Hot Seat – John Belton

John has over 20 years in the Hospitality Industry, half of that as an on-site Revenue Manager for 300+ room hotels in Houston. John’s experience includes both Front Office and Revenue Management with Starwood, IHG, and Marriott Hotels in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Houston, Texas.

John enjoys discussing revenue management strategies but loves to end the day doing raids and battlegrounds within the World of Warcraft realm!

How did you start in the industry?

I was recruited — I was working at a grocery store when a general manager of a Courtyard by Marriott who frequented the store told me she wanted me to come work for her. I latched onto the idea of a uniform and sitting at a desk – a glamorous job!

Okay, it wasn’t as glamorous as I thought, but I definitely fell in love. Working at a brand new hotel I could determine where everything lived and pick out furniture! It was really fun.

 

Favorite and least favorite thing about the industry:

Favorite? It allows people who work hard to move up quickly. And move from just a job to a career based on performance and drive. It’s all about networking and creating a name for yourself.

Least favorite would be the amount of management company changes if you’re a franchise hotel. Volatility within the career. Uncertainty can cause unnecessary stress and worries.

 

What are your thoughts on consolidation in the industry?

I am concerned as we give individual revenue managers more hotels or portfolios, they won’t be able to fully optimize, and they’ll miss out on the opportunity to truly shine at one particular property.

 

Favorite hotel NOT in your managed market?

Arenal Volcano hotel in Costa Rica – it was a resort. They filmed The Bachelor there. Probably the most spectacular hotel I’ve ever stayed at. The views, the grounds, the service. ALL amazing.

 

What’s something surprising about yourself?

I’m a huge nerd. Not an ‘I like Starwars’ nerd. A true natural science geek. I actually just bought three queen ants from this guy in Texas so I can establish an ant colony on my own.

 

We’re halfway through 2018 – any surprises in the industry?

I can speak to the industry in Texas. It surprises me that the cost of oil still hasn’t rebounded and the number of hotels they’re putting in. There appears to be a ton of optimism that demand and the price will go up. I’m not sure demand will come back at the pace it’s being forecasted. I worry that my (hotel) partners have a few more years of unanticipated low occupancy.

The remainder of 2018 is still in the recovery phase – the beginning of recovery.

 

How do you advise partners manage this period?

Steal share from your competition. If there aren’t more guests coming in, you need to get them from somewhere. The only real way you can play the game and grow YOY (which every hotel is asked to do regardless of market trends) is to steal share from the neighbor down the street and out-think them strategically.

 

Misconceptions about revenue management?

Revenue Managers seem to be the only ones who actually know what they do. That comes from the name – many people hear ‘revenue’ and assume accounting. The only thing we do with accounting is give them top-line revenue and ensure we’re being cost-effective. The name itself doesn’t lend to easy explanation.

The other misconception is all DORMs are trained the same. Many believe all DORMs had the same training and certifications, especially in big brands where it was a requirement to keep your job but also to move to up. It’s very clear to me that there’s a huge range from those who don’t know what a rate plan is, to those that can optimize/maximize revenue for a 2,000 room hotel.

 

Misconceptions about Hotwire?

I come from a property where I had to champion the use of opaque. I’m not coming to you to just ask for cheap rates. I would be happier if you raised your rates and gave me a deeper discount. We want to partner with you to maximize the revenue you’re leaving on the table with unsold rooms. We aren’t happy if you’re losing on the STR report.

Also our guests – I am very passionate about this topic. I have a spreadsheet of a three-month audit I did as a revenue manager of every single guest complaint and went back to identify which rate plan and segment the guest came through. I quickly discovered it was my wedding and corporate group guests. The only reason Hotwire guests get flagged is because it’s assumed the lowest rate guests are the unruly ones. I encourage all my partners to validate the booking source because more often than not, their assumption it was Hotwire’s customer is incorrect.

 

What other industry trends are you intrigued by?

We’ve done some amazing things with hotels at the tech level, but at the same time, we’re taking away from the guest experience. For example, moving away from the keyboard-based check-in system, where you’d press tab to get to a reservation and print a key. I could get through that screen and check-in a guest in two seconds flat. And the entire time I could keep eye contact and smile to welcome them. I knew what the next screen would be so I never had to look down.

As we moved into new reservation systems, the front desk clerks are clicking around, and there are times I’ve never seen the color of their eyes. This is a key opportunity as the first interaction with a guest at a hotel to provide a personable experience.

 

What Hotwire initiatives are you most excited about?

I’m excited about our commercials getting more people in the funnel and that the message in those commercials is simple and easy to understand.

I’m also excited about us building out and improving our partner tools with a new dedicated team.

 

What do revenue managers like about Hotwire?

No contracts is huge. The fact that they can set their strategy and bring us on board to supplement and help fulfill their goals matters. There needs to be a way to move a lot of rooms in a short amount of time, and we’re a channel that can do that.

Also that we’re part of Expedia Group, Inc. You know you’re in great hands with a company who focuses on being a great partner to hotels.

 

When should hotel partners use us?

Anytime they have a room available that will go unsold. Anytime they have the opportunity to put a rate on a room and earn revenue, we want to help them. Use us in long-term strategy and short-term strategy.