Meet HSMAI Revenue Optimization Educator of the Year Breffni Noone

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

For the first time ever, HSMAI is presenting the Revenue Educator of the Year award at ROC Americas in Dallas on Sept. 29. The inaugural recipient is Dr. Breffni Noone, associate professor of hospitality management at Penn State University. Recently, Noone sat down with HSMAI to share what she loves about teaching and how her career has been shaped through the years.

How did you get into teaching?

I started working in the hospitality industry when I was 17, and immediately got bitten by the bug! I studied hospitality management for my undergrad, with the intent of getting on track for a career in hospitality management. During the final year of my undergrad, however, one of my professors, Dr. Michael Mulvey, gave a lecture in which he talked about yield management. I had always enjoyed studying both finance and operations, so my impression was that this evolving discipline might give me the opportunity to marry those disciplines together.

My interest was piqued, but at that time, there was little to no implementation of yield management in European hotels. So, after a number of years in the industry, I decided to pursue a research master’s to study the emerging field of yield management. At that time, I also accepted an offer to teach a course at my alma mater, Technological University (TU) Dublin, and unexpectedly took a first step toward my career in academia. I will never forget the feeling when I taught my first class — despite being absolutely terrified, I loved the experience!

To advance my commitment to both teaching and research in revenue management (yes, we had moved from yield to revenue by that point), my husband and I moved to the U.S., where I had the privilege of studying for my Ph.D. in revenue management with Dr. Sherri Kimes at Cornell. In my third year of the program, I got the opportunity to teach in the hospitality program at Cornell, and I knew for sure, at that point, that teaching was my passion.

I taught at Cornell for a couple of years before taking a faculty position Penn State, where this fall, I just started teaching my sixteenth year.

Have you always taught revenue management?

In my TU Dublin days, my first teaching gig was an accounting course, and that can get repetitive! But, post-masters, I got the opportunity to develop and teach TU Dublin’s inaugural revenue management undergrad course. And since then, revenue management education has been my primary focus, along with the broader domain of operations management.

For me, the joy of teaching revenue management is that you get to help students bring data to life. It is intriguing how each individual student can view the same data from a different lens, and because of that, can learn so much from each other about how to interpret data and leverage it to inform strategy development. Teaching revenue management is never repetitive.

Other than Sherri Kimes, who else has influenced your career?

This is a hard question to answer, because there have been so many individuals that have been pivotal to my career. I have to credit Dr. Michael Mulvey for that 60-minute lecture on yield management that made me completely rethink how I thought about the hospitality industry and led me to pursue a career that would allow me the honor of helping to shape future hospitality leaders.

I have been inspired to strive for excellence in teaching by a group of phenomenal professors in Ireland and the U.S. that I have either had in class or worked alongside over the years: Mr. Kieran Creaner, Ms. Barbara Nolan, Dr. Cathy Enz, Dr. Stephani Robson, Dr. Gary Thompson (and obviously, Sherri Kimes), to name but a few. And Dr. Noel O’Connor, who instilled in me early in my career the importance of treating students with respect and dignity, and the understanding that my role as a professor is to make sure that I create the opportunities to enable them to showcase their skills and abilities.

And the strategic thinkers, not least Dr. Leo Renaghan and Dr. Kelly McGuire, who have impacted how I conceptualize hospitality research and how I challenge my students to hone their analytical and strategic-thinking skills.

What was your experience like teaching virtually during the pandemic?

I was virtual for two semesters. Initially, there was a steep learning curve both for my students and for me! For me specifically, the challenge was figuring out how to best engage everyone online, using a medium where there is no pressure for students to be involved or engaged. There was a lot of tinkering and retooling to encourage people to participate during the time we had together.

But I have to say that, on balance, it was a tremendous opportunity to reevaluate how I teach and assess students. I think that some of the new methods that I developed to deliver course content and assess student learning in the online environment offer superior benefits to some of the methods that I had used in the traditional classroom. So, the upside is that, due to COVID, I have incorporated these innovations into the design of the courses that I am back teaching in-person again.

What keeps you motivated after all these years?

Two things: wonderful students and the constant evolution of the revenue management discipline. Nothing beats an enthusiastic, goal-driven student. I have the privilege of shaping students’ minds, opening their eyes to career opportunities in RM, and, ultimately, helping to lay the foundation for their careers as our future leaders in RM. One of the most gratifying rewards is when a former student writes to tell me of their latest promotion and how I influenced their success.

Also, because revenue management is constantly evolving, my revenue management curriculum and research never remain static. This is why partnership with industry is so important for me. Solid ties with HSMAI and engaged industry colleagues have provided the support that I need to advance my revenue management curriculum and ask the research questions that are relevant to revenue managers. They have also enabled me to identify the right opportunities in revenue management for my students, which in turn feeds the industry with new talent already well versed in real-life hospitality revenue management needs.

What does it mean to receive this award?

It is a tremendous honor, and I am thrilled to receive it. To have the recognition of HSMAI and the revenue management community means an awful lot. I know, and have worked with, many talented and innovative RM educators over my years in academia, so to be selected from this group for this award in its inaugural year is very humbling.

ROC Americas is part of HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas on Sept. 27–30, 2021. Learn more.

Customized Selling Tips for Different Personality Types

In order to be an effective salesperson, it is crucial to understand the strengths and weaknesses that come from your personality. HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council’s Sales Tools Workgroup has defined selling tips for four different personality types. Animal descriptors and titles are based on the 4 Animals Personality Test. Once you determine which personality type fits you, take advantage of these tips, which will play up your strengths and enable you to more quickly close the deal.

Lion (The Driver)

Descriptors:

  • Decisive
  • Goal-driven
  • Enjoys challenges

Selling tips:

  1. Be direct and to the point. Expedite the selling process where possible. Be fearless when closing.
  2. Show you value customers’ time by knowing the facts and demonstrating timeliness.
  3. Set clear expectations for how you will meet the organization’s goals for the event.

Golden Retriever (The Amiable)

Descriptors:

  • Loyal
  • Good listener
  • Adaptable

Selling tips:

  1. Show a genuine interest in the client and look for opportunities to interact on a personal level.
  2. Display your loyalty by communicating openly when you go to bat for a client. Share with them when you have secured special requests for them above and beyond a typical group.
  3. When the client does gives you the opportunity to host their group/event, show gratitude and provide special attention to the group while onsite.

Otter (The Persuader)

Descriptors:

  • Energetic
  • Visionary
  • Motivator

Selling tips:

  1. Sell the big picture and get them excited on a larger scale. Get a vision in their heads and engage enthusiastically during pre-booking. Paint a picture of how the event will go from everyone’s eyes.
  2. Sell with concessions that motivate closing and present special offers to the client.
  3. Stick to the most important items and utilize bullet points. Be sure to provide only the information necessary to the client’s vision and decision process.

Beaver (The Analytic)

Descriptors:

  • Practical
  • Deliberate
  • Systematic

Selling tips:

  1. Walk customers through the fine details by having data, diagrams, and estimates ready for them to analyze.
  2. Utilize a systematic, planned timeline with proposals, site tours, and communications.
  3. Be patient and provide time for them to absorb and weigh all options.

Meet HSMAI Revenue Professional of the Year Apurv Batra

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

Spanning many cities from Bangalore to San Francisco, Apurv Batra, CRME, has a track record of leading record-setting revenue generation strategies within large, geographically diverse, distinguished organizations. Currently an area director of revenue strategy for Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Batra is HSMAI’s 2021 single/multi-use Revenue Professional of the Year — an award that will be presented during ROC Americas in Dallas on Sept. 29. Recently Batra sat down with HSMAI to share how his career has evolved and what this award means to him.

What’s been your career path in hospitality?

After working for many years with the Taj Group of Hotels in the Asia Pacific region, I relocated for a position with Taj in San Francisco. I worked there for four years and then joined Two Roads Hospitality in 2018, overseeing revenue management and distribution. In 2019, when Hyatt acquired Two Roads Hospitality, I worked through the transition and became part of the Hyatt family. I currently oversee revenue and distribution for the Motif Seattle and The Shay in Culver City, California.

Why did you decide to get into revenue management?

I’ve always been interested in finance and economics, and to add to that am a results-oriented and driven person who loves technology. That led me to believe a career in this field is ideal for me. Revenue management is precisely that catalyst between tactical deployments, while formulating and keeping in mind the strategic vision for the business.

Why is revenue management so important today?

To begin with, revenue management touches nearly every aspect of the hospitality industry. With revenue management coming to the forefront over the years with successful outcomes in business management, it has constantly challenged revenue leaders to think out of the box, which has led to continual innovations.

Despite the impact from COVID and immense disruptions, successful revenue management leaders have kept an open mind and stayed nimble, which has led to further adoption of technology and innovation in machine learning and AI that will become more mainstream in the coming years. Other businesses with similar characteristics of constrained supply, perishable inventory, or variable demand (golf, restaurants, parking, etc.) will be sure to jump onto these innovations in the near future.

What keeps you motivated after all these years?

There are many things that come to mind. Most importantly, there are very few dynamic revenue optimization industries as ours, that have such a high level of human engagement from geographically diverse backgrounds, which to me is inspiring. Revenue management is a multifunctional role and continues to evolve. Every day brings something new, and that keeps me passionate and on my toes. With the advent of technology, keeping in mind AI and machine learning, I still feel there is ample opportunity to learn and grow, which keeps it stimulating.

One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

I’m glad that I can say that I truly love what I do, and grateful to be part of the Hyatt family.

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments?

Back in 2019, in my early days at Motif Seattle, it was a challenging assignment to oversee the transition into Hyatt. There were high owner expectations, and we all got together as a team to deliver. That was well-received and I was honored with Hyatt’s Revenue Director of the Year award, which was very gratifying.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I’m really passionate about traveling, which has come to a standstill right now, but whenever there is an opportunity my wife and I love to travel.

What does it mean to get this award?

I’m truly humbled and honored to be recognized by HSMAI, the largest and most active hospitality marketing association in the world. A recognition such as this is honestly a true reflection of my team, and I’d be remiss not to thank all the brilliant folks that I am surrounded by that challenge, support, and encourage me each day. I’m grateful to be a part of the Hyatt family and the industry as a whole.

ROC Americas is part of HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas on Sept. 27–30, 2021. Learn more.

Best Practices for Your Hotel Website Content

By Dan Wacksman, CHDM, CRME, CHBA, founder of Sassato LLC, and Holly Zoba, CHDM, founder of Scout Simply

With the pandemic only underscoring the importance of an attractive, engaging hotel website, it’s a good time to remind yourself of some of the basics — such as good content. Content should be written, first and foremost, with the customer in mind. The hotel should be positioned appropriately with the top-selling features and informative descriptions of the hotel and its services. What you write matters as much as any keywords you use.

You and your brand may have invested a lot of time, effort, and budget into driving traffic to your website. Now that you have a possible customer on your website, it’s time to effectively market to them and convince them that your hotel is the best choice for their trip.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is extremely important for your hotel website and will have an impact on your textual content and metadata. Therefore, striking a strong balance between the use of content for marketing and SEO is very important.

When creating content, it is also important to understand why the customer is considering your hotel and, thus, how you should market to them. There are significant differences, for example, between a city center hotel, an airport hotel, and a resort hotel. Each has a different audience, a different reason for “being” (trip purpose), and various amenities and services. Your content should best relate to those differences and speak in the appropriate “voice,” allowing visitors to quickly understand who and what you are — and what impression you wish to give of your hotel.

Make sure your website reflects the reasons why consumers travel to you or your area. One way to approach this is to think of your website in terms of how a director of sales (DOS) markets the hotel. Does your website reflect the demand generators that bring customers to your area? Are you appropriately featuring proximity to local attractions, amusement parks, stadiums, etc.? Are you a venue for weddings, family reunions, etc.?

Conduct an annual update of customer segmentation optimization to fully address all key segments, from meeting and group planners to corporate and leisure travelers, social event planners, and family travel planners.

KEEP IT BRIEF

As you write copy, keep in mind that web copy is very different than print copy. Web copy is “scanned” or glanced through, not “read” in the traditional sense. This is even more true on mobile platforms, which have become the leading source of online traffic and where visitors have much shorter attention spans. Most consumers will not read your website content word for word but look for appropriate keywords or phrases.

Ensure that all text relays important features and selling points quickly and upfront. Avoid

long lists and overly promotional content that visitors won’t read. Content should be easily scannable, and paragraphs and sentences kept short and concise so visitors can find what they’re looking for quickly.

Your most important points should always come first, whether written in paragraph format, bulleted lists, or icons (for branded hotels, the formatting is typically pre-determined at the brand-level template).

It is best to avoid needless repetition, jargon, and unnecessary words in your copy — keep it as simple as possible. Effective online copywriting is an art, so some properties will hire professional copywriters or vendors to handle this area for them. Check first with your brand to see if they have any internal services or vendor recommendations.

KEEP IT FRESH

The “freshness” of your content is extremely important, from both marketing and SEO perspectives. All content areas should be up-to-date and include the latest information on the hotel itself, new services and amenities, and the most recent local area content. Not only is this important from a consumer perspective, but it is also extremely important from an SEO perspective. Google and other search engines weigh the “freshness” of content in their ranking algorithms.

All promotional or event dates should be constantly updated (e.g., is your website still promoting a New Year’s Eve event in February?). For SEO, it can be important to keep the addition of new content at a steady pace, keeping your site dynamic and continuously offering fresh content when and where possible. Consider updating key pages (those pages with the highest visitor view rates) at least once or twice a year. For sites that include customer reviews, the constant addition of reviews helps in this area as it is technically new content.

It is important to have proper room descriptions as these will help drive conversion and  upselling efforts around premium room types.

In summary, is your website offering what your potential customers are looking for? Is it current? Can they find it quickly?

Excerpted from Hospitality Digital Marketing Essentials: A Field Guide for Navigating Today’s Digital Landscape, Sixth Edition, by Dan Wacksman, CHDM, CRME, CHBA, and Holly Zoba, CHDM — the study guide for the Certified Hospitality Digital Marketer (CHDM) certification – available soon from HSMAI.

How Hotels Can Better Promote Sustainability

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

There are many small changes that hotel companies can implement that can make a big difference in terms of being more sustainable. HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council (RSLC) discussed how their hotels are promoting sustainability on a recent call. Here are a few of their best ideas for how hotels can be more sustainable —and why it’s important.

FOOD WASTE

Food is one of the largest categories of waste that gets generated from hotels, especially with banquets and meetings, RSLC members said. They suggested combatting this via composting and donating food to local charities.

“Align with an organization that you can donate food to,” one RSLC member said. “We can’t serve something to guests that expired a day ago or the day-old bagels that didn’t get eaten at breakfast, but that doesn’t mean that another organization won’t take it. There’s a lot to be done from a food waste standpoint.”

Another member said that at their hotels, recently expired food or food that didn’t get eaten at an event gets put out for staff to take advantage of, so it doesn’t go to waste.

RECYCLING

While many of us throw our cans and bottles in a recycling bin in most places without thinking, not every hotel prioritizes recycling. In fact, several RSLC members said that they know of hotels that don’t recycle at all. However, others pointed out that recycling can be an easy way to reduce waste and should be a priority.

“We used to send out daily or weekly tips on recycling to educate everyone on what we should or shouldn’t put in the recycling bin,” one RSLC member said. “It was really engaging and made everyone more cognizant of what we should put in the recycling bin.”

BATHROOM PRODUCTS

One common change that RSLC members see being implemented is reducing plastic by getting rid of individual mini bottles of bathroom products. Several members brought up outfitting bathrooms with large dispensers of shampoo and shower gel that guests can pump out instead of using individual bottles. “The tiny plastic bottles are completely wasted, and you can’t reuse them,” one RSLC member said.

Another member said that while their hotels tried to implement shared containers of shower necessities, guests felt uncomfortable with them because of the pandemic, so the hotels unfortunately went back to individual bottles. But it’s still possible to use them sustainably. Members noted that they have programs to properly dispose of individual bathroom products, including donating leftover shampoo bottles to developing countries and remaking leftover soap into new soap.

WATER BOTTLES

Disposable water bottles are a huge contributor to waste, even if they’re recycled. A much more sustainable option is a reusable water bottle, which several RSLC members said they were trying to get guests to use instead of purchasing multiple disposables or even using paper cups, which also produce waste.

“We actually purchased logoed plastic reusable water bottles and charged them to the meeting,” one member said. “We put out water stations so people can refill them. It’s more expensive to begin with, but if you put out a water station, people are willing to pay more.”

Another member said: “I think it would be great to have a refill station near the front desk for people checking in. You have that in airports, but you rarely see it in hotels.”

HOUSEKEEPING

Many hotels are still not cleaning rooms daily unless requested — a new policy implemented at the start of the pandemic — which has resulted in less laundry and less money and water wasted. “There is a significant number of travelers that complain that they can’t get their sheets washed every day,” one RSLC member said. “But if we’re cleaning sheets every day, we’re basically washing clean sheets and wasting so much water.”

Another RSLC member said that hotels should market the environmental benefits as a reason for guests not to choose daily housekeeping service. “If we could communicate that we aren’t cleaning rooms to be more about how it’s better for the environment, I think it might go over better for some guests,” the member said.

CONSUMER INTERST IN SUSTAINABILITY

Even though most people can agree that sustainability is important, just how much do customers expect from hotels? RSLC members have had mixed experiences.

“When I personally go to hotels, I expect they follow brand standards for sustainability, which are basically the bare minimum,” one RSLC member said. “If they do anything above and beyond that it’s a pleasant surprise and a good selling point, but not an expectation.”

“It’s definitely a topic with planners, but it doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of individual travers’ minds,” another member added.

When it comes to RFPs, members said that it’s a good idea to mention any sustainability initiatives, because they’re important to many organizations. “A lot of companies want this right now,” one member said. “They are really serious about the sustainability piece. I think it will become a bigger deciding factor as we go along.”

How the Pandemic Has Changed Guest Communications

While “pivot to virtual” has become a cliché of pandemic-era marketing and communication, there’s no denying that COVID only underscored the important role that digital plays in identifying and engaging guests, gathering their feedback, and cultivating their loyalty. Here’s how those dynamics shifted throughout the pandemic and have continued to evolve during recovery:

More of everything: Communication is happening more than it did pre-COVID, and in every direction — from guests to hotels, hotels to guests, brands to properties, brands to team members, team members to clients, and so on. And it’s happening via multiple channels, including email, hotel websites, social media, and consumer platforms. “People are looking for more,” said Elizabeth Schultz vice president of guest experience, strategy, and innovation for Hyatt Hotels Corporation. “They want to understand more. We’ve put more information into our pre-arrival and confirmation communications than we have before.

“Hotels have raised the red flag of ‘We’re getting so many inbound phone calls about what’s open, what our menus are, all that stuff,’ so we’ve tried to get more of that into our arrival communications.”

Added Gregor Schertler, chief operating officer for Flemings Hotels, who is based in Germany: “We’ve had much more internal communication during this time than we would have before the pandemic. We have a meeting twice a week to communicate with all our hotels, get their feedback, and discuss changing things in response to legal requirements.”

Not too negative: “We have not seen a tremendous amount of negative feedback,” said Sabrina Lillew, vice president of loyalty programs – North and Central America for Accor. “Our guests understand and appreciate that the protocols in place are being implemented for their safety and wellbeing.”

Added Eliot Hamlisch, executive vice president of loyalty and revenue optimization for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts: “It’s my general experience that many of our guests are quite understanding of the current environment. In general, there’s an expectation that things like breakfast are going to look and feel a little different.”

Online over social: “There is some feedback from guests on Instagram,” Schertler said, “but most of the feedback is actually on TripAdvisor and Google. I call them the classic way of online feedback.”

But less online overall: “You’re seeing a big decline in the online review volume,” said Rachel Dowling, vice president of product for TrustYou. “That actually started before the pandemic, in 2019 and 2020 — online review volume was already decelerating.”

Excerpted from Do You Know Your Guests?, a white paper from HSMAI and Trust You.

Three Things You Can Do Tomorrow to Improve Profit Optimization at Your Property

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

HSMAI’s ROC Americas event is coming up on Sept. 29, with breakout sessions to prepare attendees to fuel their company’s rebound, elevate their leadership and business acumen, anticipate and respond to headwinds, and drive profit throughout the customer journey. In advance of the conference, presenters from the breakout session “Three Things You Can Do Tomorrow to Improve Profit Optimization at Your Property” gave a preview of the issues and what attendees can expect from their session.

In a panel discussion, Soojin Kim, vice president of asset management at Roch Capital Inc.; Alexa Montgomery Krnjaic, vice president of distribution and channel management at RLH Corporation/Sonesta; and Raheel Moolji, CRME, senior director of revenue management at Ashford, will offer tactical steps to increase hotels’ focus on profit optimization instead of just revenue optimization. Here’s what the three presenters had to say about their session:

What is the difference between revenue optimization and profit optimization, and why is it an important distinction?

Soojin Kim: We can’t take revenue to the bank, but we can take profit to the bank (kind of). Once we recognize the difference between revenue and profit, we can strategize what is best for the hotel.

Alexa Montgomery Krnjaic: Revenue optimization is the combination of pricing, yielding, and marketing strategies to maximize revenue capture. Profit optimization combines those things, as well as the true understanding of cost per acquisition, other ancillary costs, marketing ROI, and delivering to your bottom line. Profit optimization is the long-term strategy, while revenue optimization delivers short-term impact.

Raheel Moolji: Revenue optimization fundamentals are based on selling the most rooms at the highest rate each day. This does not factor the cost associated with acquiring these rooms and the potential ancillary spend that these rooms may generate. As demand continues to recover from pandemic lows, it’s critical to understand the cost of selling a room to have the most profitable mix of business at your hotels.

What can attendees expect from your session or what’s the number one thing you want audiences to get out of your session?

Kim: Attendees can expect to explore “below topline” during the session — how topline revenue flows to bottom-line and what attendees can do to help it.

Montgomery Krnjaic: Understanding your total costs of doing business (cost of acquisition, including marketing spend) is the foundation for driving the most profitable mix and revenue for your owners. It is your responsibility to understand this in its entirety.

Moolji: Revenue professionals should not look at their roles only to optimize room revenue, but all streams of revenue at their hotels.

Is there anything else you’d like to share ahead of your session?

Kim: Read your STR and P&L!

Montgomery Krnjaic: There may be months when your marketing budget is cut due to unforeseen circumstances; don’t underestimate the power of all channels or close any doors. You can by all means drive your own demand by nurturing all channels and relationships in times of need. If you are getting too much business from one channel, consider yielding up, controlling restrictions instead of turning off channels.

Moolji: Having alignment on topline outcome between owner and operator is critical. Hotels are still running lower than their historic occupancy levels, and owners continue to feel the pressure of increasing costs to operate. Communicate frequently to remain aligned on what the path to success looks like.

ROC Americas is part of HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas on Sept. 27–30, 2021. Learn more.

 

 

Innovation in Hotel Sales Brought About by the Pandemic

By Ed Skapinok, Chief Marketing Officer, Makr Hospitality, and immediate past chair of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board

The pandemic may have brought a lot of difficulties over the past 18 months, but because of those struggles, it has also brought a lot of innovation. Recently members of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board (SAB) discussed what they are doing differently and how they are staying innovative to stay at the top of their game. Here are a few key takeaways from their discussion:

SUPPORTING TALENT

SAB members agreed that, before anything else, in order to create an environment that allows innovation to flourish, talents need to be supported and given the resources that they need to do their jobs well and manage their time effectively. “At the end of the day, you have to figure out how to get your salespeople out of the weeds of doing things besides selling,” one SAB member said. “Isn’t it time to give salespeople more authority and autonomy that has been lost? With the rise of revenue management, our salespeople don’t make the same decisions that they used to make.”

Another member added, “I think our salespeople have really learned to sell harder. If nothing else, COVID has made the world realize how much is involved in doing many of the things hotels do. So, where before a hotel may have thrown something in [during negotiations], now our salespeople specifically bring those items to light upfront and charge heftily.”

SAB members also remarked that it’s important for leadership to understand the needs of salespeople, which can be difficult if leaders haven’t been in the trenches lately. “After coming back into direct sales, I was surprised at how much process our salespeople were doing,” one member said. “We realized that we need to be able to coach more and take some of the process off of them, so that we can coach them into making the right decisions on their own.”

STREAMLINING TEAMS

Several SAB members said that they have changed the structure of their sales teams, working more off-property to streamline the process. “We have one person who is off-property and takes care of all the leads,” one member said. “The leads don’t even go to the property until the lead catcher follows up and something comes to fruition; then they turn it over to the property sales manager. This is helpful to our hotels because it takes a layer off of them.”

Another SAB member said they were doing something similar and having the property level only handle local leads. “It’s far more effective to have an enterprise sales team off-property that receives leads from three to five hotels,” the member said.

One member said that their organization is currently figuring out how to streamline work by being more consistent between teams on property and above property and ensuring they are making the best use of their time. “We’ve made some moves to streamline platforms and have more consistent systems and platforms, both at property and above property,” the member said. “We’re also having a lot of discussions about contracting, which takes our salespeople both at property and above enormous amounts of time and can be quite an inefficient process. We’re struggling with making that a more seamless process and getting the best ROI on our salespeople.”

“Everything seems to have gotten very compressed,” another member said. “There isn’t anything specifically innovative we can come up with, other than just being really good at time management. You have to be dramatically better and faster than you’ve been over the past few years, because that’s one of the things that you can control.”

UTILIZING TECHNOLOGY

Technology continues to advance, not just in the field of sales but across the hospitality industry and beyond. “We’re dealing with a customer that is so much more digitally savvy than they were when we went into the pandemic,” one SAB member said. “We can’t sell with the same tools and think that we’d be effective. Make sure your teams embrace changing technology and are comfortable in that space.”

One member said that she was surprised recently when she tried to exchange physical business cards with a contact, and instead, he used an app to automatically download his information into her phone. “It’s so simple and so effective,” the member said. “It’s so much more convenient for customers, and it is very easy technology for sellers and customers to use.”

Another SAB member said that they have been utilizing video technology to send with proposals. “We’ve gotten really creative with sending those thank-you videos,” the member said. “We even recognize the creativity in our quarterly award ceremony. We’re also testing doing video site tours, which is more professional than just sending pictures or directing customers to our website.”

Other technology solutions that members said they have found helpful include Sprinkler and Sprout Social, through which agencies create social media posts, freeing up time for sales managers, and Social Tables, which allows users to create a room diagram and send it to the customer to customize. “There’s so much innovation in technology today that allows you to find the best solutions to make your teams even more efficient,” one member said. “But you’ve got to get the basics down first and understand what it is you need, so that you aren’t wasting money.”

5 Things to Know About HSMAI Vanguard Honoree Cindy Estis Green

‘It was creating systems that had never existed before, and it was not something I ever thought I would do.’

Cindy Estis Green grew up in a hospitality-adjacent business, working at her family’s sleepaway summer camp, but it wasn’t until she worked for an actual hospitality company during college that she started thinking it might be a career. She’d started out as a human development and family studies major at Cornell University only to transfer into the school’s hospitality program during her sophomore year. “The economy wasn’t so great and everybody in the hotel school was getting multiple job offers,” Estis Green said in a recent interview with HSMAI, “so it sounded like a good idea to me. And it sounded interesting.”

That feeling was reinforced when she completed an eight-month work-study program with Disney in Orlando, focusing on food-and-beverage training at the company’s hotels and restaurants. “I loved the environment,” Estis Green said. “I knew I really liked the atmosphere of hospitality, but I still wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do.”

Her first job out of school was with the National Restaurant Association, publishing cookbooks and training manuals. That led to an interest in marketing, which prompted Estis Green to get an MBA from American University in Washington, D.C., with a concentration in market research. As she considered a career in hospitality, her timing couldn’t have been better. Hotel companies were just beginning to automate their systems and trying to figure out how to make use of the increasing amount of data they were collecting from their customers.

In 1983, Hilton International hired Estis Green as director of marketing information systems and research — a newly created position. She spent seven years with the company, including several as general manager of underperforming properties that she used her expertise in data and technology to turn around, then left to start Driving Revenue, a data-mining consultancy that she eventually sold to Pegasus Solutions. After that came The Estis Group and, finally, Kalibri Labs, a benchmarking platform for hotel revenue performance that she co-founded in 2012 and continues to serve as CEO today. Along the way she’s written industry-defining books and special reports such as Distribution Channel Analysis: A Guide for Hotels and Demystifying the Digital Marketplace, some of them supported and/or published by the HSMAI Foundation.

A pioneer in helping the hospitality industry understand big data and distribution, Estis Green has had the kind of career that wins you awards. The latest is HSMAI’s Vanguard Award for Achievement in Revenue Management, which Estis Green will receive during ROC Americas 2021 — part of HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas on Sept. 27–30. “It’s been a long time that I’ve been involved with HSMAI, and it just makes me feel happy,” said Estis Green, who first joined HSMAI as a student at Cornell and has served in a variety of volunteer roles, including chair of the HSMAI Foundation. “I’ve been involved in so many aspects of it and I have so many relationships as a result of my involvement with HSMAI. So, it’s such a huge honor to get this award.”

Here are five other things we found out during our interview with Estis Green:

1. She made it up as she went along at Hilton — literally. “I was setting up automating sales and catering, which was new at the time; building revenue management systems and spreadsheets, which was new at the time; and creating databases to be able to make sales and marketing decisions. It was creating systems that had never existed before, and it was not something I ever thought I would do. It was really my interest in hotels and hospitality combined with my exposure to data and marketing information systems that led me to what ultimately became a focus on sales, marketing, and revenue optimization in this whole area.”

2. She also put her data into practice at Hilton. “At that time when I was with Hilton International, Hilton Domestic was a separate company, so most of the hotels were outside the U.S. Most of the GMs were traditional European general managers; they were all men, and when I would talk to them about what I was working on, they would say, ‘Oh, this data and technology doesn’t really matter. If you worked in a hotel, you would realize that it is meaningless and it’s not going to change anything we do.’

“I got tired of hearing that, because I knew that data and technology could make a difference, so I asked to go into a hotel. I went into a hotel in Washington, D.C. — a pretty big hotel, 420 rooms and a fair amount of meeting space. They were really struggling. I used all the data and technology to segment the business and determine what we were getting and what we were missing, and then created tactical programs to go over to improve things. And we turned the hotel around — we went from being unprofitable to profitable. Then I became a general manager and got moved to a different hotel outside of Newark airport and did the same thing. I really wanted to prove that this data and technology was not a fad or a trend.”

3. It’s called Kalibri Labs for a reason. “I’ve always tried to stay a few steps ahead on what is out there and what’s available — thinking of different ways to apply new technology to old problems and seeing how it can be leveraged to make a difference. I never want to get caught up in doing it the same way and thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got this. I know how to do it. I’m going to keep doing it the same way I’ve been doing it.’ Which is one of the reasons when I started Kalibri Labs that I put the word ‘Labs’ in the name, because I wanted it to be clear that we’re going to be constantly doing R&D, and constantly changing and improving, and always pushing the envelope for ourselves.”

4. She loves hospitality because of the people — and the digital. “I’ve never felt like I had a job; I’ve always been part of the community. I think it’s much more compelling to feel part of the community than just doing a job in some random industry. I have at various times thought about leaving, but once I started Driving Revenue and then sold that to Pegasus, I knew that I would stay within hospitality, because at the time there was a big upswing in the digital space. All of these big tech companies like the online travel agents started emerging. I wanted to help the industry improve their ability to use data and technology, and I found myself being someone who could explain it to general managers or owners or asset managers. So, after selling Driving Revenue, I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll write some industry books and help the industry understand how distribution channels and technology and data are starting to become much more prevalent in hospitality.’”

5. She sees an upside to the pandemic. “The industry was fat and happy for a while. Business was good, and everybody figured, ‘Why should I change anything if we’re making a lot of money and it seems to be going well?’ But they were not as mindful of what was happening behind the scenes. All of these big tech platforms like Expedia, Booking.com, Google, potentially Amazon, Airbnb — they were entering the travel space and are potentially threatening the profitability of hotels because of how much value they want to take out of it. I think the pandemic forced everyone to pay attention to everything again as though it was a clean slate: ‘Wait a minute, we can’t necessarily operate the way we have been. There’s no autofill on my hotel anymore, so I have to understand the composition of demand.’ Back to my work at Hilton International where I was trying to tell people, ‘Hey, you really have to look at the segmentation of the business, you can’t just look at overall occupancy’ — I feel like I’m saying the same things again to everybody that I said when I started in the industry. We really have to understand this.”

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Back to Business

The return of corporate travel means the return of corporate travelers. How has the experience changed — and how hasn’t it — for our customers?

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

“Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic brought global travel to a standstill, one thing became clear: Corporate travel would face a slower return than leisure, almost as surely as international would lag domestic.” Right at the outset, a new report from Deloitte called Return to a World Transformed: How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Corporate Travel hits the nail on the head.

Yes, business travel is coming back much more slowly than leisure travel — but it is coming back. HSMAI is holding our first in-person events as part of Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas next month, and like our members who work in hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization, we’re attuned to how this experience will or should be different for our customers — meaning our attendees. Deloitte’s report is particularly helpful because it outlines potential triggers and drags for the return of corporate travel.

I was especially struck by the report’s “Why We Fly Matrix,” which evaluates various travel purposes within the context of a company’s business goals and the extent to which a technology solution might replace travel. The matrix underscores the fact that, for the foreseeable future, some business travel experiences will be more justified than others. Here are a few additional insights from the report that resonated with me:

Travel restrictions: “Decision-makers cite the easing of restrictions such as quarantine on arrival as important to the resumption of travel. Improved ease of movement will grow in importance as companies move beyond their current focus on resuming domestic travel and look to resume international trips.” Hand-in-hand with the easing of restrictions is the importance of not suddenly forgetting about COVID-19 — letting our customers know that, as they begin traveling again, we’ll continue to prioritize their health and safety, whether through enhanced cleaning protocols, mask mandates, vaccination requirements, or additional measures.

Face-to-face: “Travel use cases that support client relationships have been identified as the most crucial to business success, and the most dependent on in-person interaction. Visits to prospects and clients will lead the comeback.” In other words, getting business travelers back on the road means helping them … well, do business. Let’s make it as easy as possible for them to connect with old clients, identify new ones, and have the kind of productive interactions that can only happen face-to-face.

Booking channels: “Managed travel channels, including online corporate booking tools and agents, appear poised to significantly grow their share of travel bookings over supplier-direct (hotel and airline websites) and online travel agency (OTA) channels. The heightened duty of care brought on by the pandemic, as well as the desire to manage costs and manage environmental impact, have increased the emphasis on in-program booking.” Obviously, this has major implications for our industry. At this point, how business travel is booked is less important than that it is booked, but we’ll need to keep a close eye on any longer-lasting or even permanent effects on corporate booking patterns.

But let’s return to the good news: Business travel is coming back. We always knew it would, and can’t wait to do our part by welcoming you to HSMAI’s Commercial Strategy Week — Sept. 27–30, 2021, in Dallas. See you there!