85 – Lodging Conference 2021 Special Edition

by | October 13, 2021

In this special edition episode of Suite Spot, we recap the recent 2021 Lodging Conference, which took place at the beautiful JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort in Phoenix, AZ. Host Ryan Embree is joined by Travel Media Group’s Director of Enterprise Sales, Danielle Rummel, as they analyze the current state and future of the post-pandemic hotel industry. Listen and learn as they discuss shifting guest expectations, emerging trends, and how to overcome labor challenges. This episode is a great way to get insight into what the road to recovery for the hospitality industry looks like for hoteliers.

Episode Transcript
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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.

Ryan Embree:
Hello everyone. And welcome to another episode of the Suite Spot. This is your host, as always, Ryan Embree. Thank you so much for listening. Today we’ve got a special edition of the Suite Spot and I am so excited. I’ve been waiting for a couple years to finally do one of these, episodes again. We used to do them all the time. As I’ve mentioned on this podcast before, Travel Media Group, we are at the forefront of digital marketing in the hotel industry. So we are trying to get to every single conference out there to try to figure out the trends, what is going on in the hotel industry. And one of the best conferences and events year after year continues to be the Lodging Conference out in Arizona. So 2021 gave us the opportunity to attend that conference. And with me today, I have Danielle Rummel. She is the Director of Enterprise Sales at Travel Media Group. Danielle, first off, welcome to the Suite Spot.

Danielle Rummel:
Thank you so much for having me, Ryan.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. And this is your first time here on the Suite Spot, but not your first time to the Lodging Conference. So I want to go ahead and start off. We always love to do these kind of recap episodes with these live events, because we know hoteliers might not be able to make it out to all of these events that we’re going to. So let’s start off just from maybe a macro level, Danielle, and just talking about, maybe, what was the big theme? Cause there always seems to be this theme and topic from these events. What was this year’s theme?

Danielle Rummel:
Well, I think nobody’s going to be surprised by this, but the theme of this year’s conference was definitely resilience and our industry has been hit hard by the global pandemic with COVID and that is no surprise to anyone. We’ve also been hit hard in the past by the economy in 2008, when the economy fell, as well as in 9/11. And much to everybody’s surprise, we recovered then. And I think it’s safe to say that we are the only ones not surprised this time that we are on our way back and we are as resilient as ever. And it’s very exciting to be in this industry now, as we come back and look at all of the opportunities, how much everything has evolved, how we have been forced to change, but potentially make some changes for the better to improve guest experience and improve on everything that we are offering. So it was really exciting to be at the Lodging Conference, we had 1,900 attendees, so that was one of the largest conferences we’ve seen yet. And everybody was so excited to just see people face-to-face, in-person and really get out there and talk about what we’ve experienced, collaborate with each other on what we see moving forward and ways that we can really support not only each other, our owners management companies, vendors, but really support guests in this exciting time as they get back on the road.

Ryan Embree:
It’s so excellent to hear. It’s funny, I’m looking at my notes from the 2018 Lodging Conference, which was actually the last one that I personally attended. And I’m seeing some here of 100+ months of RevPAR growth. There was record travel at that time, but there was also this just sense of uneasiness because things were just going so well at that time. And I remember them mentioning some sort of Black Swan event could be a potential threat to this industry, but I guess no one really could have predicted, obviously, what happened. But you’re right, almost being on the other side of this, it was a sense of relief that this event, COVID-19, the pandemic, has really put hospitality to the bare bones, to the bare minimum of hotel rooms. Back in April 2020, where we only had a million room nights sold in the U.S., that was the lowest point. And from here, it’s just been this, this kind of excitement and growth and recovery. So it’s super exciting to kind of hear that emotion is out there right now. Do you get a good sense of the state of the industry right now and kind of where people feel like it’s headed?

Danielle Rummel:
Absolutely. It’s really interesting. This summer absolutely brought back the travel levels that we’ve been waiting for. We could call it the revenge traveler. You know, that’s certainly been out in the industry a little bit, but we saw levels that were equal to 2019 pre-COVID over the summer throughout the industry. And they were in some places exceeding 2019, which nobody expected, since that was the best year the industry had seen in such a long time. Year to date, and this is through August, the industry is back up to 57% occupancy and the ADR was at $120. That was incredible, if you think about it. Where we were the same point in 2020 to already be back up to those levels year to date. But you could really see it if you just looked at August alone. As an industry, we were at 63.2% occupancy, which was huge, but our RevPAR was definitely at even higher at 138.

Danielle Rummel:
So, so right now we are certainly seeing increased RevPAR growth, but that was pushed by the occupancy levels we saw over the summer. We all expect to see a little bit of a drop in September, and that is normal. That’s something we see every single year and it just falls in line with everybody having their kids go back to school, since nobody wants to be on the road when their kids go right back to school. And then we’ll see it pop back up towards the end of September and into October. And so I think we’re all anxiously awaiting to see what the fall brings because people are so excited to just have that opportunity to be back out there, to be on the road and see people face-to-face and really have these opportunities to collaborate in person again.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. I think this is the one time over the past couple years that hearing going back to normal might not be necessarily a good sign as we head into the fall, knowing that occupancy does take that little dip as we get into the fall and winter time for the hotel industry. But I think overall, we’ve talked about past crises in the past: 9/11, 2008, and we talk about the recovery and the recovery time in which that took. This was, and we’ve talked about it before, an unprecedented time in 2020, but it is really showing itself as an unknown and not really following those trends. We might see a much quicker recovery than we have in past recessions or crises like this. So that should be exciting and that, and that should have a sense of motivation for hotels to really get out there and say, I can recover a lot quicker than I anticipated here.

Ryan Embree:
So it really is that sense of unknown. But with that, on the other side, Danielle, I’m sure there was also this trepidation and sense of hesitancy to really start waving the pom-poms and taking a victory lap right now because of all the unknown. So one of the things that I think is it’s very smart that the Lodging Conference does is explain the state of the industry, but also looks towards some potential threats moving forward that could maybe derail the rate of recovery at which we’re at. Did they talk through any of that in this conference?

Danielle Rummel:
Absolutely. And you hit the nail on the head. The past crises that have occurred, we saw a period of time that things were hard and then quickly things got back on track. And that was typically led by the business traveler. And one thing that’s really unique this time is it’s not being led by the business traveler. It’s being led by the leisure traveler. So that’s definitely very interesting and brings forth a lot of different expectations and unknown for the hotels, as they need to prepare differently for a leisure traveler than a business traveler. But it’s also really exciting because we are seeing people get excited about business travel moving forward. And the other interesting aspect of what’s coming back is the group side. Groups are booked at an exponentially high rate for 2022 because they’re so excited to be back out there. And for the business traveler, a lot of that is really about thinking and going, there’s a revenue risk.

Danielle Rummel:
If your competitors are out there, and they’re traveling and you’re not, that’s going to be a problem for you as a company. So, you know, when we look at things that are in the unknown, the business traveler timeline is in the unknown because when it comes to a business traveler, it’s also about their corporate policy. So for the first time, you know, really, the people involved in these decision-making for who’s going to travel is often your chief legal officer, because you have a duty of care responsibility to your travelers. You have your finance person involved just to make sure everything’s, you know, great, but you also have HR involved because you want people to be comfortable traveling. While these people have been involved in the past, they haven’t been involved for these same reasons. So that’s a little bit interesting there.

Danielle Rummel:
And one thing we talked quite a bit about at the Lodging Conference is we have a massive staffing crisis going on right now, and this is difficult for properties. That’s the unknown factor going on. Do you have enough support? Do you have enough help to really get things done? And to have the ability to service these travelers in the manner in which they are expecting. Travelers have higher expectations now, more than ever. And it has nothing to do with what the hotels have done and everything to do with this pent up, you know, energy of, I want to get back out. I haven’t had this experience in so long. And so their expectations are at an all time high and hotels have to figure out, how do we manage those expectations and how do we do it while dealing with staffing shortages and a major supply chain crisis going on in this country? And not really just this country, throughout the world.

Danielle Rummel:
So we’re trying to figure out how can we get the materials, hotels need to the hotels more quickly. And we also have to figure out from a staffing situation, not only how to get our staff in, how to keep them in, how to engage them better, but also we have to train our staff. We need to be working smarter, not harder. We have to figure out how can we be more efficient in everything that we do. And these are some really scary factors for our hoteliers to face because with a staffing shortage, you’re trying to get bodies in there, but you need to get the right bodies in there to support your travelers and to meet those expectations. And they all come together into a very difficult, you know, conundrum for the hotels to figure out. And we are resilient. We will figure this out as an industry, but it is absolutely something hotels have to look at. It is an unknown factor because you’re also pairing that with an unknown timeline of when they’re going to be back in force, and when I say them, when travelers will be back in force.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, absolutely. Quite a number of threats to this recovery. But I also think, you know, at the, at the foundation of this, the good news is for hoteliers listening to this, is that the enthusiasm that was missing in 2020 has returned and it’s returned kind of with a vengeance. But with that kind of unlocks these new set of problems. Where a traveler that might not have stayed in a hotel, and it’s crazy to think, but almost in a couple years, comes back to your hotel and you could be short-staffed there. And all of a sudden they start thinking out loud, this breakfast area didn’t look like this in the past. I used to have a full, hot breakfast, people serving me. Maybe the service is taking too long. You know, the housekeeping services: we’ve seen that really take a massive change with, in response to the pandemic. I don’t remember having to call down to the front desk to ask for service. This was just automatically done. So you’re right. The working smarter, not harder philosophy is out there. And it’s really something that hotels and hoteliers are kind of forced to adapt to right now, because they are running with these skeleton crews and don’t have the resources there, as they did in the past. And these travelers are coming back and they’re w anting the same type, if not a better experience than when they left the hotel and travel industry before.

Danielle Rummel:
You’ve hit the nail on the head there, Ryan. And I think it’s interesting. It’s something as a traveler, and I am a regular traveler. This, I think, was my, my eighth trip on the road since June. May or June. So it was something that I see regularly, and I’ve realized having done both leisure and business travel in the last few months, it’s a different experience. I’ve had to mentally change my mindset, but there are things that I have realized I don’t need. And hopefully other travelers will realize that. I don’t need to have my room service every single day when I am there, especially when I am there, I should say, on a business trip, I don’t change my sheets at home or my towels at home every single day. So I can manage with those things, but for the hotels, they need to manage the traveler’s expectations ahead of time.

Danielle Rummel:
And that’s going to be the key to this crisis and getting out of it, in terms of the staffing crisis that we’re experiencing. I think if we are out there, and I say we collectively as an industry, and understanding the need for the communication and to manage those expectations, our hotels are going to succeed. If you’re a traveler and you know this going in that housekeeping is going to be lighter or that you might have the option or need to ask for it and you know that ahead of time, you can go in with that mentality ready for it. However, if you show up, and to your point, you’re expecting all of these accommodations to be made because that’s what’s always been, and nobody’s said anything differently, then you’re going to struggle. So one of the ways that the hotels can really get out there is to communicate ahead of time. Whether it’s on their websites or via social media, via the pre-arrival emails on their apps, getting it out there to say, “Hey, we want to give you a heads up.

Danielle Rummel:
We are not doing stay over housekeeping the same way it was pre-pandemic. We’re happy to offer this to you. These are the current levels, but if you ask for something different, we’re happy to accommodate it.” And hopefully travelers will understand and also be reasonable and rational and think about what do you need. I’m the first person, I will say, as a single business traveler, my needs are very different from a leisure traveler who’s got three kids with them. They may need their room attended to on a daily basis, especially depending on the age of those kids. So that’s different. And I think hotels can understand that. And hopefully travelers are going to be rational and understand that as well. As long as their expectations are managed. And the same with breakfast, I don’t need to have 70 options at breakfast. I probably eat the same thing every time.

Danielle Rummel:
And most people have their favorites. And when you’re on the road, sometimes it’s exciting to get something you might not cook at home. I always order a poached egg because I have not managed to be successful at poaching eggs at home. So if I’m in a restaurant for breakfast, I’ll order that because they’re great at it. But do I need to have that? Absolutely not. So if what the offerings are, are hard, boiled eggs, I could work with that. I also love cereal. I love all these different things, so I can eat many things and be comfortable and happy. But again, I do think we, as an industry, could be more successful if we manage those expectations and communicate ahead of time. I think that’s truly the key to getting out there and helping ourselves get through this. And we will overcome this. And you are correct as well. You hit the nail on the head, Ryan, when you said people are excited to be out there. I was so happy to get out on the road, get on a flight, to be in a hotel, to see people face to face. I can look past a lot of things right now, if my expectations are managed, because I’m just so happy to be back out there traveling and seeing people.

Ryan Embree:
Well, Danielle, I’m sure a lot of hotels on this podcast are listening and kind of clapping their hands, wishing, you know, you would come stay at their hotel with your expectations of the cleaning and the breakfast and stuff like that. But you’re absolutely right. I think what that reminds me of is when the hotel industry experienced this big push for replacing the towels. And the messaging behind that was going green. And once you explain that to travelers, yes, there was a little bit of a learning curve there, but now I think it’s almost common knowledge. If you leave the towels on the, on the ground, they’re going to be replaced. If you leave them up, they’re going to stay there. So it’s almost that learning curve that we had just a couple of years ago with the towels. Now we just need to set the right expectations.

Ryan Embree:
And yes, it takes a while, but the hotels that do it effectively through, like you mentioned, social media, even responding to reviews, on their website making these changes, apps. These are the places where travelers are looking and they can start to understand, okay, this is how this quote unquote new normal is when it comes to the hotel industry. Every single aspect of life, there is at least one place that this become this quote unquote, new normal. So the travelers are open to it. It’s just about the hotels that are effectively communicating it. And I think when we’re talking about the business and leisure side, just to hear your enthusiasm about groups in 2022, it’s really exciting because at the beginning of this pandemic, there were articles written. There were industry leaders talking about the end of the business traveler as we know it. And I don’t think that’s the case.

Ryan Embree:
I think honestly, you’re going to have more opportunity here with bleisure travel. Somebody working from home that wants to start their vacation with their family a day early and go out to their resort or start their road trip on a Thursday and stay on Thursday night, rather than waiting for the weekend to do that. So it’s opening up some new opportunities and lanes; that’s on the other side of these threats, but I think, I think some great information there. I do want to go ahead and get any kind of final thoughts and key takeaways that you might be able to share with the listeners.

Danielle Rummel:
Absolutely. I think manage people’s expectations, education, to your, what you just said, help them understand why, think of all the different resources out there. And I really love this quote: Paul Daley said, from Hyatt, “Data showed hotels that are overachieving in guest experience are overachieving in market share. And hotels with the highest employee turnover, also at the lowest guest experience scores.” And so this really struck me. It’s really all about understanding what your guests want, but managing their expectations, educating them, and also supporting your employees. Let’s go with the work smarter, not harder. These all go in correlation together. We want as an industry, our guests to have a great experience. It lightens the load on our employees. When you have happy guests, they’re able to support them, to have a smile on their face, and truly enjoy and be passionate about our industry.

Danielle Rummel:
Most people who work in the hospitality industry work in this because they love people. They love that they get to meet people from all over, who are excited to be in that location and for what they’re doing. And so we really need to think about what’s that guest experience like, how do we manage their expectations? We need to talk to guests and really understand them and allow them to be heard. And on our side as hotels, we truly educate them. And also, you know, what are we doing to support our staff, to ensure that they understand we are aware that they’re understaffed, what are we doing to help them? What technology is out there that could take a load off of their shoulders to really support them so that they can truly focused on that guest experience? And so I think that really just struck me because I felt it really summed up a lot of what we spoke about. And this industry is resilient. Business travelers are coming back with a vengeance. Groups are coming back with vengeance, and the leisure traveler is already here. People are passionate and excited to be on the road. And that’s really exciting for us as an industry. Everyone said we wouldn’t get over this. We will absolutely get over COVID. We will come back with a vengeance. We are resilient, and it’s a really, really exciting time to work in the hospitality industry.

Ryan Embree:
Love it, Danielle. Thank you so much for the insights, such an important topic. These events really are setting the tone for the industry moving forward. So, so happy that you were able to come on and share your insights with us. I think if we, as a hotel industry are expecting for travelers to adapt to the new normal hotel and guest experience, then we would be naive to think that we would be managing and running our hotels and have the same expectations as a staff as before. That is all new as well. So that’s why we have hoteliers all over the country, reaching out to us to manage their social media, to help with their review response, to take a proactive approach with their reputation. Things that they’ve never considered doing before, but they know that this is part of that new normal in the hotel and guest experience. So, Danielle, great way to wrap up today. I want to thank you for joining me on the Suite Spot. I want you to keep traveling out to these events so we can do more of these types of episodes.

Danielle Rummel:
Well, thank you for having me, Ryan. It’s exciting to be here. Exciting time in our industry, and I cannot wait to attend more of these and join you for a little bit more about what’s going on in the industry after I attend different conferences.

Ryan Embree:
Absolutely. And if you are interested in just learning more about what travel media group has to offer, you can always visit us at travelmediagroup.com or reach out to us at (407) 984-7455. We’d be happy to talk to you about how you’re effectively communicating and setting the right expectations for guests moving forward. I want to thank Danielle and thank you, the listener, for listening to today’s Suite Spot podcast. We’ll talk to you next time.

Ryan Embree:
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 with the cover art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host, Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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