It’s becoming more and more apparent that, for hotels to lead their respective markets in recovery, leadership must have a dedicated focus on data. And it’s not just the revenue department that needs to be tracking and measuring data on the regular – all departments across the organization must be dialed in to what demand is on the books and how that compares to last year, last month, and even last week.
Aparium Hotel Group, an owner-operator with seven hotels open today and another five scheduled to open their doors in 2021, appears to be ahead of the game. Despite having hotels spread across the U.S., the Chicago-based organization has built a commercial team that stays in constant contact regarding all aspects of business across each of their hotels, with data as the framework.
We recently caught up with Christine Lawson, executive VP of sales and revenue management at Aparium, to get a better understanding of how she analyzes and reviews data. In the face of the pandemic, she and her team evaluate data far more often than in normal times.
“We’ve been looking more closely at shorter-term data,” Lawson says. “The markets are changing constantly with new restrictions and ordinances, so our revenue team is really focused on 30-day trends.”
It is not uncommon for the team to jump on unscheduled calls at random times throughout the day to discuss slight changes in data at a property in Kansas City or Detroit, for example. This data is used to impact the total asset from forecasting, restaurant and bar covers, to staffing.
“The data is used to both identify market and segment trends that we can apply to our business making decisions,” Lawson says. “We need to be very sensitive to the unique dynamics of each of our cities. Data points go hand in hand with other factors we must consider from an on the ground perspective.
“Our revenue team is incredibly talented, they’re like human computers,” Lawson continues. “They’re constantly looking at the STR reports, tracking and graphing out property-level pricing, RevPAR and how it compares to our competitors.”
There are three key data indicators that Lawson and team look to: market and comp set performance, historical data, and forward-looking data. Performance continues to be an important metric for Aparium. While many of their competitors are discounting heavily to boost occupancy, Lawson says leadership has agreed not to take that approach, but rather focus on consistent ADR and RevPAR strength.
Historical data remains important to Lawson and her team even in these uncertain times. “We still do compare performance to where we were at that same point in 2019. We look at a normal demand year with the intent of working towards rebuilding our revenue and business segments by obtaining a targeted percentage of 2019 actuals,” she says. “We want to ensure we’re using the same reports where appropriate to maintain consistency and to optimize our strategies across the entire organization.
Looking forward, Lawson describes Aparium’s strategy as having one foot in survival mode and the other foot in skillfully emerging from the impacts of COVID. “We’ve got to intelligently navigate the current landscape and maximize opportunities, however, more importantly, be thoughtful and prepare for the light that’s ahead. People are itching to travel and have been saving up to do so,” she says.
The bright spot is Aparium continues to see strong demand from leisure travel and weddings. “We have folks on weekends that want to get out of the house into one of our hotels and dine in one of our restaurants in order to have fun while also staying safe,” she says.
Weddings have been a strong business driver because of the flexibility and adaptability for prospective brides and grooms. “It can be a small ceremony now, with talk about a bigger celebration on a future date,” she says. “It’s not just about weekends for weddings anymore – we can be creative from a pricing perspective for rooms and F&B to really help those couples keep it affordable. They can get more for their budget.”
Aparium’s commercial team relies on Windsurfer CRS to extract much of their booking data. The revenue team is most involved – “the way they can slice and dice the data is impressive,” Lawson says – but outside of the commercial team, executives are more interested in the data than ever before. “Now, once a week, the revenue team talks about what we’re seeing, what the trends are, and now leadership is asking more questions,” she says. “It’s a game of inches.”
Lawson says Aparium is confident that travel will bounce back, albeit at varying degrees depending on things like geographic territory and segment mix.
“If we look at Q1, we are holding our own. We are winning our fair share,” she says. “But Q1 is a very difficult measure of recovery. That said, people are ready, the vaccine has provided hope and a desire to plan; in some ways, people are just waiting for permission to travel. Travelers are really engaged with us socially and looking for those engaging experiences. We are focused on how we welcome guests back in ways that are thoughtful, engaging and highlight our unique Aparium DNA.”