BITAC Independent Panel: Managing Challenges in a Highly Competitive Hospitality Market

By David Berman | August 8, 2023

Independent hotels face a wide range of challenges every day, from labor shortages to marketing.

Attendees at BITAC Independent, taking place from August 6-8 at Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort in Bonita Springs, Florida, experienced a panel discussion on how independent hoteliers can navigate these challenges. Titled “Managing Challenges in a Highly Competitive Hospitality Market,” Diane Estner, President/CEO of DANNI, moderated the session on Monday afternoon.

Ric Rabourn, President & CEO of Hallmark Inns & Resorts, started the discussion by saying he doesn’t feel independent challenges have been any different from other corners of the industry over the last few years. He cited labor issues as a key factor. The company realized that there wasn’t a shortage of hospitality workers in their market, but a shortage of workers working for them.

“So what we did was really put forth a lot of effort into making sure that our department managers became the best managers in our markets to work for, that our employees became the best co-workers to work with, and then to make sure that all of that resulted in a culture that people in the area would work in,” Rabourn said.

Next, Estner asked Terry Price, Director of Property IT at Davidson Hospitality Group, about where independent hotel companies should focus their IT investments with limited budgets. He said a lot of resources should be directed to network security. 

“Don’t shortchange that,” Price said. “Buy the proper tools, get the proper relationship and spend the money to protect it.”

Rick Odorisio, Senior Vice President of Meyer Jabara Hotels, then talked about creating unique experiences for guests in each property. Referencing back to Adam Mogelonsky’s talk on “The Mille Club” earlier in the day, Odorisio said each property in the Meyer Jabara portfolio tries to incorporate local touches. For example, all of the rooms at the Admiral Fell Inn in Baltimore are named after a different admiral or captain that used to sail out of Baltimore. When a guest checks in, they receive information about their assigned historial sailor. 

“So these are the things that don’t cost a whole bunch of money, but it definitely differentiates you from the hotel down the street and is something (the guest) will always remember,” Odorisio said.

Todd Marzano, Senior Director of Property Technology for Sage Hospitality, was asked about the importance of strong vendor partnerships. He said a BITAC event was the perfect place to elaborate on the subject and mentioned that the pandemic was a turning point for how he and the Sage team evaluated partnerships.

“I think during those times, sitting in quarantine at your house, trying to shut down a hotel, that’s when you really find out who you’re partnered with with these vendors, right?” he said.

When asked what keeps him up at night, Odorisio went back to industry-wide labor shortages. He said that the pandemic has drastically reduced the “bench” that hotels can turn to when they need workers last-minute. Many people left the industry during the height of the pandemic and still haven’t returned.

Price said improved communication is key to establishing good relationships with prospective candidates. He said HR departments should be in the habit of keeping candidates in the loop instead of “ghosting” them if they didn’t get the job. This could make it more likely that candidates will be communicative themselves.

“HR companies, not just in hospitality, have created a culture that’s like, ‘well, if they’re not going to at least let me know if I got the job or didn’t get the job, then why not just no show or no call,’” he said. “‘They don’t care about communicating with me, so I’m not going to care about communicating with them.” So, we’ve got to own our half of that problem.”


David Berman

David joined Hotel Interactive at the start of 2023. He previously worked as a page editor for Gannett’s Design Center and the editor-in-chief of The Daily Nebraskan. He graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with degrees in journalism, marketing and advertising/public relations in 2022.

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