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Much like the financial industry, the hospitality sector is rather fond of an acronym or two, despite widespread confusion as to what any of them actually stand for. ‘Global distribution system’, for example, is more typically known as ‘GDS’, even if its purpose is often misunderstood.

One of the most common misconceptions about the GDS is that it is far too big, cumbersome and expensive for smaller hotels.

We think that’s a little wide of the mark.

When utilised correctly, the GDS is a fantastic source of new business for hotels of all sizes, and can result in some very healthy customer relationships that offer plenty of repeat - and direct - bookings in the future.

Consider this blog post our mini guide to getting the most out of the global distribution system if you run a small hotel.

What is the GDS?

Ah, yes. Let’s start here.

It’s best to think of the GDS as a facilitator - a middle-man of sorts. Its main job is to connect hotels to a huge network of travel agencies. Much like working with an online travel agencies (OTA) such as Booking.com, hotels give the GDS provider their availability and rates, set a few rules about how it should all be distributed and leave the GDS to liaise with the travel agents.

The travel agents sell the hotel’s rooms based on the availability and rates supplied by the GDS and pass any confirmed bookings back to the hotel, via the GDS.

Another common misconception about the GDS is that it is primarily geared towards corporate travellers, but due to its links with airlines, car rental companies and various other leisure activity bookings, hotels can expect a fair amount of holidaying guests arriving via this channel, too.

There are a number of GDS providers, but the ones to take note of are:

  • Sabre
  • Amadeus
  • Travelport (which now incorporates Galileo and Worldspan - two previously standalone GDS providers)

However, one look at the websites above, and you’d be forgiven for assuming that the GDS really is only intended for large chain and corporate hotel use.

Allow us to dig deeper, because there are three ways you can use the global distribution system, and one of them might just catch your eye:

1. The ‘secret hotel’

Sometimes referred to as the ‘opaque’ GDS model, this is a process whereby guests find out which hotel they’ve booked after they’ve made the booking. Sound bonkers? Not necessarily. Consider Priceline, which uses a bidding system for hotel bookings. Similarly, Hotwire allows guests to place last minute bookings based on discounted rates, but without knowing the exact property they’re choosing.

This hospitality gamble on behalf of the guest can work well for hotels looking to fill empty rooms at short notice, and provides an added sense of adventure for the person making the booking. The downside for the hotelier is having to rely on heavily discounted rates, which can sometimes be as much as 45% lower than advertised elsewhere.

2. The merchant model

Chances are, if you’re working with OTAs such as Booking.com, you will be doing so directly, but GDS service providers offer another way to work with travel agents by once again playing the role of middle man.

As you’d expect, this can get very costly, due to the fact that, as the hotelier, you’ll pay both the OTA and the GDS service provider for providing the booking. The latter can charge as much as $12 per reservation in addition to the agency commission.

The upsides? Assuming we haven’t put you off already, the merchant model does offer a couple of benefits. Firstly, the service provider will take the hassle out of dealing with the OTAs, which may free up a significant amount of administrative time at the hotel. Secondly, the provider might offer additional services such as revenue management - again providing a professional service which will give you back time and provide a tangible business benefit.

The answer to whether or not the merchant model will work for you very much depends on any additional cost savings they’ll offer through service provision. Tread carefully here and do your research; out of the three models we’re listing today, this is likely the least appropriate for a small hotel.

3. Traditional GDS

The most common method for operating with a GDS as a hotelier is near identical to the OTA model:

  • the hotel’s rooms are sold through multiple channels that are connected to the GDS;
  • the website or agency that sells the room first earns a standard commission;
  • the guest pays the hotel, then the hotel pays the agent.

This is the default, traditional method for working with a global distribution system and is by far the most appropriate for smaller hotels.

Final thoughts

There’s no doubting that the GDS is a bit of a beast when viewed from afar, but its benefits are compelling, even for smaller hotels.

Thankfully, most service providers offer contracts that don’t tie you in, therefore trialling the GDS is a great option if you want to spread your wings a little wider online and see what effect its considerable reach could have on your room sales.

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In July 2016, Airbnb surpassed 100 million guests - a figure industry commentators suggested would only exacerbate the youthful accommodation business’s mounting growing pains.

Valued at over $30 billion, Airbnb is now worth as much as industry stalwarts Hilton and Hyatt combined. Not bad for a San Francisco-based internet business that quietly began operating in 2008, entering a marketing swimming with big name alternatives and trusted suppliers of accommodation.

Their premise was - and remains - simple; anyone (within reason) can provide an accommodation service, be it a traditional B&B or the spare third bedroom in Janet and Roger’s semi-detached house in Rochdale. By handing most of the power to the hosts and providing the online booking system to make the transaction and stay possible, Airbnb has won as many fans as it has detractors.

The service has evolved considerably since those early days. And there’s no getting away from it - one look at the Airbnb website today and it looks spookily similar to your average online travel agency (OTA). For hoteliers, this is a little too close for comfort, understandably, but what does Airbnb really mean for the hospitality industry? How will it impact hotels going forward?

Here’s four ways Airbnb might continue to disrupt hospitality:

1. Average daily rates

Airbnb’s number one market is Paris, and for the year ending July 2016, that particular city was the only one on the planet not to see an increase in average daily hotel rates.

The reason isn’t particularly clear, but it’s fair to assume that the myriad of bottom-end accommodation offerings from Airbnb and their dominance in one particular city will have had something to do with an average daily rate that simply wouldn’t budge.

2. Changes in guest behaviour

An STR report on Airbnb and hotel performance revealed that the average age of an Airbnb guest was 35, with 53% of all guests being female. According to a Lodging Industry Trends 2015 study, the equivalent demographic for hotel guests was an age range of 35 to 54 years for over 50% of all guests, 63% of whom were male.

Clearly, Airbnb guests are demographically different to traditional hotel guests, but it’s also believed that leisure breaks make up the vast majority of the service’s bookings. That sounds like a significant number of leisure reservations that simply aren’t making their way into hotels currently. Will they be encouraged to return and, in doing so, what Airbnb-influenced expectations are they likely to bring with them?

3. Lower utilisation rates

In the U.S. STR discovered that on average, hotels were selling eight out of ten rooms, day-by-day. By contrast, Airbnb properties regularly suffered from almost half an empty inventory.

Do Airbnb operators accept that this is par for the course based on fluctuating demand and regular single-night bookings? And, if they do, will that expectation one day carry over into the hotel industry? It’s an unpalatable thought, but again points to a possible change in guest behaviour that could proliferate beyond Airbnb customers.

4. Skewed growth rates

Sometimes, all is not at it seems. For example, STR found that demand for Airbnb accommodation in Tokyo tripled, whereas hotels saw just a 3.2 percent growth in the same region and timeframe. However, it should be noted that Airbnb data generally starts at a very low base due to the fact it is still - when compared to hotels - a young upstart in this industry.

Growth rates are often skewed in this way by seismic performance on Airbnb’s part, therefore, going forward, industry commentators need to be careful not to rely too heavily on what appear to be highly impressive statistics relating to Airbnb. Alas, big numbers make popular headlines and encourage plenty of click-throughs…

As a result, Airbnb looks set to dominate the hospitality headlines for a while yet, regardless of how skewed the figures are.

Wrapping up

Before you run for the hills and label Airbnb a hotel industry destroyer, bear in mind that the key question is whether or not Airbnb can sustain its levels of growth. More importantly, what will happen to its legion of guests if it either falls by the wayside or continues to breath heavily on the neck of the hotel industry?

Tell us what you think - get involved by commenting below!

Photo credit: DesignStudio/The Guardian

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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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What makes a brilliant hotel booking engine? As a hotelier or guest, have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question?

You’re excused, if you haven’t. And why should you? It’s the job of the hotel booking software vendor to take care of this for you, after all. If you’re a hotelier, you simply need to be assured that bookings will arrive via your website commission-free and fully intact. If you’re a guest, you just want to book a room - you won’t think about the mechanics behind the process.

However, some hotel booking engines are - let’s be honest - a bit rubbish. They’re slow, confusing and take the highly irritating approach of throwing as many questions at you as possible on a single page.

For that reason, working out what makes a hotel booking engine less than stellar is relatively straightforward. We’ll therefore avoid the temptation to do so and instead lift the lid on those that work flawlessly.

It’s time for a recipe that doesn’t have a frying pan, egg whisk or food processor in sight; here are the constituent elements that make up the best hotel booking engines:

1. An approachable booking process

If you’ve ever abandoned an online hotel booking and headed to a different property purely because the process was so teeth-clenchingly frustrating, you’ll know how important an approachable booking portal is.

Potential guests should be guided effortlessly through the process and never have to think for more than a couple of seconds about what they need to do next. Up-sells should be prominent and the current stage of the booking always made obvious.

This stage isn’t rocket science, but so many systems get it horribly wrong.

2. Full PMS integration

There isn’t a hotelier on the planet who relishes dealing with double bookings, therefore the ability for the online booking portal to connect to the in-house property management system (PMS) is vital.

Such integration ensures that bookings are automatically pushed into rooms on the PMS, customer details added to the database and note of any payment (see no.3) made - without anyone having to lift a finger.

Convenient, eh? Which brings us onto the next point..

3. Convenient online payment

We’re (thankfully) rapidly moving away from a time when independent hotels would take bookings via what essentially amounted to a gentleman’s agreement that the guest would actually turn up on the day of arrival.

Similarly, securing bookings by jotting down the guest’s credit card details on a file which is subsequently stuffed into a cupboard puts both the hotel and guest at serious risk.

For these reasons alone, a convenient online payment method or the ability to store credit card details within a PCI-compliant environment is essential.

4. The ability to slot seamlessly into any existing hotel website

Most online booking systems operate independently of the hotel website, albeit with a clever ‘cloak’ that makes them look identical. However, the process of adding a booking engine to an existing hotel website shouldn’t require a degree in software engineering to complete.

A simple, efficient snippet of code is all any website needs in order to add an online booking portal. If that results in nothing more than a nice, big ‘Book Now’ button that links through to the branded portal - perfect!

5. Constant innovation

Lastly, the best hotel booking engine on the planet will quickly fall out of favour and become a relic if it isn’t treated to constant innovation. This is therefore a recipe which is never quite finished; instead, it is iterated, added to, rewritten and moulded to take advantage of the latest web and cloud tech.

And finally…

A brilliant online hotel booking engine is nothing if it isn’t used properly. Therefore, regardless of how easy it is to navigate or the simplicity of its website integration, the placement of that all-important ‘Book Now’ button is what really matters.

Make it loud and proud within the upper third of every page, and it’ll have guests flooding through your doors - simple.

This is one recipe every independent hotelier needs in their back pocket…

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In a world full of technological breakthroughs and advancements that we often take for granted, there are still certain moments when you realise just how far we’ve come.

For example, a few nights ago, I spotted a particularly bright star in the sky. Curious, I reached for my smartphone, tapped a couple of times on the screen and pointed it upwards. Normal behaviour in 2017, clearly; I thought nothing of it.

The star, as I found out, was in fact Venus. I knew this, because my smartphone had given me an augmented view of the night sky, turning it into a virtual map of the stars and planets. I could move the device around and instantly see a textbook view of the universe.

I momentarily realised what I was doing - and it took my breath away. As it should.

Similarly, if you’re a Facebook user, you may have spotted the recent addition of an innocuous-looking ‘Live’ button that resides at the top-left of the smartphone app. Press it, and you can instantly start streaming live video to your friends and followers. Just a few short years ago, such a feat would have required a satellite truck outside your house and a remortgage to fund the broadcast.

Not any more. We can do incredibly powerful things with devices that reside in our pockets and which were once nothing more than portable telephones.

Traditional hospitality in the digital age

In hospitality, tech continues to advance at an equally impressive rate. Guests chart a seismically different booking journey that relies on crowd-sourced reviews, real-time social media updates and mobilised reservations. Perhaps even more impressive is that fact that independent hoteliers can capture their attention by using management tools that were once the domain of large chains.

But where does this leave the housekeeping team? Can one of the most traditional elements of hospitality management benefit from these significant advances in technology?

Absolutely. In fact, above all departments within a hotel, I think housekeeping staff are best placed to latch onto the mobile revolution. It’ll just require a slight change in mindset.

Out with old interfaces, in with smart, connected apps

There have long been interfaces between PMS and telephone systems that enable housekeepers to dial codes on handsets to confirm rooms as being clean. That’s all well and good, but in a world where you can point your smartphone at the night’s sky and find out which stars reside above your head, we need something a little more… advanced.

The future of housekeeping management lies in the ability for tech companies and the hotels themselves to embrace mobile. And what better tool do such staff have to hand when going about their daily business than their smartphone?

The ability to confirm rooms as clean from a PMS-connected app and communicate with members of their team while having an ever-present list of duties on which to call - all from a device that resides in the palm of their hands - will transform this vital element of hospitality.

The future is closer than you may think…

How far are we away from such tools being available? Not far at all, thankfully, but the trick lies in something I alluded to a little earlier; this kind of tech needs to be made accessible to all, not just those with massive budgets.

Just as Facebook has made live video streaming available to everyone for free, hospitality software companies need to build solutions for housekeepers that don’t require days of training and which are affordable for even the smallest of operators.

Everyone should have the chance to benefit from technology that makes a real difference in the hotel industry. I’ve noted just a few examples of what could be done for housekeepers in this post, but the night sky really is the limit.

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PR for hotels

Public relations (PR) in the hotel sector is all about raising your profile and enhancing your reputation by achieving free (or ’earned’) media coverage.

The great advantage of learning how to ‘do’ PR is that you start to tell your story in an effective way that can prove highly attractive to guests and help establish a distinctive brand for your business.

PR doesn’t have to be scary. It’s a straightforward process of thinking creatively and understanding what journalists do and don’t want. Here are our top tips on how to get your PR programme up and running:

1. Find the media who matter to you

Which newspapers or radio stations cover your local area? What magazines do your customers read? Do you have something to say that would suit industry press? Begin by drawing up a list of all the publications, websites, or broadcasters that you’d ideally like to feature in. Research their news and feature sections, and learn who’s who on their editorial teams – it’s important to understand who covers what; in a paper it might be the editor or news team. On radio or TV it could be an individual journalist or producer. For specialist news websites, click on the ‘contact us’ section to discover who you should pitch stories or ideas to.

2. News is new, and different

Remember – no media outlet will produce a story about ‘who you are and why your hotel is brilliant.’ If you want to go down this route consider paid-for advertising. You need to offer a story or angle that will suit their readers, listeners or viewers, and it has to be factually accurate. Never, ever lie to the press! Firstly, they’ll quickly discover you’re making things up, and secondly they’ll never trust or work with you again.

On the whole news is ‘new, quirky or unusual; links into a national theme; has the potential to affect a big group of people; includes strong visual opportunities, and offers charismatic interviewees.’

If you imagine you’re ‘pitching’ a story idea to the media – keep it short and sweet. Offer a descriptive headline and an opening paragraph that tells the whole story. Think about how you flick through a newspaper or magazine and a headline captures your attention, making you want to stop and find out more. Here are a few recent new stories that caught our eye:

You might also want to consider the ‘features’ sections of particular media. Beyond the news pages do the media you are looking at review hotels or restaurants? Can you offer a competition stay or meal for their readers? If a journalist is interested in finding out more invite them to your hotel for a coffee and a chat if they have time.

Always be polite, friendly and to the point. Never be disappointed if they don’t pick up your story – it’s all part of the learning process.

3. Social media and websites

If you haven’t done so already invest some time online setting up Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages for your hotel. There are plenty of how-to guides available on the web to explain how to do this, along with best-practise advice on how to make the most of these valuable and far-reaching resources.

Keep your online comments updated regularly – one post a day or even week can be enough. Use attractive photography that shows off your hotel, facilities, services and location. Be prepared to quickly answer questions from prospective guests, and thank social commentators for their positive comments.

Create a news section for your website and also post all of your news stories here – remember, these are the sort of things that increasingly web-savvy guests expect to be able to look up and review before committing to book with you.

4. Some PR ideas to start with

Think about your hotel’s history, geography, staff, guests, services and community links:

  • Is there anything that makes your offer different from other hotels in the area?
  • Are you active in charity events?
  • Is there a human interest story about one of the team?
  • Have you reached a milestone in your history?
  • Is there a new industry trend you can predict or comment on?
  • Are you employing new technology to make your guests’ lives easier?
  • Have you had any unusual requests from guests that you now cater to?
  • Are you experiencing a boom in business? Why do you think this is?
  • Is there a local event or nearby tourist attraction that boosts your bookings?

For newspapers and television in particular think about the best visual opportunities you have to offer. For radio who is the best person to speak on your behalf? They need to be positive, well-informed and unflappable.

The above represents just a few ideas that your hotel could offer a unique and newsworthy perspective on.

Summary

To achieve PR success in the hotel business, it is important to develop a long-term programme of activity and get proactive! This approach will help keep your business front-of-mind with both journalists and their audiences.

Have fun, be bold and experiment!

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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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Twitter for hotelsEarlier this month, Twitter floated itself on the New York Stock Exchange. Within hours, shares rose to $45.10 a piece, making the fledgling social media company worth an astounding $31bn.

For a service which opened with the rather innocuous tweet 'just setting up my twttr' in 2006, the 140 character-driven social media site is now a driving force both socially and in business. If you run a hotel, it can be an incredibly powerful tool.

Today, we've got three best practices for the social media savvy hotelier who wants to get the most from Twitter.

 

Don't ignore the bio

Twitter have made it so easy to set up an account and start posting, that you may forget to perform one of the most important tasks - configuring your bio page. While your Twitter presence will almost solely be digested by people browsing their timelines, whenever someone decides whether or not to follow you, it is likely they will have a look at your bio. In fact, in most Twitter clients, they have to. If it's blank and uninspiring (or, worse, there's a little egg to indicate you haven't updated your profile picture), they may well not bother. Add an attractive image of your hotel, your location, website and a small tagline or description of what you're all about. Don't forget to add a header photo, too - you can be a little more creative with here, as Twitter affords you more space.

Forget the numbers

Social media is all-too-often about numbers. Much like a LinkedIn profile's connections tally isn't indicative of business acumen, neither is your number of followers on Twitter. There are all sorts of 'back door' methods with which you can gain a large number of followers, but avoid them at all costs. You can't buy love and you certainly can't by a social media following.

Building a genuine list of followers isn't easy and it takes time. You need to cultivate a community in order for it to be effective. Use a service such as Wefollow in order to find hospitality leaders and industry partners - follow them and interact with them where possible. Retweet the tweets you like and engage in discussions by using hashtags to offer your thoughts on a particualr topic. If you've got positive relations with a neighbouring hotel, follow them, too.

Listen first

Twitter is just as much a listening channel as it is a broadcasting channel. Nowhere is this more important than the hotel industry. People tweet in real time and offer immediate thoughts on their current activities. That activity might be a stay in your hotel and they'll probably mention you by name when they say what's on their mind. They may do this by using your @ Twitter username, in which case you'll be alerted in most Twitter clients, but if they don't, keeping an eye on mentions of your hotel on Twitter is relatively straightforward - you can simply use the powerful search tool or invest in social media reputation software or professional services.

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