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More than half of all mobile phone subscribers in the United States own smartphones, according to a recent Nielsen estimate. To cater toward the growing trend of mobile applications, technology companies are developing new solutions that allow hotel employees to wirelessly connect to property management systems.

Property management systems (PMS) provide hotel employees with essential tools to efficiently perform their daily tasks, which include handling reservations, checking guests in and out, assigning rooms, managing room inventory, accommodating guest needs, and handling accounting and billing.

When using a mobile PMS solution, employees can provide guest services without the confines of a desk. On-the-go hotel operators and managers of multiple properties can stay aware of their guests, have constant access to hotel data, and make important business decisions.

Scott Gowdish, director of development, hotel e-commerce solutions, for MICROS Systems Inc., says mobile PMS solutions increase efficiency at hotels. Alerts are delivered directly to handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and modifications can be made on the fly.

“It provides more information and quick access to information to anyone on the property,” Gowdish says. “You don’t need to be sitting at a terminal to get updates on room status or updates on occupancy.”

NEW LEVEL OF MOBILITY
When MICROS client feedback indicated a demand for quick check-in and check-out applications distributed over the Web, the company developed a mobile PMS solution called OPERA2Go, which has since been implemented at three pilot properties, including Trump Hotel Collection’s Soho and Chicago properties. The solution is fully Web-enabled, which means it doesn’t require an app to be loaded, and works on all mobile devices.

Functionality of the agent-facing user interface includes reservation look-ups, check in and out, room assignments, special requests, profile management, room availability, housekeeping room status task sheets, and key reports. General managers and front desk managers can access due-in reports on the mobile platform so they can provide service to guests anywhere on or off the property.

Network capabilities aren’t typically a concern, Gowdish says, because most properties with any kind of interconnectivity should be able to support the solution. Rather than delivering huge data chunks across the device, he says, the solution is compact across the interface.

While concierges and guest services members who roam properties have more mobile ability, Gowdish says there will always be a need for front desk terminals. More in-depth tasks, such as managing guest profiles and managing reservations, don’t always scale well to handheld devices.

“As devices get better resolution and as they get better access to the local networks in properties,” Gowdish says, “you’ll start to see more services being delivered this way.”

ALWAYS IN TOUCH
As smart mobile devices became more widespread, Multi-Systems Inc. (MSI) introduced a hotel-facing mobile application for internal functions that works with the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Called the nTouch, it works in conjunction with the company’s WinPM solution to provide real-time access to hotel data via Internet connection. Staff members can check availability, look up VIP guests, manage room status, and monitor ADR and occupancy.

The ability to constantly monitor hotel performance allows general managers to more effectively manage their inventory and rates, says Rick Munson, CEO of MSI. “It directly impacts your profitability,” he says.

The nTouch allows staff to manage each property individually and gain access to each hotel’s key data. A general manager of multiple hotels can access all information, from guest arrivals lists to occupancy stats, from his single nTouch application. “He gets to look at daily stats for multiple hotels from one phone anywhere in the world,” Munson says.

A housekeeper can use her mobile device to update the status of a room from dirty to clean, and it will automatically communicate to the PMS so the front desk staff knows the room is ready. If an available room suddenly has a leaky pipe, the engineer can immediately take it out of inventory. “The bottom line is, it’s improving the guest experience,” Munson says.

GUEST-FACING COMPONENTS
To build on nTouch capabilities, MSI is in the final stages of completing a customer-facing component that will allow guests to bypass the front desk when checking in or out. The question is, will guests use it? “All hotels are saying yes they will,” Munson says. Airlines allow travelers to use boarding passes that are sent straight to their smartphones, so he sees a similar concept working in hotels. “If you can get on an airplane, why not get into a hotel?”

Munson says MSI is working with Square, a card reader that plugs into mobile devices, so that roaming staff members who greet guests can swipe and process credit cards for check in. MSI also is working with other suppliers on keyless technology that would allow guests to unlock their hotel room door with their smartphones. “We, as the property management system supplier, need to send a signal to the phone so that the phone gets the correct room number,” Munson explains.

All of the pieces are integrated through MSI’s cloud system. “That’s the miracle of today’s cloud computing,” Munson says. “It’s a platform that really brings a tremendous amount of value.”

MICROS is developing a business-to-consumer solution called webHotel, an eCommerce product and services platform that leverages OPERA-based hotel and customer data to attract online travel consumers. It allows customers to search for reservations, browse, and book in one place. A business-to-consumer mobile app also is in pilot, through which guests can book reservations and customize their hotel stay.

Gowdish acknowledges that becoming an early adopter in emerging technologies can be a “death sentence.” He advises hotels to partner with technology companies that will provide the right solutions without putting the properties too much at risk. “In our industry, in general, we’re all very cost conscious,” Gowdish says. “We know how horrible the economy has been to us.”

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