HSMAI Top 25 Profiles: Virgin Hotels’ Sonali Fernando

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 a forthcoming HSMAI Special Report that we’re previewing with excerpts, including Sonali Fernando, regional director of revenue for Virgin Hotels.

Sonali Fernando is a dynamic, results-driven leader with more than 15 years of experience in the hospitality industry and a diverse background in branded and lifestyle hotels in highly competitive urban destinations and resort markets. She is responsible for leading an energized revenue optimization team that is dedicated to achieving top- and bottom-line performance, managing distribution strategy, and gaining market share. Prior to joining Virgin Hotels, Fernando worked for Hostmark Hospitality, where she held various positions including accommodations specialist, revenue manager, director of revenue, and, most recently, regional director of revenue overseeing a diverse portfolio of more than 15 hotels.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Even before COVID-19, Fernando was being called on to take on more responsibility and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Working for a growing brand, she became the go-to person to help Virgin improve performance at a challenged asset and to open two new hotels.

NOMINATED BY: Ed Skapinok, HSMAI Sales Advisory Board — “As hoteliers we are lucky to have someone with Sonali’s unique combination of intellect, determination, and enthusiasm. Sonali succeeded in every circumstance because of her tireless work ethic and willingness to try new approaches to achieve superior results. She has decided that hospitality is the place for her and has dedicated herself to a career in this field.”


“Success has always been my primary motivator. Despite having to reevaluate how we define success in the current environment, it is still possible to win. Figuring out how to keep winning, to not just survive the times but to excel despite them, has been my motivation. The pandemic has forced all of us in the hospitality industry to become more, do more, to be nimble, move faster, work harder, get more done with fewer resources. To be able to deliver results in the most difficult of times has kept me motivated over the past year. It has also been inspiring to watch teams come together and develop new ways of working. We have stopped doing things because we’ve always done them, and overhauled processes to improve efficiencies. The adaptability and resilience of the people I work with has been inspiring.”

How to Audit Your GDS Info

HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board Tactical Workgroup has produced a series of resources directed at helping hospitality marketing professionals drive revenue recovery. This one focuses on best practices for auditing the information you share on global distribution systems (GDS).


Global distribution systems (GDS) enable transactions between hotels and travel agencies, giving them 24-hour access to live inventory and rates. They provide hotels global reach for relatively low costs.

To optimize your GDS-produced revenue — as well as the potential for revenue — audit your hotel’s information in every GDS where it appears. Ensure that content is up-to-date and consistent across the GDS.


The following best practices by content type are a helpful guide:

1. Photography Requirements and Details

  • Up to 25 pictures can be displayed in the GDS/ODD channel in the highest possible resolution.
  • Maximum of seven photos for each room type (the photos should show distinct differences in the room types).
  • Resolution of photos should be 300 dpi.
  • To resize images, consider using a free image editor such as PicResize or Pixlr.

2. Property Description

  • The hotel description serves as the opening statement to a travel agent utilizing the GDS to sell your hotel and to potential guests.
  • Include the key selling features.
  • Agent reading time is short, so descriptions should be interesting, detailed, and inviting, yet objective and concise.
  • Description sections are typically limited to 500 characters.

 3. Property Information

  • Allowable special characters are limited to the following: period, forward slash, and hyphen; others will be removed.
  • Include basic property details, such as:
  • Name
  • Address
  • Website
  • Phone
  • Time zone
  • Number of rooms
  • Check-in/checkout time
  • Currency
  • Agency commission percentage
  • Latitude and longitude (see Google Maps for assistance determining this)

 4. Lanyon Property Type and Rating (if applicable)

  • Where options are provided, choose the best one.
  • Include AAA Diamond rating, Mobil Star rating, OHG rating, RAC Star rating, etc.

 5. Location of the Property

  • List airports in order of proximity to the property.
  • Include airport name, three-letter code, and distance from property.
  • Don’t forget to include applicable regional airports for business travel.

 6. Directions

  • Provide basic directions to your hotel from multiple different geographic map points.
  • Directions should be simple, clear to understand, and stick to major thoroughfares rather than local shortcuts.

 7. Property Amenities

  • This is typically a checkbox within your distribution system.

 8. Hotel Policies

  • Deposit policy: If you have multiple deposit policy periods, they need to be listed separately. An example of a deposit policy is “All reservations require credit card deposit of 100% of stay due at time of booking.”
  • Guarantee policy: If you have multiple guarantee policy periods, they need to be listed separately. An example of a guarantee policy is “All reservations require credit card guarantee due at time of booking.”
  • Cancellation policy: If you have multiple cancellation policy periods, they need to be listed separately. An example of a cancellation policy is “Reservations must be canceled 24 hours prior to arrival to avoid a penalty of one-night room and tax.”
  • Terms and conditions: Include any additional information. For example, is your property completely nonsmoking? Depending on the GDS, there may be checkboxes in this section to attend to as well.
  • Pet policy and deposit (if applicable): For example, “Pets allowed,” “Pets allowed free of charge,” etc.
  • Additional services and fees: Check all that apply (for example, “Early checkout,” “Late checkout,” “Extra adult,” “Rollaway,” “Valet parking,” etc.).
  • Include all accepted payments, taxes, surcharges, and fees.

 9. Room Type Details

  • Each GDS returns 15 to 20 room/rate combinations on a general search.
  • Create simple, clear room types that promote the value of the offering.

 10. Inventory Best Practices

  • Create and load meaningful descriptions of your rooms. Properly defined room descriptions convey the value of your rooms. Higher room types need to say clearly why a client should pay extra for this room.
  • Use the sequencing functionality to sequence your room types from lowest class to highest class.
  • Load inventory as far out as you are allowed, or at least 18 to 24 months out.
  • To comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, properties can:
  • Include the word “accessible” in the room type name as applicable.
  • Describe a room’s features in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to determine if the room meets their accessibility needs.
  • This applies to all room description fields.

 11. Room Type Name

  • The GDS limits the total number of characters to 43.
  • Room names that are more than 43 characters will be truncated on the GDS.

 12. GDS Seamless Room Description

  • Include room type details and key selling points.
  • The maximum number of characters allowed — including spaces — is 47 per line for up to two lines.
  • All details will appear in all-caps and without punctuation.
  • Bad example:



  • Good example:



 13. Room Amenities

  • Include room amenities using the GDS checkboxes.

 14. Property Level Rates

  • Best available rate (BAR): Daily rate and typically default. There should be no rate that is lower unless it is qualified or fenced.
  • Negotiated rates: These are defined as confidential rates contracted with a specific company restricting the access to certain travel agencies. There are GDS loading instructions for each of your negotiated rates. Check expirations.
  • Consortia rates: Consortia rates are typically entered in a different place.
  • Packages (if applicable): Due to the limited number of characters allowed in the description field, packages should be simpler and more easily defined as a value (for example, “Room and breakfast”).
  • Load all room types against your BAR rates (including suites). Set no more than 5 to 6 public rates.
  • Sequence your rate plans. The recommended order is 1) BAR, 2) discount/promotional, 3) package. The recommended rate sequencing is lowest rate to highest rate.

 15. Rate Plans

  • Each standard and negotiated rate plan is entered separately. Where options are provided, choose the best one.
  • Rate plan name (as you would like to display to your customer): The GDS limits the total number of characters to 43.
  • ID-required plans: These might include government, senior citizen, travel agent, and AAA. Add a comment to the GDS “Rate Plan Description” field, such as “Must present special ID upon check-in in order to receive the rate.”

 16. Rate Plan Policies

  • Only needed if there are different or additional policies from standard.

 17. GDS Negotiated Rate Loading (if applicable)

  • This may be different depending on the distribution and GDS platform, but typically applies to Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan, and Amadeus.

 18. GDS Rate Plan Description

  • Maximum of 47 characters including spaces per line — including spaces — for up to two lines.
  • All details will appear in all-caps and without punctuation.
  • Include rate plan details, key selling points, or restrictions.
  • Examples:

19. Dining Options

  • List restaurants located on or near your property in order of importance.
  • Where options are provided, choose the best option.
  • Include room service and hours of operation.
  • All text will appear in English only.

 20. Meeting Rooms

  • This information pertains to onsite space only.
  • Include number of meeting rooms, total meeting space, largest and smallest room space, and largest and smallest capacities.

 21. Recreation

  • Select and provide details of all recreational facilities available to the guest (for example, golf courses, health club facility and equipment, swimming pools, etc.).

 22. Safety Features

  • Check all the safety features applicable to the property.
  • Some GDS may ask for COVID-19 safety procedures.

 23. FEMA ID (if applicable)

  • This can be helpful when booking government business.

 24. Property Services

  • Check all services applicable to the property.

 25. Reference Points

  • Reference points are used as search qualifiers in the GDS to locate properties near a location.
  • Where options are provided, choose the best option.
  • A minimum of 10 reference points is recommended.

 26. Marketing Messages

  • Available in Sabre, Apollo/Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus.
  • Carries by distribution system.

Special thanks to TravelClick for providing many of these best practices.

Recovery Conversations: Johnson & Wales University’s Katie Davin

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

Katie Davin, CHSE, associate professor at Johnson & Wales University College of Hospitality Management, has been teaching hotel sales, marketing, and management classes for 24 years, but this year has brought new challenges. Still, she said, the excitement and optimism from students looking to enter the industry remains. Recently, Davin spoke with HSMAI about her experience teaching virtually, including how her students are coping with everything going on around them.

Are you back to teaching in person, or are you still teaching virtually?

For my classes, I’m still remote teaching, but the university does have some face-to-face classes.

How are your students responding to all that’s going on in the world?

They’ve been responding really well. I think they’ve been good sports throughout, especially considering that remote learning is not what they signed up for. My favorite thing about hospitality students is that they are up for anything and willing to try anything. If they have to take remote classes, they do it.

Everyone is beginning to feel better now that people are starting to travel again and hotels are reopening. College students in their early years are not too worried about the long term. Seniors are worried about finding a job after graduation, but things are starting to look up.

What do you tell your students who are worried about their future?

Don’t jump ship now, right when things are about to get great! If they need a job in a different industry now for experience and money, that’s fine, but they should not give up on the industry for good. When things are more normal again, we will have better safety, improved technology, and new ways of serving guests, as companies have ramped up their innovation throughout the pandemic. That’s all really good news and we need young people to manage that and continue to come up with new ideas.

What’s the best thing that students can do to prepare for a career in hospitality? Has any of that changed since the pandemic?

Of course, having a good hospitality education is important, but other than that, experience is the most important thing. Any kind of hospitality experience helps them figure out what it’s like to deal with guests and service, and to make someone’s day.

Any hospitality experience can lead to other opportunities; working at a restaurant or tourist attractions are both great ways to get that hospitality experience. We require them to do an internship in order to graduate, but we encourage them to work in hospitality to get more experience beyond that semester.

How have you had to adapt your teaching style for remote learning?

I really revamped my lessons, not the content but the delivery. I’ve had to be so much more creative engaging students remotely. If I’m in a room with them, I can see their faces and I can tell if I’m losing them or if they’re confused. Now I have to ask them to give me feedback, even if their cameras are on. If cameras are off, I have to specifically ask them to unmute or give me comments in a poll or chat. It’s an extra step, beyond just asking a question and seeing hands shoot up in the classroom or hearing a bunch of students all chime in at once. I’ve had to try a lot of new ways to get students actively involved in class.

How did you get started in the industry?

I started as a teenager washing dishes, then cooking and serving for a caterer. My mom remarked that I could go to college for hospitality, so I did! I studied hotel administration at Cornell, thinking I wanted a career in F&B. I started in catering services at Marriott in the Boston area, then got into sales. Eventually I decided I wanted to teach, and I went back to Cornell and got a master’s degree in hotel administration.

What’s your personal outlook for the future of hospitality?

I’m very optimistic. Everything is getting better, and it’s going to be okay. Hospitality is a wonderful industry to have a career in, and I keep telling my students that.

How to Hire a Sales Hunter

HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board (SAB) is developing resources to help hospitality organizations that are gearing up to bring back staff and hire for new positions, including sales hunters. The SAB has drafted this job description template to use as a starting point for the sales hunter role.



Prospect for new and needed period business, and negotiate and book group room nights and meeting space (set at specific goals) to meet and exceed guest room occupancy, guest room average rate, exhibit hall occupancy, exhibit hall revenue goals, and booking pace goals. Develop relationships with new accounts to ensure repeat bookings and referrals.


  • Increase opportunities to book maximum number of room nights, room revenue, and total square foot usage.
  • Increase hotel’s ability to maximize annual occupancy with a focus on business from [insert need period] of each year.
  • Develop relationships with targeted companies and prospect for new business.
  • Conduct site tours and familiarization trips.
  • Establish good working relationships with other departments.
  • Ensure continuity of flow for clients and work with conferences for a seamless transition post-booking and throughout the events.
  • Book businesses with best possible ADR and banquet F&B, keeping budgeted figures in forefront.
  • Travel to industry functions [list industry shows] to develop new business contacts and sales leads.
  • Develop and maintain effective relationships with [list brand, management company, and/or owners] with a focus on developing new contacts and new accounts.
  • Other duties as assigned.


To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential duty satisfactorily. The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

Education and Experience:

  • Bachelor’s degree preferred.
  • Six+ years of hotel experience and four+ years of sales-related experience required. Sales experience in [insert markets] markets preferred.
  • Experience in proactively building in-person sales calls.
  • Experience in trade-show connections, pre-, during, and post-show.
  • Experience selling [insert description of property — think about addressing size of hotel, number of guest rooms, amount of meeting space, chain scale, and property type (e.g., full service, select service, etc.)].
  • Proven track record of acquiring new business.
  • Creator of long-lasting relationships.

Skills and Abilities:

  • Persistence: Able to be persistent in a professional and positive manner.
  • Language ability: Able to read, analyze, and interpret general business periodicals, professional journals, technical procedures, and/or governmental regulations. Able to write reports, business correspondence, and procedural manuals. Able to effectively present information and respond to questions from groups of managers, clients, customers, and the general public.
  • Mathematical ability: Able to work with mathematical concepts such as probability and statistical inference, and fundamentals of plane and solid geometry and trigonometry. Able to apply concepts such as fractions, percentages, ratios, and proportions to practical situations.
  • Reasoning ability: Able to define problems, collect data, establish facts, and draw valid conclusions; interpret an extensive variety of technical instructions in mathematical or diagram form; and deal with several abstract and concrete variables.
  • Computer skills: Knowledge of [insert software and systems with which you require experience (e.g., word-processing software, spreadsheet software, accounting software, payroll systems, development software, internet software, database software, contact management systems, etc.)].


  • Shared management of one sales assistant.
  • Carry out supervisory responsibilities in accordance with the organization’s policies and applicable laws.
  • Responsibilities include interviewing, hiring, and training employees; planning, assigning, and directing work; appraising performance; rewarding and disciplining employees; and addressing complaints and resolving problems.


  • The work environment characteristics described here are representative of those an employee encounters while performing the essential functions of this job. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.
  • While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently exposed to outdoor weather conditions. The employee is occasionally exposed to work near moving mechanical parts and risk of electrical shock. The noise level in the work environment is usually moderate.
  • The job involves this amount of travel per year: [insert percentage of time and/or total number of days].


  • The physical demands described here are representative of those that must be met by an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of this job. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.
  • While performing the duties of this job, the employee is regularly required to sit and talk or hear. The employee is frequently required to stand and walk. The employee is occasionally required to use hands to finger, handle, or feel. The employee is occasionally required to lift and/or move up to 30 pounds. Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, distance vision, peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to adjust focus.


  • [List priorities for first 30 days.]
  • [List priorities for first 60 days.]
  • [List priorities for first 90 days.]

Why Content Is Still King

HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board Tactical Workgroup has produced a series of resources directed at helping hospitality marketing professionals drive revenue recovery. This one focuses on the continued importance of content.

Content matters. It represents one of your hotel’s key “salespeople,” available to guests whenever and wherever they are along their purchase path. Whether your guests are dreaming, planning, booking, experiencing, or sharing, content performs a vital role in the process.

Given the extreme volatility of the past year, hotel marketers have had to adjust their content — among other things — at a rapid pace. Key features and amenities that were once the hallmark of your property may have changed, possibly for the first time ever.

Ensuring that you have updated and complete profiles online assists with your placement on many sites and informs prospective and returning guests about your property’s amenities and features. Plus, at a time when staffing levels have been reduced, front-desk agents have been asked to cover more areas of the hotel. Having correct and complete information in your online profiles can reduce call questions for your front desk or call center.


Your branded and/or standalone website(s) should be the official repository of information on your hotel. Ensure that all information is as updated and complete as possible. While branded websites have clear sections and bulleted areas for listing amenities, standalone sites may not. Think about the key areas and items that bring guests to your hotel and ensure they are fully represented on your site.


In addition to your hotel’s primary site, third-party sites must be kept up to date. Your placement on an OTA’s search results are absolutely affected by the completeness of your content. Some third-party sites even have a “completeness score” to flag for you what is missing from your profile.

Reviews also affect this sort of placement algorithm. If your listing contains misinformation or lacks clarity, it can result in poor reviews, which can drive down your placement as well.


While the amount of specific content may be less on social media sites than on traditional listings, the content should be still be as complete and consistent as possible.


Make sure your guests know what to expect, and work to improve your standing in search results:

  1. Your first step should be to work with your operations team to identify any changes in amenities or service offerings.
  2. Then audit every site where your hotel appears and update information on any amenities that have changed. Ensure that each listing is 100-percent complete.
    • Note if pool and fitness center hours/availability are affected by local ordinances or staffing levels.
    • For F&B outlets, answer important questions including: Is your onsite restaurant open? Is the restaurant open but the bar closed? Have the hours changed?
    • For F&B offerings, are you no longer offering breakfast buffets but still offering a hot breakfast?

Measuring B2B Marketing Success

By Michael Goldrich, CHDM, Global Head of Digital Marketing, Club Quarters, and member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board

How do we know we are being successful when it comes to our marketing strategies? HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) members took a deep dive into measuring the success and ROI of B2B marketing on their latest call, including sharing some of the metrics and tools that they use. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:


  • “Only 25 percent of hotel marketers have active B2B SEM campaigns. The reason is the associated challenges to track the ROI. We’ve recently solved the tracking issue. We’ve set up full-cycle tracking from AdWords to WordPress to Salesforce and back to Adwords. Now we can see the full opportunity and funnel. The challenge is, how do you implement this kind of tracking for hotel groups with a less integrated martech stack? I think you go back to old school. Let’s match up how many leads the marketing team delivered this month and talk with your sales team. How many of those closed? Come up with a number, and at least it’s a raw estimate.”
  • “We have a couple of B2B campaigns where we want to track the full ROI. Specifically, I have an ongoing campaign encouraging people to book extended stays with us. So, how would know if it’s been successful or not? We’re working with Google and they’ve helped create this Google trackable ID called that GCLID that goes directly onto our website form as a hidden field. When the website form is submitted, the GCLID automatically goes to our CRM. And once the lead opportunity is actualized, the associated revenue gets passed to AdWords. Now you can have the end-to-end tracking in place and you can see the full ROI.”


  • “The Hotel Network (“THN”) has a widget you can put on a booking engine to see the pricing of your rates compared against other OTAs. They also have the capability to put highly personalized segmented messages directly on your website and booking engine. They recently created a program called BenchDirect and a new metric called the Direct Booking Index (DBI). It is basically an amalgamation of conversion, rates, booking, demand, disparities, and revenue. And each of those has a different weight in the DBI calculation. If you dig a little bit deeper into their dashboard of charts and data, you can now compare your hotel against itself, the brand, the destination, and 50 hotels from their network that they feel are similar to your hotel. This program just launched in early March.”
  • “I think comp set scores should be more important, because you can have a great ROI on your book-direct campaigns and you can have a great ROI on your social or AdWords, but overall the hotel could be underperforming against a comp set or underperforming against budget.”
  • “So usually, we’re comparing ourselves against ourselves, whether it’s our ROI, our year-over-year or our-month-over-month, a little bit against the Demand 360 in terms of the comp set. But I think most hotels are really looking at themselves. So, in theory, you would think that if you’re a hotel owner, you would want to make sure that you’re doing probably as well as the brand across all KPI measures. Now expand this further with data you pull in the destination. Now you can see whether your hotel is getting its fair share of direct business from the destination market. And I think something like this, at least to me, would help to diagnose where your direct booking experience is doing better or worse against all the key metrics.”


  • “I had this conversation earlier this week asking a brand, ‘How do you expect me to measure the success of the programs that we’re talking about?’ And I knew exactly what the answer was going to be: ‘We don’t. We’re going to send all leads to your website and then you’re going to get RFPs.’ Then you’ve got to ask the sales department to qualify the information and the RFPs that are coming in. And right now, maybe 90 percent of our hotels have no one on property still. So, it’s tough right now.”
  • “I think from a hotel perspective, one of the challenges is that a lot of companies don’t even have a B2B form on their website. And then if they do, it probably goes into an inbox where nobody knows where it is. That’s the first step, is getting the form up and making sure somebody’s responding to it.”

CURATE BOOK CLUB: Executive Roundtable Reading Lists

Inspired by the high-level, cross-disciplinary conversation of HSMAI’s Curate event, the Curate Book Club interviews the authors of new and recent books that are relevant to hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization leaders. Read previous Curate Book Club interviews here. This month, we present suggested reading from participants in HSMAI’s recent Chief Sales Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, and Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtables.


  • The Bowden Way: 50 Years of Leadership Wisdom, by Bobby Bowden with Steve Bowden
  • The Good Boss: 9 Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work, by Kate Eberle Walker
  • The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • Is This Anything?, by, Jerry Seinfeld
  • Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, by Jim Kwik
  • Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential and How You Can Achieve Yours, by Shirzad Chamine
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Seeing Yourself as Others Do: Authentic Executive Presence at Any Stage of Your Career, by Thomas Mungavan and Carol Keers
  • Selling With Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud, by Lisa Earle McLeod
  • Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, by Danny Meyer
  • Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, by L. Jon Wertheim
  • The 10 Laws of Trust: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great, by Joel Peterson with David A. Kaplan
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris


  • The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, by Dan Buettner
  • Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras
  • The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson
  • The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas Campbell
  • Compassion Inc.: Unleashing the Power of Empathy in Life and Business, by Gaurav Sinha
  • The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, by Gary Chapman
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins
  • Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
  • The McKinsey Way: Using the Techniques of the World’s Top Strategic Consultants to Help You and Your Business, by Ethan Rasiel
  • The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
  • A Promised Land, by Barack Obama
  • The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead, various editions


  • The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
  • The Analytic Hospitality Executive: Implementing Data Analytics in Hotels and Casinos, by Kelly A. McGuire
  • Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff
  • The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz
  • The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins
  • How to Write One Song: Loving the Things We Create and How They Love Us Back, by Jeff Tweedy
  • The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek
  • My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams
  • The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
  • Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek
  • Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration, by Simon Sinek
  • Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, by Fareed Zakaria
  • Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life, by Spencer Johnson

5 Things to Know About Lifetime Honoree Dorothy Dowling

HSMAI’s Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Marketing honoree reflects on the start of her career, the evolution of the industry, and the outlook for recovery.

After 35 years in hospitality, nearly half of it with Best Western Hotels & Resorts, where she serves as senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Dorothy Dowling has earned more than a few honors. The long list includes but is by no means limited to being named to the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) Top 40 Women in Travel, receiving GBTA’s Allied Member of the Year Award, being recognized as the 18th most influential chief CMO in the world in Forbes/ScribbleLive/LinkedIn’s CMO Influence Study in 2015, and being inducted into the Direct Marketing News Marketing Hall of Femme.

But her latest honor hits pretty close to home. During HSMAI’s Adrian Awards Celebration on March 23, she received the Albert E. Koehl Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Marketing. “HSMAI is an incredibly special organization to me because it has played such an important role in fostering my career,” Dowling said in a recent interview. “The learning opportunities and the peer networking opportunities from HSMAI have been truly transformational for me.”

Here are five other things we learned about Dowling during our conversation:

1. How she got into hospitality: “I’m Canadian by birth, I grew up in Toronto. When I did my graduate degree, I went to the University of Waterloo in Ontario, which I always characterize as similar to MIT, because it’s a heavy engineering/computer science school. The university had a large databank to support research activity, so I was able to do my master’s degree using the Canadian government office of tourism’s 10-year linear database. I did a 10-year longitudinal study on Canadian vacation travel habits, and then the office of tourism hired me as a result of that research. And that was my first real job. I didn’t have a plan to go into hospitality, but like many, I fell into it. From there I went to Laventhol & Horwath, where I was a consultant and then a senior consultant in the hospitality practice. When you’re in the consulting space, you often get hired by the client, so that’s really how I started on the hotel side, being hired by Relax Hotels in Canada.”

2. What she thinks is the key to hospitality marketing: “There are lots of things that I have learned over the years, but perhaps the most important — especially in today’s environment — is how to be agile and move quickly. As a hospitality marketer, you are dealing with perishable inventory, so you have to be evaluating information as it comes in and constantly iterating on the thought process. I’ve seen others join the hospitality business that have come out of a much more structured environment, like packaged goods or some of the industrial verticals, and it’s really hard for them to get their head around how you might have to pivot even within a week. Particularly right now with COVID, we are constantly monitoring consumer intentions and readiness to travel, and we’re forced to pivot and adapt to those evolving sentiments. I do think the hospitality industry really affords people the opportunity to take risks and continue to learn and evolve their thinking as they go.”

3. How she’s seen hospitality change: “One of the big changes I have seen in hospitality throughout my career has been attribution modeling. Currently, attribution modeling is a last-touch model, meaning the attribution goes entirely to the last touchpoint in the conversion path. While there are tremendous benefits to attribution modeling, such as giving us great insight into consumer engagement and their participation with our lower-funnel marketing, it does not provide a full view of the customer journey. I have seen a greater focus on attribution modeling in our industry, but I encourage people to think of it as a guiding post as opposed to an exact science.

“The other change that I’ve seen in the industry revolves around the question, are we a hospitality business or a hotel business? It’s the nature of hospitality versus the real estate part of our business. I think that both live together, but the question has come about as a result of the investment structures that have fueled the growth of the industry. Today there are different stakeholders in terms of asset managers and the ownership investment component, which has taken on a different level of decision making — short-term, medium-term, long-term decisions; how we really think about our business model in terms of growth; and where our industry is going to evolve over the next couple of years. There’s been a real change in that real-estate mindset, which I don’t think is good or bad. I just think it’s different.”

4. How’s she’s feeling about the recovery: “I have the good fortune of participating in different industry partnerships, and there’s a tremendous sense of optimism — there is a lot of light at the end of the COVID tunnel. We’re seeing good signals that the recovery is going to happen soon and that we will have a good summer in the U.S. and Canada. Maybe not as great as 2019, but the U.S. and Canada are on the path to recovery. The rest of the world, it’s more of a Q4 recovery. So, I feel good about our North American hoteliers and I feel comfortable about our European hoteliers that there will be a definite path to recovery. For Asia, I am in wait-and-see mode, because there’s still quite a bit of risk as to how the vaccine deployment will come to be in the Asia-Pacific region. And then, because there’s so much dependency on intercountry travel in the region, I’m not as confident in terms of when that’s going to play out.”

5. What advice she has for new hospitality professionals: “I think there is a lot of fear when it comes to starting a career in hospitality today. It is widely known that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the industry, with many regretful layoffs across hospitality companies. There’s still uncertainty as to when people are going to be rehired and if new graduates are going to have a shot in the hospitality industry given the tremendous levels of unemployment that we still have.

“What I have offered is that the hospitality industry is a great learning environment. There’s a lot of opportunity to grow, because you’re given a great deal of responsibility early in your career, which I think affords you applied learning like nothing else I’ve experienced. In the early years of a hospitality career, you won’t see high compensation and you will be asked to invest a lot of time. You’ll likely be thrown into a variety of  situations where you’ll be forced to learn as you go and figure it out along the way. But I do believe that those experiences are invaluable in your personal and professional development, and you earn a sort of gravitas in terms of having experienced situations way above what your potential job title might be in an organization.”

Watch the Lifetime Achievement Award presentation and acceptance.

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Hospitality Students

Our advice for students and young professionals who are joining the hotel industry at a challenging moment.

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

“What advice would you give to a smart, driven hospitality student about to graduate?”

It’s an interesting moment to be asking that question. Over the last year, we’ve watched as our talent situation has been turned inside-out — from having too many positions and not enough people to fill them, to widespread layoffs and furloughs pushing qualified professionals to leave hospitality for other industries. Is now really the time to tell our students how to build a career in hospitality?

Absolutely. In this uncertain environment, with recovery on its way but the timeline still unclear, it’s more important than ever to let students know that hospitality is a viable and vibrant career path, with options and opportunities they won’t find anywhere else — and to help them navigate it with informed advice reflecting how the pandemic has (and hasn’t) changed the industry. This is part of the ongoing work of the HSMAI Foundation, which late last year hosted a global series of Executive Roundtable programs for hotel human resources executives; see the Foundation’s new white paper for key takeaways.

Dovetailing with that, HSMAI posed the question at the top of this article to participants in our most recent series of Executive Roundtables for sales, marketing, revenue, digital, and loyalty executives. They had a lot of advice to share, grouped in eight main areas:

1. Diversify your skillset and cross-train. This includes everything from learning about data analytics, to becoming familiar with every department and function, to making sure to work on-property at some point.

2. Be open to different opportunities to get your foot in the door. That means being humble, working hard, and being willing to start in whatever position and at whatever level you can.

3. Be flexible and get comfortable with change. Understand that most careers are nonlinear, so be willing to jump into roles and projects that you hadn’t anticipated.

4. Be patient. Especially as the pandemic continues to play itself out, it’s important to adjust your expectations, play the long game — and believe that hospitality will bounce back stronger than ever.

5. Be curious. Stay open to learning by asking questions and gaining experiences from everyone you work with, including team members working at the front desk or in housekeeping.

6. Seize the day. If you jump in headfirst and say yes to everything, you’ll be rewarded with plenty of opportunities to grow and advance.

7. Never give up. Stay focused, stay positive, and stay strong.

8. Speak up and contribute. Focus on the issues and pain points that need solving, and be prepared to contribute your opinions and ideas.

This is good advice for just about any professional working in any industry, but particularly relevant to someone who is looking to join hospitality while it’s still feeling the effects of a devastating crisis. Because we want our students to look forward to the role they have to play in helping us recover.


Effectively Market Hotels on Facebook: Drive Awareness and Inspiration

HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board Tactical Workgroup has produced a series of resources focused on leveraging Facebook — which 70 percent of travelers use every week — to help drive revenue recovery. Previous resources focused on how to use dynamic ads and creative testing ideas. The next one addresses driving awareness and inspiration.


Hoteliers today desperately need to inspire travelers. They are thirsty to reach consumers who have travel intent to drive both consideration and long-term bookings. Hoteliers need a solution to capitalize on net new intent and foster potential travel.


The travel industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. Many hotels are not close to full occupancy, and consumers have not yet fully bought into the idea of safe travel in this new normal we live in. We need to inspire confidence in travelers.


If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the story you can tell with a truly immersive video. Use Facebook Trip Consideration targeting with video and image assets to reach people in market to travel. This strategy will help you reach people who have travel intent and inspire consideration of your brand for their next trip. It leverages online browsing activity, behavior, interests, and travel history.

The setup is a simple “toggle” in Ads Manager, ideally using Conversions, with no catalog required. Ideally, the KPI leveraged are “site visits” — driving inspiration and consumers to visit the hotel site.


  1. You will need an ad account in Ads Manager, the Facebook pixel, and inspirational creative. Ideally, the creative includes both video assets (4:5 videos < 15 seconds) and image assets (4:5 images).
  2. Specific set up steps are here.
  3. Get inspiration.


The campaign setup in Ads Manager takes 10 to 20 minutes. The recommended budget is highly variable and based on how many site visits are desired.