Daniella Boeken

With the US fully reopened and Europe steadily easing out of lockdown, Hoteliers are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel as hotel bookings increase day by day. Based on the current signals from consumers, when travel will resume is no longer a question of demand, but when vaccination will roll out globally and the world fully reopens to travel. In this month’s Hotelier Spotlight Interview, we catch up with Daniella Boeken, Group Vice President Commercial & Member of the Executive Board at Ruby Hotels in Germany. Here, she shares what her business is doing to ensure they effectively capture the demand and recover strong in the upturn.

Hotels have the potential for quick recovery in summer 2021, provided that all restrictions are lifted and borders remain open for travel.

How is your hotel experiencing the steady recovery of hotel bookings 12 months since the pandemic became a global crisis?

Ruby Hotels predominantly represents City Center properties. So as you can imagine, bookings plummeted severely in March 2020, and we experienced cancellation after cancellation. In fact, we had as many nights cancelled in one month as we did for the year 2019. After a reasonable summer last year, we also suffered during the second winter lockdown. However, bookings have been steadily growing since January 2021, and in April 2021 are currently around 2,000% up from the same period in 2020.

Looking back on last year, the industry saw tremendous demand over the summer. This indicates hotels have the potential for quick recovery in summer 2021, provided that all restrictions are lifted and borders remain open for travel. We are currently focused on ensuring everything is in place to capture the returning demand this year - this time with the long-term solution of a vaccine.

What steps is your business taking to optimize your Direct Channels to capture the pent-up travel demand?

Direct has always been a strong focus for us. However, the downturn has certainly sharpened our focus on distribution and increasing our direct revenue share. Therefore, we took a number of measures last year to revamp our website and generate more direct bookings.

Currently, our direct bookings continue to trend upward, with Booking as a close second. Expedia is still slowly, but this is unsurprising given that no one from the US is currently traveling to Europe. However, this could change if Europe opens up to vaccinated US travelers in May, as the EU Council has suggested. Hotel bookings in April 2021 have Outgrown those over the same period in 2020.

About Daniella Boeken
& Ruby Hotels
Daniella Boeken is the Group Vice President Commercial and Member of the Executive Board at Ruby GmbH. In her role, Daniella is responsible for the strategic direction of Ruby’s commercial departments, including Sales; Marketing; Revenue Management; Reservations and Workspaces. Born in the Netherlands, Daniella has been active in the international hospitality industry for 15+ years, in New Zealand; China; Hong Kong and Germany. Daniella studied international hospitality management at the Hotel School The Hague and has worked professionally for global hotel chains such as IHG and Marriott in the areas Rooms Division; F&B; Sales and Revenue Management. Daniella developed a track record as a commercial leader, developing structures, processes, and synergies between different teams, in order to grow revenues while increasing efficiency. Prior to her current role, Daniella was active at the HR Group, where she built up the commercial departments as Commercial Vice President. Her hotel portfolio included 35+ hotels with brands from various franchise partners including Hyatt; Accor; Dorint; Wyndham and Deutsche Hospitality.With Daniella's diverse, international experience and expertise in the commercial hospitality industry, she strengthens Ruby’s promising expansion vision. Opening four hotels this year in Germany and Switzerland, Ruby will operate 12 hotels and 3 workspaces by the end of 2021 and has an additional 15 hotels in the pipeline, in Europe, the UK and Asia.

Occupancy expectations are also increasing for May, particularly for City Center Hotels. Are you experiencing this in your City properties?

April 2021 is undoubtedly much stronger than last year. However, we must remember that we had more hotels closed in April 2020. In partially reopened hubs such as London, we’ve seen a small pick up in business at the start of 2021. However, many hotels remain closed and the industry-wide occupancy across the region is approximately 10%.

Despite the nationwide lockdown in Germany, surrounding markets such as Vienna and Amsterdam have also started to reopen, and we are seeing the impact in bookings and occupancy. In Zurich, the industry’s average occupancy is currently around 25%. This is a positive indication that travel is steadily growing and likely to continue throughout 2021.

According to EU Officials, American tourists who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to visit the European Union this summer. Therefore, we are also anticipating the potential influx of US tourists over the summer. However, we must also acknowledge that summer is not typically the peak season for city hotels. So we are currently looking at how bookings and occupancy develops for the Autumn, especially because business travel will likely take longer to recover.

What are your expectations for the summer and do you still think there may be a chance that international travel will resume this year?

Based on last year’s performance, our outlook for summer 2021 is extremely positive. Consumer demand is here, no doubt about it. However, we must continue to wait and see how the vaccination rollout continues to develop across Europe and what the impact will be on international travel. In Germany, vaccination rollout has been slow. Therefore, the government has made inoculation more easily accessible to diverse age groups and through GP services.

With the growing expectation that the US will reopen outbound travel bans for citizens who have been fully vaccinated, we hope that quickening the vaccination pace in Germany will increase the industry’s chance to fully reopen and capture the demand in 2021. But we must also remain realistic, and acknowledge that international travel will probably not reopen fully until 2022. 

Our outlook for summer 2021 is extremely positive. Consumer demand is here, no doubt about it. However, we must continue to wait and see how the vaccination rollout continues.

We also took the time to thoroughly review and revamp our hotel websites. Particularly to respond to the rise of mobile bookings.

How is your hotel using the downtime to strengthen your position when restrictions lift and make way for the flood of pent-up travel demand?

At Ruby Hotels, we offer luxury at affordable prices. Process automation enables us to deliver this, because it ensures efficiency and lowers the cost in time spent on administrative tasks. Automation and digitisation have always been a key focus points for us. During the low period of commercial activity however, we took the opportunity to undergo a full tech stack review and revamp to really strengthen our position for the upturn and beyond.

As such, we have completely upgraded our PMS to automate the guest journey as much as possible, handling all payments and check-ins automatically and prior to the guest arrival. Our hotel reception now doubles up as the bar, and hosts have more time to focus on delivering a positive guest experience rather than carry out administrative tasks.

In 2020, we also took the time to thoroughly review and revamp our hotel websites. Particularly to respond to the rise of mobile bookings. We also continue to focus strongly on delivering contactless experiences. Last year we introduced 100% cashless payments across all our hotels - including the vending machines.

We have also been engaging directly with guests in preparation for when restrictions are lifted, collaborating with guests for feedback on future events we have planned and requesting reviews to social proof our brand. We’ve also ramped up guest messaging and pre-arrival emails, so our guests can always remember us and look forward to visiting our hotels.

With international travel on hold for now, we currently shape our offers around the local market, delivering staycations and working with local businesses to deliver special services. However, we are still looking at the signals from across the globe, all while actively using this time to test new strategies, offers, distribution channels and rates. I truly believe this will better enable us to capture the demand that’s moving closer and closer to our doorstep.

Last, but definitely not least is our aim to bring back sustainable tourism. In 2020, we launched ‘Ruby Green’, an initiative that helps to improve the business’s ecological footprint. Guests can exchange an extra room clean for a complimentary cocktail at the bar, and this program has already been shown to save around 42 litres of water per day.

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