5 questions with Red Roof Inn's Marina MacDonald

(Marina MacDonald told HOTEL MANAGEMENT how Red Roof's Forum on Leadership for Women Entrepreneurs benefited women in hospitality.)

Red Roof Inn's chief marketing officer, Marina MacDonald, was the driving force behind the company’s first Forum on Leadership for Women Entrepreneurs, which took place in November in New Orleans. The event was timed to recognize the growing influence of women at Red Roof, which is experiencing an increase in women ownership—currently at 20 percent—and where 75 percent of the company’s corporate office promotions during the past two years have gone to women.

Here, MacDonald tells HOTEL MANAGEMENT how Red Roof, the hospitality industry and the event’s 80 attendees benefited from two days of training and discussion.

1. Have you been involved in any other initiatives for women during your career?

Marina MacDonald: I’ve always worked in the hospitality industry and when I first became a vice president, I was at Wyndham International and I was on the board of Women on Their Way. In fact, that’s where I first met Lalia Rach, who moderated our Women’s Forum. I was still young in my career and it was the first time I was a vice president. So I found the entire experience to be very empowering. I had great mentors and I learned a lot about building pathways for women to succeed in their careers.

My career at the time was really corporate-driven and I learned how to navigate a boardroom. This event started as a whisper and then it turned into a forum and a culture of empowering women at Red Roof. I also had a lot of encouragement and support from our president, chief development officer and Westmont Hospitality [a majority stakeholder in the brand].

2. What was the impetus for the conference?

MM: Red Roof is close to 70 percent franchises and a lot of our women franchisees own their businesses with their husbands. About two years ago, they started to whisper to me, asking for a forum for women franchisees and owners. At our brand conference in 2015, I thought ‘I need to put this together because it’s necessary, needed and wanted.’ By January, I had organized my forum committee of women franchisees who helped shape the event’s content. We are a brand that’s passionate about listening to our guests, to our franchisees and to our partners and when they speak and enough speak, we take action. It’s how we operate.

3. How did the content of this conference differ from Red Roof’s brand conference?

MM: We had attendees complete a really significant survey of about 20 to 30 questions in order to really zero in on what they wanted to learn during the conference. What we learned from the survey is that our women franchisees are really proficient in operations; they know how to run a hotel. They know the back office, front office, housekeeping and accounting. They want to learn more about driving up top-line revenue because they know that can bring in more business. They wanted to learn how to be more confident and to build better relationships with fellow entrepreneurs and owners. They also wanted to learn more strategies for direct sales, loyalty marketing, digital marketing, revenue management, yielding and pricing.

With the brand conference, we’re sending out our message about the brand’s successes and where the brand is going, so it’s different. This was very intimate and very targeted with just 80 attendees and it was very relationship-driven. Attendees at the Women’s Forum made more one-on-one connections.

4. What type of ripple effect do you feel this event will have/has on the overall hospitality industry?

MM: We know there are trends in which women drive 85 percent of consumer spending and are making 75 percent of the final buying decisions and we know for sure that 70 percent of the hospitality industry is made up of women. But women in hospitality are not necessarily in leadership positions and I would like to see more women move into senior leadership and CEO roles. I would like to see the boardroom looked at a little differently and hotel ownership looked at differently. I would love to see a change in that momentum. But I do believe the industry is doing more to advance the roles of women. We dedicated an entire conference to women and I don’t know that other organizations will implement a program exactly like we did. But I do see momentum building and it’s encouraging.

5. What one aspect of this conference would you change or improve in order to better serve next year’s attendees?

MM: Our attendees want more workshops focused on public speaking, mentoring younger generations into becoming leaders, balancing family and work commitments and becoming more confident in sales, marketing and technology, as well as the future of technology. These are points that we learned this year and will incorporate into our next Women’s Forum, which will most likely take place in 2018. But I think 48 hours was the perfect amount of time and something our attendees appreciated; it wasn’t too much time out of the office or away from the hotel and family. We also anticipate doubling the attendance easily. In the meantime, our next brand conference will also include a session for our women owners.