What’s Changing for Hotel Revenue Professionals

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

Over the past two weeks, HSMAI hosted two virtual Executive Roundtables for brand and hotel management company chief revenue officers to discuss the most pressing issues they are facing. The virtual Executive Roundtable for brand CROs was held June 30 and produced in partnership with Clairvoyix, ZS, and Phocuswright; find takeaways from HSMAI’s previous brand CRO virtual roundtable on March 24 here and here. The virtual Executive Roundtable for HMC CROs was held on July 1 and produced in partnership with Clairvoyix, STR, and ZS; find takeaways from HSMAI’s previous HMC CRO virtual roundtable on March 25 here and here.

Participating companies at the brand CRO roundtable included: Ashford, Auberge Resorts, Choice Hotels, Host Hotels, IGH, Loews Hotels & Co., Marriott International, MGM Resorts International, Omni Hotels and Resorts, PHG Consulting, Red Roof, RLH Corporation, and Rosewood Hotel Group.. Participating companies at the HMC CRO roundtable included: Charles Group Hotels, Colwen Hotels, Commonwealth Hotels, LLC, Concord Hotels, CoralTree Hospitality, Crescent Hotels and Resorts, Genuine Hospitality, LLC, Highgate, Hotel Investment Services, Inc., Island Hospitality Management, LodgeWorks, Lodging Hospitality, Marcus Hotels, North Central Group, OTO Development, Peachtree Hotel Group, Playa Hotels and Resorts, PM Hotel Group, Prism Hotels and Resorts, Pyramid Hotel Group, Shaner Hotels, Stonebridge Companies, Vail Resorts, and VRI Americas.

Participants at each roundtable chose what to focus on, but there were several overlapping themes between the programs. Here are key takeaways from the two discussions:

BUDGETING FOR 2021

Roundtable participants discussed 2021 budgets, which typically would start to be decided now, but some participants said they were holding off due to the uncertainty. “Internally we’re considering doing a very compressed budget season, not starting until at least September or October,” one brand professional said.

“We’ll have a delayed start and shorter than normal budgeting season,” one HMC participant said. “We have made the decision to do the modeling off of 2019, because it’s a better base to use than 2020.”

“We’ve started those conversations, as painful as they are,” another HMC participant said. “We had more than 30 ideas on our board on how to do this, but everyone kept coming back to the same thing, which is going back to 2019 and looking at the month-by-month decline to 2020, and build a transient and group forecast that supports that, which is the opposite of everything we’ve ever done. We believe if you try to do segmentation first, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten instead of what the market will bear.”

“We’re mindful that any time spent doing the budget is time away from the operation,” another brand CRO said. “We are looking at virtual options to save time and expense. We’re looking for our partners to tell us what they need and find something that works for everyone.”

One brand CRO said the budgeting process might be simpler in some respects this year because they have already been working much closer with individual properties and there is more clarity there. “We’re closer to the hotels that we ever have been, so it should be a seamless process,” the participant said. “They know our expectations and there shouldn’t be any surprises there.”

FORECASTING

One HMC participant said that the forecasting information they need to present has changed. Another HMC participant said: “It’s not enough anymore for our owners and senior leaders, they want to see what’s on the books. There’s a lot more micromanaging and looking into details that in the past they never would have. Some of our traditional systems don’t work well to communicate the details, so we’ve been putting things in a Google Doc where it’s more easily accessible to them.”

Brand professionals said that they are mostly looking at predicting leisure travel and staying away from groups, because it will be a long time until those bookings return. “It seems like it will be so far off until we see any recovery in that area,” one participant said. “It’s sad, but it’s going to be the last part of our business that will return.”

Several other participants said the need for forecasting has increased, putting more pressure on their teams and elevating the importance of that skill. “Because the entire industry has been shut down, we don’t have any good data in our RMS system, so we’ve had to be a lot nimbler in our forecasting,” one HMC participant said. “Our team have been pulled into lots of different forecasting that they aren’t typically used to — ancillary revenue, rooms, total profitability.”

“We’ve centralized a lot more of our portfolio, but that means that we don’t have the bandwidth for that kind of forecasting that is needed,” another HMC participant said. “We’ve discussed hiring a dedicated forecasting team to take some of that off of the revenue managers.”

Participants said they are prioritizing customer sentiment data right now, citing several forecasting tools such as STR, internal data, and CBRE. “We’re relying more on third-party information than we ever have in this process,” one HMC participant said. “We have to listen to the customer.”

“What I found is that every region and submarket is very different, and we’re starting to see that some of the third-party data is messy compared to what our own data is telling us,” one brand participant said. “But we had to get to a point where we could rely on our own customer data again after our hotels were closed.”

PRICING AND ATTRACTING CUSTOMERS

There were several common themes between the two roundtables when it comes to making optimal pricing decisions. Many of the participants at the two roundtables have been through the 2008 financial crisis and/or 9/11, when the industry faced similar challenges, and said they were trying to communicate the lessons they learned from those events to their younger colleagues.

To start, many participants stressed that hotels should not lower rate, no matter what. “We’re sticking to our regular pricing philosophy, that pricing doesn’t drive demand,” one brand participant said. “This has not changed.”

While pricing is an important tool that hotels can use to attract customers, one participants pointed out that it’s equally important to focus on attracting customers who are likely to book instead of wasting resources and bringing down price in the hopes of attracting longshots. “We’re trying to help our hotels understand that they need to ‘fish where the fish are,’” another HMC participant said. “We’re coaching them to focus on travelers who are willing to travel right now, instead of trying to attract people who aren’t ready.”

SKILLS NEEDED

Participants from both roundtables agreed that flexibility is still a key skill as it has been throughout the pandemic — and will continue to be for at least the immediate future. “We’re looking for team members who can reimagine the processes and know what they shouldn’t do anymore, in order to leave time to do what they should be doing instead,” an HMC participant said.

“We’ve automated and centralized a lot that used to be done at the property level, so that there is more structure and accountability,” a brand participant said. “Everyone else is doing things they haven’t done before. People have to be open to that and embrace it.”

Participants said revenue and sales have been working together more than ever. “We need people who can see beyond data and are willing to test new ideas,” one HMC participant said. “This is a departure for many revenue people, so we have been partnering with salespeople instead.”

“We need people who are able to cross over from revenue to sales,” a brand participant said. “Whatever gets thrown at us in the next 18 to 24 months, we need to know that they’re going to be able to handle it.”

Another brand participant added: “RFP season is coming up, but our salespeople are furloughed, so we have to take people from distribution to cover for them. It shows that there are some positive things that came out of this, like everyone being more willing to pitch in.”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Connecting With Travelers in a Post-COVID Marketplace

By Kathleen A. Cullen, Senior Vice President, PHG Consulting

In the short to medium term, most demand likely will come from domestic travel, which means that hotels will be going after a smaller piece of the pie or finding new regional demographics to target. Creativity and connections with the local community and smaller businesses will help create improved value propositions and programming that is unique but also locally inspired. Hotels in secondary or tertiary locations actually might see more activity and interest because they are farther out from primary markets and offer larger spaces.

The following highlights some marketing tactics your hotels should consider preparing in advance. The key to all messaging will be to highlight health, safety, and sanitation:

 

  • Be ready with drive-market and staycation messaging, including:
    • Geotarget investments to focus on the drive market.
    • Consider including free parking or offering gas gift cards or credits.
    • Social media is a great way to reach a targeted (and potentially local) audience for your hotel.
    • Work with your digital agency to align paid search to target the drive market and keywords related to your specific locations and activities.
  • Travelers may research for a longer time before they are comfortable booking travel. Consider expanding retargeting criteria to allow a broader timeframe.
    • Make the most of loyalty programs and your guest profile database. Prepare specific messaging and unique offers to these guests. Communicating private offers directly to them avoids disruption of publicly available retail offers, including:
    • Think creatively about how to engage with past guests or loyal guests. Those who are part of a loyalty program or who have stayed multiple times are people who already have shown they like staying at the hotel. They are typically resilient travelers who want recognition more than they want a deal. Offer an incentive to join your loyalty program — for example, consider waiving resort or urban fees.
    • Reach out to those guests who had to cancel and invite them back.
    • Reach out to those who may have called for information but did not book; a recommended best practice is to track this information if you are not doing this already.
    • Those who missed milestone celebrations will be eager to celebrate with friends and family. Think about packages geared toward various celebrations.
  • Think creatively about the use of physical space. Can you use it in a transformative way? Meeting space likely will not be occupied as it was previously, so what are some other opportunities that may be of interest to your local market and guests? A popup farmers market? A collection of boutiques?
  • Consider the various methods of transportation to get to your hotel and identify strategies to work with them. Can you partner with a train company? Likewise, airlift for destination markets will be key. Work with local airport authorities to get air routes back.

Excerpted from New Rules to Be Market Ready, by Kathleen A. Cullen, a new white paper available from HSMAI and PHG Consulting. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

What’s Changing for Hotel Sales Professionals

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

As a part of its latest series of virtual Executive Roundtables connecting hotel executives working in specific functions, HSMAI hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for chief sales officers on July 7 in partnership with Clairvoyix, ZS, and Groups360. (Read recaps of HSMAI’s previous virtual CSO Executive Roundtable, held on March 26, here and here.) Participants chose what topics the program focused on; participating companies included Accor, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, Club Quarters Hotels, Drury Hotels LLC, Extended Stay America, Loews Hotels & Co., MGM Resorts International, OYO Hotels Inc., and Radisson Hotel Group-Americas. Here are takeaways from the program:

INCENTIVE PLANS

The way companies are handling incentive plans for salespeople varies greatly, with roundtable participants expressing uncertainty as to the best way to implement them going forward. Several participants said they are waiting until business comes back before making any moves toward reinstating incentive plans, while others are in a constant state of flux.

“We have maintained flexibility to change on a monthly basis,” one participant said. “It’s hard, because our employees are realizing that the results of their efforts aren’t what they were before, when they are doing all they can to bring in business.”

One participant stressed the importance of having incentives to motivate employees now more than ever. “There’s a renewed interest in giving incentives, because everyone is doing the work of multiple people right now,” the participant said. “April was one of our highest-booking months and we want to reward the employees that are working harder than ever to bring in business.”

But another participant disagreed. “It would feel awkward to give incentives while so many are furloughed,” the participant said. “Their motivation now is to bring in work so that we can bring more of the team back.”

READJUSTING PRIORITIES

As the situation evolves every week, sales professionals are taking note of what is working and what is no longer applicable in this new world. “We are trying to unlearn everything,” one participant said. “What got us here won’t get us where we want to go. Past approaches aren’t going to work for an extended period of time.”

Another participant said that while flexibility in skillsets is important, being proactive and adaptable is equally necessary, as many salespeople will be working across multiple properties and potentially multiple regions more than they were pre-COVID. “The ability to navigate different markets in varying degrees of recovery is important,” the participant said. “They need to be able to take what is working and apply it to another market but be willing to abandon it very quickly if they have to.”

Another area where salespeople have to readjust their focus is key accounts. Participants said that they need to shift away from low-demand segments, no matter how important they were previously, and focus on segments that are increasing now. “Key accounts people have to be flexible and focus on other business,” one participant said. “You can’t rely on key accounts continuing to be key accounts in the future. We have to identify new customers and focus on them.”

Another participant has created a business development team focused on bringing in new groups that the copmany previously did not target. “We have to start engaging with other sectors we weren’t focused on before,” the participant said. “Everyone needs to be quick on their feet and adapt to what’s on the books now, instead of what was there in the past.”

RFPS AND PRICING

GBTA announced previously that it was recommending suspending the RFP season for this year. Roundtable participants shared their thoughts on RFPs that are nonetheless coming in and their suggestions for 2021 pricing without RFPs.

“I would like to see encouragement for corporations to delay RFPs to as late as possible,” one participant said. “The best thing we can do as an industry is to say that there is no point in sending out RFPs now and expect people to respond in July. There’s nobody on property to respond to them.” Another participant added: “It’s impossible and illogical right now to expect companies to have any idea about 2021 right now.”

Several participants said they are encouraging hotels to utilize dynamic pricing going forward. “Hotels are going to set price at the local level, and anything we can have that can be off that is a lot less work and a lot fairer to both sides,” one participant said. Another participant added: “Some companies are really not that keen on dynamic pricing, but I really don’t understand why. It’s the best thing for them right now.”

“In the past, their hesitation was that it was harder to manage a budget because they didn’t know what the impact was going to be,” another participant said, “but in situations like this, it’s to their benefit to be on dynamic pricing as an industry and it would be a reduction in costs for our partners as well.”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

 

Repositioning F&B to Succeed in the New Restaurant Reality

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

Much like the rest of the hospitality industry, food and beverage is at the precipice of change, accelerated by the lockdowns and prohibition of dine-in business brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. With that in mind, Sherri Kimes, researcher and professor emeritus at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and HSMAI Revenue Optimization Vanguard Lifetime Award winner, gave a presentation titled “How to Reposition Your F&B to Succeed in the ‘New’ Restaurant Reality” as a part of HSMAI’s virtual ROC@Home event.

While the COVID-19 crisis has brought F&B issues to a head, they have been underlying for a while, as customers have shown a preference for off-premises dining such as takeout or delivery. Many F&B professionals have been slow to embrace this because of lower profitability, and thus they haven’t made the necessary investments for the future. But when restaurants closed as part of the coronavirus lockdown, they were forced to adapt in order to survive, rapidly bringing about the transition to a new restaurant reality.

Kimes explained how F&B professionals can continue to maximize the tools they have at their disposal and embrace this new reality. The challenge is trying to make the same amount of money — or more money — with fewer diners. Kimes’ main points: Restaurateurs need both to tweak their existing systems and to innovate. Meanwhile, she recommended utilizing tools such as pricing, upselling, menu design, promotion, and distribution as always. “You want to use these to your full advantage, because they are always going to be available to you,” Kimes said.

Beyond that, it’s necessary for hotels to tweak restaurants, banqueting, and in-room dining, all of which need to be rethought in light of COVID-19 limitations. “What can you do to generate more revenue from what you have right now?” she asked.

Most obviously, restaurants need to readjust the number of patrons they can serve in their space. Kimes suggested finding unused space, such as excess guest rooms, to serve customers — and focusing on customers outside of the dining room. “The concept of capacity has changed,” Kimes said. “You have to make the most of the seats that you can fill. You can’t do it by raising the price too much, but if you have a lot of excess staff, see if they can deliver it. There’s some wonderful food in hotel restaurants and we should get it out there.”

Indeed, food delivery is what saved a lot of restaurants during the worst of the pandemic, but many hotel restaurants have been slow to embrace it. “There’s a lot of potential there,” Kimes said. “There’s a lot of issues as well, but it’s a revenue stream that you need to look at.”

While banquets for business meetings and large weddings may not be happening any time soon, hotels need to find new ways to use their event space and kitchens when things are slow. Examples Kimes offered included utilizing the space for small weddings so guests can spread out and hosting a popup restaurant. “I saw a wedding the other day in a banquet hall, and they had their masks on, but it was still a very special event, even with 14 people there,” Kimes said.

In-room dining also offers interesting possibilities, Kimes said. Guests might prefer to eat in their rooms as opposed to eating out, which brings opportunities, but the danger lies with delivering food to them safely. Kimes suggested using delivery robots as an innovative solution. “This is a wonderful opportunity that you should take full advantage of,” she said. “It’s an unwanted opportunity, but it’s a chance, so don’t waste it.”

There are many more creative opportunities for restaurants to serve customers from a distance. Kimes gave several examples that she has seen become successful, including a signature cocktail delivery service, selling food kits to make things like breakfast sandwiches, and sending out wine as part of virtual wine tastings. “We never thought anything like this would be successful, but it has been,” Kimes said. “We’re used to dealing with things being the same, but they’re not the same anymore. Right now, there’s a limit to how much you can do with rooms and you have to find other ways to generate revenue. It’s a great opportunity to differentiate yourself.”

To get an all-access pass that allows you to watch all of the presentations from ROC@Home in full, visit https://roc-home.heysummit.com/. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

 

What’s Changing for Hotel Management Company Digital Marketers

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

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, HSMAI has served as a resource to connect peer groups to discuss the changing landscape. Having hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for brand chief digital officers on June 23, HSMAI hosted a similar program for hotel management company CDOs on June 24, giving participants a chance to catch up and share new insights since the last roundtable for this group was held in April.

Participants chose what topics the program focused on; participating companies included Apple REIT, Concord Hospitality, Marcus, Noble Investment, Prism Hotels &Resorts, Remington, and Stonebridge Companies.

SPEND SHIFT

Several participants said that, contrary to their usual practices, they have been focusing on OTA spend, while brand spend and paid search spend are down. “We will take whatever we can get, whether it’s direct or OTA — I can’t believe I’m saying that,” one participant said. “It’s cutthroat.”

“We have to rely on what the brands do,” another participant said. “If they turn off spend, we aren’t doing it, and so the OTAs become our best friends because they allow us to do stuff to drive business to the hotel.”

“We have to be where the guests are, and if they are searching on OTAs, then we need to be there,” another participant said. “We’re not going to get that business if we’re not there.”

Other participants said that they have been focusing on conserving their dollars as much as possible, leading them to choices such as social media, which can drive business without risking a lot of money. “We’re all just laying low right now,” one participant said after most of the group revealed that they are focusing on low-cost options. “It’s fascinating that we’ve all done the same thing.”

FIGHTING FOR BUDGETS

Roundtable participants said they have to go to bat for their marketing budgets and show why they need the funds to operate. “We are fighting for every dollar we get,” one participant said. “We have to constantly reeducate people on why we market and why putting a dollar here is better than putting it somewhere else.”

“We have dozens of hotels set to reopen in the next few weeks, and we need to bring back labor resources before the hotels reopen so that we can properly support the reopening,” another participant said. “We have to lobby for the resource allocation before they’re even open in order to support them.”

“It’s been a challenge to prove how much we have going on,” another participant said. “Everyone thinks they’re only asking us for one thing, but those ‘one things’ add up to about 600 things.”

“Most of our days are spent doing non-paid activities, like photography or merchandising,” another participant said. “We need to do a better job of focusing on those day-to-day tasks when we explain why we need human resources.”

STAFFING CHANGES

While many hotels are continuing to lay off and furlough staff, one participant’s organization is looking at expanding its team instead of letting people go. “We may actually be adding staff to our teams,” the participant said. “When the dust settles, we imagine there will be a lot of assets available and there will be a flurry of transactions as people struggle with liquidity. We may be adding more management teams and adding them to our portfolio.”

Another participant said that, instead of offering personalized support, their properties are handling digital marketing support requests with an alias email address that any property can reach out to, which has been successful. “I think we’re anticipating keeping our higher level of support alias for the next few months until we’re in a good place to customize the support level,” the participant said. “It allows us to handle more than 100-plus groups with a small group fairly efficiently.”

Several participants said that they were forced to stop outsourcing and contracting with agencies (creative, digital, etc.,) and may elect not to return to those types of partnerships in the future. “We’re looking at keeping on doing whatever we can in-house,” one participant said. “And continuing with that may create positions that didn’t exist previously.”

“I think there is a time and place for using agencies,” another participant said, “but we found that there was a significant cost savings by doing things in-house.”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Leisure Sales in a Post-COVID Marketplace

By Kathleen A. Cullen, Senior Vice President, PHG Consulting

Leisure travelers are expected to be among the first people to begin traveling again, but as with corporate travelers, they will look for hotels that are well prepared and put health and cleanliness at the top of their priority list. The days of luxury hotels magically making things happen behind the scenes will have to change when it comes to sanitation. Visuals will be key — and expected.

The following are some tips on how your hotel can remain engaged with travel management companies (TMCs), so you are top of mind once travelers are ready to make their next journey:

  • Consider using your technology to support virtual events.
  • Stay engaged with travel advisers and keep them informed. They are very interested in staying up-to-date in their hotel knowledge.
  • Work with your global sales offices or representatives to have the best chance of getting your hotel in front of travel advisers.
  • Agents will continue to use a global distribution system (GDS) but will have more questions about safety and health. Provide them with an email to ensure they have a way to ask those questions and keep a written trail of what is said. They will want to retain this information.
  • Consider doing a video of your cleaning process and share the video with booking agents.
  • Pay commissions in a timely manner — agents have been severely impacted. Consider offering bonus commission promotions.

Realistically, many things will not go back to “normal.” Service industry professionals may end up wearing masks and gloves indefinitely. You need to start thinking about how to showcase your hotel differently. Evolve and be creative when looking to engage, and keep things more intimate initially.

Excerpted from New Rules to Be Market Ready, by Kathleen A. Cullen, a new white paper available from HSMAI and PHG Consulting. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

 

Group Sales in a Post-COVID Marketplace

By Kathleen A. Cullen, Senior Vice President, PHG Consulting

The group sales landscape likely will be very different in the near to medium term. The entire world has watched meetings and events scheduled for the first half of 2020 either cancel or postpone to later in the year, or even move to 2021. The challenge is knowing the best time to rebook. Hotels will need to be agile in pivoting to whatever the new normal looks like.

Approach conversations with your group clients in a transparent and partner-like way, displaying a sense of togetherness, compassion, and care and offering significant flexibility. The following is a list of key items that group representatives are expecting from hotels:

  • Cancellation and cutoff dates may need to be reevaluated for the remainder of 2020 to provide more flexibility in decision timelines.
  • Attrition clauses may no longer be accepted. Hotels will need to think about what is more important — group business at 50 percent of expected size or no group at all?
  • F&B minimums may have to be removed.
  • Room-to-space ratio requirements should be reexamined.
  • Program designs will have to allow for more space between attendees. There may be fewer attendees but the same space requirement to allow for social distancing. Rounds initially planned for eight people may go to five. Think in advance about how to handle groups that are “space heavy” and have an “off-rooms-to-space ratio” in their ask.

Alleviate client concerns in advance by communicating measures your hotel is putting into place before the question is even asked. These groups selected your hotel based on certain services and staffing levels, so it will be important to provide them information on what they can expect now:

  • First, reassure clients that your hotel is open and ready to welcome their groups.
  • It will also be important to address your staffing and planning for groups. Many hotels were forced to furlough much, if not all, of their staff. A natural concern will be who is available to prepare and support clients in advance of their programs. Communicate that staffing — and plan in advance, so clients have confidence.
  • Communicate service adjustments you are putting into place. How will you handle buffet or food stations? Will there be a pass-through cost for these changes?
  • Offer floor plans showing new room setups with social spacing options.
  • Should every table have not just pads and pens but also sanitizer?
  • What about the financial stability of your hotel? A legitimate concern of some clients could be the liability of deposits and the solvency of the hotel. Perhaps reassure them by offering to put deposits into an escrow account.
  • Does your air-conditioning system circulate recycled air or fresh air? If your hotel has been closed for a period of time, the HVAC system should be inspected to ensure that it is free of contaminants.
  • What virtual capabilities and internet strength can you offer for attendees who participate remotely?
  • Communicate the cleaning process, including sharing videos about it. Perhaps offer to put cleaning solutions in the rooms for guests who want the added comfort and ability to do it themselves.

Hotels that alleviate concerns in advance of any questions will provide significant comfort to group clients and have the best chance to secure the business. Give clients what they need. It won’t be about rate — it will be about trust, care, and communication.

Excerpted from New Rules to Be Market Ready, by Kathleen A. Cullen, a new white paper available from HSMAI and PHG Consulting. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

 

What’s Changing for Brand Digital Marketers

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

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, HSMAI has served as a resource to connect peer groups to discuss the changing landscape. HSMAI hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for brand Chief Digital Officers on June 23, giving participants a chance to catch up and share new insights since the last brand CDO roundtable in April (read takeaways from that roundtable here and here).

Participants chose what topics the program focused on; participating companies included Accor, Club Quarters, PHG Consulting, Red Roof, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, and Aqua Aston. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

NEW DIGITAL MARKETING TACTICS

As marketing budgets have been slashed, participants said they have stopped using display ads and pay-for-click advertising, focusing instead on methods like social media and email campaigns for which the cost is lower. Social media has been a vital tool for digital marketers to get their messaging across and has become a more prominent part of marketing plans during the pandemic. “Social media has become so important as a connection point to engage with guests,” one participant said.

But social media’s merits go beyond just engagement another participant pointed out. It’s the quickest way to communicate policy changes with guests, market the hotel in an affordable way, and share messaging on cleaning protocols. “For us, marketing our cleanliness and safety protocols has taken center stage,” one participant said.

Participants also said they have shifted away from top-funnel marketing and are focusing on low-funnel marketing methods such as meta and brand SEM.

HYPERLOCAL MARKETING

It is vital that hotels focus on attracting the increasingly important drive market. “Other business is just not coming in right now,” one participant said. “There are a lot of people shopping, but nobody is booking, so we need to change our parameters to retarget the local market.”

Although the drive market typically refers to guests who live within a few hours of the hotel, several participants mentioned that the parameters of that definition are expanding, as people are still looking to travel by car but are willing to drive for longer periods of time. One participant has seen the drive market expand to anyone who is less than two full days’ drive away.

“The drive markets are surprisingly larger than anticipated,” one participant said. “There are a lot of nuances in how we define drive market, which vary by city. Right now, we’re tweaking our messaging to retarget long-distance drivers.”

CHANGING AND ELIMINATING ROLES

Many of the participants at the roundtable have seen a reduction in their teams, and several said they don’t anticipate being able to rehire anytime soon. One participant has heard estimates that as many as one third of industry workers who were laid off or furloughed will not be replaced. “You’re going to have to be creative,” the participant said. “You’re going to have to find new ways, whether it’s hiring people on your team who are flexible or educating yourself to be a jack of all trades in order to get everything done.”

Another participant said that they see senior leadership roles consolidated. “I can see a shift to having just one senior leader and several junior leaders, instead of multiple senior leaders,” the participant said. “Some have already started to make that change and others are already there.”

Another participant said that a lot of money and effort has been put into bolstering housekeeping staff and systems in order to make guests feel safe and comfortable, but that level of effort won’t be exerted to bring back any other teams. “It’s not needed, and the customers don’t want it,” the participant said. “We’re at a point now where the cost savings has been tremendous, and it is what it is.”

Another change that participants see coming is an increase in remote positions across the board. “You used to have people who oversaw one or two hotels, but now are going to be overseeing multiple hotels,” another participant added. “GMs aren’t going to be able to demand that specific people be onsite anymore. In order to get the top talent, you’re going to have to be flexible with locations.”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

What Is Business Acumen and Why Is It So Important?

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

No matter your discipline, business acumen is essential to your career in the hospitality industry. Learning business acumen means getting acquainted with everything you should know about the business world — soft skills, finance, reporting, communications, investing, profitability.

Specific to the hospitality industry, whether you’re looking to better understand metrics and managing business priorities, strengthen your partnership with hotel owners, or simply drive better results, sharpening your core business acumen skills will help. While these skills may seem simple, business acumen is something that hospitality professionals often overlook because it’s so fundamental. And while not having a strong proficiency in business acumen may not be detrimental to your career, having those skills is often what sets people apart from their peers.

HSMAI has offered a Certified Hospitality Business Acumen (CHBA) class for organizations that want to improve their teams’ business strengths for nearly a decade, and recently introduced a version of the course for individual hospitality professionals. The CHBA program enables participants to upgrade their business acumen skills and drives an elevated understanding of the hospitality industry and how it operates.

According to Peter Russell of Russell Partnership Technology, HSMAI’s partner in the CHBA, business acumen incorporates the core essentials that everyone needs in order to be successful in the hospitality industry and is something that hospitality professionals in all disciplines can benefit from. “It delivers the knowledge that they would otherwise find it quite hard to obtain,” Russell said. “A lot of people assume everyone knows this stuff, but nobody takes the time to teach it. There are a great number of people working their way through the ranks, and as they progress, that essential training and soft skills become more and more important.”

WHY DO YOU NEED BUSINESS ACUMEN?

As hotels and other businesses begin to reopen, it is more important than ever for hospitality professionals to have strong business acumen in order to thrive in the post-COVID environment. “I think that the businesses that adapt quickly will be the ones to survive and recover, so now is the ideal time to grow your business acumen,” Russell said. “Business acumen is all about driving your business forward and generating business success. Every business is struggling with success right now, but in terms of coming out and revitalizing, business acumen is going to be an essential part of that in the post-COVID world.”

As more people improve their business acumen skills and progress in their careers, the hospitality industry benefits as well with an influx of more well-rounded employees. Committing to advance your knowledge in business acumen demonstrates a willingness to improving your skillset and expanding your expertise, which leads to further opportunities for individuals and companies. “Stronger skills in business acumen enable people to move to bigger roles and realize dreams they have,” Russell said. “It gives them the knowledge they need to succeed and grow in their careers. It’s good for the individuals and it’s good for the industry as a whole to have more knowledgeable workers out there.”

And it’s not just for the entry level. Business acumen can be beneficial to people at every level of their career — from students still learning hospitality fundamentals, to C-level executives who want to strengthen their basic skills — and in every discipline. “While some elements of business acumen may be more applicable to some disciplines more than others, everyone needs that baseline knowledge,” Russell said. “Every discipline needs people who are proficient in all of these skills.”

WHAT IS THE CHBA PROGRAM?

HSMAI has been hosting business acumen classes since 2007 and has been offering the CHBA class since 2012. Russell Partnership has worked with HSMAI to develop and rework the course to fit the needs of the industry. The company also works with educational partners who teach hospitality and business acumen to students and hotel companies.

In the CHBA group and individual courses, participants access simulations that put them in the seat of a general manager and has them make decisions on pricing, marketing, staffing, and investments set over the course of a 12-month business cycle.

“It’s the power of the online learning modules delivering business acumen and the simulation program allowing them to put into practice all they’ve learned,” Russell said. “The issue with some programs is that you don’t get to use the knowledge, so it fades away quickly. Placing participants in the simulations means they can put into practice what they’ve learned and make sure they’ve understood it.”

Learn more about or register for the individual and group CHBA program. The individual CHBA is currently being offered at 50 percent of the usual rate through July 31, 2020.

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Choosing to Be Part of the Solution

By Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, President and CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country and around the world, hotel companies haven’t been quiet about voicing their support. I’d like to think it goes without saying that HSMAI joins these industry leaders in rejecting racism and intolerance, but at a time like this, that’s not good enough: HSMAI rejects racism and intolerance, and demands that Black people everywhere be treated with justice, equity, and respect.

Where we go from here is up to each of us individually, but we all must choose to be part of the solution. Certainly, our industry has a role to play in condemning exclusionary practices and fostering diversity and inclusion. We can begin by confronting the industry’s shameful past of exclusion and segregation, which necessitated the creation of resources for Black travelers such as The Negro Motorist Green Book; respecting the significant progress we have made since then; and acknowledging that we still have much further to go.

This is a battle that must and will be fought across many fronts. At HSMAI, we are most immediately prioritizing representation, which is the obvious but crucial idea that having Black people represented in our organization, fully and equally, matters — as contributing members, volunteer leaders, conference speakers, partners, employees, and every other way. To our Black members and leaders who are already active in HSMAI, thank you. We hope you’ll be part of our internal dialogue moving forward. We can do better, and we will.

Longer term, there is the broader problem of all minority groups being underrepresented among professionals working in hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization. This is something that our entire industry must address together, but I know the HSMAI Foundation — whose mission is build the hospitality talent and leadership pipeline — is positioned to contribute in a way that helps generate systemic, permanent change.

As I said, changing the way things are is as simple as choosing to be part of the solution. HSMAI so chooses.