How SiteMinder has helped hotels evolve

BySteven I. Green

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Speaking in 2016 after SiteMinder hit its 10-year milestone, SiteMinder’s co-founder and CTO Mike Rogers said:

“A lot of [the success] is based on a very clear focus on who our customers are and how we can benefit them. Even though we support businesses from really little properties to huge ones, it’s about how you can create sophisticated products and simplify them.”

This has been a guiding principle throughout SiteMinder’s journey, and is still the mission moving forward too, as the company seeks to open the doors to the world of hotel commerce for all, via a single platform that has everything a hotel needs to succeed online.

Many things change over time, however. New complexities emerge as the industry expands, guest behaviours shift, technology continues to develop, and global events impact business in a multitude of ways that are sometimes unpredictable.

In the past 15 years, SiteMinder has endeavoured to keep its finger firmly on the pulse of this change, to ensure existing and new customers are able to thrive in a truly dynamic industry. By maintaining a clear understanding of hotelier needs, the team has been able to regularly introduce new features, partners, and advanced levels of connectivity that not only allow hoteliers to keep the ship steady, but grow their business to its full potential.

Let’s take a look at some of SiteMinder’s history, development, and customer stories.

SiteMinder’s first generation: 2006-2016

The early 2000’s saw an explosion of OTAs, in response to an increasing number of travellers looking to book travel online.

To stay competitive hoteliers had to connect to and distribute via a large number of these new channels. It was a necessity but also a big opportunity to reach more travellers and brand new target markets. The challenge came from having to manage inventory and reservations manually, on an individual basis for each channel connection.

Enter SiteMinder co-founders Mike Ford and Mike Rogers. Mike Ford was an accommodation provider himself, running a large hostel in Sydney, and was frustrated by how time consuming and intensive it was to juggle multiple OTAs. He approached friend and colleague Mike Rogers and asked if he could build a software solution. Soon after, SiteMinder and the channel manager feature was born.

SiteMinder’s channel manager and PMS integration

The Channel Manager, as it was termed then, enabled hoteliers to easily manage 10+ OTA connections – with inventory being automatically updated in real-time across all channels each time a booking was made.

As Chris Denny, the Co-Founder of The Observatory, and one of SiteMinder’s first ever customers remembers:

“We were looking for a channel manager that could give us the ability to quickly and easily update room availabilities and rates across our multiple online travel agencies. When we selected SiteMinder, everyone was impressed with how the technology was really intuitive and seamlessly integrated with our channels.”

This solved a lot of operational headaches for hoteliers, eased pressure on staff, increased reservations, and saved plenty of time. Within a couple of months, almost 100 happy customers were using SiteMinder – but another challenge was already rearing its head.

Most properties were also using some kind of property management system or front desk software, which required hoteliers to re-enter a lot of data as it came in from OTAs to the channel manager. This again soaked up a lot of time for operators, and it was also prone to human error which could result in reservation details being wrong.

“So we built some new software to solve this problem – which was our PMS integration system,” said Mike (Rogers). “This made the flow of data seamless from the PMS to the OTA and vice versa, and cut out hours of manual effort.”

Needless to say SiteMinder was fast establishing itself as a disruptive tech company that got things done for its customers, with Mike confirming this was indeed an internal focus from the beginning.

“Our targets and milestones are set around products and tech. How do we continue adding features to existing products, but also how do we add new products to the suite that hotels can actually use to better their business?” he said.

“Being very aware of customers’ needs is vital, empathising with customers is the critical thing. Being connected to the hotels is the only way to understand that there is a problem.”

The rise of direct booking technology

The next frontier for hotels was to mitigate the expense of OTA bookings, which was and is still expensive due to commission fees.

Guests were searching for travel online a lot more and would often browse a hotel’s website but, finding no way to book other than by phone or email, would choose the convenience of booking online via an OTA. Not only did this eat into profit, but hotels also had no ownership of the guest relationship.

SiteMinder knew an online booking engine was required to enable hoteliers to capture direct business online, it was just a matter of how it was implemented.

Mike Ford spoke about how important it was to achieve the best possible result for customers.

“When we began looking at booking engines to integrate with in 2007/08, we didn’t find much good product. Hotels were using difficult-to-navigate products that were hurting their conversion rates and a lot of them didn’t have the capability to integrate with us. That led us to think if we can’t find any good product to integrate with, we should probably build it for our customers ourselves”, he said.

“We ended up building a booking engine that was simple to manage, but really effective in converting guests that visit a hotel website.”

South of Africa, a unique property group offering four self-catering options as well as three individual hotels to explorers of Africa, was thrilled to be kicking goals with SiteMinder’s booking engine.

“The booking engine is a definite plus and the fact that SiteMinder regularly upgrades it shows they are constantly changing with the times,” said SOA.

Hotels could now win bookings directly from their own website, and later from their Facebook page, increasing profit and opening up more revenue opportunities such as upselling extras, offering packages, and publishing promotions.

Great, but it only worked if the hotel had a website that was easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and compatible with multiple devices as well as being Google-friendly. For many hotels this was not the case. Even today, there are plenty of examples of horror hotel websites or properties that forego having a website at all.

This gap sorely hurt the booking potential of hotels, and obviously limited the effectiveness of the booking engine technology that existed. Again, SiteMinder recognised the pain point for customers and sought to rectify it.

Instead of paying a web developer thousands of dollars for an undetermined outcome, SiteMinder provided hoteliers with a website builder. This software is a constantly evolving set of pre-designed website themes that hotels can set up within hours, and comes with all the nuts and bolts to both attract and convert guests – with seamless booking engine integration.

An industry leader and a provider for all property types

SiteMinder was fast becoming a sophisticated platform that large independent properties of, and even groups and chains, could rely on to master their distribution challenges.

But what about the small properties, the bed and breakfasts or motels that wanted to compete in the online environment and run their property more smoothly but only had the time and budget for essential features?

This question spawned an entirely new brand, Little Hotelier, in 2013. This allowed small properties to forget their excel spreadsheets and notepads and move to an all-in-one solution that managed operations and helped them sell rooms online.

By 2016, SiteMinder had conquered what 90% of startups fail to do – survive. In fact, thrive is a much more appropriate descriptor as by this point SiteMinder had:

  • More than 20,000 customers
  • 300 OTA connections
  • 200 PMS partners
  • Over 500 employees around the world
  • Four offices across Sydney, London, Dallas, and Galway
  • Been globally recognised as the industry’s leading channel manager provider

Yet there was a lot more still to come. As traveller behaviour began to change and hoteliers looked to expand their potential, a new wave of SiteMinder development was in the works.