Technology in the hospitality space predated the dot.com era by several decades and has come a long way since the 1950s.    Development of electronic distribution in the hospitality industry only came about in the 1960s, stemming from internal systems created by airlines for inventory control.  Looking forward into the next century of changes, it is important to appreciate the development that distribution in the hospitality industry previously underwent and foresee what future innovations may be.

 Way way way back….

The first documented case of overbooking and the consequent denial of service to a guest can be traced back to the occasion of the pregnant woman and her husband, who were forced to look for alternative accommodation because the inn where they wanted to stay was fully booked.   The wife gave birth to her child in the next door stable, and well, you know the rest…

Fast forward a few 100 years to the 1400s where we see a formalization of the hospitality industry when England and France passed legislation that required hotels and inns to keep a guest book or registry – essentially the start of customer relationship management.

Fast forward…

Before the 1940s, reservations were made by telegram, mail or telephone, and often resulted in lost or forgotten bookings. It was only in 1947 that Westin introduced the first hotel reservation system, called ‘Hoteltype’. Roughly ten years later in 1958 Sheraton introduced the industry’s first automated electronic reservation system, named ‘Reservatron’ – it also had the first toll-free reservation number.

It was the airlines that were to spark hospitality’s interest in electronic distribution.  The hotels began to look at tools for automating the booking process in the early 1950s and developed their own computerized reservation platforms – Reservec and Sabre.  But the hotel systems were far from sophisticated with only a limited number of room types on offer, added to which the users were reluctant to learn new terminology, believing that telephonic communication was more efficient.

Constant evolution…

Seeing the need for more efficient platforms and systems, the first property management systems (PMS) in the hospitality industry appeared on the market in the 1980s.     During this time, other GDS systems were being developed, such as Amadeus and Compuserve.   The increase in travel agent hotel reservations and the introduction of smaller and more powerful desktop computer systems prompted the creation of hotel reservation systems that could be conveniently located at the hotel front desk.

As electronic distribution entered the 1990s, issues continued to arise – hotels seeking to do things ‘their way’, wanting improved functionality, customization, third party interfacing, payment gateways, personalization, guest interaction, reporting and superior automation.

Director of Ankerdata, a distributor of protel hotel software, Ian Lumsden says that hotel reservation systems make business easier – that they enable hoteliers to work more accurately and efficiently.  “As customers demand more convenience, more choice, and greater customization, these systems guarantee that hoteliers have the right technology in place to maximize efficiency, revenue opportunities and ultimately remain competitive.”  He adds that with the progress of cloud computing, property management systems for hotels have expanded their functionality towards new service areas like guest-facing features. These include online check-in, room service, in-room controls, guest-staff communication, chat bots, mobile concierges and more.  Mobile concierges and booking platforms can be designed based on a hotel’s requirements and internal management flows and processes, and in keeping with its corporate identity.

Electronic distribution is still evolving and growing and there is an ongoing focus on connectivity through mobile and social media channels to meet the needs of the consumer – the millennials.   Artificial intelligence will be the future of guest engagement – a must for hotels wanting to attract and connect with a younger generation of travellers.

Rest assured, the industry has come a long way since the innkeeper turned Mary and Joseph away.

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