Gene Kilgore, of Top 50 Ranches and Ranchweb, talks with Paul Robertson, President of Romeo Bravo Software, about what to look for in a property management system (PMS) and online booking platform, and how operators of ranches and lodges can ensure they choose the right software to match their specific needs.
GK: How would you define a property management system and what are the key components?
PR: A PMS is software (ideally web/cloud-based) with a suite of features designed to support several aspects of your business. Here, we’ll talk about the hospitality business; specifically guest ranching, lodge management and everything that goes into it.
A baseline PMS will have features to support guest management (think CRM), cabin and room inventory management, reservations, correspondence, housekeeping, billing and financial reporting.
A more comprehensive PMS will have additional capabilities to assist with activity booking, food and beverage, HR, staff scheduling, inventory management, fleet management, guest itineraries, public land use reporting, time clock, payroll and more.
Think of it as a business management tool that uses technology to optimize your organizational workflows, makes your staff more efficient and enhances the guest experience.
GK: What should guest ranchers and lodge owners look for when choosing a PMS?
PR: I’d break it down into three simple criteria:
• Customer Support
The system has to do what you need it to do, so, from a performance perspective, assess whether the PMS is specifically designed to support your business model.
In other words, a ranch owner or GM should never consider a system that still requires them to use programs like Excel to manage the business. Eg, can the PMS can effectively handle all-inclusive packages with minimum length stays and standard days of arrival or departure? This is a tell-tale sign and if the system is only designed for one-night stays and a la carte pricing, then you should keep shopping.
Another aspect to look for is whether the core logic of the PMS system is built around your guest or the room. If it’s the room, then the PMS might be perfect for a hotel experience, but it will likely fall short of working for an all-inclusive ranch or lodge that has a high percentage of repeat guests.
How well your team likes using the system is very important. A PMS should never cause operational problems and your team should trust it. An effective PMS systems will facilitate productivity and encourage a healthy team culture. Don’t ever let an issue that exists between your team and a PMS system fester, because the costs can mount up quickly.
Take appropriate measures, ask your software provider to work with your staff to better understand the PMS, and nip issues in the bud as soon as possible. If they aren’t resolved quickly, make a priority of finding a new PMS.
Software isn’t worthy if you can’t get help when you need it. Owners and GMs shouldn’t think about buying a PMS system like a transaction that ends once the software is paid for and delivered.
Ideally, your provider will become an important partner to your business, and in much the same way one would select an Accountant or Legal Advisor, it’s important to consider the long-term relationship and how that will best serve to your business.
Value is about return on the investment that is greater than the cost of the software. A good property management system will save time, and increase efficiency and sales. The value of the PMS system should be measured against savings in your labor and accounting budget, plus the role the system plays in capturing new business and/or boosting your percentage of repeat guests.
Consider regularly measuring the ROI of your PMS and if it’s not paying for itself, then maybe it’s time to do something different.
GK: Now that we covered PMS, what can you tell us about online booking platforms?
PR: Online booking is an option that every ranch and lodge needs to take seriously, because many more people are now increasingly booking exclusively online. Destinations that don’t offer online booking are fishing in a shrinking pool of customers.
This doesn’t mean ranches and lodges without online booking can’t be competitive, but it is very important to acknowledge the reality of the market and tailor your strategies, staffing and marketing dollars to suit.
Online booking technology has come a long way and it has now become far more compatible with all-inclusive programming, so ranchers and lodge operators have a lot more practical options from which to choose.
If you are an owner or GM preparing to open up an online booking channel, then in my opinion, these are the top questions you need to ask:
Does the online booking platform sync with your PMS?
This is critical and if it doesn’t, then proceed very carefully. The essence of online booking is that it gives guests visibility to your cabin and room availability, and allows them to make plans with their family and friends without having to connect with anyone at your property.
In a scenario where your online booking platform syncs with PMS, then you can manage your cabin and room inventory with a singular view. The flipside would require managing your cabin and room inventory in two places – a nightmare – opening up the risk of double-booking, and requiring too much oversight and additional data entry, costing you more money than it will ever make.
Put your time and energy into identifying an online booking solution that pairs with your PMS, and hopefully you’ll move forward knowing you’re going to sleep well at night!
How do my guests benefit from online booking?
In the age of instant gratification, the more on-demand options a business can give a guest, the more the guests will appreciate your business. Online booking is the latest example of how you can give your guests greater access to your destination and let them do it on their own schedule.
It’s true guest ranchers and lodge owners are experts in ‘cat wrangling’, but it is only because of necessity and the truth is, online booking can play a part in changing that dynamic. Imagine how many emails would be saved simply by the fact the guest has already searched your cabin availability on your website and identified their preferred dates of travel?
Likewise, imagine how many family groups can coordinate their travel plans and book flights before they ever make a call to your office. I’ve known many guest ranchers and lodge owners that make a priority of talking with their guests personally, and online booking can be a complement to that commitment that style of service, because the time you would have spent working out the logistics of their stay can now be allocated to setting expectations and personalizing their experience.
Implemented thoughtfully, online booking will accentuate your destination and improve the guest experience.
How does my business benefit from online booking?
Think of online booking as a new channel of business that works in harmony with your reservations that come in by phone and email. Think of online booking as a complement to your existing strategies and never as a replacement.
There is one thing that online booking makes possible that no other solution is capable of and that is taking reservations 24/7 without your staff on duty. The power of that benefit alone is enormous and opens up new possibilities, such as closing your office on the occasional Sunday, or launching a marketing initiative focused on international guests in different time zones. I like to think of online booking as an additional front office employee at a fraction of the cost.
In addition to these examples, there are many other ways online reservations can work to your advantage, but like your PMS, the chief metric upon which online booking should be evaluated is the return on your investment.
Considering the cost of an adding an online booking platform is the equivalent of a few good bookings, and assuming the likelihood that a new booking channel will increase your overall bookings, then it is reasonable to proceed thinking your business will easily cover the cost, if not increase revenue.
Add the savings on labor and other efficiencies, and online booking starts to look like a competitive advantage a ranch or lodge might not want to do without.
GK: Finally, tell us more about your now-famous ‘Lodge-ical’ PMS and more about your new PMS – ‘Yellowstone’ – that is soon to launch. How can ranches and lodges can take advantage of all the services Romeo Bravo Software has to offer?
PR: We’re always delighted to talk with owners and GMs to discuss how our software can help propel their business forward. The crux of every conversation is about clearly understanding their goals and objectives, what challenges exist and which solutions we believe can be applied to facilitate positive change and growth in their operation.
The Lodge-ical PMS was developed by Paul and Kristin Williamson 25 years ago for that very purpose. It all started when Paul and Kristin were managing a ranch in Montana and decided there had to be a better way of running the business (than on pen and paper).
They put their prodigious software development skills to work and wrote a program that has since been utilized by hundreds of ranches and lodges, many of whom are members of The Dude Ranchers’ Association and the Orvis-endorsed lodge program.
In the 25 years Lodge-ical has been in use, we have incorporated features and enhancements to address the needs of each and every one of our customers. Seeing as how we have worked with such a variety of successful operations, Lodge-ical has robust functionality that is time-tested, and proven to work well for a very wide range of ranches and lodges.
In 2019, Romeo Bravo Software acquired Lodge-ical and Kristin Williamson is an extremely important member of our team. As our Product Manager, Kristin ensures that Lodge-ical continues to meet the needs of our customer base and contains the features they need to be successful.
Because the software industry is very dynamic and ever-changing, in addition to strengthening Lodge-ical, we have also spent the last two years developing a new web-based PMS called Yellowstone. Yellowstone is in the final stages of testing and a couple of our customers are already using it.
We’re very excited about the potential of Yellowstone and the benefits to the industry. It’s inspired by Lodge-ical and has the same functionality – and much more!
Customers may stay on Lodge-ical for as many years as they like, but as technology and the web evolves, Yellowstone will be the platform that businesses can utilize for the next 25-50 years.
If you’re interested in implementing or improving your PMS and/or online booking system take the next step with Romeo Bravo Software.
About Gene Kilgore
Gene Kilgore’s name is synonymous with one of ranching’s great traditions. Early on, he worked as a cowboy on two famous Wyoming ranches. In 1980 he created the Kilgore Worldwide Ranch Company and Ranch Vacations International. And, since then he has traveled thousands of miles exploring ranches in North and South America, bringing ranch country to millions of people worldwide. As a best-selling author, Kilgore has been heard on many radio programs and seen on TV networks, including CNN, ABC, and CBS, and featured in the New York Times, People Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, and Sunset Magazine. He is one of the original lifetime members of the Dude Ranchers’ Association. As Gene says, “It is my hope that my work will help men, women and children discover, like I did 60 years ago, the magic of these beautiful ranches and know the wonderful men and women who run them.”
About Paul Robertson
Following a 30-year career in outfitting, guest ranch and lodge leadership, Paul joined Romeo Bravo Software in spring of 2020. In 1993, Paul founded Rock Creek Anglers, an Orvis Endorsed Outfitter and Guide service located at the HF Bar Ranch. He was the opening GM for the Ranch at Rock Creek and Sage Lodge, and also served as GM of Lone Mountain Ranch, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. Paul earned his Masters in Hospitality Management from the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, a certificate in Executive Leadership from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While he has traveled the world, with adventures from Kathmandu to Marrakech, his favorite destinations have always been the ranches and lodges found in the American West. Paul resides with his family in Livingston, Montana, and when he’s not in the office, you’ll find him fly fishing, snowboarding, or upland bird hunting with his yellow lab, Leo.