The ability to pivot and react quickly to a rapidly changing hospitality environment as a result of the pandemic can be a critical advantage and ultimately a path to increased profitability for independent hoteliers, according to a trio of hotel executives.
Last week’s BITAC Independent Live included a panel discussion entitled “Bottom Line Benefits: Hoteliers Tout Advantages Of Independents Following Pandemic.” During the session the executives weighed in on a number of subjects, including daily rates, third-party distribution channels and efforts toward cleanliness.
Roger Vivas, general manager, Lennox Hotels Miami Beach, noted his property has had a “phenomenal year” in a market that has largely outperformed other urban areas throughout the U.S.
Vivas touted the upside of being an independent in the current climate and not a “big box” property or a branded hotel, which generally relies more heavily on international guests and business travelers.
“An advantage of being independent is that we can pivot very quickly. Things change from county to county, state to state, city to city and block to block. We are able to make those last-minute decisions that are going to keep us profitable, busy and still have excellent customer service,” he said.
Zach Cohen, director of development, Vista Investments—who noted his company’s portfolio includes both branded and independent hotels—reinforced the point.
“When the pandemic hit the branded hotels got hit the fastest,” he said, pointing out that Vista’s independent hotels are primarily located in tourist destinations and beachfront locations. “Those hotels rebounded a lot quicker and are now back with a vengeance.”
Larry Williams, President, Orchid Global Hospitality, LLC, also highlighted a significant advantage while urging independents to differentiate themselves.
“The independent hotelier has 100 percent control over what he wants to do. I’ve always said ‘just give the person something that the guy down the street isn’t doing; make them remember you,’” he said.
Williams recounted his experience with the Buena Vista Palace Resort in Orlando in the ‘90s where the squeegee became a point of emphasis.
“We developed a whole culture of service around the squeegee: service; quality; unequaled efficiency enthusiastically given to our guests and to each other,” he said, noting that employees who excelled were rewarded with a golden squeegee.
Vivas, meanwhile, again stressed the ability for independent properties to “react in a faster way” when it comes to a rate strategy as he touted holding the line on rates despite reduced demand.
“As an independent boutique in the luxury segment reputation is everything. We took an approach that it’s not about getting heads on pillows. Being able to protect those rates actually helped us on the bounce back being able to attract the client we wanted to attract,” he said.
Cohen took it a step further. “Our philosophy is to push rate,” he said.
Williams, meanwhile, acknowledged “we tanked” in March of 2020 but ultimately emphasized profitability as the most important metric for any hotel.
“I don’t care about ADR [average daily rate], I don’t care about occupancy, I care about one thing and it’s revenue. If I’m running a hotel my goal is to make more money today than I made yesterday.
He added, “Sometimes it’s driving that down to your staff, particularly at the front desk, so they know ‘ok, I can sell the room here or push that person.’ Get the revenue, who cares about anything else?”
Of course, a key factor in revenue and profitability is identifying where the bookings are coming from. Often times during softer economic periods third-party intermediary sites drive a higher volume of business to hotels.
Vivas acknowledged “there’s been an increase” in OTA business for the Miami Beach property, particularly by the end of last year. However, he noted that percentage has decreased in 2021.
“We keep a balance. We don’t want to do get rid of them [OTAs] we just want to make sure their offerings are not more enticing than our own website,” he added.
Cohen, meanwhile, noted the company took a different approach when it comes to listing their properties online.
“As we got stabilized we really kind of went to where our customers were. Where are they shopping OTAs? Are they shopping independent? Where are they looking for hotels? What are they looking for?” he asked.
Cohen further noted the company wound up posting a lot of its properties on the home rental site Airbnb. “We started offering more curated experiences and really showcasing ‘this is the experience you’re getting.’ That transparency and being able to show the exact experience they’re going to get you couldn’t do through other channels,” he said.
Williams, meanwhile, detailed how important an increased emphasis on cleanliness is to properties of all types in today’s environment.
“I think that’s probably one of the most important things we can all do. I traveled during the pandemic, but I actually felt safer. There were fewer people. In the old days maybe the housekeeper finished my room 10 minutes before I arrived. At some point, at least one of the brands had us keep the room empty for at least 24 hours after the guest checked out. The guest coming in felt really good,” he said.
Williams continued, “I think it’s absolutely critical still. One of the lessons learned right now is to maybe not let up on that level of cleanliness. It really doesn’t cost that much more and at the end of the day it makes everybody feel better.”