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Last Update   6/27/2011 5:17:22 PM
Also see our new article on overcoming the fear of using computers.

Time to put down the pencil and paper! 
Your Guide to: Tools, Reservations, Customer Care, Web Presence

       High-End software does everything you could conceivably want, but way too expensive for most small Inns.  Inexpensive systems, on the other hand, are continually adding new features and today many offer complete systems for pennies on the dollar to what the big hotels and resorts pay.

Dear Fellow Innkeeper,

There are so many computer products available today for streamlining your business, such as - accounting -reservations - marketing campaigns - front desk POS - reports - and inventory. 

This article is to help you find your way through this maze... but beware!  If you make a wrong turn, you might end up with a product that doesn't work for you.  You could spend a lot of time and money and end up setting yourself back.

It can be hard to switch to software products if you are currently running your business the old fashon wayDespite these difficulties, you still must modernize to improve your efficiency.  People are beginning to demand a way of booking travel online and your business taxes only get more complex each year.  If you don’t modernize you could be left behind and unable to compete.  Your work days keep getting longer and you cannot afford to hire more employees, so why not put your computer to work.  If you are afraid of computer then see our article on overcoming the fear of computers.

There are two primary methods which companies use to market their products

  1. Companies that supplies all the various tools integrated into a single package.  If you buy a product that has too many features it forces you to abandon your current way of doing business.  For instance,
    -  If your website has pictures and descriptions of your rooms, you do not need these duplicated.
    -  If you currently work with an agency and want to automate the reception desk, get reports, or get help
        with taxes, you have to abandon your current way of doing these transactions.
     
  2. Companies which sells tools separately and support connectivity with other companies or agencies.  You should never mix and match tools from different companies unless you are sure they are compatible.  Even if all your tools are from the same company, be sure they are compatible with the tools you already have, such as a POS Credit Card Station.   Buying parts separately gives you more freedom, but is a bad idea if you are not completely in tune with your current system's compatibilities.

Creating your own system from scratch may be OK, but there are many obstacles to be aware of.  Be aware of companies that go out of business, or change major features which you relied on.  If you bought a tool that does your taxes and then it becomes obsolete, you're stuck.

To summarize:  If you buy a complete package you are forced to abandon your current methods and tools.  If you buy individual tools you may lack the expertise to make it all work together. 

One thing is certain: You can not afford to waste time and you do not want to saw off the branch you are sitting on..  You could end up using a system that doesn't work for you.  The more you know about who offers what and how their product works the more likely you are to find a solution that fits your needs.

We know that finding all this information on the web can be a big task so we have put together a Comparison Chart. You can use our chart to see the different types of software available and what features are offered.   We update and expanding this chart continuously to help you with your research without spending weeks searching the web.  We also have a number of editorial reviews of these companies and are adding new reviews.

There are three different methods of accessing these tools: 

  1. Software that only run in Windows and only reside on your computer.
  2. Software that run in Windows and are linked to online tools (mixed mode). 
  3. Online Tools that run completely on the internet; these only require you to have an internet connection

Software that Only Run in Windows

These have been around the longest and are easy to use but do not offer online reservations.

  • They have different computer requirements depending on the program, and in general require your computer to be up to date and running Windows XP or Higher.
  • Some software offer interface options to third party online reservation systems.
  • The software program runs on your computer and require you to setup and update the it yourself ($).  If your computer crashes without a proper back up, it's a disaster.  You should have a good antivirus package, and a reliable backup plan. 
  • Most of these programs only run on a single computer.  If you want to have multiple points of access, you may be out of luck, so make sure it's offered if you want one at the front desk and another one in the back office. 

This solution is good if you have a small Bed and Breakfast and are good with computers.   

Mixed Mode: Runs in Windows and also Linked to Web Site.

The more popular the internet becomes, the more folks are demanding a way to book their rooms online.  To meet this demand for online booking many Inns allow thier customers to make a room request via email.    This method of taking email requests does not get credit card information (because of security reasons.)  Another problem with this method is that a simple form will not tell your customers whether the room they have requested is still available. 

Online tools solve both these problems.  Mixed mode is achieved when reservations are made online.  That's why your computer will need to a way to communicate with the online reservation software.

Online tools take some training and have a few pitfalls.   They require you to install a Windows based program that automatically links to your online account via the internet.

This synchronization software keeps your available inventory and prices current.  You will be required to have all your rooms priced for the whole year in advance and you will have to report cancellations immediately to avoid overbooking.  Credit card information is collected by a secure link and for some systems, you may be required to have a high-speed “always on” Internet connection.  When a reservation is made online you receive and email or fax sas an alert for you to check your reservations database.

Things to be aware of when using mixed mode:

  • In addition to paying commission, Travel Agencies generally require you to set aside rooms for them to sell.
  • You are not limited to one reservation tools provider. 
  • Some providers will publish your room availability worldwide on the Global Distribution Systems (“GDS”), but this will add a service charge per room (on top of any travel agency's commission.)

There are several ways to get more bookings:

  • Promote the web reservation capability of your own site.
  • Have online search engines and directories link to your site.
  • Pay agencies to refer customers to your site.
  • Use SEO principles to increase your web presence.
Before choosing a mixed mode system, make sure they provide all the features you need.

100% Online Integrated Front Desk and Reservation Systems

These are the newest and easiest to run and maintain.  There are no requirements other than to have a computer with internet access.  These systems might cost a little more but they are easier to work with and understand.  There isn't much to explain.

These are the features that most web based management solutions offer:

  • You can work at multiple computers at the same time. 
  • Downloads are available for accounting software, charts and reports or to do taxes. 
  • Credit card information is secure and can be check manually with your existing POS equipment.
  • Customer email confirmation and marketing is automatic and intuitive.
  • Automatic email on availability or cancellations is sent to outside agencies to keep them updated.
  • If you have an existing web page, to use these tools involves adding one line of HTML.
  • If you don't have a website, these tools can double as your website. 
  • Updates to the online software is automatic and instantaneous.
  • Customer support can view your data directly, which makes problem solving easier.

If you are offline, you should not take reservations over the phone - instead, tell your customers to book their room online.  The system will know what rooms are available, even if you don't.  You should make nightly downloads of your reservations so that all your expected guests can be kept on a paper printout.  Walk in traffic can be kept on paper and entered when you do have access.
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