The Revenue Management Roundtable held in late March 2016, organized by Professor Sherri Kimes, was a great opportunity for us to gain insights from the perspectives of various Revenue Management professionals. In this blogpost, we will be discussing the key questions and takeaways from the first session of the roundtable on Asset Profit Optimization.
Rooms Revenue Management to Total Asset Maximization
To kick-start the first session, Professor Kimes posed the question “What are your views on room revenue management to total asset profit maximization?” to the roundtable participants. One central idea brought up by a few of the participants in response to this question, was that hotels are looking beyond room revenue, but are also factoring in the incremental revenue driven by other aspects and areas of the hotel. For example, Mr. Robin Brouwer, Regional Director of Revenue Management, Asia Pacific for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI), commented “When we talk about asset profit maximization, we go beyond simply looking at rooms; we look at rooms, F&B, and function space”. Similarly, Mr. Maunik Thacker, Senior Vice President of Marketing in Marina Bay Sands, seemed to agree, saying that the key issue is to always question how additional revenue can be gained through other assets besides room revenue. As quoted from him, “MBS has 7 core businesses. Hence, we need to figure out how to drive the right customer to spend more across all 7 businesses.”
Another important point that was mentioned by Mr. Puneet Mahindroo, Corporate Director of Revenue Management – Asia Pacific, Four Seasons Hotels and Resort, was that most hotels are asset-light nowadays. They do not own the properties but only involve in the management team. Therefore, hotels are taking pressure from the asset owners about maximizing their assets since all that the owners want is just return on investment.
Furthermore, another crucial factor that hotels could consider in order to maximize their profits, is to differentiate themselves from competitor hotels, and ensure that its facilities and amenities are catered towards their customer preferences. Mr. Patrick Andres, Regional Managing Director, Asia Pacific of Rainmaker, highlighted this view that “it is more important to get the right customers than to get the right room rates”. Often, hotel management become too focused on their pricing strategy and as a result, they ignore the importance of guests’ satisfaction and additional revenue from guest services. Nowadays, having a good pricing strategy might not be the most effective way to boost hotels’ profit, as information regarding room rates are almost transparent across hotels. Instead, hotel management should investigate on additional hotel features that could help to generate higher revenues, such as spa services. These could be the key factors in differentiating the level of profits between different hotels. In order to achieve this, it is necessary that hotel management identifies what their customers want, and make it easy and convenient for them to gain access to those facilities. For example, hotels could make the booking process more user-friendly, as well as advertise heavily on the added amenities and services that would appeal greatly to customers.
Managing Partnerships between Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and Hotels
Another point that was raised during the discussion was the role of the relationship between OTAs and hotels in driving asset profit optimization. A recent trend in hotels’ asset profit maximization strategies involves a shift from traditional distribution channels to reaching customers via 3rd party service providers. With a growing number of travellers booking their flights and accommodations via OTAs such as Expedia and Booking.com, OTAs are becoming important distribution channels for many hotels around the world. Mr. Clive Hawthorn, Director of Marketing (Singapore and Malaysia) from Expedia, provided his insights on the increasing importance of OTAs to hotels’ total asset maximization strategies during the session.
Mr. Hawthorn mentioned that OTAs provide added value for many hotels, by offering scalable market solutions to them. With a larger number of customers looking for hotels through online means, traffic is becoming more expensive to acquire for a lot of hotels. Hence, the question for many hotels today is, how can they leverage on this customer traffic in a cost-effective manner? The answer lies in the services that OTAs like Expedia can offer to hotels. OTAs possess the relevant data that can be leveraged to support hotels’ marketing efforts. They can provide the right technological tools and platforms to help hotels position their marketing campaigns in an effective way to tap on customer traffic through the OTA website. For example, Expedia’s system can help hotels to rate the strength of their promotions and provide recommendations for hotels to better position their commercials to attract more customers. In return for such services, hotels pay management fees to Expedia. Hence, there is an increasing need for hotels today to work together with OTAs like Expedia in which hotels can leverage on the technology and scale of the OTAs to drive revenue growth.
While the relevance of OTAs is a growing trend in the industry, there seems to be some tension in the relationship between OTAs and hotels as we observed from the discussion that followed. With regard to the point raised by Mr. Hawthorn, participants from the hotels started to voice out their concerns. Ms. Siv Forlie, Vice President of Revenue Management from Shangri-La, left us with a memorable quote: “Let’s get one thing straight, hotels don’t necessarily live off OTAs”. She explained that for many hotels, like Shangri-La, the acquisition of customers is the “bread-and-butter” of their operations. And in many ways, the branding of the hotels plays an integral role in attracting more customers. Indeed, hotel ratings, reviews on blogs, customers’ personal experiences in staying in the hotel, all contribute towards the brand equity of the hotel. This is a key factor that determines the ease with which hotels can retain existing customers or acquire new customers. OTAs could, at best, serve to help enhance customer acquisition but not take over this function entirely. Mr. Maunik added on to the argument by questioning the true value that OTAs can bring to the table. Can OTAs effectively bring new customers that are difficult to reach directly to the hotel? Moreover, can OTAs bring customers who are more likely to sign up to the hotel’s loyalty program to the hotel effectively? If not, perhaps the value that OTAs can bring to the hotel may not be as significant as mentioned by them.
Taking into consideration both sides of the argument, our group feels that while hotel branding is a critical factor in driving the acquisition of customers, the increasing customer traffic through OTAs is an opportunity that hotels should not ignore. In fact, hotels should try to leverage on this, by working together with the OTAs to develop solutions for tapping into this traffic effectively. Strategic partnerships that are mutually beneficial should be formed between hotels and OTAs, as also mentioned by Mr. Tarandeep Singh, Senior Director of Revenue Performance and Analytics Organization from Intercontinental Hotels Group. Hotels can utilize the services of OTAs to improve their commercial positioning and promotions, while OTAs can leverage on the branding of hotels to drive more customer traffic through their website. In order to sustain such relationships, we believe that it is important to build these partnerships based on trust and open communication. Relevant data could be shared between both parties, so that important customer trends can be gleaned to develop improved solutions that could benefit both hotels and OTAs.
What Google is doing to help hotels to drive more revenue
When asked by Professor Kimes regarding some of the things that Google is doing to help hotel owners to drive more revenue, Ms. Ayesha D’Souza, Industry Manager for Travel from Google Singapore replied that Google is organizing information to get customers from one point to another seamlessly. They are trying to understand where customers are going and what they are spending on. This will allow better leverage and integration of data for the hotels.
Not only have we gained valuable insights regarding total asset profit maximization but also understood it from different perspectives. This roundtable is definitely an eye-opener for all of us and has kindled our interest for revenue management. Thank you all participants for making this roundtable an enjoyable and insightful session!
The morning of 21st March 2016 marked the 2nd annual NUS Revenue Management Roundtable, organized by Professor Sherri Kimes and sponsored by various corporate partners, namely Duetto, IDeaS, Rainmaker and Infor. The event featured distinguished guests from many industry leaders in the hospitality and technology industries, making the event an invaluable occasion for networking and learning opportunities, not only from the guests’ perspective, but also students from DSC3224 Course – Dynamic Pricing and Revenue Management.
Even before the event officially commenced, the students already had interacted with some of the Roundtable guests. They were all very friendly and eager to share their insights and experience. Guests also took this chance to catch up with old colleagues, as many of them have known each other for a long time.
The first session of this year’s RM Roundtable focused on the topic of Asset Profit Optimization. This post will highlight several notable discussions brought up during this session.
From Room Revenue Management to Asset Profit Optimization
Revenue Management in the hospitality industry is gradually shifting from focusing solely on Room Revenue Management to Total Asset Revenue Management. Professor Kimes opened the discussion with a question – “Is RM more and more influenced by asset managers?”
In response, Mr. Robin Brouwer, Regional Director, Revenue Management – Fairmont Raffles Hotels International (FRHI) Asia Pacific, began sharing about FRHI’s plan for the shift towards Total Hotel Revenue Management. Total revenue strategy looks at which other revenue channels can be optimized besides just the rooms. According to him, there have been encouraging signs of improvements in total revenue after some of the new initiatives to maximize ancillary services revenue streams were implemented at FRHI.
Mr. Puneet Mahindroo, Corporate Director of Revenue Management – Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Asia Pacific, continued by emphasising the fact that most hotels are now asset-light, which means they do not own the properties but only run the hotel management (except for Shangri-La). Hence, revenue managers are under increasing pressure from asset owners to maximize revenue from different services. He also mentioned that room revenue is finite and there is not much area to grow, unless the company opens up new hotels frequently. With limited ability to increase capacity, hotels will rely more and more on ancillary services such as function spaces, F&B, entertainment, etc. to maximise revenue earned from current assets.
Siv sharing her experience at Shangri-La
Ms. Siv Forlie, Vice President Revenue Management – Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, concurred with Puneet, stressing that Shangri-La is getting more serious in Total Asset RM, given that as the asset owners, they are responsible for answering to shareholders and maximizing shareholders’ wealth. Much more management time is now spent on other revenue streams such as F&B, which now accounts for 50% of total revenue.
The next step: Data Analytics in Total Revenue Management
Puneet began by making a remark on the importance of data in Total Revenue Management. More technology companies are trying to leverage on the lack of “clean” data in the market for hotel and attempts to develop tools that look into hotel analytics. However, the main challenge is still on how are they able to gather these “clean” data, caused by the lack of foresight of using data in revenue management in the past. People are complacent and used to not having data records unless it is necessary for forecasting. This is due to the fact that employees do not get to see the full picture of how data is important for the company in generating more revenue.
Right Rates versus Right Customers
Mr. Maunik Thacker, Senior Vice President, Marketing – Marina Bay Sands (MBS), offered another a fresh perspective from an integrated resort RM point of view. In the case of MBS, as gaming contributes 70% to total revenue, an important consideration for revenue managers is how to drive more gaming revenue using the other assets that MBS has. It is not just to maximise the revenue for all functions, but to maximise the value of the business as a whole.
“It’s a customer profitability perspective. How do you drive the right customers – customers with the right “profile” – to increase spending on all businesses.” — Maunik Thacker
As such, MBS has been analyzing data from 40 million customers annually across all MBS properties, to identify how the right customer’s “profile” looks like.
Mr. Patrick Andres, Regional Managing Director – Rainmaker, Asia Pacific, agreed with Maunik that the ideology of focusing on only maximising room rate is getting irrelevant especially for integrated businesses like MBS, because getting the right customers is now much more important than getting the right rates.
“It’s not the room rate, but the people staying” — Patrick Andres
The serious looks of participants show how much the value the discussion
Customer Insights in Revenue Management
Patrick also raised the point that hotels do not have customer visibility to the extent that gaming has. This leads to the issue of transparency of guest information, and how to get them. As a guest books a room in the hotel, the hotel needs to choose who to accept or reject in order to maximize revenue with limited capacity. Hotels would clearly prefer a guest that spends more on other ancillary services than a guest who only stays for the night. This gives revenue managers a challenge of “How to predict which guest will spend more, and who to accept?”
Mr. Stan van Roij, Managing Director – Infor EasyRMS, suggested another important consideration, which is to educate people about all the non-room revenue management. The concept of function-based Revenue Management has not yet been well-understood by many. In today’s context, it is not hard to collect data, but it is hard to generate insights. The next big challenge forward is how are we going to process data and convert insights to real world applications?
Disruptive Technology: The love-hate relationship between Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) and Hotels
OTAs have been around for more than 20 years, providing customers with convenience in booking flights, hotels and other travel needs on a centralized platform. While OTAs help to channel more customers to hotels, they are also in direct tension with hotels as OTAs take a part of hotel’s profit and prevent hotels from owning the “customer relationship”.
Having worked in the hotel sector before moving to Expedia, Mr. Clive Hawthorn, Director, Market Management – Expedia, Malaysia & Singapore, offered insights about the role of OTAs in the hospitality industry. Clive started the topic by giving us a clearer background of OTAs such as Expedia, which “provide hotels with scale and reach in their marketing effort”. In particular, Expedia has been investing huge amount of money in upgrading their system and algorithms to direct customers to their site and to provide a streamlined customer experience.
As the competition among the OTAs are getting tougher, the cost of acquiring customer traffic is getting more expensive. Although the cost is increasing, this cost cannot be passed to the customers.
“Should customers be penalized for booking through a different channel ?” — Clive Hawthorn
Hence, OTAs have been working within the margins to provide the value for both customers and the hospitality industry.
The next large potential market: China
Professor Kimes mentioned that even Ctrip, a Chinese travel services provider, is talking about revenue management and they have revenue managers now. Clive agreed that China is the next biggest market as the regulations on travel is getting relaxed and more Chinese have international passports. Puneet even described C-trip as The Amazon for hotels in China. C-trip is trying to dominate the entire marketplace for hotels. In China, Ctrip owns 95% of the online travel business. Puneet also raised the point that it is not necessary for hotels to work with OTAs, but it is profitable.
Professor Sherri was excited to share about her knowledge on Ctrip
Stan felt that rather than fighting Ctrip, partnering with them might be a better deal, though it’s still debatable. The key reason was that hotel do not invest much in marketing and technology.
Clive stood for his point that hotels need to work with OTAs to market and optimize their customers demand. If the direct booking provides a better experience, customers might be more inclined to do so.
Google to be the next OTA?
As we all know, Google is a well known company that does massive data engineering. Professor Kimes prompted the question “Will Google go into the OTA market?”. Ayesha D’Souza from Google replied that Google basically streamlines and organizes data in the best manner possible. This data is then used to provide users with comprehensive insights including the hotel industry. Google is now working with hotels on the analytics side to curate and clean data to come out with more insights.
So will Google be the next OTA? “Never say never” — Ayesha.
To bring the first session to a wrap, participants are asked about the challenges that they could foresee in the next few years.
“What does the customer want to buy?” — Tarandeep Singh
Tarandeep Singh, from InterContintental Hotels Group, said that there is yet a strategic Asset Profit Optimization Model. Rooms are still the primary focus, but they are getting there. Hotels are investing millions to change the rule of the game focusing on ”what does the customer want to buy?”.
Patrick, coming from a consulting point of view, saw the challenge to be in getting the smaller hotels to join the industry, so that they can step in to provide solutions. The key for him was “What can we do to make the customer experience easier and better?”
The biggest challenge for Maunik was the profitability of each customer, a constant battle between gamers & non-gamers. He brought up the point that it is not about same or different rates that OTAs are charging, but whether they are driving in new and right customers. He felt that the focus should be on building a strong rewards program.
The first session was really insightful. Our group has learnt that revenue management is now not limited to only selling rooms and charging the right rate, but to whom they should sell the rooms. Hotels also have many other services available, and they are moving towards total revenue management as to make customers spend more during their stay. In order to do that, more customer insights are required, and again, it is a data game!
We attended the Revenue Management Roundtable on the 21st of March. The roundtable session began on an early Monday morning. We entered the room which was filled with lively chatter. The energy level was high throughout the entire day. The discussion amongst the industry speakers was interesting, and it was indeed a wonderful opportunity to learn more about revenue management in the hospitality industry. Much thanks to Prof Sherri Kimes and everyone involved for the opportunity to attend the event.
- Rooms RM to Total Asset Profit Maximization
During the discussions on total asset profit maximization, a number of key insights stood out. Mr Puneet Mahindroo from Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts mentioned that room revenue constitutes about 70% of most hotel’s revenue. However, room revenue tends to be a finite amount which can only be increased when more hotels are opened. Currently, there is a shift towards looking at total revenue, and not just room revenue.
Importance of Ancillary Revenue Streams
When we look at profit maximization, it is good to look at it from a total hotel perspective, not just from a rooms revenue perspective. It is important to consider additional streams of revenue, such as from F&B and functions based services.
- According to Mr. Robin Brouwer from Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, they have recently looked at growing their ancillary revenue streams and focusing on the entire entity’s revenue which has been pretty successful for them. This is even more important considering the difficulty of increasing room revenue. Mr Mahindroo also pointed out that room revenue is a finite amount and takes up roughly 70% to which there is a limit one can grow the business.
- Mr. Tarandeep Singh from InterContinental Hotels Group pointed out the difficulty of thinking in terms of total assets from an organizational perspective without first having leadership buy-in and organizational capabilities to support that type of thinking. However, there is a need to put the customer first even while maximizing profit.
- According to Ms. Siv Forlie from the Shangri La, there is increasing pressure on hotel managers to follow trends and understand how to maximize revenue, considering all factors from ballroom size to number of seats in a restaurant. Recently, there has been a lot of focus and interest on other income streams, not just a focus solely on rooms, which tends to ‘runs itself’.
- Mr Maunik Thacker from Marina Bay Sands stressed the importance of marketing in revenue management, where a relatively recent trend is to utilize marketing to identify the right types of consumers, customers who drive most of the revenue, and how to draw these consumers, which spans across all businesses to the hotel or resort. For Marina Bay Sands, they seek to drive revenue from all streams, from about 7 different businesses and their targeted profile of consumers are those which will ultimately spend some money in the casino. Mr Patrick Andres from Rainmaker also added that some streams are more important than others and having complete visibility of the guests will be good. Being able to find the right person rather than the right price will make a difference in revenue.
- Consider the Overall Objective of the Hotel Before Deciding On the Strategy
Mr. Patrick Andres from Rainmaker emphasized the importance of strategy to revenue management. Contrasting the strategy at resorts like Marina Bay Sands and traditional hotels, resorts might focus more on gaining overall revenue. Thus, to them, rooms are an ancillary stream of revenue, and the rooms are ‘more about the people in the room, rather than the room rate’. Rather than just selling the room at the right rates, they try to sell the rooms to the ‘right’ person, which will drive total revenue. For more traditional hotel operators, they do not have the same visibility on the guests as compared to casino operators. Therefore, it is important for traditional hotel operators to consider their objectives before deciding on what kind of strategy to pursue in order to maximize revenue.
- Big Data, Technology and OTAs Are Changing the Nature of the Industry
Mr Stan van Roij from Infor EasyRMS mentioned the difficulty of developing insights from huge amounts of data.
Mr Clive Hawthorn, from Expedia, explained their business model in detail. Online travel agents (OTAs) like Expedia provide a marketplace for sellers and buyers to meet, using their algorithms to match demand with supply. It is estimated that 50% of Expedia’s revenue will be generated via mobile next year, showing the huge importance of this market. Nonetheless, OTAs have become very significant competitors to hotels in terms of room bookings because of their technological capabilities. This brings us to another point on how the differences in technological advancements between competitors, such as hotels and OTAs affect their individual competitive advantages. It is worth noting that hotels have the resources, expertise and do see a need to invest in internet platforms. However, it is still a challenging case to forth to higher management. OTAs do complement the hotels, and OTAs like Expedia can add value based on technology and covers the market segment that hotels originally unable to reach.
However, as the market becomes more saturated, the traffic and costs to gain from each customer will increase. To adapt, Expedia is looking at cross-selling between their different business lines. OTAs provide an invaluable service to small hotel players which might not have the resources to control and drive their own distribution channels, these players can form meaningful partnerships with OTAs like Expedia to drive their consumer traffic and marketing.
Mr Mahindroo agreed with this point, elaborating on a test that Four Seasons carried out in Hong Kong, where they tried to establish rate barriers across all channels.
Other than room bookings, OTAs pose a bigger challenge to hotels in the form of potential dominance in the travel marketplace. For example, CTrip, which declares themselves to be an online marketplace, intends to dominate the travel marketplace from taxis to cruise lines, and continue to integrate vertically. From recent acquisitions, they control 90% of online travel business in China. Behind the scenes, they have integrated revenue optimization by sourcing rates from different places.
Mr. Mahindroo also sees three major points regarding technology in the hotel industry:
- There is a huge technological gap between newer OTAs and hotels
- The way that hoteliers merchandise currently has a lot of rooms for improvement
- Hotels spend too much time talking about the past and take too long in future decision making. He thinks that hoteliers need to change their thinking to consider the future more.
However, according to Mr. Patrick Andres, channel differentiated pricing is increasingly difficult for hotels because of OTAs. This has made the rates more transparent and it affects traditional revenue management as well. There is an increasing need to control distribution channels such as CTrip and Expedia, so that they can work more closely with each other to address this issue.
Interestingly, Ms. Ayesha D’Souza from Google brought up a point on data analysis, where Google organizes information in the best way to assist consumer requirements. Much of the work done is to clean up the data in a fashion that makes drawing insights possible. From Google’s perspective, they try to understand what the consumers of the hotels have in mind when they spend and consume, by leveraging on their deep data insights. This will allow them to draw connections and understand the consumers in a better way. Currently, the company is trying to integrate analyses across all forms of revenue rather than just hotel rates.
The Wrap Up
Professor Sherri Kimes wrapped up the discussion by concluding that moving forward, choosing the right customer will be extremely important. Properly managing the customer experience to maximize revenue for hotels is also crucial.
We feel that the initial intention of revenue management was to provide a scientific approach towards managing a hotel. Indeed, revenue management has developed and now appears to be a mix of science and art. Having advanced beyond just room revenue maximization, revenue management is now expanding into total profit maximization. Ancillary revenues begin to gain importance within the hotel space as hotels look to increase revenue streams. This gives rise to certain questions for hotels. How much space do we give to F&B? How can we bring in popular F&B outlets to our hotel? What other services can we offer in our hotel?
We also saw a lot of discussions about OTAs, which represent a force to be reckoned with in the hospitality industry. Hotels are taking the competition from OTAs very seriously. One important point that was brought up in the discussion was the technological capabilities of the OTAs. We think that instead of looking at OTAs as competitors, hotels can work with them and use the technological capabilities of the OTAs to their advantage. Even though this point was brought up in the roundtable session, we feel that it requires further discussion. Perhaps we will see joint ventures between OTAs and hotels in the future?
Looking forward, there will be a lot of exciting developments within hotels as the competition increases. There is increased competition between hotels and new disruptive business models appearing, like Airbnb. How can hotels stay relevant and position themselves better amidst a fast moving industry? Are customers going to prioritize the same things as customers in the previous year?
The solutions to all these questions lead us to the discussion of big data. Data analytics was certainly a major topic during the roundtable session and most of the participants did acknowledge its importance. Google, which is a key player in this industry has begun to use its advanced technologies to perform analyses on data. Given its leading position in the market, we think that Google could have easily beat out the hotels and OTAs in terms of data analytics. However, given that data analytics in the revenue management space is still in a relatively infant stage, there are still many challenges that are not solved. One of the major challenges is definitely privacy. This was brought up in the roundtable discussion. We feel that moving forward, privacy will be a major issue that industry players will need to address and perhaps, this will be a key topic of discussion in the upcoming roundtable sessions.
Overall, we learned a lot about total asset profit maximization. All of the participants provided very valuable insights to the future of the industry. This was definitely a really good way for us to learn about the importance of revenue management and based on our conversations with the participants during the tea break and lunch, we certainly gained a deeper interest for the hospitality industry.
Once again, thank you Prof Sherri Kimes for organizing such an informative roundtable session!