Nikola Grubelić, Direct Booker: Technology is the key to solving all the problems of an agency that deals with accommodation facilities

"Technology should be seen as an investment that will bring business to a higher level" - is the answer to the question of Nikola Grubelić, director and co-founder of Direct Booker, an agency for accommodation management ...

"Technology should be seen as an investment that will bring business to a higher level" - the answer to the question Nikola Grubelić, director and co-founder of Direct Booker, an agency for managing accommodation units, on the topic of how crucial digitalization is in tourism today.

Personally, I can say that today it is imperative and crucial, because without digitalization no one today can seriously deal with the rental of accommodation units. Those who follow trends and accept that they can improve their business will grow and develop, while others will stagnate. This is how market competition works, which is the best regulator.

The story of Direct Bookerit started in the last decade, and it all started from own experience and need in the private accommodation market.

I ran an apartment 11 years ago and then I realized what the potential is for renting private accommodation. I suggested to my friend, and today to my business partner, Nino Dubretić, that we start to take renting more seriously, says Grubelić and adds that they invested money, and that's how the story started. Today, Direct Booker is the leading regional agency for renting private accommodation, ranked among the TOP 10 largest private accommodation agencies in the world and among the most successful property management agencies in the world.

“I would say that the desire for constant growth, job creation, and constant investment in the company are factors that push us towards even greater success.Said Grubelic.

The agency also offers technological solutions and products, as well as the world's leading franchise model in the short-term rental industry. The business model relies on its own technological development, Booker Tools, Channel Manager & Vacation Rental Software (VRS), preferred by the world’s largest booking channels (Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, etc.). Direct Booker currently manages +8000 units and +100 bookings per year in 000 countries.

How did the Booker Tools software come about? Why did you even develop your own technology?

In the beginning, we used foreign technological solutions in order to run our business well and manage accommodation capacities. The technology then was not at the levels it is today, so we had to combine the two systems because one had certain functionalities, which the other did not, and vice versa. Since there was no ideal solution on the market for our needs, this was solid. 

However, constant price changes disrupted our budgets, ie the financial structure and partners did not have an understanding for our needs. In addition, they did not have a clear “development road map” which led us to start thinking about the development of our technology and so we started to develop Booker Tools. Initially, we developed PMS (Property Management Software), and after that we started developing connections.

The great advantage of Booker Tools over similar solutions is that it arose from the need of a travel agency to solve its business problems, such as distribution to sales channels and automation of various business processes. What problems in the Direct Booker business have you solved with Booker Tools?

I’ll give you one banal example, we worked by manually entering each credit card into a POS device, then entering the amount, and finally authorizing and charging in the Risk Collection Department. However, when we connected the payment gateway, ie automated and introduced profiles of how the system will react to certain reservations based on certain rules, it came to the point that we no longer needed that Department.

So each reservation when it enters the system is recognized and it is possible to determine what kind of reservation it is, what is the cancellation policy, what are the rules, and based on that make a decision when the reservation will be pre-authorized and when charged. Most important of all is that the charges go automatically. Previously, the calculations were done manually for each renter individually, and now this is done automatically.

And how did Booker Tools evolve? It is developed based on the needs of Direct Booker, as its largest client. We develop certain modules in the system functionality and customize the system to solve our problems. Booker Tools is the answer to our problems we face. If we have a problem distributing objects across multiple channels, Booker Tools is the answer. If we have a problem with the repetitive jobs we do, the solution is a content API connection that allows us to automatically send content from the system to all the listed channels and to all other channels. There is no repetitive object input behavior but objects are automatically presented from the system. 

Technology is the key to solving all the problems of an agency that deals with accommodation facilities. We develop all of these business practices as Direct Booker, through Booker Tools solutions. We want to help other agencies in their development and digital transformation, clearly showing them the benefits of working with Booker Tools, that is, how it helps them and what problems it solves.

Nikola Grubelić, director and co-founder of Direct Booker

Who is Booker Tools for?

Booker Tools is intended for everyone who deals with renting accommodation in a professional and quality way, who understands technology, and who is ready to embark on a technological story. The biggest problem we face when we go to sell technology is that someone doesn’t trust us why exactly our product is good and who we are. 

We are Direct Booker, an agency with 11 years of experience behind it, which has created a technological solution to make business easier for itself. Our results are clearly visible. We have credibility, that needs to be presented first. 

It is generally thought that a technological solution is expensive and cannot be paid for. Because we made it for our own needs, we created a financial form for agencies that, like Direct Booker, deal with renting accommodation, specially adapted to this uncertain situation. We have created a module where you are not charged fixed or monthly, but according to the realized and realized reservation, without charging cancellations or modifications.

Why are we a quality partner for agencies? Because we provide them with quality technology and together we go through a bad period, that is, if there are no reservations, we do not earn because we only participate in the percentage when the reservation is made.

Also, another problem with technology sales is that the user is never ready for digitization and digital transformation. There are a large number of agencies that are satisfied with low-quality solutions, which are not adapted to their business.

What is the technological innovation that Booker Tools has brought?

Experience from agency business leads to our modules being wider, larger and more complex. We are not a classic IT company but an agency that solves its problems with its own technology. I think our Revenue Manager is really innovative. Smart pricing tools originate from the aviation industry and they have brought yield prices to perfection, which has been transferred to hotel and apartment accommodation. We believe that this module will greatly speed up our work processes, and lead to better revenue generation, reduced number of working days, increased occupancy, and ultimately increased profitability. We have automated everything from creating reservations, entering reservations to issuing invoices, generating a self-issuing invoice to the landlord, creating fiscalization and regulation. 

Especially taxation and margin business, so we automated the issuance of invoices to generate calculations, VAT calculation. We can say that this is our internal time-saving module. We follow trends and I don’t think we’re anything, wow ’innovative now, but there is a certain level of innovation. It’s clear to us what we need to do, so I don’t find it that innovative. We see what we need, if we need a chair to sit on then I have to make a chair because I will not stand on my feet. So here too, we need a system that will allow us to increase prices for Saturday and Sunday in a certain period of time, I do not think it is innovative but that it is a need, and in essence by creating our functionality we solve our problem. Which in the end is certainly more innovative than in some other system that doesn’t have it and doesn’t think about it. 

When we talk to agencies people are very happy with the complete system, as a whole and see that we have really gone deep into it. However, we did not go deep into it but we are deep in this business and then the system is essentially our expression towards the outside. If we work well as an agency, then we must also have a quality system.

What is the current stage of development of Booker Tools? 

The latest innovations in Booker Tools software are Revenue Manager, an automatic generating page, the ability to share inventory can be said as a "market place" where inventory can be shared with another agency within the Booker Tools. We are working on the development of a module for direct booking, which is currently a big trend in the world of renting accommodation. We connected to all possible channels and payment gateways, which means that we met all the criteria in terms of distribution, billing and modules that I have already listed. 

We plan to automate certain business processes within Direct Booker from March to May. Our goal is to offer everything we make for Direct Booker to Booker Tools users as well. From May to October we will work on various integrations that we will connect to the system, eg contactless check management system, smart locks, Operto type operation system, Properly… We will add various integrations that will somehow complete our PMS to one agency which, for example, deals with cleaning and receiving guests. 

We will constantly work on the development of existing modules because our goal is to increase and improve them by 10-20% and introduce new ones every year. And most importantly, I think we will work on a universal inbox, that is, a centralized one. Our idea is for the system as Booker Tools to be a central place to manage all operations, including communication with guests. We have already embarked on this development and we have reached a certain level. The idea is to integrate all sales pages into a centralized inbox and also connect with Whatsapp and Viber so that no matter what medium we use to talk to a guest, we have everything in one place. The organization of e-mails by priority in the system is also very important.

Practically, if you now have 50 guests and 50 e-mails, or 150 messages, the first to arrive is the one that is most urgent, that is, a message from a guest coming today, and so on in chronological order. So this centralized form must be in both mobile and desktop versions. After development, it is necessary to optimize the system according to user needs in order to have a better and simpler overview. 

A lot of it, development never stops.

What would you say, why is it now important for Property Managers to have technology solutions like Booker Tools?

To do some work it is clear that you have to have a good tool, it has always been so. For example, if you go digging the ground and you don’t have a good tiller and you do everything by hand it is clear that you will need a lot more time and energy to do the same job that you would do faster using a good tool. So it is with technology, especially now that there is a crisis, because digital transformation is the key to success. 

We must be ready that tomorrow, when tourism recovers, we can do the same or more work with the same or a smaller number of employees. This is exactly what is impossible to do without quality technology. Simply those who follow the technology and who are in line with the trends will always be better and achieve better results. 

The key to everything is that we can all work together to do the same or a larger volume of work, generate higher turnover and revenue, and ultimately higher profits. And we can’t do that if we need more people, which we can’t pay for. So the key is in the technology, but not in the sense that we are reducing the number of employees thinking that all the technology will do. No, we need quality and satisfied employees who, with the help of technology, will be able to dedicate more to some work processes than to frantically type, close and synchronize calendars. Technology will increase productivity and efficiency while employees will be able to dedicate themselves to improving the quality of business, all of which will result in higher profits and wages.

In my opinion, this is what companies need to do, it means investing time and energy right now to move from this stage in which they are now to technology, so that in the end they have clear benefits, both as a company and their employees. In talking to many employees, meaning not business owners, it happens that they do certain repetitive things that take their time and that in the end are not so productive. Business owners, on the other hand, view investing in technology as a cost rather than an investment. The point is to look at technology as an investment that will take business to a higher level and make employees more satisfied and productive. This will result in an increase in the number of acquired facilities, and on the other hand, employees will be able to dedicate themselves to improving the satisfaction of existing customers. All this together will lead to an increase in income.

Lastly, a little more about how to pay for Booker Tools?

We decided not to work on a monthly, fixed basis but on the basis of performance, ie percentage according to the agencies, understanding their current status and situation. Our goal and idea is to be a quality partner to agencies by offering them quality technology, prosperous and modern technology with all current and future modules valuing their service in a smaller percentage that depends on the specifics of the agency.

What we want, based on our negative experience with technology partners, is to give some guarantee of a three-year price. So the price we agree on now will be the same for the next three years, let's say it is a partnership we want to develop.

If you are renting accommodation and want better results, you have two options. Agency service or technology solution. Find out more HERE

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