Contributed by Estella Hale, V.P. of Product, SHR
In a complex distribution landscape that offers more and more choices, being able to pick the best of those choices has become more challenging and yet, never more important. At a recent webinar with SkyTouch Technology's Rui Pereira, we discussed the most crucial items for today's hoteliers to have in what we call the distribution toolbox. Since only a quarter of our webinar audience reported having a fully-developed, guest-centric distribution strategy, we decided to center the discussion around not only the best tools, but how to get the best return out of each one on its own, and as an optimized part of an overall strategy.
Critical Hotel Systems-Booking
It helps to simplify the areas that you need to consider when first tackling your strategy by breaking them down into manageable parts, starting with channels. GDS is integral, as it provides you a global audience with great offerings, publishing seamlessly from your CRS to all GDS platforms. From a guest perspective, mobility must also be addressed, but in a cross-context way to provide reservations for any device. Conversion can happen on multiple devices, so make sure your content looks good on all platforms. Additionally, direct OTA connections that use channels, sub-channels, and rate codes to identify the source of booking via the mapping that lives in your CRS are also vital. For your call centers, you should be able to channel specific descriptions and visibility of offers via your CRS. All of these feed into your major touchpoint and your most controllable venue in today's booking landscape-your hotel website.
A Seamless Experience
Once you have these larger pieces in place, you can go deeper into the hotel website booking experience. Hoteliers need the ability to craft messaging and choose verbiage that suits their target guest audience. This is why persuasive messaging features like strike-through, which show immediate savings and value on-screen for the guest, have become must-haves to drive more direct bookings. The goal, after all, is to get guests to convert in the moment. When a guest can see that strike-through, they can see and feel that value in real time, influencing conversion.
Another area to focus on is improving our response to guest booking requests. Normally, in order to provide a price and an availability response to a guest, we use the trio of room/rate/date. However, these components can tend to create a confusing game of hide-and-seek for the guest. But by using an advanced booking engine geared to the technique of blended rates, you can begin filling the gaps between rates with a master rate, so guests can continue to book on their preferred stay dates, with all of this blending done behind the scenes. With blended rates, any promotion is simply blended into the guest's selection to create one rate for the entire stay.
From Conversion into Service
To de-mystify and master your systems more fully, you also need to look at what your PMS and CRS interfaces are saying to each other, in other words, how they are integrated. Some interfaces are very robust, and some are not, but in any system, reservations always take precedence. So, when you're trying to better-master your current system or even picking out a new one, you need to figure out what are non-negotiable categories for your interface, and what are simply nice-to-haves. Ask yourself; Am I able to send that confirmation email in a timely manner? Then, am I able to bring that relevant information forward in the booking process so the guest has the experience of being "expected?"
Critical Hotel Systems-Interfacing
We continued the discussion by outlining benefits of interfacing your PMS with a robust CRS, focusing on convenience and increasing bookings. Rui brought up the provocative issue of channel managers versus a CRS, one that has been seeing a lot of discussion lately in the hospitality tech sector. Though channel managers can be used to manage hotel room rates and availability distributed to the various distribution channels, as Rui pointed out, a CRS can do everything a channel manager can do, but with considerably stronger functionality. This includes the ability to manage many properties from one system, plus advanced reporting tools, availability, and multi-property rate management, not to mention connectivity to other distribution systems like GDS. Another major advantage of using a CRS as opposed to simply a channel manager is the ability to have two-way connectivity for rates and inventory as well as reservations. This might explain why the CRS remains the preferred distribution choice for chain hotels and independents alike.
Availability Management Tech
Rui explained some of the more effective availability management features that every savvy hotelier should have in their toolbox within their PMS platform. Ideally, these should be applicable at the property and rate-plan level. These features include Minimum Length of Stay (MLOS), selling limits, and hard close. For instance, you may have a discounted rate that you only want to sell in a limited way in favor of some of your higher rates, so you need to be able to do a hard close quickly. Another useful feature is rate buckets, or rate grouping, which can be used to better-manage and calculate your rate plans. This can also help you maintain rate parity with your OTAs by creating a bucket that is specifically used for that purpose. Another interesting feature to look for is revenue management rules. When used correctly, they can generate additional revenue by making adjustments to rates automatically in response to changes in hotel occupancy without you having to go into the system to make that change.
Distribution Check List
- Understand your cost of acquisition
- Drive more direct bookings—your least expensive cost of acquisition
- Align your marketing and distribution plans
- Optimize your business mix—understand who your guests really are
- Focus on offline as well as online channels (call centers, for example)
- Choose your best technology to bring it all together!