Emagineering Gives Small and Independent Hotels an Online Edge
Debbie Diaz-Welsh loves the idea of someone looking over her shoulder. It's like having an invisible team right behind her as she tackles the day-to-day of running the Palm Pavilion Inn in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Whether she's talking about the accountability that comes with being a Superior Small Lodging network member or the support services she gets with the online aspect of running the property, Diaz-Welsh says business is better.
"I enjoy having an outsider come in and take a look at our product with a different set of eyes," the general manager of the Pavilion said. "It gives you some guidelines to live up to...it's like a weight loss program. That little bit of coaching and knowing someone is out there watching makes a difference.
"Plus it's a great tool for customers. They know what they're getting with an SSL property," she said, adding that the Palm Pavilion has been an SSL member for 10 years. "If you're with a recognizable chain like Best Western that's great," she said. "But if you're an independent and want to get some standard of recognition an organization like SSL is a great place to start."
Diaz-Welsh has been with the property almost a decade herself, guiding her 29-room inn through high-tech growing pains that are delivering profits and headaches for proprietors throughout the industry. She believes the key to garnering more profits and less pain is working with a provider and partner like the one she found in Matt Ditttrich and Emagineering, a team of industry veterans that have provided online reservation technologies, internet marketing solutions - and the kind of attention to personal service that SSL is itself known for - for over a decade.
Diaz-Welsh been working with Emagineering since the Palm Pavilion took the dive into online reservations and a Web site seven years ago. "Our business has steadily grown every year these past seven years," Diaz-Welsh said. "Even what with the economy, this is the first year we have not exceeded revenues from the year before."
She is counting on the inn's online presence to buffer the property against the daily newspaper headlines. Part of that power is going to come from the new Superior Small Lodging website Emagineering is producing. "I expect to get lots of business from it, if what we've seen so far is any indication," she said.
The PPI owners wanted to launch a Web site for a long time, but still it was an adjustment when the hotel went online. "There was some resistance to allowing all the inventory to be online. You like to have that control," Diaz-Welsh said. "It's been a transition but it's been great. It seems like Emagineering keeps finding ways to improve things year after year. They've always been a help to us in terms of getting out special mailings, pushing packages and trying to maximize our names when someone uses a search engine. We've learned a lot from them," she said.
Fear of the unknown is not an excuse to stay offline, in Diaz-Welsh's mind. And worries about a lack of personalized service doesn't fly either. "We have desk clerks on-site 24 hours a day, which most properties don't, so we can take reservations 24 hours a day," she said. "But when you're in a small property, and our desk clerk has someone walk in when they're trying to talk to someone about room types, prices, views and whether or not it has a couch, it's far better for the customer in both instances to get the personalized service they need" via the Emagineering reservation service and online through her own Web site rather than become part of a juggling act.
Diaz-Welsh particularly likes the marketing options the online booking gives her. "If I have a period coming up that is relatively slow and I'm not happy with my occupancy, I'm able to take the rooms that aren't selling well and put them on the Web site as a special. This happened 10 days ago, and between the Web specials and walk-ins we sold every single room. Over half came through the Web site.
"It gives you such control. It's so nice to be able, at a moment's notice, to lower our rate or offer some kind of a special because you don't really realize how many people are out there looking for stuff until you put something up," she said. "If I didn't have the Internet how would I have sold those rooms?
"I feel in control of my inventory, and that's a real winner for us," Diaz-Welsh said. "There's an old saying about adapting and overcoming. Learn what your threshold is. If Friday and Saturday are busy and you're afraid you're going to fall into overbooking just close it out online. I also like being able to put minimum stays in. Now we're looking at selling gift cards on our Web site, and I hope to get to point where we can sell gift items like hats and T-shirts."
Many SSL members are unfamiliar with handling online reservations and property management services such as the telephone reservations option offered by Emagineering and are apprehensive. But Diaz-Welsh says that just comes down to a fear of the unknown. "Anytime we grow there are growing pains. I don't care if you're under renovation or adding a new amenity - keep your mind open. I can't think of any bad situations I've had," she said. "With the support I get from Emagineering, I don't feel alone out there in cyberspace."
Most important, "whatever you do, whatever mistake you might make, is fixable. You're not going to break anything. Give it a chance."
Visit the Palm Pavilion and SSL online!