"REVENUE IS A REWARDING EXCERSIZE THAT CAN HAVE A HUGE IMPACT
ON PROFIT, PERFORMANCE, AND GUEST EXPERIENCE."
I've already talked about the time I started a position as Reservations Manager, and I decided to leave behind my beloved operations for back of the house work. I've also mentioned that office work is not exactly for me: numbers, data and computer work is something I can do - and that I do because it's necessary - but it's not my calling.
However, when I accepted the role of the Reservations Manager, I did it for a very clear and solid reason: because I wanted to learn what I still didn't know about Revenue Management.
The direction I was going towards at the time was the director of rooms, and to be a successful rooms leader I knew I had to expand my knowledge beyond what I was already comfortable with and what I enjoyed the most.
Being a well rounded rooms manager means not only knowing about rooms operations and people management, but also being able to effectively cooperate with the leaders who work behind the scenes to create and maintain the right strategy. That is true also of a good front office manager. If you don't understand or value the importance of revenue and reservations, you might miss out on important knowledge you need to reach your goals and manage your operations successfully.
Besides this, I've always been curious about revenue.
I got into it when I was working as overnight manager, as I would find myself excited and proud when I was able to get that last room occupied and achieve a perfect sell.
From that point, revenue strategies started and continued to be one of my key self-development points for several years. As I kept being intrigued by it and excited to know more, I decided reservations was a good exposure to the details I was still missing.
So there you go, that's why an operations manager decided to get into reservations, and why she is now talking about revenue to her audience.
In general, in times of crisis, a good sales and revenue management strategy can make the difference between properties that will manage to keep afloat and the ones that will sink.
In particular during the pandemic, hotel management is navigating through something we have never experienced before, and therefore different than previous crisis. We can all speculate on what is the best strategy to increase rates and occupancy, we can all try and guess what will attract guests or when things will return to "normal". But the truth is there is no expert in this, nobody knows for sure, and the best thing we can do to help save hospitality - as usual - is to work together to figure out possible solutions and to exchange as many finds as we can.
Despite the fact that I keep as up to date as I can and I enjoy talking about it, I am aware my understanding of revenue is still to be advanced.
When I am not the expert of the subject, I like to find one, and to address them on what they can share and suggest to us.
My revenue connections and authorities on the subject are my former boss Megan and my former colleague Brian.
My revenue blog is made of two parts: the first one is about the different aspects of revenue management from a general perspective, going through the reasons why this study is intriguing and what strategies are efficient nowadays. The second one is more specific to the situation brought by the pandemic, and to what we can do as an industry to go towards the recovery together as fast as possible.
Megan Mabel Linsen is a knowledgeable and well respected revenue specialist, but also someone I had the great pleasure of working for, and who taught me what I wanted to know about the subject. Megan was the DORM at Hotel Pulitzer when I joined as Reservations Manager, therefore I worked directly under her leadership. After graduating from the Hotel School in Maastricht (Netherlands), and completing some significant internships in the international market environment in China and in the UAE, she became Revenue Executive for Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Dubai. She later moved back to the Netherlands (her home country) and joined the Pulitzer Amsterdam as Revenue Manager, a role that gave her the exciting opportunity to rebrand the hotel from corporate to stand-alone. After Marriott acquired Starwood Hotels & Resorts, she moved back to Dubai to join the company as Manager of Revenue Management Operations. She was part of the MEA integration team to support the merging of SPG hotels. In 2018, she assisted with the integration of the properties into the Marriott ecosystem. Currently, she is still in Dubai supporting Revenue Management Operations and being the project lead for a new enhancement to their online Reservations system.
Brian Cassatt is a 30 year hospitality veteran, with 20 years of experience in multi-property and multi-market Revenue Management, primarily in independent luxury hotels. He is an incredible revenue expert with a huge knowledge of the U.S. market trends and strategies. Brian has worked on-property, in corporate office, travel conglomerate, and OTA environments. He is a specialist in both Revenue Management and in Electronic Marketing. In addition to that he is one of the most wonderful executive leaders I've had the pleasure to work with in my career. Brian and I opened a property together in Austin, Texas, where he was the DORM and a very compassionate leader I have a lot of admiration for. I will always remember the month that Brian forecasted the room revenue to the exact penny.
Most recently, after the opening of Granduca Austin property, he won the Company's Maverick Award recognizing outstanding effort and commitment, and was promoted to Area Director for Granduca Hotels.
What is fascinating to you about Revenue Management?
Megan: "When someone decides to join the hospitality industry, it is usually because they enjoy working with people and they are into customer service. That was originally my goal. However, while studying Revenue Management for a semester, I got more intrigued in this subject. Revenue was quite new and another side of the business that is just as exciting and rewarding and can have a huge impact on performance, guest experience and profit.
The main purpose of my job is to increase revenue while selling the same number of rooms, to make sure we are matching supply and demand, and understand what the guest wants to pay for it. It is all about selling the product to the right customer at the right time, for the right price and through the right channel. The job is quite analytical since you need to review and evaluate historical data, the competitive outlook and much more, in order to formulate your strategy. It's also very dynamic and requires the proper skill set to constantly adapt and react to changing markets. No year, month, day is ever the same."
Brian: "I find the most fascinating part about Revenue Management to be the 360 degree win the revenue team is able to create. As a hotelier, I enjoy assisting with creating exceptional experiences for guests. As a revenue director, I enjoy optimizing profitability for ownership. And, as a manager, I enjoy facilitating conversations in the organization that inspire growth for both individuals and for the group. I absolutely love what I do for a living, and can't imagine doing anything else."
Megan, what strategies do you adopt, and what advice do you give to convert business from third party to direct?
"Most people think OTA bookings versus brand website are cheaper, but this is hardly the case. Nowadays, systems are more advanced and most hotel companies are giving a more advantageous rate if you book directly via their website and with their loyalty program. Besides that, some companies - including Marriott - are focusing a lot on offering their guests choice and flexibility while booking direct.
Marriot in particular, is now implementing a new initiative called ‘The Enhanced Reservation Solution (ERS)’, which creates a new shopping and booking experience that offers customers more alternatives and freedom when customizing their hotel stay, if they book direct on Marriott.com, on the Marriott Bonvoy mobile app, and through Marriott's Customer Engagement Centers. The new experience presents customers with room features - "attributes" - they are willing to pay for and want confirmed at the time of booking. Guests are paying a small premium to have their requests guaranteed and this is only available via our own website."
It seems during crisis third party bookings increase versus direct, is that the case in your opinion?
Megan: "You can say it depends on the company strategy. The strategy we have adopted is to offer something directly to our guests that will make them chose booking through us in any circumstance. For example - even during this time - our direct bookings have and are increasing currently because we offer the guests flexible cancellation policies and we continue improving our booking platforms. Guest can now cancel their booking the night prior with no penalty fee, and we even have special cancellation windows for groups in place. Besides that, our loyalty program continues to grow and we provide our members with special offers which they cannot avail on any other booking platform. We also see that more and more guests are now booking via mobile devices. Our Bonvoy app continues to be improved in order to offer our members a seamless experience when booking their stay."
Brian: "Like so many aspects of Revenue Management, OTA relationships with partner hotels have changed dramatically over the years. OTAs used to obtain block allocations in the early 2000s, but recently they have really taken more of a flexible partnership approach with hotels. This makes a great deal of sense, considering that OTAs don't typically own lodging inventory, but do rely heavily on profit from their sales. Also, as with COVID-19, it makes little to no sense for a hotel to spend advertising dollars during periods of low demand. OTAs however, have deeper pockets and need to continue to market to collect share, even during these crises."
How do you think revenue management has changed and evolved in the last decade?
Megan: "Revenue management has definitely evolved tremendously in recent years. The majority of big and medium size companies are now using advanced software which work very well based on algorithms. Besides that, we also tend to see investments from OTA’s into the backend of the platforms. Booking.com and Expedia are investing heavily in their technology tools. They now offer themselves and their hotel partners a world of information about guests, pace, booking patterns, which are really valuable to get a better understanding of the market and of our customers."
Brian: "Many small and medium sized hotel chains have consolidated revenue roles into area positions to conserve resources. For independent hotels, the role of director has evolved from just managing demand to actually helping to create demand.
Also, the mobile platform has become a big component of driving interest which will likely continue to grow as we move into recovery. There certainly are more revenue management software options that have become available in recent years to allow smaller operators to get into the game.
Finally, improvements in Content Management Software has allowed smaller operators to go to market with offers more quickly than previously, as they are now able to switch out text and photos and to go live with promotions quickly. Before that, hotels had to farm out these changes or have an HTML specialist on-site."
Overall, we can probably say that numerous changes have positively impacted the work of revenue teams and that technology has improved the sophistication of their forecasting capabilities.
The job of a revenue manager certainly looks different nowadays; this past year - with having to make predictions about the market behavior in a situation we have never lived before - has obviously changed it drastically by making it more unpredictable and demanding than ever.
The next article "Revenue Management Part 2: Speculating on the Recovery" is the continuation of this interview, but focuses on topics related to the Covid-19 pandemic, what that has brought to our plates and how revenue teams had to adapt to cope with a drastic decline in the market.
Brian will be the guest for this part and will share what - based on his recent experience - he sees as a good and collaborative industry approach to pursue the recovery.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned...