At first glance, it would seem movement on the property-management system (PMS) front hasn’t been dramatic, says Warren Markwart, principal with MK2 Hospitality, a hotel management consultancy in Toronto. “[The systems] haven’t changed much in functionality in 20 years. They still manage room inventory and count the money.”
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been innovation — it’s just in the form of add-ons, and, in some cases, cloud-based solutions, which make PMS more accessible and affordable. These added functions can take on many forms, from web-based interfaces to help staff and enhance the guest experience to streamlining back-end functions to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.
The biggest conversation around PMS is whether to invest in cloud-based systems. For the most past, large operations continue to use proprietary software, largely because of the investments they made in their infrastructure, Markwart says. “Right now, they have to take and rewrite user interfaces themselves,” he explains.
Philip Barnes, GM of the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, agrees that a proprietary PMS can still be leveraged to enhance the guest experience. Recently, in-house developers have been working on mobile apps that link directly to the Fairmont’s PMS. For example, management provides desk agents with iPads so guests can avoid lineups at check-in and check-out. “It works well at check-out where a team member can meet [guests] at the elevator,” Barnes says. “Guests can walk from the elevator to the cab outside the front door and have their bill emailed to them automatically.”
The housekeeping system (REX by M-Tech) also interfaces with the Pacific Rim’s PMS and Inncomm room system. Now staff can use iPods to determine when a guest is arriving or leaving and which rooms need to be prepared in what order. “The interaction between these systems helps us work much more effectively,” Barnes says.
Management at properties such as Vintage Hotels in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. is proving there are opportunities for enhancements at smaller hotels, too. “We explore every opportunity to maximize the PMS we use. There are all sorts of wonderful and sophisticated guest-centric tools and resources you can make available to the team,” says Michelle Miller, corporate director of Revenue. The latest update to Vintage’s 10-year-old Maestro PMS system was integrating its Markham, Ont.-based supplier’s booking engine called ResWave to streamline back-end functionality. “We waited a while for this. PMS booking engines finally evolved to the point where they were sophisticated enough [for us] to make the move,” Miller says.
The move enabled the Vintage team to minimize its reliance on third-party booking engines, reducing the need to pay pass-through and data-bridging fees. Now the company has a seamless process for programming available inventory and rates. “Everything is in live time, and we don’t have to manage various extranets, which has helped us gain efficiencies and reduce errors,” Miller explains. ResWave also puts more power in the hands of staff to upsell and promote packages and amenities. “It’s a great revenue-generating opportunity for us,” says Miller. “And guests can use the website’s widgets to select the desired date, room type and packages.”
Meanwhile, for many independent properties and smaller chains that may not have the budget or IT staff to manage or set up hardware, the aforementioned cloud-based PMS is becoming a “sweet spot” at some hotels, notes Shawn Wenzel, president of CaribTek, an IT management consulting firm with offices in the U.S., Canada and Jamaica. “[These hotels] may not have dedicated IT people. With cloud-based systems, they can have a complete solution for a fixed monthly fee per room,” he explains.
This was the case for Chad Gulevich, owner of the 78-room Mountaineer Lodge in Lake Louise, Alta. and the 80-room Mount Robson Inn in Jasper, Alta. Computerization didn’t come easily at the small properties. “The only way to achieve property-management capabilities was to have servers and terminals on the properties and have backup and support for all the files. It wasn’t connected to the outside world, so people had to phone or email to make reservations,” he explains.
As soon as he discovered his web designer, Calgary-based WebRezPro, was getting into cloud-based PMS services, he made a move. “I jumped at it. I didn’t have to worry about any equipment or managing files, including all the backups and support. [Online travel agencies] can hook right into the system now. The best part is I can log in from anywhere and troubleshoot from home if something comes up. We can even book a room on the spot using an iPhone or iPad.”
A big bonus is that he doesn’t have the headache of having to get the two properties’ servers to “point to each other.” He adds: “When we purchased the property in Lake Louise in 2012, we immediately [connected to the cloud]. Now the system can be accessed from anywhere. As long as there’s a web connection, you can be at the front desk. And I can now use my iPhone to check out reports anytime, from anywhere.”
Gulevich notes that controls are in place to make sure the right people connect to the right information. “Some can only access the system through the computer at the hotel. Others can dial in from anywhere,” he says.
MK2’s Markwart believes the time may come that the cloud will also make its way into larger environments. “You just need a terminal with a browser and connection to the Internet. That’s it. No capital costs, no systems guy to maintain it, no computer room required. It will happen if a property decides they can save money by converting, need to replace a 10-year-old system or need to create a competitive advantage. To buy new file servers, upgrade networks and everything else, you would need $200,000 in capital that could go to carpets, drapes and bedspreads.”
Whatever the technological innovation, Fairmont’s Barnes points out the principles of the industry will always remain. “We still can’t forget about the guest experience. At the end of the day [guests] still look for a warm welcome, a clean room and everything working; technology helps us be better at doing that.”