With more hotel booking channels than ever before, the role of the central reservations system is increasingly crucial as a single reference point linking the global distribution system and internet distribution systems. How is new technology further enhancing CRS? Donald Gasper investigates.
Central reservation systems (CRS) are essential to the daily operation of most hotels. With technology advancing at a rapid pace, forward-thinking properties are seeking ways to combine innovations with their existing systems to stay competitive.
A well-functioning CRS is integral in running an efficient, profitable hotel business, says Jeff Edwards, head of global hotel business at Amadeus IT Group. “So, let’s remind ourselves what they’re doing for us today. A CRS allows hotels to take control of their inventory and manage rates and promotional offers across all channels in accordance with seasonal or regional events or individual guest profiles.
“Having a clear single view of complete availability at any given time helps hotels determine how and at what price to sell – and upsell – remaining rooms and services via the most valuable channel.”
Many central reservation systems are struggling to keep up with the increasing numbers of travellers, especially if they are to meet the business goal to drive greater guest engagement. Today’s CRS needs to allow hoteliers to personalise their offer for each customer – from rooms to dining to spa treatments, excursions and more, while still allowing the hotel complete visibility and control over what they are selling.
Over the years many chains have built customised IT systems. These tend to come with a strong emotional attachment from their hotel owners and employees, but there is also an awareness of the cost and limitations of evolving and adapting. Whether they build on their existing system or buy a series of one-off solutions, hoteliers inevitably end up with either an in-house system that has been modified so many times it struggles to function, or a stitched-together combination of disparate vendor solutions.
“We now see a third model evolving,” says Edwards, “which is to partner with a provider that can give hoteliers the best of both worlds: sophistication that cannot be replicated in-house, a degree of customisation and greater connectivity to multiple distribution channels.”
Regardless of an hotelier’s approach, migrating to a new CRS cannot happen overnight and can seem a daunting task. Amadeus’ view is that with the technology and skills available today, hotels can create a smooth transition by planning well, prioritising the most important functionalities, giving staff time to adapt and ensuring they are comprehensive in recreating vital components of the previous system.
It can take patience to understand, and possibly reverse-engineer old systems to ascertain which elements are worth preserving.
“The aim is for an evolution, not a revolution,” says Edwards.
For hotel sales and marketing, one of the most critical CRS integrations is with a global distribution system (GDS). This has become vital as the number of hotel booking channels grows and properties look to connect with a variety of conventional travel agents, online travel agents (OTAs) and websites. They help to ensure rates and room availability are updated across multiple outlets and that booking opportunities not missed.
“By integrating guest-facing and back-end solutions, hotels can heighten guest satisfaction and encourage repeat stays,” says Akina Ho, vice-president of strategy and global business development at FCS Computer Systems, a provider of comprehensive guest-facing and back-end hospitality solutions.
“With all the effort to attract and capture new guests through CRS initiatives, going the extra step to turn the one-time traveller into a loyal customer is the long-term play that pays big dividends.”
Ho says that once the CRS/GDS creates bookings, properties need to take the guest experience to a new level by integrating additional innovative technologies with existing systems. For this reason, FCS Computer Systems and Ariane Systems have partnered to streamline the check-in/out process.
The FCS/Ariane technology integrates with a hotel’s existing PMS and allows hotel guests to register and check-in through a mobile-friendly online check-in module before they arrive, and then to pick up their guestroom keycards from interactive kiosks at the property. Upon completion of their stay, guests check-out online, where they have the ability to request end-of-stay services. The mobile check-in/out can also be done via FCS i-Guest, a guest-facing mobile app.
Besides providing pre-arrival check-in and express check-out, i-Guest allows for hotel interaction throughout the stay. Guests can view outlets in and surrounding the hotel, place in-room dining orders, request services which are sent via FCS e-Connect, request room cleaning which is assigned through the FCS e-Housekeeping solution, and even use the i-Guest app to book their next hotel stay for the same hotel or related chain hotels under the same brand or owner. These functions are seamlessly tied to the CRS.
Travel distribution and CRS services are playing a vital role in shaping the technologies that link hotel groups to the hyper-connected world. They are increasingly putting hotelier clients in front of potential guests at critical decision-making times wherever guests may be, via any communication mode guests are using.
“Technology enables us to provide ever-increasing levels of customer service and convenience for guests, while enhancing client productivity,” says Richard Wiegmann, managing director of Trust International, a provider of CRS services.
“But ultimately, it is our team’s knowledge, creativity, communication and passion that shapes technology to serve clients’ needs and continually redefine what we can accomplish for our customers.”
Trust ensures that hotel groups have access to the latest technology to satisfy their guests´ requirements.
For example, augmented reality technology will enable guests to virtually walk the corridors of the hotel, inspect conference room features and tour public areas. Other augmented reality applications could allow indoor or outdoor navigation showing points of interest visible in Google glass or camera displays.
To help hoteliers organise and improve their daily operations, Trust has developed several services:
• Trust|Campaign automates the complex, risky process of bidding for position in metasearch. It optimises the hotel’s metasearch position within a certain budget to capture potential guests’ attention and drive resulting business to the hotelier’s booking engine rather than to an OTA.
• Interfaces to the hotel group´s own CRM system or to Trust|CRM content management solution give access to detailed profiles and guest recognition through centralised profile management from any point of sale to provide travellers with the exceptional service they are seeking, ultimately strengthening sales and improving revenue. Hoteliers can have a guest’s desired amenities waiting upon arrival or offer the option to order them in advance or onsite. Hotels may also tailor special offers to the right customers at the right time to increase the return rate.
• Trust|Corporate helps hoteliers service corporate guests or guest groups with the latest internet booking technology to access exclusive negotiated rates, real time availability with online booking capability, immediate confirmations and tailor-made database information. The Internet booking engine is customisable to the client’s corporate design, all in a secure environment. Efficient, cost-effective and convenient for business travellers, it offers control for travel managers and cost savings for the company and hotel.
• Through CRS interfaces to payment gateways such as ATOS, Concardis, Computop or Globalcollect to offer pre-payment solutions for guests booking a hotel or latest Internet booking features for the company´s web site, Trust tailors the technology for the hotel groups´ guest needs.
Hoteliers are looking for flexibility and updated technology in their CRS, says Eric Wong, vice president of Infor Hospitality, Asia Pacific.
Many hotel chains are also looking to uncouple central reservations and property management, which will allow them to use more advanced technology, both at the CRS and property levels, he says.
The traditional CRS has been transformed by technology, creating an easy-to-use interface that allows bookings from all channels. Previously, specialist knowledge from airline booking systems was needed to drive bookings and interact with GDS and other older systems. Technology has given these systems a facelift and opened the door to ease of use.
In addition, the growth of OTAs has brought a new level of integration to CRS systems with the speed at which rates are updated and inventory availability on channels.
The issue for many CRS systems, Wong says, is that they are becoming a “house of cards” as modifications are made on top of old code bases to keep pace with changing technology. For some, the need to update to next generation CRS systems is more difficult because of the dependence on old systems that run 24-7 to deliver revenue lifeblood to hotels and management chains. Typically, larger organisations have greater difficulty in moving to next generation CRS technology.
New CRS technology is built with web-based open architecture that allows for flexible connectivity both at the property level and at the channel level. It enables linkage to loyalty, revenue management and modern web-based CRMs. Channel management combined with revenue management in a CRS is what many want to achieve.
Two final pieces to the puzzle include management and analysis of social media, and further use of big data along with non-traditional information sources.
“New CRS technology will deliver this and more,” says Wong.