By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Monte Gardiner, managing director of revenue management at Best Western, has been hard at work throughout the pandemic, during which his team transitioned to fully remote. Recently, he talked to HSMAI about that experience, including advice for hospitality professionals who are returning from furlough.
What has changed for you as far as day-to-day tasks?
Our team’s underlying goal remains the same — to maximize our hotels’ profitability — but we have had to be very flexible in adapting our roles to suit the current environment. Changes in consumer behavior and the operational challenges faced by hoteliers have had a profound impact. Forecasting has been particularly challenging, because traditional forecasting models generally have a hard time responding to the kinds of disruptions introduced throughout the course of the pandemic. And we have had to reengineer our team’s workflow as well as the tools we use in order to continue to service our hotels’ needs effectively.
Have you experienced many layoffs or furloughs among your team?
The broader organization took swift action at the onset of the crisis in order to place us in a position where we could withstand what promised to be a prolonged period of uncertainty. Revenue management was spared the worst of the cuts, but like other departments, we had to make some very difficult choices and separate from a number of valued team members. While we have been able to bring back a handful of these individuals throughout the summer as occupancy started to improve and demand for our services increased, that has been the exception, not the rule.
How have your properties navigated the back-and-forth of travel restrictions?
Particularly early on, when little was known about the virus, the constantly evolving nature of state and local restrictions was problematic for many hotels, as these restrictions tended to introduce additional uncertainty and constraints at a time when hotels were already facing many challenges. In response, and working together with AHLA, Best Western rapidly adopted a set of protocols to provide a measure of certainty to our hotels and to reassure our guests. Our organizational structure allows us to receive timely feedback from our member hotels and franchisees and be responsive to changes on the ground. While the velocity and breadth of the recovery has been uneven, the overall trajectory since early April has been toward steady improvement.
What has been the most challenging part of ramping back up?
While leisure demand steadily improved over the course of the summer, corporate travel remains depressed. Many companies are still reluctant to travel, either because their budgets have been cut or they have misgivings about asking their employees to travel on company business. This has been and continues to be the single biggest challenge in returning to normal levels of occupancy.
What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?
The two trends that are most apparent are related to how guests book — they are more likely to book closer to the day of arrival, and they are also more likely to book property-direct than through an intermediary. Both of these phenomena are a function of lagging consumer confidence and textbook examples of how consumption changes during an economic downturn.
What positives have you seen come out of this?
I believe there are many positive outcomes that will come out of the current crisis. One positive outcome I have seen is the extent to which the revenue management team has been able to provide value to our hotels. At a time when every dollar counts, our team has guided hotels to optimal decisions that in some cases have made the difference between the hotel surviving versus closing its doors.
Another positive aspect is the way that technology has risen to the occasion and allowed us to make data-driven decisions. Within our organization, we were fortunate enough to have made some very timely investments in infrastructure and people before the pandemic hit, and these have served us well at each major decision point we have encountered.
Finally, I believe that the people within our organization will come out of this crisis having honed their abilities and functioning as a more cohesive unit. For some of my team, this is the first time they have been through a recession, and even for those who were in the industry during the Great Recession, the current crisis is giving them opportunities to stretch themselves in ways they could not possibly have imagined.
It has been remarkable to watch the extent to which our hoteliers have demonstrated their resilience throughout the pandemic, adjusting to restrictions and changing circumstances on the ground, changes in consumer attitudes, new standards, and staffing and resource constraints. I am lucky enough to have frequent interaction with our hotels, and I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to be associated with such resilient, positive people.
Do you have any advice for someone in revenue management who is just being brought back to work?
Be ready to give 110 percent and to increase the frequency with which you interact with hotels — it is critical that we are in tune with the specific needs of each hotel at this time, and every day brings a new opportunity to go above and beyond in responding to those needs.
For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.