Booked For Success
A reservation system isnâ€™t about number crunching anymore, but a technologically advance set up that enables hotels to create newer values, tap new segments, forecast trends and even spearhead one, say the specialists
If revenue management was all about every room that is not sold is a room wasted, then reservation system, at least the modern version of it, is that every room not sold at the â€śbest rateâ€ť is a room wasted. In fact, one of the big transformation that the internet brought to the hotels was the effectiveness to sell better â€“ and not by demand only. An excellent case to elucidate this is the Starwood Preferred Guest system or in short SPG. The proverbial carrot that was introduced by the group in all its properties, which claimed to provide interesting deals to Starwood regulars, was in fact one of the most effective ways of tapping new business. Consider their SPG check-ins. While the first time is relatively longish, the time spend in filling the list of information, which actually includes allergies, aromas and preferred view to the room, actually helps the hotel to custom-make the room â€“ and in turn earn loyalty to the brand. And thanks to the internet virtual space and a good reservation system, this information is shared with every segment of hotels under the group, so next time the guest walks into any Starwood property, he gets the same personalised service without being asked. It was this sheer ability to turn walk-ins into patrons that led many a brands to either start their own preferred programme or up their game for better target feasibility.
Saurabh Khanna, GM, The Park Calangute Goa, â€śThis programme, in fact, is presently the most effective way not only to channelise the traffic that comes from OTAs to the hotel but also helps better your inventory management and in turn offer the best deals.â€ť
Concurs Vijayan Gangadharan, GM, Four Point By Sheraton, Pune, â€śThe work of a robust reservation system isnâ€™t just about getting the room sold or building on the consumer data base and the effectively circulating it for more business, it is also about having an this integrating tool in place that helps forecast the next season better.â€ť
How a technologically advanced reservation system does it more effectively was showcased in the 2015 report of TravelClick, which projected a 62 million bookings through GDSes in 2015, an up from 61 million in 2014 and 42 million during the depths of the recession in 2009.
â€śIntelligent co-ordination,â€ť says Jai Kishan, GM, Novotel Kolkata Hotel & Residences, â€świth travel agents and booking sites by hotels has been the key to a brand sustenance in India as well â€“ a country whose hospitality economy has survived purely on the domestic demands that were kickstarted by OTAs and online booking sites.â€ť How proactively, he adds, has a hotel done this to tap newer segment of audience has been the differentiator between a well-doing brand and the others.
â€śThe reservation patterns in the past few years and the client demand structure,â€ť adds Saket Gupta, VP, sales and marketing, Waterstones Hotel, â€śhas been one of the reasons behind India seeing a rise of mid-segment and premium casual properties that are priced economically but come with the comforts that are at par with a four-star hotel.â€ť
The launch of brands like W (a high-end premium hotel) and Style Ibis (an affordable lifestyle brand) have been examples enough of not only how the economics of hospitality business in India has changed, but also has given a glimpse of how the consumer market will change in the coming years.
The MICE market for instance, adds Gupta, â€śis yet another forecast made on the data integrated by the reservation system. This has allowed the market to develop facilities to cater to this growing business segment much like the data collation back in the 80s had led to the affordable business hotels.â€ť
But effective forecast, increasing customer turnaround time and better inventory â€“ all of which lead to the rise of revenue â€“ arenâ€™t the only reasons that a healthy, custom-made reservation system has became such an integral part of hotel function today. It is also the kind of seamless efficiency that it lends the hotel by helping it do things the right way with minimal error.
In fact, a reservation system, adds Kishan, â€śToday often determines what kind of technology that the hotel will work on starting from the property management systems to the choice of multitude of channels including Web Indirect Solution (OTAs), Global Reservation Call centres, Global Distribution Systems (GDS), Sales contracting tools, Revenue Management tools and Commissions payment tools.â€ť
In other words, it is the system that determines how technologically advanced and chain-effective the hotel is going to be. Till recently, adds Khanna, â€śThe choice was between Opera and Fidelio, which were ready to install programmes for reservation system and needed its own server space and maintenance cost. So the selection was based on the budget the brand had and of course what were the units that made the priority sell list. And while these platforms could be customised to budget and need, it lacked the 3600 visibility of the modern-day tool, and was limiting to the property it was used in.â€ť
Kishan adds, â€śA generous part of the guest pie that came from travel agentS and booking sites could not be utiliSed by that single property and not the group, unless of course new features could be fitted in.â€ť
The change came in form of a dedicated website, which, says Gupta, â€śAllowed the hotels to rein in newer segments with its presence across multiple platforms, and having its own personal site as well.â€ť
Websites, adds Gangadharan, â€śupped the reservation experience with features like We Chat. So now guests could see the property, avail the special discounts and exclusive offers and even have a real-time deal with the hotelier to arrive at a better deal.â€ť
What websites started, mobile apps elevated. While on the front desk, it led to the time saving self-check-ins with minimal effort and glitches for the guests, at the back end, mobiles made reservation system more interactive and smooth.
Unlike conventional times, adds Gangadharan, â€śthe new tech transition has effectively created this little platform that assimilates important information from all the departments and then processes it into charts and easy reports that are accessible to all major department heads in the hotel â€“ making functioning easy, proactive and effective.â€ť
For in front of the house, this integration has translated into quicker deliverables, says Gupta, who credits the modern technology advancement and consistent transition as the most effective tool today to not only create sales benches, improve services and offers, and utilise the real estate space in a hotel, but also predict the right time for effecting any expansion and renovation plans â€“ without losing on business.
While there is no denying that an advanced, secure, robust reservation system has helped hotels to be â€śin sight, in mind and in business,â€ť it has, like all things tech, been an incurring cost on the hotel resources nonetheless, which doubles up every time there is a possible tech transition. Which, concur Kishan and Gupta, â€śin modern times can be less than a year.â€ť
And keeping abreast with that has been the big challenge and Achilles heel for hotels across all verticals, except for the bigger brands like Indian Hotels Company Limited. All Taj properties including the heritage palaces and Vivanta, use an in-house TCS-created reservation platform since the advent of internet, which is regularly upgraded.
Of course, there are a few players like Zuri that have found alternatives in cloud-based systems like SaaS. Reveals Kushal Ranjan, revenue manager, The Zuri Whitefield, Bengaluru, â€śA far cry from the server-heavy reservation systems that needed manual uploading, SaaS is a cloud-based software service that has reduced upfront investments in setting up hardware costs or associated expenses such as full time, in-house IT staff to maintain the system or even an operator. Yet another reservation tool which helps hotels function seamlessly without compromising with quality is Synix CR from Sabre, which is currently the most flexible, user-friendly distribution solution available.â€ť
Ranjan elaborates, â€śSaaS can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an IT generated password and username, which gives the flexibility to work for all departments without the need to be physically present in the premises. The other thing that such cloud-based software tool help in, is influencing booking through engaging ideas.â€ť
A good example to Ranjanâ€™s explanation is the recent influx of walk-in videos and slides that appear on booking sites and mobile apps. These pictures accompanied with sound and text describing the philosophy and history of brands and their offerings have led to the trend of direct reservations as well.
â€śThese interactive videos are like the in-house e-concierge that not only help make the guest stay pleasurable, but sell more,â€ť conclude Gupta and Khanna, who feel that reservation system these days isnâ€™t about selling hotel rooms anymore, but an efficient way to do business.