Modern Metrics And Profitability:

Getting A Better Handle On The Costs Of Acquisitions And Operations

By Mark Ricketts President & Chief Operating Officer, McNeill Hotel Company | October 06, 2019

This article was co-authored by Jennifer Driscoll, Vice President Revenue Management, McNeill Hotel Company

Increasingly, in the quest for profitability, the art and science of revenue management is focusing not just on room mix, occupancy and pricing, but, also, asking: "What is the cost of the business we are acquiring?" Moreover, in a cross-discipline approach, revenue managers are getting involved in better understanding operational costs, and, thus, the full components of net revenues and profits.

Three important trends are driving this development. For starters, we have the first marked slowing of quarter after quarter RevPAR gains in quite some time. Naturally, everyone is sharpening those cost pencils a bit finer these days. Next, while the brands continue to work on reigning in and regaining some control of the reservation space, the bewildering array of channels by which hotels acquire guests-and their accompanying fees-continues apace. Last, of special importance, new analytical tools have been developed that help us more precisely ascertain the acquisition costs of a reservation and measure gross and net profit per room.

This article will explore some of these new approaches and how the skills and objectives of revenue management continue to advance.

Keeping Pace

For hoteliers taking a longer view to operating revenue and growing asset value, running a hotel property often seems akin to competing in a marathon. Put one foot after another, emphasize quality and consistency, take care of guests in the manner you would like to be cared for and we will profit in the long run. For revenue managers, it seems like we are running one 100-yard dash after another, with no time for breathers. For us, it's always been a matter of pace. Room nights go by quickly. While we may capture some "make-up" at times in terms of rate, a missed occupancy is lost forever.

At the present time, two serious trends are emerging: a gradual softening of the overall market that is impacting both occupancy and ADR; and booking windows are getting shorter. This latter trend is occurring even in the leisure market, not just corporate, which is putting a premium on forecasting and being able to make decisions on mix and pricing more quickly and more accurately. It's no different as when we are driving in fast-moving traffic. Our alertness and reaction times must be keener. Furthermore, if businesses begin to reign in travel expenses or if families pull back on vacation travel, we can expect that booking window to remain tight.

Fortunately, the quantity and quality of market data, and the analyses available to revenue managers continues to improve in the area of the cost of room acquisition, as well as in the contributions of specific costs areas (labor, supplies, plant operations, etc.) and revenue classes (amenities, food and beverage operations, user "fees," etc.) to the overall balance sheet.

Just how much is that commission in the window? Much of the industry discussion and strategy in recent years has focused on reducing reservations secured through online travel booking entities (OTAs) like Expedia or the Priceline Group in favor of "Brand.com," or major brand and individual property web sites. Not surprisingly, a prosperous, growing travel industry has prompted many entities and portals to get in on booking reservations, including even AirBNB. At the same time, even reservations coming through more traditional channels, the brand web site or a local travel agent, are subject to a cascade of fees and charges. Thus, expanded metrics that help revenue managers ascertain the true, full cost of acquiring a given reservation have become increasingly valuable.

Second, entities developing these advanced metrics for the hospitality industry are working extremely hard to acquire as large a comp set as possible for any given property. Clearly, this takes building trust with the major brands, as well as smaller ownership groups, including independent hotels, to develop as comprehensive and reliable a database as possible. Obvious comparison factors include location, property size, property class, brand equivalence, size and character of meeting space and a wide range of amenities.

Using these newer data capabilities, it is possible for revenue managers to further refine decisions with respect to pricing, availability, allowable arrival and departure dates and allowable length of stay. We would like to measure oneself against true competitors, "If I were sold out, where would my guests stay," and find out just what is driving ADR and occupancy in a given market. While a subject of its own article, it is also worth noting that advanced metrics will increasingly be applied to the pricing for listing positioning on select web sites, as well as dynamic pricing on those same placements. This is an era of comparison-shopping that we must learn to navigate.

Pumping Up Our Shoulder Dates

Perhaps most importantly, the benefits of advanced metrics are not just in rate setting, but, also, in fine-tuning our mix of business and optimal handling of those all-important shoulder days.

In our effort to extract extra demand for those days, it clearly helps to better understand individual group rate elasticity for factors like minimum required or maximum allowed length of stay as a measure of rate and annual room guarantees. Put another way: what rate concession might it take for Group A to commit to a given number of extra non-peak nights, as opposed to Group B.

The data may also help us gauge the contributions (and, thus, value to the bottom line) of other types concessions, including brand loyalty programs or extra service in lieu of rate. Regardless, although metrics will help, we must not discount the role of judgment and local market knowledge on the part of property general managers and revenue managers.

Can I detect any subtle or not-so-subtle changes in the character, preferences or loyalty to our property of individuals or groups that visit regularly? How flexible is one group with respect to price, as opposed to another? How is our property perceived by guests and the community vis-à-vis other properties in our comp set? The list goes on, and while the number crunchers will surely find ways to quantitate such issues, experienced revenue and sales managers will appropriately rely on non-quantitative feedback in making pricing and terms of stay decisions.

Market Intelligence: Operating Costs Also Get Advanced Metrics

We are achieving outstanding occupancy and daily rates as measured historically and against our comp set, but is our hotel operation still reasonably profitable? Are we meeting our expectations for return on investment?

Just as we are gaining ground in understanding the costs of acquiring a reservation, select vendors in data collection and data analysis are also helping hoteliers advance the science of operational benchmarking. Similar to reservation acquisitions, the goal is to understand the costs of specific operations, both in absolute terms and relative to a properly defined, verifiable comp set for any given property.

How are we doing with respects to costs for operating supplies, for housekeeping or labor as a whole? How do adjustments in one cost area impact another? Are there areas where we are inefficient (performance) and/or exceeding budgets (costs)? The results of these analyses will help guide a property's general manager as they make operational adjustments.

Interestingly, new flexibility is on the horizon even for extended stay, select service or economy properties that are more limited in the ability, on the one hand, to adjust amenity packages to generate add-on room revenues, or, on the other hand, scale back what is already lean staffing. These trends offer ownership and property managers potential benefits in terms of cost containment, revenue generation or standing out from one's direct competition.

We have already seen some of this movement with the major brands as they allow owners and developers to tweak the physical layouts, landscaping and amenities of what are generally tightly defined platforms. Credit a strong hospitality marketplace and a more demanding consumer who is looking to at least "upscale" the experience, if not the price, for these advances.

It is also important to mention the outstanding work being done by the major brands in fine-tuning their loyalty programs, as they have been a key element in driving direct booking, as well as in negotiating with the OTAs. Revenue managers will continue to pay close attention to the loyalty programs, including to their contributions to the complete costs of acquiring a reservation, as discussed in this article.

It Must Be A Team Effort

Collaboration, not silos, should be the order of the day. That is why revenue managers are getting more involved in the operational cost process just described. Only then can we honestly answer whether the total cost model of a property will support our revenue management decisions.

Confidence in our formal analyses, combined with open communications within the team; local knowledge and experience; and insights gleaned from guest satisfaction surveys will also allow us, when called for, to "go against the grain." As revenue managers, we must have the freedom and confidence to challenge the conclusions of a vendor-generated algorithm or brand guidance, sharing those insights with general managers, directors of sales and the executive team.

Overall, the modern revenue manager must not only be a great technician, but, also, a great team player, committed to the organization's shared mission and values on its path to profitability.

Ms. Driscoll This article was co-authored by Jennifer Driscoll. Ms. Driscoll has more than 27 years experience in the hospitality field. After graduating from Florida State University with a degree in Hospitality Administration, she joined the Hilton Orlando/Almonte Springs. During her time at the Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs, she held several management positions. In addition, Ms. Driscoll worked as Revenue Manager with both the Holiday Inn Select Orlando Airport and the Embassy Suites Orlando Airport. In 2004, she joined the Embassy Suites Brand Regional Revenue team in Hilton's Memphis corporate office, assisting both corporate and franchise hotels to achieve optimal mixes and revenues. Ms. Driscoll then joined Hilton's Hampton Brand team, as Director of Revenue Management in 2007. She and her team were responsible for strategic guidance and RM support for ten years. Ms. Driscoll led all Revenue Management initiatives at Hampton while driving performance to achieve optimal revenues and share. Ms. Driscoll was instrumental in rolling out OnQ R&I, RMCC, multiple BAR levels as well as Hilton's GRO (Global Revenue Optimization) system. In addition to supporting Hilton's largest brand, Hampton, Ms. Driscoll played a key role in the development of Revenue Management support and strategic direction for Hilton's newest brand, Tru by Hilton.  

Mr. Ricketts Mark Ricketts serves as President and COO of McNeill Hotels. Prior to joining McNeill Hotel Company, Mr. Ricketts spent the previous seven years serving as Vice President of Hotel Asset Management in the Realty Management Division for Goldman Sachs in Irving, TX. In his capacity, Mr. Ricketts provided hotel asset management oversight for a portfolio of over 300 properties, spanning 10 brands and 27 flags while working with nearly twenty (20) management companies. Mr. Ricketts has nearly 35 years of experience in the hotel industry, starting as a Hotel General Manager at the age of 23 years old. Mr. Ricketts previously worked as Vice President of Asset Management for Equity Inns, Inc., a publicly traded Hotel REIT based in Germantown, TN. At the time of its sale to Goldman Sachs, Equity Inns was the 3rd largest Hotel REIT in terms of number of hotels owned. Mr. Ricketts can be contacted at 901-322-4806 or mricketts@mcneillhotels.com Please visit http://www.mcneillhotels.com for more information. Extended Biography

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Payment for the services provided to you in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive may be made by automatic credit card, debit card, direct debit, bankwire or Paypal and other approved payment means offered in, at, through or in association with HotelExecutive, and you hereby authorize HotelExecutive and its agents to transact such payments on your behalf.

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.

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This week's Top Pick...

Zoe Connolly

When the world is facing high levels of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), in part thanks to fast-changing technological, social and business environments, leaders and companies must be prepared to increasingly adjust to unanticipated events. VUCA in hospitality manifests on different levels and can affect individual hotel properties, tourism and entire companies, on a global basis. Many today would assert that, given the current geopolitical climate, the world's VUCA level has again spiked to higher than normal levels. People and corporations must increasingly adjust to unpredictable events. The hospitality sector is no exception. Read on...

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Coming up in November 2019...

Architecture & Design: Biophilic Design

The hospitality industry is constantly evolving to meet and exceed guest expectations. As a result, hotels are always on the lookout for new ways to improve the guest experience, and architecture and design is an essential part of this equation. Bold design is often the most effective way to make an exceptional first impression - an impression guests use to distinguish between brands. One design trend that is being embraced worldwide has become known as "Biophilic Design." Biophilic design is based on the concept of biophilia, which is the theory that human beings have an innate tendency to seek out nature, natural elements, and natural forms. Biophilic design is more than hotels simply adding a surplus of plants; it involves incorporating specific design elements into a hotel in order to imbue it with a sense of wellness and well-being. Some of those elements include exposure to natural lighting; views of nature and rooms with a view; natural architectural patterns; salvaged or reclaimed woods of all types; reclaimed metals; sustainably sourced stone; living green walls and vertical gardens; and direct and indirect exposure to nature. Hotels that have incorporated biophilic design into their properties are reaping the benefits associated with this trend including reduced stress responses, better air quality, lower energy costs, and more positive guest reviews. Biophilic design has also been shown to improve guest moods and to satisfy consumer demand for environmental responsibility. Savvy hotel owners and managers are aware that nature-inspired elements enhance their guests' comfort and well-being, which is why this trend is becoming so prevalent. Biophilic design is just one topic in the fields of hotel architecture and design that will be examined in the November issue of the Hotel Business Review.