By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Mark McBride, senior director of franchise revenue management at Hilton, has been hard at work throughout the pandemic, pivoting as his team and his organization experienced furloughs and layoffs. Recently, he talked to HSMAI about that experience, including advice for hospitality professionals who are returning from furlough.
What has changed the most for you and your team?
Like everyone, we’ve had to look for efficiencies if we didn’t already have them in place. We’re taking on roles and transactional functions outside the norm to meet our consumer and franchise partner needs. My team at Hilton is structured to support hotels through management company relationships. This ensures management companies with multiple Hilton brands (e.g., a Hampton Inn, a Home2 Suites, and a DoubleTree) have one point of contact for revenue management instead of having to communicate with a revenue management representative for each brand.
We leveraged that structure in the COVID-19 environment and refocused efforts to support hotels — both those still in operation, managing through limited demand and new customer mix, and those temporarily suspending operations. We activated our reduced resources to target opportunities that might have the greatest impact on performance.
On the reactive side, we have added support and oversight for our revenue management hotel Q&A channels to quickly respond to questions/concerns from the field. We are proud to have maintained our commitment to same-day response times for those queries during this challenging time.
What has been the most challenging part of ramping back up?
Prioritization has been a challenge with limited resources and a multitude of needs, but it is key when we can’t tackle everything. We must be able to quickly determine the material impact of something, which can be challenging with limited resources. Initially, our response has been to focus on the immediate and pressing needs of our customers, in contrast with prior approaches that were more anticipatory of forthcoming business needs. We are now able to focus more clearly on opportunities so we can add value for our customers.
What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?
Occupancy is moving in the right direction, but recovery and stabilization will take time. System-wide occupancy has continued to trend up from its low point when the global COVID-19 pandemic began affecting travel. We are also now competing for new customers and, in some cases, against new chain scales. Our business mix has shifted, as well as the stay patterns and booking behaviors of our typical guests. As business customers work from home, we are seeing that they are combining business and pleasure to create family getaways over a long weekend. Of course, everyone is also experiencing shorter booking windows and last-minute travel decisions that have affected a hotel’s ability to forecast.
We’ve also seen markets growing at a faster clip than last year, especially in markets like Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, where social distancing is easier than in typically high-occupancy, urban locations like New York City. Road trips are taking off!
What changes do you see as sticking around for a while?
Though business travel has waned, it is returning slowly, and as our CEO Chris Nassetta shared during a recent earnings call, the makeup of that business travel varies to prior years. If all things remain equal, we should continue to see positive movement toward recovery. In addition to this, the concept of “hybrid meetings” (combination of virtual and in-person), as shared by Hilton’s CEO in recent interviews, will certainly kick into high gear as necessary technology infrastructures are put in place to support.
Have you seen anything positive come out of this?
On the personal side, I have to say it’s been nice that people have had a chance to reconnect with friends and family in a different way. For those not impacted by the virus, I know many people who have improved their exercise routines and cleaned up their diets. It is sometimes hard to maintain healthy eating and regular exercise for those of us who travel frequently for business, not to mention sleep interruptions from changes in time zone.
And then I would say, speaking within the Hilton organization, it has brought teams together to work more collaboratively than in the past. There is a renewed sense of partnership and having to get the work done between everyone. We’ve been successful in streamlining efforts across a complex, matrixed organization.
Do you have any advice for someone in revenue management who is just returning from furlough?
The first order of business, whatever organization you’re working for, is getting up to speed on all that has happened over the last few months. Focuses have shifted dramatically. At the end of the day, it’s still revenue management, and you must think about things like high demand and opportunity nights of the week, but KPIs and priorities may have changed. Finally, given the fact that we can no longer use prior-year history as a benchmark, I would recommend reading as much as you can about industry projections, emerging trends, and event shifts that will affect demand and resulting strategic decisions.
For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.