HSMAI Special Report: 2021 Adrian Awards: Platinum and President’s Award Honorees

The 2021 HSMAI Adrian Awards celebrate the creative and innovative digital marketing, advertising, and public relations work completed during one of the most unique times hospitality and travel has ever seen. The theme for this year’s Adrian Awards is “Empowering Recovery” — a premise that has been top of mind for everyone in this profession. Marketing has been at the forefront of leading the recovery of travel, encouraging guests and visitors to get back on the road, and inspiring them to create the moments and experiences they’ll never forget. At our awards ceremony held in March in Boca Raton, Florida, we honored and recognized the great work done by hotels, destinations, and their agency partners to get travelers moving again, showcase safety and security, and welcome those traveling for the first time in over a year. In this special report, we spotlight the platinum and president’s award winners and showcase their best practices in the categories of digital marketing, public relations, advertising and diversity marketing.


HSMAI Foundation Talent Best Practice: Implementing ‘Flexible Fridays’ to Improve Work-Life Balance

By Noreen Henry, Chief Revenue Officer at Sojern, HSMAI Foundation Board Member

The past two years have been tough for the travel industry. Lockdowns, travel bans, and other restrictions meant many travel companies were forced to do more with less. From an employee standpoint, it’s affected both workload and morale. Now, as the industry rebounds and travel returns, organizations must continue to work to avoid employee burnout and improve the employee experience and company culture.

In March 2020, in-person work ceased for many travel companies, which meant working remotely or simply not working at all. By April 2020, HR professionals were seeing a trend: 65% said that maintaining employee morale was a challenge — and that was across all industries. That same month, Sojern took action, introducing a program called “Flexi Fridays.” This program has been a successful part of our initiative to make sure our team has a healthy work-life balance.

Ever since we implemented this program, our work-life balance scores in Glint, an internal culture survey, have increased dramatically. Our internal productivity statistics have improved as well. Not only that, Sojern’s Net Promoter Score has increased in the four quarters since we’ve implemented the program, which means our shorter work week has not negatively impacted customer satisfaction.

Here’s how Sojern’s Flexi Friday policy works and why it’s important for our team and the travel industry.

What Is Flexi Friday?

Flexi Friday was designed to meet Sojern employee needs and gives team members additional flexibility on Fridays. Sojern teams are busy, and they are often accommodating offices located in multiple time zones. By the time Friday hits, many team members are trying to wrap up any loose ends so they can enjoy the weekend. Flexi Fridays allow them to end their workday at noon. What’s more, Sojern has a strict “no internal meeting” policy on Fridays. While an occasional meeting may be scheduled, this is only in the event of a true emergency. Otherwise, Fridays are a break from the typical flow of calls and meetings, which gives employees additional flexibility with their day.

Why It Matters

The travel industry is both busy and constantly changing, and employees must continually adapt. While meetings are important, employees need uninterrupted time to focus on tasks and be more productive. Statistics show that employees spend 35-50% of their time in meetings, depending on seniority. But 42% of remote workers say they are more productive when they can work for extended blocks of uninterrupted time. Catch-up time is important, and Sojern’s no-meeting policy allows for that, just in time for the weekend.

Beyond productivity, Flexi Fridays give Sojern employees something even more valuable: time. They can dive into the weekend early, have some breathing room to plan for the following week, spend time with family and friends, or even travel! Recently, one of our team members wrote about how Flexi Fridays allow her to pick up her son from school and enjoy the extra time with him.

Another team member shared this on a recent Glint survey: “Flexi-Fridays! I feel like having a day when I can wake up when I want and keep my head down in work (and not in meetings) helps me effectively get to a good stopping point for the week. Then, I do not feel internal pressure to log back on during the weekends.”

Now more than ever, it’s critical that the travel industry actively look for ways to improve the employee experience and company culture. By giving team members flexible, meeting-free Fridays, travel companies can boost morale as well as give employees time and space to plan, travel, and dream.

Revenue Optimization Best Practices on Developing and Retaining Talent

Within the hospitality industry, the need for attracting, developing, and engaging commercial talent has been felt across the board. Among leaders within sales, marketing, and revenue optimization, talent-related issues have been rated highly in polls conducted by HSMAI, and many are still figuring out how to rebuild and reenergize their teams.

During the recent HSMAI Hotel Management Company Chief Revenue Officer Virtual Executive Roundtable, leaders in revenue management identified the following as the top three challenges facing commercial talent today:

  1. Poaching from other industries
  2. Compensation and benefits
  3. Availability of qualified candidates already in the industry

In the new talent and work landscape of their corporate teams, these three themes were identified as top priorities among this group:

  1. Mental health and well-being of employees
  2. Doing more with less
  3. Technology implications

When it comes to current team size and job openings, 39% of the polled revenue leaders said their team size has stayed the same, while 33% said it has decreased less than 25%. Seventy-eight percent said they have no current openings on their team.


The group also shared a plethora of best practices and tactics that they’re using to develop, recruit, and retain talent.

On developing talent:

  • Focus on constant training, including weekly one-on-ones, all-discipline team calls, monthly training, and other revenue-specific learning opportunities.
  • Show a clear career path and where people can go over time.
  • One roundtable member discussed hiring revenue generation specialists as an entry-level position with a specific development program where they work for regional directors. In about 18 months, they’re ready to be a revenue leader.
  • Another said within their company, revenue team members need to have five to six years’ experience, as the team manages eight hotels on average. They’re put through junior training, working side by side with the RM team. It takes 18 months to get through program, and they ramp up two hotels at time until they reach the eight hotels.

On recruiting talent:

  • Retain the talent you have, identify the bench strength within the organization, and make sure they’re getting the exposure they need to grow.
  • Lead with what the company’s strengths are such as a positive work environment, career pathing, flexibility, etc. You can recruit based on what you do for your people once they land with you.
  • Look internally. One group member discussed how they’ve seen several internal general managers interested in coming to revenue positions.

On retaining talent:

  • One group member discussed a work-life benefit that partially reimburses employees for vacation with family.
  • Create flexible work environments that offer hybrid or virtual opportunities.
  • Foster a positive culture and reinforce the team and organization’s vision.
  • Focus on challenging and enriching the team. Allow them to participate in different committees. Recognize them in front of their peers. Make sure they are heard.

HSMAI Adrian Awards Best Practices: Nourish Lexington

The 2021 Adrian Awards are now open! Take some inspiration from one of last year’s honorees –VisitLEX. Submit your entry for the 2021 Adrian Awards by Dec. 20, 2021.

For the 2020 Adrian Awards program, HSMAI introduced four new focus categories to recognize the resilience that the industry demonstrated in response to COVID: corporate social responsibility, crisis communications and management, recovery strategies, and talent and leadership development. In Hospitality Successes During the Pandemic Year, a new HSMAI Special Report, we profile all of the Best Practice Gold winners in these four categories — including VisitLEX, which was honored for Corporate Social Responsibility.

BACKGROUND: At the start of the pandemic, VisitLEX partnered with FoodChain, Keeneland Racecourse, and the E.E. Murry Family Foundation to create Nourish Lexington, which addressed two problems: communitywide food insecurity and hospitality industry job losses. Nourish Lexington’s dual goals were to provide meals to people in Central Kentucky needing immediate access to food — and to provide jobs for displaced restaurant workers, who were hired to prepare and deliver the meals. VisitLEX donated $10,000 to kickstart the Nourish Lexington fund and leveraged partnerships with local restaurants to promote the program among displaced hospitality workers and create distribution points. Keeneland donated more than 1,500 pounds of food, which encouraged many Lexington restaurants to donate excess product, and also contributed 100 percent of proceeds from

RESULTS: Nourish Lexington produced and distributed 200,000 meals to area hospitality workers, families in need, and seniors, and 68,103 meals for schoolchildren. More than $525,000 went back into the local food economy, which helped keep restaurant workers employed. Thanks to FoodChain, $86,259 went directly to food service workers displaced from their jobs.

HSMAI Adrian Awards Best Practices: The Costa Rica Essentials Toolkit

For the 2020 Adrian Awards program, HSMAI introduced four new focus categories to recognize the resilience that the industry demonstrated in response to COVID: corporate social responsibility, crisis communications and management, recovery strategies, and talent and leadership development. In Hospitality Successes During the Pandemic Year, a new HSMAI Special Report, we profile all of the Best Practice Gold winners in these four categories — including the Cost Rica Tourism Board in the Recovery Strategies category. Make plans now to enter the 2021 Adrian Awards competition, opening October 1.

BACKGROUND: After Costa Rica closed its borders to all foreign travelers in March 2020, the Costa Rica Tourism Board wanted to connect and empathize with its passionate community of travelers during this challenging time. While many destinations were pausing advertising entirely, Costa Rica leaned into the positioning of “Life’s Essentials Found Here,” the campaign it had just launched in 2019, to suggest that travelers pause and think about what really mattered, noting that when the time was right, Costa Rica would be ready to welcome them. Costa Rica communicated this idea through inspirational messaging and experiences from the destination, including producing a video called “We’ll Be Here”; developing a series of cooking videos, coloring worksheets, craft projects, digital wellness retreats, and wanderlust video backgrounds, all available via the newly launched Toolkit Hub: Find Some Balance; sponsoring Pandora’s Relaxation Radio station via in-stream audio, display, and video; and partnering with family experience store CAMP to host an Instagram takeover and virtual vacation.

RESULTS: Costa Rica’s organic, grassroots campaign delivered results across platforms. Find Some Balance nearly doubled the tourism board’s average page view time, and toolkit activities were shared broadly, generating more than 222 million media impressions, while “We’ll Be Here” garnered more than 37.5 million impressions and the Pandora sponsorship reached more than 300,000 listeners. In addition, the Instagram takeover and virtual vacation resulted in 1.8 million media and consumer impressions and nearly 25,000 social media impressions.

HSMAI Adrian Awards Best Practice: Wyndham’s Crisis Response Marketing

For the 2020 Adrian Awards program, HSMAI introduced four new focus categories to recognize the resilience that the industry demonstrated in response to COVID: corporate social responsibility, crisis communications and management, recovery strategies, and talent and leadership development. In Hospitality Successes During the Pandemic Year, a new HSMAI Special Report, we profile all of the Best Practice Gold winners in these four categories — including Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, which was honored for crisis communications and management. Details will be available shortly on the 2021 Adrian Awards competition.

BACKGROUND: In 2020, it was critical to ensure that Wyndham Rewards members felt peace of mind when it came to their points and status. To that end, Wyndham launched “Unlock Member Levels Faster,” a campaign that paused the expiration of Wyndham Rewards points for all members globally through the end of 2020, extended current member levels earned in 2019 through the end of 2021, relaxed earning requirements to allow members to gain status with fewer nights stayed, and relaxed cancellation policies. Wyndham also offered essential workers and first responders an instant complimentary gold membership in Wyndham Rewards and a 15-percent discount at participating hotels through the #EverydayHeroes initiative.

RESULTS: Through “Unlock Member Levels Faster,” Wyndham increased the number of members in all status levels; month over month, there was a 20-percent increase in members achieving the next level. Through #EverydayHeroes, 40 percent of those who signed up were new members, making this campaign successful in both enrolling new members and activating existing members.

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.

Restructuring Departments and Other Priorities for Hotel HR Professionals in the Middle East

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

The HSMAI Foundation and HSMAI Middle East hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable on Oct. 21 for hotel chief human resources officers in the region to discuss best practices they have developed after nearly eight months in the world of COVID-19. J. Bruce Tracey, Ph.D., editor of Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, professor of management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and member of the HSMAI Foundation Board of Trustees, facilitated the discussion. HSMAI Americas hosted previous CHRO roundtables on July 14 and Oct. 15, HSMAI Asia Pacific hosted one on Aug. 19, and HSMAI Europe hosted one on Sept. 16. Participants shared lessons learned and best practices, many revolving around changes in HR departments, technology, and employee wellness.


HR departments are not immune from the changes that have affected most of the hospitality industry, with several roundtable participants noting that their departments have been restructured. “In HR, we’re going into a completely self-service environment with technology,” one participant said. “Everybody will be able to do their HR-related work from their phones. I’m actually looking at taking HR out of all my properties and moving them into a centralized services office. There will be self-service kiosks, where you can get in there, go onto Teams, get into HR, and have your issues handled where necessary.”

The participant added that HR at their company is also transitioning some of its traditional duties to managers and instead serving in more of a support role. “All of the discipline and related issues, unless it comes to termination, have to be managed at the property level by the employees’ managers,” the participant said.

Another participant’s HR department is also being restructured and decentralized, so hotels and employees are more self-sufficient and less dependent on HR. “I find that we were babysitting our employees way too much,” the participant said. “Our employees want to make their own decisions and have self-service, but getting people to stop being reliant is not easy.”


The pandemic has accelerated the use of technology in most aspects of the hospitality industry. Participants said that guest services is one area where they have seen a lot of change. “We’re wanting to do a lot more particularly around understanding guests better,” one participant said.

One participant mentioned a new loyalty program their company recently rolled out. “It’s beautiful in its marketing, but it’s actually a very robust system on the back end,” the participant said. “It’s cleaning up guest profiles and finding better, more targeted ways of interacting. There are huge investments behind the scenes to drive greater engagement.”

While technology brings many efficiencies to the industry, it also eliminates the need for many jobs, participants said. “I don’t think technology will replace people in hospitality very soon,” one participant said, “but there will be a reduction in people because of the efficiencies that technology will bring.”

The participant added that technology likely will make some jobs that handle things like restaurant reservations or room-service orders obsolete, but people will always be needed to run hotels overall.

Along with technological changes, hotels are changing processes and services, forcing employees to come up with creative new solutions or, in some cases, look at older ways of doing things. “I used to laugh at anyone that was doing gueridon service and say they were a dinosaur,” one participant said. “Well, guess what? It’s back. We can’t bring people to the buffet, so we take the buffet to them. We immediately changed our buffets to these rolling trolleys.”


As much as HR professionals and managers want employees to put their wellbeing first, roundtable participants said they have been having a hard time getting them to use benefits designed to help them, such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). “We have a wellness program, and we have a hotline, we have legal advice, mental health advice, and financial advisers,” one participant said. “But quite often people just don’t call those numbers. I want to push staff to deal with wellness and stress and fatigue. Safety and security have to be looked after before people can self-actualize and be contributing members of the organization.”

Another participant’s organization has been conducting workshops at each of its hotels to make sure that employees know what resources are available to them and that managers are able to help their employees. “I’ve been stressing with my HR team and general managers to look for different behavior,” the participant said. “If there was a good performer pre-COVID and their performance is going down and they’ve been quiet or calling in sick, you need to support and help them. We’ve been doing our best to create awareness within the hotels.”

One participant said that it’s a difficult balance supporting employees’ individual work needs while still operating the hotel. “Wellness is a strange thing right now, because some of our associates are completely okay with the way everything is going,” one participant said. “But others have really changed their lifestyle and it’s very scary for them. Finding a balance on allowing people to work from home and allowing others to come into the office has been very tricky.”

HSMAI Foundation: The mission of the HSMAI Foundation is to elevate the overall caliber and performance of sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals in the global hospitality industry by driving initiatives that will attract new talent, develop emerging talent, and engage existing talent. Learn more here.

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

HSMAI SPECIAL REPORT: Best Practices – 2019 Platinum HSMAI Adrian Awards

Every year, HSMAI’s Adrian Awards program honors creativity and innovation in hospitality advertising, digital marketing, and public relations. When we recognized the winners of the 2019 Adrians at the Adrian Awards Dinner Reception and Gala in New York City on Jan. 21, 2020, we had no idea that would be the only time we would gather our community together in person this year.

But COVID-19 had other plans for both HSMAI as an organization and hospitality as an industry. And now more than ever, we find inspiration in the advertising, digital marketing, and public relations campaigns that stood apart.
To that end, this Special Report — presented with the support of HSMAI’s 2020 Organizational Member companies — offer profiles of the 24 campaigns that won Platinum honors as part of the 2019 Adrians. We hope you’ll find their ideas and examples valuable as we work together to steer hotel sales, marketing, and revenue optimization into and through recovery.

To learn more about these and other Adrians winners, visit adrianawards.hsmai.org.

Messaging, Trust, and Other Priorities for Hotel Loyalty Professionals

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

As part of Road to Recovery 2020, HSMAI hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for hospitality chief loyalty officers in partnership with Clairvoyix on Oct 2. Roundtable participants choose the topics that they wanted to focus on; participating companies included Accor, Marriott, Red Roof, Best Western, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Extended Stay America, and Radisson Hotels. Participants had a robust discussion around topics of their choosing, including:


The timing of when a vaccine becomes available to the general public is a major factor affecting how quickly the industry will recover, but roundtable participants said that they don’t believe it will be a magic switch back to normal. “The availability of the vaccine is key to all of us recovering, but it may not be the golden ticket that will have people flooding into our hotels like they were before,” one participant said.

Other participants, however, think that just the announcement of a successful vaccine may help inspire confidence and potentially bring some business back. “Even if it takes a while to be distributed, I think that just the announcement of a vaccine will start to relieve people’s stress and allow them to focus on their future lives,” one participant said. “It won’t immediately drive people into hotels, but it will let them relax and think about getting back to normalcy.”

“I don’t see this one crystalizing moment where everything goes back to normal,” another participant said. “I think it’s going to be slow growth, and the question is just how slow will it be. I think the announcement of the vaccine will build trust with some people, but the overall recovery, especially for group and business travel, won’t be until 2022.”

However, participants said, the vaccine isn’t the only factor to consider, and it is still too soon to accurately predict when business levels will return to pre-COVID levels. “What’s unknown is when people will feel comfortable,” one participant said. “There are a lot of people who won’t feel comfortable taking a vaccine for quite some time. A lot of us thought at one point that once we got a vaccine there would-be pent-up demand, but I think it’s going to take a while. People have gotten used to things now and there are still a lot of concerns. It may take into 2022 for us to be back to more normal occupancies.”

Another participant added: “It’s going to be at least 2022 before we are getting close to what we consider good levels. The other factor is the economy. It’s going to take a while before businesses feel comfortable putting their travelers on the road.”


As marketers have had to adjust their strategies to the new world we live in, customers are showing strong preferences for some surprising features, such as exterior corridors. “Those properties have become king of the road,” one participant said. “They are doing substantially better than comparable offerings with interior corridors”

“It’s been fascinating to think about how things that generally for the vast majority of travelers haven’t been preferred, have now become a key part of our messaging,” another participant said. “Those exterior hallways are partially why occupancy has come back quicker in economy and budget hotels that have them than upscale hotels.”

Other participants said they are pushing out creative ways to utilize their space, including one participant whose properties are offering a day rate for people who want to work in a hotel room instead of at home from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. “We keep testing different uses for our space,” another participant said. “We have a few hotels that have offered virtual academies for local students.”


Messaging has to focus on hotels’ cleanliness policy, which is a big part of building up customers’ confidence and trust in the industry, participants said. “Demand used to exist, and it was our job to bring it in,” one participant said. “Now it’s different. The demand doesn’t exist, so we have to build back that trust to consumers who no longer trust the concept of travel.”

One participant added that while cleanliness messaging is important, it’s more important that individual hotels actually enforce those policies. “We have a focused approach at delivery at the hotel level,” the participant said. “If the execution doesn’t happen at the unit level, we will lose the few customers that did have that trust in us. We have to make sure we are executing the statements we made about cleanliness. It’s rallying the troops and ensuring the actions match up to our marketing messages.”

Another participant added: “We need to keep talking about and sticking to our commitment to clean. Tired hotel rooms look dirty.”

(Read takeaways from HSMAI’s previous CLO virtual Executive Roundtables here and here.)

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