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Spotlight Series: Jenna Villalobos, Outrigger Hospitality Group

In the latest in our Spotlight interview series, Gary Glodowski, Director of Customer Success, Duetto, caught up with Jenna Villalobos, Vice President, Commercial Strategy at Outrigger Hospitality Group to talk about how hospitality in Hawaii has been impacted by COVID, the company’s new responsible tourism product, and what segments are already showing signs of recovery.

Catch the highlights below or watch the video  on demand here.

How did you first get into revenue management?

I actually went to college for hospitality management and I started working in the front desk. Then one of my controllers, which I should thank even today, was like ‘Hey we have this job I think you should try, it's called revenue management’ and I was like ‘Alright that sounds good’. That was back in 1998-1999.

The company was really great about training the new discipline and I just loved it because it's such a blend of people and process and guests. And I've been in it ever since so that's over 20 years now.

It's exciting to see it change from yield management to what we now consider commercial strategy and commercial culture.

How did you come to join Outrigger?

I spent a lot of time working with KSL Resorts, who acquired Outrigger.

Outrigger was such an interesting company for me, partly because of the host culture but there was also a technology play with upgrading distribution technology and it just evolved into this role. Plus it gave me the opportunity to move from the southern California desert and live in what you see behind me [Hawaii].

I’ve been working with Outrigger since 2017. We have a great team and it's exciting to see the recovery starting to happen for Hawaii.

APAC was a big source market. How did COVID hit you and what’s been its impact?

Oahu attracts a very international market, so we have a lot of Japanese visitors, Australian, New Zealand, Korea, and a North American market too.

As of early March 2020 all our international [business] stopped. Everything closed down. We could only sell rooms to essential workers at the time. We had a program where we actually offered free rooms to first responders. Outrigger did a great service to the community saying ‘thank you’ to the first responders.

We've just built the business back from hyper local to now seeing [travelers from] the West Coast coming back. But we’re still mostly domestic business at this point.

Some of the things that we have done to help position us is build trust with our guests, so we have what we call the  Outrigger Promise which is, if you stay at Outrigger Waikiki On The Beach or Outrigger Waikiki Beachcomber we promise you're going to have your best vacation of 2021 and if you don't you can call us up and tell us and we'll help support you getting another vacation in the future. That has been an impactful program and it stands behind the hospitality that we're providing and the experience you get in Hawaii.

I think that flexibility will remain until 2021. I think the domestic market is going to be strong.

We'll start to see the phase-in of international I think by the end of this year and into 2022. A lot of the economic reports are saying Hawaii has a good outlook for 2022 at this point.

Beyond domestic, what other market segments are showing promise?

Even a year ago we predicted and planned for the return of direct business.

We supported direct business with a program called ‘Malama’, which is a responsible tourism program that can give back to the island. We worked with the State on the Malama program.

We’ve also worked with OTAs because a lot of consumers are like: ‘I'm going to Hawaii next week, I decided today’, and OTAs handle that short booking window.

And then we are seeing wholesale return. We are also seeing some military in group business, which is great, and then I think the last to return will be the group segment.

What about corporate? Do you see this returning yet?

I do. In the Honolulu market, we do have a lot of corporate that is centered around infrastructure or planning, because there is a lot of construction happening, so I think that market segment for corporate is the one that's most viable at this point.

And what role do you see technology, such as automation, playing in this recovery?

I think it's actually becoming even more important, because we have basically rewritten how we service our hotel, so automation is even more important at this point. And that is something that I think Duetto is very committed to.

Also, the customer success portion of the [tech] business. We need your help in implementing the products and implementing the best practices. That's something that I felt we've always partnered with Duetto very strongly on, and I think that will continue. Your human/human coaching with us to implement the product and get the best use of the product, I think, will be even more important in the future.


Watch the full interview here: 


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Sarah McCay Tams, Director of Marketing Communications

Sarah joined Duetto in 2015 as a contributing editor covering Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA). In 2017, she was promoted to Director of Content, EMEA, and in 2022 promoted to Director of Marketing Communications. An experienced B2B travel industry journalist, Sarah spent 14 years working in the Middle East, most notably as senior editor – hospitality for ITP Publishing Group in Dubai, where she headed up the editorial teams on Hotelier Middle East, Caterer Middle East and Arabian Travel News. Sarah is now based back in the UK.

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