Making IT Right

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Making IT Right

By Efrem Harkham - 10/01/2006

Few challenges are as complex and economically significant for independent hoteliers as technology. The word itself has several meanings, denoting hardware, software, reservations systems and communications, etc. And yet, a precise definition Ã.‚¬" a form of clarification we can all agree upon Ã.‚¬" remains seemingly beyond our grasp. However, if tapped appropriately we can truly utilize this tool and maximize profitability.

Change is necessary

The hospitality industry, which includes both independent hoteliers and large scale companies, needs to first acknowledge that change is necessary. The current situation, for independent hoteliers at least, is quite optimistic. The Internet allows us to expand our reach, and customizable features offer a degree of personalized service previously unimaginable. We need to offer our customers reliable solutions, but ones that are flexible. For, if this business teaches us anything, it is that one-size-fits-all is a false mantra, a philosophy that is neither timely nor accurate. From property management systems to central reservation systems, from sales and catering to customer management programs, making the right choice for your hotel is important.

Bear in mind that the search for a technology panacea, one that is reliable, affordable and easily installable, is not easy. Consider, for a moment, the facts: there are more than 100 categories of technology-based systems in use within the hotel industry, and the average full-service hotel employs at least 20 to 30 different systems. Now, think of these systems as separate entities that, though they respectively interact with customers, have very little if any connection amongst themselves. That often poses a problem. We should be able to quickly access information about a customer, which, given the current disconnect, is a daunting task. Sadly, this market intelligence is often too expensive to gather and properly consolidate. Nowhere is this issue more apparent than within the distribution process.

As an independent hotelier, I personally understand the need to modernize these systems. We need to move from a transaction-centric program to a customer-centric enterprise. Business needs change and technology must also evolve. LetÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s start with a bold but realistic goal. LetÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s find or create a compatible and economical way to deploy user authentication, data management, word processing, e-mail, firewalls and customer reporting packages in a simple and non-redundant fashion.

Progress already underway

There is also certainly plenty of good news we can and should celebrate. Take, for instance, the Internet and the Ã.Ã.•¬Ã…"democratization of informationÃ.Ã.•¬Ã¯¿½ between independent hoteliers and customers. Indeed, the Internet levels the playing field between franchised brands and smaller competitors in an unmistakable fashion. For example, itÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s now possible for independent hotels to get 30 percent or more of their reservations directly from the Internet. The lesson here is an obvious one Ã.‚¬" that the Internet is an effective and value-added sales tool, an equalizing force that often delivers independent hotels from relative obscurity to mainstream popularity.

These benefits require us to sometimes seek outside advice and assistance. Therefore, we should purposefully hire and adequately fund the most qualified IT professionals available. These employees are the real backbone of any hotelÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s technology infrastructure. In fact, a hotel should have a competent IT manager who can manage and run the diverse systems that underpin the success of the hospitality industry. Hotel companies also need to talk with their current vendors and establish a framework that is both practical and easily correctable. The vendors need to effectively serve the needs of hoteliers, operating within an environment that has different technical and business requirements within each hotel.

Gaining advantage

At Luxe Worldwide Hotels we have dedicated a great deal of time and resources to upgrade our systems to remain competitive and provide the most advanced technology for our owned and member hotels. Over the past 12 months our two owned properties have installed systems such as the Daylight sales and catering system and the Digital Alchemy customer relationship management system (CRM).

To maximize revenues and improve business it was essential for us to upgrade our global distribution systems (GDS) and customer reservation systems (CRS) technology. In order to upgrade our CRS functionality, it was mandatory to switch our vendor company from WizCom to Pegasus, which we did. At the same time we were able to upgrade our connectivity to next-generation seamless functionality in all four of our GDS to enable the highest level of connectivity for our hotel clients as well as to benefit the travel agentÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s experience.

In addition, we are methodically converting all of our 200 plus hotel members to SynXis RedX CRS technology. Our operations team has a played a tremendous role in this implementation. We will be continuing our CRS upgrade through the end of the year. Our company is driven by personal relationships and service so we individually train each of our hotels around the world on how to utilize the new systems.

Luxe is also launching its internal CRM system with Salesforce before the end of the year to ensure that all of our offices are up-to-date on all new developments within the company and our member hotels. All of these technology initiatives have proven successful in not only increasing our revenue and but also enhancing our relationship with our member hotels.

Technology should not be a foreign concept among hoteliers. In many respects, technology is our ally, our most important tool in the campaign to modernize and strengthen the hospitality industry. Challenges will undoubtedly appear along the way, but the overall fact remains the same Ã.‚¬" technology is the best way to attract new clients, compile market data and secure our own success.

Efrem Harkham is the President and CEO of Luxe Worldwide Hotels, a representation company of independently owned and operated hotels.