Daniela Hupfeld

As we turn the page on 2020, we shine our Spotlight on Hoteliers to understand how the economic downturn continues to impact the industry and what’s on the horizon for 2021. In this month’s Hotelier Spotlight Interview, we catch up with Daniela Hupfeld, Commercial Director at Pierre & Vacances España and Member of Revenue Management Advisory Board at HSMA Deutschland.

Like the unexpected strike of the crisis, the upturn will also hit us fast and at the last minute. If we are not ready when that time comes, we will lose out again.

What is the status of yours and other hotels in your region today? What are your biggest concerns?

Many of our hotels in Spain are seasonal, and we shut down most of them at the end of October each year anyway. But what happened in 2020 is that we closed many of our hotels earlier, and are now only planning to open them later. Therefore, the properties that we usually keep open over the winter, for example in Benidorm where we have guests who retire there during this season from Northern Europe, remain closed. 

Although the vaccine is good news, this is more in the context of everyone’s health. But realistically, it will take some time before the vaccination program is fully rolled out throughout the globe and it is deemed fully safe to travel again. Then we need to get airplanes back up and running because many of our properties are located on the islands and only accessible by airplane. 

Another challenge has been to keep our teams motivated during this time. We do our best to keep positive however, using this downtime to get ready. Because like the unexpected strike of the crisis, the upturn will also hit us fast and at the last minute.  If we are not ready when that time comes, we will lose out again. That is the worst thing that can happen to any hotel: Having the opportunity, but not being in the position to make use of it. 

We’re seeing a sharp increase in Hoteliers expecting to financially recover in 2023. Would you say this expectation is the same in your region? Is there something that could happen in the new year to change that timeline?

It obviously depends a lot on whether you’re an independent, smaller hotel or part of a larger chain of group of hotels. Where you are sitting will strongly influence the timeline of recovery back to 2019 levels. 

I personally think city center hotels will face a greater challenge than leisure hotels in remote locations, because people are still looking to go away on a break from overcrowded cities and can somehow afford it. It is my expectation that leisure hotels will probably bounce back sooner than the city center hotels. 

This is also due to the widespread uptake of technology across corporate businesses. More people are working from home. Meetings of 15 to 25 people can be done via Zoom or Google Meet video conference rather than face-to-face. As soon as it’s safe, I can see groups business and bigger meetings coming back. Mostly because most businesses find this a bit more difficult to do online. 

To return to 2019 levels, it will take us two to three years for sure. Then there is always the question of how you recover that returning demand. I think there we will see some hotels doing really well and recovering earlier, because they managed to convert that demand at the right time. 

Others will lose out simply because they have not been ready, or they have been a bit late with implementing a new measure, or they simply panicked and slashed prices far too early and ended up with a lot of low-rate business which may not have been necessary at that point. 

About Daniela Hupfeld
Commercial Director at Pierre & Vacances and Member of Revenue Management Advisory Board at HSMA Deutschland
 Daniela Hupfeld is Commercial Director at Pierre & Vacances for Spain, leading the sales department and building the new revenue management team. Daniela is directly responsible for the revenue management itself as well as for managing sales, reservations, online marketing and communication. Daniela has extensive experience in yield management, having held positions in companies such as Thomas Cook Hotels & Resorts, Europcar, NH Hotels and Radisson Hotels. The Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs Group is the European leader in local tourism. Created in 1967, it develops and manages innovative and environmentally-friendly holiday and leisure concepts offering the most attractive European seaside, mountain, countryside and city destinations.

What about younger travelers who work remotely and are digital nomads? Would that be a potential market to tap into during this time?

I think subscription models are a nice idea, but especially in times like now where money is tight, there is also significant risk to invest in a long-term clientele without knowing whether you will get the return on investment in the end, simply due to the uncertainty of the situation. In the long-run however, I do think it could be an opportunity, but hotels need to have a product for that.

For example, we are quite traditional leisure hotels, so you could possibly do that with weekend breaks and getaways. But then of course it will make your planning and forecasting, which is difficult enough as it is, even more challenging. There may be a period where you sold so many coupons and voucher subscriptions, but god only knows when it’s going to hit you.

Of course the cash flow is great because then the money comes in, but at the end of the day you also need to plan economically for your complete business year. Let's say the voucher revenue comes in at the beginning of the year, but then you go and spend it. What are you doing with the rest of it when everybody is actually staying at your hotel and not paying anymore?

When it comes to nomads and people that can travel everywhere, basically due to the pandemic we have all become these types of people. Hotels do need a product for that demand and an environment for it. You can be as flexible as you want, but of course, there may be places where it’s just not possible to work because you have thousands of children running around.

From a marketing perspective, it is definitely a consumer group that has been highly underrated thus far - If this pandemic brought anything remotely positive out in the world, it’s that we are all able to connect and achieve many things digitally. Hotels need to certainly tap into this demand. But unfortunately, there are still hotels that don’t have good wifi, for example, or worse still, that make people pay for wifi. Obviously that should be a thing of the past now.

If this pandemic brought anything remotely positive out in the world, it’s that we are all able to connect and achieve many things digitally. Hotels need to certainly tap into this demand.

Now really is the perfect time to really review what you have and determine what is and isn’t working for your business. 

Our Market data shows the direct channel continues to be the most resilient since the start of the pandemic until the present. In your view, why is this relevant in your region?

If there is one good thing this pandemic has accomplished in the industry, it is that more hoteliers are doing what they should have been doing for the past few years, but didn’t do. Firstly, more hoteliers are taking a closer look at their technologies in order to ensure they invest in the best tools to achieve their business goals.

Now really is the perfect time to really review what you have and determine what is and isn’t working for your business. It’s important to adapt and improve your own technology if necessary, thus ensuring you get more direct business through your hotel websites and other direct channels. Which are undoubtedly the most cost-effective.

When working with third parties, you also need to consider pricing. It’s not necessarily the Hoteliers’ idea to slash their prices, it’s often coming from their partners. Of course, everyone needs to earn money, that is pretty clear. So of course, third parties are asking for lower rates. But then you need to evaluate your partners.

Focusing on the website was long overdue, and there is a lot of work to do in this regard across the industry. So we shouldn’t get bored any time soon. Social media has also historically been neglected. Many Hoteliers still seem to think it’s something modern and for young people, but the reality is that it now plays a crucial role in guest relations.

Guest relations used to be handled in a hotel lobby at a desk, and that desk is social media today. Hotels need to handle it efficiently, and effectively. We work closely with our partners to improve our interactions on social media and also to look at what we should be doing from a digital marketing perspective.

Hoteliers are often easily influenced by others when it comes to areas they are unfamiliar in, and often money is spent on areas where it should not have been. So I think now, more than ever, it’s extremely important to take this time to really learn and evaluate your tools and strategies to prepare for the upturn. It’s also important to see how you spend your marketing budget and who you spend it with.

Following a steady increase in Hoteliers expecting to decrease ADR in the next 12 months, our latest research shows the biggest shift in the opposite direction. What are your thoughts on ADR and the impact on recovery?

Well it depends if you are looking at prices or really ADR. Many big chains may choose to lower prices with tour operators in order to get business. And what is an independent hotel going to do? Well, they need to follow suit because they don’t stand a chance against their competitive set otherwise. While I would encourage holding the line on price, if you are the only hotel with high prices and demand is not enough for all the hotels in the comp set, then you have no other choice because you are forced into it.

When we talk about development of ADR and what we should always try to do is change the business mix. Leisure travel comes from various channels, whether direct or third-party. So again, look at what you have, look at your contracts and look at the rates you have contracted. I think a big step we are currently working on is moving away from net rates finally in the year 2021, and progressing to dynamic rates.

Firstly, you will save manual effort, and people will be able to use their brains for more strategic tasks, and change the business mix and see where you can change it. The average rate will obviously be lower than it used to be in the good years, but you can build it again simply by changing the business mix. Also through using add on benefits, and making sure the customer has an easy buying journey. You cannot think of how many times people abandon a purchase process because they have gotten annoyed with the website.

In short, the easier you are to buy for the customer, the better chance you are to get bought at a decent price. If the booking experience is simple, the payment works smoothly, and everything is fine, then most customers will be quite happy to just spend a few extra euros.

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