We have always been fortunate to enjoy a very busy summer period but, and although Oxford attracts visitors all year round, we did struggle to achieve good levels of occupancy during the winter months. So back in 2008 we employed a ‘Marketing Mentor’ to come and help us work on improving things during this more difficult time.
It was decided very early on that our distribution methods needed to change and one very key element to reaching todays success was to make that move from pencil and paper diary over to a digital property management system – CaterBook was the recommended software.
Moving from the tried and tested pencil & paper diary system that we had been using for many years was a scary prospect. We wanted the transition to be as smooth and painless as possible and although there was some reluctance to let go of our trusted diary, the implementation of CaterBook turned out to be very simple. The guidance, support and patience offered by the team at CaterBook enabled us to leave behind the diary and embrace the future of managing our guest accommodation.
Oxford is one of those cities that people visit all year round and that is despite what may be happening with the global economy. As such, it is reasonable to surmise that we have been protected, perhaps more so than other places, from the recession. Even though times have been difficult, CaterBook (with their more recent developments in channel management software) has enabled us to now be enjoying our busiest times since opening doors back in the late nineties. So it is fair to say that CaterBook is worth every penny.
After one initial payment for the software licence and agreeing to a very reasonable annual fee for support ⁄ maintenance we were up and running. As with any business, having fixed costs makes keeping on top of your expenditure infinitely more stable because you know where you stand from the start. Not having to pay commission on the bookings we receive via our Online Booking Manager (our own website) is fantastic.
We had started to suffer from being out-dated in our booking methods and occupancy was declining as a result. Allowing potential guests to make bookings via our website brought on an immediate change in the way our rooms were filled. People were able to book at any time, day or night and from anywhere in the world and entirely at their convenience. We were no longer restricted by our reception opening times to take reservations so our occupancy began to climb quickly and reach the levels we had been enjoying previously. Then the Channel Manager functionality was added and things really started to change.
Before this was available, we did have a presence on sites like Booking.Com and Laterooms but we were not able to process bookings from them automatically and were therefore very restricted on what we could sell via those channels. Having the ability to manage these channels (and the extra ones we have since added) in an almost entirely automated fashion is nothing short of a dream. There is a small monthly fee to pay for this service which is acceptable. Paying commission on bookings that come through to us via the channel manager can be a sore point, it is expensive. That being said, you only pay commission on the rooms you are selling so there is really nothing to complain about. It is much more important to have a room occupied and receive some money than have a room sat empty and get nothing at all. It would be nice to receive more bookings directly and avoid the commission charges but we can't really hope to compete with these huge international OTA's. All of this makes the decision to include the Channel Manager a very easy one.
Occupancy has increased by a staggering 25% during the winter months which means that we no longer have to save every penny from the summer to help us get through the winter. This has freed up money for re-investment back in to the business where before it had been impossible. As a result our two bed and breakfast establishments are in the strongest position ever, with no signs of that changing in the foreseeable future.
Director, Parklands & The Falcon B&B