The COVID-19 travel lockdown will accelerate a stronger partnership between revenue and marketing teams across hospitality, according to Linda Gulrajani, who has served as VP of revenue strategy and distribution for Marcus Hotels & Resorts since 2014.
Marcus Hotels & Resorts is a leading hotel management company in the midwest U.S., operating or owning more than 5,000 rooms – both with leading brands and a handful of independent properties. Gulrajani, who was named one of HSMAI’s “Top 25: Extraordinary Minds in Hospitality Sales, Marketing, Revenue Optimization” in 2019, oversees distribution and the Marcus Reservations and Customer Care Center, which manages reservation calls for both Marcus Hotels and external hotel customers.
To gain deeper insight on how hotel distribution will work in a post-COVID-19 world, we recently asked Gulrajani for her advice for hoteliers currently navigating this challenging time:
Q: How will hospitality revenue and marketing departments evolve as demand returns?
Gulrajani: Both will likely have less staff and will be expected to do more, which requires everyone to step out of their comfort zone and learn new things. This will naturally change behavior and create different ways of thinking. Hopefully it will continue to drive teams to look at things from a commercial perspective, versus in silos. I also anticipate that hotel companies will start to bring marketing tasks in-house, instead of outsourcing to third parties.
Q: At the hotel and corporate level, who traditionally managed distribution, and do you see that changing?
Gulrajani: I currently oversee the distribution role and don’t see that changing. I do see myself working more closely with marketing as we start to come out of the pandemic and have limited marketing spend and resources. We need to be smart about how and what we are distributing through various channels, to make sure we are driving optimal profit for our hotels.
Q: As demand picks up, how can hotels capturing demand without losing focus on optimal business mix?
Gulrajani: We need to be smart about how we are spending the limited marketing dollars we have. A key part of that strategy is understanding where demand is coming from and making sure we have the right offers available. We need to be looking at our data every day, to understand what’s working and to be nimble enough to adjust our strategies quickly.
Q: How can hotels be confident in the inventory they’re giving to OTAs?
Gulrajani: Hotels need to continuously monitor different channels to make sure that they are in parity across all channels and invest the time in manually shopping various sites. ROI will never be exact on an OTA offer, but using a combination of OTA data and competitor data can help you estimate results.
Q: How important is it for hotels to be tracking and measuring where this rebound demand is coming from? What are most important things to know?
Gulrajani: It is very important, because it is likely going to be different from the past, so we have to start with fresh data and a fresh mindset on how we reach future guests. Channel, segment, location, booking window, web traffic (i.e. what guests are looking at on your site), conversions, state and local guidelines for both your market and drive markets are all important.
Q: Does distribution decision-making happen above property or on-property, and do you see that evolving?
Gulrajani: It’s always been a blended approach for us. I don’t see that changing much.
Q: For hotels that want to remain independent, where can they go for revenue, marketing and distribution support?
Gulrajani: Check out organizations like HSMAI and HEDNA. Google Certifications can help, too. And remember the many potential distribution partners out there (hotel reservations providers, OTA market managers and resources), representation partners (Preferred Hotels, Leading Hotels, ALHI, etc.), revenue management system partners and similar solution providers.
By Jason Freed