Keep those big brains active and (relatively) stress free during COVID-19 with this reading program created specifically for revenue management, sales and marketing professionals

By Kelly McGuire            

In these unprecedented times, extremely talented hospitality professionals are finding themselves with some spare time, whether impacted by furloughs or layoffs, or even just reduction in business volumes. Many are obsessively consuming COVID-19 content. It’s the only thing anyone can talk about (for good reason). While it’s important to track the current pandemic and its implications, frankly, I’m starting to believe that too much focus on the pandemic coverage will create stress, ultimately, will be counterproductive.

To keep those big brains active and (relatively) stress free, I’m putting on my “professor” hat, to build a curriculum for commercial teams – revenue management, sales and marketing professionals. In this time of uncertainty, what is certain is that a strong understanding of consumer behavior, and the ability to interpret global economic trends will be essential tools in a successful recovery strategy. This list is designed to get you away from “all pandemic, all day” and focus you instead on core theory and best practices. It’s one thing to read or listen. It’s another to apply. Make sure you are thinking about the implications of what you learn as you consume this content.

So, in true professor style, I’ve also given you homework.

Reading List

I reread these books periodically and always find new inspiration. In addition to understanding the theory and practice, I encourage readers to pay attention to the storytelling. These books are based on some hard-core theory and deep academic research, yet, the authors have made the subject matter accessible and even entertaining. Good lesson for those that need to present complex information to a wide variety of audiences.

  • The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt: This is a fictional account (yes, I said fiction) of a turnaround of a manufacturing plant. It is a story of manufacturing process design that is easily translatable to service process design. Plus, it’s a surprisingly fun read!
    • Exercise: Can you identify bottlenecks in your commercial process? How would you redesign the process according to the principles laid out in the book?
    • Advanced Exercise: Write a fictional account of a successful turnaround of a hotel’s commercial function.
  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely: This is my absolute favorite business book, by my absolute favorite researcher. The book describes a series of experiments that demonstrate that while humans don’t always make rational economic decisions, their economic decision making can be predicted (and exploited). If you love this, he’s got more books. And they are all terrific!
    • Exercise: Design a marketing program for a hotel using the decoy effect Ariely describes through the Economist print and digital and A, B, A- experiments.
    • Advanced Exercise: do your own experiment with friends and family to see if the treatments you designed work as intended
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: Kahneman won a Nobel prize for his work in Behavioral Economics. This book describes decision making according to the two internal systems that drive the way we think and make choices. It’s based on decades of research from a psychologist that turned into an economist. (Note: if you are a fan of Michael Lewis, of Moneyball fame, you might also enjoy his book, The Undoing Project, on the collaboration between Kahneman and his long-time research partner Amos Tversky)
    • Exercise: How would you take advantage of consumers use of System One to increase conversions on a hotel website? What kind of information would you need to provide, and what should you avoid if you don’t want them to engage their System Two thinking? When and why would you want to tap into System Two?

Reading List – Advanced

These two books have helped to shape my thinking about machine learning and artificial intelligence, but they are relatively technical. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in math to understand them, but you have to be willing to slog through some algorithmic/computer science theory to get to the main points. Therefore, I’ve categorized them as “advanced”.

  • The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithmic Design by Michael Kearns. Machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms learn on your data and are designed to produce the most accurate answer according to their programming instructions. This book highlights the unintended consequences that can result from biased data or characteristics of algorithm design. It is crucially important for business leaders to understand these potential pitfalls, as no one knows the business, and the data, better.   This book will help leaders identify some of these issues.
    • Exercise: Can you identify some potential biases in hospitality data?
    • Advanced Exercise: If you were directing developers on a personalization initiative using machine learning, how would you suggest they adapt the algorithms to ensure that your marketing efforts are “fair”?
  • The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos. This book will help you understand the machine learning landscape, the implications of machine learning approaches, and why we are still only at the beginnings of unlocking the potential of this type of algorithm.
    • Exercise: Thinking about the examples of different goals Amazon and Netflix had for their machine learning algorithms. If revenue management and marketing were working together on a “next best offer” initiative using AI and ML, how would you direct the development teams to configure the algorithms to meet your goals?


I’m obsessed with good storytelling, so my podcast lists tend to be focused on strong theoretical content presented in an engaging and accessible way. The podcasts below are my go-tos on theory and practice of consumer behavior and economics. I would suggest you subscribe and also go back through their archives. Several of these podcasters interview the authors I listed above, or review related work, so if you are not a “reader”, you can still cover the concepts.

  • Planet Money: NPR – This is the economy explained. The hosts are obsessed with all things economy and are terrific at storytelling. They dig into every corner of the economy and explain the situation and its implications clearly.
  • Freakonomics The Hidden Side of Everything: I love the books too, of course. The host/author, Steven J. Dubner, is a terrific interviewer, and great at presenting a deep, balanced perspective on key issues. Check out his podcast How Goes the Behavior Revolution, for a great discussion on the concepts from behavioral economics (Ariely and Kahneman’s field).
  • The Indicator from Planet Money: NPR – This is a daily 10 minute podcast where they cover one piece of data, how to interpret it and what it says about economic conditions. Perfect for data geeks wanting to know how to tell a story with data and keep a finger on the pulse of the economy too!
  • Hidden Brain: NPR – Host Shankar Vedantam covers the science behind human behavior. If you want to understand how we, and your consumers, tick, this is the place to go. Check out Liar, Liar, Liar, which focuses on research by Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, that discusses how we all lie to ourselves and others. Food for thought as we watch how people navigate through this current crisis. Also, Deep Work, which discusses the issues created by constant technology interruptions for some tips on how to be more focused.
  • The Ted Radio Hour: NPR – This podcast curates thematic Ted Talks and interviews the speakers about their topic. Ted Talks are on most people’s lists, but I really like the interview format of this podcast. The episodes always make me think – and can frequently be an uplifting escape from day to day challenges! Check out The Opportunity of Boredom, for obvious reasons…

Coursework and Certifications

For the truly ambitious, this could be a great opportunity to take a course or get a certification. Many organizations, understanding the hardship created by the current environment, are offering these temporarily at a reduced rate or even free. I would particularly recommend the following:

  • HSMAI (Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International): I particularly like this organization’s certifications because they are created by hoteliers for hoteliers. This is what your bosses would expect that you know to be an expert in your field. You can get a certification in Revenue Management or Digital Marketing, or take a six-week course on digital marketing essentials.
  • eCornell: Cornell provides a huge range of courses and certifications, including a hospitality series offered by faculty from the School of Hotel Administration. There’s a wide range of revenue management content, a digital marketing and strategic marketing certification and leadership content as well.

Your Furlough Master’s Thesis

During this slow down, many companies are using the extra time to take a hard look at their business to find areas of opportunity for improvement. While many of these efforts are focused on cost-cutting and operational efficiency, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. As the industry begins to recover, high-performing organizations will be ready to reinvent themselves for the “new normal”. This will be a huge opportunity for commercial folks to add value. I would encourage you to spend some time taking a hard look at how you were doing business in your old job and come up with some ideas about what you would improve and how. This shouldn’t be random thoughts while binging Netflix or cooking yet another meal at home for your family. Put pen to paper and map it out. Research technology enablers. Write up new job descriptions or skills development plans for the team. Imagine that the day you return to work (or have your next job interview), you will be presenting this idea for executive approval.


This is a challenging time for everyone. But it can also be an opportunity. I’ve given you a long list here, but I would also encourage you not to put too much pressure on yourself. You may never have the gift of time like this again (or at least let’s hope not!). Spend time with your family. Sleep in. Have a zoom happy hour. Go for a walk. Balance will keep you sane and ready to hit the ground running when we are back!   Look for a post on my LinkedIn , where we can have a discussion about what you’ve learned! Stay safe and healthy!