A Nip and a Tuck

Effective website management requires an extreme central reservation system makeover.

Earlier this year, industry sources reported that CRS reservations for major hotel brands increased 8.4 percent in 2006, resulting in more than 81 million bookings. A positive trend for hoteliers, this jump begs the question of how capable today's CRSs are to handle the ever-increasing volume and functionality required to support and deliver bookings.

Additionally, the Market Metrix Hospitality Index reported that hotel websites, for the first time in 2006, generally scored higher in satisfaction than popular travel websites. This increase, partially credited to improved navigation and booking ease, shows that the hotel or brand website is emerging not only as an important source of reservations but also the best place to build customer loyalty and offer the richest experience to guests.

Unfortunately, many CRS and web booking engine options lack consistency and data clarity, slowing time-to-market and hampering new technology deployments.

This “before” picture includes legacy CRSs that don't offer hoteliers access to a single image of data, an essential when a reservations agent needs real-time information immediately. Additionally, many properties use 15-plus systems in day-to-day operations, requiring multiple skill sets. Meanwhile, the hotelier needs consistent views of data; convergence of CRS, PMS and web functionality; timely extraction of data for reporting; and reduced complexity when deploying new technologies — especially for multi-property solutions.

As hotels invest more in marketing online, bookings increasingly will be made directly through hotel and brand websites. And as more hotel guests book their travel online, the demand for information multiplies. The booking engine and CRS must be seamlessly integrated to offer an efficient solution for both guest and hotel.

Virtual tours, information in a choice of languages and detailed comparison of rates and availability for rooms, amenities and other services are now the expectation. Behind all this activity, in the engine room, the lights must stay on and there must be enough capacity and flexibility to meet these needs now and for the future.

Knowing these requirements for the future CRS has enabled us, as an industry, to make a wish list for what our “after” picture should look like. First, the CRS should provide easy access where the web browser can serve as a flexible point of entry for chains, independents and representation companies. Hoteliers must be able to change the information presented to guests on their websites instantly, or stage it for publication later. They need complete control over the content, including images and other rich media. Many hotels also offer content in multiple languages, and here, too, the processes must be straightforward and easy to control.

For online shoppers and travel agents using the booking engine, inventory searching should be simple, and on the property side, maintaining content, rates and properties should include multi-property visibility and accountability. Dynamic packaging is increasingly important as hotels seek to add in-room and on-property services to the room reservation. That capability should also be aligned with the ability to interface to third-party vendors, allowing complete itineraries to be built from a single point of contact. And access to information, wherever needed, should be simple, accurate and fast.

Creating a complete next-generation CRS vision means incorporating multiple functional modules, each addressing a particular business requirement, and integrating them through a common technical architecture and data model. It offers hoteliers a competitive advantage to meet the market's key reservation and distribution needs through access to and management of various distribution channels. It simplifies work, increases bookings, manages data, and leaps tall buildings in a single bound…well, almost.

For hoteliers, the question comes down to time and money. Are you hemorrhaging financial and human resources to manage your website and get by with your CRS and web booking solution? For CRS providers, it requires a critical look at the technology and the business processes that must be supported today and tomorrow rather than yesterday or last year.

As an industry, the challenges of migrating to next-generation models are substantial. But, as with any extreme makeover, at the end of the process, I think we'll all like what we're seeing, both on the inside and out.

— by Mike Kistner, COO and president of reservation and distribution services for Pegasus Solutions. Call him at 480-624-6450 or e-mail mike.kistner@pegs.com.

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