HSMAI Top 25 Profile: Dana Cariss, CoralTree Hospitality

HSMAI recently honored the 2020 Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization — recognizing leaders from hospitality, travel, and tourism organizations for their accomplishments in the preceding 18 months. We’re profiling all of them in an HSMAI Special Report that we’re previewing with excerpts, including Dana Cariss, CHDM, Vice President of Revenue Strategy and Distribution, CoralTree Hospitality.

Dana Cariss is responsible for implementing the revenue strategy, distribution, and ecommerce objectives for CoralTree Hospitality. He works closely with property revenue optimization community teams and helps support each in their pricing, distribution, channel management, and marketing strategies to drive revenue and profit across all segments. Before joining CoralTree, Cariss worked for Destination Hotels in several revenue optimization roles before expanding to corporate director and then regional vice president for the company’s West Coast properties. He has also held management positions with Handlery Hotels, Loews Hotels, Evolution Hospitality, and Open Hospitality. He currently sits on HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board and is immediate past president of the HSMAI San Diego Chapter. Cariss is a graduate of the University of California, San Diego, with a double major in mathematics and economics.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Cariss has been instrumental in shifting CoralTree’s distribution and channel mix by creating a “book direct” mantra among the company’s independent hotels, leading to significant pre-pandemic increases in rooms profit, profit per occupied room, and profit per stay.

NOMINATED BY: Nancy Kern, CoralTree Hospitality — “Dana is a true asset to HSMAI and the hospitality community. He has the unique ability to mix the science of revenue management and analytics and bring them to life through creativity and innovation. He is a true partner to the home-office team, and his talent in the marketing arena complements the convergence of revenue and marketing online. Even through this year, Dana has continued to see the positive and think beyond the current crisis to build the foundation for CoralTree to continue into the future.”

DANA CARISS ON STAYING MOTIVATED IN 2020: “I think I was able to find comfort in the uncomfortable rather quickly. Many of the traditional expectations and job functions of a DORM were immediately upended, so we had to adapt quickly and develop new approaches to old questions. It was kind of exciting in a way

Hotel Owners and Asset Managers Focus on Profitability, Talent, and More

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

Hotel asset managers and ownership groups have faced unique challenges over the past year and a half. With that in mind, HSMAI hosted its first-ever virtual Hotel Ownership Group Commercial Executive Roundtable on June 29. Asset managers from participating companies including Apple Hospitality REIT, Ashford, BRE, and Noble came together to share their thoughts on recovery and how they’re moving forward. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

ON PROFITABILITY:

Participants pointed out that, among other changes post-COVID, there is a greater focus on profitability for managed assets than there was before. This has caused ownership groups to change their behavior. Here’s what participants said on the topic:

  • “The environment has really surfaced the difference in priorities between an owner and a manager. A manager is incentivized off of total revenue and owners care more about profitability. And so, we see countless instances where there’s tension there. We’ve talked about that tension in the past, but it’s really come into light in this new environment.”
  • “We’re finding it’s far more profitable to sell less rooms right now. So, we’ve really got a very different focus, and managing that balance between operator and owner and having everyone on the same page with their day-to-day tactics is so critical right now. In the past, we’ve been primarily motivated by driving occupancy and altering our behavior to increase those numbers, but we have to think differently.”

ON TALENT ACQUISITION AND RETENTION:

Securing and retaining high-quality talent is a priority not only for owners but for managers at every level of the industry. Here’s what participants had to say about successful talent acquisition and retention strategies:

  • “Regarding the GMs that can pull together teams, it’s because they know a large number of individuals in the market and worked with them at other hotels. That also tracks on a corporate level. Our relationships have become much more important these past several months.”
  • “We’ve always seen our workforce as a given, and it truly is a luxury right now to have an organization that is fully staffed, where staff come to work on time and are excited to be there. So, we’ve got to put a different level of value in our teams and make sure that we are managing our management companies to really do that, to promote the fact that they have high satisfaction within their organization.”
  • “Retention is a result of the culture. The managers with the highest retention rates are the ones who have always held employee satisfaction at the highest level.”

ON SUPPORT FROM BRANDS AND MANAGEMENT COMPANIES:

Hotel ownership groups have received varying levels of support from management companies and brands over the past year. Here’s what participants said about both:

  • “I think some brands were incredibly receptive to change revenue management systems at some point following the onset of the pandemic. It took some STR reports to materialize for them to understand that maybe the same strategy we’d always had was not the right strategy, but at some point, they caught up and I truly believe that that’s going to help us, even in a far post-pandemic environment.”
  • “I think I found some management companies more willing to do certain things that brands haven’t, especially as it relates to brand standards and things like closing down. Where a brand may really care about customer sentiment, management companies care more about the brand value. Local management companies have been more focused on ownership bottom line whereas the brands would care a little bit more about certain other things.”
  • “I think some brands cut marketing departments and haven’t quite figured out the right structure. They’ve added them back, but to really have a great discussion around marketing strategy is getting harder and harder post-pandemic. We’re hard-pressed to get good data and qualified feedback on marketing specifications.”
  • “With some brands reducing a lot of their bandwidth, we’ve had to rely on ourselves more to help our management companies. We feel more comfortable now than we have been, and that’s because we’ve had to struggle through it. But I think as a result we’ve made ourselves better and I truly believe our managers would say that we’ve made them better as well.”

ON MARKETING AND MEDIA SPEND:

It’s up to owners to direct marketing and media spend, which participants said has been difficult recently due to multiple factors. Here are takeaways on that topic:

  • “When it comes to spend, a challenge that we’re finding is that the visibility on sites like Expedia and the disconnect with inventory is creating an issue where if the hotel shuts down because they can’t clean a room, the ads still continue.”
  • “We’ve all experienced the pullback of the resources at the brand levels and some management company levels. The optimization within the platforms that these campaigns are running is new and uncertain, and there’s not a lot of transparency into how the algorithms are determining recommendations on how much you should spend, so there’s a lot of just uncertainly on what’s the right budget.”
  • “Some of the brands have had to pull back and/or shut down from a marketing standpoint. And as they’ve layered that back in, there still isn’t a clear line of sight into how much are we spending now? How much coverage are we getting? What do we need to do to supplement that?”

The Importance of Building Resilience

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

Resilience: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. This definition of resilience has been a theme throughout the industry for the past year — and will continue to be necessary for sales leaders moving forward. HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council (RSLC) discussed how to build resilience and why the trait is so necessary in today’s workplace on a recent call. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

GIVING EACH OTHER GRACE

It’s important to cut yourself as well as those you work with some slack right now, because everyone is going through a new, difficult situation, RSLC members said. And hopefully, if you communicate with them properly, guests will extend that same courtesy to you.

“Give yourself and your team grace,” one RSLC member said. “None of us has been through this before, and that’s the reality on our side, on the operations team’s side, and on the customers’ side. The more you communicate upfront about your situation, such as not having housekeeping, the more likely it is that someone is going to give you grace.”

Open communication with guests is vital, especially right now, as there are so many changes in regard to amenities and housekeeping. “You’re not making excuses, you’re telling them the reality of why it might’ve taken longer to check in,” one member said. “There are good ways to do it if you over-communicate and make sure that everybody on the front line knows how to be effective at doing that. Clarity of communication is one of the key things of a great leader.”

BEING A GOOD LEADER

Many sales leaders have been tested this past year, and while it has been hard, RSLC members said that they have learned a lot about leadership and support and how that relates to building resilience for all team members.

“I’ve had to learn to be more patient to my team,” one RSLC member said. “Sometimes it’s good to let them tell you what’s challenging them right now and work through it without adding more to their plate. I’ve learned that just because something isn’t affecting me doesn’t mean it’s not affecting them, and just because someone isn’t saying anything doesn’t mean they are fine. Taking a step back and listening to my teammates has really been very helpful.”

Sometimes, we all just need to let off steam. RSLC members agreed that having a person to serve as a confidant or a person to vent to — even if it’s your manager — can be extremely helpful in terms of managing stress and being resilient. “There are people who are going to complain regardless, but as a leader, if you know the person isn’t a perpetual complainer, sometimes you need to be the person for them to vent to,” one member said. “It’s okay not to have a solution for them. Sometimes we all just need to unload and move on. That can help build your team’s resilience and support system.”

Another member added: “Those of us in leadership positions have to do more of truly leading as opposed to managing. Some of us may not have the fortitude to do that right now because we can’t take it any longer, but I do think that if we can show real leadership instead of just managing things, we’ll be able to deal with this better and continue to build resiliency, even as we feel overwhelmed.”

DEALING WITH STAFFING SHORTAGES

One of the most difficult things that RSLC members said they are dealing with right now is the inability to hire more staff, on both the sales and operations sides. It’s not because there aren’t open positions, but rather because they can’t find anyone who wants the job. This can be demoralizing and frustrating, but RSLC members said that it’s important to remember that this is only temporary.

“I’ve been sitting in interviews constantly all day long, working at night to catch up,” one RSLC member said. “Yesterday we made three offers and all three of them turned it down. One turned it down because of the salary, but the other two gave no real reason, after sitting through multiple interviews. It’s exhausting going through this process.”

The staffing shortage has led to many people doing multiple jobs, but several members said that they think this will go back to normal within the next year. “I’m telling applicants that the next six months of wearing multiple hats is just the recovery period,” one member said. “Our goal in 2022 is to have everybody focused on their channels again. It’s just what you have to do now to push you through and bring coworkers back.”

Another member added: “It’s happening everywhere. We’re hearing the same thing from other industries, and even through we really need to hire people now, it’s okay to be patient. We need to find the right ones who are going to stay and thrive and grow. It’s hard, but it’s a great time to be resilient and use your emotional intelligence and remember that everyone’s going through the same thing.”

How Hotel Management Company Revenue Leaders Are Managing the Recovery

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

Demand pricing, brand support, and revenue management systems are among the biggest concerns of hospitality chief revenue officers (CROs) right now— and were prime topics of discussion during HSMAI’s virtual CRO Executive Roundtable on June 17 for revenue professionals from hotel management companies (HMCs).

Participants from companies including Chesapeake Hospitality, Commonwealth Hotels, Concord Hotels, CoralTree Hospitality, Highgate, Hotel Investment Services Inc., HRI Lodging, HVMG, Kessler Collection, Marcus Hotels, PHG, Prism Hotels and Resorts, Remington Hotels, Shaner Hotels, Stonebridge Companies, VRI Americas, and White Lodging shared their thoughts in both large and small groups. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

ON REVENUE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS:

The pandemic has changed the way revenue professionals utilize their revenue management systems (RMSs), which have more difficulty maximizing profit in such an unpredictable time. Here’s what participants said about their RMSs:

  • “One of the struggles we’ve had is that everything is so automated nowadays with RMS. The systems themselves have really struggled to keep up. And then we struggle getting the brands to help us with trying to tell the system that we’re not going to have a 65-percent occupancy rate on Saturday, even though it thinks we will. It’s a time-consuming process.”
  • “Even pre-pandemic, we were giving feedback on some of these systems that don’t add value based on length of stay. They don’t understand that 30 one-night stays do not equal the same value as one 30-night stay. And they did not update the systems to think that way through the pandemic. That’s been crucial, and it’s going to be crucial through a staffing shortage.”
  • “The focus on the RMS systems has been the hardest thing for me. I’m glad others are feeling the way I’m feeling. I can’t influence demand fast enough, so I end up in override no matter what I do, because it’s just not working.”

ON STAFF SHORTAGES AND PRICING:

Staff shortages are leading some hotels to have fewer rooms to offer, because they can’t get them ready quickly enough between guests. This shortage in inventory has led to increased prices. Here’s what participants had to say about the fine line between demand pricing and price gouging, including how they’re handling staff shortages:

  • “We’re doing well demand-wise, but we have to shut things down because we can’t get rooms ready fast enough for check-ins. It’s a balancing system. The whole conversation is around how high do we move up the prices. We’re looking to relocate someone this weekend, but it was going to cost $1,200 in Ocean City, Maryland. It’s crazy. It tilts on the edge of gouging the situation, which is depressing for me.”
  • “For the first time in our history we aren’t seeing a lot of last-minute discounts, and in fact are seeing the opposite. Traditionally you could wait, but today if you don’t book early, it’s a very different story because the dynamics are so different. The question is, will they stay this way?”
  • “Legally the definition of price gouging varies by state, but almost universally, it has to be during a state of emergency. I also think that if you look at what’s happening with rental car prices right now, and that’s not gouging, you can’t consider hotel prices to be gouging.”
  • “It’s crazy to me that we’re doing things that you would never think about doing when the demand is there, like having minimum stays, and we’re selling every available room, but management is telling us to shut it down. And now they want us to quantify how it’s affecting the overall forecast numbers, despite inventory numbers changing multiple times a day. It’s like a giant puzzle.”

ON BRAND SUPPORT:

HMCs rely on the support of brands for many things, including revenue. Here’s what participants said about the level of support they feel they are currently receiving from brands:

  • “One of the things that stood out to me is the difference in how the various brands did or did not adapt their strategy to a leisure-led recovery. Our company is not in a ton of leisure markets, so weekends have not been a strength. One particular brand did a great job of merchandising promotions and really offering value to capture the leisure segment. But another large brand said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ So, we had to turn to third-party channels because that’s the best opportunity to merchandise.”
  • “I’ve had two brands hire people to do some in-depth, deep-dive audits, and then want to get on the phone for an hour to tell us how to move forward. We got the audits back yesterday and invested one hour of our time and walked away really impressed. I really felt excited. It didn’t cost me anything, and they gave me something new to think about.”
  • “Where I think brands have been slower is on the technology side. I’ve seen better progress on what I would call our independent systems that are off-the-shelf type products. But the brands seem to have trouble with that, because they pushed for an automated RMS, which is great, but then you run into things that it just can’t manage.”

ON WHAT TO WATCH:

As the industry continues to climb toward a full recovery, there are a few things that participants said are still major concerns. Here are some of the things that are  on their minds:

  • “The other factor that we have to keep an eye on is that over the pandemic, the number of consumers that tried a short-term rental for the first time was astronomical. Customer satisfaction with short-term rentals is averaging 4.3 out of 5. Customer satisfaction with hotels is 4.2 out of 5. And so, a lot of these people who were hesitant to try an Airbnb previously found it as a safer, more comfortable option. Of people who have stayed in both a hotel and a short-term rental, according to some studies, 60 percent now prefer a short-term rental. That’s only going to continue to grow.”
  • “The other thing to watch, especially in major urban markets, is hotels reopening. Chicago, for example, just opened several big-box hotels, which added about 10,000 room nights of supply to a market that’s only running 45- to 50-percent occupancy. We need to bring that into the equation when opening up hotels.”

What Travelers Want — and How They Want It

By Meghan Keough, Senior Director of Business Development, Expedia Group Media Solutions, and member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board

With hospitality marketers working hard to capture the demand that is quickly coming back, it’s important to understand exactly what travelers are looking for. I shared some insights on this topic with HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) on a recent call, including highlights from Expedia Group Media Solutions’ latest Travel Recovery Trend Report. (The next version of this report will be released in early August.)

Understanding that the effects of the pandemic won’t be short-lived, that there’s still a great deal of uncertainty, and that resources are very tight, marketers are expected to do a lot more with a lot less and demonstrate the value of every single marketing dollar. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand customer behavior.

TRENDS IN CUSTOMER BEHAVIOR

There are three main trends we’re seeing regarding customer behavior: Travel is picking up worldwide, global search windows remain relatively short, and domestic travel is bouncing back.

Travel is returning. The increase in travel is due in part to vaccine rollouts and people’s increased comfort and confidence in hitting the road (or the skies). Travelers are continuing to prioritize domestic travel over international travel, although we’re starting to see international search demand return. Travel shoppers are currently showing preference for traveling domestically, but this does vary around the world.

Search windows are short. Focusing on global search windows — throughout most of last year, many global searches fell to under 21 days. Now we’re seeing more trips within the 22-to-30-day-window and some within the 31-to-60-day window. International trips have even longer search windows, but about 60 percent of domestic searches remain at under 21 days. So, windows are increasing, but they remain comparatively short compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Domestic travel is really back. As one of the world’s leading vaccine rollouts continues in the United States, traveler confidence is boosted, and you can see the correlation with search growth. In week-over-week searches, March 15 saw the largest spike in travel searches, with an increase of 30 percent following the CDC’s release of buy-ins for fully vaccinated individuals being able to travel. We saw spikes in travel searches in other regions because of this announcement as well.

SURVEY SAYS …

To gain a broad understanding of what travelers want, Expedia Group partnered with Wakefield research on a survey of 16,000 adults in eight countries: the United States, Canada, Mexico, UK, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia.

People want to travel. The results communicated a clear message: As of February and March of this year, people said they were ready to travel. Three-quarters of our surveyed travelers said that a vacation in 2021 would make them happier than a new smartphone. We further learned that travelers want to stay longer, whether it’s to make up for lost vacation or because they have more flexibility to work remotely.

People want flexibility. Survey respondents also said that flexibility is now a top consideration. Nearly two-thirds of travelers said they are unlikely to book a non-refundable room in exchange for a reduced rate. This was a near-complete shift from 2020, when two-thirds of travelers said they were likely to book a non-refundable room for a reduced rate. Indeed, while the uncertainty of the last year has caused travelers to be more hesitant to fully commit to a trip, our data suggests that flexible booking and cancellation policies can help them get over that hurdle.

People want information. Accurate, up-to-date property and destination information is extremely important to travelers — not just on property websites but across all distribution channels. Half of travelers said they would most prefer to book accommodations for their next trip through an online travel website, while 33 percent would prefer to book directly; 17 percent said that they would book through a traditional travel agency.

HOW TO REACH TRAVELERS

There are several ways to communicate with travelers that positively impact their booking decisions.

Pre-arrival information. Ninety-three percent of travelers believe that pre-arrival information from the property would be helpful. Travelers further said that viewing detailed photos helps give them the confidence to book an accommodation; our research showed that a minimum of nine photos is needed before a traveler makes a decision on whether to actually book the property or not.

 

Promotions. There are certain promotions that can entice travelers to extend their stay. Sixty-two percent of travelers said that room discounts would make them stay longer, while nearly half would stay long for free breakfast. Likewise, upgraded room, free parking, and food/beverage vouchers all can persuade guests to extend their stay.

 

Four takeaways. There are four important takeaways.

  • The first is to be visible to prospective travelers where they are shopping and use a multichannel, multiproduct strategy and approach.
  • The second is that value-adds and amenities go a long way to entice travelers to stay longer. That’s not necessarily new, but the key is how you message and market that to prospective travelers.
  • The third takeaway is that it’s more important than ever to have updated, accurate photos; each photo is an opportunity to convince someone to stay.
  • The fourth and final takeaway is that it’s important to ensure that the amazing marketing work you’re doing is being measured — and that you can show the effectiveness of every dollar that you’re spending on your recovery strategy.

HSMAI Top 25 Profiles: Milestone’s Craig Carbonniere Jr.

HSMAI recently honored the 2020 Top 25 Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization — recognizing leaders from hospitality, travel, and tourism organizations for their accomplishments in the preceding 18 months. We’re profiling all of them in an HSMAI Special Reportincluding Craig Carbonniere Jr., CHDM, Senior Director of Sales for Milestone Inc.

Craig Carbonniere Jr. is an 18-year hotel industry veteran consulting for lodging partners, travel brands, and hospitality associations. With executive-level experience in hotel operations, revenue management, sales, and marketing, Carbonniere implements holistic programs to achieve sustainable revenue growth and ROI for clients. Before becoming an award-winning supplier, he spent 10 years managing various hospitality disciplines for Grand Pacific Resorts, Interstate Hotels & Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and The Walt Disney Company. He is also an accomplished speaker who regularly facilitates educational sessions for the California Hotel & Lodging Association (CH&LA), Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, and California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and serves as vice president of marketing on the boards of directors for HSMAI’s Los Angeles and San Diego chapters.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Thanks to Carbonniere’s leadership, many of his hotel partners saw minimized decreases, and in several cases achieved increases year-over-year despite COVID.

NOMINATED BY: Tammie Carlisle, Milestone Inc., and Elizabeth Fuller, HSMAI San Diego Chapter — “Craig has made significant contributions to the hospitality industry throughout his career and especially in 2020. He is the first to ask me, ‘What can I help with?,’ and he is the definition of hospitality. Craig is known as a thought leader, which is why he is so highly sought out for speaking engagements. Clients and colleagues alike enjoy his approach, positive nature, and consultative advice.” (Quote from Tammie Carlisle)

CRAIG CARBONNIERE JR ON STAYING MOTIVATED IN 2020:

“I’m inspired by the unwavering optimism shared within our hospitality community. Together, we are working toward a brighter tomorrow, and I’m personally committed to helping hotels rebound.”

How Chief Revenue Officers Are Managing the Staffing Crisis

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

One of the biggest issues facing hotel companies right now is making sure that properties and departments are adequately staffed at every level. The problem is that when revenue professionals and other hotel employees were laid off and furloughed last year, many moved to other industries and haven’t come back, leading to a staffing crisis.

With that in mind, HSMAI hosted a virtual Brand Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtable in partnership with ZS on June 15 where participants shared what was on their mind in small- and large-group discussions about talent retention and other trends they are seeing. Participating companies included Accor, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Choice Hotels International, Hyatt, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, Margaritaville Enterprises, MGM Resorts International, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Outrigger Hospitality Group, Preferred Hotel Group, and Radisson Hotels. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

ON RETAINING AND ATTRACTING TALENT:

  • “Our employee value proposition as an industry needs a makeover. Saying that if you work really, really hard and put in all those extra hours, then you’ll get ahead, doesn’t resonate with the younger generation. I think it’s us actually looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Does what we do make sense?’”
  • “I think we’re seeing a bit of a talent gap on the franchise side. I don’t see as much on the revenue management side. I think there’s a huge talent gap in terms of hiring. On the hotel side, obviously, they’re in the news with signing bonuses for housekeeping, but I see a lot more people within revenue management that are having issues keeping talent or recruiting talent, given the growth and poaching in other sectors.”
  • “We need to paint a prettier picture out there for students that are in hospitality schools right now. It’s really tough to go and ask them to come on board, because they don’t want to work Saturdays and nights and holidays and whatnot. I think we probably need to do a nice PR campaign and show them that there’s a future here for them.”
  • “I would like to make a plea to our organizations to bring this issue up to the leadership in the industry. We need to paint a better picture of what hospitality is to people out there that don’t know. I’ve spent all my life in hospitality, and I would not do anything else, but I think we also did a poor job of explaining what hospitality is in the last year. I think we’ve left a lot of people behind.”
  • “We all recognize that a lot of our talent has left the industry and moved on to other industries where you can get a better work-life balance. I think it’s a concern overall, and not even necessarily for just the frontline associates at the property, but above-property as well. It’s a huge loss.”

ON CURRENT BUSINESS TRENDS:

  • “We are seeing this evolving trend where within a given week, 70 or 80 percent of the business was booking for that week. And now we’re starting to see that number come down and more business being further out. And it’s actually overcoming the cancellations, which is a nice trend, because group still isn’t really materializing in the short term. So really, that percentage of people booking for this weekend versus people booking for the summer or for this fall is definitely changing.”
  • “One of the things that we are very concerned about is the labor shortage and then how that is affecting NPS and satisfaction scores when our rates and our ADR are so high right now. The thing that we’re focusing on right now is that relationship between ADR and NPS.”
  • “We’re seeing the recovery happen now, but there’s a feeling definitely on those purse strings like, ‘We don’t know what 2022 really will bring, and we’re only in the infant stages of this recovery.’ So, although everyone wants to go out and travel, there is that hesitancy from the CFO and corporate to just wait and see.”

ON REVENUE MANAGEMENT:

  • “I think there’s an increased focus on leaning toward revenue management to really give the current lay of the land. They’re commanding a bigger presence and are able to speak more with leadership. I see revenue management as more of a focus point now than pre-COVID, especially with things moving so fast and recoveries being isolated to geography, market, country, and even segmentation in some respects.”
  • “We all know that an RMS cannot run itself. Especially with short- and long-term forecasts differing so heavily from historical patterns, you don’t want that RMS just to automate your entire solution without any control from a human, but that has definitely been an impact of what we’re seeing. And I think a lot of that has led to the final point where we’re talking about some really crazy ADR fluctuations on leisure that aren’t matching the intended experiences. People are paying upwards of $800 a night in some places for an experience that’s only worth $300.”
  • “Some of the things that we used to do aren’t relevant anymore. In some cases, our portfolio sizes have increased, in other cases, our sizes are the same. But either way, there’s more to be done, whether it’s increased frequency of calls or just higher expectations about how flexible we as revenue managers need to be.”

Hybrid Work, Virtual Offices, and Other Staffing Issues Facing Digital Executives

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

Should we stay virtual, go back to work full-time in an office, or create some sort of hybrid arrangement? This is a question that many companies, including those in the hospitality industry, are grappling with as more people get vaccinated and it becomes safe to meet in person again. HSMAI hosted a virtual Brand Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable on June 22 where much of the discussion revolved around working conditions and staffing.

Participating companies included Accor, AMResorts (part of Apple Leisure Group), Aqua-Aston Hospitality, Club Quarters, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Red Roof, RLH, and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Key takeaways included:

ON PLANNING FOR HYBRID WORKPLACES:

  • “We’ve made the commitment full-force that we’re going to be a hybrid work environment. And the concept for doing this is hoteling in the office. You’re not going to have a desk, but you’ll have a neighborhood, so you’ll move around and end up working wherever is free when you come in. We consolidated our workspace, so there’s less space overall, so this is what makes sense.”
  • “I think it’s very helpful to have at least a few days in the office. I think being in the office at least a couple of days a week for me helps preserve the culture. There’s something about having your team around a table and seeing each other face-to-face that connects you.”
  • “We anticipate a three-day-in-and-two-day-out model after Labor Day, but the details haven’t been defined yet. Some people on my team have moved in the past year, even though they’re not necessarily in remote positions, but they’re now 800 miles away from the office. So, we’re working with those associates to come up with flexible work arrangements, because they’ve proven we can do it.”

ON THE BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL OFFICES:

  • “What I’m struggling with is going back to the office just for the sake of going back to the office, as opposed to really looking at what employees want to do. For my team actually, I would say that 95 percent do not want to go back to the office at all.”
  • “We’ve hired all over the world and we’ve opened up all our roles to be global. And so, what I’m doing is bringing the team together once a quarter for a two-day offsite meeting in order to get that time to gather and do the strategy sessions and have that interaction. But most of my team does not want to go into the office on a regular basis, and many have actually moved.”
  • “One benefit to being virtual is that we know everyone’s name, because you can hover over your screen and see it. Another thing that we’ve done to highlight everyone virtually is to create a PowerPoint where everyone gets a slide to share information about themselves, such as hobbies and interests. We’ve essentially created a library of every individual team member’s slides, and encourage them to keep it updated and active as they change.”

ON STAFFING ISSUES:

  • “One thing is the staff shortage on property. I think we’re probably all experiencing it through our various companies, but I think what’s also interesting is the impact that they have on marketing. We have had to reduce room availability and room inventory because of the shortage of staff to turn over rooms, and that impacts our ability to drive additional demand. There’s a lot of pent-up demand in some markets, but some properties are limiting what we can do from a digital marketing perspective because they just don’t have the staff to handle it.”
  • “The reality is, we’re still losing team members and being short-staffed. So, we need to think creatively about how we can get work done. There was discussion around cross- or upskilling team members from different disciplines to help us in the areas of marketing where we may be short-staffed.”
  • “There is this culture clash between those that were furloughed and those that survived furlough. And when folks came back, it was clear that the folks who stayed on were able to move more quickly, get more things done, be more agile compared with those who just came back.”
  • “We’ve all had cuts. In most cases, the people that have remained are very agile and they’re go-getters, which has helped a lot because we’re all working on refocusing people and aligning priorities to market conditions. We’re really trying hard to empower people to say no and pick our priorities. People aren’t used to saying no, because you take on projects as they’re given to you, but we have to be really laser-focused at this point in time.”
  • “We’re working on identifying opportunities for agency support, contractor support, or FTEs, and then adding in freelancers. What we’ve learned is that there are certain skills through the pandemic that are more apt for freelancers than full-time employees.”

‘It’s Not About Finding One Replacement for RevPAR’

Participants at HSMAI’s recent Global Curate event brainstormed dozens of KPIs for the post-pandemic hospitality market. We share them below — along with insights and analysis from HSMAI’s KPI Workgroup.

By Christopher Durso, Vice President of Content Development, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

When we decided that the most relevant topic for our Global Curate event to address last month would be “Defining Success in the New Market,” we knew we were treading on territory that HSMAI’s KPI Workgroup had already staked out. Even before the pandemic, the Workgroup was focused on identifying and defining the most relevant KPIs for hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue professionals; the COVID crisis only made their work more urgent.

Our goal was for Global Curate — a virtual event for HSMAI Organizational Member companies co-hosted by HSMAI Americas and HSMAI Europe on May 11, 2021 — to complement the KPI Workgroup, which was in the process of finalizing its master list of 65 KPIs. Our more than 100 attendees representing a cross-section of sales, marketing, revenue, and distribution in the two regions brainstormed nearly 80 KPIs that will most accurately define success in the new market, we turned to the Workgroup to help clarify and contextualize the results.

RESULTS FROM GLOBAL CURATE

In many ways, those results validated the Workgroup’s efforts, with much overlap between the two lists of KPIs, plus a great deal of repetition and redundancy within the Global Curate list. Workgroup Chair Lori Kiel took the lead in editing and consolidating the Global Curate results according to the Workgroup’s master list. Her final list of Global Curate results is below, with the number after each indicating the number of Global Curate groups that brainstormed that particular KPI; any KPI in italics is not part of the Workgroup’s master list, meaning it’s unique to Global Curate:

Reputation score — 6

Loyalty mix — 4

ST2Y/WOW/MOM benchmarks — 4

Brand contribution —3

Channel mix — 3

Employee satisfaction — 3

GOP (gross operating profit) — 3

GOPPAR (gross operating profit per available room) — 3

Index (fair share) — 3

TRevPAR (total revenue per available room) — 3

ADR (average daily rate) — 2

Ancillary revenue per room — 2

Client engagement mix — 2

Occupancy — 2

RevPAR (revenue per available room) — 2

RFP conversation rate — 2

RGI (revenue generating index) — 2

ROAS (return on advertising spend) — 2

Business mix/source markets — 1

Consumer confidence (travel) — 1

Demand change YOY — 1

EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) 1

Local revenue vs total revenue — 1

Net revenue — 1

NOI/EBIT (net operating income/earnings before income and taxes) — 1

Segment mix — 1

Total spend per guest — 1

Transient segment mix — 1

ANALYZING THE RESULTS

Once we had a viable list of results from Global Curate, we asked members of the KPI Workgroup to compare them to their master list. What were the similarities? The differences? What do they tell us about how hospitality professionals are thinking about — and should be thinking bout — defining success in the new market?

Do you see any common themes or dominant trends in the Global Curate results?

  • Lori Kiel, KPI Workgroup chair and chief marketing/revenue officer for The Kessler Collection: The obvious theme for me is in the GOP being a KPI with a mixed value of 7. Profitability is what counts, and revenue managers are having to understand the cost of distribution now more than ever.
  • Dan Skodol, KPI Workgroup member and vice president of data science and analytics for Cendyn: I think it’s the lack of a unifying theme or trend that stands out the most. Out of 18 tables, only six at most agreed on a common KPI — reputation score. I would have expected to see more agreement around KPIs that relate directly to profit/profitability (GOP, GOPPAR, NOI, etc.).
  • Mehernosh Jehangir, KPI Workgroup member and corporate director of revenue management for Lowes Hotels & Co.: The big common theme I saw is that the old metrics didn’t work in the pandemic. Our industry colleagues were very sharp in either switching to metrics that made more sense or, in some cases, creating them.
  • Dana Cariss, KPI Workgroup member and vice president of revenue strategy and distribution for CoralTree Hospitality: Actually, they were pretty all over the board, which I think represents just how many different ways people are approaching performance measurement these days. The common themes continue to be profitability and guest value (length of stay, total spend, etc.).

Are there any surprises for you in the Global Curate results?

  • Kiel: Reputation score as top score is surprising over profitability. However, we all realize the power of the customer’s voice. One comment at the top of a page or thread can impact a business more than any other key factor. Decisions are made off of reviews and scores more than rates these days.
  • Skodol: The emphasis on some nontraditional metrics like reputation score and employee satisfaction, and the deemphasis to a large extent on the more traditional metrics like RevPAR (though participants were likely trying to think outside the box with this exercise).
  • Jehangir: It was a pleasant surprise to see how far revenue management and the industry have come, with a growing focus on the bottom line and the big picture instead of just rooms revenue/RevPAR and RPI.
  • Christian Boerger, CRME, CHBA, CHDM, KPI Workgroup member and vice president of revenue strategy for Oxford Collection: The fact that three tables discussed index/fair share. Unless they discussed fair share in relation to other KPIs, this is a concern. I am curious to learn more about the less tangible KPIs of client engagement mix, business confidence, employee satisfaction, or reputation score. The employee satisfaction score is probably in line with hospitality’s current challenges to attract talent.

How do the results from Global Curate square with the work that the KPI Workgroup has done before and during the pandemic? Do they make you rethink anything?

  • Kiel: The Workgroup identified profitability as a key factor early on due to Kalibri Labs really forcing our discipline as a whole to net our ADRs of channel costs. This shift below the top line has made our revenue management discipline more relevant as now we are not only held accountable to the top line but to the bottom-line profitability of any distribution decision. One of the thoughts after reviewing the Curate KPI findings was the need to truly define KPI in its true form. Many of the submissions were more benchmarks than KPIs, and therefore I think this is a good place to start in getting a conversation flowing. Ultimately, a key performance indicator is that one value that indicates performance, success or failure. Benchmarks are those goals that allow you to compare against — year over year, month over month, brand average, etc.
  • Skodol: The industry is clearly thinking outside the realm of financial measures; either they feel strongly or have evidence that some of the metrics mentioned above are tied to longer-term financial gain. I think it’s a positive thing if the industry does shift away from short-term measures that might be good indicators of short-term financial success toward measures that might be leading indicators of long-term financial success, though I’d want to ensure that the “assumed” relationship exists and still put an emphasis around measures that focus on profitability.
  • Cariss: I think it validates a lot of the conversations we have been having. People are reviewing new metrics and finding new ways to measure their performance. The days of only reviewing RevPAR seem to be a thing of the past, and hotel leaders are focused more on break-even profitability and performance optimization.
  • Boerger: I think the workgroup was spot on when defining the core KPIs that will be important for years to come. There are always additional metrics to consider depending on current circumstances.

Of the nine KPIs from Global Curate that were not already part of the KPI Workgroup’s master list, are they any that you think are particularly relevant to the post-pandemic hospitality market?

  • Kiel: The most obvious is ST2Y, as we cannot look back at 2020 as a benchmark to anything, so at this point everyone is having to look at 2019 to understand recovery. The least obvious but scariest might be both reputation and employee satisfaction scores. In both cases, we are working in the least ideal environment. Those employees that are working are burnt-out from the amount of work and our reputation scores are suffering because of it. The scariest metric therefore goes back to the reputation score being the most identified KPI in the Curate breakouts, as that score is likely a representation of a temporary staffing shortage, but the ramifications of the score can cause permanent damage.
  • Skodol: As mentioned, I think there is consideration to be given to reputation score and employee satisfaction — I think there may be additional similar metrics that could be added to the list. I don’t think any mix-related metric belongs as a KPI. It is too difficult to identify a benchmark (whether internal or from a comp set) that represents a “strong” or “optimal” mix; plus, what is considered “strong” or “optimal” can easily change from one period to another, as evidenced by the post-pandemic environment versus earlier periods.
  • Jehangir: I think some of the metrics are interesting to look at but wouldn’t call them KPIs.
  • Cariss: For me, total spend per guest is probably the most relevant from the Global Curate list. It underscores some of the germane topics these days around the value of a booking and total spend and profitability.
  • Boerger: Some of those metrics will continue to play a key role for specific departments — e.g., employee satisfaction for HR and operations, reputation score for operations, client engagement mix for marketing. None of those, however, can be used in isolation; they will have to be reviewed in conjunction with some of the financial metrics, especially those measuring profitability.

How should hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue professionals approach identifying the KPIs that will be most relevant to them in the months ahead?

  • Kiel: First, as defined by their companies, they have to acknowledge those KPIs that their stakeholders value as priority. Second, being a part of the conversation among industry colleagues to bring their ownership the KPIs that other like companies are watching adds relevance. Last, they need to test out variations using a balanced scorecard to come up with a meaningful metric that gives a snapshot of their current state and then allows benchmarks to define future states of success.
  • Skodol: I’ll stick with my belief that if a KPI doesn’t directly contribute to profit, it doesn’t belong as a KPI. Occupancy is a great example — maximizing it does not maximize profit, and it’s too difficult to quantify and compare what might be considered the “optimal” occupancy level as it relates to driving profit. There’s also the similar problem of incentives in certain siloed areas of the organization that don’t align with the overall financial results of the property or company — for instance, sales volume (though not on the list), where exceeding a certain level can displace more valuable sources of business for the hotel. I think this approach will help hoteliers focus on a limited set of KPIs and not be distracted by those that don’t ultimately result in improvements in profit.
  • Jehangir: It’s not about finding one replacement for RevPAR and RPI, but rather about using a suite of KPIs that together help us measure each department’s success while at the same time focus on the bottom line.
  • Cariss: When making a decision on what KPIs are relevant to a hotel or group of hotels, the most important thing is to ensure alignment with commercial strategies and performance expectations. When these two are in alignment, you should be able to more easily identify and track the metrics that matter.
  • Boerger: Define the property’s, asset’s, and/or company’s main objectives first, and then define which KPIs are most conducive to measure progress/success.

HSMAI Perspective: All Together Now

We’re hosting the Marketing Strategy Conference, ROC Americas, and the Sales Leader Forum this fall. Join us as we reconvene our community of hospitality professionals — live and in-person.

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

Across the hospitality industry, we’re seeing signs of return and recovery, and I’m happy to say that HSMAI is part of that. To start, after a year and a half of “pivoting to virtual,” we have three live, in-person events scheduled for this fall:

All of these programs will be top-rate, but I’m particularly excited about MSC and ROC, because they’re part of Commercial Strategy Week, which also will include a series of Executive Roundtables for chief marketing, revenue, digital, and loyalty officers; partner insights workshops; award presentations; and more. This is our way of planting a big flag in the ground and letting the world know: We’re back. All of us.

Of course, we never actually left, or stopped developing resources for hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals — even when we couldn’t connect with them in person. But now we can, and we’re excited to share insights from the work that has kept HSMAI and the HSMAI Foundation busy throughout the pandemic, including research into the new KPIs and the talent crisis.

These and other topics are sure to fuel some amazing conversations at Commercial Strategy Week and Sales Leader Forum, which in turn will power additional programs, support additional resources to elevate the industry into 2022, and leave us ready and eager for additional events. That’s the beauty of gathering your community in-person: There’s always more to say.

It’s time to celebrate the bonds that COVID was never able to break. Join me in doing that at Commercial Strategy Week and the Sales Leader Forum.