Controlling rooms department expenses is a struggle
Controlling rooms department expenses is a struggle
22 MARCH 2017 8:25 AM

The cost per room, from labor to supplies, must be factored into any hotel profitability study. 

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—Changes in rooms revenue per available room and RevPAR penetration receive a lot of attention from hotel managers. This is because the monies hotels receive from renting guestrooms is the major source of revenue across all property types in the United States.

According to the 2016 edition of CBRE’s “Trends in the Hotel Industry,” rooms revenue averaged 68.1% of total operating revenue in 2015. This metric exceeds 97% at select-service and extended-stay hotels. Alternatively, rooms revenue comprises only 51.8% of total revenue at resorts.

Even more impressive than the contribution of rooms revenue to total revenue is the influence of the rooms department on hotel profitability. On average, the profits generated by the rooms department made up 81.7% of total department profits in 2015. This ratio ranged from 68.2% at resorts to 99.1% at select-service properties. In short, as the rooms department goes, so goes the hotel.

To gain a better understanding of the profitability of hotel rooms departments, we examined the performance 1,809 properties that submitted data to our “Trends” survey each year from 2007 to 2015. This allows us to analyze changes in rooms department expenses and profits through the latest industry cycle.

Labor intensive
According to the Uniform System of Accounts for the Lodging Industry, representative expenses assigned directly to the rooms department include items such as labor costs, laundry, guestroom supplies, reservation system expenses, travel agent commissions, and complimentary food and beverage.

By far the greatest expense within the department is labor. Personnel within the rooms department consists of room attendants, laundry workers, front-desk clerks, bellhops, reservationists and concierges. In 2015, the combined cost of salaries, wages and benefits for these positions equaled 61.3% of total rooms department expenses.

As expected, convention, resort and full-service hotels have the highest percentage of labor costs measured against department revenue. These properties offer the most extensive levels of services and amenities, and therefore have the greatest staffing levels. Conversely, extended-stay hotels achieve the lowest labor-to-revenue cost ratio because they only service guestrooms periodically and have lower volumes of check-ins and check-outs.

Despite the extensive array of expenses and high dependency on labor, rooms departments are very profitable. On average, the properties in our study sample averaged a department profit margin of 74.5% in 2015. This ranged from 71.3% at convention hotels to 81.3% at the extended-stay properties.

The other expenses
RevPAR for the study sample increased at a compound annual growth rate of 1.6% from 2007 to 2015. Unfortunately, total department expenses increased by a CAGR of 2.5% during the same period. Therefore, department profits grew at a CAGR of just 1.3%.

While labor is the largest expense within the rooms department, over the past eight years it has been the other rooms department expenses that have subdued the ability of management to increase profits. During the past eight years, labor costs measured on a per-available-room basis increased at a CAGR of 2.1%, but the combined cost of all other department expenses grew by 3%. This same pattern holds true when measuring these same items on a dollar-per-occupied-room basis.

Labor costs within the rooms department tend to be more variable compared to other departments. Management can vary the schedules of housekeeping, laundry, front-desk and bell-staff personnel with fluctuations in occupancy. Going forward, however, controlling labor costs will be more challenging as occupancy remains near record levels and salary and wage rates increase.

The rise in the other department expenses may be partially explained by increases in brand standards. Over the years, we have heard from our clients that the hotel brands have raised their standards for items like bedding and linens, in-room gratis coffee and water, and complimentary breakfasts. Further, the commissions paid to third parties have increased due to the proliferation of online travel agencies.

With expenses growing at a greater pace than revenues, rooms department profit margins for the subject sample in 2015 (74.5%) were below 2007 levels (76.3%). All-suite hotels were the only property type able to improve their profit margin during this period.

Challenges in the future
CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research’s December 2016 edition of “Hotel Horizons” is forecasting RevPAR gains of less than 3% from 2017 through 2019. Facing modest growth in rooms revenue, hotel managers will be challenged to maintain growth in both rooms department profit levels and profit margins. Given the link to overall hotel profitability, hotel owners and operators need to pay attention to rooms department expenses, not just RevPAR.

Robert Mandelbaum (Director of Research Information Services) and Gary McDade (Senior Research Analyst) work in the Atlanta office of CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research. To purchase a copy of Trends® in the Hotel Industry, visit, or call (855) 223-1200. This article was published in the February 2017 edition of Lodging.

The assertions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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