HB Exclusive: New Knowland CEO Jeff Bzdawka discusses new role, meetings recovery

Knowland, a provider in AI-powered meetings and events data for the hospitality industry, has appointed Jeff Bzdawka, former SVP, global hotel technology for Hyatt Hotels, as its CEO.

On what attracted him to the company, Bzdawka told Hotel Business, “It really comes down to three P’s: a great group of very passionate people [who are]knowledgeable about the industry; the product being a firm foundation within the hospitality industry [and the]positioning and where we are right now in this critical juncture in the recovery period. While business is coming back, the hospitality industry will not truly be back until meetings and events come back as well.”

He is no stranger to the product, he said, having “consumed and utilized the product to help us enable our sales team” at Hyatt, but also knowing it from a product perspective at his previous positions as COO at Travelclick, and in a number of roles at Pegasus Solutions. All of which will help him as the new CEO.

“I know the tools, I know the hotel business and I know the pain points,” said Bzdawka. “So, being able to bring my experience and the product together, I’m able to empathize with our customers, having been a customer myself, and then having actually developed products and services and solutions that we sold into the industry when I was at Pegasus and Travelclick, I really understand what it takes to bring hotel operations together with the technology.”

As for what type of leader he will be, Bzdawka cited a book by Harvard Business Review, “The Service Profit Chain.”

“It’s all about taking care of your staff, your colleagues and your customers, and the rest takes care of itself,” he said. “It’s about really coming in to understand and empathize where people are, and making sure we have a common vision and that everybody understands how they play a role in that vision. It’s not just about product; it’s not just about sales. It’s making sure we all come together as a team and have a great product where we’re able to help our customers during this key period during recovery.”

As the meetings, groups and events business returns, the new CEO said that the firm’s plan in the short term is “working with our customers to understand how business is returning, how they can use our tools to enable the sales process and take advantage of all of the business that is available to them to really regain that profitability.”

He added, “We’re also here in the short term to support our customers. Our customers, unfortunately, had to furlough much of their staff, and they’re in the process of rebuilding their staff as well. So we play a very critical role in the onboarding of staff for our hotels and to help them get up to speed quicker to improve their sales processes.”

Although he commented that he has “given up on predicting the future,” Bzdawka provided some insight on what Knowland is seeing and forecasting.

“We are seeing small groups coming back quite strong, and in Q3/Q4 of this year, we’re expecting things to be very significant as it relates to small groups and events,” he said. “Will it get back to 2019 levels by then? Probably not, but we are seeing a strong resurgence in that area. And, based on conversations with our customers, we are seeing significant uptick in larger group business starting in 2022. So, we believe that the worst is behind us, and we’re very encouraged with what we’re seeing in the build back. Clearly, small groups will come back first, followed by both the larger groups and associations next year.”