I recently attended two conferences in Orlando—HSMAI’s Revenue Management & Internet Marketing Strategy Conference and HFTP’s annual HITEC. At both events, a plethora of interesting topics was offered in the programming. But of all the subjects explored and all the new technology innovations revealed, I was struck by the extent to which social media commanded center stage. Even breakout sessions that weren’t about social media seem to veer in that direction, as if a strong, invisible magnet was pulling the conversations along. So how do we translate this seemingly boundless dialogue into sage advice? What is the consumer telling us that we need to act upon now?
In any given week, I can read any number of newspapers, magazines, trade publications and online newsletters and witness the astonishing pace of social media and its growing impact on the hospitality industry. And like many profound transformations (dare I say … sea-change?), it’s difficult to step back from our daily, warp-speed pace and figure out how and what to do about all this. It’s like trying to shoe a horse on a dead run. Nevertheless, we have no choice but to move as rapidly and judiciously as we can because the “horse” is not slowing down to wait for us.
Although I was duly impressed by the many social media success stories I heard in Orlando, I’m not seeing this engagement at the property level. Regardless of how well revenue management is being practiced at the corporate level, optimal results are achieved by how well it’s being practiced at the property level. And property-level efforts are still overwhelmingly tactical. For example, with absolutely no time to spare, we still take time to whine about online travel agencies and rate parity.
So what should we be doing to get our revenue-management effort ready for social media? Here’s my take on it:
1. Accept that this change in consumer buying behavior is monumental and create (or outsource) a position at the property level to deal with social media. Enlist helping hands from the front desk or reservations or wherever to assist in the workload. To make a comparison, revenue management as a distinct discipline in hospitality has been around roughly 15 years and some hoteliers still question the need for the role. Arguably, social media has skyrocketed in the past three years, so there’s no time to lose contemplating the need for this role.
2. Re-examine the strengths and weaknesses of your current revenue manager. Is he or she a glorified reservations manager? A tactical revenue manager? Or an Excel guru? Does he or she have a keen interest in Internet marketing or at least a genuine willingness to increase his or her knowledge base? Don’t make the mistake many made when creating revenue manager positions. Many hotels simply gave reservations managers or supervisors the RM title with little regard to the ideal traits and skills of a good revenue manager.
3. Assess the revenue manager’s workload. What exactly is consuming his or her time on a day-to-day basis? Is he or she creating reports that fall into the “nice to have” versus “need to have” category? Ask him or her what his or her top three time wasters are. Streamline tasks to include only essential activities. Often senior management’s addiction to “pet” reports is an obstacle to necessary change.
4. Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of your technology. Even in the most connected hotels, the RM effort can still be inefficient. And in less sophisticated hotel environments, the effort is often archaic. Think of it this way: if your room attendant productivity dropped by a credit, you would do something about it.
5. Don’t get hung up on the return on investment. Social media is about engaging the customer; it’s about authentic conversations. Definitive ROI’s may not yet be visible and quantifiable. But then again, what is the ROI on your J.D. Power scores?
6. Be willing to pay for sound advice. There are all kinds of reliable companies to help you get a handle on social media. For most of us this is new territory and revenue managers can’t be expected to know how social media impacts revenue-management decisions. But in the same breath there is no time to waste. We don’t have the luxury of months or years to examine the playing field and come up with a strategy. Whether your hotel is branded or independent, large or small, city-center or resort, now is the time to assess your current revenue-management situation and develop a strategy to transition the effort to dovetail with Internet and social media marketing. The consumer isn’t waiting, nor should you.
Bonnie Buckhiester (email@example.com), a member of the International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ishc.com) and president of Buckhiester Management USA. (Washington D.C., Seattle, Vancouver)
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