One of the biggest challenges (and windfalls) for hoteliers today is the growth of e-commerce and the ability of consumers to research and book hotel rooms directly over the Internet.
But for hotels that aren’t managed or owned by a large corporation with a dedicated IT staff to establish their Web presence and facilitate online booking, the growth of technology is a little more threatening. After all, it’s hard to tap into the huge e-commerce consumer market if you don’t have the technological backing to create a solid online presence. In fact, small hotel groups and independents may even stand to lose business as consumers who formerly booked via agents and more traditional channels turn to the Internet to simplify travel purchases.
One hotel that is actively and successfully pursuing the online consumer is On the Ave, a City Life group property. On the Ave is an upscale, 250-room hotel in New York’s Upper West Side. In mid-January, On the Ave partnered with SynXis Corp. to simplify their online booking process through the implementation of Book-A-Rez, SynXis’ Internet booking tool.
Book-A-Rez equips hotels with a booking button, which is added to their existing Web site and provides customers with an allocated selection of rooms and rates from which to make reservations. The inventory of rooms, rates and promotions are controlled by the hotel management, and can be updated instantly when managers access the Book-A-Rez control center over the Internet from a PC. The booking button and accompanying Web page provided by SynXis are designed to be consistent with the look and feel of the hotel’s existing Web site, so the reservation system is seamless, and customers don’t even realize they are booking through a third party.
Prior to using the Book-A-Rez solution, On the Ave was providing online reservations through a time consuming email system. According to Ed Maynard, general manager of On the Ave and its sister properties, 30/30 and Habitat, under the old system, customers completed an online form requesting room rates and availability.
The form was then emailed to the front desk, where clerks would gather the requested information and email it back to the customer. If the customer was interested in booking, he would send another email requesting reservations. Finally, the clerk would book the room in the reservations system and email back a confirmation number to the guest. With the Book-A-Rez system, the guest is able to complete the reservation process with no communication with the hotel. Once the reservation is made, they are instantly emailed a confirmation number from SynXis. The room is automatically removed from the hotel’s online inventory, and the reservation information is faxed or emailed to the On the Ave desk clerk to be added to the property management system. Now, says Maynard, “a person can get online, and based on availability and rates, make the reservation, get a confirmation and call it a day with one quick entry.”
In addition to providing the customer with a much smoother reservation process, the system frees up the front desk staff to attend to other matters. “We used to have to answer anywhere from 100 to 200 emails a day, just of inquiries,” says Maynard. “Now that number has gone to 20 or so a day.”
Another benefit of the Book-A-Rez system is its ability to quickly update the hotel’s Web offering through the Book-A-Rez control center. Managers are able to determine how much of their total inventory they want to make available on their Web site, and at what rates they want to offer those rooms. Rates, inventory and specials can be changed as often as necessary, and once the change is made, the site is instantly updated. Says Maynard, “We probably spend 10 to 30 minutes a day updating the site. It’s easier to use [than the old system], the information is more up to date and therefore, we’re getting more reservations.” And if the hotel is experiencing a need period, the manager is able to make a special rate available online to drive business for that time period. “One of the reasons we made the switch is because [timely] changes are imperative in our business. In one minute, we could be sold out, and in the next, we could have 50 rooms to sell.” With the Book-A-Rez system, managers can instantly make those 50 rooms available at a discounted rate to increase the chance that they still turn a profit for the hotel, rather than sitting empty.
On the Ave also plans to use Book-A-Rez to help manage customer relationships and do targeted marketing. Bernard Ellis, vice president of product strategy for SynXis, says that all of the reservation detail for an individual hotel is transported into an Oracle database and can be reported using Crystal reporting. This allows the hotel to produce or request reports on any piece of information logged by the system. Maynard discussed plans to do geographical marketing: “We’re going to do targeted marketing based on the ZIP codes of where we get particular business from so we’ll find out where our volume of business is coming from geographically. Then we’ll be able to use the database to mail out special offers during need times of the year.” Certainly, the Book-A-Rez product seems to be helping On the Ave capture online sales and meet the needs of technologically savvy consumers. Since adding the reservations tool and booking engine to their site, On the Ave has increased their online bookings by 25 percent.
Maynard reports that for the month of February alone, he received more than 120 online reservations. And according to Ellis, hotels that have a non-bookable Web site can experience an increase of up to 50 percent in ebookings with a bookable Web site, depending on their marketing strategy.
In conjunction with the Book-A-Rez product, On the Ave is also using SynXis to communicate with the global distribution systems (GDSs). SynXis’ integrated GDS connectivity allows managers to update the four major GDSs in the same way they update their Web site. By going in to the control center and making changes to inventory, rates and specials, managers can send updates to all of the major GDSs instantly.
Says Maynard, “There are thousands of travel agency terminals out there. Once we make a change, the change goes from SynXis out to those computer systems immediately. With the old system, it may have taken as long as 15 days to get some systems updated. [With SynXis,] it happens now, and it happens immediately, and that’s hugely important to us with what we’re facing on the Web.” Additionally, managers are better able to control purchasing channels and commission fees by choosing which rooms and rates to make available to each channel customizing room and rate descriptions for online consumers.
In the upcoming months, On the Ave also hopes to take advantage of an interface between their Springer-Miller Systems property management system and Book-A-Rez. With the interface, the reservation would not have to be faxed to the front desk to be entered into the property management system. Instead, the booking would downloaded to the PMS automatically when the guest booked a room.
According to Ellis, SynXis currently has PMS interfaces with select products from Ramesys, Lodging Management Systems, MAI Systems Corp. and AremisSoft, and they are in the process of developing others.
In addition to the features that On the Ave is using, SynXis also offers group booking and corporate travel features through the Book-A-Rez product. Thus, travel planners can book blocks of rooms and maintain group rooming lists, and business travelers can take advantage of corporate negotiated rates by accessing a rate page specifically dedicated to the corporation they work for, encouraging repeat travel business.