Software Review: RezOvation GT

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RezOvation GTRezOvation GT began as a re-creation of the very popular Munsenware GuestTracker software. It aims to be a full-featured program, providing a simple interface, and all the features necessary for daily lodging operations.

Some six years ago, when RezOvation GT was in its infancy, we researched and tried several different programs for use at our Freeport Maine Bed & Breakfast, and settled on RezOvation GT as the best choice. In all honesty, we were not excited about choosing it, as it was relatively untested, and had a number of significant blemishes and a very high price tag, but we considered it to be the best choice despite many shortcomings. In the ensuing years there have been many improvements, and a few miscues, but there is little doubt that RezOvation GT is now a much more mature product, and is one of the top choices available today.

Overview

Unlike most reservation systems released in the past few years, ResOvation GT is stand-alone system, installed on your local computer, rather than a web-based system. The primary advantage of a stand-alone system is that they tend to offer many more powerful features than web-based systems, especially in the area of the reports you can obtain, and also generally allow for more user choices and preferences. The primary disadvantages of most stand-alone systems are (1) the need to back-up your data yourself, and (2) they can be difficult (or impossible) to access remotely. RezOvation GT deals with the back-up issue by mirroring your data remotely (at their facility), and suggests using LogMeIn as a secure way to access the system from a remote location. There is also an online option, called RezOvation GT Online. We have not tested that version, and have heard sharp criticisms of it, so thorough testing is recommended before signing up for it.

User Interface

RezOvation is a Microsoft Gold-Certified partner, so it is no surprise that RezOvation GT is a Windows-only product. It is deeply integrated with Windows components, which means, for Windows users, it will have a familiar “look and feel” and menus and other items will usually behave as expected, providing a nice comfort level.

RezOvation GT CalendarThe Occupancy Map (or calendar view) is excellent, providing a view of all rooms over a 90-day period (or you can set a longer or shorter period), with a slider bar at the bottom, allowing you to scroll up to 90-days forward, or back through the preceding month. If you move to a date other than “Today,” you can scroll through the following 90-days. You can also jump to virtually any date using the pull-down selector.

As is common with calendar views, entries are color-coded (you can define the colors, if you wish) to show whether or not a credit card has been used to hold the reservation, and whether some or all of the amount has been paid. There are also graphical cues to show whether or not the guest has checked-in or checked-out.

Creating new reservations are straightforward and logical. If you begin with the calendar view, you can drag your cursor across the dates and room to be selected, then either press Enter, or right click and choose “Book Reservation” to enter information. If the reservation is for an existing guest, typing part of the name will bring up matching suggestions. If it is for a new guest, there is a “Create New” button next to the guest name.

When getting started, RezOvation GT allows you to import historical guest information from a spreadsheet, using a template they supply. The default template allows importing of more guest information than many competing systems, plus some custom information can be imported. RezOvation support will assist with the importing, if needed.

Rate Capabilities

Booking systems should allow for different rates for each room, seasonal rates, specials or discounts, packages, additional items to add to a reservation, and have a way of handling bookings for multiple rooms, such as a group booking. If larger properties are also to use the booking system, the group booking capability becomes even more significant, and there should also be the ability to create rates by room type.

When you first install RezOvation GT you are asked to choose whether you want to organize your property by room type or by individual rooms.

RezOvation GT allows for seasonal rates through its “Rate Seasons and Adjustments” configuration screen. This screen allows rates to be set up to two years from the date you are working on it. It works by highlighting the rooms and dates you want to set, and then click to make the adjustments. You can set minimum stay requirements, seasonal rates, individual date rates and stay requirements, and blackout dates. You can also add multiple rate types, in case you have rooms which can be set up in different ways, or rates to be used for other purposes, such as connecting with RezOvation sister company BedAndBreakfast.com’s online booking or GDS connectivity.

RezOvation GT PackagesSetting up Specials (called Packages) and Add-on items is straightforward, for the most part. In the Packages screen, you add the rooms to which the package applies, and adjust the room rate, if necessary. Then you add the additional items to be included, and again, adjust rates, if needed. Then when a guest books a package, all the items will be added and shown on the reservation. Restrictions, such as day of the week, minimum stay, and availability dates, are also configurable. The one (significant) negative in this process is that the screen does not display the total price for the package. This is unfortunate, as the adjustments to the rates of the component rooms and additional items is often done to achieve a particular total price.

Groups can also be set up, with additional rooms and items added to the group or to the individual reservation. Group rates can be created as an additional rate type.

Guest Communications

Modern booking systems allow for a number of guest communications to be sent from within the system – usually as emails. The most common are confirmation emails, cancellation confirmations, reminder and follow-up emails, invoices, and marketing emails. We feel that all these items, with the possible exception of marketing emails (due to the common use of stand-alone email marketing programs, such as Constant Contact and others), are sufficiently important that they should be included in the booking system.

To its credit, RezOvation GT offers not only confirmation and cancellation emails, but configurable reminder and follow-up emails, as well. Assuming a guest is not booking using the RezOvation Booking Engine (more on that, below), the confirmation and cancellation emails are sent manually, but from within the program. Once configured, the reminder and follow-up emails are sent automatically.

While we do not feel that sending marketing emails, or other emails, to guests from within the property management system is particularly valuable, it can be done in RezOvation GT. All emails (like other documents, such as reports, folios, etc.) are generated through Microsoft Word, which must be installed, and you must edit the template to include your own logo, your own language, etc. RezOvation GT does work with the free office software, OpenOffice.org’s Writer (a Microsoft Word equivalent), but we found the formatting to be difficult, and not all features rendered satisfactorily.

Reports

To evaluate performance, properly report taxes, and track marketing results, reports are a key source of information for the innkeeper. Different booking systems provide for different numbers and types of reports. Of course, if the system doesn’t capture the information in the first instance, it will never be able to report on it. At a minimum, a booking system should be able to generate reports of reservations for the coming month/day/week/year, revenue for specified periods of time, occupancy (total and by room) for specific periods of time, and revenue by date (and by room). Many innkeepers also require reports of gift certificates sold or redeemed, housekeeping issues, and additional financial reports, such as taxes collected.

RezOvation GT ReportsAs mentioned above, the reports are generated in Microsoft Word, and include the RezOvation logo. If you would like the reports to show your own logo, you will need to edit the template. There is quite a large array of reports, from financial to taxes to revenue sources, gift certificates, reservations, occupancy and housekeeping. Most have several variations, and all can be customized by modifying their Word templates. Changing the template to get additional information is possible, as the data fields available to each report can be seen by clicking a “View Template Codes” link at the bottom of the “Manage Templates” screen.

We see two (minor) issues with this process. First, if you are not familiar with editing Word templates, and how this works to get information from the customer database, this can be an intimidating task. Second, the codes available differ from template to template, so sometimes the code you would like to include is not available for the report you are editing.

We think some effort should go into making all codes available to all templates. In addition, the reports can be exported to a spreadsheet (like Microsoft Excel or OpenOffice.org’s Calc), so you can do your own analysis on the figures, but, only by exporting them from Word. However, many innkeepers would be quite happy with the default reports.

Accounting

Most booking systems provide some way to use the revenue data in an accounting or bookkeeping system, such as Quickbooks or Peachtree. In a few cases, the revenue data is directly linked to the bookkeeping product, but most booking systems export the data to a file, which can be imported into the bookkeeping software.

RezOvation GT allows for exporting the accounting data to a file to be imported into Quickbooks, using the “Export to Quickbooks” menu item. Before this can be used successfully, Quickbooks settings must be properly configured so the accounts and items in RezOvation GT can be properly mapped to entries in Quickbooks. We found the mapping process to be confusing because of terminology differences between RezOvation GT and Quickbooks, and the help screens and online information to be very limited. Once we completed the import (after manually editing the output file so that Quickbooks would accept it), we found that Quickbooks was now littered with all our guests as “Accounts” in Quickbooks, and we found that our accounts in Quickbooks were now 100% out of balance. The reason for being out of balance is that the new “Accounts” (our guests) were showing payments, that duplicate our deposits from our credit card processors. To get it in balance again would require us to manually track down every guest receipt and match it to a batch credit card deposit. Some innkeepers may be willing to do this, but we suspect that most will not.

RezOvation’s solution for this is to use Intuit (Quickbooks’ parent company) for credit card processing, and then a direct import from RezOvation GT to Quickbooks. Then the batch deposits can (at least theoretically) be automatically matched. While Intuit’s credit card processing rates are competitive, they are not the best available. However, if matching every payment to a batch deposit is important to you, this is the best way to see that it happens correctly.

Online Booking

Modern web-based booking systems generally provide their own online booking interface, and rarely interact with other online booking systems (such as Webervations or Availability Online). By contrast, most stand-alone guest management systems will interact with third-party online booking systems, even if they provide their own online booking module as an option. A significant drawback to not interacting with other systems is that the property is precluded from taking advantage of group booking and availability opportunities, unless they pay an additional fee for a second system.

RezOvation provides the best of both worlds with their online booking options. RezOvation GT can import and export reservation information with Webervations (which was acquired by RezOvation a few years ago), or you can use the RezOvation Booking engine. We have used both successfully.

With Webervations, RezOvation appears to update availability on a regular basis, about every 30 minutes or so. The result of this is that your online availability is quite reasonably up to date, but not perfectly synchronized. With the RezOvation Booking Engine, the updates are made immediately, so the online availability is immediately updated on any change. The Booking Engine is a tremendous improvement over Webervations, having a much more polished appearance, conforms beautifully to your website, and has a logical flow for users.

There are two drawbacks to the RezOvation Booking Engine: (1) there is currently no way to sell “gift shop” items (Extras, in RezOvation GT terminology) online to a non-guest; and (2) when a visitor books a room or purchases a Gift Certificate, the CVV2 number from the credit card is not transmitted. Some credit card processors require the CVV2 number to be included with keyed charges, so this eliminates the ability to use those processors.

The RezOvation Booking Engine creates only a confirmed booking (though you can change some of the terminology of the email that is automatically sent to the guest), so some innkeepers may be disappointed if they would prefer a request for a reservation, instead.

Pricing

RezOvation GT pricing is based on the number of rooms, per month, with a 5% discount for annual prepayment. If you want to use the RezOvation Booking Engine with it, there are additional charges. For RezOvation GT, a 7 room B&B would pay $50 per month, or $570 per year. Adding the RezOvation Booking Engine would change those rates to $90 per month or $1035 per year (based on the prices on the RezOvation website at the time of this writing).

Additional Features

Technical Support from RezOvation is generally excellent. In addition to helping with setup and importing historical guest information, they are helpful and responsive when issues arise, often remotely accessing your computer to check settings and make sure configuration is correct, patching and updating problems with the software quickly, and otherwise helping to insure that everything is working as it should be. The one drawback is their support service hours, which are limited to 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., US Central time (RezOvation is located in Texas). Experience shows that getting help in the evenings or on weekends or holidays is more effective by raising the issue on the PAII Innkeeping forum, as some staffers are regular readers there.

RezOvation offers a “Double-down” return on investment guarantee on its Booking Engine, that you will receive at least two time return on investment in online night charges each year (we couldn’t find a definition of “night charges”). That’s still an impressive guarantee.

In addition to a seamless connection to the BedAndBreakfast.com Online Booking (for those who use it), RezOvation also provides an option for those who want GDS connectivity. Rates are competitive, with a setup fee, an annual maintenance fee, but no commission payable to RezOvation other than a $15.50 per reservation. Reservations made through third parties (like travel agents) who charge a commission, also result in commission charges.

Mobile Booking

There is an increasing need for booking capabilities specifically designed for mobile platforms. While RezOvation told us they thought their Booking Engine appeared to work reasonably on mobile devices, we think the embedded availability search is too small to use effectively with fingers on a phone, and the availability calendar is too large for small screens. If there was even an optional link to a version designed for small screens that could be used from a mobile site, it would be a huge improvement.

RezOvation GT also offers an iPhone app for managing bookings remotely. This app works nicely, but has limited abilities (for example, you can not modify a booking). When installed on an iPad it is obviously designed for the smaller iPhone screen. We would love to see (1) a real iPad version, (2) an Android version (the extremely limited mobile web access is almost unusable other than to create a “placeholder” booking), and (3) complete ability to create reservations, modify or cancel reservations, as well as the current information about check-ins, check-outs, etc.

Final Thoughts

Our experience with RezOvation GT has generally been a very positive one. RezOvation GT is far more expensive than less complete products, such as those that provide online booking only, but because it includes automated reminder and follow-up emails, it is less expensive than its close competitor, ResNexus, which provides comparable features but adds almost 50% to its base cost just for automated emails.

We’re fairly satisfied with the RezOvation Booking Engine, as well, though we would like to see a true mobile version, as that is a growing need, as well as the ability to sell “gift shop” items through online purchasing.

Shortly prior to preparing this review, we learned that RezOvation is working on a new release. We certainly look forward to seeing the new features, and we particularly hope to see improved mobile capabilities.

There is no question that, when it comes to managing guest reservations and bookings, one size does not fit all. 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.

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