How to Attract Future Hospitality Talent

By Katie Davin, CHSE, Associate Professor, College of Hospitality Management, Johnson & Wales University, and member of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board

In order for our industry to continue to grow and thrive, we’ve got to continue to attract high-quality talent to the field. The pandemic has made this even harder than it already was, as many students and recent graduates may be rethinking their career plans as they have watched the hospitality industry struggle throughout the pandemic. So, how do we bring in new talent? Members of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board (SAB) discussed their thoughts on a recent call.

First, as salespeople, we need to be able to sell the hospitality industry as a great career opportunity for young people. To do this well, we need to figure out what they are looking for, showcasing all of the opportunities they have, and reaching out to them as early as high school. “Our industry has so much more to offer than just working on property,” one SAB member said. “We don’t do enough selling of that. We have to change that perception.”

WHAT ARE YOUNG PEOPLE LOOKING FOR?

If you’re actively working on recruiting new talent, you need to understand that up-and-comers in the field are a different generation with different needs and priorities than what you may have had at that age. “As an industry, if we don’t evolve, we’re going to have a really hard time recruiting the best people,” one SAB member said. “They’ve had different experiences than us, and the focus on living life and not just working is really important to them.”

Another SAB member added that he thinks that the industry is doing a good job at finding out what students are looking for. “Everybody has their reasons for getting into this industry,” the member said. “We want to find out what the youth is looking for today and what we can use to hook them. We have to find the need and then adapt to those points.”

One of the biggest things that younger people are looking for is a decent work-life balance, something that can be difficult in hospitality but is absolutely possible. “People think that they’re not going to have a life if they get into hospitality, that all we do is work and their personal life gets put to the side,” a member said. “And I think the one thing that we’ve really learned through the pandemic is the importance of having a sense of balance and not just saying it, but actually demonstrating it. It helps to show that there are people like us who had to work really hard to get here but still have time to do the things that are important to us in our personal time.”

PRESENTING OPPORTUNITIES

When it comes down to it, what every young professional is looking for is a good opportunity. They may have different individual priorities, but they want to grow and share their perspectivesThe opportunities to grow in the hospitality industry are limitless, especially as many companies are trying to do things differently post-pandemic.

“We have to really sell the fact that there’s a lot of opportunity to start from scratch and to build something even better than it was,” one SAB member said. “And then also, that we need their help to do that. We need their minds and their new ideas.” Another member added: “We want to pepper in that young, fresh, new perspective, because that’s actually what helps us accelerate new ideas and innovation.”

Even if the industry is slow right now, SAB members agreed that all signs point to a better future. “You don’t need to believe a lot to believe that the long-term future is very bright for hospitality,” one SAB member said. “All the other companies are trying their hardest to create experiences, and that is literally what we do every day. You don’t need to take a big leap to say that people are going to get back to that as soon as possible.”

EARLY OUTREACH

Several SAB members pointed out that many new hospitality employees today got there because they either grew up around the industry or attended a college with a hospitality school, so they were able to learn about the industry and what it can offer. What we need to do is make sure that more students realize this — starting with high school students.

“Even for people who don’t go to college, there’s a career path for you,” one SAB member said. “There are so many entry-level positions in hospitality, even if you’re undecided you can come in and work in a variety of departments and learn and grow so much.”

One SAB member said that because there wasn’t a lot of education around the industry where she grew up, she didn’t learn about hospitality as a career until she moved to a touristy town and fell into it, which is why she thinks it’s critical to hook high school students. Another SAB member added: “We do a robust outreach with high school and college programs, and we just need to continue to be diligent about getting the word out. We have to tell our own stories of how we started and get people excited about it. It’s grassroots, getting out and talking to people as much as possible.”

Recovery Conversations: James Madison University’s Brittany Ryan

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

As we think about future talent in our industry, there are a lot of concerning thoughts. How do we attract students? Has the pandemic discouraged students who were previously interested in hospitality?

HSMAI’s student chapters at colleges and universities across the country have proven that there are still plenty of young people who are looking forward to being a part of the hospitality industry once they graduate — and bringing their own ideas and innovation to make it even better.

Brittany Ryan is president of HSMAI’s student chapter at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where she is a marketing major with a concentration in professional selling and double minors in business analytics and global supply chain management and music. Founded in 2017, JMU is one of HSMAI’s newer student chapters but one of the most active.

Jennifer Hill, vice president of client solutions for Kalibri Labs, serves on the board of the HSMAI Washington, D.C., chapter and works directly with Ryan and other JMU students. She describes the chapter’s dedication to hospitality as “remarkable.” “Our student leaders are really phenomenal in their dedication to keeping the chapter active,” Hill said. “It’s really impressive how they’ve worked to find accommodations to allow for their meetings to continue, rather than just throwing their hands up.”

She added: “That’s a real opportunity for us moving forward as we’re thinking about talent in our industry to make sure we’re bringing in enthusiastic talent, which is going to be harder to do as we’re competing with other industries.”

Ryan has that enthusiasm. Recently she spoke with HSMAI to share her experience with leading the JMU chapter through the pandemic and her ideas to improve the industry. Full disclosure: She already has plenty!

How did you first get involved with HSMAI?

I initially joined the spring of my freshman year because my best friend was involved. After my first semester, I was on the executive board as the director of events, then in my third semester I became vice president, and this semester I’m president. My friend who was the reason I joined is still here, too, serving as vice president with me.

I grew up traveling the U.S. in a motor home with my family, so while I didn’t stay in a lot of hotels, I enjoyed staying at campgrounds, which are similar. I think that having that background showed me that hospitality is an avenue I can go down in my future.

What do your chapter meetings look like these days?

We meet twice a month, and because of COVID, we’ve been having speakers virtually, including a few that we’ve seen at D.C. chapter events. During our general meetings, we work on things like updating resumes and learning how to sell yourself. Usually, we have 10 to 15 people in person, but sometimes we have spikes in attendance if we have a really compelling speaker. One of the struggles we’ve had has been membership, but that’s also across the hospitality school in general.

This semester we focused on our marketing. We’re sending out emails, making social media posts, and advertising on the TV in hospitality school and in our classes to reach as many people as possible. Most of our members are in the hospitality school currently, but one of our focuses is reaching out to people in the business school (like me!) who want to go into sales or marketing.

A big part of the student chapter is interacting with its parent chapter — in JMU’s case, the D.C. chapter of HSMAI. What’s your relationship like with the chapter? Has it changed because of the pandemic?

Before COVID, our focus was traveling and visiting other companies through the D.C. chapter, such as Kalibri and Booking.com, to get the real-life experience. A lot of people join our chapter to see those parts of hospitality. We would also go up to D.C. to go to the chapter events, but now we tune into their virtual ones instead. It’s been great getting to see all of the speakers, and we’ve invited some of them back to speak to the rest of our chapter.

Besides leading your chapter of HSMAI, how are you getting hands-on experience in the hospitality industry now?

I work at the Hotel Madison in Harrisonburg in the restaurant and housekeeping. It’s great, because I get to talk to everybody and see what different jobs get to do. Many people say that you have to learn every function of the business to run it. It’s a good experience working in housekeeping, because it’s one of the most important parts of the business, since it is actually creating the product that’s being sold.

This semester, I’m also interning with HSMAI’s D.C. chapter. Currently, I am helping them with prospecting and finding points of contact for future partnerships. It’s tedious but putting the skills I’ve learned in class to real life use, and that’s fun for me.

How has the pandemic changed your perspective on the industry?

I think my perspective changed because I saw there is a lot more that hotels could do to improve their outreach and markets. For example, most of the hotels in Harrisonburg depend on school activities and events as a source of revenue, but once school shut down last year, that got tossed away.

However, there are so many new markets that could have been touched into. Some hotels were able to, but others didn’t feel like there was anything they could do or anyone they could target. I think this made me see that there is always something you can do and there are always people you can sell to, but it’s about getting over the barriers.

I think a lot of our members are discouraged and hear from speakers and professors about being hard hit, but as a club we are trying to change that outlook. I know that once the pandemic is over, people are going to travel again.

What is your plan for the future?

Honestly, I’m not sure what I want to do quite yet. Ideally, I would want to go more into the data or analytical field, but not sure what umbrella. That’s one of the things I love about HSMAI — I get to see different parts of the hospitality industry and see viewpoints that I otherwise never would.

 

 

A Deep Dive Into the Minds of Brand Revenue Executives

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

Revenue leaders have a lot on their mind these days — such as planning and innovating to bring revenue back to pre-COVID levels. HSMAI hosted a virtual Brand Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtable on Feb. 16, bringing together revenue executives to discuss some of the ways they’re doing that.

Participating companies included Accor, Ashford, Auberge Resorts, Best Western Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Hyatt, IHG Hotels & Resorts, Kimpton Hotels, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotels, RLH Corporation, and Rosewood Hotel Group. Here are select insights that participants shared:

ON SHIFTING STAFFING MODELS:

  • “We wanted to do some streamlined, centralized approaches, and the pandemic provided us the opportunity to do that. We took advantage of that opportunity, reduced headcount in some geographic locations, and then centralized some other approaches. The return on our investment has been fantastic.”
  • “With less corporate and global support, it’s definitely difficult to prioritize what you can do in terms of a support mechanism for the hotel. Therefore, less corporate headcount is impacting the number of hotels that we can support. You really have to pick and choose the areas of focus that you can lend to your operators and owners.”

ON THE VALUE OF REVENUE OPTIMIZATION:

  • “We’ve been doing some revenue-for-hire and it’s something that’s optional for hotels if they’ve reduced staffing. It’s very challenging, because when you finally get to one foot forward in getting what’s left of the staff to accept the strategies that we’re offering, it is two steps back, because then ownership puts in somebody who might be unqualified.”
  • “There’s a desire to showcase the benefit of our services, but a lot of people are wed to the status quo, even though the status quo is no longer relevant.”
  • “I think it’s tough from an owner’s standpoint, because you don’t want to be shortsighted and make decisions that are going to impact you for the long haul, and so some owners have found ways through services to show savings for alternative hotels, where one DRM would oversee another.”

ON GROUP BUSINESS COMING BACK THIS YEAR:

  • “As a company that does a lot with big groups, we’re not anticipating any significant recovery in the group space, although we have seen some of our hotels get smaller groups.”
  • “I can’t fathom getting on a plane right now. We’re still under lockdown here, so we’re just making sure that we’re flexible with contracts and that we’re working with the clients. No one’s thinking of doing anything in person up here.”
  • “We have the benefit of having quite a bit of distribution in Asia, and even mainland China, that’s been ahead of recovery. They’re not getting group back together yet; as much as they try, it just ends up being problematic. We’re not thinking anything is going to happen much at all this year in North America or Europe.”

Opportunities For the Post-Pandemic Guest: More Brand Loyalty, Less Price Sensitivity

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global hotel industry.  It has led to the loss of millions of jobs and billions of dollars, not to mention the countless business trips and vacations that were disrupted.

But the pandemic presents opportunities as well; but only if we can properly harness the changing consumer behavior once the recovery begins.

Read the full article from HSMAI Asia Pacific

Sales Executives Continue to Tackle Business Challenges

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

If a return to normal is one of the signs that the pandemic is receding, take heart: Perfectly normal topics such as group business challenges, innovation, and incentive plans were a few of the discussion points during HSMAI’s virtual Chief Sales Officer Executive Roundtable on Feb. 9. Participating companies included Accor, Hilton, IHG, Marriott International, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, RLHC, and The Leading Hotels of the World Ltd. Here are key takeaways from the hotel sales executives’ discussion.

VACCINATION, QUEEN’S GAMBITS, AND OTHER INNOVATION

There have been plenty of creative uses for hotel rooms and meeting spaces over the past year, but Roundtable participants shared some of the most innovate uses yet. Several participants mentioned using hotel rooms as vaccination sites. “AHLA is actually advocating for hotels and rooms to be used for vaccination sites,” one participant said. “Not just the general space, but if you want to have a private vaccination room, they would offer up the guest rooms for that.”

One participant said that due to the popularity of the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, she saw a hotel convert a room into a “Queen’s Gambit” room, where people can have a unique experience related to the show. Another participant said that one of her hotels offered a unique way to host galas in a socially distant way. “We had a new hotel that just opened, and they built double-decker hospitality suites on one end of the building,” the participant said. “Galas had to happen to raise money, even if people could not go in person, so we sold these hospitality suites to couples and families, so they could have their own mini gala party safely. That way they could still celebrate and be a part of the event virtually.”

THE ONCE AND FUTURE RETURN OF GROUP BUSINESS

While group business is still slow, overall, participants shared good news that corporate business is starting to creep back. However, when it comes to hosting events, there are still logistical challenges.

“There’s problems in certain markets, like in Nashville, where you have to get approval from the county for anything over 500 people,” one participant said. “And if there’s going to be liquor, it’s only 75 people. So, the client doesn’t know what the rules are either. The association market particularly has been a mess.”

Several other participants noted that another level of confusion is added when it comes to coordinating with convention centers or other venues in large cities that are also dealing with staff shortages and repurposed uses. “We’re running into a lot of uncertainty, and everyone waiting,” one participant said.

One participant said that she has talked to planners who are hesitant about booking large meetings and events that may not fill up. “I think that even with the vaccines, our planners are going to be loathe to go back to put a bunch of people into a space,” the participant said. “You run into that problem where they want to keep their larger space because of social distancing, even with low attrition. So, it’s trying to be creative with what we can offer them from a space standpoint, so that they have that competence and comfort level to share with us.”

Another participant added: “We’ve got groups that were booked two years ago that are supposed to be coming in at X. We know they won’t come in where they’re supposed to be. We’re trying to put in new business, but we’re probably turning some away and we shouldn’t be. I worry that 800-room group will wind up being 300 rooms, but they still want all of our meeting space because they want to socially distance. And now I can’t sell the other 500 rooms, so we’re stuck.”

INCENTIVIZING INCENTIVE PLANS AND GOALS

Participants also shared the different ways their hotels are tackling incentive plans this year — trying to reward employees for their hard work while dealing with the realities of a tight budget. Several participants said they are tightening the requirements for incentives but still proceeding with hosting incentive trips. “Our intention is to be somewhat back to normal by the end of the year,” one participant said. “We’re still weighing team versus individual goals this year, but we are planning on proceeding with an incentive trip in some form.”

Another participant added: “It’ll be a much smaller experience, but half of something should still be incentive enough.”

One participant said that they have been discussing sending employees on an incentive trip to one of the company’s many hotels that have opened during the pandemic. “We want to have the incentive trip at a particular location where everybody’s really excited because most folks haven’t seen it,” the participant said. “A lot of sales folks sadly haven’t even seen their own product.”

When it comes to monetary incentives, participants mentioned setting more team goals and helping team members to reach their goals faster. “We’re thinking that we’re going to open the gate a little bit earlier,” one participant said. “So, if the gate might’ve opened at 90 percent of goal before, we might open it at 60 percent to start with, to give people a little teaser.”

Another participant said: “It’s going to be very hard to split a goal up at a property level, when association teams are going to do better than corporate teams. We’re setting quarterly goals this year, and we think teams will be able to achieve goals over individuals.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Driving Demand

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

You cannot force customers to come back until they feel it’s safe. That was one of the biggest takeaways from HSMAI’s virtual Chief Loyalty Officer Executive Roundtable on Feb. 11. The hospitality loyalty professionals in attendance had a robust discussion, with conversation focused for the most part on driving demand, which participants agreed is not really possible right now — and could actually backfire. Here are key insights that participants shared during the discussion.

ON DRIVING DEMAND:

“You can’t really drum up demand, so we are just trading customers back and forth between each other and trying to get the share,” one participant said. “And is it even responsible to try to drum up demand? It can actually backfire depending on how aggressive you go with it, because it is somewhat self-serving to say, ‘Hey, we want you to travel,’ and if it’s not necessarily safe at that time, it could be a harmful social message.”

ON CUSTOMERS COMING BACK:

“The customer is going to rely on much bigger sources of information than us when they make decisions, and they could view what we’re doing as even self-serving,” one participant said. “Of course, they want to come stay, but there are much bigger forces at play and bigger authorities on travel and health and safety that they’re listening to. When they view it as safe and the time being right, it’ll be because they’ve been informed by forces much larger than us.”

ON CUSTOMER RESPONSE TO BEING TARGETED:

“We did an initiative a few weeks ago and afterward we wanted to get some feedback on it from our [loyalty club] members,” one participant said. “So, we surveyed them and there was much more COVID commentary in there than I had expected. There are a few comments that were almost like, ‘Absolutely not. I can’t believe that you sent this to me right now. I can’t go anywhere.’ So, it’s a much different sentiment than I had seen in some earlier efforts.”

ON ADJUSTING EXPECTATIONS FOR THE YEAR:

“I think for us, as we’re putting forward measurement for this year, there’s a lot of disbelief around some of the things that may look worse this year than last year,” one participant said. “And I think people are forgetting that for the first three months of last year, it was the best year ever. Everyone’s thinking, ‘2020 was the worst year ever.’ Well, for most of it, but not for all of it. You had a few months of amazingness and then the rest was terrible. We are sliding down from the terrible side, and so we’re not going to hit that mark. It could be worse than last year.”

5 Things to Know About HSMAI Lifetime Honoree Mary Gostelow

Spend just a half-hour talking to Mary Gostelow and you’ll come to understand how she’s lived the life and built the career she has as a globe-trotting luxury-travel guru. She has a spirit of infectious curiosity, a need to share her latest discovery — and a lot of energy. During a recent interview with HSMAI, she answered questions while sitting at her desk and performing exercises using a therapeutic band. “Excuse me,” she said cheerfully while extending her leg. “I always multitask, so I’m stretching my limbs.”

Stretching is something the British-born Gostelow is used to. Early in her career, she worked for The Daily Telegraph in London, but she only began focusing on travel and hospitality when she was living in Beirut, where her husband was teaching school. Today, she produces The Gostelow Report, a monthly market intelligence briefing on high-end travel; runs Girlahead, an online travelogue; contributes to a variety of industry publications; and — when there isn’t a pandemic happening — is on the road 300 days a year

Next month, she’ll receive HSMAI’s Winthrop W. Grice Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Public Relations during the virtual Adrian Awards Gala. “It makes me seem as though I’m dying,” Gostelow said with a laugh. “I said to my husband, ‘I don’t need any eulogies now, because I’m going to be getting them.’” She added: “I am just extremely honored, and I thank all those people who have helped and do help supporting what I’m trying to do, which is very simple: It’s making the world a better place for all the stakeholders that I can reach.”

Here are five things we learned during our interview with Gostelow — as a tribute rather than a eulogy:

1. Travel and hospitality found her. “We were living in the Middle East, and somebody found out that I’d been on my school newspaper in [high school] and said, ‘Oh, you must edit a magazine for my hotel, and then for all my hotels in the area.’ That led me into hotel mystery shopping, which I did for a few years, and as I traveled the world mystery-shopping, I had to have a reason to be in places like Kabul, in Afghanistan, and in various places in Nicaragua before anybody went to Nicaragua. I started writing articles and I built up a following of people who actually read what I wrote, which was extraordinary to me.”

2. The Gostelow Report started out as a personal letter. “As I was traveling, I used to write a proper letter every week on my old-fashioned typewriter to my father and my mother-in-law. You see, I was double-tasking even then — they had to share a letter. And then people started saying, ‘Hey, we’d love to have that!’ It started out as a pure travelogue, and now it’s variously the Bible or the precis of what’s going on. For as long as I can remember, which isn’t very long, I have limited the subscription to 500 intentionally. I know who they all are, and that’s a big help. I mean, it’s actually customized for 500 people.”

3. Her favorite place to travel is everywhere. “I have spies around the world. I’ve just been talking to a spy in Oman, and it’s so exciting because he’d just been to fjords in Oman that I had no idea existed. They have a brand-new minister of tourism in Oman, and as soon as I’m able to travel again, I’m getting back to Oman because I’m going to have a chance to spend time with the minister of tourism. I love Oman, but then, my goodness, if we think of the great U.S. of A., I love driving up through New England in the fall. I love springtime in Washington, D.C. I love running up and down Nob Hill when I’m in San Francisco. I have favorite places, but I don’t have one favorite place. I have things that I like everywhere.”

4. She’s excited by whatever she’s never heard of. “I’m always hearing something new that I didn’t know about. For instance, I was talking yesterday with people in Israel who are investing in wellness technology there, and I’m so excited because they’ve invested in a new system that is like Nespresso coffee capsules, but they’re capsules that are filled with vitamins and nutrients. It’s brilliant. That’s what keeps me going. There’s always something new. It might be technology. It might be yet another glorious part of the world I haven’t come across before. Everything like this excites me. I’m constantly using adrenaline in seeing what’s new.”

5. The pandemic has changed how she works. “I’ll tell you, I’ve never been so busy in my life. I’m in England, which is GMT [Greenwich Mean Time]. I have a very basic piece of paper that gives me KSA plus three. That’s Saudi Arabia’s time — they’re three hours plus. Sydney is plus 11. I’ve a call later tonight with Honolulu, which is minus 10. And then we have India, which I speak to at least every other day, which is plus 5.5. So, my day starts very early and finishes very late at night. I’m all over the place, talking and picking up things. The main problem is that when I was traveling, a lot of my creative writing was done on flights or in the car on the way to the airport, because I’m two hours from London Heathrow. Now that time has gone. So, how and when do I write? It’s the main crisis in my life, actually.”

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Problems With the Pipeline

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

I’ve written before about the severe underrepresentation of Black professionals across the executive level in the hospitality industry — including in senior sales, marketing, and revenue optimization positions. There are many different reasons for this, but new research by the HSMAI Foundation highlights a big one: We’re not investing sufficiently in the talent pipeline.

In a review of undergraduate hospitality programs at the 19 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) offering them, we found that enrollment and graduation rates have been trending downward for at least the last five years:

Our research also found that sales, marketing, and revenue management are not a part of the core curriculum at most HBCU hospitality programs — and, except for marketing classes, aren’t offered in any capacity at many of them:

Again, this isn’t the only reason we don’t see many Black executives at hotel companies, but it doesn’t help. As an industry, we must commit ourselves to developing the next generation of talent, especially among populations that historically have been overlooked or marginalized. An important step in the right direction is Marriott’s just-announced partnership with Howard University — one of the HBCUs included in our research — to establish the Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership in memory of the late Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson, to be funded with a $20-million endowment from the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation.

The HSMAI Foundation is following up with the directors of HBCU hospitality programs for additional data and insights, and will share that information as we receive it. Because the sooner we understand that this is a problem all of us are responsible for solving, the sooner we’ll get to it — together.

EXECUTIVE BRIEFING: Remington Hotels’ Raul Moronta

Raul Moronta, CRME, CHIA, has had a career path that closely tracks with the growth and evolution of hospitality. He started out in an on-property sales position while attending college in his native Dominican Republic, then moved to New England and took a night auditor job as he worked toward his master’s degree in hotel administration. He went on to work front-office jobs at various properties, then became a director of revenue management with Starwood, overseeing two properties for two different brands before taking on a variety of above-property revenue positions.

Moronta left Starwood to become senior vice president of revenue management for Crescent Hotels & Resorts, stayed there for nearly four years, then in December stepped into a brand-new position — for himself and his company, Remington Hotels: chief commercial officer. Over more than 25 years, he’s gone where the industry has gone, from sales and operations to revenue and commercial strategy.

But looking back, he has no doubt where it all started. “I would say in high school,” Moronta said without hesitation during a recent interview with HSMAI. “At the time, the Dominican Republic was actually having a big boom in hospitality. It had become the number-one industry for the country, and I was very excited about it. I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

Pretty early in your career, you gravitated toward revenue management. How did that come about?

The initial part of my career was actually in operations. I went the full route of front-office manager, executive housekeeper, and my intent was actually to become a rooms division manager and general manager. But I’ve always loved numbers. I’ve always loved the mathematical approach to solving a problem, and early on I got an opportunity to go to a class in full front office management at Cornell University.

There was one chapter in the course called “Yield Management,” and I was fascinated by it. I was fascinated with check-ins and checkouts and no-shows and cancellations, and that whole mathematical approach about how you ended the day and how much money you made. Then I had an opportunity to do some revenue management when I was front-office manager, and that is when I transitioned from being a front-office manager to my first revenue manager role.

What were some of the skills that helped you succeed in revenue management?

If you think about it, everybody gets the same information. Everybody gets access to the STAR report. Everybody gets access to pricing. To me, it’s a matter of being able to beat out your competitor with the same tools and being able to find the underlying trends that nobody else is able to see. I’ve always been able to find that, to figure out the story underneath the story that nobody’s looking at.

I’ve always said that my goal and the goal of every revenue manager is to stay curious. A revenue management system makes you predictable, and because of that, you have to be able to bend the trend. An algorithm is not going to tell you that; an algorithm is going to perpetuate history. You want to create it, and it’s going to take a different approach for you to do that.

The commercial strategy officer is a new position that Remington has created. Tell us about it.

Where we are now is that a customer doesn’t care whether they’re talking to a digital person, a revenue management person, or a salesperson. We have changed a lot, from being a transactional relationship to a more holistic approach. We want to have a different engagement, whether you are a B2B or B2C. It doesn’t matter to us who the client is, we have to have an approach that is engaging.

In my role, my goal is for us to have a commercial strategy approach to growing rev. At the end of the day, we have to say, we are here to grow revenue for that owner. We are here to provide products and services to a guest or a client. And if we have that customer-centric or client-centric approach, then you don’t have to worry about departments. That’s for us to worry about it on the internal side.

How do you foster that approach among multiple departments that traditionally have been very siloed?

It starts with the leadership side. I firmly believe in what I called the three-legged stool: operations, sales, and revenue. Those three leadership teams usually are regional directors or vice presidents. They have to have a cohesive message among them. There’s always going to be disagreement, but once the decision is made at that leadership level, that message has to filter through the same way throughout.

How do you go about developing a commercial strategy in a crisis environment like this?

First of all, you have to understand what your KPIs are. What are you going to measure? Because I believe that what you measure matters. So, we are working on these processes now, identifying what are the key performance indicators that we are going to follow, we are going to improve, and we are going to reward moving forward. And those happen to be growing revenues, improved return on investment in the marketing, response time on the sales side, growing our bookings, and things like that.

There’s obviously a different marketing approach you have to have. There’s a lot of internal marketing that we’re working on to make sure that teams understand this is a new direction, so you have to be able to establish that message. We’re looking at it at what I call a bipolar approach. One part of that is, right now, 80 percent of our revenues are being driven off of transient and leisure, so the vast majority of our business is coming in either direct or from a third-party website. Our goal is that we need to be able to maximize those channels.

At the same time, we believe that there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand for new sales activity coming in. We’re starting to see some green shoots that are going to start probably at the end of Q1 into Q2, because people are going to start booking business for future dates. The summer’s coming in, and summer leisure was actually not bad last year, believe it or not, but we think it’s going to be a lot stronger post-vaccine. How do we set up the fourth quarter of 2021, but more important than that, how do we get 2022, which is expected to be a very robust year when it comes down to meetings?

Do you have a fairly positive outlook for the next year or so?

I do. People talk about when we can get back to normal, but normal doesn’t exist anymore. As I keep telling my team, I only need to worry about being better than yesterday. To that point, we’re not looking as much at year-over-year anymore. We’re looking at, is my March better than February, is my April better than March? We have now, I think, six weeks of improved lead volume since the beginning of the year. That to me is important.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out in hospitality right now?

One piece of advice that I got from one of my professors was, you have to add something meaningful to your resume every year. Whether it is an HSMAI certification, whether it is that you got a new job, whether it is that you learned and a new trade, it’s important for you to continue to improve yourself.

The other thing is, you can’t say, “I want to be CEO in 10 years.” Just focus on “I want to be in my next role in the next two years.” If you focus on that small improvement, eventually that future position is going to come. But you have to start getting yourself ready for that next role.

 

CURATE BOOK CLUB: What They Didn’t Tell Me

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

Inspired by the high-level, cross-disciplinary conversation of HSMAI’s Curate event, the Curate Book Club (previously known as the Innovation 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.

“Be a leader this week.” Jawad Ahsan received that advice from a mentor early in his career, and it stayed with him — so much so that it’s the title of one of the chapters in his new book, What They Didn’t Tell Me: How to Be a Resilient Leader and Build Teams You Can Trust.

But at first, he didn’t know what to make of it. “I didn’t really know how to process it or what it meant, and he said it again,” Ahsan said in an interview. “What I’ve come to realize since then is that being a leader is a choice. You don’t just get to a place where you have a title or a certain level of authority and you’re automatically a leader. What makes you a leader is that you consciously choose to be a leader and to exhibit certain behaviors and to drive alignment and to care about other people and care about their development. There’s a lot that goes into it, and you don’t just get a series of promotions and all of a sudden you’re a leader.”

What They Didn’t Tell Me draws on leadership lessons Ahsan has learned throughout his career — first working in various roles at GE, including CFO of GE Healthcare’s electronic health record and enterprise software businesses, then moving to CFO of Market Track, an SaaS marketing intelligence company. Today, he serves as CFO of Axon, a public-safety technology company. Recently he talked to HSMAI about practicing resilient leadership, finding your North Star, and understanding the four uncoachable traits.

Right in the subtitle, you foreground the idea of being a resilient leader. What does that mean?

One of the things that I’ve learned over the course of my career — and it’s become even more pronounced the bigger the job and the higher up I’ve gotten — is that a lot of people, when they get to the ranks of leadership or become executives, they’ve gotten there because they’re talented, they’re good at what they do, and they’ve earned their way there. When they’re unable to stay there or they’re unable to progress any further, more often than not it’s because they self-sabotage somehow. They pick the wrong battles, or they find slights and things that maybe they shouldn’t get upset over, or maybe they’re just unable to deal with the pressure. So much of it just comes down to their own inability to be resilient in certain situations.

Over the course of my career, I would get this feedback that was tough for me to hear in some cases, and I stopped being emotional about it and realized, you know what? There’s some kernel of truth in what this person is telling me. Let me reflect on it and really find a way to improve myself. It got to such a degree where I view feedback as a gift, and I ask people all the time, “Tell me how you felt.” When people will just say, “Oh, you did a great job,” I usually dig for more. What I want to hear is the critique, because for me, the critique is where you grow. What I realized without really describing it was, I’d found a way to be resilient by not getting worked up over these things that get other people worked up.

Has the pandemic changed how you think about the idea of resilience?

It has. My definition now for resilience would not only be the first part we described — for you to individually be resilient and to roll with the punches and to be a little bit more introspective — but now I would add to that, in this pandemic type of environment, you also have to find a way to stay visible. The old adage is unfortunately true: out of sight, out of mind. You’ve got to work even harder when you’re not in an office to find a way to stay visible.

You said that you have to consciously choose to be a leader. By extension, can you, should you consciously choose to be a resilient leader?

I think the two go hand in hand. One of the biggest surprises for me when I got to an executive role was, I knew that the span of my organization had expanded beyond just being an individual contributor, but what I really had to become mindful of is that people are looking to you. Not just for guidance and for you to tell them what to do or give them objectives or drive alignment, but they’re looking at your body language. They’re looking at how do you react in situations of adversity and if there’s any bad news. People take their cues from you, so it’s very important that when you’re a leader, you’re a resilient leader, because your organization is looking to you. That’s going to help set the tone for your team.

In the book you talk about the idea of defining your North Star. Can you talk about what that is and how it came to you?

It really came to me about eight or nine years into my career at GE. I was just keeping my head down and working really hard and waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder for my next gig. That happened in one instance. I got a call from an old manager of mine who said I want you to come over to this division of GE I’d never worked in before. I went and took this job, and a month later he went somewhere else. Now I was in this part of GE where I had no network or connections or anything like that and felt like I was at a bit of a dead end. I realized if I kept doing that — if that was my model for my career — I would end up where other people wanted me to be, not where I wanted to be.

So I sat back and thought about what is it that I’m passionate about. I was really passionate about being an operator, running a business. That’s what I said is my North Star. The proxy for that was being a CEO, but really, the North Star was to run a business. The thing that changed for me was, once I defined my North Star, I really started focusing on the experiences that I needed to get there and I started actually turning down jobs. Things would come my way that I probably would have taken in the past because it was maybe a little bit more pay, it was a bigger title, it was a little bit of a bigger job, but it wasn’t getting me a new experience that I needed to get to where I wanted to go.

That’s one thing that’s shifted in me, and now where I am in my career, it also helps me identify talent in a certain way, because I now look at — if someone’s got 20 years of experience, did they do the same thing one year at a time for 20 different times, or did they really seek different experiences as they grew in their career?

Is resilient leadership something that you can not just build into your own leadership style but cultivate throughout your team?

I think you can. I actively try to do it every day. I talk in the book about these four traits that I consider to be uncoachable: strong sense of integrity, accountability, a sense of collaboration, and positivity. Those four traits I have tried to coach into people, and what I’ve found is that I’ll waste my time, because they really speak to someone’s character. If someone doesn’t have those traits, I know they’re not a right fit for my organization.

Those four traits collectively are important, because they’re really a heuristic or a shortcut for trust. If you’ve got those traits, I know I can trust you. You also know that you can trust that your peers have them. You can trust each other. Once everyone trusts each other, you can just move that much faster, and that’s also where the resiliency comes in. You do become more resilient, because when you’re faced with adversity, if you trust each other, that goes a long way toward the team being resilient.

The hospitality industry has been deeply affected by the pandemic, including widespread layoffs and furloughs. How should hospitality leaders be approaching leadership in this type of crisis environment?

The thing I would say is that this is a temporary thing, and the world is going to return to some type of normalcy going forward. Maybe we’re not going to be going into the office as much as we were, but I do think hospitality is going to bounce back. What you could ask for yourself is, if you’ve been in the industry for a long time and you have built a brand for yourself and you’ve been on this trajectory, then don’t blink because there’s this short-term impact right now. All of those things that you’ve built over a number of years, you don’t want to give them up because there’s some short-term pain right now, right?

The other thing I would say is, this might be a good opportunity for you to really, really evaluate what is your North Star and where are you headed. If the hospitality industry or any industry you’re in can help you get there and give you the opportunities to help you achieve what you want to achieve, then great. You should stay that course. But if not, then maybe this is a catalyst for change.