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03/04/2016

Redefining Central Reservations

Central reservation systems (CRS) are not new to the hospitality industry, but the way hotels manage the business today is not the same as when the CRS first appeared in the 1960s. With hotel brands operating their own websites for booking, as well as their partnerships with online travel agencies (OTA) and booking apps, the CRS has had to evolve over the years to keep up, and it continues to change with the times to address increasing market competition.

Operators must ensure OTAs and other online booking partners are in sync with its own website offering in terms of availability and pricing in real-time, while also maintaining their own in-house offers.

“We push rates out and pull bookings back in, and we also integrate with our property management system to maintain that flow and transparency,” says Brian Christensen, corporate vice president of revenue management and distribution at American Casino and Entertainment Properties LLC, (www.acepllc.com). The company, which is based in Las Vegas and oversees four gaming properties, uses Travel Trippers (www.traveltripper.com) reservation system. “I remember a time when we were taking faxes and not knowing where we stood on inventory because of bookings not accounted for yet,” Christensen continues. “Now we push out rates and receive bookings in real-time.”

A major component of the modern CRS model gives more control to the hotel and can also bring in more direct revenue. This was the case for Tubac County Inn in Tubac, Ariz. after switching to Little Hotelier (www.littlehotelier.com) in April 2015. Now, instead of bookings being a 50/50 split with OTAs, Tubac is receiving 61 percent of bookings directly from its own website, according to manager Ivan Drechsler.
“The booking engine itself offers a more simplified form where you can show room types and availability for guests to view pricing right there,” he notes. “It also offers customized pre-stay and post-stay emails, which is important. The post stay thanks them for coming and makes a note that the best prices will always be here on this booking site.”

Little Hotelier also allows the property to control how much inventory the OTAs have access to, and they can close out certain dates if they would like, said Drechsler. There is even the availability to offer packaging and add-on sales, which they may adopt in the future.

Beyond reservations: CRS for up-selling & feedback
At Vintage Hotels (www.vintage-hotels.com), operating five resort properties in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, the Northwind Maestro (www.maestropms.com) property management system and the ResWave Booking Engine, allows for a fully integrated system centralized for the sales team at all of the company’s properties. This allows Vintage Hotels to offer much more to guests who are booking online, according to Michelle Miller, general manager and corporate director of revenue at the company.

“The CRS needs to provide means to maximize revenue by selling and upselling room categories, selling pre- and post-dates, and offering suggestive selling for amenities, dining, spa appointments and activities to further enhance the guest’s stay,” says Miller. “E-forms not only provide the base needed to serve as a basic confirmation, but they also now provide the ability to manage loyalty programs, sell and upsell services and amenities not yet booked, cross promote sister properties, events and locations, and follow-up with forms that collect guest evaluations.”

American Casino and Entertainment Properties has also seen conversions on its own website increase since updating the CRS seven months ago to Travel Tripper. Similar to the OTAs, the site can now offer image galleries and a call-to-action button that can be changed, such as 48-hour sale or save 20 percent, explains Christensen.

“If we start running out of rooms, we can show there are only five rooms left or even have a pop-up showing 578 people booked a room in the last 48 hours,” he says. “We do a tremendous amount of bookings with OTAs and consider them great partners, but we want to make sure we are converting everywhere, including on our own website.”

Location & data bolster functionality
With geolocation, a hotel’s system can tell where a customer is located in the world, whether on a computer or mobile device, and target offers to them based on this information. “Maybe you have a specific group you are pursuing or you are looking to make a special deal for people coming from a certain area. With geo-targeting, they can automatically get that offer based on their location,” explains Drechsler.

In some cases, the system will allow operators to get down to the zip code level for pricing and offers, and at American Casino & Entertainment Properties, they can offer promotions to Canada, but not London, for example, and can track it by IP address, says Christensen. 

“International consumers like a free breakfast, so we can offer that to make it more desirable when competing with other hotels,” he notes.
“Many systems are reliant on third party channels that don’t allow for the best collection of information on your guest,” Miller explains.

Looking toward the future, Christensen believes that more data collection is needed, especially in tracking what customers are looking for and to see areas of demand hotel owners may not have identified. He also foresees PayPal integration being another must-have.
Additionally, the ability to book all activities — from restaurants and rooms to local sporting events — in one place would be helpful and offer a seamless experience for guests, Drechsler points out. “It all has to be shot from one cannon and available for the consumer to book,” he says.