Since the in 1980s when computer usage for commercial purposes became widespread, technology has evolved and its use increased in leaps and bounds. The Hospitality industry initially lagged behind compared to the rest of the industries in adopting technology. Until recently most of the hotels still operated manually. However the industry has in the recent past witnessed increased technology uptake. In order to serve the unique needs of this industry, several information management systems have been developed focusing on every specific areas of operation. There are management systems specifically for the room management, guest accounting, food and beverages and catering.
The room management system is a system that maintains information on the most current status of a room. This is of utmost importance because it is this information that the front office staff rely on when allocating guests rooms during registration (Olsen & Zhao, 2008). The rooms are identified for example as occupied, vacant and ready, out-of-order, do not disturb etc. It serves the purpose racks used to serve under the manual system. The system is also instrumental in coordinating the services that are offered to the guests. It is the responsibility of the housekeeping staff to update the status of the room from their terminal after preparing a room (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007).
When they effect the changes, the information is directly communicated to the front office terminals. The data is then sent to the hotel property management system from where it is accessible to everyone who is connected to the system. This facilitates room sales in an accurate and efficient way. The room management system serves the purposes of linking the front office to housekeeping, identifying room status, assisting in assigning of rooms and providing in-house guest information. It also organizes housekeeping activities and provides auxiliary services besides generating reports for the management on room occupancy and status (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). The management is able to follow the room occupancy in real time and from the comfort of their offices. This increases accountability and eases the work of the management.
According to Dopson and Hayes (2008), a guest accounting system serves the purpose of monitoring and processing the financial transactions which take place between the guest and the establishment. When the guest purchases something or utilizes a service at the various revenue centers in the hotel, the isolated point of sale or electronic cash registers located at those centers charges the guest and automatically relays this information to the front office. The front office sends this information to the guests electronic folio account that the charges belong to (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). Therefore since all these point of sales are connected to the guest accounting system, all the expenses the guests incurs during her period of stay are consolidated together into a single bill. These could be expenses related to accommodation, gym, laundry, restaurant, bar, swimming pool and business centre.
The guest accounting system therefore posts online charges related to the guest, automatically updates and maintains the guest's file and displays guest folio. It also electronically controls folio handling, account balances, cashier reconciliation, food and beverage guest checks, account auditing and account receivables (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). In addition, it generates reports such as ledger summary report, revenue center report, guest check control report and transfer report. At the time of living the guest is issued with a consolidated bill showing all the expenses he has incurred during his period of stay, the dates they relate to and the point of sale that expense was entered through. This eases the job of the accounting staff and at the same time gives the customer a comprehensive report on his expenditure. It therefore reduces chances of misunderstandings while boosting the accuracy of the accounting staff.
The property management interface refers to a collection of numerous operations that the guest comes into contact with during her period of stay in the hotel. These interfaces includes micro computer interfaces, telephone calls, account interface, point of sale system, guest operated devices, energy management systems, auxiliary guest services and electronic locking system (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). Each of these is important in promoting the guest experience. They also ease the provision of service besides contributing revenue to the hotel.
The telephone call system is used by the hotel is managing local and long distance call emanating from the hotel telephone network. It enables the hotel to levy a fee on switchboard operations (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). It is this system that the hotel uses to price and place all outgoing calls in the hotel. When a guest makes an outgoing call, this is communicated by the system to the front office accounting system which in turn communicates the charges to the appropriate folio immediately.
The electronic locking system is used for opening and locking all doors within the system (Jones, 2007). The system is connected to the computer system at the front office. This enables the management to administer key control measures using the computer located at the front office (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). The computer at the front office prepares a different code for each door in the system. This is the code that will be used to open and lock the corresponding door. After preparing the codes, the system generates cards with these codes (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). It is this card that is issued to the guest to give him access to his assigned room. When the code is created and a new one generated all preceding codes are disregarded and the cards previously issued to guests become useless.
The energy management system is used to control the electricity mainly in the establishment. In most cases energy is the second highest operating cost in a hotel (Sloan &Legrand, 2009). Therefore there is always a need to keep the cost at the minimum level without compromising the comfort of the guests. The energy management system is interfaced with the computer system at the front office (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). It connects the energy controls of the guest room with the rooms' management package located at the front office. The system monitors the temperatures in the guest room and electricity usage so that when the guest is not in the room, the lights go off automatically. The benefit of this system is that it lowers the energy costs considerably saving the hotel a reasonable sum of money in the long run.
The auxiliary guest service tools are used to make the guests experience in the hotel more comfortable. These simplify the guest's auxiliary service for instance voice messaging and wake up calls for clients. The wakeup call system is automated which enables the staff at the front office to set the wake up time and room number of a guest. When the set time is reached, the system repeatedly rings the room at predetermined intervals until the guest responds using a phone (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). This also helps in service especially for guests who may want their breakfast earlier than the normal breakfast time. The restaurant is alerted of such guest in advance. The messaging system is set such that it alerts the gests that he has a message waiting for him at the front office.
Point of sale technology involves the use of software which runs on a computer such as a wireless handheld device or touch screen terminals. It is useful in controlling sales and in helping the hotel trace real time transactions (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). The points of sale are installed in areas such as the restaurant, bar, lounge, shops, restaurants, pool areas, gift shops as well as room service stations. They are then interfaced with the property management systems. If this is done, the information is relayed direct from the point of sale stations to the main hotel management system. This avails the information to the management instantly and to those in the back offices. The management is therefore able measure performance in real time and generates reports as often as required. Mistakes are also corrected immediately which reads to improved quality of service.
In the restaurants, the registers can be placed in strategic places. This can be at the front desks or they can be configured for a walk through order-taking and cashiering (Kasavana & Cahill, 2007). Front desk registers serve and take orders from the same terminal whereas the drive through registers permits orders to be obtained from a drive through window. It also gives the kitchen an opportunity to monitor the way the orders are going both for control and replenishing. The point of sale system can be customized to fit in a particular establishment according to the need.
Such tailor made point of sale system can include features such as ability to process credit card authorization and effecting checks transfers between outlets. It can also be equipped with abilities to track the transactions department wise in order to formulate reports detailing costs and revenue distribution across the departments. Other features may include ability to transmit messages to the guest via the server terminal.
Although initially the hospitality industry was lukewarm in adopting technology, these developments point to an industry that is fast catching up with the rest of the economy. Technology is good for the industry because it will help in cutting down the costs while at the same time raising the standards. It is worth noting that even small establishments have not been left behind. The point of sale system is useful to big hotels and to small hotels alike. The only concern has been the large amount of capital needed to invest in the technology. It can only be hoped that going forward the cost of installation will go down.