Room for improvement in hotel payments security

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Hotels have elaborate systems to capture lodging fees and other purchases charged to rooms, but when customers book special events such as weddings or conferences, payment security can be more of a problem.

The practice for accepting deposits for non-lodging purchases at many hotels typically involves painstakingly filling out paper forms and collecting of credit card numbers insecurely via phone or fax, said Eric Liebman, Elavon’s vice president and head of product strategy for restaurants and hospitality.

“It’s not just incredibly risky for hotels to manually handle and store card numbers for sales reservations and sales over the phone, but it’s time-consuming and costly,” said Liebman, who observed these processes firsthand during almost 30 years working in the hotel industry before joining the payments industry five years ago. He worked first at Ingenico, and moved to Elavon in 2015.

Meeting organizers and hosts spend about $50 billion annually in the U.S. for food and beverage services, according to the Events Industry Council. Weddings in the U.S. account for about $55 billion annually, and food, beverage and venue rental fees consume up to 60% of most wedding budgets.

Elavon recently developed a solution to resolve these concerns in hotels’ non-lodging purchases. The Converge Hospitality tool enables hotel employees to set up reservations and purchases for any non-lodging items with details stored in a digital invoice. Customers receive an email with a link enabling them to add payment details to the invoice where it’s stored securely via an Elavon-hosted payment page.

“When people book a special event like a wedding, there are usually a lot of changes in the head count and requirements, and instead of updating a file with a lot of paper, the hotel can make those changes instantly in the digital invoice and collect payments all at once or through installments,” Liebman said.

So far Converge is being marketed to large hotel chains and small independent inns, he said.

Elavon is keeping Converge anchored to email as the primary notification channel at first, but it’s exploring adding SMS text notifications later if it’s suitable for some users. The solution grew out of an existing service Elavon’s parent U.S. Bank offers for corporate billing and invoicing, and adapted it to the hotel industry. Pricing is tiered, based on the size of the hotel.

Unlike many payment systems that require deep integration with hotels’ existing reservation and payments system, Converge is a lighter approach that rides in the cloud, accessible to any users via sign-on.

“Because of the diversity of approaches different hotels use to book events, we based Converge on a platform available from any browser so hotels and customers can access it from a phone, tablet or a laptop,” Liebman said.

During the beta testing phase currently underway, hotels are reporting increased convenience for handling payment for special events, as well as gifts sent to hotel guests’ rooms by non-guests, and shipping costs for guests’ items recovered in lost-and-found departments, Liebman said.

An unexpected use case Liebman said has emerged is hotels that have heavy seasonal demand, from snowbirds escaping winter, for instance, and take deposits in advance.

Elavon plans to roll it out broadly early next year, Liebman said.

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