At the five sister properties of Nantucket Island Resorts, each of the vast array of room types offers a unique combination of amenities that must be carefully documented and relayed to the guest. By contrast, rooms in Aramark's national park hotels are fairly consistent from Denali to Shenandoah and don't demand such visibility to detail.
So even within the basic property management system (PMS) functions, the needs of one resort can vary widely from another. But what really makes a resort stand out from a standard hotel property in its PMS needs is the large array of additional revenue centers, such as spas, excursions, sports facilities, classes, entertainment, equipment rentals, and so on, as well as its relationships with third-party services. These days, those needs are further complicated by new ownership models for assets within many resort properties, ranging from timeshares to residential ownership. Some also offer club memberships that may or may not replicate the requirements of an on-site guest.
Resorts usually share these common needs: offering guests the ability to make reservations for amenities and services and charge back that product or service to their room or account; and access to detailed customer data for marketing and analysis.
But requirements diverge widely from there. Selecting, implementing and refining the IT environment is a critical element to attaining a resort's mission. Resorts who have been through the paces offer these insights into how to accomplish the job.
1. Start with the mission. Is the resort guest-centric or focused on efficient operations? The business model is the launching point for the functions and interplay required of all of the applications enacted to support it. "For us, it was necessary to understand what is the absolutely essential business info we need to share," says Thomas Stranberg, director of IT for The Biltmore Company, operator of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. Biltmore, for example, started with a resort and added lodging later.
Another important question in defining the mission is: Should the PMS, food and beverage, customer relationship management (CRM) or some other system be the IT hub?
At Aramark's Parks and Resorts Division, its PAR Springer-Miller PMS (www.springermiller.com) is still the hub. Equally important are the ancillary systems attached to it, says Roger Franke, director of IT. Attaining a single customer reservation system was a key element in the selection, which replaced a solution that included 27 disparate applications.
2. Understand and document business processes and needs. IT teams at Smuggler's Notch (www.smuggs.com), a Vermont mountain vacation resort, spent a year conducting an internal review before creating a request for proposals for its property management system. Later implementation of ResortSuite's (www.enablez.com) solution was successful "because we really understood as an organization what we were looking for," says Lisa Howe, senior business advisor for the resort.
3. Select flexible partners and use their expertise. While most IT executives are involved in a handful of PMS implementations over their careers, software developers work on them every day, and may have insights to share from operations with similar challenges.
4. Think beyond suite versus best of breed. Even resorts that buy suites or multi-module PMS systems looking for the tightest possible integration use at least some third-party applications. HTNG is helping make those integrations more robust. Seek the array of solutions that best meets your needs and business processes, weighing the value of suite versus standalone applications alongside other factors.
When the Gold Coast's Lago Mar Resort & Club upgraded to Micros' OPERA (www.micros.com) from an early version, the suite still didn't offer all of the club membership capabilities that the resort required. To address this, Micros partnered with OpenCourse Solutions (www.opencourse.com) and Card Solutions Corp. (www.cardsc.com), which enabled Lago Mar to attain the transparency and integration it sought while greatly enhancing its ability to track both guest and member on-site spending.
"We were concerned about interfacing, especially with so many different pieces, but we sat down and started talking and everyone was very interested in making this work," says Gerard Belisle, controller. "It's worked out very well."
5. Draw out details from comparable users. "Talking to other properties similar to us was huge" for help with tasks such as setting up room types, says Carol Andersson, director of revenue for Nantucket Island Resorts (www.nantucketislandresorts.com). Nantucket depends on its Northwind PMS system (www.maestropms.com) for cross-hotel reservations, a single chargeback system, the ability to extract data for analysis and personalized marketing, and to accommodate upcoming spa and timeshare programs.
"It's worth the time to drive to a hotel, sit for an hour or two and discuss what the system can and can't do and what they'd like to see," says Jeffrey Gloeb, vice president of hotel sales for Wynn Las Vegas, which uses the Micros Opera suite with full property management. "Be conversational in tone...and talk about real intricacies: how do they feel about performance, does it do what they want it to do?"
6. Configure carefully. Hundreds of decisions must be made in the process of configuring a PMS. "We changed how we configured our system three times, when we realized it was not the most efficient way to use it," says Smuggler's Notch's Howe. A 10-member multi-departmental team worked through the sometimes painful process, she says. Next came a conference-room beta test, where the team put a fictitious guest through all the events involved in a week's stay. Finally, the system was run in parallel for several weeks, so by the time it was live, users were ready and the configuration was rock solid.
7. Balance efficiency with needs. The Biltmore took a guest perspective when configuring its PAR Springer-Miller solution, so the resort could understand all the different needs a guest may express and ensure the system was configured to address them. But in doing so, it's important not too err too much on the side of expediency. Biltmore wanted tech interfaces that minimize the time staff spends looking at a screen, but they didn't want to skimp on data collection either. "There is significant value in spending extra time acquiring guest profile info, even if you're looking to drive down call times," says The Biltmore's Stranberg.
8. Look past immediate requirements. "In hindsight, I would buy as many bells and whistles as possible," says Wynn Las Vegas' Gloeb. "When you buy a stripped down version, it costs more to add later." Enhanced PMS reporting, for example, is worth the investment. At the very least, "pre-establish enhancement costs in the beginning," he recommends.
9 .Take it S-L-O-W. Jeff Yamaguchi, executive VP for R&R Global Hospitality (www.rr-global.com), recommends resorts "don't try to solve all of the problems at the same time. Wait until the technology and the customer base matures enough."
While it's tempting to leverage all the new capabilities, organizations can only absorb change at a certain pace. The Biltmore created a robust change management process as a part of its PMS implementation.
10. Continue to train and learn. Participate in user groups and maintain contact with other users to exchange ideas on an ongoing basis. Nantucket Island Resorts cultivated power users at each property, to help others learn to get the most out of the solution.
Resorts seeking to add condo/timeshare capability to their solutions multiply the complexity exponentially, making careful assessment and slow, careful implementation even more essential in resort PMS rollout.