Golf & Spa: Top IT Trends

By Tammy Mastroberte | September 08, 2008

When it comes to the latest technology in spa and golf management, personalization is helping resorts keep the appointment book full, the bottom line high, and the clients coming back. There are usually endless choices when it comes to having a relaxing day at the spa or playing a leisurely game of golf. While convenient for guests, spa and golf resort owners need to stay on top of the trends to remain competitive, win customers and hold on to them.

"Our focus is all on the golfing guest," says Steve Harker, manager of golf sales and performance for Disney Golf, which offers 81 holes of golf on four 18-hole championship courses and a 9-hole family-play course. "There are so many choices to make when picking a golf course to play on, so we know we have to do things to cultivate a relationship with each golfer."

Tracking technology
Tracking customer preferences, offering amenities, and direct marketing are just some of the ways that technology is helping spa and golf resort operators continue to satisfy customers and differentiate themselves from their surrounding competition.

"We want our guests to have a seamless experience, whether at our hotel or our day spa," explains Lisa Jane Gibson, director of revenue management at Vintage Hotels (www.vintage-hotels.com) in Niagara, Ontario, Canada. The company traded in its excel spreadsheets, used to track appointments and client preferences, for Northwind's Maestro (www.maestropms.com) Spa Module two years ago, and integrated it with the Northwind property management system (PMS) that was already in place. The integration allows guests to book dynamic packages while providing operators with the ability to track guest preferences to build customized visits.

"Now, we can maintain guest history, post bills to room accounts and keep track of preferences for treatments, even down to the fingernail polish a guests loves," Gibson says. "We can verify these preferences and really set the tone of expectation for booking."

Connecting customers
In the age of Blackberries and iPhones, convenience is a huge factor for everyone. Knowing this, many spa and golf resorts are now offering increased Wi-Fi access.

"Anywhere the guest goes on our property they can access Wi-Fi, and in the spa, we have a separate section where it is available for guests needing to use it," says Gibson.

Like Vintage Hotels, Disney Golf also added Wi-Fi last year to its three locations. This follows the installation of golf cart GPS systems from GPS Industries (www.gpsindustries.com) three years ago, which provide guests with directions on the course and allows them to track other golf carts and players on the course to see who may be behind in their play. The system even offers PGA professional tips for how to play each hole, according to Harker.

"All these things add to the experience, especially when someone has never played the course before," notes Harker.

At Vintage Hotels' spa locations, the spa module technology allows them to capture information about each client so that they can customize the experience. "We can enter in the system that Ms. Smith likes a glass of red wine between treatments, and we can set it up so she has time to do that during her visit," says Gibson. "Having that history allows us to anticipate what a guest's wants are before they have to ask. That gives us a competitive edge."

The Spa at Foundry Park Inn (www.foundryparkinn.com) in Athens, Atlanta, also tracks client history, including services received and retail purchases, in an effort to target marketing and personalize the customer experience, according to spa director Edward MacFarlane.

Seamless integration
Whether installing something new, upgrading the old or adding onto existing systems, integration is key. And for those operating more than one location, it is essential, says Gibson.

As a company with multiple properties and spas, Vintage Hotels uses a centralized booking system that is fully integrated to work in conjunction with its PMS. "We use Northwind to maintain our PMS, sales, catering and spa modules all on one database. We run our four properties off the one main database," Gibson explains.

Since the company operates two spas in the same community, it is important to book both locations to their premiums, Gibson says, and "with integration, we can have the concierge toggle between the two spas to see what is available so we are not unnecessarily turning away any business."

At The Spa at Foundry Park Inn, Open Activities and Open Inventory from OpenCourse Solutions (www.opencourse.com) allow for spa, golf and dining reservations to be made from any workstation on the property, says MacFarlane. The system can also set up rental equipment, and the spa module interfaces with Micros' (www.micros.com) Opera Enterprise hotel management system, as well as the accounting system.

A personal approach
With the ability to track a customer's history, targeted marketing is helping to keep both spas and golf courses booked to the maximum.

The Spa at Foundry Park Inn captures client email addresses to send appointment confirmations as well as cancellations, and uses them for specific spa promotions marketing based on guest history, MacFarlane says.

For Gibson, targeted marketing helps Vintage Hotels' spas fill slower time periods. "We have a large day spa clientele, so we can market directly to them on our off time of the day," she says. "Also, since we just remodeled one of our spas, we are marketing to hotel guests separately to have them visit the spa."

And at Disney, the company has taken marketing a step further by allowing guests to experience the golf course before even visiting the property. Its website, Disneyworldgolf.com, features an animated fly-through of every single hole, "like you are on a magic carpet floating above and moving through 3D animation," explains Harker.

Wish list
Despite the advancement in spa and golf management and marketing technology, there are still areas where operators continue to search for the right system. Harker explains Disney is challenging GPS providers to create a link from the GPS to the registration system. This will allow the company to measure customer satisfaction on the golf course in real-time. Golfers would be able to sign into the GPS system, and it would recognize them, Harker says. Then, every couple of holes, the system would ask golfers about their satisfaction with certain experiences, such as the check-in at the golf shop.

"This would allow us to keep a loyalty program and know about our customers, as well as offer personalization through technology," notes Harker.

Also, because it would be in real-time, if one of the questions gets a low rating, someone from the golf course can immediately deal with the problem. "At Disney we do a lot of guest service management, and if something goes a little bit wrong, and it is fixed, a person is more likely to rate you as excellent than if they just had a good experience," Harker explains.

"You don't want somebody to go out on the course and be there for four hours and not be happy. You want to address it within those four hours," he says.

For Vintage Hotels, Gibson says the next step for the spa is to allow for online bookings in real-time, rather than having clients submit a request online. "I would like to have the guest be able to see up-to-the-minute availability, and be able to book an appointment where it goes directly into the PMS," she says.

Each year, more technology is introduced into the spa and golf industry, but the end goal remains the same: keep it about the customer.

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