How to ensure a seamless budget process
How to ensure a seamless budget process
06 NOVEMBER 2019 8:42 AM

The budget process can be time-consuming, but there are steps asset managers and owners can take to streamline and maximize efficiency.

October signals the fast-approaching budget season.

Operators are finalizing their internal budgets within their corporate teams, and asset managers and owners should be preparing for the impending budget review. The budget process can be time-consuming, but there are steps asset managers and owners can take to streamline and maximize efficiency.

Management contract
Review the management contract to understand budget-related timing, deadlines and processes. This includes budget delivery dates (both operating and capital), ownership review and budget rejection processes and deadlines, to name a few. In addition, know the required management agreement termination performance thresholds (often RevPAR index and a GOP/NOI minimum) so that when the budget is delivered, the implications of the submitted budget as it relates to the performance thresholds are understood in advance.

Document request list
One month prior to the official budget submission, asset managers should share an information request list (or a budget “checklist”) with operators, requesting key supporting documents to validate operator assumptions. Documents can include productivity reports, employee compensation plans and bonus details, sales team production compared to quotas, recent organizational charts by department, historical group and banquet and catering pace, and updated group crossover. This list will reduce the back-and-forth communication during the annual review.

Key ownership objective alignment
Before the budget is submitted, all parties should have “big picture” conversations to ensure alignment on key assumptions and ownership objectives. This will allow for expectations to be managed, a more efficient budget process and awareness prior to the budget submission so the hotel’s time-consuming revisions are minimized.

Asset-management plan review
The current year’s asset-management plans should again be analyzed to understand if the strategies deployed throughout the year were successful, but also to proactively determine if the same strategies should continue or if they need to be adjusted to improve operations and asset value.

The following additional items also should be front-and-center during the budget process.

Significant operational changes
It is important to align on the overall business plan for the upcoming operating year. Owner and operator should have pre-emptive conversations about any major operational changes, such as adding a resort fee, modifications to food and beverage (perhaps the elimination of overnight roomservice) or additions/deletions to existing staffing. These discussions can have a substantial impact, and detailed analysis may be required before the assumptions actually are incorporated into a budget document. These may also tie to key ownership objectives, though they may be more detail-oriented.

Baseline revenue assumptions
Competitive-set market growth and RevPAR index should be agreed upon between the owner and the operator prior to budget submission. If there is alignment on these two “big rocks” prior to initial delivery, the overall process will be streamlined with less discussion during the actual ownership review process, when timing is tight. STR custom forecasts and CBRE Hotel Horizons reports are useful when projecting top-line assumptions by both overall market and competitive set and should be ordered in advance of the budget receipt. These reports can take two to four weeks to deliver, so advance ordering is advised. (STR is the parent company of Hotel News Now.)

Expense benchmarking
Asset managers should update their internal budget models and update expense benchmarking against comparable hotels to understand how the current year hotel forecast and future year budget compares to similar hotels. This will help pinpoint line items that need to be reviewed further during the budget process. This can be a time-consuming exercise, so preparing beforehand can expedite the process.

Be sure to discuss capital assumptions in advance, as many can have operational implications, including revenue displacement. Ensure the capital budget aligns with ownership hold/sell objectives. A five- to 10-year capital budget is advised to understand not only the immediate hotel needs, but also future requirements. It is important to understand capital based on the brand standards, QA reports/franchise inspection, as well as GSS scores and review sites. If need be, discussions with appropriate parties such as third-party vendors and brand can be initiated in advance.

Lender tests
Review lender tests in advance to understand debt-yield and debt-service coverage tests that need to be compliant in the upcoming operating year. The operations team should confirm the budget is meeting these test thresholds, as there could be significant implications for not meeting the required metrics (i.e., cash trap).

If all of the above are completed in advance of the hotel’s delivery of the budget, you are off to another productive and efficient budget season!

Silvie Cohen is a senior director at hotelAVE and is responsible for a portfolio of assets, which includes preparing owner reporting and analyses, analyzing operational budgets, and driving revenue strategy to maximize top-line results. Cohen also focuses on improving hotel online presence and reputation, through implementing effective e-commerce strategies. Additionally, Cohen has assisted with disposition and repositioning services, as well as producing operational reviews. Since joining hotelAVE in 2014, she has helped maintain and improve portfolio wide reporting and benchmarking tools.

Nina Kleiman is an EVP at hotelAVE and leverages her 25 years of experience in lodging asset management, operations, acquisitions, and consulting to develop and execute strategies to maximize each owner’s investment objectives. Kleiman leads and supports hotelAVE teams to deploy industry-leading asset management practices focused on revenue management and profit opportunities as well as real estate, capital, and contract optimization. Her asset management experience is based on success working with a wide array of hotels from luxury to midscale, both domestically as well as in the Caribbean and Mexico. Asset cornerstones include the proactive identification of value enhancement opportunities via detailed research, industry analysis, and benchmarking including the optimization of hotel positioning, brand, third-party partnerships, and hotel strategic alternatives.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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