Calls to improve integrations among the various systems in a hotel tech stack are not new. But what has changed in recent years is the way new, modern, cloud-based providers are taking ownership of the integrations process – taking the onus off of hoteliers and embracing the responsibility of making sure hoteliers’ systems are speaking fluently to one another.
During a recent panel discussion, experts from some of the industry’s leading solutions providers – SHR, iVvy and Jonas Chorum – came together to discuss their new, unified focus on changing the culture around integrations. Each said the initiative stems from ultimately helping hoteliers serve their guests more effectively. Below, we outline what deeply integrated systems allow hoteliers to accomplish.
Evolving Integrations Strategies
While Jake Lewis has been with Jonas Chorum for nearly 20 years, it’s just in the past couple years he’s seen the company’s philosophy around integrations' change. In the past, he says, integrations were always considered to be long, difficult endeavors with no expectations that the connection was going to be completed quickly.
"The PMS was expected to just do everything and these other things were just nice to have,” Lewis said. “Now, in today's world, companies are more open to sharing data we didn't in the past. We’ve had to figure out ways to allow our partners to access data to positively impact the guest experience.”
At iVvy, a modern sales and catering platform, the company is focused on pushing and pulling data into the right systems so hoteliers can stop constantly “chair pivoting” from one system to another, according to SVP of Sales Amy Forss. “We don't want to handcuff you into having your data in only one place and not allowing you to bring that data into another system that will allow for better efficiencies,” Forss said. “Today, we've got smaller staffs and people working in multiple different positions, so we’ve got to build processes that are more efficient.”
Data for the Entire Guest Journey
Part of what’s driving a new focus around integrations is the fact that hoteliers today are understanding more and more about the guest journey. To optimize the booking process all the way through check-out, systems can serve data that improve the experience each step of the way.
“We’re understanding more about the guest journey from the very beginning, in the planning session, when the guest is just interacting with the website or through the call center application,” said Estella Hale, chief product evangelist at SHR, which provides three products – CRS, CRM and RMS – that constitute what the company calls a revenue generation engine. “Knowing the right profile of the guest, knowing their total spend on previous stays, all of that is important in knowing how to present the correct offer.”
Hale said hoteliers cannot personalize offers if their CRM doesn’t speak properly with the RMS and the booking engine, where buying decisions are made.
“Having a CRM that speaks with the RMS and the booking engine allows you to present more relevant offers to your customers and allows you to create a more dynamic booking experience,” she said. “We’re enabling that transaction at the initial phase of interaction, but then we’ve got to pass that information to the PMS so the hotel staff can access it when the guest comes on property.”
Lewis said it’s critical for the PMS to ingest booking data from third-party applications. Without it, hoteliers are spending time looking up information, not catering to the guests.
“As you look at a CRM, booking engine and all the data that is created prior to the guest arrival – maybe you know they booked this rate and that they want extra pillows and wine and cheese in their room – but it doesn’t do any good to give them those options if when they show up, it doesn’t happen,” he said. “So it’s critical, through those integrations, that the PMS gets that information and it’s distributed to the right teams. We want to make sure maintenance or housekeeping knows to put those things in the room. It can be as simple as letting housekeeping know that someone has checked in.”
Driving Efficiency for Sales Teams
Using integrations to improve the leisure guest journey is one thing, but iVvy’s sales and catering platform takes the next step by optimizing the booking experience for meeting planners and group business, Forss said.
"The first or second venue to respond to a lead is usually the winner of the business, but if sales teams have all this manual work they’ve got to do – go look in the PMS and see what we're selling online and then go through all these different processes in order to put a proposal together and check availability – how in the world am I going to be the first to get back to my customer?” she asked. “Sales teams are not usually all that comfortable with all these other systems.”
Forss said integrating the sales software with the PMS saves hoteliers time even after a group has been booked. “For instance, my customer wants to know if one of their attendees is in their block. Typically, they have to go look in the PMS to see if that person has booked within the block. We can ingest all that data so that, when the meeting planner is asking, the sales team has all the information in one system right at their fingertips.”
For SHR and iVvy, a tight integration between the sales and catering system and the RMS has proven fruitful. “We’re never going to take on being the revenue optimization tool for the customer, but with the right integration we can provide data for revenue management to internalize – what is tentative and what is definite business on the books – so hotels can accurately quote future group business while taking the transient demand forecast into account,” Forss said.
Future Innovation Ahead
Despite all the progress that has been made on the integrations front, the panelists said their companies aren’t slowing down innovation.
“From an SHR standpoint, we're looking at increased automation across platforms so that when something happens in one system it creates an action in a different system,” Hale said. “The need for automation of manual steps will continue into the future and these types of workflows are where we see things going.”
Forss agreed, suggesting the hotel industry is lacking behind other industries when it comes to automated technology. “Knowing that we might not have the number of people working in hotels that we once had, how do we create processes that are better automated?” she asked. “At iVvy, we’ve been working on automating the booking process so that a customer could actually book a meeting or a group block through the hotel’s website and the information is shared in real time with the hotel staff.”
“To add to our integrations being better, they also have to be more cost-effective,” Hale added. “Integrations have always been extremely expensive for our hotel partners and I think we all need to look to each other to ensure that isn't something that's going to hold people back.”