As we have previously mentioned, one of the most frequent questions on innkeeping forums and elsewhere is which property management (or guest management) software (“PMS”) is “best.” Like most things, this is a subjective decision. What is the “best” property management software depends on your circumstances, your preferences, and your priorities. One size most definitely does not fit all.
If you search around the property management / guest management software world a bit, you’ll quickly see that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find software reviews. Because of Scott’s experience with this type of software (although on a much larger scale), and his ownership (with his wife, Ruth) of a small, seven room bed and breakfast in Freeport, Maine, we are adding software reviews to our information on About The Inn.
About the Reviews
When reviewing these products we have obtained a demo version, or in the case of web based software, a demo account, and used the product exactly as a new user would. When we review a product we have used for our own property, we are using it with our account and our configuration, so there may be minor differences from a new user’s configuration. We attempt to use the version of the software which is most current at the time of the review.
As we use the software, we evaluate it in regard to several categories: Rate Capabilities (types of rates and how they are supported), User Interface (ease and intuitiveness of use, availability of commonly required information), Guest Communications (emails, statements or folios), Reports (financial, occupancy, tax, gift certificates, etc.), Accounting (export to accounting software), and Online Booking (appearance, update frequency, features, etc.).
Each of these areas include objective aspects (those that are simply present or absent, and subjective features (those more important to some properties and owners than to others). The view of one reviewer (or user) of either the objective or subjective aspects may be quite different, depending on the type of property, preferences of the user, and priorities of the user. Consequently, before purchasing the software you should try it for yourself, rather than relying solely on a review, even our reviews.
In this installment, we’ll consider three products. Two are long-established players in the online booking and property management space, and the third is a relatively recent addition.
SuperInn, from Sark Technologies, is a well-established player in the online booking and web-based property management space. Webervations, a sister company of BedAndBreakfast.com, is primarily an online booking product, intended to be used with a separate property management system, but a number of smaller properties also use it as a PMS. KeepMeBooked, the newest of the three, comes to the table with a very slick and usable product.
All three of these products allow for individual room pricing. None can really be said to allow for a setup of room types (such as setting a room type of “King Room” and a price structure, then assigning several rooms to the King Room type, so they are all priced the same). All three allow for seasonal rates, and have mechanisms for discounts, packaging, specials, and add-on items. By far the easiest to use is KeepMeBooked, which allows for this setup with a few clicks in a very intuitive screen. However Webervations is the most powerful of the three in handling packaging, allowing not only upsale items (add-on sales), but packages that combine room reservations with additional items, for a package rate.
This area looks at the ease of setting up information for the rooms, the property, policies, etc., as well as the ease of creating bookings. In this area KeepMeBooked edges out SuperInn by a slim margin, both because of its more intuitive screens, and the ease of entering reservations and other data, compared with SuperInn very dated technology and cumbersome entry process. Webervations lags far behind in this area, due to being nearly as out of date and as cumbersome to use as SuperInn, but with even less usable calendar view and even weaker guest data. In fairness, Webervations’ shortcomings are due primarily to it being intended to be used with a separate PMS.
All three can send confirmation emails and most similar communications. Webervations does not create a guest folio (or statement), and while SuperInn does allow printing of a guest folio, it is difficult to navigate to that point. Of the three, only KeepMeBooked does not currently support cancellation emails. KeepMeBooked and SuperInn allow for other emails, with SuperInn supplying the most guest communications, some of which begin to compete with email marketing programs. While some systems charge extra for this capability, to their credit, SuperInn includes them in the cost of the product.
Although reporting is very important to evaluate the performance of a property, reporting is commonly the weakest part of web-based PMS systems. SuperInn provides far more in the way of reporting than the other two products. In conversations with KeepMeBooked, there are plans to expand the reporting capabilities in future releases. Webervations is by far the weakest, though the few reports it does supply are quite useful.
In this area we consider the ability of the system to send its financial data to an accounting program, such as Quickbooks or Peachtree. Some systems have a live interface, while more commonly the data is exported to a file, which can later be imported by the accounting software. As with other areas, how important this feature is to you will determine your attitude about the capabilities of the different products.
None of these systems has a “live” push of accounting data to an accounting package. None really exports the financial data in a way that can be imported by an accounting program. SuperInn requires a copy/paste of the data to create a file, and presumably it can be manipulated into an acceptable format by the user. KeepMeBooked can export financial data into a spreadsheet, which is a slight improvement over SuperInn, but it does not appear that this will be able to be imported into an accounting program without re-formatting the data. Webervations offers no such report.
Since all three of these programs are web-based, you would expect them all to be strong in online booking. SuperInn and Webervations both approach online booking similarly, while KeepMeBooked has a different approach. Both SuperInn and Webervations reflect their older technologies by sending the prospective guest to their website (leaving the property website) to get availability information and complete the booking. SuperInn does a better job of masking the transition by making its pages mimic the look of the property website. A web developer can do the same with Webervations, but it is a bit more difficult.
KeepMeBooked takes a different approach. It uses a small widget – a small booking tool, that is embedded in the property website, and gathers the information from the guest to complete the booking, all the while giving the appearance that the guest never leaves the property website. While the widget could stand some enhancement to allow for packages, etc., it is a very nice tool.
Other than these differences, all three handle online bookings satisfactorily, though neither SuperInn nor Webervations is particularly elegant.
Update: In the detailed reviews (pdf links below), we note that Webervations allows both confirmed reservations or, by changing the configuration, a request for a reservation. SuperInn does confirmed reservations, only. KeepMeBooked has pointed out that, when their product is configured not to require payment online, it also will act as a request for a reservation, or if configured to require online payments, a confirmed reservation is created.
KeepMeBooked lowered its prices just as we were doing this review. For a seven room bed and breakfast, with online booking, the rate is $40 per month. It is less if online booking is not needed, but we feel that is such a major component that we don’t consider that alternative.
SuperInn provides hardly any information about itself on its website, and no pricing information. When we requested the demo, we inquired about pricing and were told the rate for a seven room bed and breakfast would be $60 per month.
Like KeepMeBooked, Webervations pricing is also based on ranges of numbers of rooms. For seven rooms it is $10.99 per month. Before Webervations was acquired by BedAndBreakfast.com, a newer version was being released. That version wasn’t released to all customers, so we have reviewed only the older version. The new version is priced at $29.99 per month for seven rooms.
If price were the only difference, Webervations would be the overwhelming favorite, as it costs only a fraction of the others. However, its features are by far the weakest of the group. If reporting were the most important consideration, SuperInn would be the favorite. However, it is the most expensive – even more expensive than similar products with larger feature sets, and its technology is dated. If a slick, user-friendly experience is the most important consideration, KeepMeBooked would be the winner. It’s price seems to be in line with similar products (though some offer more features at that price), but it is lacking in reporting and other areas.
As you can see, and as mentioned above, one size doesn’t fit all. Each product has its virtues and its shortcomings. If the shortcomings are not in an area that is important to you, perhaps you can overlook them. On the other hand, if they are important, you may want to consider something else.
In any case, most systems provide an evaluation copy of the software, or a free trial account. We strongly urge anyone considering purchasing a booking system to evaluate several different products before making a decision.
What is important to you in selecting online booking or guest management software? Leave your thoughts in the comments.