What Hotel Marketers Think About Black Friday and Cyber Monday

By Cristina DiStefano, Director of Enterprise Marketing, Oneida Nation Enterprises, and a member of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board

As Thanksgiving approaches, so do the traditional sales days of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But this year, many businesses are stretching out their sales to start earlier and last longer, including many hotels. During a recent call, members of HSMAI’s Marketing Advisory Board (MAB) discussed their sale plans and how coronavirus has changed how they traditionally execute them. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

CHANGES FROM LAST YEAR

The majority of MAB members on the call said that they ran a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale last year and are planning on doing it again this year, but with a few changes. “This year, the discount is deeper than ever before,” one MAB member said. “Usually there is some jostling within our portfolio of hotels over who is going to give what discount, but this year, everyone is giving the same deep discount. Also, this year it’s open to OTAs as well, so we will see how that works.”

One member said that she is telling her team to be more relaxed about this year’s sale. “Don’t wrap your self-worth in the performance of the cyber sale,” she said. “In years past, we’ve put so much energy into it, but a lot of the cyber-sale bookings last year had to be canceled when we closed our doors for three months. External forces are so great right now that we just have to make good decisions with the information we have and see what the customer will do.”

A few MAB members said that while they historically have offered Black Friday/Cyber Monday discounts, they are not doing so this year. “We’ve already had to drop our rates so low that dropping them any deeper doesn’t really make sense,” one member said.

Other members on the call said that even if they are calling it a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale, their discounts are actually running throughout the month or longer, similar to many retailers. “We’re still keeping the psychological connection with Cyber Monday, but it’s been extended,” one member said. “A lot of our hotels started right after Amazon did their Prime Day at the end of October, because they felt like people were ready for that. It hasn’t had the intensity that normally a Cyber Monday does, but cumulatively, it’s been really effective.”

DEVELOPING A STRATEGY

While the majority of MAB members are doing some sort of a promotion around Thanksgiving, there is a lot of variety among their plans. Some are offering flat percentage discounts, while others are offering gift cards or free nights.

“We’re doing it based on length of stay, but also when you’re booking,” one member said. “The closer the booking, the smaller the discount. But lot of our resort type properties, they have this approach where they hold really high rates looking forward to next year through the end of the year. So, if they can put on paper that it’s a 50-percent discount, the reality is it’s only 10 or 20 percent off the lowest rate you’ll get some other time.”

The member also said that in the past, they have made the mistake of offering a lower price later in the year and there was massive blowback. “You’ve got to be disciplined that this is the lowest rate you’re ever going to give,” the member said. “That strategy has worked for six or seven years, but we’ll see if it holds this year.”

One member mentioned that no matter what hotels do, they have to advertise something for Cyber Monday. “People are prepped to buy on those days,” the member said. “Not participating isn’t a good thing, because people are looking to buy and if they’re not seeing your messaging, whether it be a free drink or just your existing rate, I think it may have a negative impact.”

One MAB member said that he thinks once a vaccine begins to quell the virus, there may be another big sale day in the beginning of the year, when people may be more willing to book travel. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the hotel organizations rally together around a national travel booking day in Q1 of next year,” the member said. “We’re going to need to create a catalyst to get people booking. I think at the end of Q1, we have another shot at cyber deals. It’ll be a new created thing like Amazon’s Prime Day. I think we can do that with travel.”

FLEXIBLE MESSAGING

A common theme among several MAB members is a “buy now, pay later” angle, highlighting flexible cancellation policies. “People are booking out as far as possible,” one member said. “We weren’t initially anticipating this. I was thinking we would only see bookings within the short booking window we’ve seen this season, but only 50 percent of what we’ve booked so far is within the next six weeks. People are hoping things will be better by then, and we’re touting a flexible cancellation policy, so why shouldn’t they?”

Another member added: “Our messaging tier is the sale first and the flexible cancellation policy second.”

While in previous years, hoteliers may have targeted national or international audiences, this year, similar to marketing strategy throughout the pandemic, they are focusing on regional or local audiences. One member said that they are already changing their marketing parameters for the sale due to rising COVID travel restrictions. “Our targeting launched on Tuesday [Nov. 17],” the member said, “and by Tuesday afternoon, I had already changed the targeting parameters on all of our digital campaigns because of the shifts in the COVID world. Pennsylvania instituted a travel restriction for Pennsylvania residents to not be able to travel without quarantining when they get home, so we just turned off Pennsylvania targeting from the tri-state campaigns that we had running.”

Automation and the Future of Revenue Optimization

In addition to being more collaborative, the revenue team of the future will be more data-driven, with analytics being an increasingly crucial skillset. Of course, more data doesn’t automatically mean better data — but it can with the help of the tools that automate growing numbers of revenue functions. “Leveraging big data and automation and machine learning and AI is the future for all of us,” said Alex Cisneros, senior vice president of revenue generation for Red Roof Inn. “We need to invest in resources and technologies and make sure that we’re partnering with the right company.”

For Dave Roberts, a lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and formerly senior vice president of revenue strategy and solutions for Marriott International, automation isn’t about replacing revenue professionals. “The revenue management system of the future will not be this data dump of information and all these different dashboards,” he said. “The revenue management system of the future will make the life of a revenue manager much easier. It’ll automate a lot of stuff that they’re doing today, but it’ll help them make the decisions that they have to make so it’s seamless.”

Ten to 20 years ago, revenue optimization was an early adopter of data and machine learning, according to Cross, CEO of Revenue Analytics, “but it was always billed as, ‘Oh, this is decision support. We still need you, smart person, to make the decision.’ But today, when algorithms are capable of doing things like driving cars, why couldn’t they price the hotel?

“There’s an opportunity for the field of revenue management to say: Let’s automate things like pricing and inventory,” Cross said. “The machines are good at that, so let them do it, and let’s use people for what they’re good at, which is being creative and imaginative and coming up with new strategies that haven’t been seen before.”

Excerpted from The New Revenue Team, a new white paper available from HSMAI and Revenue Analytics. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

HSMAI Customer Insight: Trending into the Holiday Season | Google

What a year. As 2020 comes to a close, and the US is seeing an alarming resurgence in COVID cases nationwide, we are seeing that some behaviors may be sticking around longer than previously anticipated. As we look towards recent search trends, here are the ones that remain top of mind:

Travel This Holiday & The Preference for the Road

Heading into the holiday season, many consumers are eager to get home for the holiday or to get away. 2 in 5 Americans were planning to take a trip that involved an overnight stay this holiday season (40%), including 10% who had already booked a trip in November and 30% who said that they were very/somewhat likely to do so soon[1]. Early reports from the TSA are showing that nearly 2 million people passed through airports this past Friday & Saturday, despite a record number of new cases and CDC recommendations not to travel. For many though, driving to their destinations remains the preferred option. 76% of consumers willing to travel this year indicated earlier this fall that traveling by personal car is their first choice (76%), followed by rental car (29%)[2]. We see this reflected still in recent search behavior- searches for “along my route” have grown by over 1,000% YoY[3], and searches for “gas station near me now” have grown by over 80% YoY[4]. Even searches for “electric vehicle charging” have grown over 300% YoY (top searches include “electric vehicle charging points”).[5]

Meet Me Outdoors

Whether in a new destination, or staying local, consumers continue to be seeking socially distant outdoor options for socializing and entertaining. Searches for “near me with outdoor seating” have grown by over 900% YoY[6], and searches for “patio heater” have grown by over 600% YoY (top searches include: “pyramid patio heater”, “Infrared patio heater”, and “table top patio heater”).[7] We even see that searches for “best outdoor” have grown by over 100% YoY, which includes searches for “best outdoor tv”, “best outdoor camera”, best “outdoor solar lights”, and “best outdoor basketball shoes”,[8] highlighting the importance that outdoor options and availability will continue to play in the coming months.

Super Parenting

Families have seen their fair share of difficulties during this past year, and parents are seeking ways to keep their families safe and together. Searches for “masks for kids” have grown over 600% YoY[9], indicating that safety and caution are still priorities. Entertainment searches are also on the rise, as searches for “family movies on___” and “jigsaw puzzles” have grown by over 100% YoY respectively[10]. As school openings and distance learning continue to find the right balance, searches for “___ of the day for kids” has grown by over 100% as well (top searches include: “riddle of the day for kids”, “thought of the day for kids with meaning”)[11]

Key Takeaways

The trends that have emerged this past year will continue to evolve, as regions continue grappling with the resurgence in COVID cases nationwide, impacting when and how consumers travel. For marketers, continue to stay on top of consumer demand, and understand the new needs and priorities of consumers. Whether for the road, the outdoors, or for families, find the best ways to accommodate for them and identify ways to pivot. Consumers willing to travel during this time have demonstrated both caution and agility. Make sure you meet and support them where they are at this moment.   

[1] Google/IPSOS, Omnibus, November 2-3, 2020, US adults 18 & older, N=1,005
[2] Google/Storyline strategies, Travelers & Covid-19, September 2020, US recent travel bookers who research travel online, n=1500
[3] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[4] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[5] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[6] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[7] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[8] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[9] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[10] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019
[11] Google Data, Global English, Aug 26, 2020 – Oct 24, 2020 vs Aug 26, 2019 – Oct 24, 2019

The Collaborative Revenue Team of Tomorrow

As the hospitality industry moves forward — through the pandemic, into recovery, and afterward — what will happen to the revenue team? According to experts in hospitality revenue optimization, it won’t return to its pre-COVID model. Instead, while staffing ramps back up, the revenue team will retain the flexible configurations and operating efficiencies that it has developed in response to the crisis.

In some ways, that will mean starting over. “In a way, what I think we’re going to see is most hotels will be creating new history,” said Dax Cross, CEO of Revenue Analytics. “I have a hard time believing that there’s going to be some point in time where people say, ‘Okay, now 2019 is relevant again.’ “I think 2019 is lost forever in terms of relevancy of the data,” Cross said, “and you’re going to see a slow climb back. At some point, maybe in 2022, the data from 2021 will be relevant again, but still, I think recent trends will be more relevant than that history.”

That new history will use the innovations of the pandemic as a jumping-off point — and continue to evolve, including becoming more collaborative. “The leaders of the future will be very well-versed across multiple disciplines,” said Dave Roberts, a lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and formerly senior vice president of revenue strategy and solutions for Marriott International.

And not only sales, marketing, and revenue, but “also across other areas of the business, including finance and asset management or real estate, because those decisions are completely related,” Roberts said. “It used to be the case that those disciplines functioned somewhat independently and then occasionally compared notes, but today, there’s nothing that you can do in one discipline that doesn’t have a direct impact on all of those other disciplines.”

Excerpted from The New Revenue Team, a new white paper available from HSMAI and Revenue Analytics. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

The Legal Outlook for COVID-19, Part 2

During the early days of the pandemic, we talked to industry attorney Greg Duff about the potential legal ramifications of COVID on the hospitality industry. Nearly six months later, has any of that changed? Let’s go back to Duff, chair of Foster Garvey’s hospitality, travel, and tourism practice, who recently presented four “Legal Headlines or Headwinds for Digital Marketers” during HSMAI’s virtual Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable:

COVID COMMUNICATIONS: ‘Why Am I Subject to This?’

When I talk about communications, it’s a review of all of the ways in which you touch your guests. It could be as simple as the website, a confirmatory email, or any other form of guest communication. It’s making sure that in those communications, you are taking advantage of those opportunities to communicate important changes that may be in place because of COVID.

These communications tend to fall into two categories, the first being practices and policies — whether it be a mandatory mask requirement, social distancing, mandatory health screening or questionnaires upon arrival, elevator policies, and so on. The other category involves informing guests what changes may have occurred on property, such as a restaurant that is operating at reduced hours or a pool that is closed.

The challenge here goes back to the very first client call about COVID that we received back in March. In that instance, we had an operator who called and said, “My owner is concerned about COVID. His insurance broker is reporting that it’s not covered. The owner wants to require all of our guests to sign a waiver at check-in.” Well, that conversation then led to a much broader conversation: How do we balance the fact that, on the one hand, you as an operator have now made public all of these wonderful things around your clean, safe, secure environment; and then, on the other hand, a guest who may have selected your property because of that campaign is being handed a piece of paper that says, “Oh, by the way, you may contract COVID and die, and you cannot hold us responsible”?

Typically, our recommendation is, when you go to the website, whether it be the property site or the company site, start with a broad general disclaimer: “As you know, we are undertaking various measures that may change frequently. They may include this or that. For more information, feel free to call the property.” As your communications get closer to the guest’s arrival, focus the message on the policies and practices you expect to be in place and the amenities currently closed or curtailed.

This is one area where we encourage clients to rely on the authorities. Whether it be the CDC, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state and local health departments, or even the American Hotel & Lodging Association, let them be your guide. If you want to take broader and more affirmative steps, that’s fine. But at least if guests start raising questions or asking, “Why am I subject to this or that policy?,” it’s nice to have that backstop.

WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY: ‘The Failure to Provide Information’

The first six months of 2020 saw a 15-percent reduction in website accessibility cases being filed. I think we all know why that’s the case: Many courts were just closed for weeks or months during the early onset of the pandemic. Those that were likely to file probably withheld and chose to delay. It will be interesting to see how the second half of 2020 compares, because we may have a flood of people rushing to the courthouse to file or not. Eighty percent of the website accessibility cases that have been filed have been filed in three states: California, New York, and Florida.

Most settlements provide the hotelier some period of time to become compliant that ranges between 12 and 24 months. Most settlements also include some kind of payment to the plaintiff as well as some kind of ongoing compliance program. Even if your website becomes fully compliant in 12 months, there is usually some commitment by the hotelier that it will go back and review the website policy and any guidelines that may be there, and ensure that the website remains compliant going forward.

Most of the newer cases that we’re seeing are focusing on the failure to provide information about accessible guest rooms and accessible public spaces in common areas. It’s not so much about the accessibility of the website and the use of the website; instead, plaintiff’s attorneys are focusing on the content that’s on the website and whether that is satisfying ADA standards.

A number of cases have also now been brought against hoteliers alleging that their third-party distribution partners failed to provide adequate information. You may think that shouldn’t be your responsibility, that should be the third party’s responsibility, but unfortunately, the Department of Justice has taken the position that owners and operators are primarily responsible for the display of their rooms. It’s something to think about in your next OTA conversation.

DISTRIBUTION: ‘A Gatekeeper, Consolidator, and Aggregator’

Let’s start with Booking.com, which among the many distributors appears to be one of the most active during this pandemic period. By “active,” I mean they appear to still be proactively pursuing new contracts and exploring new initiatives with their supplier partners. By now, many of you are probably familiar with Booking.com’s proposal to facilitate guest payments on hotels’ behalf. There’s still some debate about the pros and cons of this program. If you are considering the facilitated payments option, I would encourage you to read the fine print carefully.

Expedia Partner Solutions [EPS], as many of you know, was part of a much-publicized deal with Marriott last fall. The effects of that transaction are now starting to be seen. For example, Expedia has recently begun to aggressively promote to its business partners the availability of deeply discounted Marriott B2B rates through EPS.

Not surprisingly some of the wholesalers or redistributors that stood to be hurt by that Marriott agreement — Hotelbeds being a good example — are now heavily promoting their own solution to hotel partners whereby the wholesaler can serve as a gatekeeper, consolidator, and aggregator of wholesale inventory and rates. I bring all this up simply to say that there’s a lot of movement today in the wholesale distribution world and considerations around whether to consolidate that distribution with a central figure, like an EPS or Hotelbeds.

And finally, last week, Amazon announced the launch of Amazon Explore. It has been launched for beta-testing only here in the U.S., and it’s marketing and providing a platform for the sale of virtual experiences. Now, you might think this is a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic, but in fact, the groundwork for this offering has been going on now for close to a year, long before the pandemic commenced. Many that are looking at this new offering are speculating that if Amazon can figure out how to deal with activities and experiences virtually, it will be very easy for Amazon to one day flip the switch and make them actual experiences. Then, once Amazon masters experiences, how much more difficult will it be to add hotels, airlines, etc.? So, for those of you that are following the mystery of Amazon and when it will recommit to travel, many feel that last week’s launch of this new platform is further evidence that they do intend to pursue travel.

CARES ACT: ‘The Requirements Are Quite Burdensome’

When many of you hear of the CARES Act, you’re probably thinking about PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans. That was what we all first heard about in the hospitality industry when the CARES Act was initially passed. What I’m talking about is a different aspect of the CARES Act that relates to the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which was a $150-billion fund that was created to issue grants to state and local governments. Some of these funds now are making their way into tourism in an effort by state and local governments to either stabilize or promote the return of travel, lodging, and hospitality.

The concern here is that by participating in a tourism campaign that involves CARES Act funding, you can become bound by the many federal requirements associated with this funding. The requirements are quite burdensome. Whether you choose to receive these funds directly or indirectly as a subcontractor to a recipient, you can be subject to these requirements.

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.

CHANGES IN HR DEPARTMENTS

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.”

TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION

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.”

EMPLOYEE WELLNESS

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.

How COVID Is Reshaping the Future of Hospitality Work

In the seven years that Deloitte has been studying the future of work, the global consulting giant has focused on three areas: work, workforce, and workplace. “Work examines things such as how technology, automation, robotics, and digital are impacting the types of things we do as part of our job, and what should be the balance,” Danielle Hawkins, a partner with Deloitte Consulting, said in a recent interview with HSMAI. “The workforce component looks at who can and should be doing the work. What kinds of capabilities do they need? What’s the best way to source talent for that work?

“And then workplace examines the physicality requirements of work,” Hawkins said. “Where can and should work get done? Do you need people to be onsite, perhaps in a resort or in a restaurant serving guests? Or is there work that perhaps could be done anywhere in the world?”

Hawkins covered all of that and more as part of “Hospitality Trends and the Acceleration to the Future of Work,” a presentation during the HSMAI Foundation’s virtual Executive Roundtable for hotel chief human resources officers in North America. During a follow-up interview, she talked to us about how COVID has only accelerated some of the trends shaping the future of work in the hospitality industry — and led to some permanent changes.

What are some of the general trends that have been influencing the future of work outside of COVID?

Pre-COVID, there were seven or eight big thematics that we were starting to see across all industries and sectors. Boiling them down to the ones that are most applicable to the hospitality space, I would say that, first, we were looking at digitalization and technology for sure. We saw even pre-COVID our airlines and our hotels experimenting with contactless check-in. Could I go to a kiosk to get my boarding pass or to get my hotel room key and enter in my preferences for this day? It was a lot of what can we do and what should we do, because there’s a very delicate balance in terms of what a guest wants from their experience — how much that is technology-automated versus traditional face-to-face interaction.

Another theme that is of particular interest to hospitality and really any consumer space is data. Over the last couple of years, there has been this proliferation of data. It’s great, because we know our customers and our guests better. However, that also means our customers and our guests expect that we know them better and are using the massive amounts of data that is out there or collected by different organizations to truly personalize and customize their stay. And it’s a lot more difficult than one would think with all the data that’s available.

And then I think the last theme that is really interesting from a hospitality perspective would be some of the changing employee preferences. There’s a little bit of debate as to whether or not this is generational, but hospitality has long been thought of as more of a transient place to spend time, meaning you see a lot of folks who are working at hotels or restaurants maybe while they’re trying to get an acting gig or pay the bills while they’re going to school. The industry for the last five or so years has really strived to change that mindset, and as we’ve seen changing employee preferences, the hotels have responded positively. We’ve seen that be a prompt for a lot of our hospitality organizations to focus on, how do I create career paths from frontline all the way up through management? How do I think about learning in the flow of work, and not just learning specific to your job but cross-training or even building broader life skills like linguistics or financial planning?

Has COVID accelerated or changed any of those trends, or even introduced new ones?

Yes, yes, and yes. COVID has been a massive accelerant with the future of work, and in some ways that’s expected. Of course, digital has been the first place a lot of our hospitality organizations have looked to figure out things that can be contactless or automated.

In terms of a new imperative, certainly we’re seeing a trend with future of work around health and safety and wellness. That’s something that hadn’t been as prevalent before. Not only because it’s important to get guests back and health and safety is such a huge component of that, but there’s also this element that is reflective of the employee experience. Just as guests want to feel safe coming back to properties and vacation and traveling, employees want to feel safe coming back to their workplace. They want that element of trust with their employer — that the employer is being communicative, the employer is being transparent, the employer is thinking about their wellness and their health and safety as they try to bring guests back to the hotels.

The other trend that is out there to varying degrees from a hospitality perspective is this concept of work from anywhere or source talent from anywhere. We have long held this belief that you had to be onsite or you had to be butts-in-seats at an employment location. Obviously, we’ve been in the longest and most massive work-from-home experiment that we’ve ever seen. That’s also accelerated how organizations think about, where can I get people and where do they really have to be to do a good job?

Does COVID make it harder to get a read on the future of work?

What’s hard about right now is the ambiguity, meaning that when COVID first hit, there were all sorts of predictions in terms of how fast or how long this would last and how fast we would go back to normal. And I think there was a bit of hesitancy across industries and sectors to say, “Okay, well, we don’t know. We think it might actually just be a few weeks or a few months, so let’s not worry too much about how this alters our reality going forward. Let’s just focus on getting through this and doing what we need to do to not furlough people, to not lay folks off to keep our financial outlook positive.”

However, as the time has ticked by and we’re still in this state of ambiguity, on one hand, you’ve got some experts predicting it’s going to get a lot worse but that it’ll be fine because we have the promise of vaccines. You’ve got others saying it’s going to get worse and it’s going to stay worse for a while because businesses may not want to go back to travel and business travel is a huge component of how hospitality organizations make money. We’re caught in this weird ambiguous situation and people aren’t sure how much of the new normal will remain, because we don’t know how long this is going to last and if it’s even going to be a possibility to return to life as it was before.

Is it possible to say if any of the changes that COVID has created in the workplace will become permanent?

Instead of permanent, I would say lasting, for sure. And what’s really positive about it is, it has provoked us to think much differently about what could be true. There were those certain orthodoxies that we held — not just in hospitality but in work — around where people should be located. If you wanted a job at Marriott corporate, you needed to work in Bethesda. This has challenged us to truly think differently, because the world has kept turning and work is still moving forward.

It’s also fundamentally changed how we think about organizational resilience. This was the most massive disruption we’ve seen since the financial crisis of 2008, and it’s really challenged organizations to think about: We need to be able to pivot, to navigate ambiguity, to have leaders who are comfortable doing that. We need to have plans in place for crises and business continuity when the truly unexpected happens.

Are hospitality companies interested in or ready for the future of work?

It’s definitely something they’re interested in. What we’ve learned is, you can only be as ready as the current conditions you’re facing, meaning future of work is not necessarily going to be a destination anymore. Prior to COVID, we would talk about future of work as if it was this place where we were all going to end up. That’s not the case anymore. Future of work now is this ever-evolving journey where we’re consistently and regularly able to capitalize on some of those trends we talked about.

How do we build an organization that is constantly sensing for new digital and new technological advances that we can leverage as part of our experience or as part of our work? How are we thinking about ways of working differently, so that when we’re teaming, whether it’s virtually or in person, we’ve got a plan in place that if things shift, we can still come together and work as a team in service of the guest experience? So, it’s fundamentally changed how we think about what future of work actually is.

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Evolving to Meet the Crisis

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

“What is one concrete, positive change you or your company has implemented as a result of the crisis that will be instrumental to recovery?”

We asked participants at the six virtual Executive Roundtable programs we hosted as part of HSMAI Road to Recovery 2020 to answer this question. While each group had its own unique responses they also overlapped in four key areas: communication, collaboration, agility, and employee wellbeing. These common results offer an intriguing — and encouraging — look at how the pandemic is reshaping the hospitality industry in ways that are sure to have a lasting if not permanent impact:

As you can see, in more cases than not, hotel sales, marketing, revenue, digital, and loyalty executives paint a similar picture of how their companies have responded to the pandemic:

Communication: This is a little obvious but no less important. Companies regularly checking in with employees to share information about the crisis have created more robust communication channels, leading to stronger team cohesion — and several other positive changes that our Executive Roundtable attendees shared.

Collaboration: Our industry has been talking about the need to break down silos for some time now, but it took a pandemic to accelerate the process. We always knew that interdepartmental communication was critical — but now we see just how interdependent we really are when it comes to optimizing revenue and implementing strategy.

Agility: “Pivot” has become perhaps the most overused worked of the pandemic, but the fact remains, there’s nothing like a crisis to motivate you to take a hard look at everything you’ve been doing, throw out whatever isn’t working, try something new, and throw that out, too, if it doesn’t work. Responding to an ever-changing situation means staying lean and moving quickly.

Wellbeing: And finally, hospitality has always been about serving not just guests but the people who serve guests — our team members and talents. As our employees have risen to the challenge of doing more with less, keeping the lights on amid layoffs and furloughs, and delivering hospitality throughout a global pandemic, we must continue to prioritize their mental and physical wellbeing.

All of these initiatives will be crucial to the industry not just as it recovers from the pandemic but as it evolves and grows beyond that. But for now, take heart: The pandemic isn’t over yet, but when it is, the hospitality profession will be stronger and better than ever.

Recovery Conversations: Hyatt Place Colorado Springs’ B. Jay Bliss

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

Every single one of the employees of the Hyatt Place Colorado Springs/Garden of the Gods has been brought back on after more than two-thirds were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic. General Manager B. Jay Bliss has played an integral role in leading the hotel toward recovery. Recently, he sat down with HSMAI to share his experience.

What has the process of recovery looked like for you?

It’s been a slow recovery. A really small silver lining of the lockdown was that we had a few extended-stay guests that stayed in-house through the summer and we did have a handful of corporate guests we picked up.

One of the bonuses of the leadership committee running the hotel was that I was working the front desk during days and the director of sales was running the PM shift, and between us we signed up multiple corporate accounts because we were able to identify who was traveling and target them directly. That helped us to keep some positive momentum and optimism going when things were pretty dismal.

We were blessed by the fact that Colorado overall and especially the city of Colorado Springs have a lot of outdoor activities and venues nearby. We have been working hard to promote outdoor activities, which were especially popular in the summer when people didn’t want to be inside. Places like Pikes Peak are not a far drive. We didn’t see the ADR we usually do, but we were still able to capitalize on corporate accounts to beat out comp sets and have some positive GOP in the summertime.

We came out the last few months looking very good and feeling good about where we stood in relation to the industry, but the industry at large is in a cash deficit, which will affect us all through 2021. The winter is always slow for us, so there’s nail biting about just how slow November, December, and January will be. We typically rely on sports tournaments to keep us afloat in the winter, and we’ve already had one of those cancel, so we’re still in a holding pattern for now, but we remain hopeful.

How has your staffing model evolved over the past eight months?

At the end of March, like most hotel properties, we watched all of our groups cancel and cancellations come in every single day from all of our guests. It was a dismal time watching revenues drop and having to furlough so many of our staff, so it was on my shoulders to know what model we should use for staffing. I had to furlough about 21 of our 30 employees and assign the remaining employees, who were mostly part of our leadership team, to rotate front desk and housekeeping shifts to keep it afloat. We have since brought back every single person and they were eager to come back to work, with one or two exceptions that didn’t stay in the long term.

Do you see any permanent changes that have been brought about?

The pandemic upended our business, which was a chance to reexamine how and why we do the things we do. Hyatt has always had a big focus on cross-training, which is even more crucial now. For example, our sales coordinator does not only her job, but she’s still working front desk and today she’s in laundry. It’s incumbent on everyone to wear a lot of hats and interact with everyone more than before, which gives employees a greater understanding of different departments. Our marketing and revenue management teams are above-property, but the pandemic has forced us to work more closely with them.

Have you seen any advancements in technology over the past few months?

One new thing we’ve been rolling out is a new aspect of the online and mobile app allowing us to customize housekeeping service. Guests can choose their preference for how often they want their room cleaned. Some guests don’t want anyone in their room to clean, while others may want more frequent cleaning. At full-service hotels, they can even choose a.m. or p.m. cleaning. This is even more important now, so that guests feel completely comfortable staying with us.

What’s the most important thing for other hotels to keep in mind as they begin to build business back up?

I think that the care we show for each other and for our guests is more important than ever. A lot of the guests traveling now know how much the industry has suffered over the last few months, so if they feel an employee isn’t giving them their full attention and making every effort, then it’s going to be even harder than ever to recover from that. Guests know they are all VIPs right now, and we want to make sure they feel appreciated. Showing care for each other and staff and clients is something Hyatt has always felt strongly about.

Recovery Conversations: Embassy Suites Memphis’ Melanie Miller

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

After a rough eight months, Melanie Miller, director of sales for Embassy Suites by Hilton Memphis, said she feels like her hotel is slowly but surely recovering thanks to the entire staff’s hard work and willingness to pitch in. Recently, Miller sat down with HSMAI to share her experience of working throughout the pandemic, including the highs and lows that have come with it.

Can you give an overview of your experience from the beginning of the pandemic up until now?

Just before the pandemic, I traveled to Anaheim, California, for the Hilton All Suites Brand Conference as well as to Austin, Texas, for the HSMAI Mike Leven Leadership Conference. Almost immediately after I returned from travel, occupancy started declining, groups started canceling, and it was obvious that, at least for a while, things were going to be far from normal. My sales department of four quickly dwindled to one as the majority of our staff was furloughed.

In the beginning — April and May — I was almost exclusively helping clean rooms and doing laundry. No groups were coming in and no meetings were happening; it was all about getting rooms ready for transient guests who may be traveling. As the summer was upon us, sports tournaments helped to fuel our occupancy through July. At that point, not only was I managing rooming lists and contracts, I was also helping to inspect rooms and making sure that they were looking great for the groups that I was able to sell. I became an expert on the Hilton CleanStay and Hilton EventReady programs.

As our business started coming back to life near the end of the summer, we were able to bring more staff back from furlough. We started booking small meetings — socially distanced, of course — more regularly, and as a result, I was able to bring one sales manager back to work at the beginning of October.

I have been doing sales primarily since August, but of course, we all have to pitch in when needed. Whether it is helping to inspect rooms, touching up a meeting room to make sure that it is cleaned and sanitized, giving someone at the front desk a quick break, we do what is needed to work as a team.

Do you consider your hotel to be in recovery mode yet?

I feel like we have been in recovery mode for a while now. As one of the better-performing hotels in our area, we have stayed pretty consistent. Of course, we are now at a time of the year that generally slows down, so it will be a bit difficult to account for whether it is due to the pandemic or if it is just the normal wind-down before the holidays.

What markets have picked up?

The SMERF market is helping to give us a small base layer of business. This is typically made up of wedding blocks and sports tournaments. A little bit of corporate business is spotty here and there, usually attached to meetings. Leisure transient is definitely the bulk of our business to date.

Have you come up with any innovations or promotions to bring business in?

Many of the trainings that have booked our meeting space have held hybrid events, which require more A/V. Our partnership has been great, as they were kind enough to invest a lot of time working directly with our clients to make sure that their meeting is functional and effective. Like everyone else, Webex meetings and Zoom meetings have played a major role in internal meetings as well as in the hospitality associations that I am a part of.

What positives have come out of all of this?

Of course, I could say what everyone else might say — I have gained a new appreciation for other departments in the hotel, which I have. More than that, however, I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to get to know staff members who I may not have had the time to spend with otherwise. We have some great people supporting our sales efforts, and we could not do it without our housekeeping or guest services departments.