Hotel Technology – 2013 in Review (long)

It’s been an odd year. Apart from Indra’s bringing its successful and comprehensive TMS system to the US market and Choice launching its proprietary GMS onto the open market under the SkyTouch name, no major new systems have appeared. The sound and fury surrounding “mobile everywhere” has signified nothing much more than a flurry of apps spreading existing functionality across more convenient devices, putting even more strain on overloaded WiFi networks. There have certainly been many interesting developments across the board, but these have tended to be incremental rather than game-changing. Probably the biggest news of the year was Amadeus’ takeover of Newmarket, which may indicate a potential shake up in the established order of vendors, and this is discussed more below.

One topic that received little coverage this year was that of cloud-based systems, indicating that it’s no longer controversial. Some GMSs and many utility applications are available only as remotely-hosted systems, but pretty much every one on the market can now be configured that way for properties that don’t want to look after their own servers. Some remote sites with poor communications will still be better off with an on-premise system, but the reliability and data availability of cloud-hosted systems is now proven. The decision on whether or not to use them has become one of balancing long-term costs against greater security and peace of mind.

The great WiFi debate also seems to have cooled off, at least towards the end of the year. There’ll always be pressure on hotels to provide more bandwidth for guest use, but it does seem to be becoming more acceptable to charge for higher-demand uses such as streaming video. Charging for basic access to check e-mail, however, is increasingly unacceptable to todays’ travelers, and charge-for-all-access hold-outs will face very strong pressure to either drop the charge altogether or to wrap it into room rates to make it inconspicuous.

Hospitality made it into the wider press world again this year, not (thankfully) for guestroom door lock security issues but in the much more positive sense of creating jobs and showing strong growth. “Inc.” magazine emphasized the largely unrecognized contribution of the hospitality industry to the country’s economic recovery through increased hiring, with four hospitality companies included in its survey of the top 100 companies for job creation from 2008 to 2011. The magazine also recognized Sceptre Hospitality Resources, UniFocus and The Rainmaker Group in its Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. Excellent work!

– Mobile –

The expanding role of mobile technology continued to be a hot theme all year. Most chains and several independent properties launched or improved their own guest-facing apps for booking and loyalty program management, and many vendors added to the range of useful apps for hotel management and staff.

Mobile check-in/check-out became more widely available, but is still not common. Marriott added mobile check-in to its loyalty app on an international basis, and Scandic Hotels implemented Ariane Systems’ digital check-out via smart phone or computer at all its hotels. MICROS Systems’ OPERA 9 Front Desk Mobile went into beta with Dolce’s Aspen Meadows Resort and PAR Springer-Miller announced a suite of mobile hospitality apps beginning with SMS|Host Anywhere. Protel Hotelsoftware upgraded its Mobile Hotelsoftware Protel for iPad, and iTesso’s i4Guests app took personalization a step further by integrating with hotel GMSs to let guests select their own guestroom from real-time floor plans.

Meeting planning and communications became easier with apps such as Digital Alchemy’s XpressGuide conference communication tool and Wyndham Jade’s RoomLogic room block manager. Las Vegas Sands deployed QuickMobile’s SnapApp across all of its properties to develop custom apps for event customers.

On the F&B front tablet-based POS systems are everywhere. Revel added chip-and-pin to its iPad-based POS, and NCR’s new Mobile Pay app lets diners browse their bill, re-order menu items, alert their server, complete surveys and pay, all on a smartphone. Blynk launched tablet-based E-Menu apps for restaurants, bars, cafes and lounges, ReServe Interactive released its Table iQ table management application for tablets, and MICROS released its mTablet mobile device and mStation stand.

Bringing BI to the phone, NORTHWIND announced a Mobile Business Intelligence System for its Maestro GMS, and Agilysys released its Insight Mobile Manager dashboard.

iRiS announced its Lobby interactive digital concierge and a multilingual spa application for tablets. LOCATEL launched its Mobility range of mobile applications, including Lobby and In Room Companion modules. For guestroom management Optii Solutions Keeper housekeeping app found new clients, Quadriga announced a new mobile app for housekeeping, CMS Hospitality redesigned its GuestCentrix HKeep app and released a new GuestCentrix Mbar app for mini-bar management. Swisscom and LG Electronics developed a “Bring Your Own Content” application that lets guests mirror and share their own devices’ content to the TV screen

– GMS –

Two interesting new developments this year were Indra’s introduction of its exceptionally capable all-in-one Travel Management Suite to the U.S. market (an SAP-based rival to Cenium) and Choice’s launch of its in-house cloud-based GMS to the worldwide market under its new SkyTouch Technology division. It’ll be interesting to see if Choice has more success with this than Starwood has had with its in-house Galaxy system, but a 5,500-strong installed base with Choice-branded properties is a great place to start.

Micros continues to dominate the GMS scene with Opera, and its Opera 9 version looks set to continue that trend. To no-one’s surprise Marriott announced Opera as its standard GMS for all Marriott brands worldwide; Best Western also added it to its list of Preferred Hosted PMS Providers. Infor continued steady development of its new HMS product and added the 1,295-room Galt House Hotel to its client list. PAR Springer Miller enhanced its striking Atrio system and added a POS module; ResortSuite added a tablet-based POS to its comprehensive suite. Agilysys continued development of its second-generation new GMS for release next year while continuing to gain further casino sales for its LMS product. Northwind celebrated its 35th year in business and added many new features to its Maestro suite, including on-line booking of guest activities and mobile BI functionality.

RSI International’s Roomkey received a major boost when Magnuson Hotels named it as the exclusive recommended GMS for its 2,000 independent North American hotels, offered at a minimal fee per occupied room-night.

Hetras made a good comeback this year after its recent rewrite and attracted a steady stream of new clients, including independents Hotel Bellevue Kärnten Seeboden (Austria), Stare Miasto (Krakow, Poland) and the Prinz Hotel (Munich), and the first properties of start-up chains Glow, Ruby Hotels, Aducco Hotels, OKKO Hotels and Scandic’s new HTL brand.

– CRS –

Despite continued forecasts of their decline GDS and CRS services had a strong year. Sabre Hospitality picked up Park Hotel Group and renewed contracts with Marriott and Leonardo Hotels, Trust International gained Falkensteiner Hotels & Residences (32 properties), Indonesia’s TAUZIA (13) and Malaysia’s Hospitality Integrated Technology Sdn Bhd (5), and Pegasus added Atahotels (19), Bangkok-based Compass Hospitality (28) and India’s Fortune Hotels (37). Sceptre’s Windsurfer also had a good year, attracting broughtonHOTELS’ 12 properties and being white-labeled by both MSI and Magnuson Worldwide.

– Distribution –

Australia-based SiteMinder had a banner year, being adopted by Silken Hotels (33 hotels), Macdonald Hotels & Resorts (45), Malmaison and Hotel du Vin (26), Secret Retreats Hotels (37), Sun International (30), Hoteles Catalonia (60) and Anantara (24). MICROS also used Siteminder’s RDX platform as the basis for its Channel Manager in Asia Pacific.

Showing that even the smallest hotels have a real need to manage their room and rate availability across multiple channels, eRevMax International re-launched its Rate Tiger-based SimpleDistribution entry-level channel management product, and Duetto announced Insight, a version of its revenue management tool targeted at small-scale hotel properties.

– Integration –

It was interesting to see the growth in formal ties between vendors of complementary systems, especially in the reservations/distribution/revenue management area. InnLink integrated RateGain’s PriceGain rate intelligence software into its CRS, and Denihan Hospitality integrated Duetto’s revenue strategy software with Sabre Hospitality’s SynXis CRS. The impact of reputation management was shown by IDeaS integration of data from Brand Karma’s iO reputation analytics tool into its RMS pricing analysis, and by Genares’ partnership with TrustYou. Genares also integrated Flip.to’s social-media referral engine into its CRS.

– Marketing –

The importance of managing guest feedback and of personalizing offers grew even more last year. To help gather feedback ReviewPro unveiled a guest survey tool in partnership with Market Metrix, ZDirect integrated its survey engine with ReviewPro’s reputation management software, London Brand Management announced its RoomComment real-time hotel feedback service, and IDS NEXT launched its Salesforce-based Guest Dynamix loyalty and feedback management application.

Reputation management is clearly still critical. TrustYou launched its Reputation Machine, a combination of on-line review monitoring, surveys, content distribution and marketing, as well as its TrustYou Comp Index, which compares hotels with their competitive set in reputation across multiple relevant sites in the market. Sonesta International picked TrustYou for 55+ of its properties, while ReviewPro picked up AZIMUT Hotels (21 properties) and Compass Hospitality (45 properties). ZDirect announced its Guest Dashboard guest sentiment analysis engine for guest comments and survey responses. Trying to ensure that on-line reviews can be trusted, USA TODAY’s Travel Media Group launched HotelMe, an authenticated hotel review site that displays verified reviews from hotel guests who paid and stayed at the hotel, and Traxo launched a “verified reviews” platform for flights and hotels.

Nor1’s upsell software gained new clients, including Louvre Hotels Group (all hotels), Loews Hotels & Resorts (19 properties), Kempinski Hotels (80 properties) and Principal Hayley Group (23 hotels). Serenata IntraWare now offers Nor1 as part of its e-mail marketing service @mail, and Passkey and Nor1 extended the three-year-old integration of their GroupMAX and eStandby Upgrade products.

Finally, casting a wider net to gather in useful data for marketing campaigns, nsight for travel launched its service analyzing search and booking patterns from multiple international and regional Web sites, and Travel Tripper integrated air traffic booking data from Forward Keys into its Revup revenue management platform.

– RFID –

Another technology that’s no longer controversial, RFID has become the standard for new guestroom door locks for its convenience and reliability. Its other highly successful hotel usage has been in speeding and enhancing the management of uniform and linen inventories, as witness InvoTech Systems’ string of orders this year from the Santa Ana Star Casino (Albuquerque), Four Winds Casinos, the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, Ho Tram Beach Resort (Vietnam), the New York Palace (Manhattan), the Trump National Doral Miami, Gila River Casinos, Wind Creek Wetumpka Casino and Hotel, the Hyatt Regency Houston and Hyatt’s Andaz Maui at Wailea.

– Multi-property installs –

As usual, many vendors landed significant multi-property orders from clients looking to standardize their operations as much as possible. These included (in alphabetical order):
– Aptech: Noble House Hotels & Resorts (17 properties), Concord Hospitality (90 properties)
– Blynk: The Park Group (12 properties in India)
– Elite Meetings International: MGM Resorts International (SpeedRFP for mgmresorts.com and 15 hotels)
– eRevMax’s RateTiger: JJW Hotels (23 of its European hotels), Louvre Hotel Group’s Premiere Class, Campanile and Kyriad brands, Leonardo Hotels (20 properties).
– hotel SystemsPro: Stonebridge Companies (hotel SalesPro in 47 properties), North Central Group (hotel SalesPro in 31 sites), Strand Development Company (hotel SalesPro in 36 hotels), Red Lion Hotels (hotel ServicePro at 27 properties), Gateway Hospitality Group (hotel ServicePro at 18 properties)
– IDeaS: Orient-Express Hotels (most of its portfolio), Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas (23 hotels and resorts)
– Lanyon: NH Hoteles, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Jumeirah Group, Larkspur Hotels and Onyx-Hospitality.
– M3 Accounting + Analytics: Davidson Hotels & Resorts  (46-hotel portfolio)
– MICROS’ Opera: Marriott (worldwide), Morgans Hotel Group (13 hotels), Outrigger (full enterprise)
– MICROS’ Simphony POS: InterContinental Hotels Group (61 UK hotels), Compass Group – USA (multiple business divisions)
– Newmarket: Colwen Hotels (23 ;properties for Delphi.fdc)
– Quadriga: Concorde Hotels & Resorts (25), Sofitel (26 properties in EMEA), Restel (9 hotels in Finland). Quadriga’s Personal Media Network mobile application also won HTNG’s “Most Innovative Technology Award 2012” at HTNG’s North American conference.
– RateGain: ONYX Hospitality Group (33 properties)
– ReviewPro: Kempinski (80 hotels)
– Systems Associates: Starwood Vacation Ownership (SynergyMMS maintenance management in all villa resort properties)
– TrustYou: Quebec Hotel Association (900-plus hotels)
– ZDirect: GrandStay Hospitality (ZMail in 34 properties)
Accor also implemented a Salesforce.com-based application called ANAIS (Accor New Application for Integrated Sales) for its 700 salespersons across the world.

– M&A –

As usual, I was surprised when looking back to see just how many mergers and take-overs there were last year. The biggest deal by far came right at year-end with Amadeus picking up Newmarket. This is a fascinating move; Amadeus has been working on expanding its offerings to all areas of hotel operations for some years, and this both fills major gaps in its product range and gives it a major boost in credibility outside the GDS/CRS arena. Further, while Amadeus does have capable RMS and GMS products already, it’s tempting to wonder whether it might also be hunting for similarly-renowned products in those two areas as well. IDeaS? Protel? It’s fun to speculate, but only time will tell.

Other M&A activity this year included, in chronological order:
– Expedia acquired metasearch company trivago.
– The Rainmaker Group acquired Grasp LLC for its flexible analytics and data visualization.
– Lanyon was acquired by Vista Equity Partners.
– LodgeNet filed for bankruptcy under an expedited Chapter 11 process, emerged with Colony Capital as its majority stockholder and rebranded itself as SONIFI Solutions.
– GoConcierge.net acquired its California neighbor and rival Gold Key Solutions.
– Hotel Concepts and Brilliant Hotelsoftware completed their integration process and officially changed the name of the combined company to iTesso.
– OpenTable acquired Foodspotting.
– TripAdvisor acquired Jetsetter.com, a members-only private sale site for hotel bookings.
– signage companies Symon Communications and RMG Networks merged, and will continue operations as RMG Enterprise Solutions.
– Pegasus Solutions sold its commission processing division (Pegasus Financial Services) to H.I.G. Capital.
– Systems Associates Inc. (SAI) acquired Scientific Control Systems.
– Agilysys acquired TimeManagement Corporation.
– Xn Hotel Systems and iHost Hospitality merged under the Xn Hotel Systems name.
– Ruckus Wireless acquired YFind Technologies Private Limited, which specializes in indoor positioning and real-time location analytics.
– TripAdvisor acquired hotel review website Oyster.com.
– PSAV acquired Visual Aids Electronics.
– Amadeus acquired Newmarket International
– Atlantic Street Capital acquired Uniguest.

And that’s it. 2013 was the Year of the Snake in the Chinese zodiac; amongst other things snakes shed their skins, symbolizing new beginnings, and it seems that last year many companies were preparing themselves for their next phase. 2014 will be the Year of the Horse; hopefully it will bring the horse’s legendary strength, energy and ease of communication to achieve significant improvements in systems’ functionality and integration.

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