Deniel Frey is Vice President of Revenue Management at H-Hotels, headquartered in Germany, and overseeing revenue strategy for 66 hotels across Europe.
Team Duetto has had the pleasure of working with Deniel for nearly four years with H-Hotels. But we wanted to find out more about his hospitality story.
Here we explore what first attracted Deniel to a career in hospitality, who has most inspired him, the best hotel experience he’s ever had as a guest, and what one piece of advice he would give to budding new hoteliers as they start their careers.
What was your first role in hospitality? When did it all begin?
It all started when I was 16 years old and I had a weekend job checking the mini bars of one of the biggest hotels in Europe, the Hotel Estrel in Berlin. The hotel had a huge conference center and about 1,000 rooms, so it had a lot of mini bars!
What attracted you to take that a step further?
I was attracted by the movie ‘For Love or Money’ starring Michael J Fox, where he was acting as the concierge in a hotel. I watched that movie a lot as a teenager and had a dream to be a part of a hotel. From mini bars, I went to work at the Hotel Adlon by Kempinski, a beautiful hotel! I worked in housekeeping - cleaning rooms and working as a turndown clerk.
I worked in operations for more than two years before deciding to go to university to study hospitality management and that was how I ended up in revenue management.
Tell us about your career journey from there.
I went to Innsbruck in Austria to study hospitality management. As part of my degree, I had to do an internship. I decided to apply for a sales and marketing internship at Grand Hyatt Berlin. I loved it and they loved me! After university, I started working with them as an Area Revenue Analyst. And that's where it all started: analyzing reservation patterns and giving my recommendations to the sales and marketing team.
After three years I moved on to become a Revenue Manager at the five-star Hotel Concorde Berlin. From there I moved to the UK to work with Principal Hotels as Regional Revenue Manager. After commuting four years between Berlin and the UK I decided to return home and joined H-Hotels, where I was quickly promoted to VP of Revenue Management.
What's been your biggest challenge so far in your career and how did you navigate through it?
I thought that I had a lot of challenges in my career and a lot of success stories, but when COVID kicked in they all became irrelevant. Navigating the pandemic has been both my biggest challenge and my biggest success.
In the beginning, when the cancelations started coming in and the travel ban was in place, we had tons of inquiries and reservations; customers wanted to have a deal or get a refund, and we didn't know what to do! We didn’t even know whether it was legal to keep the money from an existing reservation. So we refunded. It was a mess. March 2020 was the worst month in my whole career.
But then restrictions lifted, and people started traveling again. Thankfully, we spent time working on strategy during the lockdown, and as travel resumed, we outperformed our competitors. We were achieving very good revenues, our forecasts are quite solid, and we are not far away from the budgets we thought.
We saw strong results because we were quick to act, and I would say, this is personally my biggest success and the biggest success of my team. We knew that at some point travel would return. We fought to keep our team in their jobs and at their desks, and not be sending them home. We set up strategies for the summer months, we kept responding to group inquiries, and we kept in contact with our customers, informing them what was happening.
Who is the most memorable person you have met during your career?
I have had one mentor throughout my entire career, who was part of my career for a very long time, and that’s Ash Kapur from Starwood Capital Group.
He is the smartest guy I’ve ever come across and a real revenue specialist. He was a good mentor; a very professional and very likable person and his opinion was always very important to me. He was always pushing my career during my Concorde times and during my time at Principal Hotels because they were part of Starwood Capital.
I’ve learned a lot through him, and I always appreciated what he has done for me.
What's been your most memorable hotel experience as a guest?
I’ve had a lot of amazing hotel stays, especially during my time working in the UK when I was based in hotels. I once stayed at the Principal York Hotel with my wife and the team there just made the most perfect arrangements for us. It was just very memorable: personal notes, great room, great views, personalized amenities. But what was most special was the welcome. Everyone at the hotel knew me because I stayed there often, but the way they acted on this stay was not like I was a team member, but rather like a valued guest who was paying a lot of money for this room. It was a very special stay.
Tell us about the strangest or funniest day you’ve ever had at work.
There was one day I remember when I was working for Concorde, and I was doing the manager-on-duty shift. I always enjoyed these because we could stay in a five-star hotel and enjoy a very nice restaurant, but this evening was different…
We had a fire alarm and had to do a full evacuation of the hotel, which is the worst thing you can have - 600 people must be sent out to the street and then collected again.
And the same evening we had six guests in the restaurant who were using a fraudulent credit card. They spent thousands on champagne, they had been eating everything on the menu and using a fake credit card, and the police had to come. It was the strangest manager-on-duty shift ever!
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone considering a career in hospitality today?
Twice a year I give lectures in revenue management at the Management Center at Innsbruck University. Everyone loves the revenue topic because it's still something not frequently taught at hotel school. I always tell the students that when they finish studying and decide to work in the hospitality industry just don't give up in the first two years, because the first two years are the hardest ones, and your entry salary is just rubbish.
You are better off searching for a second job or part-time job somewhere to afford your life while you work your way up. But it's only for the first two years so be ambitious and sit tight for two years and afterward, it's going to be better.