Property Management Systems are the heart of every hostel. Every hostel should have one. At the very minimum, they manage your property, and your guests. The more pricey the PMS, the more it can do for you. For the longest time, the PMS did just about everything a hostel needed, but now things are changing, as user demands are growing more diverse and the PMS companies are focusing on their core, which is managing the property.
At the same time, independent channel mangers really gained control. At on point, all PMS’e had a built-in functionality similar to today’s channel managers where your rates and inventories were distributed to the most popular booking sites though direct integration. However adding, removing, and updating a new channel has become very time consuming and expensive for the hostellier, generally having to pay ad-hoac for each channel to add. Nowadays, you only have to pay for one integration to a third party channel manager, and let them integrate to more channels at a cheaper cost. One big example in hotels is Micros partnering with Siteminder. In hostels, a big one is the new Myfrontdesk system Cloudbeds built around Myallocator (see more about channel managers here).
Now you see the same thing happening with the functionalities of online bookings, revenue management, and customer relationship capabilities. Don’t take this the wrong way, there are PMSes out there that pretty much offer an all-in one package, and execute everything you need nicely. They have their own central reservations system (imagine a chain of hostels all using the same PMS), channel manger, Food and Beverage (F&B), Point of Sale (POS), tours and activities, housekeeping, online booking, account folios, revenue managing, and client relationship tools. You really have to decide what you want, and how you want it so to speak.
Most basic PMS’s out there has a POS built in. It posts the charges to each guests account where money is exchanged or services are rendered. The POS can also work with ancillary revenue streams too, such as selling merchandise, activities, and F&B. Here it could even take stock and inventories, generating reports for new stock orders. They compile the guest accounts into reports per shift, day, month, quarter, and even year, that really helps the manager, and accountant stay on top of everything. Just note, there are many third party POS systems out there for your ancillary revenue, but they most likely won’t integrate with your PMS.
The PMS should manage just about all the operations your hostel needs. It manages who is checking-in, checking-out, what rooms/beds to clean, what rooms/beds are empty, reservations made via phone and in person, and when guests extend their stay or leave early. This is where the systems differentiate themselves greatly. Some are a ‘glorified spreadsheet,’ makings things easier, but still leaving the bulk of the work for the hostel. Others take care of everything and some. For example, A PMS should integrate with your other tools you use in operations such as a credit card processing system, keycard (magnetic or RFID), and perhaps an ID (passport) scanning system to name a few.
One major difference is the bed allocations. Not all PMS’s have the ability to break a room down by the sex. Also, many just place a reservation in an assigned roomed/b type, where as others would deplete the inventory across the channels but not assign the room/bed until check-in, this alleviates the headache of having to constantly more reservations around to open up ‘spaces’ so to speak. Even fewer have the ability to link availability across dorms and rooms. For instance, a double room can sell as a twin room which is just a double room at a discounted price, or 4 beds in a 4 bed dorm can also be sold as a 4 bed private room. This can make your inventory more diverse and appeal to more customers.
Another major thing you should look into is the auto-email functionality. This is a must. You should send each guest at least 2 emails. You need to reconfirm any booking other than on your own site, and send a thank you email after the leave. You should consider sending an email with directions a couple days before they arrive, and a followup email weeks after they stay if they haven’t opened the first. Remember, the conversation starts at when the guest visits your site or listing, and continues well after they check-out.
Now, as a manager or owner, one of the big deals of a property management system is the reports. Reports can determine your performance, or business health, in many ways. You want, daily (such as a night audit), weekly, monthly, quarterly, and even yearly reports. If you are switching from one system to another, see if they can import your previous data so you can still run month over month, year over year reports. A proper system can give you custom reports too, and even the ability to export data into other tools you might want if you are techie and like to play with numbers, run marketing campaigns, or stay on top of your key customers.
Consider if you want a cloud-based system or a local system. With a local system, you always have it working on the computer, with or without internet. This is great for properties that are super remote and the internet is horrible at best. The system will connect to your channels periodically, so you might want to create a buffer or threshold on the OTAs so there are no overbookigns. A cloud-based system works great for hostels in areas with adequate internet service. You do not need the super fast speeds of Romania or South Korea, but a solid internet connection is needed. Of course there are the occasional power and internet outages, but it will be brief and a pen and paper can suffice.
A few hot features now in the market is a cloud interface that can be accessed on multiple devices. This way receptionists are not stuck at their desks. Another is pre check-in or self check-in functionality, where the guest can input the data without using up much of the receptionists time. The ability to email receipts instead of printing them is a nice feature that saves trees. Also, custom fields are becoming common as more hostels want to statistically understand their guests. These are all things to consider if you are into the cutting edge stuff.
As you can see the sky is the limit. So you really need to think a lot of what you want. If labor costs are low (meaning your hostels is run by low wage workers or volunteers), then you might think it to be easier to get the cheapest thing out there. However, we do not recommend this. It will show in reviews when the receptionist is always busy and not engaging guests, and you will pay for it eventually in human error. It could be a year from then, where the money lost through errors could easily pay for a better system, or a month form then, when you lose out on a large group in the off season. Remember a good PMS does not only help you make money, they helps you save time.
Other factors you should consider is the amount of training you will need for staff and managers to learn the system, better known as usability or user experience. Another is the speed of transaction. The less time staff are in the system, the more time they can be engaging the guests. That is super important. Finally, let’s not forget the relationship with the tech provider itself. Determine if there is a dedicated person or team to your account, and how fast they will address any future issues. Finally, if you like to try new things, determine if they are flexible. A proper PMS company will listen to the demands of their users, and perhaps even try new features that you ask, if they see value in it. This is another reason a good relationship with a person is really important.
Currently, there are many players in the game, with new ones added just about every day. Here is a list of the popular players in the game:
- BnB Manager
- BPO (Hostelworld)
- Centrum Cloud IPMS
- Channel Manager
- Charts PMS
- CMS Guestcentrix
- Free to Book
- FrontDesk Anywhere
- MiniHotel PMS
- Mews Systems
- Myfrontdesk (Cloudbeds)
- Reservation Key
There are always new ones popping up, so it is difficult staying on top. If you know of more, please feel free to mention them in the comments and leave a link to their site.
This article can be easily turned into a textbook as many of the guys behind the great products listed above know. Even if you pay top prices for all the fancy features, you have to be active on the system and really learn it inside and out, as if it was your significant other. In fact, a PMS is more than just a piece of technology. In today’s Software-as-a Service (SaaS) world, it is a relationship indeed. With the tech, with the team, and your team as well. A finely tuned PMS, properly set up and integrated can be executed precisely to return much more than the costs. Like all other relationships, they start with a conversation, so reach out to the provider today. Happy hunting!