1 HM: Looking into your crystal ball, and with everything you’ve seen in 2013, how will the hotel industry fare in 2014 in terms of overall operating metrics and profits?
BW: Better than 2013. New supply is still lagging and demand continues to improve so the imbalance should translate into solid performance for hoteliers. As lending starts to become more available, expect new construction to start kicking into gear in 2014. However, it will not tip the scales enough to impact existing earnings at the property level.
2 HM: In regard to how you handicap 2014, what specific or significant goals have you set for your company?
BW: 2014 could be our best year since 2007 in terms of hotel-level results for our franchisees, as well as our ability to sign new conversion properties. We will also see more new construction applications from franchisees. On the operation standpoint we are aiming to replicate our strong improvement in central reservations contribution and I anticipate a 25-percent increase from 2013 driven by a strong push into mobile.
3 HM: Most pundits are predicting healthy growth for the industry over the next three years, but what out there (government or otherwise) has the possibility to upset this optimism?
BW: Government interference is always a threat, and we have seen the confusion that the new Affordable Care Act has created. In addition to added regulation and bureaucracy, there is also considerable concern in regard to high unemployment levels. As the economy strengthens we need to see this translate into more jobs for the broader population.
4 HM: Technology and social media play major roles in the hospitality industry today. What is your company doing on those fronts to stay ahead of the curve?
BW: We took the step of creating a dedicated social media team during the depths of the recession and that has proved to be a great move. I don’t know if any company will truly be ahead of the social media game because of the very nature of the medium. We are starting to feel a lot more comfortable with our approach, which is “embrace it, be bold but beware.”
5 HM: Nothing can ruin a hotel stay—or transaction otherwise—more than bad customer service. How do you ensure your teams are delivering the best in guest satisfaction?
BW: The landscape is changing and just having a clean hotel will not cut it. People need an experience and they want value. How “value” is measured depends on your guest, but if you don’t treat someone the way they need to be treated then you will lose them forever.