A Hotel Guide for Avoiding OTA Panic and Rate Parity Games

OTAs are a fact of life in our industry. But there are so many negative feelings about them, constantly being stoked by hotel media, that it becomes difficult for hotels to form calm, cohesive OTA and rate-setting strategies.

OTA-bashing articles surface every few months, no matter what cycle the travel business is in. These articles usually involve screenshots of OTA rates being lower than the hotel’s direct rates, leading to complete disgust and a ton of hate reading. Other times, these feelings of fear and loathing towards OTAs are triggered at conferences by speakers going for some cheap applause.

I would like to ask you to put all that aside, and keep an open mind. Please remember that, as a revenue professional, your goal in life is not to teach the OTAs a lesson. It is to make more revenue! You should try to avoid Maslow’s hammer approach when thinking about your relationship with your distribution partners:

If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.

Your revenue strategy cannot be focused on proving that the OTAs are an evil empire, and that only your rate parity games will topple them. The goal of pricing is to make sure that you convert all of your hotel investments into revenue.

Now, if you’re ready, please read on to learn about some OTA and pricing strategies that have delivered millions in revenue for owners and operators that have embraced it.

The Rate Parity Games

Rate parity surfaces a couple of times a year. Usually, it is:

  • Declared dead
  • Something that is killing your direct revenue

I am posting a third option for you to consider: Don’t play games.

People are posting articles filled with “screenshots of proof,” as if they have finally located the Chupacabra or Bigfoot. A lower rate published on an OTA versus a hotel website is highlighted as a “gotcha moment” and a complete failure of your parity-based pricing strategy. The “game over” vibes are pretty doom and gloom (even for me). They make me think of Bill Paxton.

Rate parity should not be misrepresented as loading the same rates on all channels… and then immediately going to bed, zero follow up. Dynamic pricing requires a little bit more work than that. Once your rates are loaded, you have to keep an eye on the OTA channels, like Booking and Expedia, and monitor what they are doing with the rate you gave them.

Here are reasons/examples of how and why they might be showing lower rates:

  • Are they running opaque promos?
  • Are they running mobile promos?
  • Are they running merchant model promos?

If the answer is yes, then please match these offers on your website. Instead of canceling your entire participation with them, do your best to implement competitive rates on your direct channels.

In other words, once the rates are uploaded to the OTA, don’t assume your revenue manager is then handcuffed and cannot make any edits! When you notice parity issues, do something about it right away. Some examples:

  • Run your own private promos.
  • Run your own mobile promos.
  • Offer direct value that OTAs cannot match.

If your current booking engine technology vendor does not permit you to take these actions, then find one who does. The answer is not abandoning parity; it is having the smarts to monitor and enforce it on all channels when possible.

Ah, The Good Ol’ Billboard Effect

A big argument against rate parity in pricing is the idea that there is no billboard effect for an independent hotel that is listed on a global OTA. This study was first published back in 2009 by Cornell University, with another follow up written in 2017.

I am not here to debate the billboard effect. If you feel strongly that this does not have any relevance, then please withdraw from the OTA channels and watch your competition overtake you.

It is very easy for direct revenue fanatics to throw the billboard effect under the bus. Do you know why? Most of them are not personally invested in the asset. And if there is one thing that I have learned from working in revenue optimization for 20+ years, it is this:

It is very easy to be a revolutionary with other people’s money.

I will elaborate more on these revolutionaries below. For now, let’s look at some traffic and revenue stats for the top OTAs in the business:

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If you want to opt out of this exposure and revenue stream because a consultant, marketing agency or software provider thinks you can 100% make up for it using their direct revenue software? Then all I can say is… good for you! Abandon all parity and put your lowest rate on your website. Then give it some time and watch your competitors do circles around you. The effect of this strategy is not sudden death but more like diabetes… a slow decline, which means that by the time you discover it, it’s too late.

There Is No Free Lunch!

It’s not just a saying! An actual mathematical theorem highlights a fact that we have all known for a while: There are no shortcuts to success.

Dealing with OTAs may seem painful when you just think of the commissions. However, do we expect them to give us traffic and revenue for free? Commission, while painful, is the cost of doing business. The Princess Bride probably said it best:

OTAs don’t owe you anything. You can try to undercut them and limit your participation to prove a point. But in the end, that decision is going to cost you revenue and loss of market share as an independent hotel. No amount of creative marketing or software can protect you from this outcome.

Guest Ownership Quandary

We can debate all we want, but hotels don’t “own” the guest. Neither do the OTAs or any other form of travel agent. Your hotel guest today is a little smarter than we like to give them credit for.

Since the pandemic, most hotels have seen their direct revenue share grow. In spite of the “death of rate parity,” the overall market share of every hotel that maintains true rate parity has gone up. How is this happening if the guests are mindless, price-driven sheep? This is happening for a simple reason: they are looking for value and not just a few dollars off the rate.

If you want guests to book direct, you have to showcase value in addition to a good rate. Flexible cancellation policies over the past two years drove a huge volume of bookings for direct channels. Hotels answering their phones and actually helping guests also enabled higher rates, plus more direct bookings and increased market share. Have you ever tried to locate someone at an OTA to quickly resolve your booking issues? There is no substitute for direct contact with someone who you are going to be staying with.

Give your guests a little more credit. Instead of “owning” them, offer them value that only you can give them. And please accept that people who are hooked on OTAs will always book there, no matter what. It could be loyalty, points, or just habit. Don’t wage a war to try to convert these guests on your website. It’s the same as trying to get a Marriott loyalist to stay at your independent hotel. Even if you have a superior product, he will pick the breakfast buffet with watered down scrambled eggs every time to maintain his status with the brand.

Playing Revolutionary With Other People’s Money

Direct revenue is a crucial component of your distribution strategy. You have to work to build and grow it whenever possible. Vendors often present direct revenue as a magical, pain-free solution to all your revenue problems. However, there is a limit to your reach and your budget when it comes to marketing your hotel to a global audience. This is particularly relevant to independent hotels that do not have a brand contributing to their revenue base.

I read something ridiculous last year along the lines of “You should withdraw your hotel from all merchant models and promotions.” Someone selling software and services was calling for hotels to withdraw from all the OTAs and then double down on offering mobile discounts on their direct channels.

I have noticed that most of the direct revenue revolutionaries are playing with other people’s money. If they were paying the mortgage, payroll, insurance and fees on a hotel asset from their own bank account, I guarantee you they would be participating in everything 24-7.

You see, I too fancy myself as a hotel revolutionary. However, I am not going to sabotage the asset owners’ finances to prove a point. That is highly unethical and risky behavior with negative consequences.

Your revenue strategy is not a zero-sum game that you play with your distribution partners. Celebrating lack of visibility on OTAs and assuming everything will magically come in “direct” is deeply flawed logic. An independent hotel today cannot afford this level of carelessness when it comes to their distribution strategy.


I wanted to share my thoughts on how your hotel can stop hating and start focusing on improving your revenue and distribution mix. My strategies have delivered millions in top line revenue for assets I have worked with over the years. So please view this article as more than a think piece. This is real cold hard cash we are talking about! And it might even feel good to let go of some of those negative feelings and start viewing the OTAs as partners. Focus on negotiating the best contracts with them, and make them work to your advantage. And take responsibility for maintaining parity by offering rates or added value that make your direct offers more appealing to guests.

Meetings: The Black Hole of Hotel Revenue and Productivity

Meetings are the black hole of productivity. I’m not saying this just to be dramatic. There is plenty of evidence coming your way. Keep reading!

I have been attending corporate meetings since my early days in the industry, so we’re talking about two decades now. However, things have recently gotten worse. During the pandemic, the number of meetings we all had to attend sharply increased. A Microsoft Study highlighted a 250% increase in meetings compared with what employees had to deal with before the pandemic.

Those who know me know exactly how I feel about meetings. When I get stuck on a long call, I catch myself internally chanting “This Meeting Could Have Been an Email” over and over like a monk. Meetings waste valuable time that I could be using to do actual work, like reviewing analytics, rates, content and strategy. You know, the stuff I enjoy and am getting paid to do.

Meetings are endemic to corporate environments. However, a cure is possible. It involves having leadership say no to unnecessary meetings. I think the “Anti-Meeting” movement can gain ground if more owners and senior leaders understand the huge negative impact that meetings can have on their bottom line.

There is also the fact that meetings are making you stupid, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been in the corporate workforce. But for now, let’s focus on the dollars.

A Very Expensive Hobby

What if I told you that meetings are really, really expensive? I wish it was mandatory for all meeting hours to be accounted for in the company P&L as a “cost of business” line item. I think if these numbers were released, there would be a quick change in how we manage our collective time.

How can you calculate the real cost of a meeting? Well, there is this simple formula:

Total Cost of Meeting  =  # of People Attending  x  Their Hourly Rate  x  Meeting Duration*

*Trigger warning: The numbers you will arrive at are staggering.

Let’s run a scenario for a small group of company managers. If five people in your organization with annual salaries of $100,000 per person spend 15 hours per week in meetings (three hours a day)… those meetings are costing you $3,846 per week. Keep up this pace, and these meetings end up costing your organization $200,000 per year! Here is a 2 min 35s montage of Owen Wilson saying “wow” to help you cope with this shocking reality.

What about larger/branded hotels? Larger organizations take this bad habit to a whole new level. Just peek into any big brand’s “FDD” (Franchise Disclosure Agreement). Every major hotel brand uses it to define services they will offer to their franchisees. You can access these hotel FDDs on the internets. Guess what item is included as a “service” that hotels must pay the brand for for? Answer: “Revenue Meetings.”

Your average revenue department managing several branded hotels likely spends a whopping 56+ “person-hours” per week on meetings alone! That’s approximately 2,912 hours per year of hours that ultimately get billed to hotel franchise owners as part of their fees. Even at a base rate of $50/hour, hotels are seeing $145,600 worth of time wasted on meetings. This time should have been spent on making your hotel more money.

Senior management is very likely spending up to 80% of their time on meetings. This is corporate sanctioned madness.

The reality is that meetings are a cost item which is entirely ours in the making. Meeting lovers are causing significant financial damage to your organization.

A (Long) Wrinkle in Time

Meetings do not only kill productivity. They also add another blow to everyone’s mental focus and health. If you have successfully stopped everyone from doing their day-to-day work, then you’d better wrap up quickly!

How long should a meeting be? My magic number: 30 Minutes Max. Going over 30 minutes indicates that either one or more of the following has happened:

  • Meeting agenda was not planned.
  • Pre-meeting prep was skipped.
  • Longer meeting time is being mistaken for “collaboration.”
  • Longer meeting time is being mistaken for “brainstorming.”
  • Someone really likes the sound of their voice and won’t stop talking.

Rarely, a slightly longer meeting is needed. However, the default one-hour meeting invite, that some folks just love to send out for every meeting, is not helping. First step toward change: email back requesting a shorter meeting. Offer to review items in advance… unless they were going to reveal the location of the Holy Grail to you… which we all know has to be done face to face with no advance notice or reading materials to prep.

Second step: encourage colleagues to change their default meeting invite setting to 30 minutes. It only takes a few seconds to save hundreds of future meeting hours.

A New Approach to Brainstorming

Just like meditation, clear thinking requires alone time. New ideas come from within and they can happen anywhere. Ideas cannot be scheduled and magically appear in a meeting room setting under florescent lights (or in front of a fake Zoom background).

Next time the senior managers get the “brainstorming” itch, try this instead:

  1. Share the topic/problem with the team via email in advance.
  2. Ask everyone on the team to email back their individual/independent ideas.
  3. Post all ideas in one place.
  4. Have attendees vote on the best ones.
  5.  Schedule the meeting.

Ok, you now have 30 mins to discuss and finalize best ideas. Good luck, we are all counting on you!

Stop Trying to Be “Synchronous” in a Remote Work Economy

Remote work is here to stay. Expecting everyone on your team to stop doing everything else to be “present together” at a designated time will keep getting harder. Meetings throw a massive wrench in the way we work asynchronously in real life. Teams work on different schedules across various time zones, reviewing files, data and statistics, and performing daily tasks that need to be done. Bringing everyone’s productivity to a grinding halt is a colossal waste of time and money. If you are calling an all hands on deck meeting, you’d better have something really important to share. Something that has to be shared synchronously…you know…like the exact location of the Holy Grail.

Don’t Confuse Meetings With Work

The theme from Severance starts playing in my head when I think of the massive number of hours I have spent in meetings (that could have been an email).  Meetings are corporate approved black holes of productivity that hide in plain sight, because they get absorbed as “work” hours.

True collaboration and brainstorming will never be confined to meetings. Employees or contractors whose calendars are filled with meetings are not really working for you; they are working for their calendar and running on a hamster wheel to nowhere. Real work happens when you stop talking and focus on the task at hand. Emails, Slack, G-chat, texts, and short 1:1 calls can resolve most of the issues in your day-to-day work life. We can collaborate without interrupting everyone’s workday to herd them into a meeting room.

Steven Rogelberg (Professor of Organizational Science, Management and Psychology at UNC Charlotte) conducted research on meetings and their impact on work. Here is a snapshot of the results:

“We surveyed 182 senior managers in a range of industries:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work.
  • 71% said meetings are unproductive and inefficient.
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.”

These are striking numbers, yet they should not come a surprise to anyone working in our industry. We are simply meeting ourselves to death.

A Few Good Meetings

If you can handle the truth…then yes, it is actually possible to have good meetings. This is my secret formula for how to make good meetings happen at your organization:

  • Limit meeting time to 30 mins, no exceptions.
  • No sitting whenever possible.
  • No news, weather or sports-related talk.
  • No tea, coffee (not even for the closers), or food. Only water.
  • No open laptops. Notebooks only.
  • Phones face down, on silent.
  • Email in advance: agenda, reports, videos, slides, etc.
  • Observe meeting free days of the week (eg, Monday, Wednesday, Friday).
  • Slide reading is always strictly prohibited. Summaries and discussions only.
  • Have attendees anonymously rate every meeting on a scale of 1-10, and share results with the team.


I am not saying all meetings must die. However, most meetings can and should be avoided or shortened. Be the leader in your company who starts declining useless meetings. I’m not saying you can decline all invites from your boss; this trend must start from the top. (I’m talking to you, leaders and managers.)

Instead of reading cliche management books, advance your management career by boosting your team’s productivity and your company’s revenue. Useless meetings are crushing your team’s morale, making them dumber and less productive. Give the people what they want, and get better results from them in return. You can be a hero!

Despite your best efforts, if you still find yourself in a terrible meeting, do not lose heart. Find a meditative chant that works for you, or borrow mine: “This meeting could have been an email.”

Hotels Must Embrace Remote Work

Remote Work

After my last pandemic-focused article, my inbox was flooded with queries about remote work. I had urged hotels to embrace remote work and stop putting geographical restrictions on hiring the best talent. Most of the emails I received questioned the long-term feasibility of remote work, especially for a hotel organization.

I want to address some of these concerns and share some further thoughts on how work/office culture is already changing. Obviously, some jobs can never be performed remotely (front desk, housekeeping, etc). However, remote work is already having a direct impact on the hotel and travel industry, and this trend will continue. I recommend trying to embrace it. Not because it is trendy, but because it will increase your bottom line.

Dislike remote work? Ok, Boomer.

Much of the feedback I received about the idea of remote work was negative. Some people don’t see how it could possibly work. What if I told you that the majority of them are old? (Disclaimer: I am old too!) Sadly, the most apt response to a lot of these emails is captured by these two words: “Ok, Boomer.”

Memes and jokes aside, even some of the young(er) (40s-50s) hotel company CEOs are passionate about having their employees return to office-based work. Why the reluctance to embrace remote work? The answer lies in our past. If you do the math, you know that many of us did not grow up during the internet age. Bare bones commercial broadband really hit the market in 1998-99. That means that even geriatric millennials did not have access to internet in the early part of their lives.

Being older doesn’t mean you have to be stuck in the past. As a senior person in the industry and as a parent, I never pass up an opportunity to check in with the youth on the latest trends. This is important, as they are the future, etc.  I always try and avoid the “how do you do, fellow kids” situations. Please take the time to talk to someone whose first ultrasound was posted on Facebook. Ask them how integral internet has been to their life, and how quickly the way they use it continues to evolve. Then imagine them commuting for hours to go to a specific room to do something that they can do from their home. Imagine relocating them to an expensive city so they can be in that room from 9 to 5, leaving behind everything they love and the lifestyle their preferred location offers. I know: we all used to do that. (Cue the stories about walking 10 miles to school in the snow.) But times have changed.

Being a laggard is not tied to age, but to a mindset. The youth are speaking. Are you listening? People in departments like marketing, analytics, revenue management, content, and digital have no business being tied to a cubicle. Your middle-aged VP/CEO might not agree, but the writing is on the wall.

Where did all the good people go?

Fellow Hawaii resident Jack Johnson asked this question back in 2005. Employees are on the move, and good ones are getting harder to find. There has been a shift in the way people approach their careers. I’m sure you have heard of the “Great Resignation” looming over the workforce. Here are some sobering reads on where the job market is headed.

  1. Employees are leaving the workforce or switching jobs in droves. For many, employers’ behavior during the pandemic has played a big part in why they’re walking away.
  2. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics saw four million people quit their jobs in September, which is the highest spike on record.
  3. An HR Company called Porsinio (UK and Ireland) conducted a study in which 38% of people surveyed planned to quit their jobs within 6 to 12 months.
  4. In a Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers, 41% were considering quitting or changing professions. 

The hotel and travel business is not exempt from this trend. Being forced to work from home at the beginning of the pandemic exposed a new life/work model to many people who had been practically living at work. The realization that you are working on a laptop and doing exactly same thing you did from the office is life-changing, as we can see from the millions of people looking to change their work environment.

We know how much time, effort, and carbon emissions go into commuting! And how much more you have to pay for an expensive place that’s near the fancy office building! Free office lunch is great, but no perk can match the comfort of cold hard cash being saved on housing, gas, dry cleaning, etc.

By the way, this re-examination of how and where you want to spend your time was not limited to the job. The pandemic saw an increase in separations among married and live-in couples. People started questioning who they were living with, once they started spending more time together.

The Jerk 

Let’s talk about the office jerks. The pandemic took away much of their power to harass fellow co-workers. When working from home, the jerk doesn’t sit behind you anymore. He has to log off when the mandatory Zoom call is done. This is a true galaxy brain moment: What if I did not have to work with jerks anymore? Not even on Zoom/Slack!

RIP “The Office”

People still want to work, but they do not want to join a cult.

I was amused by the texts and emails I got in response to my personal anecdote about manufactured company culture (last month’s article). It’s always great to connect with colleagues from time spent in the church of the office.

The old formula of: “Big Team + Big Office Space = How Successful You Are” no longer works.

Both companies and employees can see that people working on laptops at home are still producing the same results – or sometimes better results – in terms of overall productivity and mental health. Cutting down the commute and “office culture” time has boosted workers’ productivity. This phenomenon was outlined in several studies way before 2020. But it took a pandemic to force companies to really test out the WFH (work from home) system.

Result: A global WFH shift has shown that, even over an extended period of time, you don’t need an office for the majority of your departments. There is a reason why almost 20% of all NYC office space is empty. 

Offices have long been the extension of CEOs’ egos, with their higher floors, corporate logo on the building, lavish spreads, fancy digs. I get it, people like bling. But here is a not so novel idea: Why not use that wealth to create a happier workforce? Instead of paying rent, give employees bonuses instead. There will still be enough money for several team gatherings throughout the year.

Rethinking Middle Management

As soon as “the office is essential” façade was lifted from the corporate world, a crucial issue was exposed in the hotel corporate structure: middle management, aka The Workforce Police.

Some CEOs have the mindset that they essentially “own” the their workers during certain hours of the week, and need to corral them into an office during those hours. This desire has added a whole layer of middle managers to watch over them and whip them into shape. This is not how the youth want to live their lives. Why are we surprised that they don’t want to work in an outdated system?

Remote work eliminates much of the need to have middle management on your payroll. Most hotel management companies have a team of people employed just to make sure other people are physically present and doing their jobs. Middle management becomes redundant with remote work, as you start attracting and hiring people who are already doing the work on their own. What a concept.

Hotel and travel companies have always struggled to find people who actually do the work instead of managing the work. That’s why we have a parade of Vice Presidents and middle managers towering over lower waged, younger employees who actually can do the work they have been hired to do.

Leaders and middle managers fighting against remote work are afraid that their job is being rendered obsolete by remote work (which it is). But I don’t know how you justify paying for offices and managers when those funds can be given to your best performing employees, the ones who do the work that drives more profit.

Remote Work Culture Wars

For any good idea, there is always pushback from the establishment. It is not just hotel brands, but also global powerhouses like Apple and Chase, who are throwing shade on remote. Ironically, one of them makes phones and laptops that enable you to work well from anywhere in the world! To quote Alanis Morrissette “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?”

It’s important that you read and memorize this: Remote does not mean that we never meet anyone in person ever again. It is not a prison sentence! People will still travel and meet up with their co-workers. It is not all or nothing. Teams will need to get together every now and then.

I see a lot of leaders posting about the “power of in person” on LinkedIn. It only takes about five minutes on their company’s Glassdoor page to learn about the bullying, back-biting, favoritism, or borderline illegal “happy hour” experiences that are taking place in their organizations.

Not all office culture is toxic. But idolizing in person as a singular/magical way to connect is overplayed. Remote work saves organizations tons of time! It is time that workers can use to… do actual work! Another plus is that people don’t have to focus so much on appearances. (I mean, do you even care about your company if you are not wearing Salvatore Ferragamo shoes to the next meeting?) Women are affected by this issue the most, and I’m guessing many of them would rather put more focus on their work and less on how they look.

When it comes to taking sides on the remote culture wars: Don’t pick the shiny embossed office mug, as it is not the holy grail. I recommend doing humble work while drinking from your well-worn cup at home to prevent your face from melting off.

More Flexibility, More Profits

Finally, let’s discuss the feature of remote culture that I think we can all get behind: the financial windfall!

Working in revenue optimization, I am not shy about admitting that I am all about the profits. It’s the reason people hire me! So, let’s talk about how remote work can help you cut costs and boost revenue in three easy steps.

  1. Save Office Rent: How much can you save by reducing or eliminating rent costs? If you’re not ready to completely let go, keep enough conference rooms to host teams when they need to meet in person. Twice yearly, you can book extra workspace and hotel rooms for larger groups. **Since you are in hotels, plan it during the slow season and get the best rates (tip of the hat to revenue managers).
  2. Hire Globally: I am not saying that you need to have your entire team based in another country, but how about people from another state? A state with lower taxes, for example? Or a lower cost of living? The possibilities are endless, so please Google “cost of living calculators by state and country” for a shock.
  3. Trim the Fat: People working remotely need less management. Eliminate management positions and spend the money on better talent.

Your profits were always there, my dear Watson. You were just spending them in the wrong places.


The office has long been the gym membership of the corporate world. It’s a place where your team is expected to show up, interact with each other, and keep up the appearance of working, even when they are not working. Commute, look busy, repeat. Look at any historical e-commerce stats: the majority of online research and shopping is happening Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Yes, during office hours! This was a fact way before the whole work from home thing hit the scene.

The pandemic revealed that office-based work can often be an excuse to spend time away from home and family. For many of us, 100% of our work can be done from literally anywhere in the world. And a lot of us would like to do it from the comfort of our own home, or even on the road. Anywhere we are happy and have WiFi, we can thrive.

As for the younger generation, they are deciding that the human cost of constructing your life around a physical office is too high. People who are good at what they do – the ones who don’t need excessive amounts of meetings or supervision – are flocking to flexibility. The A Team is working from home and running circles around people still trapped in the office. As we enter this new era of work, during a pandemic that refuses to go away, just remember one very important thing:

That meeting could have been an email.

The Post Pandemic Hard Reset

I wrote two articles during the pandemic, one around the beginning and one in the middle. It’s time to complete the trilogy.

Our industry has been given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to fundamentally change itself. How we market, price and operate hotel assets needs to evolve to meet the changing market landscape. Here are my thoughts on how to make real changes in order to embrace the tremendous opportunities that lie ahead.

Embrace the Hard Reset

The hotel and travel industry was ground zero for the impact of global lockdowns: the hard reset button on the entire industry was pressed. A hard reset on an electronic device returns it to blank factory settings. It wipes out all your history but then gives you a chance to start over. A chance to build things the right way. Imagine recovering from this hard reset without making fundamental changes to the way we run our businesses. If we fail to change and decide to embrace the “old status quo,” then we are leaving a legacy of mediocrity. Being of “mediocre talent” is one of the greatest insults, coined by Bill Murray during his SNL days. Can you really imagine coming out of this global pandemic and not changing anything?

Change has to come from the top. Do you want to be known the “Status Quo CEO”? A leader who did not make improvements, even when an unprecedented opportunity for change was handed to you? Swift recovery for leisure travel will protect the laggards…but not for very long. Those choosing not to evolve will encounter more and more problems. What happens to problems in any industry? Simple: your competition solves them and moves ahead. That’s how business evolution has worked time after time after disaster struck.

I can see the dinosaurs in the hotel business currently grazing in the fields of returning leisure travel demand, ignoring the giant meteor that has crashed in their backyard. The pandemic has changed all the rules. Let’s embrace the hard reset and do things that were previously considered impossible.

Please Let My People Book

In the spirit of the Bernie meme: “I am once again asking you to please let your guests book a room on your website.” Many hotels jumped to put up the Covid-19 super mega pop-up banner during the pandemic. Now, even as we move into recovery, many continue to flash Covid-19 warnings on their website. A hotel website is not CNN.com or The New York Times, where your guests are coming for the latest updates on the virus. Your focus needs to be on providing a clean and safe space for guests, and letting them book a room without jumping over usability hurdles.

Flashing a full screen pop-up/promo on the home page was tacky long before the pandemic. Pop-ups are not content. (Wait, didn’t someone write about usability mistakes to avoid back in 2016?) A brave friend of mine who traveled in the middle of the pandemic told me she had to close three Covid-19 pop-ups and warnings in order to see a hotel’s booking link on her phone.

I’m sure that a lot of changes have happened at your hotel since the pandemic began. That’s ok, your guests know that. Please neatly organize your content on a separate page that is easy for guests to find. With demand returning, people are once again looking for experiences, stories and engagement. But the first step to profitability is letting them book a room.

Keep It Clean

Cleaning has become front and center on a lot of hotel websites. However, please try not to sound like you never cleaned your hotel before the pandemic. This is an opportunity to share the fact that you have always always been cleaning to a higher standard than random people renting their condos/homes on the side.

This is a big marketing opportunity that big brands leave on the table. There has never been a better time to celebrate your most important and often ignored hotel department: Housekeeping. Brand or independent, you have always had this huge advantage over casual short-term rentals. A whole department that you hired with the sole purpose of cleaning and keeping your guests healthy.

I > AI

Almost all hotels have been sold on the idea of an AI-powered, supercomputer revenue management system, property management system, etc. A system so powerful that, when it is not calculating the width of newly discovered galaxies, it is keeping a keen eye on your rates, revenue, rooms and profitability. Unfortunately, as a general rule, hotel software companies tend to massively oversell and underdeliver when it comes to real world results.

Why is there so much hype in hotel software marketing? The answer is quite simple: The vendors know that hotels will not leave once they implement something. Remember the “Status Quo CEO” I mentioned earlier? Those guys never want to change anything, no matter how outdated it gets. There are connectivity fees, operations hassles, fears about downtime, and the time it always takes for the staff to learn something new. Most “mediocre talent” will stick with their usual vendors, even when they are fully aware that the product is not working very well. Therefore, all software vendors have to do is generate hype and close the deal. Then they can sit back and collect fees.

The pandemic has highlighted the fact that we still need actual humans to make things happen. Even the best hotel revenue software systems cannot work well without historical data. Remember those “unprecedented times” we just went through? Guess what? Your revenue software will not be solving an equation for a situation that has never come up before. Hey, it was barely keeping up to begin with. Here I would like to give a shout out to the revenue professionals who step in when software fails and boot up their humble Excel spreadsheets to make money for their hotels.

The pandemic is a not-so-gentle reminder that when it comes to long-term profitability and pricing strategy, the right humans (at least for now) are still useful.* When entire markets are restructuring, pre-programmed formulas will not work; the reality of machine learning is not here yet. Everything needs a rethink that goes well beyond a simple algorithm that updates your rates based on occupancy. Loyalty needs to be reimagined, as do business segments. People will have to solve these issues. A balanced investment in software and smart people is crucial to having a successful commercial department at your hotel.

*If the AI machines have taken over and are reading this article in the near future…Please don’t kill me, Hal 9000!

Understand Demand and Pricing

The pandemic gave rise to some enlightened pricing specialists. I wrote about this enlightenment phenomenon in detail in my last article. I respect the power of pricing, but the pandemic reconfirmed a hard fact:

Lower rates do not magically create demand.

Demand exists for a geo location, and you use pricing to capture it. Price alone will never magically create demand out of nothing.

Some folks insisted that a $50/night rate would make someone triple mask up and risk their long-term health to visit an island resort in the middle of the lockdown. In my opinion, people that are lowering rates and then yelling “heads in beds!” on conference calls (like they are pandemic revenue experts) should be referred for mandatory counseling.

Pricing is a powerful tool that can help you capture market share. But it has to work in tandem with your marketing and net operating income goals. There is a cost associated with every distribution channel. Yes, even your most hyped and beloved source (direct revenue) is not giving you free money. Before pricing decisions are made, you must consider the cost of getting every dollar to your bank account.

Short-term thinking makes folks treat pricing like a magical ATM machine that will spit out cash every time you punch a few keys. Using dynamic pricing and just dropping rates are not the same thing. You must protect your asset’s long-term profitability.  I wrote about pricing strategy last year in the middle of the pandemic and am glad to report that most of my predictions and recommendations played out well.

Remote Rules Everything

The pandemic has shattered the myth of mandatory in-house revenue, sales and marketing teams. Outside of Operations, team members don’t need to be on site. Other industries that have embraced remote work and hybrid setups are thriving. Imagine reducing costs, increasing productivity and curtailing employee turnover in a single swoop! The commercial/office space industry is in turmoil as more and more employees and employers realize that commuting for hours to sit in a cubicle is often a huge waste of time and money. Time that can be spent doing actual work instead of commuting. Money that can be going to your bottom line instead of rental space.

Revenue Culture Wars

One terrible excuse used by in-house team advocates is that working from an office helps ‘build a revenue culture.’ I have worked with some of the best people in the hotel revenue and marketing realm for more than two decades. They all have one thing in common: remote location friendliness. They manage or belong to a global team of high performers and deliver stellar results. I have always strongly held this belief:

The revenue culture, my dear Watson, is in the results.

When I hear people tout “revenue culture,” I roll my eyes so hard that they sometimes get stuck in the back of my head. I have personally experienced these pseudo culture types in hotel organizations. It usually starts with the CEO/President reading a Tony Hsieh or Malcom Gladwell book. Next thing you know there is a printed company culture book where employees are required to give yearly quotes next to photos of themselves having the greatest time of their lives at the office. Everyone has to say they love working for the company…surreal. Meanwhile, those same employees usually wouldn’t last long enough to be in the next book because of workplace toxicity, nepotism and misconduct. Seasoned employees jokingly pointed out that those asked to leave quotes in the “culture book” during their first year would be the first to leave. That was often true.

Talent Retirement Centers

Efficiency is higher in remote work, according to experts in every single productivity study. You may be a hotel owner/management company with hotels all over the world. Yet, when it is time to build a world class marketing and revenue team, you relocate them to…Dallas!? (Nothing against Dallas. Some of my best, most talented hotel homies live there.) Why would you limit yourself to “mediocre talent” and build a retirement center for them instead of a growth organization? Mandatory relocation does not build a team …it builds your already inflated ego. Leaders should fight the primal urge to walk around the office as the mighty powerful leader, overlooking the minions in their empire.

How about a hybrid model? Then you still get to do your walk of glory several times a year when the entire team is together. Remember, you’ve still got the corner office, baby! Some of your talent needs an office, while others thrive in their home location. You want to see revenue growth? Spend your relocation budget on performance bonuses and watch your company morale and profits soar.

Industry leaders will have to put their profits ahead of their egos and fish in a larger ocean of brilliant candidates. Why settle for average revenue and profits when (to paraphrase Brando in On the Waterfront):

“You could’ve had class. You could’ve been a contender!”

Don’t be that organization shuffling a team of Grade B and C players in and out of your organization based on whether they are willing to relocate. A happy and motivated team working remotely will run circles around you.

Stop the Entropy

No word captures the despair and hopelessness in an organization like entropy. Defined as a gradual decline into disorder, entropy is easy to spot in both large and small hotel companies. I have done several paid and voluntary audits for hotel companies throughout my career that had one single culprit for their decline: Corporate Entropy!

The pandemic further exposed entropy in many hotel companies and has accelerated their decline. Those who embrace status quo right now are extremely vulnerable. A deep pocket investor can temporarily rescue some of these organizations, but the writing is on the wall.

Ten questions for the CEO of a hotel company:

  1. Have you focused your investment and development efforts on a department other than Operations?
  2. Do you really need that many Vice Presidents?
  3. Are you still running your sales, marketing and revenue departments separately with different leaders?
  4. Are you spending on outdated revenue and marketing software that is not much better than an Excel spreadsheet?
  5. Do you still require your top-performing talent to be based in-house?
  6. Are you still wasting time on mandatory team meetings?
  7. Does your revenue team have to copy several people on an email or hold a meeting in order to make rate updates for your hotels?
  8. Does your marketing team have to copy several people on an email in order to change a website photo, create a promo, or update some content?
  9. Instead of doing actual work, are your departments just managing external vendors and juggling reports?
  10. Are you running a retirement home for corporate employees instead of a growth house for talented individuals?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be in trouble.

I used to joke that I was the Vice President of Vice Presidents during my time as a corporate employee. I have also worked at organizations where the leadership turned their smartest people into reporting monkeys, focusing on the visual formatting of their reports instead of using their spectacular insights.

Corporate Entropy is like diabetes; it is a silent killer. If you continue to ignore it, you will pay a heavy price. However, if you diagnose it in time and manage it well, it can be reversed. As with diabetes, lifestyle changes are crucial to success. You need to form healthier corporate habits.

Discovery of entropy in your organization is not a death sentence. It’s a wake-up call. An excuse to overhaul stagnant corporate practices has literally fallen in every CEO/President/VP’s lap. Good luck. We are all counting on you.

Stop Working With Jerks

Hotels are a capital-intensive business. With high capital comes a high chance of running into jerks. Hotels are definitely a magnet for inflated egos. Jerks are not always high net worth individuals…but we all run into jerks at some point in our careers.

Workplace jerks hurt your health in so many ways. From raising your blood pressure, to weakening your immune system, to making you more susceptible to an array of maladies both physical and mental. Also, the jerk condition is highly contagious and you might unknowingly bring it back to your personal life! Even more scary: dealing with jerks is harming your career by distracting you from doing what you do best. I’m trying hard not to sound like a life wellness coach here, but there is a heavy price to pay when you work with jerks.

Conversely, the benefits of working with good people go beyond anything yoga, Peloton or SoulCycle can do for your overall health. If you are experiencing a career reset during this time: Why not reset your standards on the kind of people you are willing to work with every day?

The pandemic forced many of us to be away from the office. Taking this time to reevaluate your life and work goals is not a bad exercise. If you return to the workplace, make a valiant effort to avoid joining or rejoining toxic environments. Reminder: We have limited time on this planet.

The past 18 months have solidified my relationships with the nice people in the hotel and travel business. I have already lost my tolerance for jerks in the workplace and refuse to work with them. Life is not a romantic comedy where you can convert a brilliant jerk into a loving hero, who was essentially a good guy all along. Jerks don’t change; they are about that jerk life. Don’t believe me? Trust Reed Hastings on this one. You spent a lot of time on his 250+ billion dollar platform during the pandemic:

“Do not tolerate brilliant jerks. The cost to teamwork is too high.”
– Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix

Last year exposed the fragility of life. Don’t waste your time with jerks who are masquerading as brilliant industry saviors. There are so many good good people out of work right now. There has never been a better time to build your nice-people-dream-team hotel company.

Say Goodbye to TripAdvisor Spending

The pandemic accelerated the inevitable decline of one of the most successful travel review websites in the world. I wrote about this massive change coming to the review business back in April of 2019. Businesses built on Google cannot survive once Google decides to do exactly what you do…only better.

TripAdvisor had a chance to be great but, like most corporations, it went for greed. All that easy ad revenue from hotels was too much to pass up. Their basic hotel listing (a simple link to your hotel website) used to cost small hotels $15,000 to $20,000 per year! And hotels were paying this money because they feared that they would lose their rankings. They could see it happening all around them even though it was always blamed on the magical “algorithm.”

Today, TripAdvisor is offering the very same link to small hotels for $350/month. You don’t want contracts? No problem! Pay as you go. The simple directory link from the before-times was marked up 20X for only one reason: to build their cash reserves. Let’s not forget this fact when this same old directory listing starts to go up in price as travel sector recovery solidifies.

As Google My Business continues its march to become the most relevant review website in the world, you should shift your focus to your business listing. That’s where your guests are leaving and reading reviews. Paying $20,000 for a linkback from a review website will soon be looked back on as a silly thing hotels used to do when they didn’t know any better.

Recently TripAdvisor launched “TripAdvisor Plus,” a travel subscription for guests that will cost $99 a year and get people discounts on hotel rooms. It’s another product created to boost their own revenue that does nothing for hotel owners. Remember kids, these guests were already going to come to your hotel. Now they will just come in at a lower rate. So, we are building loyalty for TripAdvisor using our hotel assets.

Right now TripAdvisor sits on a mountain of cash, thanks to the hotel industry. They will be fine and will not be going away anytime soon. Hotels, on the other hand, need to stop spending their money on outdated platforms.

Communicate Better

Most of the big box hotel brands struggled to effectively communicate with guests during the pandemic. Why are brands finding it so hard to to talk to human beings?

Over the last year, Hilton Hotels has sent me an email every month offering me a $119 rate in Orlando. Now that recovery has begun, the rate has gone up to $249, but it’s still the same email. I wonder how I got on the Orlando email train with Hilton! I am not the lead guy in the Book of Mormon musical.

Meanwhile, Marriott’s Bonvoy has been telling me that I must explore the wanderlust they know is, and I quote:

“eating me inside.”

Coming out of the pandemic, do we really have to talk to people like this? A multimillion-dollar marketing budget, thousands of meetings, and this is the best they can come up with?

No conversation about hotel communications and CRM can be complete without referring to my perennial favorite: Melia Hotels. They inspired my hotel CRM guide and also made it into my first pandemic article by sending me a 45% off promo email the week the whole world was shutting down! Guess what? They read my blog, completely transformed their online strategy, and sent me a thank you basket….just kidding! They sent me one or two emails every month offering me the usual 25% to 45% off every single time. What really caught my attention was this:


Three hits right out of the park:

  1. Embedded autoplay video
  2. Bad grammar, spelling and content breaks
  3. Amateur photoshopped image of lady walking on water

The pandemic (so far) has killed around 3.93 million people worldwide. How does this line pass any marketing meeting, even in the most entropic organization:

“Your house, so happy that you are not there.”
– Melia Hotels

However, not all is morbid on the communication front. One of the best emails I have seen during the pandemic did not come from a hotel brand, but from one of the fastest-growing OTAs in the world: Airbnb. It is possible to talk to people as if they were people.

In this simple email, Airbnb communicates some important points with finesse and empathy. They have non-sarcastically hit it out of the park in three ways:

  1. Empowering Hosts: Without hosts, there is no revenue. Offering them communication options was a great idea. When was the last time a hotel brand asked you what kind of marketing content you wanted to receive, and how you wanted to receive it?
  2. Providing Useful Content: 40% to 50% off discount emails are not communication. They are hotels shouting on a bullhorn to their entire database. This message is nicely targeted and provides information the hosts need.
  3. Using an Effective Layout: Clear calls to action, clear headline, personal and emphatic tone.

Hotels, please embrace sympathetic marketing. You can be edgy and creative, but you don’t have to be insensitive.


A spectacular recovery is in progress. I am extremely happy to have wasted zero hours on recovery speculation or creation of a pandemic recovery guide. We have a massive challenge ahead of us, no question. The one resource that is going to be more crucial than ever is good people. Your success will depend on who you choose to have on your team as demand fully returns to a hotel market near you.

Finally, one last reminder.

Pandemics come and go. WuTang is forever!


RIP BookingSuite: Protecting Your Hotel’s Digital Assets

On November 30th of this year, Booking/Priceline is shutting down its BookingSuite product, likely affecting hundreds of hotels worldwide. In short, they will stop running websites, booking engines, and revenue management software for their hotel clients. Even with the volume of hotels they amassed on their platform, the headache is clearly not worth it to them anymore. Sadly, they timed the shutdown during the toughest year on record for the hotel and travel industry. In addition to dealing with the pandemic, hotels on their platform now need to gather their digital assets and go vendor hunting. That’s not an easy task even in the best of times.

This is not the first or last time a crisis like this has hit our industry. In fact, it’s a lot like the hospitality industry’s version of Groundhog Day (Palm Springs for younger readers). The free/cheap/rentable/leased hotel website trap has sprung and once again hundreds of hotels are trapped. Why is it so hard for us to learn from history? If only someone were writing about digital asset management for hotels, warning us about a likely collapse of their digital assets platform?

BookingSuite’s demise in the middle of a global pandemic is yet another opportunity for hotels to learn that software companies are not their friends. Their core focus is their own balance sheet and profits. Concern for the long-term profitability of your hotel asset lies with you alone. The cheapest option will almost always end up costing you more in the end.

Here are some renewed thoughts on owning, managing and investing in your digital assets and revenue.

Play It for Me One More Time

History repeats itself, sometimes very quickly. Let’s take a quick look back at the BookingSuite origin story.

It starts like all hotel software disaster stories… with an acquisition. Booking.com acquired Buuteeq, a company peddling $150-$500/month websites to hotels and small inns. The platform was designed to churn out cheap, quick websites using templates and as little effort as possible. The operative word was cheap, and it took off in an industry that is always reluctant to make digital investments.

As with any typical hotel tech startup, funding was deployed on heavy sales and marketing, including paid speaking slots at hospitality conferences. “It’s cheap and I don’t have to do any work? Sign me up!” is how the industry responded. Hundreds upon hundreds of hotels jumped on the opportunity to rent their “most profitable channel” for a few hundred dollars a month.

Then one morning, hotels woke up to find that their most profitable channel was now a part of Booking.com (the word’s biggest Online Travel Agency)… you know, the guys they thought they were battling by spending a few hundred dollars on their Buuteeq websites and marketing plans.

At that point everyone came to their senses and started planning how they would manage their own digital assets, right? Nope. Status quo prevailed and people forgot.

A few years later in 2020, the alarm clock beeps at 6am, and I Got You, Babe starts playing on the radio…again. And I am writing yet another article on the importance of owning your digital assets.

Making a Bigger Boat

BookingSuite was run by some of the smartest people in the travel business. The Priceline Inc. empire knows a thing or two about making money. They quickly capitalized on the fact that hotels are always reluctant to spend on digital assets. With a marketing budget and knowledge base infinitely bigger than Buuteeq’s, Booking.com did what it knows to do: scale quickly and make more money! To take things to another level, they were going to need a bigger boat.

So, they expanded the product line by adding a booking engine (aka booking button) and revenue management software (which was made possible by their acquisition of a company named Price Match, based out of Paris). And just like that, a façade of “direct revenue channel presence” could be achieved cheaply. Owners and managers scratched it off their to-do lists and in one swoop migrated everything over.

Next, BookingSuite got rid of those pesky monthly retainers and switched to a straight-up 10% commission model. So get this: A typical hotel on the BookingSuite platform was already paying them a 10-15% commission on inventory sold on Booking.com. Now, in addition to that, the hotels started paying them a 10% commish on every room sold on their own hotel website! A racket so deep, it would make Tony Soprano blush.

I have mentioned this a lot in my previous articles, but I have to say it again so please take note: Booking.com is really, really good at making money. I wish hotels would watch and learn to operate with the same passion for revenue.

Titanic, Meet Iceberg

There were clear warning signs. This iceberg in the open waters was spotted by yours truly back when Booking took over Buuteeq and got into the hotel digital asset game. None of their acquisitions are designed to help hotels make more money. The goal for them has always been to gain insights and maximize their own profits.

Looking back, you can clearly see the warning shot they fired when they shut down online marketing services back in 2017. The smart folks at BookingSuite very quickly figured out that offering online marketing services for hotels was not worth their time. So, in the peak of the travel boom in 2017, they sent an email announcing their OG “difficult decision” of shutting down their SEM (Google AdWords) services.

They wanted to shift focus to activities where they could make money from you without actually doing too much work. Here is the email they sent back in the day.

Three years later, they pulled the plug on the whole BookingSuite program. No surprise.

Another Day, Another Difficult Decision

Fast forward to 2020, when another “difficult decision” email strikes inboxes across the globe. This time they are removing the trifecta of digital services: your hotel website, booking engine and revenue management software. If your hotel website and/or booking engine and/or revenue management system was with BookingSuite…then I think the “decision” part was made by them, but the “difficult” part is 100% your problem now.

Years of renting cheap digital assets and software has caught up with the industry, again. Hundreds of hotels are scrambling for support in the middle of the pandemic. Many are left with a zip file of their website, content, and photos (aka, their most profitable channel). If you have been reading my articles for a while, you know that owning your biggest digital asset is something I am very passionate about. Yet even in 2020, hotels are still not knowledgeable: they choose to be in the dark.

Shady agencies touting the gospel of direct revenue are also helping to make sure that the hotels working with them stay trapped in website content management system (CMS) dependency. Most agencies outsource all their work (eg, to India or Colombia), where your hotel website is managed in a digital sweatshop. Of course, you are assigned an overworked “account manager” here in the US who is simply forwarding emails all day to you and dozens of hotels just like you. I actually do not like the smell of cheap, generic strategy in the morning.

As these agencies grow, they super-optimize their offering and everything starts to look the same. This is the biggest reason we have a plague of sameness across the hundreds of design-heavy, content-free hotel websites; the same “book direct and save” Google Ads; the same social media posts; the same 50% off email newsletters. Yes, those drone videos, hyperbolic adjectives in content, and cliché photography all come from the same place.

Why would you choose to be an independent hotel if you want to use cookie cutter digital assets and strategy? Hotel brands have already achieved this level of mass production. Big brand hotels have dedicated vendors for conformity, from websites to toilet paper. Why masquerade as an independent hotel when everything you do is in the style of a brand hotel? Maybe it’s time to make a switch to digital independence.

A Brief Guide to Avoiding Worst Case Scenarios

You can prevent yourself from experiencing a vendor-induced disaster. You don’t have to let the next big industry acquisition destroy your digital assets. Here is a list of things you can protect today:

  1. Domain: This is the cheapest and simplest digital asset to always have registered in your name. Maintain ownership via a dedicated email address, phone number and address. Also, don’t be cheap; renew domains for 10+ years whenever you can. Having rescued several domains for hotels during acquisitions, I am here to tell you: do not take domain ownership lightly. I have seen/experienced some awful scenarios… I might write a horror series about it one day.
  2. Website: Never rent a website. That super low monthly fee or installment is going to come back one day and bite you. A proprietary content management system that is exclusive to your design or marketing agency is another red flag. And before you get caught up in the sales pitch, remember: If you are not using an open source platform like WordPress, you are going to eventually regret that decision. Don’t end up like Sisyphus, cursed to start from scratch time and time again. Please read this article every time someone tries to scare you out of using an open source CMS like WordPress. Remember, any design and any kind of website can be powered by WordPress, so you are free to pick any designer and any marketing agency you like. Just let them know you prefer to own your digital assets. If they protest…find another agency.
  3. Revenue Management Software: Many RMS systems claim to be built on magical, AI-powered, Machine Learning software. I don’t expect you build one for yourself using open source software. So, short of getting a team of engineers and data scientists, how can you protect yourself? The answer lies in something you provide to the RMS system every day so it can do its job: Data. No matter how established you think your vendor is, remember that they are one acquisition away from disappearing on you. As a small hotel, you can back up all your data using a simple service like Office 365. Larger management companies must invest in something more complicated and back up everything on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. RMS systems cannot do anything without your data, but please don’t rely on them to keep it safe for you. Your vendor might love you today, but do you think it will last forever? As Outkast aptly pointed out back in 2000:

    “I hope we feel like this forever
    Forever, forever, ever, forever, ever?”

  4. Hotel Booking Engine: As with the RMS, I’m not expecting you to hire a team of developers and code writers to make you an online shopping cart. This is a service you will have to buy. But you still need to look after your data. The most useful data export from a booking engine or shopping cart is your e-commerce conversion data. This info ties directly into analytics data from your other crucial digital asset, your website. Do not leave your historical data in the hands of a hotel marketing agency/vendor. I have been a Google Analytics evangelist for as long as I have been in this business. Do not let agencies push you into using expensive analytics programs like Adobe Site Catalyst (Omniture, for old people like me). Open a Google Analytics account that is owned by you and is 100% integrated into your booking engine to retain all of your e-commerce conversion data. That is your gold mine to hold onto when someone decides to pull the plug on you. Software is great; data is greater. If your vendor pulls the rug out from under your feet, you may fall hard… but you can retain your data and some dignity before you start with a new vendor.
  5. Marketing Campaigns: You’ve probably figured out what I’m going to say already: make sure you own your hotel marketing campaign. Paid search marketing is a powerful tool, but you must own the relationship with Google via your own corporate, hotel, or personal credit card. Set up a generic Gmail address that you control and make sure your vendor builds out the campaign for you using that address. Then, if your vendor ever makes the difficult decision to stop working with you, you can walk away with your own campaigns, which you have been paying for for years.

A Few Good Agencies

Yes, there are still a few good agencies and software vendors that are passionate about what they do. They are not looking to grow fast so they can sell themselves to a conglomerate. They are run by owners who are directly involved in working with you, and they are willing to help you own, run and manage effective websites built on open source platforms. These are the people who have cut back their retainers during the pandemic while continuing to support their clients at the same level of service. If you do decide to leave them at any stage, it is not a disaster. They won’t leave you with nothing but a zip file. If they are in it for the long haul, they are more interested in maintaining their integrity and reputation.

Now more than ever, marketing and digital innovation will be ushered in by smaller, smarter and leaner teams. Innovation requires hard work hard and commitment. The few good ones are hard to find, so do your research and ask questions. Clue: The larger they are, the more likely they are to cash out at the first opportunity to sell their business.


The bad habit of renting digital assets has already cost the hotel and lodging sector a lot of time and revenue. Restarting from scratch is a hard option, especially when it comes to your hotel’s digital presence. Your digital assets deserve the same respect as your physical assets. The alternative is to repeatedly to pay the heavy price of losing revenue and momentum every time you bounce from one low-cost vendor to another. This latest disaster for hotels might be caused by Booking.com, but hotels that chose to rent their digital assets have 100% responsibility here. When you sign up for something that is too good to be true, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t work out in the long run. My goal here is to highlight a simple fact, over and over and over: Please invest in owning your digital assets and marketing campaigns. Then work with the right people and watch your revenue grow. Vendors will come and go, but your momentum and your profits should always stay with you.

Pandemic Pricing Principles for Hotels

Pandemic Pricing For Hotels

This is my second pandemic-themed article, following the last magnum opus on Hotel Marketing and Revenue Management in the Time of Pandemic. I was definitely hoping for things to be better by now. I still have a lot of optimism. However, for now, the hospitality and travel industry must continue to undergo a massive overhaul in how we think about and operate almost every single department. Owners, employees, brands and investors will continue to take a direct hit from an event that we thought was only possible in disaster movies. But there are things we can do to mitigate our losses.

Pricing needs your attention today, almost as much as everything else you are doing to get your hotel asset ready to reopen and operate safely. Although I’ve never seen a situation exactly like this one, I know how to observe market trends and adjust accordingly. I have very clear ideas on how to weather this disruption and be positioned for success in the future.

Inspired by Biggie’s commandments, I have written you a pandemic pricing manual of sorts. You know, ‘a step by step booklet, to get your hotel revenue game on track, not your profits pushed back’. Ok, I will stop trying to rhyme! Let’s dive into some of my pandemic pricing principals.

Avoid the Speculation Olympics

Opinions can be made to look like facts when you add professional looking graphs and charts, plus a healthy dose of PR. I am not talking about information on the virus… I am talking about the new sport many industry experts love to participate in: Travel Recovery Speculation.

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics might have been postponed, but the 2020 Hotel Recovery Speculation Olympics are going strong. I have received and declined my fair share of invites to get on a virtual meeting to speculate about recovery timelines. How can we speculate when everything is so fluid?

Historical data from past disasters does not help much, as we have never experienced anything like this situation before. Companies selling data and software are obviously panicking. Why would a hotel pay for irrelevant historical and/or forecasting data? This pandemic is nothing like 9-11 or the 2008 global financial crisis. You can amuse yourself by overlaying recovery graphs and timelines from past disasters and then trying to make a prediction. Just don’t base your strategy on that. Forcing unrelated data to fit your narrative is about as effective as tasseography.

Can’t fight the urge to speculate? How about we speculate on these issues instead:

  • The pandemic has brutally exposed payroll inefficiencies in revenue management and marketing departments across both independent and brand hotels. How many CROs, SVPs, VPs, Directors and Managers does it really take to pick the right rates for your hotel/portfolio?
  • Is your marketing team actually producing any marketing or are they just juggling vendors? What services are you still paying for, and why?
  • Can your revenue team call rates without usable historical data, purely based on market conditions?
  • Does your revenue team need to be on property anymore?

Get to a white board and start coming up with ideas on how to run your hotel leaner than ever before. Let your imagination run wild! This is a much better use of your time.

Dynamic Pricing or Bust

Seasonal and historical rate charts are now DOA. The same applies to any rates you might have historically quoted for groups and meetings. That piece of business is not coming back for a little while. As one of my good industry friends in NYC said to me the other day, in a strong NY accent of course:

“Groups and Meetings business? In this economy!? Fuggedaboutit!”

Dad jokes aside, the sudden demise of travel demand on a global scale is an opportunity for you to switch to dynamic pricing if you were not already doing so. Here are some things to consider when setting rates in the current market:

  • Survival Needs: How much revenue does your asset need to survive? The keyword here is survive. Don’t forget to account for any  changes in fixed costs, debt, payroll, insurance, interest payments, etc. It’s hard to believe, but there are still owners who do not know the actual cost of an unsold room at their hotel. Setting survival goals is step one in pricing yourself out of this disaster.
  • Competitor Pricing: With the global hotel market in flux, you need a new approach to researching the competition. You can still look at their rates, but you don’t know what your competitors’ survival needs are. If you are seeing strange pricing around you, you don’t have to follow their lead. Love your hotel product, but check yourself before pricing yourself out of the market.
  • Supply and Demand: Most major travel destinations are flooded with supply and have little demand. The development pipeline for new hotels in the US was pretty robust when the year started. Are any new hotels opening in your market soon? If so, they are going to be competing for your market share using a fresher product. Are any hotels temporarily shutting down? You can price adjust to capture demand that is not being met by others.
  • External Factors: These are X factors that can quickly change everything for your asset and location. Examples include state regulations, border closures, airline capacity restrictions, vaccine updates, job market changes, unemployment numbers, etc. In short, they are things outside your control that directly impact your demand and your rates. Pricing dynamically forces you to monitor these factors when setting rates, giving you an edge over your competition. There is no magical AI-powered revenue management software that can calculate X-factor values and help you price. Get ready to put in the hours and grab that extra cup of coffee (or tea), as you are going to need it.

Dynamic pricing is a very old school approach. It is not a new concept or just a marketing tagline that can be used to sell software or services. Until the price tag was invented in the 1870s, pricing for almost everything was completely dynamic. If you don’t know… now you know.

Revenues vs Feelings

Here is a very important lesson I learned while working for the top hotel private equity fund in the world:

You cannot deposit your feelings into a bank account. Banks only accept cash.

The Bank of Feelings is an imaginary entity that exists in our head. Focusing on actual revenue numbers instead of feelings has had a tremendous positive effect on my career. Numbers and reality are your friends when it comes to pricing decisions. Don’t let your ego and self-worth get entangled with your pricing strategy.

Here are two pricing ideologies that the pandemic is rendering obsolete:

1. A lower rate is going to attract a certain type of ‘unsavory’ guest to my establishment.

Reality check: The pandemic has cost the US 20.6 million jobs since mid-March, resulting in an unemployment rate of 14.7%. These are numbers we have not seen since the Great Depression (source: Pew, US.DOL). There is a very good chance that the same people who paid a high rate at your hotel in January 2020 are now under- or unemployed. Are the same people now unsavory because they have fallen off a cliff and are working their way back up? Why would you not reach out to get them back at a lower rate for now? It’s the same people, just with a smaller wallet.

Everyone is looking for a deal right now and being cautious with their money. This is even more relevant for independent/boutique hotels that spent millions ‘building a brand and a following.’ Give people a chance to experience your product for the first time or as a returning guest, and accept some money to help you pay your bills. That’s how global recovery starts…one dollar at a time.

2. If I lower my rates now, it will take years to build up my ADR/rate again.

Reality check: Thanks to the pandemic, this is simply not true anymore. This year, the world economy fell apart. In addition, people are still severely restricted as to where they can travel. Your dynamic pricing adjustments should reflect that reality. When the pent-up demand returns, simply pull up your rates up in tandem. Remember, airlines have never hesitated to heavily fluctuate rates based on market demand. Why can’t hotels do it too? Stop using rate recovery charts from past disasters and chart your own path for recovery.

A notable exception to everything I mentioned above is the type of property I like to call a “trophy asset.” These owners don’t care about reality or numbers. They demand a high ADR number so they can brag about it over a round of golf. For everyone else, please follow my simple rule:

“Catch revenue, not feelings.”
– Vikram Singh, 2020

Make a Call

As a hotel owner/investor/manager, this is the time to ask yourself a very simple question: Is your goal to help your asset recover from this pandemic and make money? If you answered yes, then the key is not to overanalyze to the point of decision paralysis. Please make a call and play the market. It is better to make a mistake than stay paralyzed in fear of the rates not working.

Wandering in the middle of the road (picking a rate “in the middle” of what you’re seeing in your market), assuming that demand will just land in your lap, is a bad idea for pricing and life in general. Mr. Miyagi taught us this very important lesson in the Karate Kid all the way back in 1984. Words to live by when pricing in the pandemic:

“Walk right side, safe. Walk left side, safe. Walk middle … sooner or later you get squish like grape.”

– Mr. Miyagi, Karate Kid (1984)

When historical metrics are no longer applicable, you have to pick a direction based on your product, location and basic survival needs. If you make an incorrect call, don’t panic! It takes just a few clicks to make adjustments and you get right back on your pricing horse. Making a call right or left is better than blindly following the market in the middle. Don’t get squished!

Pricing Enlightenment

What is more annoying than seeing “unprecedented times” and “the new normal” in our daily emails and conversations? For me, it is people pretending to be instant experts in pandemic pricing. Working with hotels during a previous disaster (9-11, Global Financial Crisis, etc.) does not automatically qualify you to solve this one.

This is my first (and hopefully last) Global Pandemic. Even after decades in the revenue/marketing game, I have had to rework and relearn a lot! You simply cannot skip the hard work and jump straight into a clairvoyant state, which I like to call “Pricing Enlightenment.”

Pricing Enlightenment:
When you pick rates based on your feelings, without considering current market conditions.

I’ve talked with many hotel owners who are convinced that their asset can fetch a higher rate than current reality suggests. On the flip side are the low ballers who refuse to yield their rates upward, even when the business picks up. Being dynamic with rates is the right path forward, but it does involve work and commitment.

Don’t Promo the Pandemic

Please resist the temptation to reduce your entire pandemic recovery strategy to a discount code! Promo-ing the pandemic is one of the worst long-term strategic mistakes you can make. Flash sales and massive discounting reads “we have officially run out of ideas” for an asset/brand. This strategy revolves around the magical thinking that a massive rate promo will create new demand in your market.

Demand generation is about aligning your marketing and sales efforts. Instead of a a fire sale promo code, offer a really good reopening-fall-winter rate for your asset. Focus on the value of your product instead of giving 50% off to anyone clicking on an email. Instead of discount/promo codes, offer fair rates. No games. Just full transparency about the fact that you really appreciate their business.

Almost every week since the pandemic started, I have received a “40% to 50% off best available rate” email from a hotel or brand. Not to bring up my friends at Melia Hotels again, but they have been hitting me with a discount deal every two weeks! I received a 50% flash sale email (see below) just as I was writing this post! I heard the opening theme from Curb Your Enthusiasm playing in my head. Reminder: This is after I wrote a massive Hotel CRM Guide inspired by one full year of emails from them.

If discounting your rates by 40-50% created market demand during a pandemic, hotels would all be sitting at 80-90% occupancy right now. Instead, you need to showcase your product value. What are you offering? Is it the right price? How are you better than your competition? Ask these simple questions before clicking Send on your campaigns. In short, market share cannot be captured with lazy marketing anymore. You will have to work harder and smarter than everyone else out there.

Stop OTA Warfare

In my last article, I quoted myself as saying: “Recovery will happen from ALL channels.” It only took about a week for another anti-OTA thought piece to appear, followed by another.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in a simulation. With hotel occupancy worldwide sitting at historic low % points, what does a battle cry against OTAs achieve for hotels at this point? Expedia came out with a $275 million partner recovery program. Around $250 million of that will be in the form of marketing credits, followed by a temporary reduction in commission for lodging partners. Some experts spun this as a bad idea. I saw a slew of articles along the lines of “OMG it’s just like 9-11” being recirculated by industry press.

It baffles me when anyone uses 9-11 to scare you about recovery from the pandemic. Why would you decide not to work with a global hotel distribution powerhouse while your asset is sitting at under 10% or 20% occupancy? Booking and Expedia are suffering too and have been hit with with massive layoffs. Meanwhile, if they are sending you some business…what’s the problem? Nothing is free, including direct revenue everyone loves to talk about.

I have observed that it is very easy to be a hardcore “book direct” revolutionary with other people’s money and investment. The fact remains that owners, employees and investors need revenue from any and all sources right now. I have been extremely fortunate to be working with owners who understand this and are allowing their assets to recover instead of grandstanding about parity and commissions. Other people are leaving money on the table. Which works for me – I take that money and deposit it into my clients’ bank accounts.


Nothing lasts forever, with the notable exception of Wu Tang. You can read 100 articles a day about recovery and about 100 more about the end of the world. But instead of going on an emotional roller coaster, I recommend that you focus on what’s left of 2020 and then start looking at your 2021-22 revenue strategy.

I recommend a 100% back to basics approach for best results. The immediate goal should be staying alive and healthy (for both you and the asset). It is an excellent time to collaborate with all channels to make some revenue. There are no perfect answers, but you have to take action. Using historical pricing or just following others in your market is not an option. It’s okay to make a mistake and then recalibrate. But you have to roll up your sleeves and jump in right away. Whatever you do… don’t throw away your shot!

Hotel Marketing and Revenue Management in the Time of Pandemic

Hotel Revenue Management the time of pandemic

As I write my first article during a global pandemic, my title inspiration comes from the Columbian literary superstar, Gabriel García Márquez. COVID-19 has rapidly decimated the industry I have worked in for over 20 years. There have been hardships before, but this one seems darker and more insidious than anything we have seen before. Nobody knows exactly what lies ahead, but the current reality is that thousands of our hospitality industry colleagues – many in my own personal network – have lost their livelihood or taken huge cutbacks in compensation and benefits.

March was a month filled with bad news that was staggered by geo-location, as my client base lies across varied geographies and asset types. The last of the hotel assets in my portfolio closed down on April 1. As most business comes to a grinding halt with everyone in quarantine, it has become a time for deep reflection and reconnection. I have had the chance to speak with many of my industry friends who are reeling from the effects.

With the world in quarantine, I have been surprised to see many hospitality vendors already posting their “recovery and marketing guides,” as if this is a just another minor hiccup and we are weeks/months away from business as usual. It is simply irresponsible to package a pandemic into a how-to guide. One of my close friends, industry legend Martin Soler, coined a term for this: vendsplaining.*

Vendsplaining (noun): When a hotel marketing/software vendor takes a complex problem – with specific implications for each individual client – and reduces it to a simplified “issue” that their one-size-fits-all proprietary guide or tool can solve. 

That term quickly inspired me to come up with my own term: vendcast.**

Vendcast (noun): A webcast sponsored by one or more hotel marketing vendors that addresses problems faced by hotels by offering regional or generalized strategies and tools.

* I have obtained Martin’s permission to use this word at every given opportunity.

**At the time of writing this, there are about seven vendcasts in progress, in which the vendors are vendsplaining how to beat the pandemic with a perfect plan/guide.

There is a ton of speculation on recovery timelines. I will not be doing that in this article, in case that is what you were looking for. But the one thing everyone can agree on is that a fundamental shift is inevitable in the way we operate hotels, restaurants, and airlines and plan our travel. This article is a summation of my thoughts on how things can and should change. Many of these thoughts arose from time I spent on calls with travel industry friends, ranging from Jedi masters, asset managers, investors, clients, and…vendors who don’t vendsplain (yes, they do exist!). I am focusing on the two areas of the travel business in which I have been professionally engaged for two decades: Revenue Optimization and Marketing.

There Will Be Blood

First things first. Nobody is coming out of this unscathed. From a remote four-room inn to the 650-room big box brand hotel across from the convention center in a major city, every property will be affected. I have seen articles from some so-called experts calling this “a swing of the pendulum.” That’s incorrect, as this is more a swing of the axe. No matter what the recovery timetable ends up being in the end…people and corporations across the globe are recognizing inefficiencies in how they conducted business before the global shutdown.

Here are some of the major travel industry players taking a direct hit:

In summary, there is no AI-powered pricing software, content strategy, or digital marketing ad campaign that can help hotels recover revenue quickly. Acceptance of loss has to be the first step in what looks to be a slow recovery. Anyone offering a swift hack to get everything back to business as usual should be avoided, like the coronavirus itself.

Hotel Revenue Management: What’s Next?

Some revenue optimization basics are always prudent, but all strategies need be tailored to your location, as well as regional and global financial trends. Pricing is crucial but your product still has to deliver corresponding value. Amenities like breakfast, upgrades, etc. will be more relevant than ever. So letʻs not forget the basics: your databases, room types, distribution mix, and most of all your offering all impact your profitability. What I have outlined below are some broader changes that may be coming into play over the next several months and years.

The Ides of March

2019, which now seems like so many years ago, was a good year for most hotels worldwide. To quote Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Why? Because the RevPar growth was already slowing down following the recovery from our last financial meltdown in 2008.

The warning signs pointing toward the end of boom cycle for travel were already there. In addition to it being an election year in the US, recession was already on the lips of many finance world soothsayers, warning us of imminent decline at the end of a growth cycle.

Asset managers, owners and operators worldwide were chasing ADR growth for 2019, as it was the only way to increase profits. But that was easier said than done. Why?

  • New demand in the market was nicely met by all the new hotels going online. This made it harder for the established hotels to pull in big ADR numbers.
  • Rate of inflation was higher than the ADR growth, which in simple terms means “it got more expensive to run a hotel.” Rising costs can eat into your profits real quick, and that is where the majority of hotels were losing money. Payroll expenses kept going up.

The general forecast for 2020 from top industry sources like STR and Phocuswright was never super rosy to begin with. A major correction in rates was already under way before the pandemic in markets like Seattle, Houston, Boston, etc. Markets were dealing with their own issues. Case in point: San Francisco was reeling from negative press, interactive street poop maps, and loss of major conventions (Oracle Open World) due to high ADR’s and “poor street conditions.”

We have a tendency to look back at the “good old days.” I want to make sure we stay cognizant of the fact that signs of the slowdown were everywhere…we were at the end of the 10-year growth cycle. But nobody expected 2020 to fall off the cliff like it did.

When people eventually start traveling again, the comeback will be slow and painful for a lot of hotels. As a revenue optimization professional, I foresee some long hours ahead on the road to recovery. As I look into the future, talk with my colleagues and make notes on my trusted whiteboard, here are some things I can see changing for our industry.

Goodbye, Non-Refundable Rates

You read that right. I think it is time to say goodbye to this incredibly tempting rate type, which the industry embraced during the good times. As a guest, nothing is more annoying than realizing after a change of plans (for a variety of valid reasons) that you booked a great deal at a hotel you are not going to visit anymore. Airlines are the kings of non-refundable fares; like everything else in revenue management that trickles down from airlines to hotels, we embraced it and made it a part of our industry. Check out the horrible press that Airbnb received for their complicated and confusing refund policies.

It is time for both independent and brand hotels to step away from this rate type and let people book with confidence. Taking people hostage with terms and conditions seems out of place in the world we are about to inherit. Recovery starts with flexibility and, yes, you can quote me:

“Recovery starts with flexibility.”

– Vikram Singh

We simply cannot take people’s wallets hostage anymore. A crisis like this presents the perfect opportunity to embrace flexibility and use it to build “brand loyalty,” something we all love to talk about but very few know how to transform into revenue.

Ending Direct Revenue Mania

This point will soon be published as its own lengthy article. It was slated to be my next topic before the outbreak. However, here is a very basic TLDR summary:

Over the past few years, there has been a certain fanaticism about Direct Revenue. Software and marketing vendors have made it their tag line. It has been cast as the holiest and purest of all revenue channels. The term “most profitable channel” has been used ad nauseam. I strongly believe that we need to make a slight correction here. Maybe chill out with the direct hyperbole, maybe do some meditation and yoga to relax?

The recovery, when it happens, will be one of the worst times to get picky about distribution costs and wage wars on your distribution partners. We already know that a massive correction is about to happen to hotels and their distribution mixes. Direct channel is and always will be important, nobody is arguing that but it is not free money. There is cost associated with it and it has its limitations when it comes to generating the volume of revenue it takes to make a profit.

Vendors with “I Love Direct” and “Direct or Die” facial tattoos will need to get off their high horses and walk a few miles to cool off. Let’s go back to the 80’s when Frankie say relax. Remember,  direct revenue is not free money. The industry needs to come to terms with the costs that are associated with all channels. We cannot afford to tilt at windmills anymore. (It’s also a great time to read/reread El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.) Obsession over an idea, no matter how noble, never ends well. You can quote me on this:

“Recovery will happen from all channels.”

– Vikram Singh

The Distribution Remix

Keeping in mind the unique recovery challenges associated with this pandemic, let’s take a brief look into the future. Groups and accounts associated with large meetings and conventions will likely take the longest time to come back. Corporate travel, which is traditionally the first one to bounce back, will also take more time based on the massive number of furloughs and layoffs. Hiring back always takes longer than taking an axe to the workforce.

Local drive markets will see the first signs of recovery. Eventually, the world will slowly but surely return to air travel, eager to meet family, friends and colleagues, and having forgotten about dirty airplanes, liquid bans, squalid airports, and the joys of TSA screenings. Maybe they will even cram themselves like sardines into basic economy fares to travel the globe. However, for the US market, incentivized in-state traffic will usher in the recovery, followed later by national and then international traffic.

For all your revenue management initiatives, remember that there has never been a more important time to be nice to your neighbors. I want you to read this with the Mister Rogers intro theme playing in your head.

The End of Resort Fees

I don’t think any two words have invoked a more venomous reaction from hotel guests over the last two decades than “Resort Fees” (aka: Urban Fees, Facility Fees, Destination Fees, Resort Charge, etc). A fee by any other name would be equally notorious. Critics of the fee have called it the “most deceptive and unfair pricing practice in the hotel industry.” It allows hotels to advertise a low rate and then ask for more money at check-in, even if the guest is not interested in using the amenities it supposedly covers. Even as a hotel revenue professional, it sounds pretty bad when I type it here. It’s basically drip pricing for hotels.

The resort fees trend started in the US (mid-1990’s) and has generated tremendous hate. How much hate are we talking here? I am glad you asked. So much that, as of this writing, 47 Attorneys General have opened an investigation into it. The most dramatic example was when Marriott Hotels was issued a subpoena by the Washington DC Attorney General for their non-cooperation.

In a most bizarre, almost surreal period in the travel business, the two top OTA’s are doing their part to “tackle resort fees” while major brands stay silent.

Expedia: They offer higher rankings to hotels not charging resort fees. Their official statement reads: “We know hotel-collected mandatory fees can be confusing to consumers, and we expect, among otherwise equivalent hotels, these changes will result in higher visibility on our sites for hotels not charging these fees.” In short, if you charge resort fees, Expedia will lower your rankings on their booking site and show guests a warning that you charge resort fees. Wow!.*

*In Owen Wilson’s voice. Please enjoy a 2-minute, 35-second compilation of him saying “wow”. You’re welcome.

Booking: It’s no surprise that in classic Booking.com fashion, they want a piece of the resort fees pie. They are including resort fees when calculating their commission. Official statement: “Hopefully, this will help continue to push the entire industry toward more transparency and fewer ‘surprises’ for customers.” 911, I would like to report a murderous sweet burn. If you can’t best them, make some money off of them in the name of transparency. Hey, nobody has ever accused Booking of not being great at making money. The fact that they used the word transparency is the ultimate atomic burn on our industry. Do kids still say atomic burn? Probably not, but you guys get the gist of it.

Post-pandemic recovery will be a great time for hotels (both brand and independent) to move away from drip pricing and give the guest confidence when they are booking their next trip. Big hotel brands like Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and IHG have a tremendous opportunity right now take the lead on this. After all the complaints and articles about “evil OTA’s” stealing their customers, how can major brands let them lead the charge on transparent pricing? Are we awake, or is this a dream inside a dream inside another dream? Can someone please start playing Edith Piaf and give me an inception kick?

Brands need to show that they really care about their customers beyond sending everyone in their database a COVID-19 email, or posting videos of their CEO in tears, or yelling at them to “BOOK DIRECT” via expensive well-paid celebrities. An opportunity to take the lead has landed on the laps of the most powerful decision-makers in the hospitality industry. Please, let’s do the right thing.

Hotel Marketing: What’s Next?

As with revenue management, winds of change have been blowing in the marketing landscape for a while. All hotel websites look the same, everyone has a drone video, hotel ads look the same, all are inviting us to book direct and save, most mobile booking experience sucks, all have a best rate guarantee and, finally, all hotels are offering 20%- 40% off their best available rates in their email blasts.

A complete shutdown of non-essential travel is also the hard-reset button for hotel and travel marketing teams worldwide. This is the right time to start thinking about how you plan to be different when things get back online. Over the years, I have told hotels to:

Build Better Websites
Get Better Booking Engines
Stop Spending on “SEO”
Start Spending on Ads That Work
Stop Wasting Money on TripAdvisor
Send Better Emails
Have Better Hotel Events
Upgrade Their Success Metrics
Start Writing Better Content
Start Owning Digital Assets
Do Not Rent/Lease Websites

That’s enough content to publish a small book. Maybe I will one of these days. Until then, I encourage you to reread some the long-form content I have posted and get yourself mentally prepared for the changes ahead.

Here are a few other items I have been getting a lot of questions about.

You Can’t Growth Hack a Pandemic

The final stage of grief is acceptance. Let’s start there. A wide range of COVID-19 recovery strategy guides have already been published without any concrete “open for business” dates from the world’s governments. Based on the content produced so far, I can see that the mindset is still around how marketing is going to save the day. Example: Discount Gary Vee wannabes are busy posting “growth hacking” content that is completely detached from reality. This mindset might have partially worked after some of the other declines hotels have experienced in the past …but this is going to be different. As I write this, 16 million people in the US have lost their jobs. 

The unemployment rate in the US is predicted to hit 15%, which is the highest number since the Second World War. It is irresponsible to spin a marketing guide sitting here in the month of April. Recovery will be hard and extremely hands-on. There is no road to a quick bounce-back, but there will be an eventual bounce-back. It is more important than ever not to oversimplify recovery. Observe and report. Recovery will start locally and expand out from there.

Right now, it’s better to start with some things that are long overdue for an overhaul.

Move Beyond Vendor Management

For most hotels, this a moment of real change. People with the word ‘marketing’ in their job title will have to start doing actual marketing work. There is simply no money left to pay employees for emailing/harassing vendors and then spending useless hours in marketing meetings. There are some very talented people out of work; your recovery will be based on the caliber of people you choose.

There is hope for those whose entire career has been vendor management…they just have to learn how to do actual work. The shutdown is a great time to expand your skills beyond doing marketing calls and playing email jockey.

Hands-on agencies will survive as they are doing the work for owners who are busy running the property. On the flip side, agencies collecting monthly fees from hotels that were sitting at 20% to 30% occupancy even before the pandemic hit… will simply not make it. The luxury of paying agencies thousands of dollars every month to change a few words and photos on your website and run a few Google Ads are over. Specially when you have “marketing and e-commerce” in your job title these expenses cannot be justified anymore. You either do marketing or get out the way of ownership to work with someone who does.

Stop Spending on “SEO”

I outlined how the Hotel SEO Bubble burst back in 2013. If it is still going to appear in your agency invoices as a line item when you re-open…then Houston, we have a big problem. Google is great, but it is not your friend and owes you nothing. Google is here to sell ads and make money. If you keep your website healthy, lightning fast, and usable on mobile, and keep your Google my business listing current, then you will be fine.

Content, site speed and mobile usability reign supreme. Chasing rankings in 2020 and touting organic search results is the ultimate hipster move. Riding a unicycle in a bike race is cool but you will never win. It’s a great time to ask yourself what you are paying for and how you can migrate that cash over to something useful, like paid ads or content production.

Pause Paid Advertising for Now

When your hotel is closed, it is ok to pause your ads. Yes, this 100% includes brand name campaigns in Google and all metasearch campaigns. Agencies/vendors that are telling you that “cost per click” in the market is low should use use their time in quarantine to learn demand and supply 101. Please email them this list of classes to take.

Nobody is booking travel right now, and therefore the cost is low. This should not be packaged as a great opportunity to capture some future pie in the sky business. If there are no surfers in the ocean, then it is very likely that there are no good waves to be ridden or that a shark alert has been issued. When in doubt, don’t go out. (And just like that, I get to use a reference from my home in Hawaii.)

Don’t panic and fall for the whole engagement sales pitch. Take a deep breath. Is your website still running well? Google Business Listing updated? Good, now wait until we get an open for business date. Please don’t wave ads in people’s faces while they are locked down. It is annoying and in no way an inspiration for them to book travel.

Cash is tight, so please take care of your employees first. They will be crucial when the recovery starts. Google and others will take your money anytime…it’s like their favorite thing to do, every day. Also, if you are still clinging to TripAdvisor ads, it’s ok to let go now and reallocate your budgets.

Relax With Social Media

The road to social media is paved with disaster. It’s ok to tone it down and take a health break from it. There is nothing you need say on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram that is crucial to the recovery. I wrote in detail about influencers in my last post. This is the perfect opportunity to consciously uncouple from influencers and focus on taking care of your employees, neighbors, and communities. (I saw an article that highlighted “charitable acts as great hotel branding opportunities”. I rolled my eyes so far that they were stuck behind my head for a while.)

Please don’t succumb to the hubris that you need to entertain people on your hotel social media accounts while they are getting laid off and face an uncertain future. Leave that to Netflix/Amazon/Hulu, etc. ICYMI Here are some things that already have caused a terrible backlash on social:

In short: Avoid the urge to post at this time. When things open again, you can get back to posting “healing and inspirational photos” in no time. Just because you have a microphone does not mean you have to say something all the time.

Take It Easy With Email & CRM

I think everyone and their brother has already sent out a COVID-19 email. A company I brought a paper clip from in 1999 recently emailed me about their concern for my well-being. Every single hotel brand, including the one I stayed with once in 1995 (25 years ago), sent me an email. Idea: Instead of blasting your entire database you are better off putting your message on your home page and reserving email to communicate with people who have booked a stay with you.

Oh, remember the hotel group that sent me 60+ promo emails in a year? Guess what? They never stopped and were pushing a 45% Relax On Shores Of Cancun vacation to me in Hawaii late into the lockdown in the middle of March. You simply cannot make this stuff up!


Time to Retire Retargeting

I am going to keep this short and sweet. Retargeting was never cool and has always been annoying to your guests. It was nothing more than a violation of privacy that they let slide in the name of convenience. I had been planning to write something more detailed to make my point. But sometimes things just land in your lap and you close the case. A single image can deliver more power than a thousand words. In my case, make it 3000 words (my average article).

Banner ads for hotels and travel companies have been showing up in articles about mass graves and medical supply shortages! One in particular as hit me hard as I was reading about how doctors in Italy had stopped counting dead bodies. Lo and behold, there was an ad for a hotel brand with a BOOK NOW call to action. Again, you cannot make this stuff up:

Let’s take this opportunity to stop paying for retargeting. This is a marketing idea whose time has passed. Say your goodbyes.

Conclusion: Skilled Teams Will Lead the Recovery

If you are still reading this, I saved the best for last, just for you. Let’s start with an excerpt from one of the greatest stories ever told:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The recovery will happen. Speculating on its timeline is a waste of time. I refuse to speculate when there is still so much work to be done in our industry.

We have a massive challenge ahead of us, no question. Recovery efforts will be further complicated by the limited resources we will be left with after the shutdown. One resource that is going to be more crucial than ever is good people. Your success will depend on who you choose work with when we get back to business. The silos of revenue, marketing, and operations need to come tumbling down. From their rubble will rise the superhero recovery teams (minus the capes and spandex of course). The gap between the A-team players and everyone else is going to get bigger. Smaller, smarter and nimbler teams will shine.

Right now, we hold steady, think about the future, and wait for the safe time to start again. And remember: quarantine is temporary, but Wu-Tang is forever!

Reality Check on Using Influencers for Your Hotel

Using Influencers for Hotels

As social media marketing continues to evolve and grow, one of the questions hotel owners/managers consistently ask me is whether or not it makes sense to work with influencers.

Personally, I strongly believe that social media is not good for your physical or mental health. I follow a strict “post it, log out” strategy. This is particularly relevant when I am trying to promote a speaking gig or share a new comedy tidbit. I don’t read comments, don’t follow, and don’t stay on social media beyond the time it takes me to post and quickly log out. Instead of citing dozens of studies that have been done on this subject, I like citing my own personal experience: My life is better since I deleted Facebook. That is just a fact.


The Miserybook

You cannot talk about social media without talking about Facebook (which I often refer to as Miserybook). You simply cannot escape it. They own Instagram and WhatsApp, and I use both apps respectively for research and communication. But you can break free from posting your deepest thoughts on an online platform and then waiting for other people to validate you.

Facebook has weaponized everyone’s personal data to sell ads, and it has been extremely profitable for them. What really stands out for me are the penalties imposed on Facebook for selling your data: it is a drop in their ocean of revenue. There is simply too much cash to be made by sharing your data with advertisers. For example:

For those not familiar with the FTC, it is an independent agency of the US government in charge of consumer protection and antitrust laws. Here is a brief summary from their website on what they do:

“protecting consumers and competition by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity”

Keep this handy, as we will be calling on our friends from the FTC again.


The Pursuit of Permanent Perfection

Why am I talking about Facebook? It is the senior citizen of social media channels. I often call it the AARP of social media channels. The thing is, they own Instagram: that’s where the “influencers” come from!

Instagram has caused much general unhappiness and suffering to young(er) folks, with its relentless emphasis on living the perfect life. Here are some distinctly negative features of Instagram:

  1. Fictionalized presentation of life, without reality checks or relatability
  2. Heavy Photoshop use, resulting in faultless imagery, leading to…
  3. Unrealistic appearances and negative body image, and…
  4. Heightened feelings of sadness and loneliness

If distancing yourself from friends, family and reality is your goal…oh boy, do we have a platform for you!

Those that regularly post their perfect life and body to share with their thousands or millions of followers will shill any product at the right price. They have made a beeline to the hotel industry and, as expected, a lot of hotels have taken the bait.


Hotels, Meet Influencers

“Everyone is a luchador, mi amigo.”

– Señor Ramon, Nacho Libre, 2006

Guess what? Today, everyone is an influencer. I can joke about myself being one, as I am oh so important in the travel industry. But in reality, I am stunned to see the hoards of people who have quit their day jobs to travel the world. For every established influencer, there are hundreds more emailing hotels every day asking for a free stay.

What do you get in exchange for this free stay? Here are the top two words thrown around:

  • Collaboration
  • Exposure

What you actually get? A vast endless ocean of sameness. These are the same 10 photos I see across all hotel social media influencer accounts:

  1. Yoga pose by the pool
  2. Breakfast tray in bed: same food, different hotels
  3. Poolside bikini shot in full makeup (because water + makeup are so good together)
  4. In-bed photo in robe/pj’s with perfect hair and makeup (because that’s how we all wake up)
  5. Jumping on the bed with perfect hair and makeup (sometimes with shoes on…eew!)
  6. Standing outside the entrance looking really intense
  7. Making a heart with their hands near the hotel logo
  8. Inspirational t-shirt side pose in the lobby
  9. Sitting fully dressed on the edge of the pool (like all normal people do)
  10. Hair splash making a circle in ocean, pool, river, lake, etc.

Independent hotels should really ask themselves: what’s the point of being independent if everything about you online is the same? There are hotels that thrive on sameness. They are called brand hotels, and we already have enough of them!


Mo’ Followers, Mo’ Revenue?

Short answer: No.

Long Answer: The lodging business sells an experience; it requires you to get off your couch and physically go there. It requires booking a flight or driving long distance, maybe taking a cab/ride share or renting a car. And it requires you to do one of the hardest things to do in the US: take actual time off, which requires a lot of planning.

When you are selling a lodging/stay experience, a high number of followers will not have the same impact for you as it would for, let’s say, magic weight loss supplements or face creams that make you look 20 again. Those products arrive in a nice box right at the door of your home or office. Zero effort is required other than entering your credit card details and shipping address. These are the businesses that can see revenue growth from follower growth. Everyone else is sipping on the high follower count Kool-Aid.

Since the influencer party started with hotels, I have yet to see a revenue increase for any hotel as a result of deploying influencers. But hey, apparently there is a healthy volume of exposure to be had, folks. It’s just a classic case of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Now where is that magic youth cream I ordered last week on Instagram?


Always Wear a Helmet

“You best protect your neck.”

– Wu Tang Clan,1992

Let’s say you just cannot help yourself and want to get involved in “influencer marketing.” The main thing to remember here is that the good ol’ FTC is like Roz from Monsters Inc…always watching. You must always clearly disclose when someone you are paying is talking about your brand online to their followers. One of the FTC’s favorite rules is the one about preventing deceptive business practices. Here are some top things to keep in mind.

  • Full Disclosure. Anything you are offering in exchange for social media “exposure” needs to be clearly outlined. This includes a hotel stay, free meals, free activities, etc. Also, your disclosure needs to be clear and up front, not buried in the fine print. Guess what? There is a hashtag for that! #ad. In 2019, the FTC sent a letter to the top influencers asking them to be clear on sponsored posts.
  • Consistent Language. An Ad is an Ad is an Ad. It’s not “spon” or a “collab.” Make sure your hotel is clearly called out as a sponsor for all the social posts. That information cannot be buried in the barrage of lifestyle adjectives being used in the content of the post. Also, if the post is multilingual, make sure you use matching language hashtags.
  • Tag = Endorsement. Even if the influencer has left your hotel and decides to tag you in a post out of the blue a few months later, they must disclose the relationship they have had with your hotel in the past.


The Shrinking World of Hotel PR Agencies

Traditional PR is alive, but its value and scope are gradually shrinking. I am not surprised that influencer marketing has become a prominent service for them to offer. So let’s briefly talk about PR agencies and their strategies. In many cases, instead of holistically building your brand by producing content, the agencies have shifted their focus to how many influencers have checked into your hotel. If you feel the need to pay for PR services at your hotel, then be prepared to question your deliverables and their costs (including the cost of free rooms).

Here are some good questions to consider before committing to a long-term PR investment:

  • Product: Do you have a hotel product worth talking about? If not, then PR is not a magic bullet. If you have a skimpy product, coupled with the fact that there are several other hotels in your market who look and talk exactly like you, then PR does not help. I have observed over the years that having a really good product gives you the magical ability to not pay for PR. Your guests do the work for you… for free.
  • Agreement: Everyone needs to be in on the plan. PR only works when all departments at the hotel have buy-in. This is a top to bottom effort; otherwise, the PR ends up writing checks that your operations cannot cash. Marketing can take your message and distribute it, but there needs to be a reality check between what you are saying and what is actually happening at the hotel.
  • Goals: There needs to be clarity on why you are investing in PR. Are you launching a new brand? Repositioning an old one? Doing damage control? The goals need to be set in the beginning. Strategic PR can bring long-term benefits, but there needs to be a clear metric in place to measure its success. Example: follower growth vs. engagement, follower growth vs direct traffic, etc.
  • Content: Great PR is content that people engage with and which helps them learn about/plan/visualize their future hotel + destination experience. If you do not produce content (and just talk about influencer/social stats), then you are quickly going nowhere. Every content piece is not going to the NY Times travel section. There are niche publications on local and international levels that can bring you visibility as long as you are producing the right content about your hotel and destination. Sell your destination when possible. Remember that your hotel already exists there.

Small hotels simply cannot afford big-ticket PR, and that is nothing to be worried about. You need to take control of what is in your hands: your content! I have seen hotels sitting at under 20% occupancy, while spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR efforts revolving around influencers and paid posts in luxury travel magazines. The real kicker is that this PR agency sent a report to the hotel claiming that their influencer “exposure” to the hotel should be valued at … please sit down when you read this: 6 million USD! I made sure that they were let go the same day.


Try This Instead

Trying hard to stay relevant? Brand slipping away? How about investing in and testing out these avenues for your lodging business instead of using influencers:

  1. Get a better website. Use my guide to make a website that works for you and your guests.
  2. Invest in video. The youth love YouTube, so why not give it a chance? I am writing a guide on this.
  3. Get better content. Yes! People still read. So, follow my content guide and make sure your content is powering your website conversions.
  4. Get a better booking engine. Make sure you are not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
  5. Send better emails. Make the power of email marketing work for your hotel. 



The barrage of social media imagery carefully curated to reflect perfect lives is quickly catching up with all of us in the general population. This constant stimulation is having two major side effects: depression through comparison, and anxiety that you should be doing something other than what you are doing. There is the feeling that you are left behind working in an office while the rest of the world seems to be on vacation. The decision you have to make is: do you want to contribute to this mental health epidemic? Spending money on something that really doesn’t contribute to your bottom line, while making people miserable, is an ethical decision that I cannot make for you. But I do think the financial decision is pretty clear.

I joked earlier that I unlocked the secret to happiness when I deleted my Facebook account… but I might be on to something.

Hotel and Travel Conferences Need an Upgrade

hotel conferences need an upgrade

When it comes to hotel conferences and trade shows, I will go ahead and show my age by saying I have been to almost all of them. During the earlier part of my career, I was an attendee; later I became a speaker. After I received hotel revenue optimization enlightenment, I took it upon myself to go out and educate an industry that seemed perpetually stuck. Several hundred conferences later, a clear pattern has emerged. However, this pattern will need to change if events are to become truly relevant to the industry they serve.

Below are some of my observations, and they might sound very familiar to you. Here is a walk down my own hotel conference memory lane, paved with some dark memories and paired with my proposed solutions.

The Quirky Keynotes

Hotel conferences, like all the conferences out there, love their keynotes. Enter the “I have nothing to do with your business” keynote speaker. Here are some of the usual suspects you might recognize:

  • High-energy motivational speakers (yawn)
  • Speakers who climbed Everest
  • Speakers who climbed Everest while walking backwards
  • Speakers who sold their million-dollar shoe company
  • Speakers who are also amateur magicians

Try this instead: The keynote session has evolved into a way to show off how cool you are, instead of addressing what is really facing the industry. I am all for Everest climbers and magicians, but a nanotechnology expert is not going to help attendees understand why they are not keeping up with the competition.

The One-Hour Sessions

Not everything needs an hour. Conference organizers who give an hour to everything to neatly divide and balance out the conference make the day painful for the rest of us. An important thing to factor in here is a famous quote by Philip B Crosby: “Nobody can remember more than three points.”

People can typically focus their attention for 20 minutes, and then all bets are off. The lights are on, but no one’s home. On the speaker side, making things last an hour usually translates into stretching 30 minutes of excellent material into 60 minutes of meh. “Meh” is the enemy of good content and must be stopped. I’ve even seen speakers jamming on the stage to fill up time like they are Phish. (Sorry to my readers who are Phish fans!)

Try this instead: Give speakers a 30-minute window for content, 10 minutes for questions. This small change will bring about heavy editing, resulting in better content and happier conference attendees who will feel that they actually learned something.

Panel of Death by Boredom

Let’s face the fact that panels have been boring since the dawn of human civilization. I don’t think I have seen anything less productive than a panel discussion. I have almost died while listening to – and even while being a part of – a “panel of experts.” You think you are going in for a scoop, some inside stories, and a fascinating peek into personalities. Instead you get bored to death. Here is how a typical panel discussion unfolds at hotel events:

The Moderator. The event sponsor or other tangential player acts as emcee, lobbing pre-arranged softball questions at the supposed experts. These are their responsibilities:

  1. They hold a microphone. A stand can do that job.
  2. They email attendees two weeks before the conference asking what questions they would like to be asked. Do the panelists need a heads-up on topics within their own area of expertise?
  3. They ask the panelists to “introduce themselves,” even though you already know who they are from the event website/signage. These introductions take several minutes per panelist… precious time you had on Earth to do something meaningful.

The Panelist. This is usually a corporate-type person or another company sponsor (not important enough to be a moderator, of course!). They will pretend to answer questions emailed to them two weeks ago and look surprised. Also, they love the sound of their voice.

Here are my Top 3 panel highlights to date:

  1. I once did a Lord of the Rings analogy on a panel. The moderator and fellow panelists almost had a heart attack, but the audience finally woke up! I have not been invited back.
  2. I mentioned that the traditional hotel sales era revolving around having martinis @3pm is now over. Wyndham’s SVP of Marketing at the time brought me a $30 martini to my next panel discussion (I don’t drink alcohol), then argued that open source is a terrible idea for hotels. I have not been invited back.
  3. At a data conference in 2010, the head of Ecommerce for Hilton Garden Inn mentioned that mobile revenue is not a big deal. I told him that it was not a big deal for them because their mobile booking experience was a nightmare. I recommended that they look at this new company called Hotel Tonight to see how mobile bookings should be done. I have not been invited back.

Try this instead: Don’t do panels. When I’m invited to join a panel, my condition is that I will not be following a script, which usually scares away the panel hounds.

The Sponsor Con

This I have survived…many, many times. Nothing is scarier than the moment when the conference speaker starts talking about what their company offers, followed by 20 slides on their new product release.

Hotel conferences worldwide are turning into conferences by the sponsors, of the sponsors, and for the sponsors. I completely understand that it takes money to run and manage conferences. But somewhere along the line, companies have completely taken over. Everything is for sale…from the name-tag holder, to the table on which you will rest your coffee.

I have held this opinion from a very early stage of getting into the event speaking business: Sales people cannot educate. I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but this is not open for debate. I have attended and spoken at hundreds of events, and this holds true every time. I am not saying that salespeople have some evil agenda against education. But they do have sales targets and quarterly deadlines to meet.

The “sponsor to speak” epidemic in the hospitality business has taken a massive toll on the amount of useful information hotel owners and managers have been able to accumulate by attending industry events.

In my younger days as a speaker, there were many times I would do a gig for free to get “exposure.” As the only non-sales guy at an event, it was not a challenge to excel. Fast-forward to today: I only do paid gigs. It needs to be clear that I am getting on stage to share and teach from my experiences, and not to get attendees to buy anything.

Try this instead: Marketing dollars burning a hole in your pocket? Why don’t you sponsor a real speaker instead of the sales guy? You can still fly your banner on the stage, without confusing attendees with sales pitches thinly disguised as education.

The Buzzcon

Hospitality and travel event planners are perpetually on the lookout for buzzwords when selecting event topics and presentations. Here is a typical formula:

Buzz-wordy topics = Your event sounds relevant = Ticket sales

Here are some hotel industry buzzword examples for you: Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Automation. After years of trying to figure out why conferences rely so heavily on buzzwords, I finally realized that events are struggling to stay relevant. Using the latest buzzwords is their click-bait scheme to drive attendance.

Unfortunately, when you run a buzzcon, the content takes a hard nosedive. Most buzzword slides end up being what I like to called “Google-able content.” If your attendees can find the information you’re presenting on Google and you are not bringing anything from your own experience…then, in the words of the great Bill Pullman, “It’s game over, Man!” There is a speaker I know who literally reads off a list from Google Trends at events. That is torture, and I almost called Amnesty International on him.

Try this instead:

  1. Make sure you really need the buzzword for your conference. If you must use it, then have actionable items right after.
  2. Make sure presented content is not already available on Google/YouTube.
  3. Ask speakers for fresh content. How does the new trend change travel in the next few months and years? Make sure they bring specific examples. Ex: Anyone saying “artificial Intelligence is going to change travel” should be drop-kicked off the stage if they do not have actual examples!

The User Con

Having worked for hotel software vendors, I have direct personal experience in the surreal world of the hotel software “user conference.” I’m not sure where to start, so I will start with the basics. Most user conferences in our industry are not about hotels, innovation, or taking the industry forward. They are about the vendor telling the world how well they are doing. I am talking about big, multimillion-dollar conferences presented by companies who have not upgraded their product in years! Big is the operative word here. I have seen more money being spent on events than on people and product development. That pretty much summarizes the issue here. The user conference becomes an extension of the CEO/President’s ego.

A personal anecdote here summarizes everything. Shortly before a multimillion-dollar production event for a software company, it was announced that the company was being sold to a direct competitor. The employees, some of whom had worked with said competitor in the past, were in shambles…fearing mass layoffs, career stagnation, and relocation issues.

As with any conference, there was a band playing on the final evening. Not a soul got on the dance floor. Most of the employees were reeling under the pressure of smiling and keeping face while their professional lives were being upturned. So, the band started playing and the first ones to start dancing together were the President and CEO, dancing with the joy of two people who had just become millions of dollars richer. I looked around at the horror and pain in the eyes of the employees…that image stays with me. To add insult to injury, the employees were then required to sing to the President and CEO. This is the most surreal moment I have experienced at an event.

Try this instead: Don’t be evil! The user conference is about the users and not about you. Focus on education and content instead of making your employees cry.

The Ted-Type Con

Another type of conference making the rounds is the wannabe Ted Talk type of event, minus the Ted Talk level of content. Here are some signs that you might be at this event:

  1. Registration Fees: $5000 to $8000 (early bird discount $4999). Come on, now! You know what kind of budgets most hotels are working with. Nothing says innovation like pricing out 99% of actual hotel owners and operators. It feels like a dystopian future where only the 1% can afford to attend and talk about how to succeed in the marketplace.
  2. Attendees/Speakers: Only CEOs, CMOs, and COOs (see above) are attending. Oh, yes, and the wide-eyed salesperson for a software company who wants to sell to the C Suite – or hand out their resume to them.  Do you think anyone would spend $4000 to $8000 of their own personal money to be at this event because of the content? Man, it’s so easy to spend other people’s money!
  3. Content: I’m sure you have heard the “30,000 feet” overview cliche thrown around by all kinds of MBA grads. Now add another 380,000 feet. Yes, you are now officially in space, looking down at Earthlings. The content is super vanilla and not usable in real life. The CEO of Marriott is never going to say anything at an event that could jeopardize their stock price. Get real.

Try this instead: I know it is not hard for me to convince anyone to not spend thousands on this type of event. Go to YouTube and watch some Ted talks. Total cost: $0.

Pet Peeves

And now for something a little different… a quick list of my personal conference pet peeves.

  1. The video keynote. Please stop. I’ll make an exception if you are working on the International Space Station.
  2. Standard PowerPoint template. Nothing screams “innovation and new ideas” like having speakers use a uniform conference-themed PowerPoint template to share such ideas.
  3. Speaker during lunch. There is nothing like the sound of clinking water glasses and silver to get the audience and speaker in the mood for soaking up ideas. People are already exhausted from the morning sessions, and need to nourish themselves before receiving the afternoon content. Please let people eat and make the customary small talk during meals.
  4. Landfill schwag. Personal horror story…buttered popcorn flavor chapstick.
  5. Business card collectors. If I want to give you my business card, it will happen naturally via a real conversation.
  6. The conference app. It hits the apps trifecta: expensive to make, bad usability, useless after one show. Get a website with pages on where, what, when, how to get there.
  7. Bad food. Come on! We are in the hospitality business!
  8. Slow WiFi: Sorry, your conference has failed. Everyone should immediately evacuate the building.
  9. The conference promo video. Oh look… people are having so much fun AND learning AND eating gourmet food! Yes, make a video about the conference…but stop using this generic formula for all your hotel conference videos:
    • Catchy EDM tune
    • Location city shot
    • People entering the building, always smiling
    • Customary registration desk
    • Presenters on stage with no audio (techno music intensifies)
    • Engaged attendees listening
    • People playing golf, shaking hands (having a jolly ol’ time)
    • Exhibitors engaging in deep conversations at the trade show (implied deal-making)
    • Short clips post event from attendees raving about the importance of the event (their name and title clearly on display)

Try this instead: Stop paying for sizzle reels. Move that budget over to actually posting some excerpts of speakers sharing actual content. Remember you are the producer…not the talent. As for the rest of the pet peeve items…I think I’ve made my point.

Da Tradeshow

Hotel vendors spend countless hours thinking about their branding and story for trade shows, then print the same message on everything and show up with the sales team to answer questions. I am all for a chance to do a face-to-face meeting with your peers and customers, but after a while everything starts to look the same. They’re there just to be there. Exhibitors are at the event not to win, but to not lose.

Try this instead: Have more respect for yourself, your company, and the audience. Even if you don’t have a new product announcement, offer up some new tutorials, new research, or a fun way to engage with attendees. Hey, have you heard of this thing kids love called YouTube?

The Buyers’ Club Speed Dating Event

Now this is something that the SEC, FBI, DOJ and Interpol (international events) need to prosecute. The concept is that vendors pay $10 to $15K to attend a 2-day event where “ qualified” buyers from hotel companies are hosted by the organizer. The organizer goes so far as to “guarantee” that vendors will meet a particular sales goal. (But this guarantee evaporates once the event is done and paid for.)

Events focus on a range of topics, from hotel hardware to hotel software, from towels to booking engines. I had the misfortune of attending one of these events as a vendor, and what I saw there completely transformed my approach to hotel events. I still cannot believe these events are legal. This event is the proverbial rock bottom of hotel conferences. More on this when I write my book.

Try this instead: Don’t go there. To quote Admiral Akbar, “ It’s a trap!”


Conferences should be about connecting with people, and learning something new from personal interactions that you can’t get from Google. Hospitality is an exciting business. Folks, we are literally in the business of events. Our industry events need to be at another level. Technology companies are doing circles around us. Events represent a great opportunity to upgrade ourselves and rise up together as an industry, not only by sharing relevant information, but also by showing what great hospitality looks like.

How Google Reviews Is Crushing TripAdvisor


An interesting trend has been brewing in the travel business. Quietly but surely, Google Reviews has been expanding their online review market share for brick and mortar businesses. Since hotels, inns and B&Bs are a 100% location-driven business, this change directly impacts both their revenue and branding.

Online reviews left by strangers have become almost as trusted as personal recommendations. However, placing this much trust in reviews requires the user to be able to filter real reviews from fake ones. This sorting process can be extremely frustrating, especially on websites like TripAdvisor where everything is controlled by an almighty “secret algorithm.” Still, hotels and inns have been under the TripAdvisor spell for a while now. TripAdvisor dominates the conversation to such a large extent that I felt the need to write a 3500-word article about how to curb your hotel’s obsession with TripAdvisor.

Meanwhile, Google with its “of course, we can do it better” mantra has beefed up its own review platform, which is fully integrated into its existing search and maps empire. They always play to win.

Let’s Talk About Yelp, Baby

Before trying to understand the impact of the new and improved Google Reviews on TripAdvisor, let’s talk about the other hyper-local-focused review platform…you know, the one that inspired a South Park Episode. I am, of course, talking about Yelp. Looking at where Yelp stands today is a window into how things might play out for TripAdvisor in the not-so-distant future. Here’s the story of Yelp.

The Beginning. Yelp was started in 2004 by ex-PayPal employees Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons (not Def Jam). PayPal has produced more billionaire founders than any other company. But I digress. Hereʻs the main thing. As was the case with many review websites, the best intentions did not lead to the best outcomes.

The IPO. User-generated (free) content fueled the massive growth of the website and led them into a 2010 IPO.

Greed. Two words…Advertising Dollars. This is where things got out of hand. Yelp pushed their ads real hard on local businesses, just like TripAdvisor does today with hotels. This practice brought about several accusations of extortion by business owners against Yelp. Most complaints focused on either positive reviews being removed from a business’s page if they did not buy ads, or on Yelp letting competitors pay for ads to remove/hide negative reviews. The similarities to some of the review/ranking/advertising issues TripAdvisor is experiencing right now is surreal.

Pushback. Enter lawsuits with the Federal Trade Commission. Although the FTC dismissed these cases, the cases highlighted the plight of small business owners being held ransom by Yelp ads and Yelp Elites. It always reminds me of the stressed-out B&B owner in tears about his TripAdvisor reviews. Most ethical business owners moved their advertising dollars to platforms that were not squeezing the small business owner. Of course, movies like Billion Dollar Bully did not help Yelp at all.

Winds of Change. Nothing good or bad lasts forever. Since 2014, the general population has been moving toward Google Reviews, Google Maps, and Instagram…and advertising dollars have followed. The accessibility of these platforms is much better than anything Yelp had to offer. While user reviews remain very relevant, the way people like to look at information has changed. People find it easier to communicate with businesses on Google/Instagram/Twitter than on Yelp. Result? Advertising declines → stock price declines.

Perception. As a travel industry lifer with friends in the restaurant business, I know one thing for certain. People writing Yelp reviews are not considered to be the smartest people around. South Park doing a full episode on Yelp Elites was instrumental in showcasing this issue. I also think about what the late, great Anthony Bourdain said about Elite Yelpers in an interview with Business Insider:

“There’s really no worse or lower human being than an Elite Yelper. They’re universally loathed by chefs everywhere. They are the very picture of entitled, negative energy. They’re bad for chefs, they’re bad for restaurants.”

I could not agree more. Likewise, my chef/restaurant friends have severely limited the time they spend on Yelp. Instead, they check food photos online to see how their product is being received and shared on sites like Google Reviews and Instagram. Instantly qualifying the person posting a review and having social proof is a great thing! Also, these mediums offer a greater chance for a business owner to interact directly with both negative and positive reviewers.

Declining But Not Dying (Yet). Yelp is not shutting down anytime soon. Hey, not that long ago (2009), Google wanted to buy Yelp for $500 million! Yahoo threw their hat in the ring with a $1 billion number soon after. Yelp is still going pretty strong, and still garnering new reviews and content. At the same time, even more reviews and ad dollars are pouring into Google and Instagram. Plus, we know that Google is definitely from the “if you can’t buy it, beat it to pulp” school of thought. So they will make sure that Yelp does not make a big comeback.

The TripCollective Elite Contributors Game


Guess what? The points earned by reviewers do not have a monetary value. It is apparently a game. A game in which you rank your entitlement on a website that then turns around and sells ads (for money) on the free content you uploaded on their website.

It’s like an episode of Black Mirror… where you are the game! If you are bored and into gaming, Fortnite and Red Dawn 2 are very good. Why not try those instead?

Also, see Anthony Bourdainʻs quote above. It also applies here. Same people, different platform.

*Psst…did you know there is a rumored Level 7 TripAdvisor Elite? (If this piques your interest, you might be reading the wrong blog.)

Rise of the Google Reviews

Google gets tons of cash from TripAdvisor spending on Google Ads. TripAdvisor sells advertising on their own website in part to support their Google Ads habit.

As more travel industry ad dollars shift toward Google and Facebook, TripAdvisor has gone hard into pushing their own advertising platform while offering very little analytics and support in return. One of their offerings: paying for a link. Can you believe in 2019 you can pay just to get a link from another website? You know, like an online directory listing circa 2001. It’s like if you did not have a link to your hotel from TripAdvisor, your guest would never be able to find you after reading your reviews. They must be familiar with this little thing called Google, where you can type in a hotel’s name and magically find it!

We know that Google is king when it comes to advertising. How else is Google Reviews tightening its grip on the hotel review market? Two initiatives stand out for me.

Local Search

Google has been a verb for a while now. So yeah, when you “Google a hotel” in search, you get the hotel’s location, hours, phone number, reviews, website, and rates in a nicely packaged search box. This offering is even more relevant on mobile.

Google My Business is the most visible of all the review sites, and therefore now gets more people to use it. Look at the simplicity in action:

Android Push

I am an Android user. (Apple still gets my laptop and power adapter dollars.) One of the main drivers of Google Reviews has been the frequency of Google asking you to leave a review based on where you are. I had to turn that off on my phone. But the fact remains that Google has made it super easy to get you to leave a review based on your GPS location while logged into your Google Account. This feature definitely adds to the review’s authenticity, as the user’s Google account and location provide some proof of them actually having been at your location.

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor is penalizing hotels for any reviews posted by guests using the hotel’s computer/Wi-Fi network, etc. Feels like TripAdvisor is the upside down when it comes to people leaving reviews from a location they are actually in. They would rather have user ‘crazyboog1999’ trash your hotel from their mother’s basement.

Pro tip. If you are tired of Google asking you to leave reviews: Select “Settings,” then “Notifications.” Finally, tap on “Your contributions,” and then switch off “Questions about places.”

Based on a True Story

This year I took a trip to Tokyo and exclusively used Google Reviews to make my purchasing decisions. Here is my story. (Insert the Law and Order bell.)

Trip Origin. I have visited Tokyo many times before. All those trips were work-related, which means that I absolutely focused on location first, price second. This time it was a personal trip, and location was not the only factor. Tokyo is one of my favorite cities in the world. No matter where you are, you can get around quickly. All you need is cash, a Suica Card, and Google Maps.

Time Frame. I was visiting Tokyo from December 27 to January 3, and then heading to Kyoto. This is a time of year when many local businesses are closed, and there are fewer tourists than usual. However, there is a ton of domestic travel, with families taking vacations, staying with extended family, and visiting shrines in honor of the New Year. The busiest time of year in Tokyo is March/April (cherry blossoms) followed by fall; winter is mellower, but the New Year’s shrine and family visits still make it competitive. Yes, I work in the revenue optimization business.

Research. The first step for me with personal travel is to check with my industry friends. Sadly, I am not a big deal in Japan… yet. I narrowed my search to hotels in Ginza (Tokyo’s Fifth Avenue), which had less compression as a business district during year-end holidays.

The Winner. Good news! I discovered a hotel with incredible rates and a great location. Downside…it was not open yet. A minor detail like that doesnʻt bother me, as I am in the business of opening new hotels. I booked my dates and locked in an amazing deal. I was curious about the product, but the pre-launch website was just a smorgasbord of stock photos.

Realization. I waited for the hotel to get reviews. Two weeks before anything was ever posted on TripAdvisor, I started to see comments and photos on Google Reviews. Thatʻs when I had a moment of realization: the only place to find any reviews for the hotel from Day 1 of opening was Google Reviews. They were followed closely by Expedia/Booking/Agoda reviews that were very nicely integrated into the Google Reviews ecosystem.

Oh, in case you were wondering, TripAdvisor scored its first review when I was already boarding my flight to Tokyo at the end of December! (Cue in Carole King’s Itʻs Too Late.)

A Brief Guide to Optimizing Your Business for Google Reviews

The epicenter of your reputation management as a brick and mortar business should be Google My Business (GMB). The amount of time spent reviewing TripAdvisor reviews in operations meetings needs to change. A lot more time and energy needs to go toward Google Reviews. These are managed under your GMB. Here’s a quick list you can use to optimize this channel:

1. The Basics. Make sure that your Google My Business (GMB) listing is claimed. I am sorry if this is 101 information for you, but just this week I saw an established hotel with a neighborhood restaurant listed as the primary on their GMB page! (Yes, website link, phone, everything pointed to the restaurant.)

2. Update Everything. Your GMB has a direct impact on all the Google activities a potential guest will do in order to find and book your hotel (search, Google Maps, etc). Make sure your address, phone number, business hours, and types of payments accepted are updated, and all links point to the right places. This is a basic and endless chore, so get used to checking this information on a regular basis.

3. Enhance It. Google has added some great features to GMB that hotels should use. An enhanced GMB listing helps to grab your guest’s attention when they are researching your hotel. There is a possible impact on local search rankings, but I try to refrain from rankings talk ever since I posted this article on SEO a few years back.

3. Check Yourself. Anyone can suggest edits to your GMB listing and have them take effect. It’s a very good idea to log in and keep an eye on things. Have you completed your profile? If not, then someone else will…yes, that includes your competition. Also, you cannot count on GMB email alerts to work 100% of the time. I repeat…just this month, I encountered a 200-room hotel’s local listing pointing to a neighborhood restaurant! It’s like the Wild West out there.

4. Answer Questions. This is one of the most relevant sections of GMB when it comes to the travel industry. People have questions about places they are going to visit someday. Even after arriving/staying at your location, most people look for information on their phone before ever talking to a human. Try and get the Q&A section filled out with the frequently asked questions and answers you have buried on your website somewhere. Talk to your front desk and make a list of questions they get asked all the time. The TripAdvisor/Yelp complex has trained everyone to live in fear of bad reviews and keep your laser focus on their platform. Instead, you can help guests who are looking for information about you. Help them first, then work on converting them into paying customers in the near future. Alternatively, if you ignore the Q&A section, someone else will answer the questions for you. You might not like the answers they give.

5. Ask & Receive. It’s standard operating procedure for hotels to ask their guests to leave a review on the world’s most trusted biggest travel website (TripAdvisor). This needs to change right away. Instead, you should ask your guests to leave you a Google Review. Google reviews are clearly associated with their Gmail/G-suite accounts and in most cases are verifiable and not hidden behind an obnoxious username like “JoeMama90210.” Replying to Google Reviews directly and in a concise manner is a key advantage. You can be direct without being trapped in the despair-ridden TripAdvisor platform.

I am not going to tout GMB optimization as a ranking tactic. But I can say that it will help you make more revenue.


Online reviews are crucial for any business, not just travel. Over the past few years, the obsession hotels and inns have developed with TripAdvisor has caused them to lose sight of the real powerhouse: Google. All of Google’s recent upgrades have served to make them a better information center for the end user. TripAdvisor with its hyper-narrow focus might be the biggest review website in the world today, but it is getting pushed to the sidelines by a bigger and smarter competitor. You don’t have to speculate much. Just look at Yelp and how their story played out. I’d say we have a near perfect example of history repeating itself.