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ILHA WEBINAR SERIES: QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Agile and Lean: Recognizing the Synergy Between Digital, Revenue Management, Sales, and Branding

By Bridget Tran, Founder for The Transformation Groupe
14 August 2020
25 min read
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No doubt, this global crisis has turned our industry upside down. However, we must embrace and transform the disruption into an opportunity. In times of uncertainty, business agility provides stability and allows us to navigate the unknown. To capture growth in this current climate, businesses need to be opportunistic, agile, collaborative and innovative. To truly transform our hotel or resort, we need to replace the mindset of siloed departments with cross-functional team collaboration and adaptive leadership. The panel answers 31 of the most pressing questions attendees asked.

Bridget Tran, Founder of The Transformation Groupe (TTG) and former Head of Digital Strategist & Innovations at Nobu Hospitality moderated the webinar on Agile and Lean: The Synergy Between Digital, Revenue Management, Sales, and Branding, with panelists, Jaclyn Riley, Sr. Director of Brand and Communications for Premier Worldwide Marketing, representing Karisma Hotels & Resorts, Gabriela Talpa, Director of Distribution at Nobu Hotels and Director of Revenue Management at Nobu Hotel Shoreditch, London, and Ginger Gibson, Senior Lead Consultant at TTG and former Director of Sales & Marketing, The Millennium Times Square and The Premier New York.


1. Especially as we navigate the global crisis, hotels and resorts need to pivot to a more agile culture. How do you see that happening?
To be more agile, is to think differently and move quickly. One silver lining, if there can be one is to take this opportunity to get more education in your discipline. C-Vent is one example that I can point to. They are currently offering free training and certification opportunities for event and hospitality professionals around the world. During this new era, education and guidance is key. This is a wonderful opportunity to dive into learning where in the past, there just wasn’t enough time to do so. Smart sellers are taking this time to sharpen their skills and taking these opportunities while they are presented in order to stay competitive and ahead of the next seller. 2) Being agile is being flexible with your selling mind set as it relates to your top accounts. Right now is not the time to SELL to them. It is the time to be empathetic and let them know that you are thinking about them. Take this time to find out what is happening on their side… when are they planning to return to the office? How many of their associates will be back into the office and when? Will they be bringing in a logistics team to help assemble a new office environment with social distancing involved? Will those folks need lodging while they are here… moving computers… setting up cubicles and relocating desks will take some time and while many people are working from home, there will be people who need to come back to the office once it’s all reassembled. Go after that project and stay close to your clients in an empathetic/fact finding way… hold off on the HARD sell.

To start, and to be successful and scalable, we must have the GMs and top executives embrace agile leadership. Hotels and resorts need to take a step back and re-assess their processes, SOP’s and the expertise they have on hand (hotel or corporate). We have a lot of lost time and revenue to make up due to lockdowns and closures; and we only have 5 months to make up as much as possible for this year.

  • Are we maximizing our resources (tools or human capital)?
  • Are we encouraging every team member within a department, every department at the hotel or corporate office to collaborate, brainstorm and decision making?
  • When you have a business meeting, do you have all the department heads in this meeting, so everyone can contribute from their area, so together you come up with a comprehensive, holistic solution?
  • AI-empowered websites

2. In the past, hotels and resorts use the star report. How can sales managers work better with revenue management during this new environment?
I would say that we are already working better with our revenue managers. We are all humbled and on equal ground with what has happened. We all want to find that business. With every crisis, there is some opportunity that comes from it. We know that the business we can count on right now is all domestic. 100% are driving in by car or possibly by train. We will not be seeing any international travel this year and probably not going to see any until 2021 when there is a potential remedy for the virus. I think that revenue and sales should concentrate efforts on Q4 when essential business travel, non-mandated travel could keep up with the law and consulting sectors needing to be back in the city to work on Q4 earnings/bankruptcies.

STR report is a good indicator of Hotel’s performance vs competitors; we also use it to set our annual budget and objectives however it doesn’t give a granulate analysis of the segmentation. It is important to understand the changes that take place in your segmentation including geolocation criteria. I would say it is important to gather good quality data and analyze it together with the Sales Team to focus and adjust in time to the Hotel’s goals.

3. What does digital transformation mean in hospitality, and are you/we ready?
“Digital transformation is not just about technology investment, but it refers to the ways organizations restructure themselves to adapt, and alter corporate culture, to empower innovations that leverage technology and take their businesses to new levels of growth.

With COVID-19, we are forced to embrace many new innovations, technologies, and ways we operate and/or service our guests. For example, contactless technologies are flying off the shelves, like keyless entries, Zaplox; hotel operations platforms; internal and external chat/communications tools or apps, like using Twilio, WhatsApp or other chat platforms; use of QR codes to connect the print to the online; and/or working with hospitality digital transformation specialists, like The Transformation Groupe to audit, evaluate, guide and advise on what you truly need based on your business goals and budgetary limitations. The Transformation Groupe can map out your digital roadmap; help you eliminate waste; help you maximize your budgetary investments and internal resources; and give you a plan for rollout and step-by-step execution.

Are we ready for it as an industry? I don’t know. I don’t know because it all depends on the vision and the willingness to evolve with modern times and technology trends and hotel/restaurant guests’ and clients’ behaviors. I know we are doing it right now because it is a must. What I want to see is more hotels looking at digital transformation (like the keyless entries; chatbots; data; guest AI; operations tools) not just as immediate solutions because of COVID-19 but as a jumpstart to continuously improve on our guest services, communications (internally and with guests), servicing to our guest behaviors and demands, and adapting to our ever-evolving world.

Some areas hotel and resorts should explore and add onto their digital business roadmap are…

  • data (collection, analysis, and usage) – for guest recognition, experience personalization, target marketing and advertising, profiling and understanding your guest behaviors and preferences, allocation of resources (staffing, materials or budget)
  • operational management (i.e. use of passport scanners) – to ease front office check in and check out
  • communications and push marketing (like Wi-Fi marketing)

4. Since the start of our pandemic, digital has been playing a major role to keep the world connected, keeping businesses opened, and part of the hotel recovery and continuity plans. How have you seen digital transform hotel business, especially in your respective areas – in PR, Branding, Revenue and Sales?
I would say that digital is not overtaking sales but that the segmentation has changed. Retail sales is the way that we are reaching the end user at this point. That in mind, it’s important that the digital content that we are providing is 360 VR so that the consumer can get the experience of being at your hotel. Hotels should now be spending the money to really create amazing VR experiences on their websites and presentations. Static photos are not going to cut it any longer. Digital is the way that we are reaching our consumers, but direct selling is never going to go away. As I mentioned earlier, now is the time to be gathering information, finding opportunities and empathizing, being a friend to your clients. Lastly, there is a reference chart on state essential business designations by state. I am sure everyone has located this a long while back, but this is a great resource as there is more on the list than you can imagine. California for example, has 17 different segments that fall under essential workers. Once you determine this, start researching the companies that fall under that industry and start going after that business!

5. In our current new environment, how do you think we can still foster creativity?
More so than ever, we need to be more creative. We cannot simply market our product (our rooms, bathrooms, lobby or restaurants). Even generic lifestyle imagery and messaging will need to be placed on a pause. Guests are not looking for the cheapest right now. They want to travel. They want to stay at your hotel/resort. We need to embrace a little bit of risk taking and be super creative. You might have to deviate from the typical type of ads, graphics or messaging. How can we humanize our brand, and our hotels/resorts, while showcasing our best features? Whether it is digital, or in a sales deck, a press release, or even a description in the booking engine, we need to do more emotional selling. Give your guest a vision or a dream.

6. How do you think we can teach our teams (from hotel to executive teams) to be more collaborative and agile?
It starts with company culture. Culture is typically established at the top – whether it is the CEO, GM, Owners or Dept Heads. Also, it is about practicing what you preach. As the leader and manager, we cannot expect others to do what we will not do ourselves. If my team sees that I cannot play nice, or not being transparent or inclusive, to the other department heads, my team will behave the same unconsciously. There’s a saying my mother always said to me when I was little, “behavior breeds behavior”.

7. Is the global crisis changing the travel industry in a positive way?
Speaking for digital, I know it is for the good of the industry. As humans… as professionals… as companies… and as an industry, we need to always evolve, with the needs, preferences and behaviors of our guests, technology and business needs and trends. This crisis has pretty much kicked many of us to embrace innovation to relook at how we can run our hotels/resorts and serve our guests more effectively and efficiently.

8. How do we form a mindset that is ready to compete in the digital area?
We are all running a business at the end of the day. It is always about the strategic split between the risks and the rewards. If we can first allow ourselves to embrace change, challenges, and obstacles as opportunities to improve or use as a steppingstone to success, only then can you be better equipped to strategically assess and manage risks, to gain your reward.

9. How can digital and traditional marketing better collaborate?
With every marketing and advertising effort, it should always be an omni-approach with both online and offline efforts. What that means is, every time you plan for an initiative, make sure the plans include the different departments that might be involved either in the actual marketing or advertising themselves, or distribution and ecommerce, or for the sales team to broadcast, or perhaps even PR and hotel operations team to speak about it to the readers and guests. It should always have an objective, the desired end goal, a timeline, execution plans, and strategies for each channel – PR, Print, Search Engine Marketing, Email Marketing, Website, Booking Engine, addition to a Sales Deck; and don’t forget to track, measure and analyze.

10. How to build guest confidence in post COVID19 era?
Added technology such as contact-less options… for check in, check out, keyless entry to rooms, added technology to guest rooms. Client and guest confidence also grow with knowledge and knowing.

(1) Companies and hotels/resorts need to be more transparent with the public as well as with their staff – effective communication on what they are doing at the hotel and for their guests and clients.

(2) Be guest and client centric. Not just when the guests and clients are physically at your hotels and resorts; be guest and client centric throughout the traveler’s journey, from researching, to staying, to after they leave your establishment.

11. How are we continuously adjusting our go-to-market strategies?
We are navigating into the unknown. There aren’t any past reports, data nor experience to study or to learn from. We must keep our eyes on real-time data and situations and keep modifying our business strategies and roadmaps accordingly. Assume that each state (within USA) and each country have different requirements and laws, as well as different policies and timetables for different phases of opening. Also, ask for guests’ and clients’ feedback. Adjusting your go-to-market strategies implies keeping ourselves updated on government advice and actions, monitoring the market, ensuring we are aligned with Company’s financial goals, learning from webinars, sharing insights with our comp set and communicating with our partners. During this crisis, collaboration with others within the industry, and outside, is the only way you get a good sense what works, what needs to change and what needs to be added.

12. How will the demand curve move in the coming six months when still there is uncertainty due to lack of any firm date for vaccine?
Q4 will pick up slightly with year of end for companies on a calendar budget. Q4 is still a bit uncertain because there is the much talked about, second wave for the fall and winter (for the virus). It will all depend on what happens then and if another shut down occurs.

The unknown makes forecasting feel nearly impossible and leaves hotel teams paralyzed when it comes to projecting and strategizing how to recoup lost revenue. However, over the last two months there have been a lot of insights shared by STR with regards to demand curve expectations; they are based on the Asian market, being the first one to face COVID-19’s impact and effects. Due to the suppression of customer demand during the epidemic, the industry is expected to face a period of concentrated demand release after the epidemic, this is mostly expected in the leisure destinations rather than large cities. STR expects in the short term (6 to 12 months) demand levels to recover to 60-80% of 2019 levels.

Demand is well below GFC (global financial crisis) levels due to:

  • Travel restrictions
  • Social distancing measures
  • Weak consumer confidence

ADR is much lower due to a change in mix and loss of compression nights.

13. What do you think of Facebook ads for the hotel industry?
It is a relevant channel. Social media is huge and has a huge reach. With much of the workforce being home for the past 4 months, social media has been their outlet. Facebook has proven, year after year, it is a channel that can drive bookings and traffic to hotel websites and direct bookings. Because the age groups most active on Facebook are 40-65, word of mouth marketing and ecommerce have been proven to work very well when targeting these household or company decision makers. Although social commerce has been around for the past years, it is still in its infancy when it comes to putting it into practice within the hotel industry. When advertising on Facebook or any digital channel (social or not), it is important to know what you are trying to achieve. With that, you can then lay out the KPIs (key performance indicators) to measure your campaign’s success and align expectations.

14. How do you get corporate groups to book with you?
Be responsive! Focus on rate strategies that target essential workers. Research what is important to that segment and build your conversation around what motivates them.

It is important to keep engaging with all corporate accounts during these uncertain times; corporates are also confused and navigating the unknown at the moment. Both Hoteliers and business partners need reassurance, and while this comes from Government advice in the first place, what we did is to check if there are any planned events and if there are any flexible dates from corporate side. We managed to keep in house for 2021 almost all our group bookings. How to attract new ones? By looking into flexible terms and conditions.

15. How can property level Sales and Revenue Managers work more cohesively with corporate office sales and revenue management teams?
I’d say that we are already working better with our revenue managers. We are all humbled and on equal ground with what has happened. We all want to find that business. With every crisis, there is some opportunity that comes from it. We know that the business we can count on right now is all domestic. 100% are driving in by car or possibly by train. We will not be seeing any international travel this year and probably not going to see any until 2021 when there is a potential remedy for the virus. I think that revenue and sales should concentrate efforts on Q4 when essential business travel, non-mandated travel could keep up with the law and consulting sectors needing to be back in the city to work on Q4 earnings/bankruptcies.

16. How are guest reviews being incorporated to address the ongoing clean crisis?
Actively encourage guests (staying guests or past guests) to give you reviews, especially about what makes them comfortable and confident about returning to your hotel. Guest reviews should be reviewed daily by all department heads and GMs; preferably at standup. If you have an internal staff communication tool, share guest reviews on that. The more knowledgeable and the more involved the hotel operations teams are, the more they can be your eyes, ears and hands for smooth implementations and policing. Listen to the guests and to your staff, so you can continuously address your ongoing cleaning procedures and seamless implementation of the guest experience.

17. Can we create strategies and tourist packages that innovate in the wellness sector, thalassotherapy spa, healthy diet, etc.?
Yes. Focus the marketing on the drive-in business, as the international markets are not every hotel and resorts’ immediate option (depending on where the hotel/resort is located).

18. What is your future vision and recommended strategy for loyalty programs as well as group (client) events?

The future is unclear, but we do know that once travel resumes, it will bring with it, heavy demand.

If you already have a loyalty program, then:

  • Provide flexible terms & conditions, reward options, complement your in-person experience with your online experience and usability
  • More than ever, step up the customer service game
  • Align yourself with other brands (either within the industry or outside the industry) that can increase your loyalty program subscribers, broaden your reach, heighten your brand positioning and awareness, and expand your marketing and promotion opportunities.

If you do not have a loyalty program in place, focus less on building one and more on customer (guests and clients) strategies.

  • Position your company, hotel, resort, and brand as a place that is “easy to do business with.” Apply this philosophy to both B2C guests and B2B clients.
  • Partnerships are highly important for new customer acquisition, customer retention, customer engagement and satisfaction, and brand lift. Also as mentioned above, partners can broaden your reach and branding marketing efforts.

19. How to maintain ADR level for luxury hotels given the global crisis?
The test is going to be in controlling expenditure more than dropping rate and starting a price war within your competitor set. The answer is going to be effective operational control and not cutting back on the guest experience or reducing your offering, which guests have grown accustomed to or reducing what is put on your plate in the restaurant. A hard look is going to have to be taken at operational management and their ability to work with fewer staff, introduce stricter control systems, and optimizing expenditure all whilst growing guest review scores.

20. How do you market for future, larger groups & events? Is it appropriate even? How do you make it so that it is? How to be forward-thinking in identifying upcoming opportunities BEFORE they happen, so marketing can be proactive & well-planned?
Focus on the essential worker list of industries in your state. Plan on Q4 bringing a little more of the Legal and Consulting, non-mandated travel back as year-end books are processed. Plan for smaller catering events as the restrictions on groups of a certain size have been lifted. People will still want to have small gatherings and small weddings.

21. How does one overcome these challenges when the GM, RM, DOS & DOM aren’t on the same page?
Everyone listed in the question has a specific job to do and an individual set of business objectives each aim to achieve. One way to overcome all the challenges is to come together and list out all the different business objectives and end goals; together as a team – align expectations, timetables and task/project priorities. Especially during this crisis, GMs, RMs, DOSs and DOMs must work, and move, together as a team.

22. What sales strategies will work better during this pandemic challenging season?
No hard selling. Empathize and cultivate existing relationships. Stay close to your clients and understand what is happening within their company. Companies will rebound. By staying close and understanding their reopening strategy, you will better be able to uncover opportunities.

23. A) What is your top digital strategy for reaching your key market? What is your biggest pain point in reaching your audience?

  • Online branding is especially important during this global crisis (social media, programmatic ads, SEM, video, content strategy). Position your brand and company as one that cares; one that is aware and can empathize with what your guests are going through; and one that can provide the temporary escape your guests are craving for without fear or stress.
  • Focus less on tactical selling and more on emotional selling.
  • Put resources (time, human capital and perhaps investment) into data collection, data cleanliness, data analyses, and data intelligence to strategize smartly, plan thoughtfully and act swiftly.
  • Geo-fence or geo-target is highly necessary and important during this time.

B) What is your biggest pain point in reaching your audience?
Not having the data to target or segment my audience, either internally or 3rd party. Blanket marketing, advertising and communication are not only a waste of money but also a waste of time and resources.

24. How are hotels partnering with their technology suppliers to address their top priorities?
Most hotels are partnering with technology suppliers that can bring them immediate rewards, like bookings or compliance to post-COVID-19 operational cleanliness. Although these reasons are important and necessary but focusing solely on these immediate solutions and rewards would be very short sighted. Incremental business success, growth and longevity come only from long term planning, combining technology solutions that will solve immediate, short-term as well as long-term business objectives.

25. How do you generate revenues during a world crisis?
You look for the opportunity that a “crisis” brings. In this instance, we have lost traditional travel, so place more focus on local travel and local business opportunities – those who can drive to your hotel, resort, restaurants, bars, spa and facilities.

26. How is the transformation communicated to employees?
To be successful, buy-ins and support for digital and/or business transformation must start at the top of the organization. Vision for transformation is to be shared with the departmental heads. Each departmental head shares his/her plan and strategy with all other head of offices and senior executive team, to align and agree on the way forward. Afterwards, departmental heads communicate this company-wide vision, roadmap and departmental execution plan with his/her team.

27. What would you say to students of hospitality?
Although the hospitality and travel industry has been hit the hardest during this COVID-19, it is still an exciting time to be coming into hospitality. We can no longer rely on our past procedures, experience, and tools to carry us forward – as an industry, we are innovating more than ever! Coming into the field at this time in history allow the student to be at ground zero as we are going through major transition and innovation as to how we run our hotel/resort businesses – in terms of how we do sales, operate at the hotels, service our guests, and how we market. This global crisis has forced the industry to become more creative, more digitally forward, and more business savvy.

28. Can we evolve the traditional role of a DOSM and a DORM into one hybrid function?
This may be possible in secondary markets at smaller hotels. It would be much harder in primary markets or at much larger, full-service hotels. Traditionally the role, the mindset and their respective busines objectives of a DOSM versus that of DORM’s are very different. Therefore, it can be difficult to have one person fit in the shoes of two. What I can foresee in our future is a Commercial Officer, or Director of Commercial Business; one who oversees all sales, marketing, revenue management, distribution, and ecommerce. This position will be supported by area experts – revenue optimization, digital innovation, and marketing, traditional and sales marketing, and sales.

29. Virtual Reality in today’s marketing effort. Your view?
It must be at the forefront. VR is a product education, sales, ecommerce, and guest experience tool that has not been tabbed by many hotel companies. It is vital during this crisis, especially as part of recovery execution when traveling is not as easy and country borders are not as opened as they were pre-COVID. VR should also be an important initiative in continuity business planning and roadmap. Even when global borders are widely opened, and travel is as easy as it was once, VR can provide the convenience, top-of-mind branding experience, as well as engaging ecommerce channels for future bookings, if our clients and guests cannot come to our hotel or resort at that moment.

30. What is the best resource to determine technology options and how they rank in terms of cost/benefit, reliability & ease of use?
The Transformation Groupe is one of the best resources that can help you determine what technology options, solutions and providers would be right for your hotel and resort, based on your specific business vision, needs, resources and business objectives; they can also provide the pro-and-con analysis of each technology provider, to eliminate surprises, guessing and business opportunity costs of trial-and-errors.

Every hotel and resort is different, in terms of needs, audience, available resources, goals as well as growth plans. Technologies are aimed to solve real-life business problems, to ease or improve real-life business operational processes or eliminate procedural bottlenecks, and/or to capture incremental business opportunities which you normally cannot do effectively and efficiently with only human capital. When deciding to invest in technology and technology solutions, first ask yourself, “why?” Why does your hotel/resort need it? After you know the why, the second question you should ask yourself is, “how?”. How will your business benefit from it? Technology should never be viewed as an expense but rather as an investment. An investment into your current and future businesses.

31. Are social media influencers gone?
I think that social media influencers can still be relevant. In an era where a lot of folks are fearful to travel, having a presence on social media by way of an influencer is a wonderful and positive message. However, I would focus more on niche influencers, nano influencers and thought leaders, and less on the influencers with millions or even hundred of thousands of followers. As a way to measure the effectiveness of your influencers, percentage of engagement and actions taken are good indicators. You don’t want to pay someone to talk to bots or their supposed network of millions who don’t care enough to engage or act.

The Transformation Groupe
The Transformation Groupe is a hospitality boutique consulting agency, partner and advisor founded in 2015. The Transformation Groupe specializes in business growth and customer strategies, involving digital transformation, customer experience innovation, revenue optimization, omnichannel marketing and hotel sales representation. Each team member has the most current experience in hotels and resorts and is a thought leader in the different areas of expertise. We take pride in our client-centric and solution-tailored approach, creative and innovative thinking, always remaining nimble, and turning ideas into realities.

Bridget B. Tran
Managing Director/Chief Digital Strategist
The Transformation Groupe

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