Indies navigate choosing back-end systems
 
Indies navigate choosing back-end systems
20 FEBRUARY 2019 1:11 PM

While independent hotels must decide for themselves which back-end tech solutions to implement, that doesn’t mean all hoteliers running indie properties are letting that set them back to the Stone Age.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—For some independent hoteliers, it can be a daunting task to figure out which back-end technology should be implemented, such as customer relationship management systems.

It can also be “risky to do these things on your own,” according to David Hart, president and CEO of Hart Hotels, which has eight independents—six owned and two that are managed—in his portfolio.

Most people would rather sign up for the brand-mandated cost instead of having to worry about piecing all of the parts together, he said.

Jonathan Knudsen, owner and operator of management company Concrete Hospitality Group, said in an email interview it’s important for independent hoteliers to have a strong operational leader in place, whether it’s on-property or through third-party management. The leader should have prior experience with these systems and be able to navigate all of the different options, he said.

His company plays this role to the Menhaden Hotel, a boutique property in Greenport, New York.

For additional help, Knudsen said it might be a wise idea to contract an IT vendor either for consultancy or to fully select and deploy systems.

Leslie Lew, VP of revenue strategy at Provenance Hotels, said in an email interview his company uses a technology consultant to “evaluate, map and implement our technology platform.”

“This allowed us to find the ideal cohesive set of interconnected systems rather than buying the best in each category product—to only then find out they may not connect to other requisite systems,” he said.

What independents are using
Lew said Provenance Hotels uses feature-rich user-friendly interfaced cloud-based systems in order to gain real-time information at each of the 14 hotels it manages.

“We are able to implement institutional grade systems that would meet the brand standards of a global hotel operator while keeping the technologies and commercial terms agile and flexible so we can be owner-friendly and maximize long-term profitability,” he said.

Interconnected cloud-based systems also give independent hotels the operating power of a household name brand “without the encumbrance and fees of a global operation,” he added.

For revenue-impacting systems, he said it’s key they give “real-time data with zero downtime,” and are designed to work on desktops, tablets and mobile so associates “can handle business effectively and efficiently anytime and anywhere.”

Hart said at his independent hotels, his mission is to deliver all of the things that the brand would deliver for less of a cost and generate a better operating margin. He always wants to challenge his team to continue to be better at what they do independently and stay relevant as an independent hotel.

This year his company took on a new customer relationship management system to better enhance their data collection of guest information and be able to connect with guests. It wasn’t easy to do as an independent hotel. He said it was a rigorous task to research and find the right model.

“We needed a really good back-end solution to not only capture the data, but then help us to channel the right offers to the right people at the right time,” he said.

Hart said this was a really big win for them and it has allowed them to up their game in the customer relationship management business.

“This is our defense against not having one of the things that’s really something that we can’t offer that the brands do; and that’s the loyalty program,” he said.

Knudsen said a property management system and booking engine are vital systems. When looking for those tools, he said they should be “fluid, available for interfacing, able to integrate across several platforms, but robust enough to execute and deliver results.”

It’s also a plus if the systems are easy to learn, he said, so it doesn’t add to training time.

“I love to recruit (employee) candidates for their natural ability and characteristics rather than direct industry skillset, therefore a system that can easily be explained and taught is a huge benefit,” he said.

Knudsen recognizes that independents have a more difficult time garnering the same volume of exposure and customer reach as the brands, so having a strong channel manager that offers a wide range of booking partners can “help increase visibility tremendously,” he said.

How often should independents update systems?
Lew said Provenance Hotels evaluates its technology platform and commercial terms every three years. He said the three-year cycle allows them “to stay up-to-date with technology, shifts in consumer expectations, rising technology skillset and needs of our associates,” while remaining nimble in commercial terms.

He believes switching technology partners on an annual cycle would “inhibit effectiveness and momentum of technology adoption. And if you wait five or 10 years, you will be left in the dust and operating in the new Stone Age.”

Knudsen said since there are so many tools available, he is constantly evaluating the performance of his system partners.

“We try not to sign contracts for any longer than 12-24 month terms,” he said.

Hart echoed that it’s an ongoing process. At minimum, he said, systems should be updated at least once a year, but sometimes more frequently depending on how the industry changes.

“It is just so competitive out there,” he added. “And playing ball as an independent … it’s like the ultimate double-edge sword. If you’re really good at it and you’re diligent, you can run your business truly independent and probably make more money. But if you trip up and you don’t stay abreast of technology and offerings … then you can quickly fall out of a competitive level.”

What’s next
Lew said his company will be looking at mobile-first options and exploring how to navigate the entire technology cycle from associates to guests all via a mobile phone.

“The dream is everything becomes mobile-friendly,” he said.

Knudsen said Concrete Hospitality Group might consider deploying a sales tracking system and/or a social catering platform. He is also interested in considering an in-room voice recognition platform but “needs to see more consistent success with this before I would recommend it to owners.”

Lastly, he too would like to invest in mobile technology for things s check in, check out and payment processing.

Hart said the next big thing Hart Hotels is working on for its independent properties is finding an internet marketing and web design firm that will help them with search engine optimization.

“We need to be relevant when people are (searching) our hotel’s name or our region or key words,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re popping up on the first page of the internet search.”

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