Keeping the Focus on Talent

By Karen K. Wollard, Ed.D., CHDM, Adviser, HSMAI Foundation Board of Directors

In January 2020, the HSMAI Foundation Board of Directors met at the Omni Berkshire Place Hotel in Manhattan. The discussion included a just-launched website designed to attract new talent to hotel sales, marketing, and revenue optimization positions, strategies for retention, and initiatives expected to potentially open hundreds of positions in hotels and related industries for military spouses. At the time, military spouse unemployment stood at 25 percent even as thousands of hotel positions went unfilled and the national unemployment rate dipped below 4 percent. Foundation board members acknowledged that while the industry was doing well, change was coming ever more quickly, and how we responded, trained, taught, and educated hospitality professionals had to be a priority.

How right they were. When the board met this month — a year later — it was via Zoom. And the Foundation’s focus on educating and motivating talent was more relevant than ever thanks to a pandemic that has decimated the industry with layoffs, furloughs, and closures — including of the Omni Berkshire Place.

During the opening discussion, we asked each board member to answer this question: Where is your passion for talent? Because, in an industry reeling from more change than many thought possible, there is still a passion for the work among the people who do it. Sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals have been asked to come together in new ways, while working apart, to plan a way forward as a commercial team. There are concerns, there are plans, and there is optimism about what comes after the pandemic’s chaos.

Meanwhile, the exodus is real. As hospitality organizations continue to shift priorities, many emerging professionals are finding it hard to locate development opportunities or see a career path ahead. Students and younger talent are defecting to industries where more predictable futures beckons, potentially damaging the talent pipeline for years to come.

Even as we face that challenge, workforce issues are shifting. Foundation board members discussed social justice as a key consideration, with their companies focusing on gender and diversity initiatives. Recent reports that job losses during the pandemic have overwhelmingly affected women have been a wake-up call — especially because women are key to any economic rebound and family-buying decisions, especially in travel.

Similarly, board members shared that wellbeing and self-development are rising topics for hospitality organizations. As teams manage crushing workloads amid relentless pressure, Zoom fatigue, and continuing unknowns, wellness initiatives that focus on building personal and professional resilience have found growing support. Team members are taking on new roles, growing by studying or enrolling in courses, or simply stretching into new areas. This flexibility to try new roles has helped bolster loyalty and retention, especially among newer hires who want and expect individualized opportunities to prepare for a desirable career path.

All that said, many Foundation board members said that optimism abounds as one of the largest industries in the world looks toward recovery. Hospitality schools are telling students that the opportunities to rise have never been greater, even if they must toil in the trenches for a while longer. Human resources executives have become key players in their organizations’ planning, with many finding their positions elevated to the C-suite for the first time.

For the foreseeable future, the talent crisis isn’t going anywhere, but our talents might be. Figuring out what hospitality can do for them will be an ongoing challenge — and a continued focus of the HSMAI Foundation.

Executive Briefing: IHG’s Tamara Laster

Tamara Laster is in the hospitality business — as in, figuring out how the business of hospitality works. Newly promoted to vice president of global sales strategy for IHG, she started her career outside hospitality, joining Accenture right out of college and working in strategy consulting and performance management for a variety of corporate clients, then moving to a smaller firm, North Highland, for more of the same.

“I came to IHG as part of a project for North Highland around the 2008 financial crisis, as help with the corporate travel and corporate transient segment,” Laster said. “I loved it so much, I decided to move over to hospitality, because I enjoy the ability to formulate sales strategy and then see that brought to light and see how that impacts revenue and impacts the company. That was really fun to me.”

Recently, Laster talked to HSMAI about balancing the qualitative and the quantitative, creating a global sales strategy during a global pandemic, and looking ahead — short term and long term.

When you worked in consulting, did you specialize in hospitality or travel?

No, I didn’t. It was more around sales strategy. When you’re in consulting, you get a lot of different projects that expose you to a lot of different things, but ultimately, over that period of time, I settled into sales strategy. I was able to take those transferable skills into hospitality and then apply that to our future meeting sector as well as to our corporate transient sector.

What do you like about working in hospitality?

It’s interesting, because people think that it’s simpler than it is, and it’s actually very complex. The challenges that you have change day to day. What I love about hospitality is the fundamental premise — true hospitality is the ability to be able to create a home away from home. But what I like [about hospitality as a career] is that it’s an ever-changing field of experiences. Things change all the time, and you have to change with them, from how people buy, to the demographics of your travelers and your guests. You have to be flexible and agile and really scrappy based upon what the market conditions are. That’s the fun part of hospitality for me.

During your time in hospitality sales, what skills have been the most valuable to you?

Being able to connect with people across different parts of the business and even in different lines of business has been important. But then also, being able to understand how to strike a balance between the qualitative and quantitative. Hospitality is a lot about how people feel and what the experience is, and loyalty is generated by that experience, but it’s also about the quantitative piece — so, experience really drives what you’re looking for from a strategy perspective.

Is that something that’s unique to hospitality?

In other organizations, strategy is all about the data and what the data says you need to do. But in hospitality, it’s taking that data and combining it with the experience, because the truth of the matter is, if people are comfortable in a hotel room, they’ll come back. You to look at the buyer’s experience, the guest’s experience, and wrap that into what strategies you implement. That’s unique.

What are your priorities in your new role with IHG?

I’m the VP of global sales strategy, so really taking on IHG’s B2B strategy. Programs and initiatives for corporate, for group and meetings, and for small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] are the priorities for my role. But also, with COVID being so top of mind, it’s positioning us for the fastest recovery possible.

How do you approach creating a global sales strategy when we’re in the middle of a global pandemic?

I like to use the word “scrappy,” but being flexible and agile are really important — being able to respond rapidly to changing circumstances and have your team ready to change based upon what’s happening out there in the market. Most markets are shutting down and then they’re opening up simultaneously, so keeping your finger on the pulse of that and then connecting with teams around the globe and sharing best practices and information and insights — that’s what keeps you aware in a situation like this. That is a part of strategy that I really love, that having to flex that scrappy muscle, for lack of a better word.

How closely are you working with other areas like marketing and revenue optimization?

Day to day, I’m working with sales, I’m working with marketing, and working with revenue. In a situation like this where demand is low, where there is so much uncertainty, you have to remain connected. You have to make sure you’re still reaching out to those people who are incredibly loyal, with loyalty [programs] through marketing. From a revenue perspective, you have to manage and optimize your revenue through all of the different revenue management principles that exist out there — making sure that you have the right rates for the right time with the right fences, or unfenced. And then with sales, there are people who are still traveling. We know that nurses are still traveling, those on the front lines, essential workers, are still traveling. How do we make sure that we sell to them, make sure our product is accessible to them? So, those three functions are critical at a time like this.

What’s your outlook for hospitality sales over the next year or so?

In strategy, you have to look at the short term and look at the long term. What we’re seeing is that the SME segment is the most resilient segment. They are going to return quicker than maybe our larger corporate. We’re also looking at the fact that our larger corporate travelers are likely going to start traveling, but they’re going to be a little bit more conservative in their approach.

I think everybody agrees that groups will be the last [business to return], but the amazing thing that I see us positioned for is smaller groups. We have a lot of hotels and secondary and tertiary organizations that are able to support those smaller meetings, so I think we’re going to see the ability to do that as well.

Further restrictions are going to be a challenge, but as demand comes back, we’re trying to be well positioned to continue to grow the business. I think everybody would say that international inbound will take a lot longer to get back, but we expect that leisure is going to come back first and then business will follow. Just looking at the tea leaves and just seeing where there’s interest and making sure we keep our finger on the pulse of what’s happening is most important.

What advice would you give to someone who is just getting started in hospitality today?

I would say to take it all in and understand there are different ways that people travel for different reasons, and you have to speak to those different segments in different ways. I know that that’s basic, but there’s a tendency whenever you go into a new line of business to think that you have to address your customers in one way. And I would say, remember that your customers buy for different reasons. The experience is so critical, so pay attention to the customer experience, the buying experience, the guest experience. Put guests and customers at the center of everything, and that will help you be the most successful in the hospitality industry.

Preparing for the Recovery

On Jan. 28, Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, will present a webinar on “Preparing for the Recovery” for HSMAI Organizational Members. During the session, he’ll forecast the next year for hospitality and travel, spotlighting the challenges and opportunities ahead. Recently he offered HSMAI a preview of what to expect.

What factors do you consider when you’re preparing an economic outlook in this type of environment?
There are both tailwinds and headwinds facing the economy right now, and then there are fundamental external factors that we’ve got to weigh. The starting point for any forecasting right now is a set of what we think are reasonable assumptions about the pandemic. The major factors that we are weighing in our modeling are: what are infection rates and hospitalizations as we go through 2021, and behind that is, what is the rate of vaccinations? Right now, the baseline forecast that CDC has, which doesn’t seem too outlandish, is that by the end of June, about half the U.S. population could be vaccinated.

You stack up infection-based immunity, vaccinations, warmer weather, and you begin to get to a scenario where the second half of this year could look pretty good for travel. But on the economic front, we’re faced with still severe damage from the recession earlier in the year and job losses presenting themselves again in December in the face of lockdowns. So, the question is, can the U.S. economy prevail through this extended period of weakness? And there we’re factoring in the effects of stimulus, which are actually pretty significant in terms of preventing an economic spiral. Add to that very, very low interest rates, the effects on mortgages and debt, the fact that households have now saved $1.3 trillion over the last nine months, the fact that higher-income households have been relatively unscathed as a result of this crisis, the fact that survey data points to a significant amount of pent-up demand — all fairly encouraging information.

If you take the forecast being produced every month with STR, we’re looking at a first half of the year where room demand relative to 2019 is still pretty weak. The second half of the year we think is going to look markedly better. However, it’s primarily — as in almost exclusively — off the back of the leisure market. The group market we think is going to see signs of life in the fourth quarter.

So, the recovery for all intents and purposes really begins in the fourth quarter. We’ll see some smaller, regional meetings in the summer, but in terms of the the bread and butter that really makes or breaks a property’s year — those meetings, I think, you really start looking at late fall, early winter for those to come back. And even then, attendance is going to be a little bit slow because you’ve got the dual headwinds of companies still strengthening their balance sheets and some reluctance to actually travel.

What is the biggest unknown for the travel and hospitality market?
I think that the biggest unknown is how long it takes for groups to restore confidence and for all parts of the ecosystem — exhibitors and other sponsors, participants, planners, destinations, and centers, and opening policy on the government side — to start to lock in place. And how long it takes for all those actors to come to the line around recovery — it’s all going to be driven by the demand side, ultimately.

Are there opportunities out there for travel and hospitality people who are looking for them?
On the leisure side, among higher-end travelers, that demand has been really robust, so tracking that higher-end traveler — they’re in good shape and very eager and willing to spend on the right experiences. The other opportunity would be regional travel, because U.S. international outbound is going to be suppressed. There’s going to be a lot of U.S. residents who are looking for domestic trips.

And, actually, there were more outbound trips than inbound trips in 2019, so if you swap them out, you could actually be up on a trip basis, because in 2019 there were more U.S. residents who traveled abroad than there were inbound travelers. If you’re able to convert all those would-be outbound travelers to domestic trips, you can more than offset the loss in international inbound.

But there are going to be winners and losers even as we go through the next year. We’ll certainly see some of the largest markets continue to struggle, to the advantage of resort, rural, mountain-park type destinations when you think about that summer travel season in particular. People aren’t going to plan the Hollywood tour or New York with Broadway. I think the likelihood is that it’s going to be a partial recovery, whereas places that have more of an outdoor product, a lower-density product, some of them actually did fairly well last summer and could do even better in the coming year.

Tourism Economics’ Adam Sacks will present “Preparing for the Recovery” at 2 p.m. EST on Jan. 28, 2021. Sign up here.

HSMAI Customer Insight: A Look Back at 2020 as We Prepare to Move Ahead | Amadeus

By: Katie Moro, Vice President Data Partnerships, Hospitality, Amadeus

Looking back at 2020, I believe it’s fair to say that the most frequently used word was “unprecedented.” The impact of COVID-19 truly brought more significant global disruption to our industry than at any time in history. While we’re all still navigating through what it means to live in this “new normal,” it’s important to understand where we ended the year as we think about moving forward into 2021 with hope on the horizon.

2020 by the Numbers – Global Perspective

Looking at 2020 full-year performance, every region of the world saw reductions in occupancy, average daily rate (ADR), and Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) compared to 2019.  Worldwide, RevPAR declined by 60% over the previous year due to a 50% decline in demand and a 21% erosion of ADR. Europe experienced the greatest impact on occupancy, while Asia the most decline from rate loss.

The Impact for the United States

Looking at the United States, the country experienced an overall decline in RevPAR of 58%, primarily through a 47% decline in occupancy and 21% decline in average rate.

The introduction of COVID-19 travel restrictions created the most significant impact on U.S. hotel performance in April 2020 as occupancies dropped to a record low of 13.7%.  Occupancies gradually increased following this low point with a peak of 43% in October. As we moved into November and December and a resurgence of virus transmission, we saw modest reductions in occupancy and RevPAR. ADR is holding stable following the increases coming out of the initial drops in April.

Source: Amadeus Demand360® as of January 2, 2020

The United States also saw a shift in traveler demographics during 2020.  The Retail segment was the prominent traveler group in the U.S., with 34% of the consumed room nights associated with leisure travelers.


Source: Amadeus Demand360® as of January 2, 2020

As mentioned in previous articles, hotels also experienced a shift in booking channels.  The Direct channel surpassed other booking options with 40% of room nights booked by guests calling the hotel directly, presumably to inquire about available amenities, safety policies, cancellation terms, and general COVID-19 precaution related questions.

Source: Amadeus Demand360® as of January 2, 2020

Perhaps the strongest indicator of traveler uncertainty was reflected in the significant reduction in booking lead times.  With the unpredictability of COVID-19 transmission surges leading to regularly changing travel restrictions, the majority of travelers waited until the last minute to book accommodations.  Booking lead times dwindled as 92% of all reservations were booked within 30 days of arrival, 70% within seven days of arrival, and a whopping 38% on the day of arrival.

A Look Ahead Into 2021

While we look optimistically to the future, we know that recovery will take some time. This is seen in the current worldwide occupancy at 7% for 2021.

Continuing with the trend of shorter booking lead times, the strongest performance is seen in Q1 across all regions except for Europe.  Notably, the South Pacific demonstrates the highest Q1 performance of all regions with 19% occupancy on the books, potentially boosted by hope for travel restrictions lessening in the region.

Source: Amadeus Demand360® as of January 2, 2020

Again, looking specifically at the United States, the country currently shows an overall committed occupancy of 8% for 2021, including bookings for group and individual leisure travelers.  The most significant volume is in Q1, again driven by the significantly reduced lead times as individuals navigate through changing travel guidelines, accessibility to COVID-19 testing, and the timelines for vaccine availability.

Source: Amadeus Demand360® as of January 2, 2020

Hotels also continue to see most of their booking volume through the Direct channel and lead times continue to be strongest within the 0-7 day booking window.

Knowing that the current situation will continue for the next few months, hoteliers should remain alert and monitor performance in their market.

  • Watch for shifts in booking channels, and lead times. Understand who is traveling to your market and tailor your communication to address guest concerns proactively.
  • Sanitation and safety continue to remain top priorities. Ensure this information, along with booking and cancellation policies, are easily accessible on all booking channels.
  • Consider offering your loyal guests incentives to stay at your property based on their preferences.
  • Evaluate your rate strategy. Booking trends show a leveling off of ADR around $111 in the United States since June. Be mindful that, in the current market, lowering the rate is not resulting in increased demand. Travelers who have the confidence to travel also have the available budget.

No doubt I’m not alone when I say that after nearly a year of limited travel, I can’t wait to get back out and explore the world again.  So many people are eager for their opportunity to seek out new destinations and adventures, particularly after such a long period of isolation.  Take the time now to prepare to capture the demand we all are eagerly awaiting just around the corner.

HSMAI Partner Insight: The Power of Intelligent Process Automation

For hotels, loading negotiated rates in a timely manner is key to successful corporate travel sales. Rate loading ensures that negotiated rates are available for corporate customers to book in the hotel’s reservation systems and third-party channels. Here’s how Choice Hotels worked with ZS to use robotics and intelligent process automation (IPA) to almost entirely automate its rate loading process, resulting in significantly shorter lead times, cost savings, improved customer satisfaction and higher revenue.

THE CHALLENGE

Achieving speed and accuracy in rate loading has always been a challenge for the hotel industry. Most hotel brands have a complex, manual rate-loading process involving multiple touchpoints, teams, and systems, which can lead to costly delays and errors. In addition, it often takes up to 30 days for brands to load rates, meaning that corporate customers can’t book a brand’s hotels during that time. Moreover, once rates are loaded, corporate customers and their travel management companies must conduct expensive rate audits to ensure that the loaded rates are accurate.

Choice, like many other hotel companies, wanted to improve its rate-loading speed. “We wanted to upgrade our ability to load rates in a reasonable amount of time, with greater accuracy,” said Chad Fletcher, vice president of global sales at Choice. “With feedback we received from customers, we saw firsthand the opportunity to quicken the rate loading process to help facilitate deals.”

Abhijit Patel, vice president of marketing and distribution strategy at Choice, agreed: “We listened to hotels and corporate clients and determined that, through automation, we could improve accuracy and speed and seize additional revenue opportunities.”

Choice had already reinforced its commitment to corporate customers through marked investments in its brands, properties, and technology. Choice saw improving rate loading as an opportunity to double down on this commitment to corporate customers and use quick, seamless, and accurate rate loading as a competitive differentiator.

THE SOLUTION

Working with ZS, Choice implemented IPA, which allows computer software, or a robot, to mimic the work that humans had previously done. Rate loading was a very good candidate for automation through IPA because it involves legacy systems, structured data, and repetitive but rules-based tasks.

By automating significant portions of the rate-loading process, IPA decreased manual effort so rates could be loaded faster, and with no errors. “Since everything with rate loading is a process, and you’re repeating the process hundreds of thousands of times a year, IPA was definitely the right thing to do,” Patel said. “It allows you to monitor performance in real time to show what’s working and what’s not, using a combination of automation and strong analytics.”

Choice’s history of working with ZS made the firm the ideal collaborator for this effort, Fletcher added. “With any project, they bring inherent knowledge about our people and our process that’s unparalleled,” he said. “That’s the value they bring at the very beginning, and the output is why we keep coming back.”

THE IMPACT

Through implementing IPA, Choice’s average rate-loading time decreased from 14 days to two days. Moreover, because rates are available for booking much earlier than before, Choice expects to realize a significant increase in revenue in shifting manual staffing effort for rate loading to higher-value activities.

IPA has both increased customer satisfaction and helped the company get an edge over its competitors, Fletcher says. “Corporate travel managers are telling us that speed and accuracy for rate loading have improved, and there’s more clarity around the process. We follow up with them when it’s completed, in a more consistent way, and they’re not getting that with the competition.” Moreover, IPA has allowed Choice to be more flexible in serving corporate customers during the pandemic. Choice was one of the first hotel brands to roll over its rates from 2020 to 2021 automatically while allowing corporate customers to negotiate deeper discounts where it made sense.

Choice is also finding other opportunities to deploy IPA, including responding to RFPs on behalf of franchisees. “We’re combining IPA with AI for better pricing and looking at using it in other areas of the company to shift away from manual processes to help improve efficiency by 10 to 20%,” Patel said.

Overall, IPA helped Choice reinforce its value proposition to corporate travel managers: to make their lives easier. “Nothing shows our commitment to our customers more than solving one of their biggest pain points,” Patel said. “We went from a year where we often received comments on the rate-loading process to, the very next year, zero complaints. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

For additional information on ZS, link here or contact:
Kunal Shah: ZS | Associate Principal: kunal.shah@zs.com

Top Tools, Tips, and Tactics for Hotel Marketers

By John Jimenez, CHSP, Vice President of E-Commerce, Noble Investment Group, and member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board

The new year is the perfect time to start fresh with new strategies for success. As 2020 drew to a close, members of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) shared their best tips, tricks, and tactics for a successful 2021 during their monthly call. I presented some suggestions that I found to be the most helpful, while other members also shared some of their advice.  Here are some of their suggestions for making the most of the new year.

TIPS

MAB members shared apps, programs, and workflows that brought value not just to their professional lives but to their personal lives as well. As we have all spent — and continue to spend — much of our time on Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms, there are several different plugins or interfaces that can help make your presentations more engaging.

One such application is Mmhmm. It is a separate app that allows you to control the presentation flow in a more granular way, adding a level of engagement and giving you more control of your presentation. Instead of switching back and forth from sharing your desktop and letting everyone see each other, Mmhmm lets you present content and yourself at the same time, as well as make yourself bigger or smaller on the screen when you want people to pay more attention to you versus what you’re sharing.

A similar option is Prezi Video, which is a plugin that allows you to present a content layer on the video feed. Prezi has the advantage of being compatible with all systems, while Mmhmm only works with Mac.

On the personal side, MyFitnessPal is a helpful app for taking care of yourself. Recovery isn’t just about the hospitality market, it’s also how we are recovering ourselves and treating our mental and physical health. MyFitnessPal helps you count calories, as it has thousands of foods/calorie counts stored and also uses AI to estimate the calorie count of your food if you upload a photo. It’s a convenient and simple way to track your calories as it eliminates much of the guesswork.

Other MAB members recommended tracking your sleep patterns through Sleep Cycle and using Peloton to work out. “When the whole world has gone awry, it’s helpful to do something to take care of yourself at the end of the day,” one MAB member said. “Even if everything else is out of your control, you can control yourself. That mental progress has been extremely helpful as I pushed through 2020.”

A final helpful application is Notion, is a free-form, cloud-based database that allows you to design your notes however you want and access them from anywhere. You can take notes or screenshots of presentations and save them with the date to look back on later, and also collaborate and share your notes with anyone. One MAB member described Notion as “the love child of Apple Notes, OneNote, and Evernote.”

TRICKS

There are many simple hacks that can improve workflow and productivity. One of the most valuable is to make sure that your workspace is set up to support the level of production that you need. If you are constantly presenting and finding yourself on camera, then it’s valuable to upgrade your space.

A boom microphone will only pick up your voice when it’s pointing to you and will block out all the noise in your background, such as kids running around, or loud sounds you have no control over, such as a lawn mower outside.

A teleprompter can also be a game changer when it comes to giving speeches or presentations, allowing you to make eye contact with your audience. You can write up what you want to say in a Word document or on a PowerPoint deck, then post that to the teleprompter. One MAB member recommended downloading PromptSmart, a voice-activated teleprompter that tracks your voice and scrolls through your presentation file in real time.

Several MAB members mentioned that to help improve their concentration and retention, they increase the speed of YouTube videos, forcing them to pay closer attention to what is being said. Similarly, the Outread app teaches you to read more quickly by allowing you to designate a pace at which you’d like to read material that you save throughout the day and then making you digest the material at that pace.

TACTICS

As far as actual tactics related to marketing, one idea is to use the advertising platforms on streaming services such as Hulu and Spotify, which allow even small businesses to launch ads for as little as $500 per month. You can even target hyperlocal audiences by choosing specific ZIP codes and demographics, which is especially valuable because many travelers are sticking close to home. Hulu doesn’t allow you to include a link, but it is still a valuable way to build awareness, while Spotify offers the advantage of dropping a link into the ad, allowing you to track bookings.

Another suggestion is to build a tactical database that lets you to pool your knowledge with other specialists, quickly get critical pieces of information, and continue to develop your tactics as things evolve. Airtable is one such database platform, allowing you to upload information to find an appropriate marketing tactic whenever you need it. For example, if you need to target awareness for a specific demographic, you can filter the database to show those tactics that your company has agreed are important.

The Prescription for Success

By Lori Kiel, CHDM, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer, The Kessler Collection, and member of HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board

Around the country, doctors are busier than ever writing prescriptions for COVID tests, treatments, and vaccines. Similarly, if we think of hotel revenue teams as doctors, they are prescribing strategy to marketing and sales teams. HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board (ROAB) discussed this topic on a recent call and shared what they believed was the prescription for success. Here are key takeaways from their discussion.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

It’s important to strike a balance between preparing for the future and continuing to stay afloat in the present. “Future-year goals are huge for us,” one ROAB member said. “It’s about understanding the timing of things that drive the sales activities we have going on right now. We have salespeople who are super eager to sell but are trying to target areas that aren’t ready to be sold to. It’s made us realize that we need to have a bit of patience.”

Several members wondered if vaccine data could possibly track demand growth, because that is connected to government regulation. “The things that have been the most impactful on demand have been government regulation and confidence in safety,” one member said. “I think it will be interesting to figure out how the vaccine will have a correlation to demand growth.”

Another member said that his company is using the Oxford Stringency Index to review market restrictions and how long they’ve been in place, to help get a better idea of what markets are still locked down and what markets they should put more effort toward targeting.

Another ROAB member mentioned that Cyber Monday sales from 2020 are great indicators of who may be booking and when. “We were really surprised by the traction the Cyber Monday sales got this year,” the member said. “We need to look at where those bookings are coming from. You can see which geographic markets might be more likely to be traveling, and the dates they’ve chosen give you an indication when there might be some demand forthcoming.”

ANOTHER YEAR OF RAPID CHANGES

Even as a vaccine is being distributed, 2021 is still going to be a year of challenges, requiring fast-thinking and flexibility. “I think we all have to be aware that even though it’s going to be better than last year, this is still far from a stabilized year,” one ROAB member said. “There will be more delays with vaccine distribution. We still don’t know about the international long haul. We need to acknowledge that it will not be perfect and the decisions that we will make for this year may not pencil out exactly how they might in a normal stabilized year.”

Other ROAB members stressed that it’s still important to be flexible when it comes to rebooking and cancellation policies. That can present a challenge, however, when someone wants to reschedule their booking or event from a non-busy time of year to a peak time and keep the same rate. One member recommended trying to shift groups by just a few days or weeks from their preferred reschedule date to make it work for both parties. “It seems like groups right now really don’t want to lose their deposits,” the member said. “Reserve the option to shift a couple days here and there or to a different week within a certain time period.”

Another member added that STR data may finally be coming back into play as meetings and events are projected to return in the latter half of the year — but just because it seems like a specific date will fall during peak time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still try to make it work with the group that wants to reschedule. “You win some and you lose some,” the member said. “The best option is to find a way to make it work and not let the new dates hinder success just because it’s not the optimal rate for that time.”

CONTINUE TO BE COLLABORATIVE

The only way to get through the ongoing crisis is to continue to work collaboratively with all disciplines. “We went to a realignment of when we see recovery as it relates to how we’re establishing the goals for the sales managers,” one ROAB member said. “That seemed for us to be a sticky point to make sure that everybody from sales to marketing to revenue management is on the same trajectory.”

Looking at trends is where revenue can really help sales and marketing, another member said. “To me, it comes down to analytics, and we’re getting more granular,” the member said. “So, we’re looking not only by segment but by size, and then looking at the month-over-month and, in some hotels, week-over-week trends to get a pulse on if people are actually buying or if they are just looking. I think this is where revenue can really help.”

Another member said that she is focused on making sure that data and information is properly distributed. “We’re directing those analytics not only to the sales team but to the property team as well,” the member said. “We’re looking at recovery state by state, so we need to push that change out directly instead of looking at recovery overall as a company.”

One member added that over the past year, so many people have shifted to different jobs or different disciplines that has created an optimal environment to work together. “We’re looking at all of our collateral and making sure it’s optimized, but then on the revenue side, we’re ensuring that the teams are more aggressively selling than they ever had before,” the member said. “I think it really is kind of a great example of the environment where every discipline needs to come together or you’re not going to be optimized.”

ROC Middle East: Meetings and Events in 2021 and Beyond

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing International (HSMAI)

HSMAI Middle East recently hosted ROC Middle East, a one-day hybrid event that included both in-person and virtual attendees. One of the sessions focused on the future of in-person versus virtual or hybrid events, with Dubai Tourism’s Steen Jakobsen, Knowland’s Kristi White, WiT’s Siew Hoon Yeoh, Accor’s Matthew Roberts, Cvent’s Chris Avery, and Reed Travel Exhibitions’ Danielle Curtis participating in a panel moderated by GVV Barcelo Hotel Group’s Raquel Lopez. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

The association market will return … eventually. “The association market will be the last to return because it is all based on discretionary funds,” said White, Knowland’s vice president of product management. “I think you’ll see hybrid meetings last longer there than other segments, but people need to come back.

“Most meetings are 100 attendees or fewer,” White said. “Large meetings — 2,000 or more — make up only a small of meetings in the U.S., Asia, and the Middle East. Our industry needs to understand the vast majority of meetings fall into numbers that people already feel comfortable meeting in. There is reason for optimism if we to respond differently. It won’t just fall into our laps. In the hospitality industry, we have seen the death of the sales hunter. We’re used to business falling into our laps. I’m hoping this will reset that. That’s the way we’re going to recover.”

A recent Accor survey showed mixed results. Roberts, Accor’s vice president for sales in the Middle East and Africa, presented takeaways from the company’s MICE (Managing Innovative and Creative Events) survey of 1,800 respondents around the world conducted this summer. Results showed respondents expect a 50-percent reduction across most meeting types (conferences, tradeshows, meetings, etc.) in 2021. In addition, 57 percent of respondents expect spend to decrease in 2021, while 25 percent expect to see no change in spend.

The survey also found that 78 percent of companies are investing in virtual meeting technology, with 49 percent of respondents expecting face-to-face meetings to decline significantly. Two-thirds of respondents said that flexible contracts and financial terms are something that they consider important when making decisions.

Face-to-face events can’t be replaced. “Hybrid events aren’t bad, they can reach a larger audience, and it is cost-effective,” said Jakobsen, associate vice president of Dubai Business Events and City Operations for Dubai Tourism. “But you can’t accidentally bump into someone and start a new business relationship like you can in person. That’s why face-to-face events will remain.

“Technology will continue to develop and be better 12 months from now, but you can’t replicate an in-person event,” Jakobsen said. “Once the vaccine is out, it’s about articulating the value of face-to-face events. People will attend only if it provides value, there is high-quality education, and we can instill confidence. If we can demonstrate that events can take place safely, I’m confident they will come back.”

We’ve been forced to think differently. “It has been quite challenging,” said Curtis, Reed Travel Exhibitions’ exhibition director for the Middle East. “It’s been a valuable learning curve. We’ve been coasting along and trying to give the best value to the industries we run events for, but it’s made us think about what the value is that were trying to create.

“Teaching our teams to sell virtually is a whole different ballgame, but it enabled us to continue the conversations to connect the communities we’re running events for.” Curtis said. “The virtual events enabled us to allow business conversations to continue virtually. Virtual events are not going away, but the education you get from a live event can’t be recreated from a virtual world. We need to embrace hybrid events and understand what our customers are looking for.”

We have to convince attendees to come to in-person events. “Right now, everyone is ready to try something new, so it’s the perfect opportunity for creativity,” said Yeoh, WiT’s founder and CEO. “I think that all physical events will have a virtual component, but not all virtual events will have a physical component.

“The minute restrictions are lifted, people will be back,” Yeoh said. “People want to come back to live events. The key question people will ask is not ‘Will physical events come back?’ but ‘Could I have attended this virtually?’ or ‘What will this do for me physically that I couldn’t get virtually?’. It’s about building networks, knowledge exchange, and the destination experience. We have to ask, ‘What do we have to do to make people want to be there physically?’ One of the lessons I have learned is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. This is an opportunity to do something new.”

Virtual events are great opportunities — but only if you design them right. “To be successful, we have to look at our people,” said Avery, Cvent’s regional vice president of sales, hospitality cloud. “Cvent Connect usually gets 5,000 attendees, but this year when we hosted it virtually, we had 40,000 attendees. It represents a huge opportunity for people to reach a greater audience.

“But we can’t just take the regular meeting and put cameras on it,” Avery said. “As hoteliers, our biggest fear should be a meeting planner taking a regular meeting, putting it on Zoom, and calling it a hybrid event. Our responsibility is working with event organizers and showing them the greater way they have to run meetings. We have to show the greater value, because if we don’t, hotel ballrooms can be replaced by warehouses. We need to make sure the event is truly hybrid to get the attendance.”

Understand Your Business Financial Scorecard in 2021

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

As part of Recovery Connections — a key feature of HSMAI’s Road to Recovery program — HSMAI is offering On-Demand Learning, a library of short recordings and how-to videos for hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals. That includes “Develop Your Business Acumen: Targeting Business Priorities,” which is ideal for any hotel professionals who want to start the new year by learning more about business acumen or working toward the CHBA certification.

Here is a key takeaway from the video:

Combine your three separate financial statements to get your business financial scorecard. You’ve got your income statement, balance sheet, and cash-flow statement. Each one provides different information. The income statement tells you how much money came in, what your expenses were, and what profit remains. The balance sheet shows the total value of the business and assets and how that value is divided between what the business owes to others and the net share that belongs to the owner. The cashflow statement shows how much cash you have on hand, including where it came from, where it was spent, and how much is left over.

Together, these statements give you the business financial scorecard, showing what happened in the past and where your business stands in the present. When you use this to target business challenges and opportunities, these statements become future-oriented, pointing out the next priorities for improving business results.

Recovery Connections is a weekly program with sales, marketing, and revenue optimization tracks that mix best-practices presentations with interactive small-group discussions. Sign up to watch past sessions, access On-Demand Learning — and register for future sessions.

The CHBA (Certified in Hospitality Business Acumen) designation program provides professional training in hospitality business acumen. Learn more — and register to take the course.

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