Hotel revenue managers are tasked with making money, but first they have to make time.
Requests for numbers never stop coming in — whether it’s the owners wanting RevPAR performance at a glance or GMs needing an operational forecast — and meeting those needs for reports can take up too much of a revenue leader’s time.
But finding ways to automate reports, forecasts, budgets and data visualization gives a hotel company the bandwidth it needs to think more strategically and yield rates intelligently, says Susie Rossi, VP of revenue management and training for Oxford Corporate. She recently led the adoption of ScoreBoard, Duetto’s cloud-based application for forecasting and data reporting, at Oxford’s 18 hotels in Oregon, California, Washington and Idaho.
Rossi says Oxford sought a way to save its decision makers time at the corporate and property level. The company had a Revenue Strategy in place, but with only spreadsheets available for manually building forecasts or reports, Oxford could not easily or quickly test its strategy or make adjustments as needed.
“To have all the information — comp set, room types, regrets and denials, pace and pickup — at our fingertips to make a decision is great,” she says. “Before, we had all these reports and this information in giant binders on our shelves. We joked that if there ever were an earthquake we’d be crushed by binders falling on us.”
Believing in the benefits of a hotel Revenue Intelligence application like ScoreBoard, Rossi will give the hotelier perspective on this new approach to reporting and forecasting at DuettoX, the inaugural user conference Duetto will host in September in Miami.
She recently spoke with Duetto about how saving time on the management of Oxford’s data would allow her and the company to be more strategic.
Has it ever been easy to manage a hotel’s data? I have yet to hear that it is.
Reporting and BI have always been horrible. The hotel industry is always the slowest to get out of the gate with them, it seems. Everyone else is at the Kentucky Derby, and we’re at the county fair.
How does approaching Revenue Intelligence differ at an independent hotel or a regional company like Oxford?
I’ve worked for full-service hotels like Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, Hyatt and Hilton. When I was at Interstate Hotels & Resorts, we had every [brand], but when we’d go to regional functions, everybody was jealous of the Marriott managers because they had MARSHA. Marriott invested a lot of money into its proprietary software.
I’ve tried to set our system up to be comparable, but the bottom line is that, even though all the biggest brands have their own proprietary systems, we couldn’t do that here with our resources, being family-owned and having 18 hotels. So it’s beautiful to have an application that can still drill down to the 15 things you need to look at before you make a decision.
The GMs are embracing Duetto, even if they have worked for our company for years. They are excited to see a tool that is just as powerful as the big brands’.
How do you get buy-in for a new way to analyze and report data from departments other than revenue management?
I explained to our exec team that we need this application, and here’s why: It can save a lot of time for the GM. It can take a few minutes once a week to do an operational forecast, and it’s a click of a button. Their forecast is done for the next 10 days, and they can staff properly based on statistics and algorithms that the application is learning, so it’s probably more accurate. This frees the general managers up to train their staffs.
It’s a time saver for my revenue team and the GMs; the GMs can get out of their offices and focus on the guest.
Sometimes the hardest things to do well and keep up to speed are forecasts and budgets. Was that the case with you?
Forecasting and budgeting are daunting. It took me about a week and a half to do 18 properties, and we couldn’t even do it by stay-date level; we broke it up monthly by market segment. But with the application I entered in monthly budgets for 2017 and, based on the patterns from last year and events added in to the calendar, Duetto spread that forecast out day-by-day for us.
Now when I’m doing an annual budget or a 30-60-90 forecast, the chances of a keystroke error and then presenting wrong numbers to our managers and my bosses is greatly reduced, almost gone. Every single Excel spreadsheet is bound to have four or five errors, but instead we’re using ScoreBoard and via the interface the new strategy is plugging it into the PMS. Now we could just start with Duetto’s forecast or last year’s numbers, make our slight adjustments and have the app spread it for us.
I’m actually really looking forward to budget season so we can look at what we started with, and what Duetto is forecasting, and be able to say, “This is your budget,” and have time to make smart adjustments. We can see how accurate we can be in our busiest timeframe. And then the more you’re able to flex your expenses, the better you can take care of your guests.
Why should hotels standardize the way they structure their data across a company?
When I got here seven years ago, nobody had the same rate code for AAA or corporate accounts or for our specials. Everybody did their own thing. But what I learned from working with the big boys is the more you standardize your rate codes for specific offers or email blasts, the better you’re able to track whether the investment in a campaign or an account worth it. The key is you must inspect what you expect.
When it comes to measuring our success, we’re asking how our hotels in one region compare to another, based on their market segments and their specific rate codes connected to some campaign running at all our hotels. Standardization is super important to comparing like hotels to like hotels and markets.
In addition, let’s say leisure offers are really successful in one market during one season but different during another season or another market. We can take what has worked at the beach and replicate it for the city without reinventing the wheel. Or, vice versa, if we know something didn’t work in one market, we can avoid making the same mistake in other markets.
What are the biggest changes in the way you allocate your time to analyzing numbers?
For hoteliers, what are the seven worst words in business? “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Prior to jumping into a new BI tool, we were conscious of taking all the tools and reports we run manually all the time and figuring out how to do it in an automated way. We didn’t want to just drop everything, but we wanted to work smarter instead of harder. I recently went over a report we have in Excel constantly, and we set it up in ScoreBoard. It doesn’t look exactly the same, but if it’s at the push of a button, then I think I’ll stick with it.
This is the best use of my time. We can quickly run reports on RevPAR from last year and what’s trending now; that’s what the owners of the company want to see. The regional VPs want to drill down into their market segments. Then I sit with them to go over their mix of business. We can say: This is the goal, this is what we need to do with our mix of business to get there, and this is the plan to do it.