Property management system (PMS): Complete guide for B&Bs, motels and small hotels

property-management-system-pms

To increase front desk efficiency and improve the guest experience at your property, it’s essential to have a property management system (PMS) in place.

Whether you’re familiar with the term “PMS” already or have only just heard of it, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll start with the basics of what this technology is, delve into how your property can benefit from it, as well as cover more complex aspects like features, functionalities and add-ons. 

What is PMS software? Download the guide

Our comprehensive guide covers the basics of a PMS and other essential technologies:

A PMS is a technology solution that manages and even automates many of the administrative tasks the front desk staff are responsible for. 

Think of a PMS as the heart of your property. It stores all of the guest information, it manages check-in and check-out details, and provides you with an opportunity to input special requests or extenuating circumstances. It also records data, manages bookkeeping and allows you to generate reports about your property’s performance.

It will allow you to carry out all the day-to-day operations of your property in one place, such as:

  • Process reservations (online and POS)
  • Guest check-ins and check-outs
  • Guest booking details
  • Track your inventory and rates
  • Handle front office accounting
  • Manage maintenance and housekeeping
  • Manage guest communications

Table of contents

What is hotel front desk software?

As you might have guessed by now, front desk software, or a front desk system, is simply another name for a property management system! 

At its core, a PMS gives you the technology you need to efficiently manage front desk tasks, which is where it gets its alternate name. Basically, everything you do at the front desk, you can do with a PMS.

While we’re on the topic, let’s look at some other PMS pseudonyms, so as to prevent any confusion:

  • Hotel management software
  • Bed and breakfast software
  • Hostel management software
  • Motel management software
  • Inn management software

What is an all-in-one hotel PMS system?

Keeping up with all of the emerging technologies is a tall order for anyone, especially for the modern small hotel owner or general manager. You wear many hats during the course of the day, and finding the time to select and implement a new PMS can seem a little overwhelming.

You might hear this “all-in-one” phrase used a lot in the industry (guilty!) – and we’ll use it a lot in this blog, too. Basically, it refers to a PMS with all the added extras thrown in to form one complete property management solution. That’s right, a PMS isn’t the only technology you need to know about… there are two other important ones:

  • Booking engine – Also known as a reservation system, a booking engine is a software application used to secure online bookings on your direct channels (website and social media pages). There has been such an increase in accommodation being booked online that even the smallest of hotels can no longer ignore the need of an online booking engine. If you’re currently looking for a hotel booking engine, download our interactive buyer’s guide – it’s a workbook containing everything you need to make the right selection for your small hotel.
  • Channel manager – A channel manager is a distribution tool that allows you to easily manage the different booking sites (called online travel agents, or OTAs) that your property sells through. It uses a “pooled inventory model” to update your rooms, rates and availability across multiple OTAs, all at the same time. This means that no matter where a booking is made – be it direct on your website, through a third party booking site, or at your point of sale – inventory is always up to date and you are never overbooked.

Front desk systems, booking engines and channel managers are the three most common types of technology being used by modern accommodation providers, but small property owners like you don’t need the added hassle of using separate systems for each. That’s where an all-in-one system comes in.

An “all-in-one” PMS provider will offer their own booking engine and channel manager and bundle them together for you. These three entities will automatically synchronise with one another and provide any staff member with a view of the live availability and rates of the property.

There are other benefits to this, too. When the components necessary to the daily operation of a hospitality business are all packaged up by the one provider, it usually means a more reasonable price point. Plus, since there is only one service provider to deal with, you spend far less time on the phone or submitting online help requests with customer support, and more time giving your guests attention.

While having all systems from the one provider is ideal, it should be said that integrations are commonplace in the hotel tech industry. So, if you already have a booking engine or channel manager, and are happy with these, but are looking for a new PMS, then check that the prospective provider can integrate with your existing technology.

5 signs you need hotel PMS software

Now that we’re clear on what a PMS is, let’s look at who needs one.

Small accommodation providers are often on a tight budget, and it may be tempting to avoid investing in a PMS. On paper, it might seem like you can save money by managing your own bookings on an Excel spreadsheet, but in actuality, this could be costing your business in the long-term.

If the below signs resonate with you, it’s probably time for an upgrade.

Sign #1: Bookings are difficult and tedious – for both you and your guests

You know the feeling. You constantly check your phone to see if you have any new voice messages and emails. You’re afraid to leave your front desk in case a guest calls. You’re trying to play phone and email tag just to lock in that booking and secure your customer’s credit card details.

If your guests have to contact you directly – either by phone or email – in order to complete their reservation, the process will become frustrating for both parties. You will feel tied to your desk and your phone, and potential bookers might simply give up trying if they can’t finalise their reservations quickly enough.

With a PMS, the booking process is automated and online reservations can be accepted. An online booking system will let guests select their dates and display your availability and rates in an easy-to-read interface.

Sign #2: Room inventory can be difficult to manage

In most cases, you will be promoting your bed and breakfast on multiple channels, and guests will be contacting you in a variety of different ways.

Without a PMS, the risk of overbooking your rooms is quite high. This is one of the most frustrating experiences for a traveller, and it can damage your reputation in the industry.

A PMS will manage your inventory for you, and automatically update your availability across all of your distribution channels.

Sign #3: Managing your time is no picnic

It’s high season, and you’ve booked in a family lunch in your function room. As the owner and operator of the property, you’re busy making sure your guests are happy. But because you can’t close rooms for arrival or departure, one of your guests need to be checked out – and you’re scrambling to service everyone at once.

In your frenzy, you miss items your guests used from the mini bar (they’ve actually left your hotel without paying for it). You also look under-resourced and unprofessional, because both your guests checking out and your special function room guests didn’t get the level of service they needed.

A PMS will allow you to manage your time efficiently because you can close rooms for departure and arrival, as well as print out check-in and check-out schedules. You will know exactly how you need to spend your precious time, all while making sure your guests have the best experience possible.

Sign #4: Communicating with your guests takes way too much effort

Today’s travellers expect automatic confirmation emails, text message updates and feedback requests.

First of all, you’re not sure where to look to find your guests’ details. All of your dealings with your guests – from payment to contact and booking details – are stored in multiple places. You have to jump from one program to another to find what you’re looking for, which takes a significant amount of time.

Secondly, it’s hard to stay engaged with each and every guest, and make sure all their questions are answered. You know that there are certain emails that each guest should receive – for example, booking confirmation, reminder before their stay, tips during their stay, and a feedback request following their stay.

At best, you are stuck creating templates in Word documents, relying on your own memory to send individual emails at the right times. With a PMS, you get immediate access to all the guest information you need, and you can make your guest emails an automatic, standardised process, so every guest gets the same, great experience.

Sign #5: You can’t visualise what works and doesn’t work for your business

At the end of each month, you’re not sure exactly what is and isn’t working. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure!

A PMS gives you a complete overview of the daily running and performance of your property. Instantly view guest payment details, easily generate monthly performance reports, or select a view of outstanding payments in one simple click. More on reports later.

Features to look for in a hotel property management system

Download our front desk system buyer’s guide for a breakdown of features:
property-management-system-front-desk-system

In sifting through the multitude of options available to you, it’s important to think about what features would best suit your bed and breakfast, inn, or guesthouse. After all, many of the solutions available are simply too complex for a small hotel’s needs.

Look for these top six features when making your selection.

Feature #1: Front desk management

Your PMS should give you all the tools you need to be totally organised in running your small property. To give your guests the best service from the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, you should be able to easily:

  • View all of your reservations on a calendar page
  • Add additional rooms and extra sale items to a booking
  • Add new rate-plans to existing rooms
  • Close out specific rooms for a spring clean
  • Move existing bookings around
  • Produce invoices
  • Check guests in and out
  • Remember your returning guests

You should have just one place to find all the information you need, and it should take you much less time to complete the same tasks.

Feature #2: Cloud-based software

Wherever you are, whichever device you are using, you need to be able to access your system. This means it should be cloud-based. That way, you can go about your day and still keep an eye on your reservations. All you need to do is bring your smartphone or tablet with you.

Feature #3: Upsell and cross-sell tools

In addition to working on getting more guests, you should also work on increasing revenue from each guest.

A property management system should allow you to:

  • Package extras like late check-out, breakfast, and spa packages
  • Customise extras to suit each product
  • Add extra sale items to reservations during your guests’ stay

Upselling relevant products and services to your guests can give them a more pleasant stay while adding to your bottom line.

Feature #4: Guest communication functionality

A PMS must make it easy for you to communicate with your guests in a structured way, and this includes:

  • Booking confirmation: This is the automatic email that is sent immediately after your guest enters their details to make a booking.
  • Pre-arrival information: Now that their stay is nearing, the purpose of this email is to make sure everything runs smoothly, get them excited about their stay with you, and drive incremental revenue.
  • Post-stay thank you: This is your chance to ask for feedback, and also encourage repeat bookings and referrals by sending promotional codes.

Make sure emails can be customised to match your branding. This way, each guest gets a consistent experience, and you can automatically send them promo codes to turn them into loyal guests.

Feature #5: Sales channel management

As we already touched on , the PMS you choose should also be serve as your channel manager. This means that travellers booking hotels through OTAs see your availability as it is updated in close to real-time, because your PMS distributes all of your available rooms across a number of booking sites.

The channel manager element should:

  • Allow for live rate and availability updates
  • Allow you to manage all your booking sites from one place
  • Allow you to upload your inventory 400 days in advance
  • Allow you to easily see an overview of how your channels are tracking

Because your inventory is automatically reduced across all sites when a booking is made from any site, there’s no manual work involved, and you maximise your revenue. This method of distribution is called the “pooled inventory model”.

You also want to make sure that a prospective provider doesn’t charge you to sync up a new channel. A channel manager shouldn’t interfere in your relationships, but simply facilitate the connection.

Feature #6: International booking capabilities

Making sure international travellers can easily book with you is a top priority for small hotels. Your PMS system should help you do this by:

  • Allowing you to partner with international OTAs. For example, to sell your rooms to Chinese travellers, you should connect with Ctrip, because it is the preferred booking site in China. The more sites it connects you to, the better. For example, Little Hotelier connects with hundreds of different booking sites.
  • Providing multi-language and currency options. It should support at least 5 languages (including Chinese), and at least 80 different currencies.

Of course, the fact that international travellers can go to your website and book themselves in means that you don’t need to be at your desk to accept bookings. 

Hotel management software reporting capabilities

Reports are also an essential feature to look for in a PMS, but they require their own section. 

Property management systems provide a wide variety of reporting tools that you can use to learn more about your business. These reporting tools can be a great asset to your business, as long as you use them and subsequently utilise the data that is generated.

The most powerful reports that you have at your disposal include financial reports that highlight your profits on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis, or housekeeping reports which provide you with information on how long it takes to clean rooms, the turnover time and the number of rooms that are cleaned within a specific time period.

For any given time period, you should also be able to draw reports around:

  • Check-ins and check-outs
  • Cancellations
  • Average unoccupied rooms
  • Payment methods
  • Revenue per available room
  • Average occupancy
  • Average length of stay
  • Revenue per channel

There are, however, three essential reports. Make sure you look for a PMS that provides the following:

Essential report #1: Transactions report

An analysis of your daily transactions allows you to gain further insight into what works – for example, you may notice a pattern in high and low days, as well as which payment methods are most popular for your small hotel.

How much detail can you see when it comes to your payments and reservations?

For any time period you select, you should be able to see:

  • Payment method (cash, type of credit card, etc.)
  • Number of check-ins
  • Number of check-outs
  • Number of cancellations
  • Number of pending check-ins
  • Number of pending check-outs
  • Average unoccupied rooms

Essential report #2: Statistics report

Small accommodation providers need to be able to track certain metrics that give them an overview of how well their business is doing.

This includes:

  • Total closed, occupied, and unoccupied room nights?
  • Average occupancy, length of stay, lead time, revenue per booking, and daily rate?
  • Revenue per available room?
  • Cancelled reservations?

Measuring and tracking these statistics over time is crucial to be able to know whether you’re improving or not.

Essential report #3: Booking channels report

It goes without saying that in order to manage your revenue successfully, you need to be able to see all your revenue streams – from the online booking websites where you advertise your property, to your marketing and sales efforts.

To know what is and isn’t working, you need to create a report of:

  • Booking channels – number of reservations, and total revenue
  • Direct reservations – number of reservations, and total revenue
  • Extranet reservations (manually entered) – number of reservations, and total revenue
  • Without this visibility, you won’t be able to make pricing decisions that are based on one of the most fundamental principles of economics: supply and demand.

With a PMS, it’s easier to slice and dice your data, exporting it if need be. A modern system will display it to you visually and allow you to print it out. You can spend more time making sense of the data and deciding what to do with it, instead of painstakingly manipulating it in Excel documents.

Benefits of hotel PMS systems

A front desk system will minimise the amount of time you and your staff have to spend on administrative tasks, which means you can put that time into more important things like tending to guests. 

  • It will increase your efficiency

With a property management system in place, you can automate the majority of your administrative tasks. You can schedule automatic emails to improve communication with your guests and also accept online bookings directly from your guests via your website and social channels. You can even give guests the opportunity to check in from their mobile devices prior to their arrival.

All of these automated functions prevent you from spending an endless amount of time replying to emails, confirming bookings and managing tasks in your back office.

  • It reduces the risk of clerical errors

Without technology like a front desk system or channel manager in place, there is a high risk of human error that can lead to missed reservations and double-booked rooms. Not only is this an administrative nightmare, but it’s also a huge customer service issue that can lead to frustrated guests who are unhappy with their experience.

  • It will boost your bookings

When your property management system has online booking capability as well as a channel manager, you will see a significant increase in your total bookings. When you invest in the right B&B technology for your property, you should enjoy returns that allow you to grow your business and continue improving the experience for your guests.

  • It will improve your ability to manage revenue

In addition to accepting bookings and automating communications, your all-in-one B&B business solution will collect data about your guests and compile it into useful, easy-to-digest reports.

These reporting tools allow you to evaluate your business at a glance, and give you insight into the ways that you can and should improve your business.

With valuable, accurate data available at any given moment, you can easily adjust your room rates based on seasonal demands and local competition to generate as much revenue per booking as possible.

  • It will allow you to update your website quickly and easily

You should not be forced to hire a web designer to create a website for you. This is an expensive, lengthy process and often leaves you with a fancy website that you cannot update on your own.

An all-in-one B&B business solution will also include a website builder that allows you to create a customised website that will increase your visibility online and boost your bookings. Best of all, you’ll be able to update it whenever and wherever you want to.

  • It will give you the power to operate your property remotely

The best property management tools allow you to escape the office within your B&B. You should be able to access your all-in-one business solution from any mobile device that you prefer.

With remote access, you can spend less time at your desk and more time interacting with the guests who are staying at your property.

In fact, you might even be able to sneak away for a vacation of your own!

Outcomes you can expect from a PMS system for hotels

We’ve covered features and benefits, but it might help to look at the outcomes the right PMS solution will bring. Here are the top life changes you’ll experience when you find the perfect business tool to run your small property.

  • You don’t need to confirm bookings anymore

Let’s face it – it takes you at least five minutes to accept bookings over the phone or via email. In fact, the task can span over days if your guests are contacting you from overseas, in conflicting time zones. The simple act of making a reservation requires you to play a significant amount of phone and email tag to lock the booking in.

With an all-in-one PMS system, it takes exactly zero minutes for you to confirm a booking, because your system does that for you, even while you sleep! You wake up to a whole bunch of new bookings because your customers self-serve through your website when it’s convenient for them.

  • You don’t need to process payments anymore

Money is always a touchy subject, so you need to be extremely professional in this area. Your customers will expect an easy way to pay you, and an instant receipt confirming their booking. The experience should not be a clunky process.

Your booking engine should seamlessly allow customers to enter their payment details so that they can self-serve.

  • You don’t need to answer frequently asked questions

At the beginning of their experience with you, your customer needs to be well-informed. They won’t make a booking without a clear idea of what it is you’re offering.

An all-in-one PMS will let you give them all the information they need to make a decision:

  • A clear description of their room and the amenities
  • Photos and videos
  • Testimonials
  • Availability
  • Map

Bonus points for a separate FAQs page with all the typical inquiries you get over the phone.

  • You save a lot of time on guest communications

Of course, once a booking is made, you still need to communicate with your guests properly. Otherwise they will wonder if you have forgotten about them – or they may even forget about you!

An all-in-one PMS system will allow you to automate reminder emails, which tell them what to bring, and follow-up emails, which ask for feedback. This gives you a way to get glowing online reviews!

You should also consider sending promotional emails to get them to come back or refer a friend. You can set up promotional codes very easily in all-in-one PMSs.

  • You don’t need to update your availability anymore

An all-in-one PMS system that supports your sales channel management will automatically update your inventory across all your booking sites. This means that you don’t need to go through each and every OTA to update availability, and risk double booking your guests, or losing out on missed sales. Instead, you can sit back, relax, and watch the bookings pour in!

How to choose a hotel management system provider

Your PMS will effectively work as the heart of your business, so take your time and do your research before making any final decisions.

In your search, it would be wise to put each company under a magnifying glass, including these five essential traits when comparing them against each other.

Trait #1: More than a front desk

Hopefully you understand by now that an all-in-one solution is the way to go, so look for a provider that looks beyond front desk management and offers solutions for improving your marketing and distribution (channel manager), paying less commissions (direct booking engine), and creating an attractive and effective website (website builder). If you want the best hotel PMS, you need a complete business solution.

Trait #2: Flexible pricing 

As a small accommodation provider, we recommend that you go with an all-in-one system that offers you the most flexibility in working with them.

  • Does it lock you into a contract? Choose pay-as-you-go software to minimise risk if it doesn’t work out for you. A small hotel PMS should operate off a no contract, fixed monthly fee, which makes it easier for you to budget your expenses.
  • Is pricing transparent and fair? Make sure there are no hidden costs. Look for an all-inclusive solution. Some companies have been known to charge an expensive additional fee when hotels want to integrate a booking channel.

Make sure the software you choose lines up with the needs of your small property, especially in terms of flexibility and cost. Some solutions will enforce contracts, and structure their pricing based on a percentage of commission per booking, but it is difficult to grow with such a pricing model.

Trait #3: Helpful support

If something goes wrong, you need to know that you can rely on your provider to assist you quickly.

  • How many days per week is support offered?
  • Can you reach someone in a time zone that works for you?
  • Can you speak to an actual person for assistance?
  • Is support offered in the language you speak?
  • Are they willing to train you and your staff to use the product?
  • Is there a wealth of online tutorials to minimise the need for phone support? There should be up to day step-by-step screenshot and video tutorials available for you to access.
  • Are there new feature releases being announced on a monthly basis? Make sure the company you choose is committed to improving the product instead of staying static.

Trait #4: Good reviews

A good company will have many of customers just like you. They may even have customers in your region!

Make sure you ask them for examples. When these examples are given to you, take it a step further and have a look at those customers’ websites to see if they are similar in property type and size to your small hotel. You may even want to contact a few of their customers and speak to them for a first-hand review of the software.

Another good tip is to check out Hotel Tech Report for online customer reviews. Here you’ll find reviews and overviews for many brands, that should give you the confidence you need to make a good investment.

Trait #5: Free trial

Make sure you take a free trial of each of the systems you look at – they are standard in the industry. If no free trial is available, at least request a demonstration of the product. You want to play around with it to make sure that it is truly the easiest and most comprehensive solution for your small property. On your trial, you’ll be able to assess whether it has all the functionality you need.

Is your property management system software working for you?

If you’ve already got a PMS, an online booking engine, and/or a channel manager, it can be hard to figure out whether it’s working for you, or whether you’d benefit from a refresh.

Here are some checklists to help you assess whether you’re truly getting the most out of your respective systems.

Front desk system checklist

Your front desk system should allow you to:

  • See an overview of reservations in a calendar view
  • Add additional rooms and extra sale items to a booking
  • Close out specific rooms for spring cleaning
  • Add new rate plans to existing rooms
  • Move existing bookings around
  • Produce branded invoices
  • Check guests in and out in seconds
  • Search and find your returning guests
  • Manage your housekeeping calendar and staff
  • Access it on-the-go via mobile device

Another vital aspect of modern front desk systems is their ability to integrate with your booking engine and channel manager. This integration means that your front desk system gets live rate and availability updates, and there’s no manual work involved for you. Of course, if you opt for an all-in-one PMS solution, all of these features are a packaged deal from the same provider, so there’s no need to worry about integrations.

Channel manager checklist

Your channel manager should allow you to:

  • Apply rates and stop-sells at the click of a button
  • Manage as many channels as you need simultaneously
  • Manage the number of room types per channel that you need simultaneously
  • Manage availability at least one year in advance
  • Manage multiple days of availability simultaneously
  • Connect to your existing channels
  • Connect to more channels, at no additional cost
  • Produce reports on which channels are bringing you the most reservations
  • Get reports on channel connectivity (ie. if one is broken, will you know about it?)

Your channel manager should also integrate with your booking engine, giving you one place where you can update your rates and apply stop-sells. Using the aforementioned pooled inventory model, the system automatically reduces availability when a room is booked on any one of your sales channels.

This means all your booking sites display the correct inventory without you having to stress or adjust a thing!

Booking engine checklist

Your booking engine should allow you to:

  • Process payments securely, keeping all sensitive guest data safe according to industry standards
  • Access past guest data associated with reservations
  • Automate guest communication emails
  • Create advanced reports to assess the daily running and performance of your property
  • Pay a fixed fee, instead of a commission per reservation
  • Easily terminate the agreement (i.e. not locked into any contract)

Your current booking engine should integrate seamlessly with your website, and ideally your front desk system and channel manager, too.

That way, you will be able to see when bookings come in, and all your online channels will reflect the correct number of available rooms.

PMS hotel: Key takeaways

  • A property management system centralises and automates many of the day-to-day operations that come with running a property.
  • A PMS is also known as a front desk system, hotel management software and bed and breakfast software… just to name a few!
  • Small accommodation providers need a system that handles everything in one place. Look for an all-in-one PMS that offers a booking engine and channel manager so that you have a complete solution for your business.
  • Key PMS features include: front desk management, cloud-based software, upsell tools, guest communication functionality, sales channel management, and international booking capabilities.
  • The 3 essential PMS reports include: Transactions report, Statistics report, and Booking Channels report.
  • When choosing a PMS provider, look for: flexible pricing, helpful support, good reviews, and a free trial.

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