By Paul Van Meerendonk
Remember that whiz kid in reservations? He had grown up with computers and seemed able to fly around the property management system with natural ease and skill. Sure, his job was just to answer calls and make reservations, but he had a knack for finding cool reports buried deep in the system. Not only that, but he had also somehow mastered Excel and was able to create dazzling charts that seemed to bring the numbers to life. We knew we had to nurture his raw talent, so we signed him up for some revenue management 101. He would become our savior, finally getting our pricing in shape and enhancing our top-line revenues.
Ah, the good old days. It used to be so simple. Then the initial wave of OTAs hit, bringing every poor revenue and reservations manager to their knees with endless channel updates. The internet-generated floodwaters soon followed as data became more and more essential. Now we have visibility into transactional data, we know where bookings come from (and why), we know what prices our competitors are selling at, we know our review scores and online reputation, and the list goes on and on. And what about the whiz kid? Is he still up to the challenge? Did he stay afloat in the sea of new data sources? Even more concerning: is he even still working at the hotel? Perhaps he went off to work for one of the OTAs!
How we find, manage, and retain top talent at revenue-managing hotels has changed dramatically since the big-data boom began. It's important that we continuously strive to provide ongoing education and support in this competitive job market. Blended learning approaches are key to accommodate varying levels of expertise, job roles, and employee age groups. On-demand, quick learning tools are especially relevant as high-turnover rates necessitate faster uptimes of skilled, productive employees. Beyond that, career trajectory and a clear pathway for upward mobility must also be considered to attract top performers. Properly training, maintaining, and elevating talent is essential to achieving an ongoing return on investment in your people, technology, and processes.
Wade into the Talent Pool
Let's first look at what should be your company's number-one asset: the people who work there. While promoting from within presents many benefits, it is rare now to find a reservation agent or manager who has the skills required for modern-day revenue management. All the good ones have either been taken or have moved on to bigger and better things. The revenue managers of tomorrow may need to come from elsewhere. If we start at the beginning, our obvious choice would be to seek talent straight out of college.
Fortunately, several top hotel schools have risen to the challenge, offering advanced degrees in hotel revenue management. University hotel programs have long been a reliable source of industry up-and-comers, and now they are a great place to find eager and knowledgeable hotel revenue managers. At a recent HSMAI event in Amsterdam, several young graduates took to the stage and showed off their abilities in front of industry leaders and veterans. It was a good indicator that, as academic institutions ramp up their courses and degrees to match revenue management needs, concerns about a shortage of able-minded workers will ebb away. This is not to say, however, you should rely solely on fresh graduates to fill open positions, but you may find it to be one of the most efficient routes.
Give Your Talent the Best Tools
So, let's say you've found your next whiz kid or even assembled your dream team of revenue-management professionals. Now you must make sure they have what they need to deliver. This is where investing in the right technology plays a pivotal role. Advanced revenue management software, applications, and tools have significantly changed the way revenue managers can work with and leverage data. What became an impossible job for one human to handle in a deep sea has become a manageable and rewarding profession thanks to technological advances and science-based software engineering. Now modern systems will do all the heavy lifting-even managing the upkeep of OTA channels. College degrees in visual basic or advanced analytics are no longer necessary.
So, if the machines are so smart, do we even need to find talented people to operate them? Well, not so fast. Automation and machine learning don't replace the need for skilled revenue managers, but rather, they enable bright, analytical minds to devote more time to doing what they do best, enabling strategic, forward-looking initiatives that will enhance a hotel's profitability even further. By leveraging the best revenue management systems, revenue managers of tomorrow can position themselves as recognized business leaders with the knowledge and insights to make key decisions and inform organization-wide planning.
There is of course a need to be able to steer and direct technology systems so they behave in ways that align with your revenue strategy. Regular systems training is, therefore, essential, particularly as today's platforms are improved and updated frequently, and the revenue manager needs to stay on top of the latest developments so they don't become outdated by their own tools.
Technology has not stood still in this aspect either. While we haven't attained the ability to upload knowledge directly into a person's brain, à la The Matrix-"I know kung fu," anyone?-research into the psychology of how humans learn and process new information has made a big impact on how educational resources are designed right within our systems. Gamified learning levels have replaced dry, step-by-step tutorials, and moment-of-need, hands-on, "show me" training has streamlined the process significantly.
The advanced learning programs included within some of today's leading systems allow revenue managers to quickly pick up what they need to know to make an immediate impact. These learning systems are often complemented with instant online insights and videos into revenue management concepts and best practices. With the right technology investments, revenue managers are never short of sources for ongoing education and performance improvement.
Chart a Course for Success
Beyond technology and analytical skills, revenue managers need to also be able to interpret what these systems are doing and be able to communicate this with the rest of their organization. These soft skills don't always come easy. A balance of analytical intelligence with communication know-how, as well as a knack for business strategy, will make for a truly successful revenue manager.
Empowering talent is key to retaining it. Therefore, when nurturing revenue management skills, it is important to assess current proficiency levels to know where development is needed in these areas. For some, this may mean growth in communication skills. For others, it may mean a focus on developing strategic expertise. Regular assessment of capabilities and application is therefore essential to lay out the development plans of revenue management talent of various backgrounds and skillsets.
Of course, revenue managers need to see themselves as valuable contributors not only in the present, but also in the future. One of the challenges that has plagued the industry for years has been the lack of a clear career path and promotion potential for revenue managers. Sure, some revenue managers can and have become general managers and taken on a wider scope of responsibilities, including more client-facing and customer-service focused areas. However, this is not the most natural path for many revenue managers, who often prefer back-of-house analysis and strategy over front-of-house guest relations and overseeing quality of service. It is therefore essential that other opportunities exist to entice revenue managers to stay with your hotel and feel motivated to go above and beyond.
Luckily, this is also an area where changes in the industry have benefitted the field of revenue management. Consolidation has accelerated the growth in clustering and centralization of revenue management services. Revenue management service centers are now commonplace, and these dedicated department and service offerings have also ensured additional positions and opportunities of growth for revenue managers. High-performing revenue managers can now move sideways and upward all within their expanding area of expertise. This development has also attracted greater strategic and analytical talent to the industry, which has had a positive impact on overall business performance.
Faster than anyone expected, the data tsunami brought a treasure-chest of opportunity to our shores. Now, training, maintaining, and elevating revenue management talent effectively will not only allow us to exploit these opportunities, but it will allow us to grow the industry leaders of tomorrow. Nurturing natural talent is important, but make sure the next whiz kid at your hotel also has the best possible technology and resources he or she needs to get up to speed quickly and find lasting growth with opportunities for improvement. With the right people and tools in place, the revenue manager role will evolve to drive profitability in more ways than ever before, and with the right planning and vision, the revenue managers of tomorrow may go boldly where none have gone before.
Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from www.hotelexecutive.com