By Frances Moffett, HSMAI Editorial Content Director
During last year’s HSMAI Foundation academic roundtables, faculty shared the sentiment that most of their students have no exposure to commercial hotel career positions until they take a course in one of the disciplines of sales, marketing, or revenue optimization. Breffni Noone, associate professor of hospitality management at Penn State and 2021 Revenue Educator of the Year, has developed a new undergraduate course to help address that. Here, Noone discusses what this new course, Hospitality Revenue and Profit Optimization, entails as well as questions industry needs to ask to help aspiring professionals get reengaged with what the hospitality profession has to offer.
HSMAI: How is this course different from previous courses you’ve taught?
Breffni Noone: Until now, we had an “Introduction to Hospitality Revenue Management” module embedded into our required undergraduate course in operations management to provide all our undergraduate hospitality management students exposure to the fundamentals of the discipline. We also offered an undergraduate elective course, Hospitality Revenue Management, which students could take if they wanted to explore the discipline more deeply.
This new course is a required course for all undergraduate hospitality management students. It covers all the essentials of the revenue optimization discipline. This reframing to revenue optimization (versus revenue management) reflects the movement within industry to a more holistic approach to optimizing, rather than managing, revenue. The course is also framed around data-driven decision making that will not only optimize topline revenue, but also recognizes the importance of developing revenue optimization strategies that support profit optimization.
The development of this required undergraduate course in Hospitality Revenue and Profit Optimization ensures that all our undergraduate hospitality management students gain a deep understanding of the discipline, and it frees up space within the curriculum for an advanced undergraduate elective course in Revenue and Profit Optimization to replace the former Hospitality Revenue Management elective. The goal is to launch the advanced elective in 2023.
What does the course entail?
The core components that are covered in the course include pricing, forecasting, inventory control, and distribution. Throughout the course, the emphasis is on interdisciplinary activities that support commercial strategy, rather than addressing revenue optimization, sales, marketing, and other commercial strategy-related functions as individual silos. Students are also encouraged to think about revenue optimization across all revenue-generating assets within a hotel and across all types of hospitality operations. This broad focus is reflected in both the course content, the examples and case studies that the students are exposed to, and the topics covered by industry guest speakers.
A significant portion of the course is dedicated to developing the students’ ability to effectively tell a story from data through data visualization, appropriate headlining, and identification of key issues helping or hindering performance. Students use current, real-world data and reports from partner hotel companies and vendors to make decisions. For example, we partner with Emily Bowen, director of revenue and channel distribution for the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, on various projects (e.g., pricing, competitor benchmarking and value assessment, business mix strategies). The benefits of this type of industry-based approach are twofold: Students get hands-on experience that complements the theory, tools, and techniques covered in the curriculum, and hospitality companies gain insights that can be leveraged for revenue optimization decisions at the property level.
Has the pandemic influenced the subject matter you’re developing?
I started work on the development of this course pre-pandemic. As the pandemic unfolded, I was able, through my membership on the HSMAI Revenue Optimization Advisory Board, to stay very close to the industry and gain a keen understanding of the key issues and challenges facing the discipline. So, while the core elements of the discipline and, by extension, the subject matter, have not changed since pre-pandemic (e.g., understanding demand, business mix, and pricing strategy), I have been able to weave pandemic-related challenges, opportunities, and impacts into the course content.
I have also relied heavily on my industry colleagues, both from within the HSMAI Revenue Optimization Advisory Board and the PSU alumni network, to provide pre- versus pandemic-related data, so that students can observe the impact the pandemic has had on performance and revenue strategy.
The hospitality industry, like many others, has been dealing with the challenge of finding and recruiting new talent. What can you say about the status of students coming into the program?
All U.S. programs in hospitality management and related degree programs, just like all colleges in the United States, are under enrollment pressures. That said, leading indicators of enrollments for the upcoming year are encouraging.
What do you think needs to happen to get aspiring professionals reengaged with what the hospitality industry has to offer?
I think that industry associations such as HSMAI can partner with other like-minded organizations and universities to help change the image of hotel careers and to showcase all the career opportunities that the industry presents for aspiring professionals, particularly early in their undergraduate careers. Take revenue optimization, for example. What might a career path in revenue optimization look like? What kind of timelines are students looking at in terms of career progression? What internship opportunities can be created so that students can get relevant exposure to the discipline during the early stages (versus near the end) of their undergraduate journey?
What do you hope to achieve with this new course?
My goal is that all students within the hospitality management major at Penn State will leave the program with a solid understanding of the principles of revenue and profit optimization. Regardless of what career path they take in the hospitality industry, I want students to be creative problem-solvers, and be able to engage in data-driven decision-making that will enhance profitability within whatever domain that they choose to work.