Hot Seat – Mayra Fernandez

With over 10 years in the Hospitality Industry, Mayra has worked with Expedia Group for five years. Starting in Fort Lauderdale as a Hotel Associate, Mayra oversaw much of the East Coast, Latin America and the Caribbean. Mayra quickly moved up to Hotel Account Management and moved to Southern California to manage San Diego and Orange County. OC and Hawaii were the last two markets Mayra managed before moving on the Global Accounts Team, where she now manages chain relationships on a global scale.

In Mayra’s free time you’ll find her in a dance class in LA or at the beach with her husband and son. Mayra grew up in a beach town in California and met her husband in Miami in college – they have a very strong bond with the ocean.

What brought you into the travel world?

It’s an interesting story – definitely not intentional. I fell into the hospitality industry. When I was out of college I interviewed for an entry-level accounting position and was into numbers. After working at that company for nine months I found myself working in the group sales department working with restaurants and partners in Latin America.

It was a hospitality company – I began when it was a start-up which meant that my accounting position bled into other roles. A little marketing, a little sales, it was exciting that it was something new and innovative. It solved a problem that a lot of our partners (restaurateurs) didn’t know they had but felt lacking in.

Really the travel world for me started when I began at Expedia so I find them mutually exclusive. I just celebrated my five-year anniversary with Expedia in January. Five years definitely flew by.

What do you enjoy most and least about the industry?

My favorite part is meeting so many amazing people all over the world with different stories, starting in different places. So many have fallen in love with the industry. Engaging people with great stories to tell can always be found in hospitality.

An area of opportunity is coincidentally also all the travel for long periods of time or back-to-back trips. It’s hard to be away from family, and you miss your bed.

What travel habits help you stay sane?

Definitely over time you learn to find those things that work for you. For me it’s aromatherapy – stress relief scents. Like a lotion I can use before bed that gives me a familiar feeling of home. Also making sure you stay hydrated.

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

I was born in Nicaragua, so traveling there has been a constant since I was a child. Heading back to my home country was something I always looked forward to and while it was the same place, I would  go to different areas so I felt like I was exploring something new. Having the food I love and being able to go from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean in one place is super nice (especially if you’re into scuba or surf). They’re going through a bit of a humanitarian crisis right now so hopefully that will get better soon.We also love places with beaches like the Dominican Republic or Caribbean where time slows down.

What’s your favorite property in the world?

Nizuc in Cancun. It has traditional Mexican charm but also modern, spacious rooms with the amenities I prefer. They do a fabulous job of blending both so it doesn’t feel like a displaced fancy property in the middle of pyramids and rural areas. They did a great job not disrupting the natural order around it.

Outside of travel, what do you enjoy doing?

I like to write. I’ve been known to have a ton of pocket journals or sticky notes with words on them all around me. I like to jot random things down – it could be lyrics from a song I heard in the store or something I read on a billboard. I just try to keep thoughts that resonate.

Has anything surprised you in the travel industry this year?

Every year is surprising in the travel industry (laughs). There’s always something we didn’t see coming or we saw coming years ago and we’re like ‘oh this is when it’s finally happening’. Usually you can follow a hospitality cycle by what the market’s doing in terms of occupancy and seasonality and any big changes such as conferences, convention centers closing, renovating and so forth. When you have all those things in mind, there’s only a certain level of surprise you can get.

2019 feels like a longer year already. A tight competitive landscape is what you’re going to find. Coming out of a couple of years where chains have merged, and they’ve been rebranding and ‘re-finding’ themselves itself is a process. It’s more competitive, larger, and has a greater reach, so because of that, there will be a need for partners and OTAs to focus on the changes and figure out how to get ahead of needs we haven’t yet realized.

How can hotels balance the people aspect with new tech?

Look at different segments of guests and demographics, and comfort levels with different types of technology and for what purposes. This isn’t just limited to our industry – if you are comfortable toggling through multiple apps, new technology offerings might be enticing. There are also people that might find it overwhelming and too confusing. They’ll use whatever tool they are familiar with that makes it easiest to book.

At the chain level, are there concerns about AirBNB?

Their approach is not apathetic. There is wisdom in knowing what’s happening with your competitors and knowing why they’re successful. They definitely listen to those that are at the property and market level to keep them in-tune. They depend on the revenue managers to tell them what their needs are. At the corporate level they’re aware of what’s happening and stay focused on the long-term picture. As they continue to grow, how they will stay relevant.

Are your conversations different at the corporate level versus the market or hotel level?

Absolutely. When you move to corporate conversations – you have a very big picture view of production, opportunities, and seasonality. At the market and hotel level you get granular because you’re identifying individual opportunities. When talking to corporate level representatives it’s more about what can they do in scale taking into consideration ALL renovations, seasonality, and changes. It’s a different way of trying to get them to the overall goal which is growth.

If you could tell all supply partners one thing what would it be?

I would tell them that the Hotwire Account Managers are really keeping their best interests at heart. Obviously we’re a business but we really want to be the tool to get them to the next level. We know revenue management doesn’t just mean Hotwire 100%. That wouldn’t be healthy. We trust them to apply their strategies to achieve goals but Hotwire is definitely the way that will get them there. It won’t be the only thing but it’s going to play a big part. Our brand is constantly evolving which means we will always bring new guests to them. It’s always going to be a win:win for us and them, and as much as they might have a misconception about what a ‘sales person’ is, I can assure them every single account manager working for Hotwire is looking out for them.

What can those at the corporate level do to help their hotels?

There’s really great examples of partners who have stepped up to the plate for their revenue managers to action Hotwire. Whether it’s building a playbook or rate-loading guide — we are happy to partner on building an internal resource for them to leverage and support their hotels to meet growth goals. It helps hotels know it’s a brand-endorsed strategy and has already proven to be successful.

So when do you tell partners to leverage Hotwire?

They should use Hotwire when it’s relevant to their strategy. All of our Hotel Account Managers are certified Revenue Management experts, they know what they’re talking about. Share your strategy with them. They know what’s going on in the market, what challenges you are likely facing, and intel on your competitors. We can help you determine the best time to leverage Hotwire. Every person, market, and strategy is different. It’s not about our goals, it’s about yours. We’ll get to our goals through yours. When you use Hotwire should be based on your revenue strategy. If you’re savvy, you know you really want to use us in the last-minute segment.

What’s the main difference between us and other OTA partners?

We’ve been around longer. We understand the ups and downs of the industry – it’s a roller coaster and we continue to evolve. We have the experience and the relationship. We are not only loyal to the brand — we’re loyal to our partners. We care about them and want them to feel comfortable using us since we’ve been partners for so long. Sure you can check out others but I’m not sure they will care as much about your brand depreciating, your opacity, or the revenue that you get at the end of the day.

International Women’s Day is coming up. What have you observed about female leadership in the industry?

Professionally it’s nice to see the women who are successful, exhibit characteristics of kindness, respect, being a hard-worker, honesty, and most importantly, bravery. In my opinion, success is not just salary and position. A key driver of internal success and that really affects the people around them is keeping the characteristics of being relatable and listening. For me, it’s people like Tara Stangel, Melissa Maher, Neha Parikh – completely honest but still listening and respectful. Seeing it firsthand is inspiring. Not just reading a book like Lean In which is obviously inspiring as well, but it’s completely different when you’re first-row and see a woman being herself and not perfect but still being successful.

I love that in the hospitality industry you see diversity in leadership. You see it in gender, ethnicity, age, in so many ways. It’s awesome to see people work in their own way and really bring that along with them and teach you things.