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News reports have confirmed that hospitality giant, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), recently suffered a serious data breach, with hackers stealing the payment card data from over one-thousand of its properties.

The group originally thought just twelve hotels had been affected, until an investigation proved otherwise.

Of the 5,000 properties IHG operates worldwide, around 1,175 are thought to have been targeted with malware designed to steal information from the magnetic stripe on guest payment cards.

What happened exactly?

IHG have undertaken their own investigation, which completed in March. They discovered that malware had been running on hotel front desk systems between September 29 and December 29, 2016.

The malware showed no sign of activity beyond December 29th last year, but the group wasn’t able to remove it until after the investigation this March.

In a statement on their website, the hotel chain confirmed that the breach was widespread: "Many IHG-branded locations are independently owned and operated franchises and certain of these franchisee operated locations in the Americas were made aware by payment card networks of patterns of unauthorized charges occurring on payment cards after they were legitimately used at their locations”.

What kind of data was stolen?

Because the malicious software was designed to steal data directly from the magnetic stripe of guest payment cards, it’s likely information such as the cardholder name, sixteen-digit number, expiration date and internal verifications codes will have been accessible by hackers.

How many people have been affected?

As with most data breaches, the exact number of people directly affected by the attack is unclear.

In fact, IHG haven’t released any indicative numbers, but they have created a lookup tool which can be used to find out the exact hotels that were infected and the duration the malware was active.

Currently, there are three countries listed - the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, but the tool allows you to choose individual states within each.

What is IHG doing?

IHG has notified law enforcement of the data breach and the speed with which they’ve implemented the aforementioned lookup tool demonstrates an admirable desire to be completely transparent about the breach.

IHG is also working closely with payment card networks and cyber security firms in order to confirm that the malware has been completely removed. It’s understood that measures are underway to ensure individual IHG properties are better protected against such attacks.

What can independent hoteliers learn from this data breach?

As is often the case with headline-grabbing news, the eye is in the detail, and if you dig deeper, you discover that IHG franchise hotels running the group’s Secure Payment Solution (SPS) were not affected by the data breach.

SPS is a point-to-point encrypted payment acceptance solution which enables the safe transportation of guest payment card details. Clearly, it did it’s job in this case, by preventing the malware from accessing the precious personal data it was after.

The lesson, therefore, is a relatively simple one: if you run a hotel, it’s vital that you understand the implications of running insecure payment systems. There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a world rife with cyber crime, and businesses must do all they can to protect their customer’s data.

By implementing a PCI DSS compliant payment solution, you’ll ensure your hotel is as prepared as it can be for any form of data breach designed to steal payment card information.

Despite this, many hotels continue to circumnavigate rules that are deemed too confusing. This is often the case for hoteliers who have been in receipt of an eighteen-page PCI questionnaire full of acronyms, payment card jargon and queries that demand a degree in network administration.

We’d like to help, which is why we’re holding a free webinar on 8th May that will uncover the truths and debunk the myths surrounding the requirements for handling payments within the hotel industry. Join us, and you’ll gain the chance to quiz industry experts on all things PCI DSS-related:

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In the blue corner, we have the American Hotel & Lodging association. In the red corner, we have Airbnb.

And, boy, is the fight intensifying.

A recent study found that 40% of Airbnb's total national revenue came from hosts who rent out two or more units. This, experts say, proves that the alternative accommodation service has created a business platform which enables 'illegal hotels' to operate under the guise of regular Airbnb member properties.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association claims that a vast proportion of Airbnb properties are no longer offering home sharing - a form of accommodation rental on which the service was originally built. The same report suggests that traditional Airbnb operators (who ensure the owner is available for the duration of the stay) now account for less that 20% of the platform's revenue.

As you'd expect, Airbnb are fighting their own corner on this, suggesting that the statistics are 'misleading' and 'inaccurate'.

Check out our blog of the week for the lowdown, and then let us know what you think in the comments section, below!

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[fusion_text]Take that, Florida, Prague and Belgium! And who says TripAdvisor isn't capable of delivering good news to UK hospitality businesses?

TripAdvisor recently announced the winners of their 2017 Travellers' Choice awards and in the top ten list of B&Bs and inns, UK properties absolutely stormed it, with  no less than five dominating the list.

"[The awards] are based on feedback from actual guests over the past year, which is what makes them so prized within the industry," said TripAdvisor spokeswoman Hayley Coleman of the awards that are now in their fifteenth year.

Great news for UK hospitality! Here's the final list:

  1. Bindon Bottom B&B - West Lulworth, Dorset
  2. The Cedar House Inn - St Augustine, Florida, US
  3. South Lodge Guest House - Bridlington, East Yorkshire
  4. The Welsh Hills Inn - Granville, Ohio, US
  5. Swallows Rest B&B - Brigstock, Northamptonshire
  6. Arcadia Residence - Prague, Czech Republic
  7. B&B Mondello Resort - Palermo, Italy
  8. Thornleigh Guest House - Keswick, Cumbria
  9. West by Five Guest House - St Ives, Cornwall
  10. Huis Koning - Bruges, Belgium

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Deloitte recently named Edinburgh the UK’s most attractive location for hotel investment outside London. And, while it's no wonder that our nation's capital remains the focal point for outside investors, Edinburgh's rise to prominence in this area at least proves that the UK remains a shining light in hospitality.

With the word 'Brexit' still ringing in everyone's ears, news that investment in the UK hospitality sector remains buoyant is most certainly welcome, and our blog of the week from CityA.M. uncovers the detail behind these findings.

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It's been quite a year, hasn't it? And, with so much political uncertainty hanging in the air, you'd be forgiven for scouring the news headlines for something - anything - positive to brighten your day a little.

As is often the case, you need to dig a little deeper, but when you do, there are signs of hope - particularly if you operate within the hospitality sector.

Brexit has stolen the headlines since the British people voted out of the European Union in June, but it turns out there's an underlying feeling of optimism for UK tourism as a result of the decision.

Retailer, JD Sports, appears to be feeling rather bullish about a potential increase in the number of 'staycations' predicted to follow Brexit. So bullish, in fact, that it has just purchased Go Outdoors, adding yet another outdoor equipment and clothing retailer to it's portfolio (it already owns Blacks, Ultimate Outdoors and Millets).

Consumer uncertainty following Brexit and a weaker pound has already led to an increase in staycations of 10% during the first quarter of 2016, yet the latest acquisition by JD Sports appears to suggest that there could be an even greater reliance on tourism in this country in the years to come.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

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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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In this week's blog of the week, one of our favourite websites, Skift, delves into the reasoning behind Airbnb's partnership with Qantas. It's a huge play for loyalty, they say, and an indication yet again that the accommodation sharing website is absolutely not a hotel company.

Will Airbnb launch its own loyalty scheme? And, if so, what does that mean for hotels, OTAs and the hospitality industry in general? After you've had a read, why not pop back here and continue the discussion in the comment section below? Tell us what you think about Airbnb and the increasingly blurred line between accommodation and the wider aspects of travel.

Check out the article by clicking below:

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Few will forget the devastating floods that hit Cumbria last December. Homes, businesses and hotels were subjected to rising waters that caused untold damage and left hundreds without power for days.

However, proving just how stoic us Brits are, Cumbria Tourism has revealed that hotel occupancy in the region hit a record high of 73.6% during the summer - the best in over a decade.

Self-catering properties were largely responsible for the rise, but serviced accommodation was also up on last year's figures. Hotel Owner leads the story, which should give every accommodation business owner some hope that, even when the absolute worst happens, it's still possible to defy all expectations by bouncing back with some very big numbers indeed.

Read the full story by clicking below.

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Brexit

Richard Solomons, the chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), recently made the somewhat bold claim that Britain’s exit from the European Union could offer a boost for the hotel industry.

“You’re likely to see an increase in inbound travel,” Solomons said. “You may well see an increase in staycations as well.”

Ah - that word again. For some time, we’ve been predicting the rise of the staycation, and if the IHG head honcho is right, Brexit may well be the catalyst for a rise in the number of Brits holidaying at home.

Tellingly, Mr Solomons countered his initial enthusiasm with caution that we are in the very early days of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU and that only time will tell when it comes to the exact effect it will have on the hotel industry.

He’s right - like so many things Brexit-related, none of us know what the effect will be on any aspect of British life, let alone the hospitality industry. The question of ‘doom or boom’ is therefore a tricky one to answer. But we’ll give it a go.

We think hotels needs to consider 3 Brexit factors that will continue to develop once Article 50 is officially used. Unfortunately, on the face of it, none of them appear to be particularly appetising.

Strap yourself in.

1. Preparation for Brexit

It’s tough getting a straight answer out of anyone when it comes to anything relating to the Brexit, but the general consensus about the length of time it’ll take the country to leave the EU is relatively consistent. Most believe it’ll take as long as two years which, if true, is an awfully long time for the uncertainty of what’s to come to remain (if you’ll excuse the pun).

Uncertainty usually knocks consumer confidence and a lengthy withdrawal process may prompt many would be staycationers to hold onto their disposable income until things clear up. That isn’t good news for hotels, whichever way you look at it.

2. Employment

European staff are commonplace in the British hospitality industry and have contributed considerably to the hotel experiences this country offers. Once out of the EU, the ability to lure that talent into the country will likely prove rather difficult for hotel operators.

Likewise, Europeans already employed by British hotels will no doubt be feeling rather uncertain about their own future; potential changes to contracts as a result of Brexit may force them to start planning their own exit.

There is already a shortage of skilled staff in certain hospitality positions, and an inability to easily source workers from the EU will only exacerbate the problem.

3. Suppliers

Once Britain leaves the EU, supplier contracts that rely on restriction-free trade across a single market will need to be reviewed. That won’t be easy and there’s a very real chance long-held supplier relations will be damaged or lost entirely as a result.

Avoiding excess tariffs when renegotiating with suppliers residing in countries from which hospitality goods are currently imported under EU law isn’t something most hospitality bosses will be familiar with. That leaves plenty of room for mistakes to be made or - more likely - a raft of new, expensive consultants to enter the market offering assistance.

Jeez… now I’m depressed. What about those staycations?

It isn’t all doom and gloom. Richard Solomons knows what he’s talking about and does have a point when it comes to the potential increase in staycation bookings as a result of Brexit, regardless of the concerns over consumer confidence.

The pound looks like it will continue to perform rather poorly against foreign currency making holidays abroad more expensive than they would otherwise be. Domestic holidays will therefore be a more enticing prospect for many Brits.

Clearly, we’re in for a bit of a bumpy ride over the next two years, but if any industry can survive yet more economic uncertainty, the hotel industry can. Let’s work on this together!

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Our favourite piece of web content this week came courtesy of the Daily Mail, who put a much needed smile on the faces of hospitality business owners in the UK when they confirmed that, compared to the French, Spanish and US, we're really rather good at being hoteliers.

A study by TripAdvisor looked at millions of reviews from guests published between 2005 and 2015 and found that feedback in Blighty became more favourable during that period with impressive increases in average ratings.

As it turns out, accommodation in the UK had a higher rating last year than for hotels in Spain, the USA and France.

Reasons to be cheerful? We think so!

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