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Evolving Role of the Central Res System

Lodging May 1997

Traditionally hoteliers have mentally positioned central reservation systems as stand-alone,  single purpose units. Their function has been to support the central reservation office and deliver bookings to properties.

With installation of links to an array of sophisticated sales channels and the development of integrated information collection and data analysis capabilities, that thinking, as we enter 1997, is considerable changed.  Once an island of automation ( to borrow Max Hopper’s phrase), a CRS now functions as the server in a massive and mission- critical data collection, processing, and analysis environment.  This evolution impacts how we maintain and enhance our current systems as well as the priorities we set when shopping for a new CRS.

Today’s CRS functions as the central data depository and booking engine for a variety of distribution front-ends (a combination of distribution channels and data management analysis tools). While the CRS’ importance in supporting voice agents  at central reservation offices remains unquestioned, it simultaneously supports up to half a dozen global distribution systems, providing confirmations through Type A channels. Today, major hotel companies commonly list themselves in Amadeus, Galileo/Apollo, SABRE, System One Amadeus and Worldspan. Some add secondary GDS such as SAHARA.

Production of more than 30 million net hotel reservations by GDSs in 1996 --  more than 60 million roomnights -- illustrates the importance of this growing booking source. Moreover, the CRS's role in interfacing with GDSs is increasingly being escalated beyond returning a confirmation number.  For example, seamless connectivity results in travel agent data displays  built from real-time data supplied real time by CRSs.

Further, electronic distribution support duties no longer end with the GDSs. Now, the CRS supplies product data, and performs transaction processing for a range of Internet and on-line services front-ends. As a consequence, demands on the CRS have grown from support of  several hundred CRO agents to the users of the 455,000 GDS terminals and the millions of "hits" the Internet generates.

While serving a relatively active role as the server for a growing number of distribution front ends, the CRS concurrent play a comparatively passive, but no less vital,  role as a data repository, warehousing, retrieving and analyzing information crucial to effective management and guest service. In this function, it supports a range of revenue management, decision support, data base marketing and guest history specialist front ends.

Validity of revenue management in the central reservations environment has been established. It is no longer  the domain of the property management system. As demonstrated by systems such as the Holiday Inn Revenue Optimization system, analysis can be  performed and recommendations generated from the CRS level. In supporting centralized revenue management, the data retrieval and supply resources are further relied upon. 

Rising occupancies and ADRs are leading hotel management (corporate and property alike) to seek more timely and more comprehensive activity data. Increasingly user- friendly software is  available to analyze the wealth of data captured in the relational data bases of modern CRSs. By using recently released software tools -- such as Cognos' Power Play, which eliminate the multi-week, multi-thousand dollar investment to develop activity reports -- executives can view full-color, immediately definable displays to support fully fact-based decision making.

Decision support allows management to detect trends and patterns - to spot opportunities and uncover weaknesses - in a timely manner. Placed in a marketing context, decision support becomes the foundation for data base marketing. The CRS contains a treasury of past activity information, from which geographic, sector and segment source information, demographic profiles and potential repeat guest information can be mined. Again, enhanced analysis and reporting tools have opened access to CRS data in an economical and timely way. In doing so, they have also increased  demands on, and expectations of, the CRS.

Finally, the CRS is being equipped to function as the chain’s master data source for guest history and preferences. Whether supplementing or replacing property level guest history, this CRS function is increasingly viewed as a competitive necessity. And centralized records add heavy demands on both the CRS and its supporting communication network. These are demands to meet rigorous speed and reliability requirements, as guests complete guest activity data, plus accounting and property specific management records, are collected and consolidated for enterprise-wide review and analysis.

The CRS -- now and in the future -- serves as the heart of a family of distribution, analysis and service functions. It serves many clients simultaneously and is expected to function reliably and speedily, all the while accommodating additional clients as they emerge.

The challenge for hotel executives in establishing today’s CRS enhancement priorities is to set the technical foundation capable of underpinning emerging or potential functions. Feature inaccessibility due to system limitations must be avoided. More than ever, scalability of hardware and software will be a key system criterion, its presence assuring the capability to exercise future opportunities.