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HB ON THE SCENE: Finding the Right Revenue Leader

WASHINGTON—Having a good revenue strategy is critical in hospitality today, but equally important is having the right person who can lead that strategy. At the Revenue Strategy Summit, held here at The Knight Conference Center in the Newseum, hospitality leaders discussed the changing face of revenue leadership.

In a session titled “Revenue Strategy in the Digital Age: It Really Works,” moderator Kathleen Cullen, SVP, revenue & distribution, Two Roads Hospitality, noted that revenue strategy has been evolving. “The discipline is moving toward involving planning and resource allocation to their strategic needs. Hotel revenue management has been a very tactical and very reactive discipline in the past, and we work very closely with sales and marketing, and sales and marketing is also not focused on planning and resource allocation. They tend to focus very tactically on the transactional: What can we do to get more eyeballs?” she said. “That means there is not a lot of planning and resource allocation happening within the revenue generation functions at hotels.”

Additionally, she noted, revenue management, sales, marketing and digital are often treated as separate. “We look at them in silos and we allocate resources in silos versus looking at a holistic approach,” she said. “It’s difficult to remove the walls that exist. Much of it is in the mindset. So much of the landscape has changed over the years, but hoteliers have not changed our approach and how we think about things.”

Having a leader who can coordinate these efforts is key. “Who is driving the overall process?” she asked. “Who is laying out the overall plans, directing the teams and deciding the allocation of funds?”

Gary Hawkins, VP of revenue strategy, Sydell Group, commented on the changing dynamic between revenue and sales. “I think the best scenario is when there’s a healthy pull between them, but ultimately, someone who isn’t attached to specific segments, but the overall the top-line success and bottom-line success of the hotel, is the one calling the shots,” he said.

Andrew Jordan, chief marketing officer, Interstate Hotels & Resorts, noted, “Back when I was at Wyndham, the kinds of people that started in revenue management were more technical, highly analytical. Today, that’s the person who has got to be leading the conversation, and the conversation isn’t, ‘Should we open up the OTA and opaque channels?’ The question is, ‘What are we going to do to make more money as a hotel?’”

Nolan Wrentmore, VP of revenue management and e-commerce, Aimbridge Hospitality, agreed. “You’re getting away from these tactical managers and you need somebody who can have that sales effort, that operation knowledge,” he said. “You need a well-rounded individual to ensure that they can communicate with asset managers and communicate the plan. We get into situations where we have to explain what happened yesterday—that’s the job. We have individuals who are really good at explaining why, but more importantly, what the asset managers and owners want to know is what are we doing about it? What are we strategizing in the future and when is it going to turn around? Those are the individuals you need in your leadership team.”

“The best leader should lead,” said Bonnie Amato, chief revenue officer, Fulcrum Hospitality. “Who is leading the singular process? It doesn’t make the second person any less important because one person can’t do it all. It’s highly frustrating that with all of this AI and data, that these systems are not self-fulfilling, so the manpower piece is extraordinarily challenging because you have to get someone who actually is really good at the systems and really good at leadership. That is not necessarily a natural combination.”

She added that companies have to be committed to leadership training for that person. “If that’s the right person who has leadership capabilities, but hasn’t been able to articulate them, get them trained,” she said.

So what type of person should hotels be looking for in a revenue leader in the digital age?

“You need the leadership, but you still need someone who can be analytical and dig through the data, and you need the salesmanship because you need someone to be able to communicate that strategy and sell the strategy,” Wrentmore said.

“Communication as the revenue leader is more important today than it was 15 years ago,” Jordan added.

For his part, Hawkins said, “You can’t forget the human element. Survey who else is on the team, who they have to work with, and make sure that person will fit in well and be as effective as possible, given the dynamics of the team.”