David Chestler

In April 2021, hotel bookings in the US significantly exceeded 2019 levels - giving a strong indication around how revenge travel will develop globally. Thus, our 14th edition of The Hotelier PULSE Report showed increased optimism across the industry, with over 75% of hotels reopened or planning to reopen in May 2021. Average monthly occupancy expectations also increased substantially for all market segments, and for the first time in the series, the majority of hoteliers expected ADR to increase. As hotels worldwide gear up for the pent-up travel demand that’s coming, we catch up with David Chestler, Partner & Sr. Managing Director - Global Sales Execution at Provision-Partners, to learn how hotels can continue to strengthen their position and be at a competitive advantage in the upturn.

Here in the US, we continue to see positive signs of travel resuming with a vengeance.

Hotel bookings in the US in April 2021 significantly exceeded 2019 values. In your view, how will this signal of 'Revenge Travel' develop globally as more destinations reopen?

Here in the US, we continue to see hopeful signs of travel resuming with a vengeance. We have even started to joke that the virus is now cured in most regions of North America. Certain locations, such as Orlando or Las Vegas, are currently running very high occupancies. Meanwhile, exclusive and remote resorts are also seeing an influx of bookings from US travelers.

In the short-term, travel will continue to be controlled by three crucial factors - government, vaccination, and consumer confidence - not only in terms of health, but also wealth. The good news is that barriers are falling away each day as vaccination distribution continues and more flights reopen, which in turn increases consumer confidence.

As travel confidence increases, businesses are starting to think about what strategies should be implemented to capitalize on the pent-up travel wave that’s coming. Destination marketers are looking closely at how Google will attract customers and what is needed to optimize visibility and attract the right audiences. Meanwhile, Central Reservations teams are thinking about the status of rates and availability.

While we are seeing more hotels reopen, many of the larger hotels properties remain closed, likely due to staffing challenges. These businesses need to rehire, retrain, and retain staff to cope with the demand that’s coming, whereas the smaller hotels are more agile.

It’s likely that properties that have already reopened will benefit from greater demand and a better control of rates, because they will have had more time to put the right strategies in place. This is where we will see some hotels performing really well, and others will struggle because they will still be running around trying to figure out how to make the most of the Revenge Travel economy and support the demand operationally. 

For the first time in the Hotelier PULSE series, the industry's expectations are that ADR may moderately increase. What pricing strategies should Hoteliers take now to capitalize on the demand in the upturn that's coming??

Instead of lowering rates to stimulate demand, businesses should look closely at their competition set (if it still exists) to determine where to position. By doing the research, hotels will be better able to make data-driven decisions on whether to hold the line and stay in the middle, or become a market leader in one area. In their marketplace, hotels must determine where they have a competitive advantage in terms of offer, so they can hold or even increase rates slightly.

About David Chestler
David Chestler is an iconic figure within hospitality and travel, with a passion for hotel technology that has allowed him to forge a rich career with more than 30 years in the industry. Known as 'The Revenue Catalyst', he is currently Partner and Sr, Managing Director - Global Sales Execution at Provision-Partners. Prior to his consultancy Chestler held senior management positions at Kognitiv, SiteMinder, Sceptre Hospitality Resources (SHR), RateGain, Pegasus Solutions, Birch Street Systems, Visual Data Corp/Onstream Media, and most recently serving as an Allied Board Member at Hedna.org. Today, David is strategically focused on new opportunities in Travel and Distribution while remaining a strategic investor in SaaS companies. In addition to HEDNA, David is active with HTNG, HFTP, HSMAI and Skål. As a deeply engaged leader of sales strategy, sales operations, and people management process, David is skilled at establishing strategic focus, clear goals, transformation, and high-performance teams.

Following the imminent travel wave, do you foresee an influx of complaints or bad reviews resulting from staff shortages?

We now have a much broader vocal community, with direct access to social media networks where they can instantly share information with a wide audience. I remember the early days of TickTock and thinking about its growing potential to help or hurt brands. Nowadays we see many businesses scrambling to undo the damage caused by disgruntled customers on the platform.

With today’s vocal travel audience, who are comfortable using devices and instantly sharing information, it’s critical that hotels are prepared to respond. Many companies are developing voice to talk AI and chatbots that make it more efficient both for hotels to guide and engage with their guests.

Removing pressure from human resources will be a critical path to recovery. Businesses need to ensure their teams can manage the technologies to deliver more efficient experiences to very demanding consumers. Employees need to be supported so they are comfortable operating in the current environment and demand. Hotels need better-trained staff to engage with guests at levels befitting their brand and mission, not low, hourly wage staff.

As the industry navigates through recovery, travel will still be subjected to a degree of uncertainty. Travelers will continue to value information that efficiently guides their purchasing decisions. Hotels, and indeed all sectors of tourism, should focus on providing information to guide consumers as the world steadily returns to normal. Programs such as ‘Travel Safe’ currently do this really well, providing information on everything from how hotels are opening to how buffets are changing.

Therefore, hotels must continue direct conversations with guests, rather than just closing transactions. Hotels need to really engage their guests, and become a partner in their journey. It’s not enough to simply accept their credit card and be done with it, hotels need to deliver the full experience and they will gain many happy customers.

And now, after the lockdown, talk about revenge, consumer confidence is increasing each day. Hotels are now better positioned to have that direct conversation with their guests and provide the tools and platforms for communication and conversion.

Throughout the economic fallout, the Direct Channel has been the most resilient - outperforming major OTAs and recovering faster ahead of the summer demand. What should hotels do to maintain control of distribution?

For many years OTAs have pushed the boundaries to provide an informative and efficient booking experience for consumers. In more recent years, Google and TripAdvisor have democratized access to consumer eyeballs. But whether it’s Meta, Pay-Per-Click, or OTAs, all are available to help hotels in their distribution and as tools to acquire customers.

While I believe ‘Drive Direct’ is here to stay, the business mix, where hotels are located, and OTAs will continue to be critical factors in helping hotels acquire net new customers. If hotels use these channels wisely, and continue to engage new customers who will be open to experience their brand and vision, these same consumers will likely book directly next time. Hotels need to deliver a quality experience in the booking process and on property.

Hotels should also continue to optimize the direct booking experience. Widening direct distribution though multiple booking engines, and providing amenities, pictures, and other content in the booking process are just a few ways hotels can increase visibility and also get more direct bookings. Open communication throughout the customer journey is very important to maintaining confidence and trust, and will yield profitable benefits.

It’s critical that hotels are prepared to respond - in real time and not just to post-stay surveys or reviews.

Open communication throughout the customer journey is key to maintaining confidence and trust and will yield tangible results in profit.

As uncertainty prevails over the influx of reservations ahead of the summer, how can hotels reassure travelers and really give them that confidence to travel?

Throughout the duration of the pandemic, most brands have done a wonderful job in proving safety and cleanliness. The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), as just one example, has rallied US hotels to uphold and clearly communicate cleanliness and their changes in safe protocols. Programs such as ‘Travel Safe’ also continue to get more real-time travel information out to corporations and consumers, which in turn increases confidence to travel.

The market is reopening, and all sectors of tourism must coordinate efforts to inform consumers and increase confidence to travel. The industry must continue to communicate real-time data that informs travelers, whether it’s information on what flights are available and when, or the different entry requirements per destination.

Do you think that in the near future we will start to see more direct reservations from travel agents? Will travelers once again start to value their personal and direct input and opinion on which hotel to choose? 

In this day and age, influencers have become travel agents. We also see many publishing brands strongly influencing purchasing decisions, recommending what to buy and what people should like as a consumer. Influencer marketing and adding more data into the buying decision can only continue to grow from here.

Beyond the buzzword, personalization is now coming to fruition in the current climate. More hotels are building CRM and data lakes to better understand who their customers are and what they want. This will be important as e-commerce, distribution, and marketing continue to converge, and hotels aim to support real-time decision making.

We’ll likely see more hotels partnering with local influencers (Agents) to provide advice on where to go and where to stay. It’s exciting to see how these partnerships may redefine distribution in the future. Experience and knowledge of travel rules, restrictions and safeguards makes the Agent an informed partner in many transactions. Agents will play a role as they too embrace technology and support the complex traveler with their needs and by supporting the emerging experience enthusiast.

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