The Power of One

By Lisa Terry • Contributing Editor | May 01, 2006

Managing the average business or leisure hotel is challenging enough. That's multiplied at resort properties, where both the breadth of operations and physical sprawl is much larger.

Resort operators are increasingly turning to more IT systems to support operations and enhance the guest experience. A common, integrated platform can help operators better understand the relationships among varied services and profitability, and package services that will improve the guest experience and the bottom line. That's a fairly new development for the hospitality industry, where separate, siloed applications have long been the norm.

One-stop shop
When he entered hospitality from another industry, Lee Dubey, information technology director at PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, was surprised at the lack of application integration. "It used to be, and you still see somewhat, that the guest would make a room reservation for a package with spa and golf appointments," but would be transferred from one department to the next to set them up. That's changed since the PGA Resort, which features five golf courses, a spa, tennis, health & racquet club, croquet lawns, multiple dining options, and a 34,000 square-foot conference wing, installed a property management system from Visual One (v1s.com).

The solution includes golf POS and tee time scheduling functionality that the resort helped Visual One programmers develop, and integrates with its Micros food and beverage POS (micros.com) and a separate spa solution, which the resort may replace with a Visual One module.
Now, guests can make all their reservations at once and receive an accurate schedule at check-in. A single card acts as a room key and charge card throughout the resort, and PGA National gains more insight into guest preferences. "Customers should not realize how great your technology is," says Dubey. "It should just work."

A key step in choosing the right platform for the resort was creating user profiles for each set of jobs in the resort. "That was a tremendous help in the RFP and demo process, to make sure we were covering their needs and rating it on that," says Dubey. "The ultimate goal is for those to become SOPs."

Jeff Palmer, CFO at Nantucket Island Resorts, is even more bullish on recent improvements in integration technology. Nantucket sought a single PMS platform for its five premier resorts and marina in Nantucket, Massachusetts, to simplify support and enable comprehensive real-time reporting, choosing Northwind's Maestro (maestropms.com). So he's fine with integrating separate packages for specific applications----Micros for food and beverage, as well as a third-party spa application and what he considers better than a marina application: a seasoned marina manager.
"If integration is smooth your options are open----you can go with the best food and beverage POS company," for example, says Palmer, "as long as information can be accurately transferred to the PMS and then to the general ledger."

Common platform
Getting to the one-vendor platform was also a goal for Sea Pines Resort, a 50-year-old Hilton Head Island resort that stretches over 5,000 acres, due in part to its remote location. "It's hard to get support, and hire technical people" to work in the resort's remote island location, says Randy Holcombe, director of information services.

"Previously, we were not automated on the golf side, and PMS did not talk to POS and general ledger interfaces were manual and there was a lot of duplication," Holcombe says. Once Sea Pines deployed Visual One, "there was a huge time savings and elimination of error," he notes. "We don't have issues of, •did the money get into the general ledger?' A lot happens in real time." Sea Pines deployed a fiber optic, DSL and wireless network across the resort to connect far flung operations.

The single platform has also eliminated the costs of disconnected operations. Before real-time inventory, for example, "people were used to doing things on the fly, such as changing prices in front of the customer at the pro shop," says Holcombe, or depleting tee-shirt inventory at a remote kiosk during the MCI Heritage Golf Classic. Those events no longer occur. Real-time reporting dashboards provide up-to-the-minute status of any operation. "You're not halfway through the season before you find out you're not making your budget." Next up is enhanced email, more Web-based services for guests and Visual One's sales and catering module.

Holistic approaches
Not surprisingly, Rancho La Puerta, in Mexico, known for its holistic approach to mind/body/spirit fitness and wellness, also looked for a holistic approach to its technology needs. "we need very reliable information in order to provide personal service for our many repeat customers," explains Peter Jensen, director of marketing.

Rancho La Puerta chose ResortSuite (resortsuite.com) to bring it all together. "We face the challenge of multiple point-of-contact interactions with each guest," Jensen adds. "For example, hotel and spa reservations are made through our office in the U.S. Upon arrival in Mexico, each guest is immersed in an incredibly wide variety of treatment options, fitness programs, classes, boutique shopping, and other activities that make up the full, Rancho experience. ResortSuite's ability to track each guest's requests, expenditures, and preferences at every stage of the process becomes critical to helping us maintain a personal touch."

Seaway Hotels, took its own path to developing a holistic system by hiring programmers from its most recent PMS system developer, then using Best Software's ProvideX (bestsoftware.com) to write its own applications for The Biltmore and its four other properties.

"One of my pet peeves is interfacing," says Marc Stidham, CIO. "They don't work, and they often just take a serial version and make it an IP version." So Seaway staff wrote 14 applications, including PMS, POS, spa, gift card and scheduling. Among the benefits, says Stidham, is the ability for a manager to ask for a new feature today and get it tomorrow. The results have been so successful that the resort is considering productizing a baseline version of the applications for sale to other hoteliers.

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