Hot Seat – Rob Bunker

With over 21 years in hospitality, Rob currently serves as the Corporate Director of Revenue Management for Golden Entertainment in Las Vegas.

Rob spent seven years in the airlines, and then moved into the hotel and casino industry leveraging his expertise in revenue management, marketing, pricing, and forecasting. Thoroughly familiar with the Las Vegas market and armed with an MBA (from the American Graduate School of International Management), Rob held roles at Caesars Entertainment, MGM, and SLS to name a few.

In the rare moments that he isn’t crunching numbers, you’ll find Rob skiing on either water or snow, or riding off-road.

What brought you into the hotel industry?

I’d like to say it was the love of the hotel business, but truthfully I was working in Houston, Texas doing revenue management for airlines and my family was in Las Vegas. I wanted to get back near family in 2005 and revenue management was just starting to become a bigger part of the casino industry in Las Vegas. They were starting to realize the importance of it, so I reached out to some people my family knew in the casino industry and happened to come across a guy by the name of Steve Pinchuk who was the President of Revenue Management for Caesar’s—at that time it was Harrah’s Entertainment. He was looking to expand his group and it was the perfect match. 

What keeps you in revenue management?

(Laughs) I guess it’s pretty nerdy, but I like the dynamics of it. You see the fruits of your labor very quickly when you’re changing rates and adjusting demand. I like the competitiveness of it; feeling like I’m outsmarting my competition. I also like that it’s not purely technical or qualitative. There’s a mix of using a lot of data but also relying on your market knowledge. The two combined is fun.

Any major differences on revenue management between airlines and hotel?

I would say not particularly at the operational level. Keep in mind airlines started revenue management back in the 80s, so at the time I left they were already pretty sophisticated and you had to have an extensive background to get in. You typically had to have a Masters degree, logistics background—there were high expectations when it came to qualifications. Whereas when I joined the hotel industry, often you’d see the front desk staff moving into revenue management or those who had never done it before. There was a definite difference in the types of skills brought to the table. Otherwise operationally same old same old.

What do you enjoy about the Vegas market?

My favorite thing is that Vegas is Vegas. We are very dynamic and fast-paced. Don’t blink, and don’t walk away from your computer for more than a couple hours cause rates have changed. It’s just fun and exciting—you really have to stay on the ball. I truly get excited in the morning to log-in and see what I picked up overnight. Revenue Management isn’t just about the 2,300 rooms that I sold before today. The last 100 rooms are crucial. The last 100 rooms are just as important as the first 2,300 you sell.

It’s a big community but it’s also very small because everybody knows everybody. It’s fun because you’re competing against your friends – there’s a lot of comradery. We help each other out too. I had someone call me a couple months ago and say “Hey did you notice they announced the NFL draft next April? Make sure your rates are adjusted accordingly.” It’s a good community that wants to ensure you aren’t blindsided by something.

What’s an interesting fact or hobby about yourself outside of work?

I have two passions outside of work. I’m a very avid dirt bike and off-road rider. I used to race when I was younger, and I’m still very active in it. We go to Baja every year for a week and ride a thousand miles and spend five days off-road. I’m also a big boater. We love lake days and water-skiing and wakeboarding. It’s a big part of my life. I love going and enjoying with family and friends.

You’ve been in Vegas for about 12 years, what is unique about this market?

You either like it or you don’t (laughs). There’s a lot of pressure to perform better than the previous year and meet budget, especially because the market has so much corporate ownership. These are large corporations with stockholders and CEOs, so there’s tons of pressure but it also makes you more driven and work harder. Operationally, there are many moving parts in Vegas and we rely on nearly every distribution channel you can think of. We need to because we’re talking about an area of about a three-mile radius having 150,000 rooms to fill where you need to meet high levels of occupancy year-round. It’s incredibly difficult.

If someone were moving to Las Vegas for hotel revenue management, what advice would you give them?

Really learn the market. Understand the trends. This comes with time – it will help you perform as you learn how to react to new things going on in the market because it’s Vegas changes all the time.

You have to be good with people. Revenue management works with so many departments on a daily basis that it’s important to have a people personality. What we do isn’t easy, and sometimes we have to deliver information people don’t want. For example we might have to tell sales people we can’t take more groups or tell a casino we can’t take in as many customers. You need to be able to deliver that news in a way that explains why and how tough decisions are most profitable for the company.

You also need to like looking at data and be able to extract meaningful insights from it. Oftentimes those who work in revenue management in smaller markets or companies wear many hats – they might be the sales director or the front desk manager. When you come to Vegas, it is likely you’ll focus at least 90% of your time on revenue management because we have a dedicated role for those other functions. Make sure you love revenue management because that’s what you’ll do 24 hours a day, and often that only. It’s very repetitive – there are projects that break up the monotony on occasion but we are data-oriented and do the same things over and over again. Many people enjoy getting to shake-up the day by focusing on different things – you probably won’t get that here – so make sure you love it! 

Sports have really started to pick up in recent years, are there any other additional big factors besides conferences playing into demand in the market?

We do have a lot of conventions – but most are static. They might grow or decrease slightly, but for the most part the big conferences have been here forever and will likely continue to be here for quite some time.

Sports is a large growing business for us. We’re getting the Raiders starting next year, which is huge. We’re already strategizing how that will impact our weekend – Sunday will be a bigger draw (when they play) so figuring out how that will impact our Fridays and Saturdays. We have the Golden Knights hockey team which has been a great success, not only for Las Vegas but our industry. If you attend one of their games, half the attendees are for the opposing team, and that’s the way we like it, because we want visitors to come here! They generate more demand for us and build a stronger market.

Vegas has grown exponentially over the last twenty years. We’re excited to attract other activities beyond gambling. Other than sports, because we’re building all these new arenas – these allow us to offer other events like Monster Trucks and Supercross and large concerts that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to bring in otherwise. They’re already looking at how to leverage the venues in the off-season for the sports teams.

How do you see the market evolving in recent years?

I think it’s important for Vegas to continue to reinvent itself as it has been. We do that pretty well from a marketing standpoint or renovations, shows, and amenities we have to offer now including sports. The saying used to be “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” but it’s becoming more family-friendly, and we have smart people with great ideas so people will continue to visit and have new experiences.

How can properties ensure they are centered on customer needs?

From a revenue management perspective, we rarely interact with the customer – it’s not part of our scope, but most closely related to my role is ensuring I’m selling my product at the appropriate price and that we create the ability for anyone to experience and be aware of our property and what we have to offer. You can accomplish this by having presence in all relevant channels and optimizing price.

When it comes to experience, it’s all about making customers feel important. That’s tough to do when you’re bringing in three, four, five, six thousand rooms per night. Make sure every customer feels important and that at every touchpoint they are aware of the opportunities and experiences we’ve created for them to enjoy. Before they leave they should have a chance to know what’s available to them (like amenities) so they don’t feel like they missed out afterwards. Also communicate with customers ahead of time—especially if you’re doing renovations so there aren’t any negative surprises during their stay and expectations are appropriately set.

What do you love about Hotwire as a partner?

I like the ease and flexibility of using Hotwire in times that I need you – and being able to adjust that quickly. I love your product – I think it gives customers the ability to book a valuable product – if they need a room and are flexible but know they just want a 3-star property, I like that Hotwire gives customers the ability to book that way. It allows me to turn the faucet up and down as needed.