Definitely Doug 5/3/24: What Are Your Summer Vacation Plans?

by Doug Rice

Summer is coming! Throughout the northern hemisphere, that means pool and beach season is here, or will be soon. Technology for managing pool and beach areas has evolved rapidly in recent years, creating a bigger profit opportunity for resorts (and even some city hotels) than ever before. If you have outdoor water facilities and have not looked at this category in a while, there are some great new options. And while the focus of this article is pools and beaches, many of the solutions discussed also apply to other outdoor spaces such as golf courses and marinas.

There are two major categories of beach and pool technology, plus a few more specialized ones. The first and biggest segment focuses on food and beverage (F&B) service. The second addresses reservations and direct sales of access to pool and beach areas and related services, activities, and events, both to overnight guests and to day guests. The more specialized ones are mentioned inline below.

Pool and beach technology is designed to generate more revenue from hotel guests, to attract and monetize day guests (particularly on lower-demand days), to improve operational efficiency, and to improve the compensation and retention of staff, especially pool and beach servers. Some of the numbers I heard are compelling even if you heavily discount them as potentially biased marketing claims, such as a 60%+ increase in the average food and beverage (F&B) ticket at pools and beaches, or day pass pool visitors spending $100 or $200 for a pass and a typical 2-3 times more on F&B. Even if you halve these numbers and deduct the associated costs, they represent significant new profit opportunities.

For this article, I am indebted to the knowledge and expertise provided by the following companies. In this article, I will focus on the specific beach and pool capabilities they offer, but several of them also support other hotel and resort services, such as restaurant reservations, spa, local activities, and parking; or other outside locations such as golf courses or marinas.

  • Beachy – An F&B order-and-pay solution optimized for server use in direct sunlight
  • Outpay – A drop- and splash-proof mobile F&B order-and-pay solution for server use at hotel pools and beaches
  • Pool Safe – Offers Loungenie, a lockable safe and ice chest with USB charger and call button for deployment around the pool or beach
  • RealTime Reservation – A cloud-based system with centralized inventory management to help hotels and resorts manage ancillary revenue, notably for beach and pool products and services
  • ResortPass – A consumer-facing marketplace and technology platform that sells resort amenities and services to day guests (including locals or travelers staying elsewhere) and also to in-house guests
  • Sunbull – Automated beach umbrellas that can be locked, unlocked, opened, closed, tracked, and rented remotely or in-place
  • UrVenue – Enables resorts to offer products and services other than rooms, including pool chairs, cabanas, activities, and poolside dining and spa treatments, in one unified shopping cart.

Real Time Pool and Beach Food & Beverage Sales

Digital solutions are rapidly changing the way outdoor F&B operations can be organized, leading to significant new revenue opportunities and operational efficiencies. Devices that support both Wi-Fi and cellular networks allow servers to place orders digitally. Operationally, this enables them to remain on the pool or beach, accessible to customers at all times, rather than continually returning to the bar or kitchen to enter orders manually and pick them up. Runners deliver orders to the pool or beach area.

This change can dramatically reduce the wait time for guests; one test found the average wait time on a beach was brought down from 55 minutes to seven minutes. Shorter wait times both enable and encourage guests to order more rounds; one company reports that across their portfolio, the average ticket size increased 61% because servers are more available to guests, and because guests have more confidence that their next order will come quickly.

The technology can greatly improve retention of server staff as well. The base amount of F&B spend on which tips are calculated is much higher, and the ability to provide faster service can lead to higher tip percentages as well. The server can spend more time taking orders, meaning they can cover a bigger area with more people. While tips may be reduced somewhat by sharing with runners, some servers have reported earning as much as four times the annual income when they shifted to digital solutions. Not surprisingly, they also have much lower turnover rates!

While a few point-of-sale system providers offer handheld ordering solutions that meet pool and beach needs, many hotels find that their current system does not work (or work well) outdoors. Common reasons are that it may require Wi-Fi connections that are not available; that the devices are too hard to read in bright sunlight; that the devices do not support mobile check presentation, payment, and receipts; or that they are too complex for the simpler F&B choices typically offered at pools and beaches.

Some of the key factors to consider when evaluating outdoor F&B ordering solutions include the following (all of them available from one or more of the mentioned solutions):

  • Do you need, and does the solution support, both self-service and server-assisted ordering?  For self-service, is the guest’s location determined by QR code scan, by mobile phone location sharing, or by some other means?
  • Are the devices suitable for outdoor use? Are they easy to read in bright sunlight? Are they prone to overheating? Do they break if dropped or submerged? Do they hold at least a full day’s charge?
  • Is Wi-Fi connectivity available everywhere an order might be placed, or do you need GSM as well on some or all devices?
  • Can the customer view their bill, add a tip, swipe or tap a credit card to pay, and sign from the device? Can they get a receipt via their choice of email, text, or by scanning a QR code?
  • Does the solution support room charges, including verification of the guest’s name?
  • Can the solution use the hotel’s existing payment provider, or provide an acceptable alternative? Which charges are processed as card-present vs. ecommerce, and who is responsible for chargeback risk?
  • Does the solution interface with any reservation system used by the hotel for cabanas, chairs, or umbrellas so that servers can identify and greet the guest by name?
  • Does the solution include mapping or layout diagrams to help servers identify locations?
  • Are there any brand requirements that must be met, such as single sign-on or tapping of existing POS ID cards to log in? Has the vendor been certified as meeting them?

Acceptance of new ordering technology by servers is critical. Vendors reported having sold their solutions into hotels that had expensive prior solutions mothballed in a closet because the servers found them too difficult to learn or use. The user interface needs to be simple and intuitive and should not require excessive searching to find the right button. One solution put only the most common menu items on a screen, while supporting a quick text search for less frequently ordered ones. Pool and beach servers want to be able to carry on a conversation with the customer while entering the order, so the interface has to be simple enough that they can use it without having to pause the conversation to search for the right item or button.

Another key consideration is whether and to what extent the solution integrates with your point-of-sale (POS) and/or property management system (PMS). A major advantage of these F&B ordering systems is that you do not need to replace your existing POS, as they are designed to sit “on top of” them. Capabilities that need to be mirrored in the ordering solution include:

  • The ability to select an outlet, if devices/servers may move from one to another
  • Full integration of menus, required and optional modifiers, pricing, and item availability, so that any order placed on the device can be replicated exactly and without even the smallest discrepancy
  • Delivery of orders into the POS, so that they arrive at the kitchen or bar exactly as if they had been placed directly into the POS
  • The ability to close a ticket via room charge or by posting a payment taken by the mobile device to a receivables account

Other integrations to the POS, PMS, or a combination may be required, depending on your environment:

  • Verification of guest name and room number when opening a ticket and/or for room charges
  • Delivery of accounting data, noting the potential need to segregate payments taken by the mobile device if a different payment processor is used
  • Delivery of an image of a signed check to the PMS (if the PMS supports this)

As with any interface, you need to verify version compatibility (not just product capability) and specific functionality (not just whether an interface exists). In addition, you should evaluate whether any additional PMS or POS licenses or interfaces are required and consider any associated costs.

Sale of Pool and Beach Facilities & Services

A hotel should be able to digitally reserve, sell and monetize almost anything that can be delivered at a beach or pool. Whether you charge a fee, include it in a resort fee or day pass, or provide it on a complementary basis (and to whom) is a decision that you should be able to make and change at any time.

Products that can potentially be reserved and/or offered for rent include cabanas, pool and beach chairs, umbrellas, tables, watersport equipment, and towels. Events, classes, and activities may also be offered, and reservations supported where required. Massages or other spa services might be delivered in a cabana. Certain food and beverage options may lend themselves to advance ordering as well (distinct from on-site ordering, as covered above). Some solutions also support packaging, such as a cabana rental with a food and beverage package, or a kids’ pool package with toys and games.

These should be marketable to in-house guests at the time of booking, between booking and arrival, or onsite, with both self-service and (where appropriate) assisted service from a concierge or activities desk.

Pool and beach products and services can also be sold to day guests, such as local residents and/or travelers staying elsewhere in the area. But since this is an audience that your hotel likely does not reach with its marketing efforts, you will need a way to make them aware. ResortPass was the first to create an online, consumer-facing marketplace for day use of pools and spas. It has made progress in raising consumer awareness; a few other companies have started down similar paths.

These programs typically sell day passes at whatever price the hotel wants to charge, on an inventory-controlled basis.  The day pass covers admission to the pool or beach area and usually certain services; other services can typically be ordered a la carte in advance, or on-site. Day passes may come with F&B allowances or minimum spending requirements.

The market for day use of pools and beaches is still quite new. Most locals and travelers are still unaware of it as an option, but it is becoming increasingly popular. This suggests significant room for market growth in coming years.

Key considerations in evaluating solutions for reserving and selling pool and beach products and services include:

  • The ability to “white-label” the solution for in-house guests to reflect your hotel’s style and branding
  • A simple and intuitive dashboard to yield-manage rates and to control inventory by channel, type of guest, and advance booking window. You may, for example, want to limit reservations for the best pool chairs only to in-house guests. A few solutions are now starting to implement channel management capabilities for partner channels as well.
  • Whether and how the solution integrates inventory (and possibly rates) with existing staff-facing solutions, as opposed to requiring them to be manually updated. For some complex products such as spa services, pass-through of a guest from the main booking platform to a spa booking engine may also be an option.
  • Whether the solution can support half-day or even hourly rentals.
  • Granular inventory definitions, such as tiered categories of beach chairs depending on location.
  • What kinds of add-on activities or services can be sold to generate more revenue, for example a day pass with a cabana rental might offer a poolside massage as an upsell.
  • Granular ability to require a deposit or payment at the time of booking (with refund rules) based on product type, guest type, channel, or advance booking window.
  • Packaging capabilities, such as a cabana rental with a $200 F&B minimum and a 10% discount on F&B. This may require additional integration capabilities with a POS in order to apply any advance deposit and to process the minimum and discount correctly.
  • User interfaces appropriate to reservations offices, concierge and activity desk staff, in-house guests, and external guests (if you want to offer day passes). Guest-facing interfaces can benefit from features such as a visual resort layout map to help guests pick the perfect location.
  • Whether and how the solution can market to hotel guests and/or prereserved day-use guests to upsell additional pool and beach offerings after booking.
  • The size, marketing budget, and clientele of platforms that market day-use options to locals and travelers not staying at the hotel (you can only sell to those who find out about you!).
  • The ability to issue and validate tickets or vouchers and produce guest lists for classes, activities, and events, if required.
  • Whether the vendor provides any customer support to guests, or whether that is solely the hotel’s responsibility.
  • Whether the solution offers an integrated approach to other (non-pool/beach) upsell opportunities, such as hotel services (spa, restaurant reservations, parking), advance or real-time F&B ordering, local activities and tours, local restaurant reservations, and day-use room rental.
  • Whether multiple products can be organized into a shopping cart at the time of booking, and paid for as a group.
  • Whether the solution offers (or supports capabilities in an existing system) to manage guest itineraries and to provide access to a list of all booked products and services in a single view to guests and/or staff.
  • Whether the solution can be integrated into existing brand mobile apps.
  • How the solution supports financial reporting and (as needed) reconciliation with any new payment solution.

While operational considerations matter with any of the solutions in this category, they are rarely deal-breakers since most of these systems automate primarily the sales and reservation process rather than service delivery. In most cases the existing service delivery process will remain unchanged or can be improved a bit through better inventory management and reservations for high-demand items like beach chairs (eliminating the so-called 7:30am towel-on-the-chair reservation system).

One new product with significant potential operational benefits is the Sunbull umbrella control system, a patented solution that can significantly reduce the labor costs associated with beach or pool umbrella management. I have not seen it live, but was told it utilizes “smart” umbrellas that can be remotely or manually locked, unlocked, opened, and closed; the remote control works up to several miles away. It can reduce or eliminate the need for staff to manually close umbrellas when bad weather arrives or the day ends. In addition to addressing the need for multiple staff to rush out onto the beach on short notice, it can prevent umbrellas from being blown away when weather arrives faster than staff can cope. This new product supports multiple business models including free use for hotel guests, direct rental via an app (similar to bike or scooter rentals), or rental through the hotel.


With any of these solutions, cost, service, vendor reliability and support are always important issues. Most of these companies are small, so due diligence, reference checks, and pilots are essential.

The key question is, if you have a pool and/or beach, are you monetizing them well, and are they as fully utilized as they could be? Having the right rental options, fast and easy F&B service, and the ability to sell to non-hotel guests on lower demand days can dramatically increase both revenues and guest satisfaction. And the technologies that enable this have only started to mature in the past few years, so if you are still managing these processes with paper and spreadsheet, it is time to consider updating your approach.

What do you think? Comments, questions, or feedback are welcome; just visit the LinkedIn post referencing this article on my profile. For more of my material, follow me on LinkedIn or  subscribe to the Hotel Online newsletter to get notifications of new articles. For a full library of my hotel technology insights, visit the article archive on the Hospitality Upgrade site.

Douglas Rice

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Three ecosystems — Hospitality & Leisure, Food & Beverage, and Inventory & Procurement — operate independently and together depending on your needs.


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