Central reservation systems continue to evolve and include more innovation as technology advances. Here’s a look at what the CRS of tomorrow could look like, and how it could help hotel companies compete in the world of OTAs.
Those of us that rely on central reservations systems to facilitate the bulk of our guestroom business remain impressed at the pace of innovation and development in the industry, and there are plenty to choose from today.
Here’s what your hotel company needs to know about CRS development.
When it comes to the CRS market, there are two arenas:
- Commercial: Generally-available service providers, such as Sabre Hospitality Solutions, TravelClick, Amadeus Hospitality, Sceptre Incorporated, Travel Tripper, and other small competitors.
- Proprietary: Systems maintained by the major hotel companies, such as Marriott International, Hilton and Choice Hotels International.
Both Wyndham Hotel Group and InterContinental Hotels Group have or are in the process of retiring their proprietary systems in favor of commercial systems like Sabre and Amadeus Hospitality.
This movement to service providers may or may not represent a trend, counter-weighted by Choice’s current deployment of a new, custom, designed and built in-house CRS platform, but both directions demonstrate a commitment to innovation and investment in the CRS business as one at the heart of any hotel company’s reason for existence.
To look at IHG and Amadeus for a moment, this massive, multi-year project to replace the storied Holidex system with a platform for the future represents an important step forward in the evolution of the CRS. In addition to their technical and feature/function accomplishments, this effort is perhaps notable as a partnership between a hotel company and vendor.
The business model and partnership approach are as exciting as the system. Representing another school of thought, Choice felt that they knew what their hotels needed better than anyone else, and that they had or could attract the talent to build the system their hotels demanded. And they did, with rich integrations to their loyalty engine, data warehouse and proprietary property management systems.
Looking at CRS innovation more broadly, PMS integration, rather than interfacing, represents the biggest opportunity for advancement. Prism espouses, and gladly sees, some progress in this direction—a services-based architecture that treats much of the feature-set of the CRS as services that can be called upon by common modules delivering the functionalities of what we now recognize distinctly as CRS, CRM and PMS. Essentially, decomposing these large, separate applications so that common services and data are shared, not replicated. Prime candidates for a more intense level of integration include availability, rate and inventory; user authentication; credit card and payment processing; and profiles (guest, corporate, travel agent, etc.).
By way of example: In the case of guest profiles, the historic strategy of simply attempting to replicate profiles from one system to another, and trying to keep them all in synch, typically served to move us further away from a single, accurate 360-degree view of our guests, rather than toward it. Having a shared, always available, profile service will move us closer to the much-needed delivery of real-time personalized, customized pricing and dynamic packaging needed to compete. While these examples are definitely materializing today, they are still somewhat nascent, and would benefit from higher visibility on CRS product roadmaps.
Other key CRS areas ripe for the innovation spotlight include:
- Sophisticated controls, manual and automated, designed to influence channel mix in real-time to drive direct bookings, and as a result improve net revenue per available room;
- Seamless, low-cost and friction-free integration with countless long-tail online travel agencies, and other emerging trading-place distribution platforms (where blockchain finds its hospitality relevance);
- User interfaces and user experience that balance speed and power against intuitiveness and shortened training cycles;
- Integration with social media and reputation management platforms in pursuit of aligning to emerging digital and personalization marketing practices; and
- Developing tailored support for emerging small-groups channels that are promoting a long-awaited shift from the offline RFA process to online self-booking of SMERF-type business.
The good news is, there is no shortage of these CRS centric innovations, and much more in the pipeline, coming from all sources.
Mark Haley is Managing Partner of The Prism Partnership, a boutique consultancy serving the global hospitality industry.
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