When big changes happen, it’s not always as a result of grand plans. Sometimes, the smallest things can bring about major improvements in life – and business.
That’s certainly the case for Stefan Wocher, the property manager of SeeHotel Amtshof, a picturesque 14-room boutique hotel on the shores of Lake Constance, in the German Alps. The historic building dates back to 1590 and all rooms and suites are unique in itself.
Stefan is the seventh generation of Wochers in charge of the hotel, which has been in the family since 1821. His two sons are set to continue the tradition, too – both are studying hospitality at university.
For years, the Amtshof had an agency-run website, which Stefan describes as “not professional”. It was only in German, so could never reach an international audience of guests. It didn’t have a booking engine, so it wasn’t bringing in reservations. And any time Stefan wanted to update anything on the property’s website, he had to contact the agency. “Sometimes they’d do it in one week, sometimes one month,” he says.
But one day, things changed. Stefan wanted to add a photo to his website, so he sent an email to the agency – but got an auto-reply saying they were on holiday. Even though the update was relatively small, Stefan decided that he’d had enough of waiting around.
Coincidentally, Stefan had just received an email about WebDirect, BookingSuite’s property website solution. As well as offering the Amtshof the chance to have a professional-looking website, he saw that he could make his own updates whenever he needed. “I knew this was the right way,” Stefan said.
Immediately, Stefan could see that it was “very, very easy to handle. I’m nearly 60 – everything I do has to be easy. If it’s easy, I can be successful.”
Since launching his WebDirect property website, Stefan hasn’t looked back. Now he can make updates whenever he wants – be it photos, pricing or availability – and all the changes appear immediately on the new website. “It’s very fast, we can do everything ourselves – we don’t need any agency,” Stefan says.
As an owner who likes to adjust his rates regularly, this change has been massive. “We take less time and feel that it’s all safe. That feeling is very important for us. We are a small hotel, we must feel safe in what we’re doing. We don’t have to spend time looking to see if everything is OK because we know everything is OK,” says Stefan.
As well as making life easier for Stefan, the website has also made it easy for guests to book direct. Within a year, 12.5% of the Amtshof’s bookings were coming through the WebDirect website.
Inspired by the positive results of his investment in technology, Stefan felt confident taking his steps into the world of social media, too. A few months after seeing the impact of his new website, he created an Instagram account for the Amtshof. He has been regularly posting photos of the hotel and its beautiful Alpine backdrop – along with a link to the Amtshof property website.
As a result, word quickly spread about the hotel, and since then, 30 new social media followers have been signing up every single day – something that’s brought unexpected results to the hotel’s direct bookings. “We have a lot of people from France this year, last year there was nobody. Half of these people came because they saw us on Instagram,” Stefan explains. In fact, the Amtshof receives 15% of its total revenue from social media links to the website.
Stefan’s decision to switch to a WebDirect website has resulted in increased online exposure, a boost in direct bookings and more time for the hotel staff to dedicate to the most important part of their business: their guests.“Before, we had no time for our guests. Now we can look after them,” Stefan says.“We’re relaxed! And the guests are happy.”
Like a lot of first time hoteliers Pauline Hillerby and Garry Rawlinson experienced plenty of uncertainty when they opened Hotel 119 in Darlington, UK. “We were new to hospitality”, admits Garry, “and weren’t sure if we were doing things correctly.”
Their 20-room hotel was receiving bookings through Booking.com, their own website, as well as from people calling them directly. Pauline, who runs the business side of things, would keep track of bookings using a combination of a whiteboard and a paper diary, which she had to cross-reference after every phone call, email or walk-in reservation.
Not only was this time-consuming, but it also led to errors and overbookings – something that Pauline found frustrating. “I had issues linking up my private bookings with the ones from Booking.com, so that nobody was overlapping,” she says.
A number of OTAs were getting in touch to put Hotel 119 on their sites, but because Pauline and Garry’s whiteboard system relied entirely on manual work, they had to turn them down – along with the extra revenue they might have brought in. “We’d get confused and it would become a nightmare,” Pauline says.
They were looking for ways to work more efficiently, and found a digital diary tool designed for smaller properties. By embracing this technology, they’ve been able to organise their bookings much more effectively. “It’s easy, you can see all the bookings together,” says Pauline. “Now it’s a lot more streamlined.” Garry adds: “With this system, you know exactly where you are.” Plus, the mobile app lets Pauline manage bookings from wherever she is.
The improvement in organisation has had plenty of other benefits for their property – and the people who stay there. “It frees up our time for our guests,” Pauline says.
By dedicating more time to looking after their guests, Hotel 119’s review score has improved. “Our reviews are really good, they all say our customer service and friendliness are exceptional – and that’s what we want. It brings people back,” Pauline says with a smile. Garry and Pauline are delighted with the way they’ve improved their business.
“Because it’s so streamlined, it gives us more opportunity to devote time not just to customer service, but also to our own website”, says Garry. “It’s increased our clients and our revenue […] and it opens up a whole new chapter in hotel management for us.”
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