SiteMinder recently hosted a webinar to demonstrate how The Channel Manager and TheBookingButton can make a difference to hotel businesses globally. Lee Buchanan, distribution manager for The Hotel Collection in the UK, joined one of our business development managers, David McGloin, to talk through his experience using SiteMinder’s cloud technology, and how a seamless connection with the online world can positively impact a hotel’s productivity and growth…
Welcome, Lee, and thank you very much for joining our discussion. I’d love you to introduce yourself and how you work with SiteMinder…
My name is Lee Buchanan and I am the distribution manager for The Hotel Collection whose head office is in Watford, near London in the UK. The Hotel Collection offers a portfolio of 36 hotels located across provincial UK. We have been using SiteMinder’s Channel Manager for close to two years, with each hotel connected to The Channel Manager, which works very well for us. We see SiteMinder – both the products and the organisation – as an extension of our own business.
It has allowed us to connect to a lot more channels and does so effectively. Prior to SiteMinder we had to update a number of channels manually, which took an entire day just to update a couple of hotels. Now we’ve got 36 hotels, and the reality is, I can update the inventory for each of them within minutes. We have a fully integrated product, which connects to our channel manager, and we also have some hotels which stand alone. For the standalone hotels, it allows us to update our rates and inventory very quickly without having to go in to multiple sites.
As a business, we have seen a dramatic improvement in our employees’ productivity as they do not have to spend time going into 15 different extranets. One of our hotels alone has 19 websites connected through SiteMinder’s Channel Manager. We’ve also got a larger property with 27 connections via SiteMinder’s Channel Manager, which gives us flexibility. Previously the hotel with 27 channels, only used 10 channels purely because we didn’t have the capacity to manage any more given the manual process. So this process has certainly enabled massive growth.
I’m sure a lot of people are wondering how you balance direct and indirect bookings, because I’m assuming you have your own booking engine and you’re using The Channel Manager too…
Naturally, our preferred booking method would be directly, however, our aim is to enable accessibility to our customers through whichever channel they choose to book our hotels. Our customers are now very savvy – they are all very clued up on how to find the best deals on the Internet so, they may be looking on Booking.com, Expedia, LateRooms for example, but they are also looking at our own website. For us, it’s making sure we’ve got good representation on the OTA, and then allowing that to reflect on our own website as well.
SiteMinder enables us to have parity of rates and availability. So no longer do I have to worry that there’s a rate available on an OTA that’s not available on my own website – it’s all seamless, it’s all flowing through from one central point for us and SiteMinder gives us that availability and functionality. Prior to using SiteMinder, we didn’t have a pooled inventory and had many issues with available inventory on an OTA, but I was actually sold out on our own website.
Interesting. We have a question from a webinar attendee: ‘You say that you’re connecting one hotel to 19 channels and another to 27 channels. Why not connect all hotels to 27 channels?’
Some of these channels are regionalised channels. So if we take the local tourist board, as an example, each one does not have a website. Some websites are more suited to a particular property. Certain websites appeal to the four or five star market, and if you have a three-star property or a different type of property or product, then there are sites that are more suitable again. So we don’t necessarily put all our hotels on each channel all the time. It really depends on what suits the needs of each hotel.
How do you look for new channels? Is it SiteMinder that would inform you or are you looking for new ones after seeing them on SiteMinder’s Channel Manager?
Weekly if not daily, we first of all check to see if there’s a new channel that looks suitable for some of our properties. We also look for channels that we want to connect to and then approach SiteMinder directly to establish a connection.
All of your hotels are within the same sort of category – three and four stars. So would you be looking at those niche websites as well?
Yes, we look at a variety of sites, we like to have a broad representation of the product. We have a collection of hotels and we’ve got properties ranging from mid-range through to the more upper-end products, so we do like to look at a broad spectrum. We look at using some of the higher ends and we also use our more general sites in order to increase awareness broadly. SiteMinder enables us to do that without having to worry about inventory availability. It’s all connected and it’s completely seamless.
How quickly are reservations normally received in the CMS and how quickly is inventory or a rejection updated on your OTAs in your experience?
That’s a very good question. Generally, reservation delivery will be within approximately 90 seconds, we’ve even timed it! Restrictions and inventory going out is about 60 seconds – we’ve even seen it done in 30 seconds. We constantly monitor that – along with SiteMinder – just to make sure that everything is up to scratch, there are no issues it takes place within minutes. When they say it’s real-time, it is!
We viewed an example of The Channel Manager dashboard earlier so let’s talk about that. Now, as you’ve got an integrated solution, essentially you don’t need to log in to SiteMinder’s Channel Manager on a daily basis, but would you still make sure that all connections are running successfully?
Absolutely. I dial in every day to SiteMinder’s Channel Manager. I look at the full group so I check the dashboard; I have my group dashboard so I can see if anything is going on. But that dashboard gives us more than just the channel – it allows me to see how many reservations are coming in, which channels are performing – so it’s a great reporting tool for me to use for our management team to indicate what we’ve had coming in over the last 24 hours, 48 hours or whatever date range we’re looking at. Every day we check and it allows us to keep a handle on what’s happening in the business.
What are the key channels you primarily use for your business?
We’ve got a number of key channels: Hotelbeds, Booking.com, LateRooms and Expedia are the main ones, but it depends on which market you are looking at.
Since the introduction of SiteMinder’s Channel Manager, we’ve been able to go and look at other markets, such as inbound travel from the USA, China, India and Korea, which is another emerging market for us. That’s been a direct response to connecting with SiteMinder’s Channel Manager and being able to integrate the regional OTAs and third party sites.
Prior to that, we just wouldn’t have been able to physically update 36 hotels with inventory and rates across various individual sites – it just wouldn’t have been possible for us.