselves apart from the chain, flatpack hotel competition with the service they offer, and while the traditional hotel check-in desk’s days probably are numbered, the importance of attentive, human service to compliment the technology will increase. Hospitality was, is and always will be a people business, after all.

3. Rise of the IoT

At it’s base level, the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) simply refers to devices that possess internet connectivity. Smart fridges, TVs and doorbells are already entering the home and providing owners with the ability to keep tabs on their property, no matter where they happen to be.

Such technology is also making its way into hotels, with large chains introducing Amazon Alexa personal assistants and making changes to their building management systems that provide guests with ultimate control over every aspect of their room.

The challenge at the moment is one of cost; introducing IoT devices at scale still represents a significant investment for independent hotels, but as tech firms continue to innovate, prices will start to fall, enabling every accommodation owner to dip their toes into the IoT revolution.

Wrapping up

Excited? We are. With change comes opportunity, and the technology we’re starting to see filter into the top-end of the hospitality industry won’t take long to make it’s way into the independents. That means better guest experiences can be created and a more profitable business maintained.

What are you looking forward to the most? Tell us below!

On 8th May 2017, we’re holding a webinar which will dive deep into PCI DSS compliance and explore the facts (and myths) of processing guest payment cards. Places are limited, so why not book a front row seat today, by clicking below:

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What you NEED TO KNOW about PCI compliance

A Welcome Systems Ltd Webinar

When: 8th May 2017, 10:30am (UK time)

The handling and storage of payment cards is a thorny issue within the hospitality sector and there is confusion as to how payment cards should be handled, leaving businesses offering accommodation feeling vulnerable to penalties.

There are mixed messages as to how 'no-shows' should be handled and some acquirers do not provide the necessary clear instructions. In this 45 minute webinar, Welcome Systems will seek to unravel the truth and leave the viewer with a very clear picture of the requirements for handling reservations and payments within this sector, while at the same time ensuring the processes adopted comply with the PCI DSS standard.

The session will be chaired by More Fire PR’s Director Mark Ferguson, who will be joined by:

  • Industry and PCI expert Tracey Long (Senior Manager Payment Data Security, Worldpay, PCI SSC Board of Advisors Member 2015-2017 & Chair UK Acquirers Compliance SIG)
  • Connie G. Penn MIBC (Managing Director Kilrush Consultancy Ltd, Vice-Chair UK Acquires Compliance SIG)
  • Paul Brennecker CISM (experienced Principal Consultant / QSA, heading up the PCI team at Security Risk Management Ltd, formerly a member of the PCI compliance team at Barclaycard in Northampton)

Places are limited, so book yours today by filling in the form below:

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We live in a world dominated by big data. It's everywhere, thanks to social media and the many ways in which services like Google collect and use our personal information.

From a hotelier's perspective, data can be an incredibly powerful ally and enable a number of marketing methods that simply weren't possible a few short years ago. In our blog of the week, The Caterer takes a look at a recent panel held at the Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin where industry experts suggested that modern hoteliers should prioritise data. They also touched on the thorny topic of the dominance of OTAs, with one panel member claiming, "hotel websites leave much to be desired. There’s a reason OTAs are winning out.”

It makes for very interesting reading indeed, and we couldn't agree more when it comes to the ways in which hoteliers should be leveraging data in the digital age.

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When I was an 11-year-old kid in the seventies, we had a book club at school. Every month, we’d be given a pamphlet from the incomprehensibly-named 'Scholastic Book Services' (I thought it must have been the same company my mum bought her corn plasters from) and asked to choose a book for delivery next month. It was a proper treat, as we had to pay real money for them - a fact that always had us eagerly awaiting their arrival.

Some weeks later, the class members and I would sit patiently as the teacher handed out our orders from a box containing not only lovely, shiny books but what looked like a massive bird’s nest of shredded cardboard. The smell of those books will stay with me forever.

The lad Cousins got a book about river monsters and my mate Bass one about Spain. I couldn’t wait for mine to be given to me, because I'd chosen one that was mysteriously called something like Technology of The Future. After school, I rushed home and sat looking at my new purchase with my brother.

How we laughed! There was an artist’s impression of a household robot which, we were told, would do your ironing come 1985 (it looked like an upturned ice cream cone with vacuum cleaner pipes for arms). Clearly, this was ridiculous. A house-cleaning robot? Pull the other one!

Another page revealed a personal jet car, complete with a business-like dad with massive sideburns, strapped in for his early morning commute through the stratosphere to his workplace at Hong Kong Plastics Inc. To my 11-year-old eyes, this looked far more plausible.

The page which had us falling about in hysterics at its ludicrousness, however, was one which alleged that the TV (the big piece of oak furniture which mum polished with Pledge every Sunday) would actually become as slim as a picture frame and hang on the wall at some point in the future.

How we laughed.

And we laughed some more.

TVs on the wall indeed...!

Then, we chucked the book and went out on our Raleigh Choppers to perform skids, just like Barry Sheene.

Fast-forward to now. Some hoteliers scoff at what is said to be coming next, and even at stuff that's already here. Customer profiling via social media feeds directly into the hotel booking system; mood lighting controlled from the hotel’s app; receptionless check-in and smartphone door keys; in-room comfort cooling temperatures set by social media profiles; food and drink preferences known before the guest’s arrival. The list is endless.

And then we have the guest journey, which is unrecognisable from what it once was. Driven by online reviews and a multitude of booking channels, modern guests have full control over the booking process and expect nothing but the best. When they enter the hotel reception, they bring with them preconceptions about the experience they'll have, derived from tech-laden journeys on commercial flights and devices in their pockets that deliver serious computing horsepower.

Hoteliers should ignore these predictions and emerging trends at their peril. I was reminded of this unavoidable fact as I watched TV last night; mine is now two inches thick and hangs above the fireplace.

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“It just looks like a great, big bowl of spaghetti,” mused Welcome Systems’ Managing Director, John Jones, as a slide depicting the current state of hotel technology appeared on the screen.

John was taking part in a webinar held jointly with Booking.com that dared to ask the question: “what technology do customers expect from your property in 2017?”. Billed as a unique insight into the requirements of increasingly tech literate guests, the presentation didn’t disappoint.

Joined by Sam Biddlecombe, who has been with Booking.com for over three years, John set the scene by suggesting that technology partnerships would help hotels become successful in the digital economy.

“Hotels need to partner with the best,” John explained. “We’re well aware that the industry has been through some tough times recently, with a squeeze on resources and impending difficulties surrounding recruitment making for a challenging time ahead.”

“No one talks to each other…”

As Sam explained during his opening remarks, “the industry is in a mess. No one talks to each other unless a fee is involved. This is why Booking.com wants to create a one-stop-shop that brings together PMS, online booking and rate management.”

This collective desire to connect and demystify hospitality technology led to a partnership between Booking.com’s BookingSuite utility and the Welcome Anywhere hotel booking system - the first integration of its kind to take place in the UK.

Next, Sam revealed some promising research from Visit Britain that suggests overseas visits to the UK are likely to increase in the coming months with both American and Chinese citizens in particular choosing these very shores for their annual getaways.

Perhaps more importantly, Visit Britain is making sure such visitors are encouraged to step foot outside of London and explore the surrounding areas. As John was quick to highlight, this is great news for accommodation providers, and offers plenty of opportunity to meet the challenging market conditions head-on.

Lessons from the airline industry

In order to capitalise on the expected influx of overseas holidaymakers and tech literate UK guests, John and Sam agreed that hotels could do a lot worse than learn from the airline industry.

“Although I’m not keen on the term, millennials are all about getting information fast. I sit within that generation, and I don’t own a laptop - the only computer I have is my smartphone, “ explained Sam. “For example, I took an extended break over the festive period and used only my smartphone throughout the entire booking journey.”

“I’m off to Heathrow a little later today, and I did the exact same thing,” agreed John. “I didn’t turn to my laptop once while booking the tickets. The airline sector relies heavily on tech comforts during the booking process, onboard the flight and for the aftercare. Experience is vital when it comes to travel and hospitality.”

Sam went on to highlight that everything is now made super easy thanks to technology, whether it be on board a plane or in an Uber taxi; “you’ll readily find free WiFi and can even connect your smartphone to the car in order to listen to your favourite music.

“The reason we’re talking about the flight experience in particular is because overseas visitors will have experienced a level of tech comfort during that part of their journey that they’ll expect to continue into their hotel stay. They want an amazing experience throughout.”

“The tech on offer in the airline industry is driven by the needs of the customer,” continued John. “Thankfully, this is now starting to filter down into the PMS world, too, as we recently demonstrated with the introduction of a guest-facing group booking system that enables bookers to take control of their stay.”

A great web presence should be top of the hotelier agenda

Google’s recent change to their search algorithm means that websites lacking mobile compatibility will begin to lose serious ground within search results. As both John and Sam explained during the webinar, the effects of this could be disastrous for hoteliers who don’t invest time in their web presence.

“Google aren’t doing this to demote websites - they’re doing it to provide the best possible user experience,” explained Sam. “There’s also a common misbelief that managing your own website is an expensive endeavour, but it simply doesn’t have to be, if you choose the right platform.”

“It also pays to find a web company that appreciates the hotel sector,” added John. “And definitely use professional photos. We’ve seen some shockers in our time, and great, unique, up-to-date photography will help reflect the spirit and values of the hotel. Likewise, hoteliers can build a sense of community by collecting reviews online.”

PCI compliance was also highlighted as an absolute essential for hotels in the modern age, along with clutter-free web design, clear placement of the ‘Book Now’ button and a focus on story telling, rather than dull, uninspiring hotel descriptions.

Data: the hotelier’s secret weapon

“The most important thing is always the customer,” concluded Sam. “Hotels have a huge advantage here, which lies in the data they hold.”

Sam proceeded to tell the story of the hotel at which he regularly stays, in part because of their recognition of his favourite mini bar snack, which he finds replenished in greater numbers whenever he revisits.

“Hotels that don’t profile guests are losing out,” confirmed John. “Guests are now engaged much earlier on in the booking process, and by offering a sense of authenticity and focusing on random acts of kindness by introducing the little things that people remember, hotels can increase the chances of repeat bookings.”

Conclusion

The hospitality industry has been through some tough times of late, and the road ahead still looks decidedly bumpy, but as John and Sam so eloquently explained during today’s webinar, there remains a huge number of opportunities for hoteliers, if they’re prepared to invest in the best technology.

Guests will increasingly expect their ‘tech comforts’, wherever they happen to be staying. Is your hotel, B&B or guesthouse ready for the modern customer?

The quotes contained in this post are abridged. Below is a recording of the full webinar:

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Uh-oh, what’s Google up to now?

Last year, it was announced that the search giant would be introducing something called a ‘mobile-first index’. This sent the internet into a bit of a meltdown with web designers the world over suddenly making themselves very prominent indeed, suggesting that businesses, bloggers and anyone with a passing interest in being found online should immediately review their websites.

They certainly had a point, but is this something the hotel industry should be concerned about?

Not to spoil the surprise, but the answer’s “yes”. Firstly, though, let’s answer another question that is no doubt on the tip of your tongue…

What is the mobile-first index?

When you conduct a search on Google, the search engine delves into a massive repository of stored websites. This is known as the ‘index’, and is the primary way Google retains detailed information about virtually every website on the planet.

For many years, Google sorted through its index with the mindset of a desktop user; mobile versions of the same websites would be treated as important, but second to their desktop counterparts.

Not any more. The mobile-first index represents a complete about-turn on that strategy; Google is now expected to treat mobile websites as the primary pages to index, pushing desktop versions into second place.

We say ‘expected’, because no one really knows what Google is up to, but the mobile-first index seems rather overdue in a world that has seen smartphone adoption reach stratospheric levels.

Should you be worried for your hotel’s website?

There’s a simple test you can perform here to settle your mind a little.

Grab your smartphone and load up your hotel’s website. Take a look at how it displays. Is it instantly easy to use without any pinching or zooming? Can you interact with every page element including the all-important ‘book now’ button for your online booking system?

If so - good news, your website is mobile friendly and therefore already tuned for Google’s mobile-first index.

However, if you find yourself squinting, pinching, fruitlessly tapping and basically bashing the screen of your smartphone into oblivion in an attempt to make the website work, you really will need to do something about it.

What to do if your website isn’t mobile-friendly

Let’s assume that your website has failed the mobile-friendly test. What to do?

Well, while it might be tempting to utter a few swear words, have a quiet cry and sweep it all under the carpet in the hope that the mobile-first index is just a passing phase, it’d be rather more prudent to get to work building a mobile-ready web presence.

There are a significant number of things that go into creating a brilliant hotel website, but the most important thing you can do is seek help.

You can’t - and, indeed, shouldn’t - do this yourself. While there are plenty of self-build web design tools out there, nothing beats the steady, experienced hand of a professional web designer.

Good news: we can help. Contact our team today to find out how our web design service will ensure your website is ready for Google’s new focus on mobile websites.

We’ll get through this together!

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[fusion_text]We live in very exciting times - particularly if you work in the hospitality industry. New tech surrounds us and arrives practically every day, but as a hotelier, how do you navigate the digital economy, suss out the solutions most appropriate to your business and invest in the stuff that will help you become more profitable?

Most importantly, what do your guests expect from technology and how can you leverage their interest in the latest devices and trends in order to fill more beds?

We think we have the answers, and on February 22nd, we'll be discussing this topic in detail with Booking.com. We'd love you to join us!

In this thirty minute webinar, John Jones from Welcome Systems Ltd and Booking.com's Samuel Biddlecombe will cover the latest technology available to hotels and discuss what the guest of 2017 might expect before, during and after their stay.

John and Samuel will discuss the following:

  • Optimism in the UK hotel market (visitor numbers and spend set to rise);
  • what customers expect today;
  • what today’s travel customer looks like;
  • how to create a great online experience;
  • untangling hotel technology;
  • how to use technology to drive revenue.

The live webinar will take place on Wednesday, February 22nd between 11:00am and 11:30am GMT.

To register for free, click below:

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Workplace by Facebook for hotels

The world’s largest social network, and the platform on which most people post holiday photos and ill-judged Brexit jokes appears to have donned a suit and tie, dug out its best shoes and updated its ageing CV.

Yep, that’s right - Facebook now means business. Literally.

Workplace is Facebook’s take on a business communication platform (or, for those of us old enough to remember - the venerable intranet). It’s a bit like Slack, which has long attempted to be the default replacement for email. The problem with Slack, however, is that few people understand what its main function is and, as such, you’d be hard pushed to say it has become a ubiquitous tool.

Facebook is different, though. With over a billion active users, an enormous percentage of the population is familiar with the way it looks, operates and its central purpose. And, even if that purpose is to share amusing videos of cats, Facebook can at least claim to be a common fixture within popular culture and an intrinsic part of people’s lives.

So, what does this mean for Workplace? Good things, surely? If they’ve decided to turn their hand to the world of work by effectively copying and pasting the Facebook experience into the commercial realm, a pre-existing user base will clearly be lying in wait.

Not necessarily. Just like Slack, the reason for Workplace’s existence takes some explaining, and in this post we’re going to consider whether or not it could be of use to hotels.

Enough, already! What is Workplace?

Workplace is a mobile and web-based app built by the team at Facebook. Originally called ‘Facebook Work’, it has actually been in use for several years within the confines of Facebook’s own offices. A beta test was also undertaken last year, which may account for some of the big names taking pride of place on the official website, that include Oxfam, RBS and none other than Booking.com.

Workplace is a single place where colleagues can chat, share information, conduct video conferences, create groups for specific projects, run polls and post important company updates. It’s a pin board, intranet and communication platform, all rolled into one.

Here’s what the main news feed looks like:

Workplace by Facebook

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Why could it replace my email inbox?

OK… it won’t. Sorry. Email continues to occupy an important role in the world of work and, despite its age, is one of the primary methods of communication guests tend to opt for.

Email won’t go anywhere for some time, but Workplace could help you reduce the amount of internal email.

The service includes built-in text-based and video chat and, if you’ve used Facebook for those purposes, you’ll know just how convenient they can be for asking quick questions or sharing something with a friend.

Hotels that adopt Workplace and encourage staff to use it for communicating with colleagues should see a reduction in the number of ‘reply all’ emails that make their way around the building. Because Workplace is instantly accessible on a smartphone, staff are far more likely to reach for that rather than their inbox when chatting digitally with their peers.

Is Workplace free?

No. At least, not after the initial three month trial.

Most independent hotels will fall into the pricing bracket for 1,000 active users or less, in which you’re asked to pay $3 per user, per month for the privilege of using Workplace. That’s about par for the course for such a tool.

What sets Workplace apart from Facebook?

So similar are the list of features (chat, groups, news feeds, events, etc), that you’d be forgiven for assuming that Facebook are pulling a bit of a fast one with Workplace, but that would be a little unfair.

It’s a devilishly simple distinction, but the difference between Workplace and Facebook lies in the fact that they don’t intrude upon one another. Workplace is for work, Facebook is for leisure - simple. The former doesn’t bother you with what Auntie Sally had for dinner last night and has zero advertising to get in the way of collaborating with colleagues.

They’re both essentially the same service, but minor differences (including custom domains for logging in - i.e. myhotel.facebook.com) appear to have successfully tuned Workplace for the role it intends to fulfil.

Is Workplace by Facebook right for my hotel?

This is a question only you can answer and one that will probably come to light once you’ve taken advantage of the free trial, but we think it’s worth a punt, if only to help reduce the amount of internal email.

Staff should feel comfortable using their own mobile device at work if it aids their productivity and ability to collaborate with colleagues, and the benefit Workplace has over its rivals is that it harnesses the power of a platform most people are familiar with. By putting it in place at your hotel, you’ll be staying ahead of the curve and demonstrating a desire to use new technology that delivers genuine benefits to the workforce.

Have you tried out Workplace in your hotel? If so, we’d love to know how you got on. Tell us your story in the comments section below!

Main image credit: Workplace by Facebook

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Chat bots for hotels

Back in May, Booking.com launched a ‘Booking Messages Interface’ which promised to ‘empower customers to personalise their stay’ by using only their smartphone. In a further bid to improve guest communication, the giant of the OTA world has also promised to offer full integration with Facebook Messenger’s emerging ‘chat bot’ technology.

These new services intend to replace the previous method used by guests to contact hotels, which utilised a pop-up box on the Booking.com website that resulted in an email sent to the hotel in question. Unfortunately, given the communication channel employed, this meant that responses were often delayed by up to 48 hours.

Booking.com’s new messaging service utilises their existing Pulse app which is currently used by hotel staff to view bookings and daily lists of arrivals and departures. The addition of guest messaging within Pulse makes this particular app a fascinating tool for hoteliers and front desk teams.

Instant messaging is a great step forward, but in this post, we’re going to focus on chat bots, because we can guarantee the mere mention of them in the first paragraph will have raised one of your eyebrows, and we think they could prove rather useful for hotels.

What is a chat bot?

If you’ve ever said “Hello, Google” or “Hey, Siri” to your mobile phone, you’ve engaged in light conversation with a piece of software. Chat bots follow the same principal by bringing automated customer service to businesses and consumers. Basic questions can now be answered by clever algorithms that rely on a standard set of responses and a healthy dose of artificial intelligence (AI).

Chat bots, like Siri and search engines, are able to respond to natural questioning, thus negating the need to type in specific queries in order to obtain the right answer. They understand inference and are becoming increasingly adept at detecting regional dialect and slang. It is - almost - like talking to a human being.

Facebook? What have they got to do with chat bots?

Chances are either yourself or someone in your household uses Facebook Messenger. It is estimated to have one billion active users globally, who rely on it daily to communicate with friends and relatives. Messenger exists as an app in its own right, separate to that of the standard Facebook service.

The team at Facebook were quick to spot the opportunity to extend Messenger’s capability by enabling third parties to tap into its communication channel. As a result, the concept of chat bots was born, and following extensive development, these virtual assistants are now being pitched by the social networking giant to businesses who want to more easily ‘reach people on mobile’.

Facebook’s Messenger chat bots enable customers to ask businesses questions and receive human-like answers instantly, by using an app they already have installed on their smartphone and with which they are completely familiar.

Consider the application in retail, where a consumer might ask their favourite shoe shop which running trainers they have available for under £80. Almost instantly, they’ll receive a rich response that features images and links to appropriate products. With a chat bot, such a conversation can be conducted from within Facebook Messenger, negating the need to pick up the phone or install a separate app.

But what about hospitality?

Benefits of chat bots for hotels

This all sounds great, but why should you consider using chat bots at your hotel?

Here’s why we think they might eventually trump the more traditional forms of communication, such as telephone or email:

  • Guests can explore accommodation options at their own pace, without fear of wasting someone’s time on the phone (no matter how nice or patient that person appears to be)
  • Chat bots don’t sleep, and can therefore be quizzed whenever the need strikes
  • People are intrinsically used to messaging services, given the prevalence of SMS in every day life - dealing with a chat bot is just like sending instant messages to friends and therefore instantly familiar and convenient
  • Conversations are rarely lost with chat bots thanks to notifications which can be instigated to remind a waylaid user that they are halfway through a discussion

How hotels could use chat bots

Think of the regular conversations your front desk staff have with guests. How much is a double room on X date? Do you allow dogs? Is WiFi free? Having to deal with repetitive questions has long been a part of hotel life, but regardless of how determined you are to put on a friendly face when asked them for the eighteen-thousandth time, we now live in a society that communicates in vastly different ways - and those ways that can be leveraged to take the load off your front desk.

A chat bot could conceivably be used by guests to find out the following types of hotel information with some very natural questioning:

  • “Do you have any rooms free tonight?”
  • “I’ve got a very well-behaved dog. Can I bring her with me when we stay in September?”
  • “Do you offer conference facilities and, if so, how much would your largest room be for a three day conference?”
  • “I’ll need transport to the airport on the day I leave - can you help?”
  • “I’d like to book a room with a jacuzzi. Please let me know if you have any and when they are free next week.”

Clearly, hotel booking system providers will need to get in on the act and start integrating their systems with chat bot services to ensure the answers delivered to guests are accurate and extend to enable booking, but imagine how slick such a service would be…

It certainly gets us excited.

Summary

Facebook’s Messenger chat bot functionality is still believed to be in beta, but it represents a fascinating opportunity for hotels to connect with guests more regularly without having to invest significant time in doing so.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on chat bots and will of course keep you updated as they develop, but if you have any thoughts on this emerging technology, please let us know in the comments below.

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