Overcoming Challenges Between Brands and Licensees: Best Practices in Franchising from the HSMAI Global Distribution Advisory Board

Michael Hucho, Management Consultant, HSMAI Global Distribution Advisory Board Member 

Across the world, long term relationships with loyal franchise partners are being put to the test. This is especially true for mid-size operating companies working in a multi-brand franchise environment. Hotels are increasingly questioning what they receive in return to their brand royalty fees, their system and transaction fees, loyalty fees, etc.  

Tensions on the franchisee side are the top line cost of distributions service delivery and staff that has been made redundant or had their hours reduced. Existing contracts are now under review leading to renegotiation in Europe. However, there are challenges on the franchises side as well such as increasing pressure, brand compliance, operational quality, and guest experience.  

The HSMAI Global Distribution Advisory Board met to discuss the challenge and share best practices.  

10 Best Practices in Handling Brand/Licensee Challenges 

  1. Focus on how to mitigate pain points for operators. Staff sizes are shrinking, so think about making their lives easier, make reservation delivery easier and more seamless.  
  2. Create partnerships with B2B and B2C distributors to fill in holes formed from the loss of segments (i.e. – group, business).  
  3. Concentrate on content and how to update content. Create a survey for hotels about what services they’re offering. This helps show hotels the brand value and support. 
  4. Streamline transaction fee pricing so all brands have the same fee structures. This makes it easier for our development offices to articulate the fee regardless of brand.  
  5. Standardize systems – for starting into the franchise arena get compliance from the start. For companies with acquired brands, move towards standard systems.  
  6. Create a distribution manual to communicate with franchise partners on the commercial side that includes resources for them to understand their obligations, rate plans, the fees, etc.  
  7. Communicate – Send emails (and track open rates), host town halls, and call franchisees 
  8. Educate – Do internal education to make sure franchisees understand the key points of distribution, whatever the hot topic is that week or that month and give them the tools and the resources.  
  9. Measure – Have a scorecard that includes pieces of distribution, especially around rate parity and including photo scores, operational compliance, guest review scores.  
  10.  Combine feedback with action plans and resources. That’s the job of a franchise company – to supply the resources. Then that makes that make operators successful.  

Content and Rate Parity Best Practices from Global Distribution Executives

In the first ever HSMAI global distribution executive roundtable, leaders in the field gathered to share best practices and challenges. It was clear from the start that the group had a lot to talk about around content and rate parity and leakage – the biggest challenges everyone faced. Below are best practices that came out of the discussion.


3RD Party Content Current State

There was consensus among the group that for most hotel companies, a content hub does not exist to update all booking channels. Updating content across all booking channels requires a lot of work and a lot of communication between corporate and the properties. Many systems are antiquated and need to be updated to a be more integrated so that a change made in one place distributes across all channels. Some mentioned technologies that vacation rentals use to streamline content.  Many agreed that partners don’t seem to be putting a priority on assisting with content development. In fact, some partners regularly add content fields and do not tell hoteliers. It was agreed that hoteliers need to come together and push the partners to further technology in this space.

Given the limitations and challenges, here are ideas participants shared for optimizing efficiency in content.

Best Practices

  • Build the business case to have a dedicated team for updating content for third party partner sites.
  • Ensure there are proper communication channels in place, so the properties update corporate on changes.
  • Ensure you track changes made to content on all channels.
  • Reference the vacation rental industry who has a content hub for ease of updating content.
  • Contract with a company that can assist with image distribution and question/ answer sites.
  • Leverage content APIs provided by some partners.
  • Push your CRS & PMS providers to add more content fields to their systems.


Rate parity and leakage was the other hot topic among the global distribution executives. Though there are technology providers that say they can solve rate parity, it continues to be an issue. There were some great tips shared for handling parity and leakage.

Rate Parity and Leakage Tips

  • Sunset any contracts that provide static rates and move to dynamic rates.
  • In the B2B space – give the same discount to everyone to level playing field.
  • Do test bookings to find the source of distributer that is reducing the rate – either internally or using a 3rd Build clauses into the agreement to have the 3rd party pay for test bookings.
  • Contract a partner that will perform rate shops on your behalf.
  • When leakage is found, either terminate the offenders or give them limited rates.
  • Add clauses to the contract that leakage is grounds for termination.

Executive Roundtables are invite only discussions and networking for HSMAI members that are senior level hotel leaders.

HSMAI Foundation Talent Best Practice: Find Yourself and Your Team

Kate Lochridge, Director of Resorts Marketing at Universal Orlando Resort

As hospitality organizations, our team members’ voices are important. Their level of engagement affects their service delivery and directly impacts our guests’ satisfaction. We solicit our team members for feedback in their self-evaluations, team member satisfaction surveys, annual reviews, quarterly development lunches, random one-on-ones, and several team member engagement activities.

With all these activities, do we do an adequate job providing our team members with the tools to articulate how they contribute to the organization’s culture and success?

StrengthsFinder (now called CliftonStrengths 34) is an assessment tool designed to showcase a person’s top strengths and what that means for them as an individual. The assessment has been taken by more than 25 million people worldwide.

I am privileged to work for an organization that has a dedicated StrengthsFinder coach on property. We leverage this expertise in a variety of ways including our internship program, mentoring program, and personal development courses. It has made a dramatic difference in my perspective and how I lead, daily, as a Director of Resorts Marketing.

Before we start on this journey, I want to share my definition of what StrengthsFinder is vs. what it is not:

What It Is:  A tool to help gain greater insight for self-awareness. There are 34 strengths that can be identified by the assessment. It provides an opportunity to identify and focus your energy into your natural talents vs. focusing energy on areas that do not come to you as easily.

What It Is Not:  A replacement for common sense. An excuse for not being able to accomplish projects, tasks, or assignments. The authority on other people’s thoughts, feelings, and capabilities.

Most of us recognize that we have room for improvement in various areas. However, identifying our unique talents and understanding those around us allows for easier collaboration, and the opportunity to combine the superpowers of the team. Using StrengthFinder helps us accept individuality versus requiring someone to contribute in ways that may not come as naturally.

Here are five ways to leverage StrengthsFinder results:

1. When you receive your results, read your report. Read it again. Answer the questions provided.

    • That may sound obvious, but often we skim over the descriptions provided and chalk it up to ‘of course I know myself.’ If you truly read it with focus, there are some unique truths and insights you may not have known.
    • The report provides an exercise to actively identify the areas of your talents that speak loudest to you. Answer those questions for each of your top five talents. Keep them in a journal or print them out and reference as needed.
    • Here are a few examples of the questions that were posed and what stood out for me as I read about my strength of ‘ideation’ in my report:

Q: As you read your personalized strengths insights, what words, phrases, or lines stand out to you?

A: You refuse to be stifled by traditions or routines.

Q: Out of all the talents in this insight, what would you like for others to see most in you?

A: You likely spring from one original thought to an entirely different one.

These phrases afforded me the opportunity to articulate that I do not want the status quo, I want to innovate, and quickly. The second statement spoke loud and clear to me, as I have often been criticized for being ‘scattered’ or ‘distracted.’ However, this insight allowed me to see that I am actually processing seemingly unrelated thoughts in support of that innovation. This exercise gave me the ability to share why I operate the way I do and demonstrated the strength I bring to the team.

2. Ask Your Team to do the same exercise: Read and answer the questions for each talent.

Then, talk about it! After each response, ask your team member the prompt ‘WHY?’  i.e., Why did the phrase ‘You refuse to be stifled by traditions or routines’ stand out to you? By having this open dialogue, you are developing a deeper understanding of your team member, and they will recognize and appreciate your efforts.

3. Share Your Results.

Sometimes leaders believe they are exempt from talking about themselves, as if our titles mean we only can share with those at our level or above, rather than with our team. However, by sharing your own talents and reflections with your team and colleagues, you are developing a deeper mutual understanding and creating the opportunity for a stronger working relationship.

4. Plot the Domains.

Once you’ve done the previous exercises with each member of your team, see how they compare as a group. StrengthsFinder tiers each talent into four unique domains:  Strategic, Influencing, Executing, and Relationship Building. By seeing your entire team’s strengths on display, you understand how the dynamics can work together, or where you may need to lean on others to bring in different perspectives.

5. Identify Special Projects & Partnerships.

Now that you have your team’s strengths laid out, use your insight to identify growth opportunities. For example, many of my top talents fall within the Strategic Thinking domain. That doesn’t mean I am unable to execute, rather it positions me as naturally leaning towards thinking vs. implementation. However, I have two extremely strong team members in the domain of Executing, which means I can have confidence in delegating projects to them and allow them added benefit of exposure and visibility throughout the organization, as well as a sense of purpose for bringing our vision to life.

 6. BONUS! Keep the Conversation Going.

For me and my team, StrengthsFinder isn’t a one and done conversation. If you are committed to using it, you need to remind your team of what they uniquely bring to the table every day. Here are some ways we do that within my organization:

  • Intentionally use your strengths in your self-evaluation to highlight the successes of your company.
  • Actively use your team’s strengths in their annual performance reviews to highlight the successes of your company or use it as a coaching tool.
  • Start your team meetings with shout-outs by characterizing your team’s combined strengths in the various dynamics, or specifically calling on the talents of a project completed by an individual contributor.
  • Make a commitment at an annual meeting for each Team Member to share one of their talents and an insight it has afforded them.
  • Give your team a visual reminder of what they are good at in fun and creative ways. We posted signs outside each of our office spaces to highlight and celebrate that person’s unique strengths.

StrengthsFinder has been an incredible tool for me as a leader. It has allowed me to build a team that approaches any challenge from multiple angles, utilizing our executors, influencers, relationship builders and strategic thinkers. We’re better for it, and I hope you’re able to use these ideas to improve the dynamics of your team.

Kate Lochridge is the Director of Marketing for the portfolio of hotels at Universal Orlando Resort where she is responsible for developing brand strategy and marketing programs. Kate began her career at the front desk of Loews Royal Pacific Resort in 2002, during college. Over the past 20 years, she has held roles in Guest Service Operations, Human Resources Recruitment, Executive Administration, and Marketing. She has had the privilege of opening seven hotels, five of which contribute to the growth of the Universal Orlando hotel portfolio. Kate currently serves on the HSMAI Marketing Advisory Board and is a proud member of Women in Travel THRIVE.

Digital Marketing Best Practice: Visit Norway ‘Where Is Will?’ Campaign

Insights into what went into HSMAI Adrian Award 2021 winning entries, excerpted from the HSMAI SPECIAL REPORT 2021 Adrian Awards: Platinum and President’s Award Honorees.

Agency Partner: Visit Norway/Maverix

When General Motors aired a Super Bowl commercial with Will Ferrell being obsessed with how Norway has outdone the United States in its use of electric vehicles, Visit Norway saw an opportunity to maximize the exposure and highlight the country’s sustainable solutions, in a world increasingly focused on climate change

Visit Norway capitalized on being in the spotlight after the Super Bowl spot, launching a social media campaign that aimed to create a general desire to travel to Norway.

The campaign generated 1.8 million impressions, a reach of 3.1 million, and more than 70,000 engagements across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. The centerpiece video, “Where are you, Will?” generated 450,000 views and 22,000 engagements. In addition to receiving a lot of media attention and trending on Twitter, the video was listed as one of the top four in Adweek and received favorable mentions in The Next Web, Meedia (Germany), and Kampanje (Norway).

Enter the 2022 Adrian Awards Competition

Digital Marketing Best Practice: Accor Get Real – Experience It All Campaign

Insights into HSMAI Adrian Award 2021 winning entries, excerpted from the HSMAI SPECIAL REPORT 2021 Adrian Awards: Platinum and President’s Award Honorees. 



Accor set out to launch a campaign encouraging people to visit its hotels and reenter the travel world. In addition, Accor wanted to raise the profile of its loyalty program, ALL – Accor Live Limitless, in North America. 


Accor partnered with Momentum Worldwide and celebrity Neil Patrick Harris to reignite people’s passion for travel. They created a series of five comedic tutorial videos depicting Neil’s struggles with the basics of human interaction, covering topics such as how to pack and how to greet people. Each video featured an Accor destination, linking back to its main offer. Accor supported the campaign through digital and PR tactics, and the videos were housed on a microsite, which was promoted via email and display and social advertising. 



The campaign achieved 1.5 billion combined impressions across digital, social media and PR, and Accor saw a 111% increase in bookings and 141% increase in revenue, versus the same period in 2019. The campaign was also picked up by publications such as People, Travel + Leisure, and Conde Nast Traveler.

Enter the 2022 Adrian Awards Competition

HSMAI Foundation Talent Best Practice: How Stay Interviews Can Improve Employee Retention

Lovell Casiero, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, PM Hotel Group. HSMAI Foundation Board Member

Before the pandemic, the hospitality industry began to see an exit of sales, marketing, and revenue management professionals and started to experience challenges attracting new talent. In the aftermath of COVID-19, this problem has only exacerbated.

Over last two years, people have started to rethink their life choices, with family and travel taking precedence over climbing the corporate ladder. Priorities such as fair pay, flexible work schedules, enhanced benefits, and work-life balance are top of mind for those entering or returning to the hospitality industry today. Employers cannot assume the associate or manager who is tenured with the company and continued to work through the pandemic is not considering these things as well.

If you are not taking the time to understand the change of mindset within your team, it could create turnover. Turnover is costly and, ultimately, has a negative impact on the profitability of the P&L. Open positions also affect the ability to meet topline goals.

As employers are enhancing benefits and increasing salaries, one of the most important best practices to implement now is staying in touch with managers and associates in a meaningful way. One method of doing this is through a stay interview.

A stay interview can be considered the opposite of an exit interview. It is a conversation that assesses what an employee enjoys about their role, what motivates them and what they might like to change. This proactive approach to communication can also help you understand why associates are leaving before reading it on Glassdoor. Negative employer ratings can create reputational issues for the company and impact your ability to recruit talent.

Stay Interview Sample Questions

Following are examples you may consider asking your current team members:

  • What is your favorite part about working here?
  • What do you look forward to most when you come to work each day?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What do you think we could do better?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • Do you get enough feedback or recognition about your performance?
  • What kind of recognition do you prefer?
  • Do you feel you have an opportunity to grow here?
  • What talents do you have that are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn in the next six months?
  • What career goals have you set for yourself that I might help you reach?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • Are there any tools or resources you need to do your job more efficiently?
  • Do you feel valued and appreciated for your contribution?
  • Do you feel you have a healthy work-life balance?

Building a Stay Interview Program

Deciding who should conduct the interview will depend on the existing organizational chart. If you are the interviewee’s supervisor, you will need to ensure you are creating a safe and welcoming environment. There is value in a leader taking the time to sit down and genuinely listen to their team members.

The HR team could also conduct the interview, as the employee may not be as forthcoming if they are speaking to their supervisor. The associate should feel safe to speak freely and respond to questions honestly.

Following up on actionable items in a timely matter is a must. If areas of opportunity are not addressed after the interview, the associate’s perception could be the company does not care or does not value their opinion. Immediate and ongoing communication is key to the success of the stay interview process. A stay interview should not be one and done. As you introduce this process, think about the cadence for follow-up sessions as well.

After launching this program, the following overall trends and outcomes should be considered and addressed:

  1. What is the overall associate satisfaction by department or manager?
  2. Are the interviews uncovering company-wide trends?
  3. Is the intended culture of the company being executed or highjacked by managers?
  4. Do schedules and goals allow for a reasonable work-life balance?
  5. Are we allocating time and funding to associate development?
  6. Do people have an opportunity to grow?
  7. How will you address ongoing communication? Frequency?
  8. How will you measure success?

Case Study

In late 2021 and early 2022, I worked with PM Hotel Group’s people and culture department to create a survey for property-based directors of sales. The interview focused on understanding their personal journey in hospitality sales as well as their professional goals for growth. Directors could request a coaching session with me to determine their career development needs. The session was well-received by the associate but was also beneficial to the company. The communication was a learning experience on many levels for both participants. The following outlines some of the key outcomes from the discussion:

  • Developed a database for bench strength (general managers, revenue management and task force)
  • Identification of challenges around recruiting and developing talent, including flexible work schedule solutions, training opportunities, and salary and benefit expectations
  • Validation of the quality of the support properties received from the above-property team members and areas of opportunity
  • An opportunity to express gratitude and recognize the team’s achievements
  • A clear understanding of the company’s growth plan

If the company is not prepared to implement processes to address work-life balance, flexibility in schedules, the opportunity for financial growth and mental well-being, then the process is moot. However, if you can embrace change management and intentionally listen to the constructive feedback of the employees within the company, a stay interview could improve your ability to retain and develop your existing talent.

Keep in mind that the approach to this process should not be one size fits all. The interview should be specific to the department’s functionality as well as the demographic and level of the associate or manager’s experience.

This new process of communication will uncover areas where the company performs well, and you will be able to lean further into these practices. You will most certainly find opportunities for improvement, but at least you will know how to tweak culture, benefits, and policies to become the employer of choice for your current team and the talent you will attract in the future.

Diversity Marketing Best Practice: Visit Atlanta

Insights into what went into HSMAI Adrian Award 2021 winning entries, excerpted from the HSMAI SPECIAL REPORT 2021 Adrian Awards: Platinum and President’s Award Honorees.

Agency Partner: MADDEN MEDIA


Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB) and their agency partner Madden Media set out to develop a new website that showcased Atlanta’s diversity and create a personalized experience for each website visitor.


When a user reaches the homepage, they are greeted with a large header video that features couples and families of all ages and ethnic backgrounds discovering things to do. The agency worked with local Black content creators to write inspiring, personal stories of their favorite places to spend time in Atlanta, so travelers got a local’s view of the city.


The ACVB successfully added several Disadvantaged Business Enterprises to its membership base. The bounce rate has improved by 7% and the number of pages per session increased by 58%. Organic search visits have increased by 27% and new users coming to the site have increased by 30%. Four stories on DiscoverAtlanta.com became featured snippets on Google search results in the first month, and organic traffic page views also increased by 83%.

Enter the 2022 Adrian Awards Competition

Digital Marketing Best Practice: BWH See You Soon Campaign

Insights into what went into HSMAI Adrian Award 2021 winning entries, excerpted from the HSMAI SPECIAL REPORT 2021 Adrian Awards: Platinum and President’s Award Honorees.

Agency Partner: Ideas Collide

As people began to make travel plans again, Best Western® Hotels & Resorts wanted to remind travelers of its commitment to industry-leading hospitality. Its “See You Soon” campaign was designed to welcome back guests after a challenging year and invite them to make new memories with Best Western.

A key campaign channel was influencer marketing. Each influencer brought their travel stories to life by covering not only various types of properties within the brand but also the diverse communities around them. As part of the larger “See You Soon” campaign, these influencer videos sought to amplify social reach, revitalize bookings during summer travel season, position Best Western as a trusted travel partner amid COVID-19 concerns, and foster positive brand association with strong storytelling.

Influencers produced 16 videos from various perspectives, including family, millennial, pet, and road trip travel. Though the videos were made as part of a single campaign, they will each continue to provide relevant content for some time. The videos have received more than 2 million views and an average view rate of 50.51%.

Enter the 2022 Adrian Awards Competition

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Flexi Friday?

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

Why It Matters

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

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

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

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