Throughout the pandemic, the Made in Louise hotel in Brussels had one big advantage over many competitors: its advanced tech stack – which includes the Atomize RMS. This helped it navigate the challenges of 2020 as well as the beginning recovery phase…
Recently, we had a chat with Martin Duchateau, General Manager and owner of Made in Louise. He shared how he got his property through the pandemic by increasing the level of automation and the core role Atomize played here, which steps he took to optimize operations and which changes are here to stay.
Set in the heart of Brussels’ Art Nouveau district, the Made in Louise hotel offers 48 charming rooms in a classic 20th-century townhouse. Its cozy ambiance and familiar atmosphere almost make guests forget that they’re staying at a hotel. The property’s ideal location allows travelers to quickly reach key spots like Gare du Midi and the European Parliament.
Exploring the changing hotel tech landscape
Hotel tech has developed by leaps and bounds in recent years. From a wider choice in PMSs and more advanced revenue management systems (RMS) to a variety of guest-facing apps: hoteliers have never had a larger choice.
Martin has been taking advantage of this trend and has often tried new technology at his hotel as soon as it was released.
“While I was working with big chains, I was always curious about and exploring new technology. However, we usually used our brand’s in-house solutions. Today, I can implement any tool I want at my hotel. That’s why I follow trends and look for hotel tech that will positively impact our KPIs, operations and the guest journey,” Martin explains.
With this growing offering comes the democratization of technology. New solutions used to be hard to afford and implement for independent hotels. However, this has changed dramatically, and applications are easier to set up and more affordable than ever.
Their capabilities also go way beyond what used to be possible. Now hoteliers can use advanced technology in areas ranging from guest communication and pricing to access management and website conversion optimization. Finally, with more tech providers using open APIs, silos are starting to break up. This allows tools and hotel teams to exchange data and communicate more effectively.
“There are so many tools available today and new ones are constantly being released. Sometimes it can be hard to keep track. Since many work on a plug-and-play basis, it’s easy to test options to find the best one for your property. One area where I still see room for improvement is connectivity between solutions, beyond the PMS. This is the key to a lean guest journey and efficient operations. Several PMS providers are working on connected marketplaces though, so I’m confident that building a well-integrated hotel tech stack will only get easier,” Martin goes on to say.
Martin uses the PMS apaleo for his property and it has helped him streamline the operations to become more efficient and gives him access to a wide choice of hotel applications.
Leveraging tech to stay open during the pandemic
Made in Louise stayed open for most of the pandemic period, a time when many competitors were forced to close temporarily. Martin explains that being a small, independent hotel made it easier to react when the first pandemic wave hit.
During a three-month closure in early 2020, Martin and his team reevaluated every aspect of their operation. The goal was to find ways to reduce costs, minimize personal contact and maintain great service for their guests. This included management staff working from home, guests checking in/out online and communicating with the hotel via live chat.
“When we re-opened in the summer of 2020, we actually had a relatively good season. Things were quite stable with guests returning very regularly. Some of them came every week. Our tech stack helped us offer them a great experience all while keeping everyone safe and respecting hygiene regulations. The second wave hit us hard, but we stayed open since our tech tools helped us drastically reduce operating costs,” Martin elaborates.
Adapting operations to unpredictable demand
Many tasks at the Made in Louise are now automated and staff spend less time on tedious admin work. This means the hotel can run on a smaller team and reduce operating costs during both high- and low-demand times.
Most of the guest journey has moved online as well. Around 70% of Made in Louise’s guests now check-in and out online, Martin says. This gives his reception team more time to handle other jobs as well.
“Our team members wear many hats. For example, our front office team now also handles breakfast because so much of their original work has shifted online or is automated now. Overall, we’ve reduced the team to only seven people and have made our staff rotation much more flexible. That allows us to adjust our staffing immediately when demand changes, so our guests get great service and we keep costs in check,” he outlines.
Martin foresees that a lot of these changes will stay. He suggests that guests are getting used to digital services and have come to appreciate and expect them. That’s why he plans on keeping his new procedures in place even once demand reaches pre-Covid levels again.
Doing more with a leaner team
The changes in staff that most hotels have experienced have impacted every department. Both operational and commercial teams have become much leaner at many properties. This means fewer staff now handle a wider variety of tasks including sales, marketing, and revenue management responsibilities. As a result, efficiency and user-friendliness have become more important than ever.
As Martin puts it;
“As a GM, I have many different commercial and operational tasks to handle every day. I want to spend as little time as possible with each tool and still get the maximum out of it. That’s one of the things I appreciate about Atomize. It automatically adjusts my room rates and captures revenue and pricing opportunities for me. Atomize has basically removed the tedious task of manual pricesetting. If I wish, I can view the price changes that has been made in an easy-to-read format.”
“Another unique advantage with Atomize is that it is extremely easy to use on any device and especially on a mobile phone. With a smaller team and with the dynamic working culture in a hotel, the applications we use need to be accessible from anywhere, at any time.”
Software integration and data sharing have also gained importance. As commercial teams merge, departmental silos are breaking up. Sales, marketing and revenue tools must reflect this to support this new way of working.
“Our organization is very flat and effective communication is extremely important to ensure our small team covers all the bases. Tools that integrate and share data make it much easier for us to achieve that. They create a more fluid, connected environment where our staff can work efficiently. Here, we look beyond app integrations with only the PMS. Our tools must also connect with each other directly to create a solid network. Only then we can create the streamlined and personalized guest journey our clients expect from us.”
There’s another reason Martin is keen on optimizing his hotel tech stack to ensure he and his team can work as productively and effectively as possible. In the summer of 2022, he’s planning on opening a second hotel in Brussels’ city center.
“With the launch of our new property coming up, it’s crucial for us to have a fully optimized tech ecosystem. Apart from guaranteeing high-level service, this will also help us absorb the added workload and give us an ongoing overview and control over both hotels. As a result, we’ll be able to optimize sales, marketing, revenue and guest profiling at both properties for maximized results from the moment we open the doors.”
Seizing more revenue opportunities
Martin remembers that before using Atomize, he usually relied on his knowledge of the market and insights from his business intelligence tool when setting rates. While this worked well in general, he knew he could do even better.
On some occasions, his property would fill up on lower rates for arrival dates outside of the usual booking window. Consequently, he missed some potential last-minute opportunities to yield and maximize his revenue.
Since implementing the Atomize RMS a little over a year ago, this problem is a thing of the past:
“When I was looking for an RMS, one of my key criteria was that the tool should consider both internal and external data for price recommendations, not purely my own hotel’s performance information. This made Atomize the natural choice for me above other RMS alternatives, because it looks at live future demand data, competitor information, and my historical and on-the-books data. All this happens 24/7 and Atomize automatically, in real time adjusts my rates in time to capture emerging demand. Combined with the slowly increasing demand, this has helped us steadily increase our ADR in the past months.”
Basing pricing decisions on live market and demand insights rather than purely historical data has also made it easier for him to navigate the unpredictable waves of the pandemic and recovery.
While that already gave him a competitive edge, the vast amount of time he saves with Atomize is another advantage. He no longer has to manually gather and analyze data or change rates. Instead, he can let Atomize do the heavy lifting while he and his team focus on other important tasks.
Looking into the future
Updating and customizing his tech stack gave Martin many opportunities to refine his service and navigate the pandemic’s challenges. He’s sure that the changes he made will also increase his revenue and profitability in the long run.
“We’re moving in the right direction in terms of the market and demand data we collect and how we use it to inform our rate strategy. Moving forward, it would also be interesting to see how review scores impact a potential guest’s willingness to pay. We rank very highly on top review platforms, and I think pricing tools should consider this when recommending rates for us.”
Finally, Martin has another idea on how to leverage hotel tech for high-quality service.
“For the future, I still see a lot of untapped possibilities when it comes to knowing our guests. I’d like a tool that helps me easily identify and flag high-potential travelers. The goal would be to communicate with them directly and learn more about their preferences. Then we could better anticipate their needs and create the perfectly tailored stay – something that’ll keep gaining importance in the future,” Martin concludes.
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