Robb Hall: I approach it a little bit differently. I am
sitting next to some sales and marketing experts
here, and my background is operations and finance.
We have 14 hotels all around the Twin Cities so
I can speak to the Twin Cities. And I can tell you
that last year was a very good year for us overall. We
saw about 6. 5 percent revenue per available room
growth, year over year. In our company we often
times find ourselves pulling out our 2007 numbers.
And we like to refer to 2007 as our high water mark.
It pretty much represents the best of times for our
portfolio of hotels. And so we have gone through the
years since then, we are gauging our recovery always
to 2007. I can tell you that last year we were even or
pretty much exceeded 2007, so we are very encouraged about that. Looking for ward to this year, we are
focused on rate, maintaining occupancy of course,
but really focused on growing rate in our hotels. And
we are doing that in a whole variety of ways. Very
optimistic about the future, and we are sure that we
are going to have several good years to come.
Joel Schettler: Using 2007 as a high-water mark, which Robb alluded to and
I highlighted in my opening remarks, now
I am going to pick the panelists brains a
little bit here. It’s a nice way to kind of
compare how things have changed. So you
can answer in any way that you like, but
how are things different now than 2007?
And now that we can all agree that we
are back to those peak levels, what is
different? Perhaps in the demographics of
who’s traveling, certainly in the way that
we reach those travelers… and I’m sure
we will talk about that in greater detail as
social media wasn’t even around then.
Robb Hall: Revenues are back to 2007 levels, but it
is very different in a lot of ways. First of all operating costs are way up. I failed to tell you that we are
not at 2007 profit levels. And we still have quite a
ways to go. It’s the obvious things that we all deal
with: healthcare, benefits, wages, utilities. You just
go down the list; everything is significantly—taxes,
thank you—everything is more expensive even
though our revenues are back up.
One of the things that has most drastically
changed is how people book, and we’ve seen just
as you all have, such an explosion in the online
travel agents. And with that, we’ve seen our travel
agent commission rates really grow, and last year
I want to say that we were up 25 percent over the
previous year. We budgeted to be up again this year.
But how people are booking and with all of
the online booking, it’s coming at a higher cost
than it was back in 2007, where more people
booked directly with the properties. Whereas now
it seems as everybody’s surfing and booking online,
Joel Schettler: I am just going to ask one
quick follow up. Being in finance you
probably have a good look at the numbers,
obviously. Are there certain segments
performing differently than in 2007?
Robb Hall: Yes. It is different. That rack rate
customer—that customer that comes in and pays
full rate—is not as prevalent as it was in 2007. And
back to my comment on travel agent commissions:
you look at your Internet segment, and again that
keeps growing and growing at a crazy clip every year.
We’ve seen our group segments come back to 2007
levels and we focus very hard on direct sales and
that has come back. Along with our preferred corporate customer—our corporate customer that gets
a volume discount—that is certainly back to what it
was. But that rack-rated premium customer is not,
and we are seeing that customer in the discounted
Anna Tanski: I think 2007 feels like a hundred years
ago, and it’s hard to think back to what that was like.
We’ve been through so much since then. Some of the
key points on the meetings and conventions side, the
government market is completely upside down from
where it was in 2007 for so many different reasons
and for many reasons that go beyond the state level.
So I think markets large and small have felt that. I
think the resorts could probably speak more to that.
It’s just been a fireball basically. It’s still a market
that we pursue, but with probably a fraction of the
results. It’s still there for us, but unfortunately due
to the parameters and restrictions and the booking
process, it has become a very small fraction of the
meetings and conventions that we used to host here
I think that another thing that has changed dramatically on the leisure side is the user-generated
content, which we can certainly get into more when
we talk about social media. But now we have ambassadors everywhere who can become our biggest
cheerleaders, or just the opposite. I think what that
does is really make us as an industry pay attention.
We need to listen and hear what’s being said. But
again it goes back to then investing in the training
of our key staff, especially front lines, where the
customer experience begins. So that may not have
been as prevalent back in 2007 when we weren’t
always under the microscope and there wasn’t the
immediacy that we see now.
INDUSTRY ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION
Robb Hall, Vice President
As the Vice President
of Operations for CSM
Lodging, Robb Hall oversees multiple brands and
geographic areas of the
country and maintains
responsibility for the
excellence of all food and
beverage outlets within
CSM. Hall has received
several awards including Hotelier of the Year,
Special Achievement for
Quality Assurance, and
this magazine’s inaugural
Vision Award for leadership in 2009. In addition to
his current position, Robb
makes time for a variety of
volunteer boards including
the Brand Advisory Council
for Carlson Hotels and
Resorts, Board of Directors
for the Minneapolis
and is also President of
the Minnesota Lodging
“The biggest thing,
and I’m probably
stating the obvious,
is that it requires a
direct sales effort.
It doesn’t come to
you unless you go
out there and find it
and go after it.”