1. When & how did you enter the hospitality space?
After College where I majored in Hotel, Restaurant & Travel Management. My 1st job was a Housekeeping Manager for Courtyard Marriott where I went through Marriott’s ID Training Program.
2. Aspire our readers by taking them through your journey from starting as a housekeeping manager to a Hospitality Entrepreneur?
After beginning my career as a hotel Housekeeping Manager, I switched as a Front Desk Manager with Courtyard Marriott. After 3 years with Marriott, I left for the Sheraton as a Night Manager and later became the Assistant General Manager. After 6 years of experience as a Sales Manager at Hilton & Marriott, I was offered a Director Of Sales & Marketing position at the Regency Plaza by Marriott Los Angeles Airport which became the busiest Courtyard by Marriott in the nation. After 2 years I joined Hilton as a National Sales Manager at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles. After Westin,I joined Radisson Los Angeles Airport as the Director of Sales & Marketing followed by the Wilshire Plaza Hotel, where I was Director of Sales & Marketing and later became the General Manager of the same hotel.
This is a position I later regret taking since it was never my goal to become a General Manager. After gaining 20 + years of hotel experience I transitioned into my own business which consisted of Hotel Sales Taskforce & Meeting Consulting. After 3 years I transitioned to my last hotel, the Sheraton Universal were I was a Director of Sales & Marketing for 1 year. After the Sheraton, I re-joined & re-branded my business as Russell of Hotels. I assist companies & organizations with hotel/meetings Site Selection as well as consult for hotels in the area of Social Media, Digital Marketing and Branding.
3. Do you see technology as a helping hand in redefining/changing the in-room guest experience?
Yes! Especially with being able to select your room, using a Key-Less entry, ordering room service or adjusting the temperature in your room via your Smartphone or an iPad which would be located within your guest room. I think in-room technology will be a huge selling factor moving forward.
4. Who according to you will be the most suited live chat agent for hotel industry: Chat-based assistants(chatbots, messenger) or Voice-based assistants (Google Home, Alexa)?
My guess would be an Apple product like Apple’s Business Chat powered by iMessage. We will find out soon.
5. How do you think, sales funnel and operations for a hotel, has evolved over last two decades?
Back when I entered my Hotel career, the Major Brands had ongoing Management Training programs and SOP(Standard Operating Procedure). So you knew what to do and how to do it. The Indie Hotels had little resources and relied on you and your past experiences to be successful. Also from a Sales perspective, you didn’t have National Sales Representatives like the major brands so the business you received was from 100% of your own efforts. These days you have more resources to assist you like 3rd Party companies like Helms Briscoe or Conference Direct which can be an extension of your sales efforts.
6. With the increase in a number of OTA’s, how do you think hotels can improve their revenue management without depending on OTAs?
I’m sorry to say this, OTA’s are here to stay. With that being said, they can they be minimized by using technology like GEO Fencing or WIFI Targeting. Most Hoteliers are not familiar with these resources or how powerful they can be. With either of these tools, hoteliers can send “Notifications” to everyone who has booked their hotels through an OTA and offer them special pricing (along with a Special Code) if they book directly with the hotel thus creating loyalty and improving their revenue numbers. Now the “new” customer will have an emotional connection with the hotel since they have been recognized as a “VIP” important enough to get special rates. This technology works via your mobile devices.
7. Being an industry pundit, what are your thoughts on future Staffless hotels? Have you experienced staying at such a hotel? If yes, please share your experience.
Staff-Less Hotels? I know this model has proven successful in other Countries but in my opinion, it would be my last option. I began my career in hotels because of the “Hospitality” factor and to me a Staff-Less hotel is far from “Hospitality.”
8. How do you see AI-backed voice assistants like Google Home And Amazon Alexa entering the hotel room technology? Do you think hotels are ready for it?
Well, Hotels are not. For whatever reasons Hotels can be the last to arrive at the party so to speak. Historically hotels are never the first to embrace Technology. On the other hand, most consumers want to see and use the Next Best Thing and in this world of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), this is one of those things. Especially if these same people have this technology within their homes, they will expect it!
9. As an expert in the niche, what advice would you like to give to the new players in the industry?
To be successful remember it’s a Marathon and not a Sprint! Learn as much as you can about each department. Treat your employees well and they will take care of the guests. And always remember what Hospitality means.. and apply it daily!