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Then and now: How SiteMinder has helped hotels grow and evolve

  Posted in Hotel Commerce

Speaking in 2016 after SiteMinder hit its 10-year milestone, SiteMinder’s co-founder and CTO Mike Rogers said:

“A lot of [the success] is based on a very clear focus on who our customers are and how we can benefit them. Even though we support businesses from really little properties to huge ones, it’s about how you can create sophisticated products and simplify them.”

This has been a guiding principle throughout SiteMinder’s journey, and is still the mission moving forward too, as the company seeks to open the doors to the world of hotel commerce for all, via a single platform that has everything a hotel needs to succeed online.

Many things change over time, however. New complexities emerge as the industry expands, guest behaviours shift, technology continues to develop, and global events impact business in a multitude of ways that are sometimes unpredictable.

In the past 15 years, SiteMinder has endeavoured to keep its finger firmly on the pulse of this change, to ensure existing and new customers are able to thrive in a truly dynamic industry. By maintaining a clear understanding of hotelier needs, the team has been able to regularly introduce new features, partners, and advanced levels of connectivity that not only allow hoteliers to keep the ship steady, but grow their business to its full potential.

Let’s take a look at some of SiteMinder’s history, development, and customer stories.

Table of contents

SiteMinder’s first generation: 2006-2016

The early 2000’s saw an explosion of OTAs, in response to an increasing number of travellers looking to book travel online.

To stay competitive hoteliers had to connect to and distribute via a large number of these new channels. It was a necessity but also a big opportunity to reach more travellers and brand new target markets. The challenge came from having to manage inventory and reservations manually, on an individual basis for each channel connection.

Enter SiteMinder co-founders Mike Ford and Mike Rogers. Mike Ford was an accommodation provider himself, running a large hostel in Sydney, and was frustrated by how time consuming and intensive it was to juggle multiple OTAs. He approached friend and colleague Mike Rogers and asked if he could build a software solution. Soon after, SiteMinder and the channel manager feature was born.

SiteMinder’s channel manager and PMS integration

The Channel Manager, as it was termed then, enabled hoteliers to easily manage 10+ OTA connections – with inventory being automatically updated in real-time across all channels each time a booking was made.

As Chris Denny, the Co-Founder of The Observatory, and one of SiteMinder’s first ever customers remembers:

“We were looking for a channel manager that could give us the ability to quickly and easily update room availabilities and rates across our multiple online travel agencies. When we selected SiteMinder, everyone was impressed with how the technology was really intuitive and seamlessly integrated with our channels.”

This solved a lot of operational headaches for hoteliers, eased pressure on staff, increased reservations, and saved plenty of time. Within a couple of months, almost 100 happy customers were using SiteMinder – but another challenge was already rearing its head.

Most properties were also using some kind of property management system or front desk software, which required hoteliers to re-enter a lot of data as it came in from OTAs to the channel manager. This again soaked up a lot of time for operators, and it was also prone to human error which could result in reservation details being wrong.

“So we built some new software to solve this problem – which was our PMS integration system,” said Mike (Rogers). “This made the flow of data seamless from the PMS to the OTA and vice versa, and cut out hours of manual effort.”

Needless to say SiteMinder was fast establishing itself as a disruptive tech company that got things done for its customers, with Mike confirming this was indeed an internal focus from the beginning.

“Our targets and milestones are set around products and tech. How do we continue adding features to existing products, but also how do we add new products to the suite that hotels can actually use to better their business?” he said.

“Being very aware of customers’ needs is vital, empathising with customers is the critical thing. Being connected to the hotels is the only way to understand that there is a problem.”

The rise of direct booking technology

The next frontier for hotels was to mitigate the expense of OTA bookings, which was and is still expensive due to commission fees.

Guests were searching for travel online a lot more and would often browse a hotel’s website but, finding no way to book other than by phone or email, would choose the convenience of booking online via an OTA. Not only did this eat into profit, but hotels also had no ownership of the guest relationship.

SiteMinder knew an online booking engine was required to enable hoteliers to capture direct business online, it was just a matter of how it was implemented.

Mike Ford spoke about how important it was to achieve the best possible result for customers.

“When we began looking at booking engines to integrate with in 2007/08, we didn’t find much good product. Hotels were using difficult-to-navigate products that were hurting their conversion rates and a lot of them didn’t have the capability to integrate with us. That led us to think if we can’t find any good product to integrate with, we should probably build it for our customers ourselves”, he said.

“We ended up building a booking engine that was simple to manage, but really effective in converting guests that visit a hotel website.”

South of Africa, a unique property group offering four self-catering options as well as three individual hotels to explorers of Africa, was thrilled to be kicking goals with SiteMinder’s booking engine.

“The booking engine is a definite plus and the fact that SiteMinder regularly upgrades it shows they are constantly changing with the times,” said SOA.

Hotels could now win bookings directly from their own website, and later from their Facebook page, increasing profit and opening up more revenue opportunities such as upselling extras, offering packages, and publishing promotions.

Great, but it only worked if the hotel had a website that was easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and compatible with multiple devices as well as being Google-friendly. For many hotels this was not the case. Even today, there are plenty of examples of horror hotel websites or properties that forego having a website at all.

This gap sorely hurt the booking potential of hotels, and obviously limited the effectiveness of the booking engine technology that existed. Again, SiteMinder recognised the pain point for customers and sought to rectify it.

Instead of paying a web developer thousands of dollars for an undetermined outcome, SiteMinder provided hoteliers with a website builder. This software is a constantly evolving set of pre-designed website themes that hotels can set up within hours, and comes with all the nuts and bolts to both attract and convert guests – with seamless booking engine integration.

An industry leader and a provider for all property types

SiteMinder was fast becoming a sophisticated platform that large independent properties of, and even groups and chains, could rely on to master their distribution challenges.

But what about the small properties, the bed and breakfasts or motels that wanted to compete in the online environment and run their property more smoothly but only had the time and budget for essential features?

This question spawned an entirely new brand, Little Hotelier, in 2013. This allowed small properties to forget their excel spreadsheets and notepads and move to an all-in-one solution that managed operations and helped them sell rooms online.

By 2016, SiteMinder had conquered what 90% of startups fail to do – survive. In fact, thrive is a much more appropriate descriptor as by this point SiteMinder had:

  • More than 20,000 customers
  • 300 OTA connections
  • 200 PMS partners
  • Over 500 employees around the world
  • Four offices across Sydney, London, Dallas, and Galway
  • Been globally recognised as the industry’s leading channel manager provider

Yet there was a lot more still to come. As traveller behaviour began to change and hoteliers looked to expand their potential, a new wave of SiteMinder development was in the works.

SiteMinder’s second generation: 2017-2022

This period of time saw enormous growth in the online space. By 2017, 4 billion users surfed the internet and as each year passed social media and the sharing economy became ever more entrenched within society.

Ecommerce has well and truly established itself with the likes of Amazon. There’s nothing you can’t do or buy online anymore – and you can do it all with your mobile phone.

For hotels the situation was becoming complicated as they:

  • Faced higher expectations from guests
  • Had a lot more competition, meaning they had to offer more and find new ways to stand out from the crowd.
  • Saw expanding tech innovations such as remote check-in, keyless room entry, and smart devices
  • Were met with additional online sales channels such as wholesalers, GDS, and metasearch
  • Now had to work smarter and faster, while providing an unprecedented level of personalised service.
  • Were required to pay even closer attention to revenue and reputation management
  • Fought staff shortages and looked for ways to increase efficiency, particularly later on amidst the global COVID-19 outbreak

The world wasn’t getting any bigger but suddenly there was a lot more in it and this meant hotels needed options at their disposal to match guest demands.

SiteMinder had always been an open platform but it realised it had to give hoteliers access to a whole new set of technology partners, if they were to keep up.

The good news was that there was also massive growth in the number of companies offering hoteliers the capability to enhance the guest offerings and optimise business revenue, but connectivity was an issue…

“This is where Siteminder Exchange (or SMX) came in,” said Mike (Rogers). “We built an open exchange which allowed these companies to create one simple connection to us and they in turn gained the capability of leveraging the hundreds of connections we had built up over the years.

“You can think of SMX as the plumbing… connecting all of these software companies to hotels via our platform.”

This led to hoteliers having access to the Hotel App Store and Direct Booking Plug-ins, opening up new revenue streams and easy ways to better communicate and build relationships with guests.

So being open was a core priority, but simplicity still held strong and always will.

Making life easier with simplicity

To further ease the pressure on hoteliers, SiteMinder did what it does best and started coding solutions that included expanding the functions of existing features like the booking engine and channel manager.

Firstly, Demand Plus, an add-on for the booking engine.

With direct bookings becoming ever more valuable as OTAs got better and better at capturing online traffic, hotels needed a way to compete.

“Connecting to high performing metasearch engines like Google Hotel Ads, Trivago, and TripAdvisor helped to level the playing field, and to allow hoteliers to take advantage of this, we created Demand Plus,” explained Inga Latham, SiteMinder’s Chief Product Officer.

“This ensured our customers could promote their property on these channels, with no upfront expense or effort… It’s literally a one page sign up & you are done.”

Maria Torres, General Manager of Hotel Mirador Las Grullas, said the property was able to increase direct reservations with Demand Plus.

“My experience with Demand Plus has been great so far, helping us to get more direct reservations that contribute to high occupancy rates during this summer,” she explained.

“The process to get up and running was all good, a really smooth experience.”

Next was a payment processing solution that allowed hoteliers to easily process guest payments and refunds from within SiteMinder’s platform for the first time, saving them around four minutes on each transaction and eliminating the risk of credit card declines and no shows.

At the same time Little Hotelier launched its mobile app, allowing small operators to run their business from anywhere, giving them freedom from the front desk and allowing them to get more done in their day.

Then came the mammoth task of simplifying life for large groups and chains. With so many different rate plans across multiple properties in many locations, distribution was more than a headache for many enterprise brands. Luckily Inga and team had the perfect solution.

“We built a distribution-centric tool for hotel groups and chains, specifically targeting operational efficiency and revenue optimisation for a segment that SiteMinder has had a long history of serving,” she said.

Director of Revenue at TFE Hotels, Amanda Hoolihan, said SiteMinder Multi-Property had significantly alleviated the pressure on staff.

“It used to take my team a good week to load everything that was needed to roll out a company-wide promotion. SiteMinder has saved us about two days, each time,” she said.

“We generally do three to four campaigns a year that are network-wide, but at the moment we’re doing things a little bit differently and doing more. So, already, SiteMinder is saving my team around 16 days of work each year, which is incredible.”

Intelligence, collective power and a look towards the future

With the pressure constantly on and so much to consider in the modern industry, hoteliers needed better access to data and information – and they needed a lot of it if they wanted to devise effective strategies.

Even knowing how to price rooms just right required quick access to easily digestible data. This was the foundation for SiteMinder’s business intelligence tool Insights.

With Insights hoteliers had access to data that allowed them to act smarter, giving them:

  • Reports on key hotel metrics
  • An understanding of which channels, rate plans and rooms were performing best
  • Information on how their competitors were pricing their rooms and how their future room sales were tracking compared to previous years

Data alone isn’t an answer and it isn’t always easy to know immediately what the best way to action data and insights is. Sometimes external help is needed.

SiteMinder answered this call with the SiteMinder Partner Program; a powerful coming together of industry experts that hoteliers could rely on to provide crucial consultation.

This program quickly grew to be 500 strong and by now SiteMinder had added to its previous accolades by expanding its customer base to 33,000+ in 150 countries.

Oh, and a successful IPO had occurred…

Now it was time to take everything to the next level.

SiteMinder’s next generation: The era of hotel commerce

Looking forward, there is still much room for growth, to create an even smoother experience for hoteliers.

It’s time to bring everything together under one roof. One interface. A single platform that will allow hotels to better tackle their increasing challenges and:

  • Meet the expectations of guests
  • Seize every opportunity to increase revenue
  • Access the widest, most relevant choice of direct and indirect channels
  • Take full control of property performance

The world is getting more complex for hoteliers. More data, more tech features, more apps, more integrations, more guest expectations – and most of it has traditionally been fragmented, making it difficult for hoteliers to make fully informed business decisions.

“We need to move to a model where we can embrace all of this complexity but still make it accessible to our customers,” said Mike.

“The actual development effort kicked off 3 years ago and I have to say, it’s the most complex engineering project I have ever been a part of.”

The end result for hoteliers is anything but complex – they will experience a single, unified user interface across all products and features. This will make everything they currently do much simpler and more efficient.

Along with this centralised suite of features will come enhancements that expand on the existing functionality, giving hoteliers everything they need to succeed in the world of hotel commerce. Hoteliers will be able to aspire to run their business just like the ecommerce giants of the world such as Amazon.

SiteMinder invites you on this next stage of the journey…

The world’s leading hotel commerce platform.

Learn more

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