Renting an apartment instead of a standard hotel room on business or vacation trips is becoming more and more popular. An apartment will usually be cheaper than a hotel room and provide a better experience if you plan it right.
The idea is to rent an apartment instead of a hotel room. Such booking can be easily done on the Internet through various sites and services such as Air B&B, Booking.com etc. Apartments will be cheaper mainly for families, who require more than one bedroom and business travelers staying more than just a few nights in the city and look for the privacy, more space and convenience of home, rather than a small hotel room. Most apartments include a full kitchen so the guests can help themselves to simple meals, at grocery costs, or get their meals at a variety of nearby neighborhood restaurant that in most cases are cheaper and cozier than the hotel busy dining room or restaurant.
Renting apartments on a short term basis seems to become the next trend in the hospitality market. It started when young people rented their flats to businessman and tourists during high demands in their city, mainly during large exhibitions, when the local hotels could not supply the high demands on short periods. Later on people started exchanging their apartments with other people from different cities or countries coming for a holiday, also known as the couch surfers community. The Internet has opened the ability to put their apartment on a pool of apartments, so one could rent his flat on a short term base while being away and get paid for it without the need to find someone to exchange apartments with. Students in large cities found it as a great solution to earn some money while being away on holidays, just when the demand for rooms was high.
In the past few years, the concept of renting an apartment turned into a business worth investing in. Investors around the world found out that they can run virtual hotels built on a number of apartments located in different areas in a city, whether as their own properties or as sub rental of these apartments.
Managing the apartments as one hotel
In order for the management of such complex virtual hotel to run it efficiently it needs to be able to manage it as a hotel. There is a strong need to sell the apartments online through the international and local sales channels and on one centralized web site booking engine, allowing guests to select from a variety of apartments sorted by neighborhood, city, country or any other parameter.
Revenue management is crucial for such virtual city hotels, as most of them are managing a relatively small inventory of apartments on longer reservations’ stay that make any small change in the daily rate noticeably affect the total revenue line. Managers of such virtual hotel must have the information available anywhere and must be able to make changes in their prices levels on the go at any given time.
The apartments are defined by types allowing the management to control the inventory of apartments at all times. As usually the number of apartments is small, there is a need for dynamic management of apartments’ inventory and automatic procedures that will close sales when the last apartment of each type is sold. At the same time many apartment owners would prefer to close sales at a defined minimum inventory and let the last apartments to be sold only to direct, non commissionable, clients. As bookings are entered 24/7 by guests from all over the world, configuration of these automatic procedures are vital to avoid undesired situations of overbooking and to push sales of the higher level apartments at the best available rates.
As virtual hotels, the companies usually run virtual offices, running the business on cloud based environment over the Internet using laptops, tablets and smart-phones. “Wherever I am, it is my office” told us one of the virtual hotels’ managers while working on his iPad in a coffee shop where we have met, “the reservations keep on flowing into our system as we speak and I do not need to do anything, but check once in a while that everything is going well”.
Unlike in regular hotels, a guest has to notify the virtual hotel about his exact arrival time. Some companies include airport transfer in the price, or will supply such service at additional costs. This allows them to know the exact time of arrival, reported by the driver. Others may ask the guest to give a notice of an hour or two before arrival. Using the correct key card company supplier interfacing your property management system will allow the apartments hotel to be more independent in letting the guest in to the apartment. Companies such as Adios have top notch technologies allowing the guest enter the apartment by sending him a unique entrance code which be valid only for the guest dates of stay. Just imagine how many operational troubles and costs the apartments hotel can save in such manner.
Most companies will charge the guest fully upon arrival, issue an invoice by email directly to the guest and, unless something critical happens, will not see the guest again, at least not until his next stay.
Stay over – housekeeping
There are different concepts of cleaning services to the virtual hotel’s rooms. Some companies offer cleaning services and some don’t. The ones who do may offer cleaning on daily or periodic basis. The housekeeping department, usually outsourced services, receives a daily report listing the apartments to clean as stay-overs, the apartments to clean as check-outs and preparation instructions for the day’s arrivals such arrival time, additional beds, baby cribs etc.. The housekeeper reports back to the management when the apartment is clean, using various methods starting by simple telephone call, text message or use a dedicated housekeeping application on his smart-phone that updates the PMS online.
Other than this, many of the virtual hotels offer virtual concierge services allowing guests to book tickets, taxis and other services by calling the concierge by phone or use the company’s web site, or smart-phone web application, as any hotel. Charges for any service purchased by the concierge will be immediately charged to the guests’ credit cards and the invoice will be sent by email to the guest.
Many of the virtual hotels will ask the guests to notify them of the time of departure. Some companies will send their transportable reception clerk to meet the guest in the apartment to verify that the apartment is left in reasonable condition and assist the guest with his luggage and transportation. The transportable reception clerk will settle the guest’s folio, if required, and check out the guest on his mobile device.
Guest profiles and history data
Guest profile and history is vital to the success of such virtual hotels. The guest profile includes all personal information, preferences, activity and statistics of any guest who ever made a reservation in the hotel. This information is used to recognize returning guests, knowing their needs and make them feel at home. At the same time the company may use the information for targeted marketing campaigns based on specific parameters.
The information stored in the database allows the company to issue information, statistics, forecasts and comparison reports, based on different data keys such agents, companies, nationalities, market segments and other parameters. Running smart software turns such companies into profitable ones, by capturing wide range of data that is needed to make the correct marketing analysis, instead of trusting their gut feelings.
Using Optima Hotel Management Software makes such analysis simple and precise, emphasizing revenues, budgets and yearly comparisons in combination with data of occupancy, segmentation and other guest information.
Optima line of Hotel Management Software includes a wide range of software programs that cover all the activities of a virtual apartment hotel. Advanced features allow the virtual hotel to use internal revenue management tools, unique internal and central data warehouse, dynamic reports and graphs, advanced modules supporting high levels of guest service, internal CRM modules and other modules that increase the operations efficiency of the virtual hotel. Optima streamlines processes allowing flow of online reservations from all major international sales channels allowing the company to run high level of management without the need to worry about occupancies, overbooking and never ending telephone calls.
On the daily operations side, Optima allows using various portable devices to access the system over the Internet allowing any member of the virtual hotel staff to access what he needs to see, retrieve relevant information and update the system on any action and change.
Optima is managing virtual apartment hotels in various cities including Warsaw, Budapest and Tel Aviv to the satisfaction of the owners and managers.