The Hospitality Show: Q&A with BWH Hotels’ Larry Cuculic

The first of its kind, The Hospitality Show is a bold new event for the entire hospitality ecosystem with one shared goal: operating hotels efficiently and profitably. Brought to you by The American Hotel & Lodging Association and Hotel Management, the event will bring together top industry leaders, senior executives of hotel brands, owners, operators, management companies and procurement specialists—and their teams—to discover, network and drive profitability.

Business accelerates when the right people are in the room, and this new weekly series of speaker interviews goes 1:1 with the industry’s best and brightest as they build the inaugural event to be held June 27-29, 2023 at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas.

In this installment, we catch up with The Hospitality Show Speaker Larry Cuculic, president and CEO, BWH Hotels.

What issues are currently causing headaches for the industry? 

Cuculic: Labor continues to be a challenge for the hotel industry. We’re seeing creativity in how brands and hoteliers are combatting the labor challenge – from leaning into innovative technology such as the hologram concierge services you might find at our Aiden® hotels in Scandinavia, to driving employee satisfaction through meaningful workplace initiatives. For example, we recently piloted a partnership with eTip to offer digital tipping at select hotels in North America and the results show improved employee satisfaction. Our focus needs to be on retaining talent, and not only on hiring talent.

Rising operating costs are also placing hardships on hoteliers today. That said, as rates become more competitive and hoteliers continue to focus on mitigating rising costs, we cannot lose focus on the guest experience. We must be focused on exceeding expectations. Brand goodwill cannot be compromised. 

Lastly, the slower than hoped for return of business travel is another industry headwind. While we are continuing to see business travel pacing in a positive direction, it has not rebounded as quickly as we had hoped.

What new trends do you see affecting the hospitality industry the most in 2023?

Cuculic: The importance of loyalty programs. At BWHSM Hotels we recognize how important loyalty programs are today both to our loyalty members as well as to our hoteliers. We strive to deliver attractive rates, rich rewards and meaningful promotions so that our valued guests appreciate our offering true value while exceeding their expectations when staying with us, building brand loyalty. 

I also believe that business travel will continue its return – although slower than hoped. In today’s economic climate, businesses are becoming increasingly selective regarding employee travel. While we can be hopeful that business travel will return to its prior level at some point in the future, we need to be realistic and value and appreciate the relationships we have built with corporate buyers and travelers – again focused on building brand loyalty.    

Of course, I can never forget to mention technology.  It is imperative that we focus on removing friction in the customer journey while also creating hotel operation efficiencies.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for the industry as we make our way through 2023?

Cuculic: Making the most out of every guest interaction. If there is one thing that keeps me up at night, it is worrying about exceeding every guest expectation at any one of our 4,300 hotels around the world every day. Travelers are facing rising costs and the best way we can continue to deliver value to our guests is by delivering an exceptional experience during each and every stay.

There are also tremendous opportunities associated with sustainability. At BWHSM Hotels we have launched our new global sustainability initiative, called “Because We Care,” which will focus on three important pillars: Earth, People and Community. It is essential that the hotel industry comes together to tackle our most significant global challenges as it relates to sustainability. 

Share one key takeaway Show attendees can expect to gain from your session.

Cuculic: There is nothing more important than leadership that creates a positive culture.