Hot Seat – Wendy Howie

Wendy has worked with Expedia Group, Inc. for the past 21 years in various roles. Starting in operations she was based in Las Vegas handling incoming customer calls, exchanging airline tickets, and processing refunds. She quickly moved up to call center supervisor and then manager. She gained more experience from the training and development team and eventually market management. Wendy covered an extensive amount of markets for Expedia including Reno, Lake Tahoe, and parts of Arizona and New Mexico before relocating to her current home-based position in Myrtle Beach, SC with Hotwire where she covers the Southeast. In her free time she enjoys spending time at the beach with her two children and two corgi puppies.

What brought you into the hotel industry?

How far back do you want me to go? It started when I was a kid — I used to pretend I was a travel agent. While other kids played house – I played travel agent. I knew from the beginning I wanted to be in the travel industry because it’s selling fun (vacations and things like that).

Did it live up to expectations?

Heck yes! When I did a career day at my son’s school in 5th grade, I showed the class images of hotels I had stayed at and they were AMAZED. I travel constantly so sometimes it becomes kind of numbing to me. After a while, you realize it really is cool — what you’re doing! That brings back my fire when I get to see the passion in someone else. It reignites me.

What do you dislike about this industry?

Honestly traveling for work is hard. I have to leave my family, my house. But once I’m there, I can enjoy myself and it definitely makes up for it and I have a great support system at home. I’ve learned a lot of things along the way, even if it was painful at times.

Best hotel you ever stayed at (not in your market)?

Nothing compares to Vegas. That used to be my market, but it’s not anymore. Several times during my career they gave out FAM (familiarization) trips — you would stay at the property and they would really treat you nice — buffet dinner, and I just felt like the queen! (laughs) I could literally say I stayed at every hotel on the strip (minus a couple of the brand-new ones in recent years). Do I really have to pick one?

No, we won’t force you (laughs)

Ok good!

Favorite vacation spot? 

I can definitely say Disney World. We go at least once, sometimes twice a year. Now that I live on the East Coast, it’s easy. It really is the happiest place on earth for me.

What are your must-dos there?

We HAVE to do the Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain. But I do love my Epcot – I like walking around the lake and seeing all the lands and countries.

What’s an interesting fact or hobby about yourself?

I’m a really big World of Warcraft fan – similar to John Belton. Sometimes we play together. I live in Myrtle Beach and spend a lot of time at the beach – even in winter. It’s just very relaxing to walk around and I like finding shark teeth. It’s a needle in a haystack and when I find one, I’m THRILLED! Over the summer I found six – that was a good summer.

What did you think about 2018 for the hotel industry?

Mergers and consolidation had a huge impact. As I’ve watched Expedia Group grow and acquire, we’ve become massive. It’s resulting in just a few big players in the space – similarly for the hotel world we’re seeing brands get bigger and become more and more relevant.

It’s great for customers when their points are combined and they get greater rewards from that. On the other hand, the independent space is becoming rarer and if you’re not part of the big chains – it can be a struggle.

What can we anticipate in 2019?

There are more localized and regional management companies popping up – which keeps my job interesting because levels of experience vary. I enjoy those conversations because many of them are all about revenue and “let’s get down to it”. It’s fun building an opaque strategy with them.

Any tips for partners?

Some already know this, but you have to know what everyone is doing around you. If you aren’t competitive on every level, you miss out. There’s a ton of empty rooms out there – what’s going to make that customer yours? It’s a huge pot and there’s a lot of people in it – so you have to stand out. It’s not just price. In Hotwire’s case, it’s recommend score. Guests need to enjoy staying with you and feel safe.

What other hot industry topics are you following?

Booking direct comes up with all of my partners. Booking direct is great for long-term sales, but in my experience, there’s no way a hotel is going to sell 50 rooms by arrival time tonight. It just doesn’t happen. So yes, the brand’s great, it can be consistent and help move a lot of business often. But it’s not going to sell every room all the time. If you want to hit your revenue goals you have to look at your mix, and consider same-day for example (which Hotwire is really good at).

Another grievance I commonly hear is on pricing and margins. People seem to forget the franchise fees they pay for the bookings they get there. I can appreciate frustrations with both – but you need both.

What stands out for you from the guest perspective?

I’ve stayed at a lot of hotels. Most of the time it’s the front desk experience. Sometimes when I check in they’ll call and ask “is everything ok, do you need anything?” That’s cool. Also greeting everyone the same, regardless of rate source and price. It’s your opportunity to win a customer. Not lose them and fill fewer rooms because they leave a poor review.

You’ve managed multiple markets – what were the main differences?

When I had 28 markets – that was challenging but fun. Whenever the phone rang you had no idea what market you were going to get. Beach markets versus city markets are obviously different customer segments – leisure versus business. For example, Virginia Beach versus D.C. But even comparing D.C. to another city market like Atlanta is hard. Both are very business-oriented, but D.C. lives and dies by the congressional calendar with a lot of family segments, and Atlanta is very focused on southern hospitality. East and West coasts, same thing, night and day.

That said – there is a universal similarity. Once you’re in the hospitality industry, I don’t care where you are – you have a passion for it and you usually stay in it.

How do you help partners understand how they can benefit using Hotwire?

I listen. To their goals and needs, and then talk about how Hotwire can help meet and exceed those goals. Do they want to boost RevPar or occupancy? Do they need to build a nonrefundable base at a higher ADR? I have to understand where they’re coming from, in order to speak to how I can be an effective partner and resource for them.