OCTOBER FOCUS

Revenue Management: Maximizing Profit

 

Post-COVID Revenue Management: Have We Skipped a Generation of Revenue Managers?

By Bonnie Buckhiester President, Buckhiester Management Limited | October 04, 2020

For some time now, I've described the evolution of the discipline of revenue management in terms of generations.  The first generation of revenue managers were those individuals who were most often members of an on-property reservations team.  Their role may have been one of a Reservations supervisor or manager. 

As the Internet emerged and electronic reservations became far more mainstream, these pioneers formed the early cohort of revenue managers.  They were largely self-taught, still expected to run Reservations, and in many cases ill-equipped to handle the tasks of the intricate and complicated world of online distribution.

As the industry evolved, a second generation of revenue managers emerged.  These revenue management professionals became accomplished tacticians.  Their primary mission was to open and close rates and dates and stays in order to optimize demand.  Their tools were predominantly Excel spreadsheets and their role was subjugated to that of the director of sales and marketing.  Fewer hotels deployed sophisticated revenue management systems in those days and system interfaces were definitely a challenge.  Many revenue managers were tasked with managing individual extranets and it wasn't unusual for reservations to arrive via email to be re-keyed into the property management system.

Clearly, there is a great deal more that could be said about these early generations, but the crux of this article is about the third generation and whether COVID-19 has forced the industry precipitately to move to a fourth generation of revenue managers.

Before COVID, a third generation of revenue managers had emerged, albeit slowly in some sectors of the industry.  The shift from tactician to strategist was underway.  Many revenue directors were finding ways to dig themselves out of the minutiae.  The importance of the position in the leadership hierarchy was cemented.  Large, full service hotels had dedicated directors of revenue and virtually all other hotel classes had some form of revenue management effort, either through shared resources or third-party vendors.  Although total revenue management was far from a reality, and the vital connection to digital marketing was sporadic, progress was being made. 

Then COVID-19 hit and many in the industry were questioning the need for a revenue manager if there wasn't any revenue to manage.  I can appreciate the premise, but now is the very time to reengineer the revenue management role.  We often hear that a downturn in the industry is not the time to forego marketing.  Well, this is not the time and will not be the time to forego the revenue management effort.

Let's first examine the evolving nature of the role simply in terms of semantics.  The first generation of revenue managers weren't even called revenue managers and revenue management was more often referred to as inventory management and/or yield management.  The term "yield" was a hand-me-down from the airline industry and made sense in a narrower context.  Eventually, the term revenue management emerged and became the conventional descriptor for the discipline. 

Today, terminology has morphed yet again with the use of the term revenue strategy.  This term is becoming more common and certainly implies an all-encompassing expression of the discipline.  So, if one agrees that revenue strategy is the more accurate definition of the role, then what does that mean today in a COVID-19 world?

Six months ago, I would have said that what the industry needed was more third generation revenue managers.  The emphasis would have been on the combination of a total revenue management approach and a stronger relationship with the digital marketer.  The concept of the convergence of revenue strategy and digital marketing represented a natural progression of the discipline; i.e. the effort to bring the revenue manager closer to the digital marketer, and therefore closer to the consumer.  The concept of total revenue management meant an emphasis on all revenue streams and a profit-centric approach. 

But what if the foreseeable future rules out several traditional market segments?  That is, no conventions, no conferences, no corporate meetings.  What if prolonged social distancing rules out spas, traditional food & beverage, and on-property activities?  What if there are no amateur tournaments in volleyball, softball, hockey, etc. – i.e. no SMERF business?  And what if corporations won't let their employees start travelling again?

Well, today we see market extremes; those that have very little demand, and those that bizarrely have a ton of demand.  With traditional market segments evaporating overnight, hoteliers cannot afford to wait for a third generation revenue manager to embrace digital marketing and new or little-used KPI's (key performance indicators).  What the industry needs now are fourth generation revenue managers.  This means incorporating into the decision-making process a great many more impact factors and KPI's.  A shot-gun approach (for example using OTA's to get the message out) is short-sighted and a dangerous way to erode already-stressed profit margins.  The old expression of "fish where the fish are" is the key.  The question is: are third generation revenue managers fully equipped and trained to do that?

The good news is that we're witnessing the emergence of a fourth generation of revenue strategy directors moving out of their comfort zones.  They aren't abandoning their numbers and analysis, but they are looking at many more clues to better understand and characterize demand.  They are also increasingly assertive, challenging the thinking of "higher ups" and confidently stating their case with regard to strategies, and tactics to deploy those strategies.  In other words, these experts are providing leadership to the commercial thinking of their organizations.

Now, more often, in a revenue meeting the director of revenue and the director of digital marketing collaboratively present data.  The digital marketer is able to show searches by search date and by check-in date and highlight conversion ratios to illustrate price elasticity.  In many markets, revenue teams are dealing with very short booking windows and want to avoid make pricing decisions prematurely.  This invaluable website data, as supplied by the digital marketer, supports pricing decisions.

Revenue teams led by fourth generation revenue managers are examining searches by length of stay and comparing those trends to same time last year.  Data that shows when the consumer wants to check in and for how long reveals a marked variance to the previous year.  Given the extraordinary nature of COVID-induced demand swings, many hotels that deploy revenue management software systems are having to "retrain" their data-driven automation in order for pricing recommendations to be relevant and forecasting to be accurate.  In this regard, the fourth generation revenue manager is the "poster child" of flexibility and adaptability.

In these meetings the digital marketer is taking the lead, sharing data relating to feeder markets and how different the current origins of business are to past patterns.  Using Microsoft's Power BI and accessing platforms like Adobe Analytics (Omniture), the digital marketer shares visualizations that powerfully illustrate consumer research and buying behavior.  Additional website data is examined that shows which room types are in the greatest demand and ultimately at what average rate these room types are being booked.  These teams are also reviewing device usage, comparing the use of different devices (computers/mobile/tablets) to research travel, versus those used to finalize a transaction. 

This information provides greater insights into the effectiveness of mobile promotions, particularly since studies show that a ton of travel-related research is done on mobile devices.  The fourth generation revenue strategy expert is keenly aware of this as well the tremendous shift in all traveler demographics to leisure stays.  All the more reason to stay on top of the most up-to-date market data and trends.

It's also interesting that the digital marketer does not dominate these meetings, but nor does the revenue director.  The marketer could launch into extensive Search Engine Optimization & Marketing stats, i.e. SEO & SEM.  He or she could discuss paid search vs. organic, device breakdown, keywords campaigns, traffic by channel, paid social results, landing page performance trends, total traffic, and so on and so on.  But the fourth generation revenue manager, like a traffic cop, is providing the leadership necessary to ensure a well-structured session that focuses on KPI's that collaboratively inform the team's decision-making.  In other words, there is a distinctly balanced approach to the meeting.

What is also impressive is the use by revenue teams of other performance indicators that typically, under more normal circumstances, may not be reviewed.  These include data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); from Arrivalist, which uses mobile location datasets; from Airdna to gauge the alternative accommodation landscape; from ForwardKeys, a platform that predicts travel patterns; as well as more traditional market intelligence platforms like Demand360.  In fact, with the introduction by STR Global of their new product Forward STAR, it's highly possible that forward looking market intelligence will be available to many more hotels.

What is evident is a willingness to acknowledge a broader scope of relevant KPI's and to depend heavily on data sets that provide in-depth, highly detailed information about consumer purchase activities.  Instead of focusing inward, these fourth generation revenue individuals are focusing outward.  Instead of starting with internal metrics, they are starting with data sets that pinpoint the consumer's initial research and that ultimate path to purchase.  This is what digital marketers are trained to do.  This is not typically what revenue managers are trained to do. 

Some might argue that because of COVID-19 and the fact that virtually nothing is the same as it was, this has forced revenue management professionals to seek out data that does a better job of informing decision-making.  This is forcing third generation revenue managers to up their game.

All to say, that it is now essential that the revenue manager "connect the dots" between consumer buying behavior and demand strategies against the backdrop of COVID-19.  Ironically, but logically, this puts the digital marketer in the lead role, not the revenue manager.  But fourth generation revenue directors are embracing this transition and providing the very leadership that is needed in a COVID-19 world.  In this regard, they are actively accelerating the convergence of sales, marketing, revenue management, and online distribution and creating a single, vital commercial team.

Ms. Buckhiester Bonnie Buckhiester is the principal of Buckhiester Management, the leading Revenue Management consulting firm in North America for the hospitality industry. Ms. Buckhiester's career in travel, tourism and hospitality is extensive and multi-dimensional including positions as Senior Vice President, Operations for a major North American hotel REIT; General Manager for two 4½-diamond hotels, and General Manager Operations for a major tour operator. Her diverse product knowledge of hotel, tour, cruise, air, rail and car rental inventories offers a unique cross-fertilization of industry strategies. She holds a Bachelor Degree from the University of Illinois, a Certification in Revenue Management from Cornell University, and a Certification from Guelph University's Hospitality Managers Development Course. She's a member of the prestigious industry organization, the International Society of Hospitality Consultants, and has acted as a Board Member for several years, including President & Chairman. She is also a multi-year member of HSMAI's Revenue Management Advisory Board and annually facilitates HSMAI's Chief Revenue Officer Roundtable. Ms. Buckhiester can be contacted at 703-858-7304 or bonnie@buckhiester.com Please visit http://www.buckhiester.com for more information. Extended Biography

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You hereby authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card to pay for your membership to HotelExecutive. You further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card for any and all purchases of products, services in association with HotelExecutive. You agree to be personally liable for all charges incurred by you in association with your access or other use of any content provided by HotelExecutive or any third party in association with HotelExecutive. You acknowledge and agree that your liability for all such charges shall continue after termination of your access or any type of membership arrangement with HotelExecutive.

In the event that you have chosen to have your membership automatically rebilled, unless and until you notify HotelExecutive that you wish to cancel or terminate your membership to HotelExecutive, you hereby agree and authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to automatically renew your membership to HotelExecutive on a continuing basis and to charge your credit card (or other payment means you have selected) to pay for the ongoing cost of your membership. You hereby further authorize HotelExecutive's Internet Payment Service Provider to charge your credit card (or other approved payment means you have selected) for any and all purchases of products, services and entertainment provided to in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive.

13. PRIVACY POLICY

The following is the Privacy Policy for HotelExecutive

We can be reached via telephone, email, or online at our contact page. When you visit our site we do not log any information regarding your domain or email address. Information Sharing: We do not share user information with any third parties other than via press release distribution as described below.

Hotel Newswire is a newswire service that distributes press releases on behalf of our users. If you decide to submit a press release for distribution through our system we will transmit your entire press release including any personal information therein contained to our media contacts and online distribution points including search engines. This is the only redistribution of your information that we engage in. Your submission of press releases through our system indicates consent with this policy. The information we collect during your registration process is used to notify users about updates to our service and inform users of any special events hosted by Hotel Newswire. This information is not shared with other organizations for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

Cookies: Our system requires the use of cookies to enable the user to log back into our website to access information from the newswire, without having to log in each time using the required username and password.

If you do not want to receive email from us in the future, please let us know by following instructions included in our communication with you. Users who supply us with telephone numbers online may receive telephone contact from us regarding their account, or informing them of new products and services available on the HotelExecutive website. If you do not wish to receive such telephone calls, please edit your account and remove your phone number from your account profile. This can be done from your user account menu.

Ad Servers: We do not partner with or have any relationship with any ad server companies. From time to time, we may use customer information for new uses not previously disclosed in our privacy notice. If our information practices change at any time, we will post the policy changes to our website to notify you of these changes and provide you with the ability to opt out of these new uses. If you are concerned about how your information is used, you should check back at our website periodically.

Upon request we provide site visitors with access to all information (including proprietary information) that we maintain about them. Users can access this information by logging in to their account.

Security: We always use industry-standard encryption technologies while transferring and receiving user data exchanged with our site. We have appropriate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of information that we have collected from you on our site. We do not store credit card information in our systems.

If you feel that this site is not following its stated information policy, you may contact us.

Marissa Criaris
Steven Haas
Babs S. Harrison
Yatish Nathraj
Robert M. O'Halloran
David Harouche
Matthew Babiarz
Dara St. Louis
Coming up in November 2020...

Hotel Design: Home Away From Home

With the rise of the sharing economy and the peer-to-peer marketplace for lodging options, hoteliers are re-thinking the look, feel and appeal of their locations. There is an emphasis on re-creating a feeling of homeyness - a comfortable, cozy and inviting space that feels like home. 'This is accomplished through the careful selection of furniture design, paint colors, lighting design, artwork, bathroom fixtures and textile accessories. In addition, some hotels are providing their guests with upscale amenities, such as a book and movie library, home-style kitchenettes, a coffee machine with locally-sourced beans and tea, or even a batch of fresh-baked cookies. Similarly, there is a growing design trend based on the concept of place-making. Travelers are searching for experiences that are unique and authentic to the locale in which they find themselves, and so hotel designers are integrating a sense of place into their work. This is partially achieved by incorporating traditional artisanal crafts and other local artwork into hotel rooms and communal spaces. Another design trend includes the creation of full-service, co-working environments within the hotel. Guests don't like to stay alone in their room when they need to work, so now they can go downstairs to the lobby-or up to the roof-to work among others. These areas encourage guests - and non-guests alike - to stay as long as they like and to partake of hotel amenities. Finally, recognizing the importance of the Wellness Movement, some designers are exploring how room design can increase the likelihood of deep and restorative sleep. Creating dark and quiet spaces, blocking excessive light, providing guests with a selection of different kinds of pillows, and the ability to control room temperature, are a few of the best practices in this area. These are some of the architecture and design topics that will be covered in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.