HSMAI Customer Insight: Travelers’ COVID-19 Fears Continue to Recede | Longwoods

Longwoods International’s tracking study reveals many reasons for optimism in that COVID-19 fears among travelers continue to recede, even as travel sentiment is being impacted by higher gas prices in ways that may alter traveler behavior.  Add in the recent news regarding the lifting of most mask-wearing requirements in the U.S for travel, and a new wave of optimism is likely to be seen among travelers. Exclusive insights on the findings for HSMAI from Longwoods President & CEO Amir Eylon:


Read the Full Report: American Travel Sentiment Study – Wave 60 Travelers’ COVID-19 Fears Continue to Recede

In the ‘New Normal,’ Interdepartmental Silos Continue to Disappear

By Karen Wollard, Ed. D., CHDM, HSMAI Research Manager

Within the hospitality industry, the pandemic has changed the way we recruit and attract new talent as well as what we’re looking for when hiring. The new job description for commercial teams is evolving quickly, as agility and the ability to capitalize on short-term changes become key skills. When historical data is no longer appropriate or sufficient, teams must let go of what was working and look for what will work now. This combination of innovative technologies and new challenges has created a need for learning and development that has outstripped the abilities of many organizations.

According to a summer 2021 Hospitality Upgrade article written by Jennifer Hill and Cindy Estis Green, organizational structures are changing so the hotel’s revenue generation team is one unit, combining revenue and commercial analysis, sales deployment, and digital marketing spend. This has necessitated changing budgets and performance expectations. Smaller and more nimble teams were necessary to address the impacts of the pandemic. It will take time to determine whether this realignment continues. Commercial departments were slowly merging in most hotel organizations; the pandemic accelerated this.

Dr. Kelly McGuire, managing principal at ZS, stated in her presentation at HSMAI ROC Americas 2021 that the ability of these teams to achieve maximum market potential would necessitate key changes.

First, it is essential to delegate, automate, reduce, and eliminate the non-essential work that these key players have been performing. Second, the teams need to be reconstituted to ensure there is a mix of strategic thinkers, relationship builders, communicators, and business experts. More critical thinking and less data cleaning and report writing are needed if commercial teams are to be agile in delivering on KPIs.

A recent article by Drs. Peter Ricci and Anil Bilgihan in Hotel Business Review reported on insights from 14 revenue managers. They summarized the challenges this way: “The majority of revenue management models are based largely on historical data; however, incorporating big data such as the political environment, weather, flights, holidays, events, social reputation, and online prices/inventory, vaccination rates, number of daily COVID-19 cases [and] security of a destination into the algorithms, may help revenue managers to improve the accuracy of their forecasting. Through the effective use of big data in real-time, room rates or packages can be tailored to each guest which, in return, will maximize revenue and improve guest satisfaction.”

Challenges from technology, remote work, and smaller teams tackling the commercial activity together have also made it unclear what the goalposts are. KPIs and appropriate measures of success are changing rapidly, challenging managers to find new ways to monitor and upskill their teams.

Bonnie Buckhiester, president of Buckhiester Management, has authored several articles on the leadership roles that revenue managers, working with their marketing and sales counterparts, had to learn to play, beginning with, “Fish only where the fish are.” As the pandemic took hold, the convergence of revenue strategy and digital marketing rapidly progressed. Website data from marketing informed pricing decisions as booking windows shortened. Sophisticated business intelligence tools had to be acquired and learned if these teams were going to access real-time data about feeder markets, travel patterns, traveler sentiment and other nontraditional sources of data. Buckhiester contends that the pandemic has accelerated the shift to “fourth-generation revenue strategy directors” who, along with their numbers and analysis, are looking for clues to understand and better characterize demand. These are leaders who have acquired new skills that allow them to challenge tradition and discover new insights to finding demand.

Strategic thinking is more essential than ever in the commercial areas. People must follow trends and markets more closely and with new insight. Technology and year-over-year comparisons no longer substitute for a lack of planning and the need for comprehension of new dynamics and market forces.

In addition, organizational structures are changing so that the hotel’s revenue generation team is one unit charged with revenue and commercial analysis, sales deployment, digital marketing spend, and technology deployment. Budgets and performance measurements must change as these structures and duties evolve. Determining proper incentives and measures was a huge topic for sales, especially as the pandemic saw more than two years of hard-won sales fall off the books. Responsibility and accountability for action and execution are essential determinants of success for these new teams.

This is an excerpt from the HSMAI Foundation’s State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent: 2020-2021 special report. To learn more about the HSMAI Foundation and its mission, visit the Foundation website.

Doing More with Less: A Talent Two-Edged Sword

By Karen Wollard, Ed. D., CHDM, HSMAI Research Manager

One of the most common themes across all areas of hospitality, when it comes to talent, has been the need to do more with less. With the abrupt shutdowns caused by the pandemic in 2020, initial cutbacks were a necessity for surviving the crisis. Commercial teams sought profitable strategies, focusing on cutting costs while aiming to identify, attract, and book market segments that were still traveling. This often meant eliminating outside contractors or consultants or moving everything in-house, just as the markets became more unpredictable and volatile.

Suddenly, marketing teams were doing their own media planning, buying and execution, without depending on the expertise of agencies and research firms. Social media demand exploded, with some hotels using their platforms for transactions, not just as brand awareness vehicles. Salespeople were working to drive revenue, not spending as much time on reporting or administration, while often doing double duty in covering other departments.

Teams had to think differently and deploy people in new ways. This focus often came at the expense of human experience and connections. Long-term relationships with colleagues, clients, contractors, and partners were severed for many teams. One executive shared her view that it wasn’t about doing more with less; it was about prioritization, efficiency, and finding the flexibility to meet the constant changes. Cross-training became a necessity, often using internal resources or free training resources from partners such as Amadeus, Knowland, Cvent, Expedia, Google, STR, and more. Education on tools and data sources that could help find potential business was implemented across departments. Some hotel sales teams held trainings to encourage every person — front desk staff, bartenders, banquet captains, housekeeping and concierge, as well as operations management teams — to learn ways to assist in revenue generation.

Leveraging technology such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and OneNote helped teams stay connected. Salespeople learned how to create virtual site visits and property tours, as well as creative ways to sell their property in the absence of onsite visits. Demand for hybrid meeting resources forced group salespeople to create new video plans and packages. Workflow design applications were pulled into group meetings to search for ways to streamline clunky reporting and data flows. Some properties began using AI systems to score leads and prioritize best opportunities or propose alternative dates or patterns.

Hotel owners and asset managers at HSMAI roundtables shared lessons, beginning with the reality that profitability, not consumer satisfaction, drives decisions. In the interest of safety, guests were expected to follow new rules and accept huge cuts in amenities. In addition to checking themselves in remotely, guests didn’t receive housekeeping services or breakfasts, they couldn’t use the lobby or pool, and some complaints simply went unaddressed. The result was often the loss of any ancillary spend or loyalty development.

This concept of doing more with less became a two-edged sword, as workers insisted on compensation increases or other concessions to return to work, while burnout and turnover within their departments drove existing workers to seek work elsewhere. Some groups eliminated consulting and agency support to save expenditures, but found they lost the holistic view of comp sets and superior skills at strategy and execution. Still, other organizations chose to use agencies to fill gaps rather than bringing back employees. Revenue management saw a wide range of change. Some organizations that had always had singular onsite revenue managers found that remote work was possible, and that one remote worker could often manage several locations. Revenue management functions were also outsourced to consulting teams capable of managing dozens of sites.

Talent was redeployed to ensure multiple tasks were completed with less cost. Sales, revenue management, and reservations often were merged into a single team, serving multiple properties, according to Hospitality Upgrade. Sixty-nine percent of respondents in the McKinsey survey Building Workforce Skills at Scale indicated that skill-building was the most used approach for closing skills gaps, followed by redeploying remaining staffers.

Hotels have been hiring back staff who can fill multiple roles. Many learned through the small and nimble teams during the pandemic that when jobs are merged, people can fill multiple roles, boundaries (or silos) are eliminated, jobs get done, and situations can be met swiftly and effectively. Medallia Zingle’s hospitality employee experience report states that 61% of hospitality workers say they are having to do more with less, and according to Hospitality Upgrade, hoteliers are overwhelmingly recruiting (64%) and prioritizing (86%) interdisciplinary workers.

This is an excerpt from the HSMAI Foundation’s State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent: 2020-2021 special report. To learn more about the HSMAI Foundation and its mission, visit the Foundation website.

HSMAI Customer Insight: Gas Price Worries Accelerate Among Travelers | Longwoods

Wave 58 of Longwood International’s ongoing tracking study continues to indicate strong pent up demand and most key Travel Sentiment Indicators continuing their positive trends.  However, the issue of rising gas prices is having a growing impact.  This wave, we dig a bit deeper to learn more about how travelers say the rising fuel costs will impact their travels. Insights for HSMAI from Longwoods President & CEO Amir Eylon:

Read the full report: American Travel Sentiment Study – Wave 58 Gas Price Worries Accelerate Among Travelers

Authentic, Servant Leadership Key to Navigating Talent Challenges Amid Pandemic

By Karen Wollard, Ed. D., CHDM, HSMAI Research Manager

Authenticity, accountability, and transparency — these characteristics have been most strongly associated with leaders who are successfully navigating the pandemic’s challenges, according to the HSMAI Foundation’s State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent: 2020-2021 special report. As marketing, sales, and revenue optimization teams work toward being fully staffed again, hospitality talent expects these characteristics — and more — of their leaders at every level.

When the pandemic started, good leaders listened and adjusted, allowing the difference between what was and was not within their control to dictate the right actions to move forward. Hospitality leaders agree that the humanity of leadership is critical, along with humility and leading with a servant mentality.

Compassion and curiosity are key elements in leading organizations with strong manager/employee relationships. Leaders who embraced this acknowledged that their people were human first and addressed the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of the crisis. They also admitted they, too, were feeling the strains. Servant leaders look to make their team’s lives easier.

Authentic leadership was personified by the late Arne Sorenson, who was president and CEO of Marriott International, when he took to video in March 2020 to deliver the unwelcome news “face-to-face” with Marriott’s employees, stakeholders, and customers: “I can tell you that I have never had a more difficult moment than this one. There is simply nothing worse than telling highly valued associates — people who are the very heart of this company — that their roles are being impacted by events completely outside of their control.”

Before his passing in January 2021, Sheldon Adelson, CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands, called on corporate executives to maximize the number of employees and families they could help. He paid his 10,000 employees as though they were still working, even as the resorts were shuttered. Many large organizations raised funds to support furloughed workers and extended benefits. Others shared food, resources, job leads, support for unemployment applications, and more.

Managing Challenges at Every Level

Leaders at every level had to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and expect the unexpected, while moving decisively and empathetically. They had to keep a steady direction, while managing major crises, to help teams focus on priorities and find efficiencies wherever they could. Additionally, flexibility and resilience in the face of reduced bookings and mounting costs led some teams to creative solutions, including taking on new tasks such as stripping beds or helping prep food. One leader said this also brought out strengths in people that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

As change became a constant, leaders had to make decisions without full data and then constantly reevaluate as new information changed the landscape. Managers had to be flexible as their employees struggled with homeschooling their children, caring for sick relatives, and learning new technologies and techniques to do their jobs. Inflexible managers who tried to stick to the rules or enforce one rule on many created stress and burnout.

With their data and insights, as well as experience representing their brands, chief marketing officers were invaluable strategists during the pandemic, determining the profile of the “new” guest, devising plans on increasing occupancy, and crafting unique messaging to address those who were still traveling. In addition, chief human resources officers and chief commercial officers had to collaborate to determine how to move forward. While some organizations chose to furlough sales, marketing, and revenue staffers because there was no business, others combined the teams, encouraging them to work together to figure out how to fill rooms at a profit. These early decisions continue to reverberate as the industry rebounds. General managers are still working to determine the balance as they employ new workers and continue to deploy existing staff across multiple roles.

Broader Leadership Issues

Along with the pandemic came additional crises that demanded leadership attention:

  • Stockholder demands for bold strategies and aggressive measures. Investors and owners, especially hotel owners, have seen nearly two years of losses, and many markets are still slow to rebound.
  • Stakeholder capitalism — the idea that business serves not only shareholders but consumers, suppliers, workers and the greater society — has gained prominence as the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated the interconnections between business and society, according to McKinsey.
  • New focuses on social justice and sustainability, and environmental challenges from wildfires, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. From George Floyd’s death sparking social unrest to record-breaking weather and climate challenges, the pandemic was just one disaster on top of others.

There have been extensive changes in the C-suites of many hotel companies, as leadership continues to grapple with enormous business pressures. These issues will be part of what marketers and revenue managers will be adding to their environmental scanning as they view the post-COVID landscape.

This is an excerpt from the HSMAI Foundation’s State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent: 2020-2021 special report. To learn more about the HSMAI Foundation and its mission, visit the Foundation website.

The Importance of Corporate Culture and Values in Finding New Talent

By Karen Wollard, Ed. D., CHDM, HSMAI Research Manager

As we look toward post-pandemic recovery, corporate culture will dictate how teams can function and thrive. This is even more important now that four generations are in the workforce for the first time ever.

Human resources issues moved to the forefront in March 2020 when the world shut down. HSMAI held global chief human resources executive roundtables in Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and North America in summer and fall 2020, finding that experiences were eerily similar around the world: People were doing more with less, managing low team morale, quickly implementing new technology for virtual communication and more. One of the bright spots was the way HR leaders were quickly elevated to C-suite levels as the pandemic unfolded. The quick handling by capable HR teams who had the support of senior management was a huge differentiating factor in the outcomes of massive furloughs and layoffs.

As corporate commercial teams shrank and began remote work, they had the monumental tasks of maintaining communication, enhancing teamwork, and ensuring wellness. For those associates who remained, flattened decision-making hierarchies made quick and nimble responses to crises possible. Silos crumbled and everyone pitched in to keep whatever business was available booked. Resilience and flexibility became essential, traits that were more easily adopted in organizations that valued teamwork. Transparency and compassion proved to be key factors in reputation management.

Communication and consideration mattered enormously to those who were laid off, those sent home to work remotely, and those who stayed. Organizations with people-first cultures made impossible decisions without betraying employees’ trust, while those who felt they were treated unfairly lost the faith. Hospitality organizations have long considered themselves to be in the people business, and this belief was put to the test. As one employee offered, after nearly three decades working with one organization, they were terminated (in writing) with “no advanced planning, no crisis prevention of any sort, and no care or concern for [my] well-being and long-term status of [my] leadership.” Transparency in the face of unforeseen events was most effective in organizations where leaders were trusted to take employee and guest well-being into account. Empathy will be remembered long after the rebound occurs.

Across the HSMAI C-level roundtables in 2020 and 2021, executives consistently reported that few (or fewer than other departments) commercial professionals were furloughed or laid off, or they were among the first to be recalled. FAU’s hospitality research found that even among these departments, less than 13% felt the industry had protected its workers better than other industries.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion & Intergenerational Collaboration

Two corporate culture issues of particular importance to commercial professionals are likely to return to the forefront as employment rebounds: DEI and workplace collaboration among four different generations.

DEI efforts were moving forward in many organizations as the pandemic arose. For sales, marketing, and revenue management professionals, women represented nearly half of all VP- to chief-level positions and were well represented at the director levels, holding more than 60% of current positions in 2021, according to the Castell Project’s 2021 Women in Hospitality Industry Leadership study. Yet, 57% of all those laid off in the pandemic were women, so it will take time to see what the ultimate impact might be.

In 2021, a task force of the HSMAI Americas Marketing Advisory Board surveyed more than 70 sales, marketing, and revenue management leaders from a range of organizations and found that nearly 55% had an existing DEI initiative or committee. These efforts ranged from executive education to comprehensive training for all colleagues. The HSMAI Foundation continues to work with several organizations who are researching, making recommendations, and fostering success in addressing DEI efforts, specifically across the commercial professions.

The reality of four generations (baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, and Gen Z) in the workforce for the first time in history adds a new dimension to the challenges of corporate values. In sales, marketing, and revenue positions, senior managers tend to be baby boomers and Gen Xers, both generations that have spent most of their working lives in offices, with clear work and leadership policies. Millennial and Gen Z professionals seem more interested in fluid structures and policies. The need to recalibrate existing logarithms, adapt existing systems to new realities, and the enormous changes in social media and big data challenge many commercial professionals, particularly those who aren’t digital natives. This is a consideration for managers as they work to navigate these challenges.

One highlight in developing supportive cultures among different generations has been the concept of “reverse mentoring,” which pairs more experienced workers with new professionals, often with the intent to work together on technology challenges. The Foundation will be watching for success stories and best practices with this approach, as well as other learning, development, and teamwork solutions.

Aside from DEI and intergenerational collaboration, the pandemic has heightened awareness of the importance of accommodating employees with familial responsibilities, supporting those with heightened risk factors, and addressing varying levels of need for job security. As workplaces redevelop, organizations will have to work with their employees to determine their needs and foster an environment of inclusion and understanding.

Corporate culture will dictate how teams will function and thrive. “Companies that aren’t aligned with the work-life needs of their employees will continue to see a migration of talent,” wrote author Connie Steele in her book “Building the Business of You.” The days of celebrating those employees who are best able to tolerate the pain of overdemanding days, burnout, multiple jobs, short staffing, and unending demands may soon be over.

As we rebuild, there is an opportunity for a cultural reset and renewal. Honest assessment of organizational values, the actions of its leaders, and the future expectations of guests, employees, owners, and other stakeholders are crucial. Organizations must ask: What does it take to be extraordinary? How can we listen and connect more? One leader told us that the future is about more than just booking rooms; it is choosing the mix of guests and ensuring purpose and kindness are shown throughout the property. There is a renewed commitment to mentoring and growing the next generation of hoteliers who know how to drive the business and are intensely passionate about the guest experience.

This is an excerpt from the HSMAI Foundation’s State of Hotel Sales, Marketing, and Revenue Optimization Talent: 2020-2021 special report. To learn more about the HSMAI Foundation and its mission, visit the Foundation website.

HSMAI Customer Insight: Rising Gas Prices Replacing COVID-19 as Travel Worry | Longwoods

According to the latest Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, at a time when the impact of the pandemic on travel planning is steadily declining, a new worry for the travel industry has emerged – spiking gas prices.   About six in ten travelers indicate rising gas prices will impact their travel plans during the next six months. In fact, three in ten travelers say this will greatly impact their upcoming travel.  In contrast, only two in ten travelers say that COVID-19 will greatly impact their decision to travel in the next six months, down more than ten points from the start of the year.

Insights from Longwoods President & CEO Amir Eylon for HSMAI:


Full Report:

HSMAI Customer Insights: The American Travel Planning Boom Continues | Longwoods

Longwwods International’s ongoing tracking study brings more encouraging news from key Travel Sentiment Indicators that points to strong Spring Break and Summer Travel seasons ahead. A resoundingly high 90% of American travelers report plans to travel in the next six months, with 23% planning in the next two months, setting up a for a very strong Spring Break season. Exclusive insights into the finding for HSMAI from Longwwods President & CEO Amir Eylon:


Full Report: American Travel Sentiment Study – Wave 56: Travel Planning Boom Continues

HSMAI Customer Insight: Travelers Look Past Pandemic with Future Travel Plans | Longwoods

According to the latest Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, the rapid decline in new COVID-19 cases nationally has travelers gearing up planning for both domestic and international travel.  The percentage of travelers who say that coronavirus will greatly their decision to travel in the next six months dropped from 32% in early January to 24% in early February.  And the number of travelers who reported they are changing their travel plans because of COVID-19 fell from 58% to 49% in the same time period. Get exclusive insights for HSMAI from Longwoods President & CEO Amir Eylon:

Full Report:

HSMAI Customer Insights: Travelers Hopeful the End of Pandemic is Near | Longwoods

New customer sentiment data brings some more silver linings and growing optimism among travelers, Longwoods International President & CEO Amir Eylon reports to HSMAI. Eylon will be leading an exclusive webinar program  February 1 for HSMAI members: The Crystal Ball is Less Cloudy: Using Traveler Sentiment Research as a Guidepost Forward

Here is his personal look at their latest bi-weekly results:


  • Despite the Omicron surge, 25% of American Travelers still say the pandemic no longer impacts their travel decisions… Is this an indicator we are perhaps starting to see a shift in the American Traveler’s mindset from pandemic to endemic?
  • 36% of American Travelers expect a high level of service than pre-pandemic during their upcoming travel (45% expect it to be at least the same as before)s…  How does our industry meet or exceed these expectations given the current challenge of filling workforce needs?
  • American Travelers seem to be making a deliberate effort to support local businesses via their dining and shopping activities.
  • Timely health and safety information (25%) and timely information on business operations (20%) top the list of what American Travelers find most helpful to them in shopping local.
  • And we are still seeing record pent up demand for travel with 91% of travelers planning to go in the next six months.
  • Keeping an eye on inflation:  One out of four travelers indicate that their financial situation or the cost of transportation would greatly impact their decision to travel in the next six months.

Bottom Line:  American Travelers appear to be hopeful that the end of the pandemic is near!

Access the full report here: