New Edge

By Ed Rubinstein, Contributing Editor | October 01, 2006

Hotels upgrade property management systems to stay ahead of competition

As more and more hotels expand their unit counts both domestically and globally, managing geographically dispersed properties is becoming increasingly challenging. But while the approach towards best of breed versus a single source supplier differs among operators, hoteliers from powerhouse global brands to upscale boutiques are realizing that it is critical to upgrade their property management systems (PMS) to gain and sustain a competitive edge. Historically, PMScomprised many applications that sat on legacy platforms and were connected with expensive interfaces. Such setups were pricey to maintain, difficult for new employees to learn, and were not optimized for Web-based distribution.

That scenario was the case at Atlanta-based Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), which mandated the installation of a new PMS nearly four years ago and continues to report encouraging results from the company's use of Opera and Opera Xpress through a partnership with Micros Systems (www.micros.com).

Back in 2002, key criteria in selecting a PMS focused on improving revenues, guest recognition and integration to the operator's Holidex Plus and HIRO systems, according to Gustaaf Schrils, VP for technology and services, IHG. "Replacing the legacy systems allowed us to regain the competitive advantage in today's marketplace by improving guest services, increasing revenue opportunities, and improving employee productivity rates," he highlights.

Schrils also touts Opera's features to interface with most third party systems, and the scalability on a worldwide basis. Moreover, the system ensures all this while meeting the business needs of the operator's non-Intercontinental brands, which include Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, and Staybridge and Candlewood Suites.

Other benefits that Schrils notes have been "significant reductions in training costs" which have eaten into IHG's operating costs. Also, extended stay brands can now customize their cleaning schedules to meet the needs of guests. Near term, other Opera features will include a condo/hotel interface and kiosk offering for self check-in/check-out.

Currently, more than 2,600 IHG hotels are running on either Opera or the Opera Xpress for smaller properties, with about 300 properties in the Americas to be completed by year-end.

Best of beach PMS

Beach front resorts and golf havens are also taking advantage of advances to property management systems, combining a single-source supplier with the "best-of-breed" flexibility to interface to third party applications like yield management and point-of-sale (POS).

That's the case at Myrtle Beach Seaside Resorts, the owner/operator of the Seaside Resort, Vista Resort, and Grand Shores Ocean Resort. Company owner Chris Shroff reports promising results from a suite of front- and back-office applications from Northwind (www.maestropms.com).

The solution has several functions for various departments, including reporting, sales/catering, guest experience management (GEM), and even condo owner management, the latter of which just went live at the newly opened namesake property in North Myrtle Beach. "Plus Maestro is very reasonable when it comes to developing interfaces that refer to the PMS links to the operator's Ez RMS yield (www.ezrms.com) and Restaurant Manager (www.restaurantmanager.com) point-of-sale applications," informs Shroff.

On the reporting side, Shroff provides some salient snippets of how the company is using Maestro Analytics to develop time-sensitive promotions during off peak months, typically May and June. "We now know instantly the zip codes from our customers from any month which helps build our business and helps with limited time offers," he highlights.

The Maestro module also provides a plethora of "canned" reports on occupancy, American Depositary Receipt (ADR) and revenue per available room (RevPar) by room type and many other key performance indicators. It also provides an interface for other important tasks such as customized reporting.

With guest experience management (GEM) quickly replacing the whole notion of managing customer relationships, Shroff states that the GEM module allows his team to dispatch electronic thank-you notes with guest surveys to praise jobs well done and to identify areas that may need improvements. "Many consumers don't like to comment at the property but like to rant and rave in e-mails. It has been a great tool to praise jobs well done and learn from mistakes," Shroff says.

One stop PMS

Hoteliers are also adding new functional twists to PMS, expanding their relationships with sole-source suppliers to include interfaces that enhance guest services, employee conveniences, and even property-wide security concerns.

That scenario is just unfolding at the newly opened Rosen Shingle Creek, a 1,500-room resort that opened earlier this month by Rosen Hotels, which also owns the Rosen Plaza and Rosen Center. The sprawling Shingle Creek includes 14 food and beverage outlets, an 18-hole golf course, spa and fitness center. Guided by the operator's technology arm, Millennium Technology Group, the resort is taking advantage of newly developed features via a long-standing alliance with Visual One Systems (www.v1s.com).

"The all in one package from Visual One ties every application together with enhanced operability between the applications, allowing us to deliver very specialized service to customers," apprises Millennium president Jim Bina.

One of the largest enhancements is signature capture at guest check-out and the POS system, which allows any revenue center to charge and display guest charges within the Rosen properties.

The operator is also piloting a self check-in/check-out program at the Rosen Center that includes hardware from NCRCorporation (www.ncr.com), which he says is likely to expand to the other two properties.

On the workflow front, soon the 1,600-plus employees at Rosen Hotels will no longer have to carry cash thanks to ID badges and a Visual One interface that automatically deducts their meals from their payroll checks.

Moreover, with hotel security and guest-centric information becoming increasingly important, Bina also alludes to a unique Visual One interface that expands the utility of the electronic locking solution provided by Onity keys (www.onity.com) to include any room or property charges, to enter and exit any Rosen property, and to charge fees at the parking garages. "The guest name and room number is not encoded on the keys which significantly enhances data integrity and security," says Bina. In fact, the only piece of data on any key is a unique account number that has been created by Visual One, so there's no personal information on any key.


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