Hoteliers are known to be visually-oriented people. For as long as we can remember, they have selected hotel management software based largely on the look and feel of the product itself. This make sense. After all, the hotel staff never have quite enough time for a thorough training. Plus they have to jump from task to task based on the whims of the guests. So any software they use must be intuitive, fast and easy. In short, hotel software needs to have an excellent user interface.

With a new generation of mobile hardware now commonplace in hotels, hotel technology vendors are challenged to keep pace with today’s expectations of a top user interface.

So which hotel software products have the best user interface? Hotel management research firm Software Advice recently surveyed today’s offerings and selected the seven best user interfaces. Interesting, though perhaps not surprising, is that most of the long-standing market incumbents did not make the cut. The list is dominated by newer companies that have emerged just as tablets and mobile devices have become prevalent in hotel lobbies.

Heading the list is hetras, a German-Austrian company which has made a name for itself serving some of today’s most innovative chains. Taylor Short, analyst at Software Advice, explains his decision for hetras. “We chose the hetras Property Management System as one of our favorite UIs mainly because it looks as if anyone could pick it up and figure out its functions without much training. This intuitiveness makes it a top pick for design.”

The standard-bearer in hotel software user interfaces of the 1990’s was undoubtedly Fidelio Software (later Micros). Fidelio founder Keith Gruen is also a founder of hetras. “At hetras we are redefining what it means to have a top user interface. What worked on PCs does not work on tablets or mobile devices. In general, we are looking for inspiration from top apps from other industries – even games – and applying it to hotel software.”

A good user interface is by no means driven by the visual impression alone. “Another reason we feel the hetras UI stands out is because of its simplicity and efficient features, such as the fast post transactions and auto-fill for quick payments” added Short.

Other hotel software products making the top include Clerk, Loventis and WinHotel. For the complete list, see the full article.

 

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hetras User Interface

 

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This year´s IHIF in Berlin recently came to a close. The premier hotel investment forum focused especially on New Generation Hotels. hetras CEO Martin Reents took part and noted the top ten reasons to invest in New Generation Hotels.

10. The needs of travellers are changing. Guests will no longer pay a premium for  traditional brands, they are not impressed by imposing architecture and they turn down unnecessary service. They do, however, want to walk into a lobby that feels like home, require a perfect night’s sleep in a sparkling clean and quiet room and expect in-room technology to match what they have at home.

9.   New generation hotels lead the way in advanced digital technology. Today’s guests want to take control of their destiny. They want to manage their own profile, preferences and bookings, check themselves in and out, and take advantage of hotel services at their own convenience on their own electronic device.

8.   Highly successful pioneers have paved the way in Scandinavia, England and The Netherlands. New generations brands continue to open throughout Europe and the world.

7.   New generation hotels invest less per room, require less staff than comparable hotels and yet still achieve higher room revenue per available room than traditional hotels.

6.   New generation hotels are anything but “cheap hotels.” Quite the contrary: They consistently achieve top values in daily rates and in high occupancy, which exceeds 80% year-round.

5.   Lower personnel costs mean better service for guests, not worse. Through automation, the few employees in the hotel can actually focus entirely on the guests. This is reflected in the excellent reviews new generation hotels regularly receive in the review sites.

4.   Altogether, new generation hotels achieve a gross margin of up to 54%. The best hotels achieve around 20 to 50% higher profit margin than the average for traditional 3 to 4-star hotels in a comparable market.

3.   Real estate is available. Requiring only a fraction of space compared to traditional hotels, new generation brands can build a hotel on a very small space and even convert existing office buildings in prime locations into successful hotels.

2.   Savvy investors and funds are already bucking the traditional hotel models and moving to the new generation.

1.   Greater returns with lower investment: This simple formula sums up the success story of new generation hotels. The best new generation hotels can pay back the entire investment (including land) within 4.6 to 5.7 years – About twice as fast as traditional 3 to 4-star hotels in a comparable market.

While some new generation hotel managers are still trying to figure out how to solve the self-check and self-checkout procedures, other industries have come quite far in offering similar services to their customers. We have looked at the airline industry in the past. But today let’s look at an industry  people use on a more regular basis: the retail industry. In particular, the supermarket.

Having spent six months in England, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the supermarket chains have implemented self-checkout terminals. For traditional shoppers, the stores still offer a standard check-out procedure. After researching hotel self-checkout options, I was curious to try the self-checkout at the supermarket. After all, I hadn’t found any in my home country of Germany.

My expectations were not high. I assumed that the supermarkets put those stations there to save on personnel, not to increase convenience for the customer.

M&S

Without going into too much detail, I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the simplicity and speed of these self-checkout terminals. What’s more, they were fun to use. In fact, it was hard to get anything wrong. I merely had to take my items out of the shopping basket and put them into bags. The machine is equipped with multiple scanners and mirrors so that it almost always found and scanned the bar code right away. Paying was easy too. Cash, credit card, debit cards all worked easily. I could even get cash back with my debit card. Dropping coins into the moving tray (instead of the ubiquitous slot) was downright fun.

Those hotels with kiosks have discovered that self-service check-in and check-out works fine if everything is standard: guest is identified, reservation is unchanged, room is clean and vacant, credit card is valid and so on. As soon as something is slightly unusual – such as two ro

oms with two different names, extended stay, change of payment type, room upgrade, room not ready – the hotel kiosks can’t handle it and the guest has to use the standard check-in.

But the supermarket self-checkout station had no trouble with special cases. If I forget to bag an item, the scale under the bags notices right away and a voice tells me to bag the item or cancel the purchase of that item. If the bar code can’t be read easily, the machine prompts me to type in the product number. If an item doesn’t have a bar code, e.g. fresh produce, I just place it down on the scale, select it from a menu of produce, and then pop it in the bag. If I have a coupon, I just scan it like any other item and the machine processes it correctly. If I change my mind or replace a product last minute, the process is quite intuitive. I’ve used these kiosks at least one hundred times and haven’t run into a problem yet.

The only times I couldn’t complete the transaction on my own was when I bought a bottle of wine. A member of the staff had to come over and swipe their own card, acknowledging that I was entitled to buy alcohol.

The supermarkets have understood that self-check still requires store personnel to be around and help out from time to time. Even if it’s just a bit of friendly banter, the stores don’t want to lose the human interaction altogether.

I’m sure we’ll see the supermarket self-checkout station continue to evolve. As NFC tags (or a similar technology) gets cheap enough to tag every product, we can just pass our shopping cart through a gate and everything is scanned instantly.

Several new generation hoteliers are moving towards mobile apps so that the guest can bypass the kiosk altogether. But a well-designed kiosk can be fun and fast for the guest and still allow interaction with the hotel staff. Unfortunatel

y, most hotel kiosks today are neither fun, nor fast, nor capable of handling special cases. Which is why most hotel kiosks are also unused.

Hotel managers could learn a great deal from the successful supermarket check-out stations.

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Martin Reents

“In the future, differentiation in the hotel industry will be due increasingly to digital technology and less to the basic structure and size of the property,” states Martin Reents, CEO of hetras for several months now. Talking about himself, the new man on board of this software company says, “I unfortunately cannot manage hotels, but I sure know how to manage cloud software.”

Cloud software is becoming increasingly existential to the hotel industry after the first new generation hotels emerged on the market – first in the Netherlands and England and meanwhile in several Northern and Eastern European countries as well.

Entrepreneur Martin Reents, with a degree in mathematics, is impressed above all by the numbers. He is certain that: “On balance, new generation hotels achieve a much greater return than comparable classic hotels.”

This is confirmed by Michael Struck, founder and CEO of Ruby Hotels & Resorts GmbH. Struck states: “We are able to operate hotels profitably with 70 rooms or more in under 2,000 square meters  – due to more efficient usage of floor space – at a break-even point of less than 45% utilization.”

Some background information:

Investment: New generation hotels are typically positioned in the 3 to 4-star hotel segment. But while classic hotels usually invest 100 to 170 thousand euros per room, new generation hotels spend at the most 70 thousand euros per room.

Sales: Despite a lower level of investment, new generation hotels are anything but “cheap hotels.” They consistently achieve top values in daily rates and in utilization rates, which are well above 90%. Total RevPAR is roughly 50% above the average of 3-star hotels in the same location (20% above nearby 4-star hotels).

Personnel costs: A good new generation hotel requires less than 0.2 employees per room. Personnel costs amount to 9% of sales. In the classic comparison group, there are typically 0.5 employees per room (22-25% of sales).

Gross operating profit per available room (GOPPAR): Other direct costs (e.g. commissions, cleaning, purchasing) for new generation hotels are comparable to those for classic hotels. They typically amount to 30% of sales, so that gross proceeds for new generation hotels amount to 61%. Of that an additional 7% of sales go for indirect costs (for example, hotel management, facility management). Altogether, new generation hotels achieve a gross margin of up to 54%. Per individual room, the best hotels achieve around 2.5 to 3.2 times more profit (GOPPAR) than the average for traditional 3 to 4-star hotels in a comparable location.

Yield: Greater results with less investment – This simple formula sums up the success story of new generation hotels. The best new generation hotels earn up to 30% (GOPPAR) from investments made per year. The industry average is closer to 5-10%. These figures do not include “franchise costs,” in other words, those investments and running costs that are required to develop and maintain a new generation chain.

You are mistaken if you think that the guest ultimately make sacrifices in service because there’s nobody to take care of him. Surprisingly, this is something most guests do not even notice. Martin Reents knows: “New generation hotels do not realize their lower personnel requirements at the expense of their guests. This is made possible primarily by automating administrative tasks and through standardization of regular operations.” As a result, the few hotel employees can actually focus more on the guests. This is also reflected in the excellent reviews new generation hotels regularly receive in the review sites.

Since the end of last year, Martin Reents has been running the company in a team together with co-managing director Ulrich Pillau. Together with their team, they are taking this innovative and rapidly growing company for modern hotel management software on a new course of expansion. As CEO, Reents specifically wants to promote “the use of the flexible and state-of-the-art system architecture for the operation of profitable new generation hotels.” In recent months an increasing number of new hotel groups, such as Qbic Hotels, OKKO Hotels, Ruby Hotels, HTL, citizenM, Glow and Bloc Hotels, have opted for the cloud-based software solutions of hetras. “Our aim,” says Reents, “is to support these hotels in their pioneering role as the vanguard of a new, internationally operating and technologically sophisticated hotel business.” Smart business travellers should receive the best service – with the most modern tools that a software company can provide. Not more, but certainly not less.

Most hoteliers have now learned the power of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In fact, new generation hoteliers are already running social media campaigns on these platforms. But there’s something else out there where your brand name is probably mentioned many thousands of times and, if you are like most hoteliers in Europe, you have not yet begun to harness it’s power. I’m talking about Instagram. In case you’re not familiar with it, Instagram is a social media platform for people to tag and share their photos. There are already 16 billion photos shared with another 55 million new ones uploaded daily. 150 million people log in regularly.

Some forward thinking hotel groups are already promoting their brand via Instagram. Are you? Learn more in this interview with Taylor Short. Taylor is a hotel management analyst at Software Advice, a website that reviews hotel technology systems.

Why should hotel managers consider incorporating Instagram into their marketing strategies?

The sheer number of active users on Instagram is a clear opportunity for hotel marketers to leverage the platform, especially due to its visual nature. Sharing striking photos and engaging with potential guests in an authentic and unique way is effective in gaining new followers, who will then be more likely to book with you or recommend the hotel to others.

How should an Instagram campaign differ from a campaign launched from another social media platform?

Marketers running an Instagram campaign should be, first and foremost, focused on posting colorful, varied and interesting photos that help reach their goal, whether it’s driving direct bookings or showing off a new amenity. Text isn’t quite as important as on Facebook or Twitter, but writing a snappy description and encouraging the use of hashtags can help a great photo gain more attention.

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Waldorf Astoria’s Boca Raton Resort’s Instagram Campaign

How can smaller hotels with smaller budgets generate similar interest in their Instagram account?

Small hotels should absolutely take the time to develop a strong Instagram account, which is free to create. Some hotels don’t have the personnel to constantly handle social media, but posting a photo or two each day should be a feasible commitment for a general manager or marketing manager. It’s an investment that may take time to develop, but Instagram seems to be here to stay, so it’s a great time to start.

Besides promoting campaigns, what other ways can hotels use Instagram?

Hotels can also use Instagram to engage with other users who have mentioned or tagged your hotel or your brand. Use a website like Webstagram to search for variations on your brand name, and interact with those users. Maybe they asked a question that you could answer. Or maybe they’re choosing between your hotel and another. Use this occasion to swoop in and entice them to choose your property by offering incentives or telling them about your best amenities.

How can hotel managers get their Instagram followers to cross the bridge and become actual customers? 

Authentic engagement. Like I mentioned before, Instagram users know that these platforms allow for interaction with big brands, so give them what they want. Converse with users casually, like you might do with friends on Facebook, while still maintaining a professional attitude. Avoid hard selling on Instagram; the more your account fits naturally with the rest of the content, the better your brand will be perceived.

In your research, have you come across any hotels that are excelling at using Instagram?

The Four Seasons is arguably the most social media-competent hotel brand today, with well-crafted accounts that feature localized and consistent content. They excel at posting photos that not only show off features and amenities, but also give guests a behind-the-scenes look into the operations, which tends to make guests feel more involved and endeared to your brand.

Read the full report on Software Advice

Tripadvisor rankingThe importance of TripAdvisor and Holidaycheck cannot be underestimated. People like to follow recommendations from their friends. But now they also follow the advice of their “virtual” friends on social media hotel review sites.

TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index is based on quantity, quality and recency of customer reviews, so the marketing goal becomes obvious for hotels: get more, better and up-to-date reviews, which studies show impart the most powerful sense of value for consumers.

Hotels that work to increase their rating in this index will undoubtedly increase demand. One glowing example is the Four Season Hotel in Austin, Texas. Not long ago, the hotel was ranked 27th in the city. Today it’s number one.

Management attributes this remarkable rise to their engagement of reviewers. Management’s responses to reviews encourage others to write their own positive reviews and keeps the hotel in the top position.

Leverage Listening Technology to Identify New Reviews

This transition did not happen without technology. A recent study shows how the implementation of a Reputation Management System at the Four Seasons Austin supported the dramatic rise from 27th place to first in a short time.

Reputation Management Services – sometimes known as sentiment management systems – are designed to track and notify hotel managers whenever their brand is mentioned across Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor (among other sites). They also shows daily reports on reviews, compares reviews with competitors’ and offers metrics like rate of response. Vendors of Reputation Management Services include Trustyou, Olery and Revinate.

Enforce a Deadline for Responding to Negative Reviews

Four Seasons’ corporate office encourages managers to respond to a negative review within 24 hours of its posting. This mitigates the possibility that other customers will see an unanswered negative review.

In one example (shown below), a guest complains of waiting 55 minutes for food poolside during her stay at the hotel and not getting what was ordered when it finally arrived. Management located hotel staff that could shed light on the problem and compose a meaningful response rather than just a stock answer.

TripAdvisor Pool Review

By gathering the details of every negative experience, the staff is able to evaluate procedures and offerings and identify areas where training is needed to ensure guests are more likely to leave a positive review.

Devise a Specific Content Structure for Your Response

To ensure consistency and simplify the process of responding to negative reviews, the management established a structure of their responses.

  1. Thank the customer for their time writing a review
  2. Acknowledge any positive comments
  3. Apologize for the specific complaint or issue
  4. Explain a specific, forward-looking plan of how the hotel will fix the problem
  5. Invite the customer to come back

Let’s look at a recent example:

Negative TripAdvisor Review

Above, you can see, the manager thanks the customer for the feedback and acknowledges that the customer was impressed by the staff, the view from the hotel and the food. He then offers his apologies for the unmet expectations in the room and bathroom.

He then quickly targets his response toward the customer’s specific complaints—they say the room was small and obstructive. He explains that upcoming renovations will make the rooms spacious and more functional. Responding with this format allows Hagelberg to engage the guest in a conversational but effective way that keeps the message casual and addresses the customer’s specific issues.

Respond to Positive Reviews With a Personalized Message

Responding to the positive reviews can be invaluable as well. Corporate doesn’t ask individual Four Seasons hotel managers to respond to positive reviews, but management chooses to, and potential customers have shown they’re more likely to stay at a hotel with personal responses.

Reviews for New Generation Hotel Chains Carry Special Significance

New generation hotel chains are characterized by, among other attributes, a minimal number of staff on duty. Guests are encouraged to take advantage of the self-service features, whether that be  reservation, check-in, check-out or even F&B. So without staff on premise, how can a guest pass on a complaint or a compliment? The answer, of course, is via hotel review sites such as Tripadvisor or Holidaycheck as well as via social media. In fact, the “always-on” clientele of new generation chains is even known to post reviews during the stay. So management and staff of these hotels and chains need to read and react to reviews particularly quickly, perhaps multiple times per day. If computers, websites, apps and kiosks are handling the standard operational tasks, the designers of these systems should also be involved in the feedback loop. After all, if there was a problem at check-in, for example, it just might be a problem that a software vendor needs to resolve.

Please visit Software Advice to view the full report.

hotel appAll around us software and hardware is making giant leaps forward, making tasks easier and more accessible for the average user than ever before. So why is most hotel software still stuck in the dark ages? Why is the staff behind the front desk still frantically poking away in applications designed for a different generation? Come to think of it, why is there a front desk at all?

The answer is hidden in the question. Most legacy hotel software was, of course, written for a previous generation of hotels. Even new hotel software is heavily derived from the products of a previous generation. But hotels – and chains in particular – did not get any simpler over the years. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. To meet the diverse needs of hotels and chains, software vendors continued to add features and functions – at the expense of speed, reliability and ease of use. But with enough bending, squeezing, and working around, these products could be made – more or less – to fit most of the changing requirements of hotels and chains. Or is it the chains that have to bend to fit the software?

The same hotel managers and IT professionals who suffer through their legacy hotel software during the day go home to the latest, coolest apps on their smartphones and tablets and watch how their pre-school kids navigate through complex games even before they learn to read.

So why can’t hotel applications be as easy to use as consumer apps?

Well, they can be. But not if hotel software vendors continue on their current path.

Hotel software does have inherent complexities that Angry Birds will never have. There is no truly simple way to model and store the fundamental building blocks such as rates, policies, rules, groups, guest accounting, interfaces and all the other peculiarities of the hotel business. However a well designed system can separate this complexity from the end-user. And what better way to separate it by putting the end-user functionality into an app?

This is easier said than done. Most hotel software is built so that there is no way to cleanly separate the business logic and the user interface. But software designed from the ground up with this separation is ideally suited for “appification”. The apps talk to the rest of the product via a technology known as web services. Rather than trying to fit all hotel functionality into one app, many smaller apps could be designed. For example: a check-in app, a housekeeping app, a rate management app and a guest-facing app.

But that’s not all. The ideal check-in app, for example, would be different in Hliton, citizenM or Scandic. Rather than once again making a complex one-size-fits-all app, the software vendor can create a few different check-in apps. Now the hotel chain has different flavors to choose from depending on their own operations. They don’t even have to choose just one. The front desk supervisor can use a different app from the trainee clerk. We all know how easy it is to download and use a new app and switch back and forth between them. And thus the consumerization of hotel software.

The really cool part is that the software vendor could provide third party developers with the specifications of their web services. This means that other developers and even hotel chains themselves could build and design their own apps.

Don’t look for this type of flexibility in your existing vendor or you will probably be disappointed. Only a select number of vendors had the foresight to design their architecture and build a base to allow for these kinds of apps. However, by the end of 2013, you will see the first consumerized hotel software running live.

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