36 – Navigating Changes At Your Hotel
In this episode of the Suite Spot, we dedicate our time to helping hoteliers navigate through major changes and transitions that happen at their properties. Host Ryan Embree is joined by Client Success & Operations Manager Edwin Pomales to discuss overcoming 5 major challenges that most hotels face at one time or another.
From planned changes like renovations and flag transitions to unexpected changes like employee turnover and natural disasters, Ryan and Edwin cover it all. They share several examples of how Edwin’s client success team at Travel Media Group supports our hotel partners through these challenging times and they give tips on how to minimize disruption for your hotel business.
If you are experiencing any one of these significant changes at your hotel and have a question about how to best handle it, call or text us at 407-984-7455.
Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.
Ryan Embree: Welcome to Suite Spot where hoteliers check-in and we check out what's trending in hotel marketing. I'm your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot, I'm your host, Ryan Embree. Today we have a great episode for you, could be a little bit stressful on some of the stuff that we're talking about, but ultimately it's gonna help you in challenging times at your hotel. So with me today, I brought in Edwin Pomales, who is our client success and operations manager. Edwin, you've been on the Suite Spot now several different times for several different subjects, but wanted to welcome you in again for today's episode.
Edwin Pomales: Yeah, glad to be back, Ryan. Thank you for the invite and I'm really excited to talk about these things. And I think you're right, sometimes it can be stressful at the property level. So I think it's some really good information we're going to go over today.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely, so let's go ahead and just start with your client success team. Where do you see their role when it comes to helping our partners with their hotel marketing?
Edwin Pomales: First and most importantly it's going to be there for support, during the different things that are happening on the property level. It is important that we're able to be there for GMs and owners to help them through situations that may be unique to their property, but we may be more accustomed to being that we work with so many properties. And on the flip side really integration, just making sure that any processes that they have in place at the property level, the full staff knows about it, everybody is familiar with the goals of it, and with that comes follow up on a regular basis. So support and integration of ideas are two major goals for our client success team.
Ryan Embree: And that's what we're going to talk about today because hotels are 365 days a year, 24/7. When you have a business like that, things can change in a moment's notice. So that's where your team comes in. Kinda helps ease that tension, that seamless transition. And when those major changes do happen, we have processes in place to make sure that it doesn't get too overwhelming because we know the day to day life of a hotelier is overwhelming as it is, now you add all of these changes to it, it can really have an impact. We want to make sure that impact is as small as possible. So what we're going to do today, just to set the agenda, not to put you on the spot Edwin, but we're going to go through five major changes that happen in the hotel industry. Some of these changes are planned and some of them are unplanned. So we're going to walk through each one of those and we're going to talk about tips and best practices that your team uses from Travel Media Group's end on how we deal with this for our partners and along way we're going to give some good advice, if something like this is happening at your property. Maybe some ways, again, to just make that impact as small as possible so that you can run your hotel successfully. And the first one we're going to talk about is a planned - most of the time - is going to be a planned major change and that's a flag change or a brand change. So talk to us about kind of what the first steps are with your team when a hotelier tells you that they're switching flags.
Edwin Pomales: Yeah, I think for us the first step is being proactive as possible. So the better the advanced notice we have, the more setup we can be for that change. For the first step for us is really figuring out when the official switch date is and and starting to map out what the changes need to look like as far as different directories, websites, social media. And obviously brands can change from one flag to another or they can also be going from a brand to an independent property, so the idea here is just supporting the initiatives on the property level and making sure that as they get ready and get closer to the date of the change that things are in order in regards to websites, social media, signage, photos, making sure that TripAdvisor accounts are updated and that booking sites and booking engines are updated as well.
Ryan Embree: Now we know also changing from one brand to another can also mean changes in standards. Brand standards are huge, but they are completely different from one brand to another. Working with thousands of hotels, we have a good grasp of what those brand standards are. So if we need to implement those brand standards for a great example would be review response. We understand that some brands get fined after a certain time period if that review is still unresponded to. So we create a priority when we see that brand to make sure that those are met within brand standards. Alright, so the next one is a little bit more unplanned and that is going to be - it goes along the line of brand change - but what about ownership change? So the hotel is staying, you know, a Wyndham or a IHG or Hilton property, but there's a new ownership, new management. What do you guys do with that?
Edwin Pomales: I think the first word that pops into my head when we're talking about new ownership is disruption, a potential disruption that can come in and the idea on the client success team is just to make sure it is as seamless as possible when you're switching from one owner to the next. And with that comes figuring out when the actual date of the sale is. Having advanced conversations with new management in regards to the solutions and the strategies that are already in place. And obviously encouraging staff to continue to interact with the program because, you know, every review counts, every social media post counts, and even more making sure that we're communicating with the guests the changes that are upcoming. So that being said, we definitely want to understand the goals of the new ownership as they pick up a property. And again, the idea here is just being there in a support role, taking over a new property there's a lot going on in the background and we want to make sure that on the strategy side everything's being handled on our end.
Ryan Embree: And marketing and digital marketing, I think a common theme that we're finding with these first two that we're talking about is this is just one aspect of a machine that has tons of aspects within it, right? You mentioned on the brand change updating all of your signage, making sure that the brand standards are met as far as furniture goes, if there's any PIP's that are required. Having a process that is kind of taken off your plate, but also running consistently, I think it's absolutely major for your hotel and it's something - in a time where there's a lot of moving parts - It's one of those that we need to make sure it doesn't fall off. And we need to set expectation, kind of what you were talking about with the ownership change because it is in that time where we see hotels that that might not be working with a third party kind of fall off. We can recognize that when we're doing marketing consultations for hotels, we will see a Facebook page that hasn't been posted on in a year. We'll ask that hotelier, we'll ask that GM "You know, what happened here last April." And they'll say "You know, we switched ownership or we switched management." So we've seen examples of that and once that falls off, it's very hard to get that consistency back. So I think your team does a great job of keeping that ball rolling while at the same time still trying to figure out the goals and align with that new owner.
Edwin Pomales: Absolutely, and I think along with that, Ryan comes keeping the customer - keeping the focus on the customer and the customer experience. So if you're the customer looking at a Facebook page that hasn't been updated since April. Maybe the brand has been changed since then. There's some confusion there that you don't want, especially during that, you know, decision making process for a customer or a guest. So making sure that all your listings is also very important for us: GPS instructions and maps information to your property. But that's another big part of any kind of brand change or ownership change is making sure that the customer experience is not going to be interfered with.
Ryan Embree: And travelers are very quick to notice this, right? And that can send kind of red flags and question marks to a traveler, if you have switched to a brand and you're showing up on an old directory on Google, on TripAdvisor, and these reviews are reading for another hotel, that might be the difference between them picking your property or your competition. So if you don't go in there and make sure that all of this is updated in a seamless way, it very well could be potentially costing you money. We're going to talk about next - this goes hand in hand with both change and ownership change - and that's just regular turnover at the property, right? You see a GM, you see a front desk manager who used to handle, again, all of your social media or maybe review responses, you know, take another job down the street. Now it's on you. You've got to put all these new processes in place. So how do you come about approaching a hotel that may have had just someone that's been there for a year or somebody maybe that's been there for a decade and they off and leave. How do you make sure that transition is seamless?
Edwin Pomales: Well, in this case, you know, the checklist that we go through is directly aligned with what an owner would be thinking about if they had some turnover at the property, right? What access did this employee that left have, what things were they in control of and managing, and let's make sure that the new staff that's coming in is properly trained, never feels overwhelmed, being followed with appropriately, offering assistance for anything that the staff members that left was taken care of - so that way there's no gaps as far as any programs or solutions that they were working on, and then just encouraging them. If there's any incentives that are in place or anything that would motivate them to to make sure that the task is being completed correctly, we want to make sure that they're well aware of those things.
Ryan Embree: You make a great point about credential security and I just want to really stress right now if you're a listener out there and you're a GM or you're an owner and you do not have access, somebody else has access to your Facebook and if they left all of a sudden, you do not have that password or email address to get in order to that account, that is a major issue. So you definitely want to make sure that you have profile credential security for all of your accounts. That's one thing that our solutions at Travel Media Group always provides, which is one platform and dashboard that you'll always have access to those social media accounts. Because unlike TripAdvisor or maybe Expedia or some of these OTAs where you could just recover this, your social media accounts - if you don't have that password or email it is very, very difficult to retrieve that - and the last thing you want out there is a page that has all of this following, but you don't have access to.
Edwin Pomales: That's a great point, Ryan. And there's a lot of Facebook pages out there right now that are unclaimed and unmanaged due to that exact issue where a staff member leaves and had the password. So as far as proactive client success on our side, we're making sure as we do sign up and bring in new clients onboard, we're always making sure there's a universal login and an owner is able to give or take away access as needed.
Ryan Embree: So let's switch gears to something that really doesn't change necessarily the staff, but you are going to change the property and that's a major renovation. Whether that's, you know, something that is implemented by the brand and you have to upgrade your property or whether you're just doing a complete renovation of your hotel. We understand at Travel Media Group that that presents its own challenges, headaches of stress of construction, guest interference, traveler interference when travelers are trying to stay with you. So what can your team do to kind of ease that stress or tension of a renovation that's going on?
Edwin Pomales: Yes, Ryan. I think one of the things that you talk about - some of the stress - that renovations bring to a property is sometimes you can lose focus on the guest experience. So the first thing we want to do is just make sure are there any special instructions that the guests need to know about when they're booking that property and making sure we're getting ahead of that, so that way there is no frustrations on the guest side. The second side is we can even provide input before the renovations are taking place. If the ownership is not sure where they want to put their renovation dollars toward, we can come and provide input there as well. And then as far as the checklist that we have in place, the first thing is we want to really figure out and get details on what the renovation is going to be. Is it a lobby renovation? Are we going to be shutting down any rooms at the property? And on the social media side we can even start to have some progress photos, right? Some before and after and really get our guests involved in the changes that we're making at the property level. And then, you know, using your social media and your website as a place to place notices and give potential guests advanced notice of potential renovations that are coming up.
Ryan Embree: And this is such a critical point for hoteliers when they're doing renovations and it's interesting when I talk to them, the mindset out there Edwin is that hoteliers want to wait to really maybe show off renovations - even speak to their renovations - and let travelers know that renovations are happening until after the fact. Even doing reputation management during a renovation. A lot of the times we'll hear, "You know, I really want to get my reputation in order after this renovation. After this, this is when I'm going to begin." And our advice is, this is the most critical time to be doing these sort of things. You need to be setting the right expectation because a renovation can absolutely - although you're upgrading your hotel as a whole and it's going to be great afterwards - if you accumulate one star reviews due to a renovations because customers expectations are not being met, you're going to do so much longterm damage to your reputation that even with that sparkly shiny new hotel, you're going to be digging yourself out of a hole. So we tell our hoteliers, "If you're in a renovation, you need to be setting that expectation," even if it does cost you a couple bookings because travelers don't want to stay at a hotel that might be a little bit noisy, might be a little dusty, but I guarantee you the travelers that are saying there know that that's going to be the case because you've let them know that you're under renovations and they'll appreciate that after the fact and those reviews are going to be reflective of that. And I think it's really important to note too, we're along the ride on all of these challenges. We're with you and partnering with you on this, even to the extent of if you have a certain way that you want to phrase a response, that's where we can come in and personalize that. We understand, you know, we see the notes when we get a review response from a hotel that's under a renovation. We probably have right now of our customers, multiple hotels that are under renovation currently. So we know how to handle these sort of situations. So don't feel like you're kind of alone in this fight, if you know what I mean?
Edwin Pomales: Yes, absolutely. I think providing special instructions to our respond and resolve team so that way they're responding appropriately really can set the tone and the expectations for those guests that are reading those reviews and deciding whether or not they want to stay at a property. And on the flip side, I think Ryan talking post renovation, you know, we also are able to provide input on whether or not a property should work with TripAdvisor to try to have their old reviews wiped clean. And there's strategy to this, so that's another part that we can come in and assist with.
Ryan Embree: And there's a lot of questions that we get about that. And that, again, that's part of the misunderstanding of some of the hoteliers that I talk to that say, "You know, I don't care how bad my reviews get right now during renovation because afterwards I'm just going to be able to wipe everything." And that's a common misconception. That's not always the case. So having your reputation taking care of during those renovations are extremely important because you're at a very critical junction when you're going through those renovations.
Edwin Pomales: Right and there's a lot to be considered. So another goal of our client success team is just to make sure that the ownership is aware as they're making decisions, how those things are gonna play out in the future. And I think sometimes awareness is all an owner really ask for, just make me aware of what the fallout is for the decision and I can figure out what I want to do best.
Ryan Embree: Agreed. And speaking of awareness, you know, another place that we can really start to set expectations is the social media that you're talking about, getting people excited. You know, a lot of the times hoteliers will roll out their shiny new renovation and they'll almost lean on the traveler that first arrives there, the day after the renovation, to do their marketing for them. And where your team comes in, is you can start to do what - like you said - progress pics, start to show maybe what the renderings are of what it's going to look like, all the added value that those customers are gonna get. So day one, when those travelers are coming in, that day after the renovation, you've actually have maybe some noise out there about a newly renovated property versus having to wait a couple weeks having to wait a month or so to have those travelers create traction for you when it comes to your renovations. So I know we talked a lot about renovations, but it is such a big part of the hotel industry. I don't know a lot of businesses out there that literally, probably have to revamp every decade or so like hotels do. So it's extremely important when you handle them that they're handled the right way and your team does a great job of doing that. Let's talk about something that's not as planned as a renovation that really can come out of nowhere but is just as stressful and if not more stressful and that's crisis management, right? So natural disasters, our headquarters at Travel Media Group are in Orlando, Florida, so we know a lot about hurricanes, right? And how that impacts hotels in our area, but there's also fires that happen. There's all sorts of of things that can happen that we've seen over the years that unfortunately we've had to endure with our hotel partners. And it's always something, first of all, that your team is very empathetic about because again, we've, we've been there with some other hotel partners, but talk about something like that. Like that's probably at the top of a hotelier's stress level, when a fire happens or a natural disaster happens, how can your team come in as a helping hand when it comes to managing this crisis?
Edwin Pomales: Right, I think so much of our conversation today we talked about being proactive and in these cases it's more about being reactive, right? But being strategic in how you react to, whether it be a natural disaster or some kind of PR disaster. So for us, you know, our process in place starts with making sure that there's a clear plan on what the traveler needs to know. So if there is a natural disaster, you know, your platforms, your social media, your website can become a resource to those that are looking for shelter, looking for help. And the second thing is, you know, again, if there's, if there's things at the property level that are manual, for example approving review responses or posting things on social media, we can step in during that time and be help and be supportive and take care of those duties while things are being sorted out at the property level. Again, the idea here is being as seamless and just having the least amount of disruption as possible.
Ryan Embree: Absolutely. And I think, you know, when we think natural disaster, sometimes we think in the case of shutting down a hotel, but also as we know, again, with hurricanes that your hotel can also serve as a safe place for other people in the area. So again, using those communication tools like social media, because that's where people are at during these disasters. They're looking for places that are open, they're looking for shelter and your hotel might be able to communicate that better than their competition. So I think that's an extremely important, but if it is something that impacts your hotel, like a fire for example, having that messaging come across on cancelled reservations - we know the stress of planning a vacation - so if you have to make that call to maybe, you know, 10 or more people on their reservation is canceled, you want to make sure that wording and that messaging is done in a right way. And the reason say that and kind of transitions to the next thing that we're going to talk about is we know that not all disasters have to do deal with weather. We've actually come across some places online where our hotels go viral and not for good reasons. So if, for example, you know, if you have a PR disaster, if something goes viral on social media, if a review goes viral, your employee doesn't handle something the right way, where can we be a resource? How can we be a resource during that sort of a disaster that maybe doesn't have to have anything to do with the property itself?
Edwin Pomales: I think the most important thing in that case is really controlling the message. We can come in here because of the access we have through social media and website and these other platforms, we can make sure that the messaging is correct and if there's anything fraudulent, let's say that has been posted about your property, we can help get with the right - work the right channels - whether it be Facebook or Twitter, to make sure those things are reported as quickly as possible. And if we can prevent the damage and damage control in that situation, that'd be a huge victory for us. And again, the idea here is just keeping in mind the customer experience and we want to make sure that the hotel story gets out there in an appropriate way.
Ryan Embree: So Edwin we've, we've been through some pretty major changes at hotels and we know even some minor changes at a hotel might feel major, but there is peace of mind to our hotel partners that you and your team are out there as a resource. So any final thoughts about kind of today and the episode?
Edwin Pomales: I think for us, one thing that we want to make sure we share with all listeners is we have processes in place and checklists in place that we worked with hundreds and hundreds of hotels on. And although you may be experiencing something for the first time, it's not something that's new to us. So as long as we know the goals of a specific owner or a property, then we're able to follow through with that and support your efforts at the property level. And it's really about just course correcting, making sure we're aligned with the needs of the property and during those times where you do feel overwhelmed having somebody that has been through it before, it can be very helpful.
Ryan Embree: Oh absolutely. And that's what this industry is about. It's fast moving, but when you have those processes, you have those SOPs in place, and you have a resource like your team that's going to ease the impact and that at the end of the day that's what we're looking to do. So, I thank you Edwin for joining me today and hope to have you on many more times.
Edwin Pomales: Thanks, Ryan. It was great to be here.
Ryan Embree: I thank everyone for taking a listen to this episode. If you have any questions about, you know, some of these challenges or even if your hotel right now is facing some of these challenges, you can reach out to us as always at (407) 984-7455. My name is Ryan Embree. Thank you for listening to the Suite Spot and we'll talk to you next time. To join our loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group, our editor is Anne Sandoval with cover art by Bary Gordon. I'm your host Ryan Embree and we hope you enjoyed your stay.
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