When Ashford Hospitality Trust acquired Remington Hotels in 2019, they knew just where to turn for their next leader. Sloan Dean had previously spent four years at Ashford, first as VP of Revenue Optimization and then as SVP of Revenue Optimization and Underwriting. Dean had risen through the ranks at some of the industry’s top brands, ownership, and management companies, including IHG, Noble Investment Group, Alliance Hospitality, and Interstate Hotels & Resorts, leading revenue, sales, marketing, and acquisition teams along the way.
Just a few months after his appointment as CEO of Remington, however, the coronavirus pandemic struck and began taking its toll. Dean’s leadership was put to the test. Remington went from 7,000 associates down to 485. Now, a year later, they’re back up to more than 3,000 team members. Dean, a self-described millennial, says the lodging sector is taking on a new look as companies restructure their executive and line-level ranks and leisure travelers begin hitting the road again.
In Episode 3 of the Lodging Luminaries podcast (Audible, Amazon), Dean says the post-pandemic world requires new ways of doing business, including new labor models and the emergence of a chief commercial role to oversee all aspects of revenue. Listen to the entire thought-provoking episode here or read highlights of the conversation below.
Q: How has Remington adjusted to the post-pandemic work environment?
Dean: Prior to COVID, we had 70 people at corporate that were centralized accounting. That entire team is now remote. We have moved hundreds of associates to remote permanently, although a good part of our corporate team does come in to the office. I anticipate we’ll need less office space even as we grow, and I think that’s no different than most other companies. My accounting team’s productivity is up year on year, even though they’re all working from home, and so we’ve proven that it works.
Q: Do you see hybrid meetings as a permanent solution moving forward?
Dean: We’re seeing hybrid meetings as the norm for the next couple of quarters. If it was a convention of a thousand people before, now it’s a convention of 400 or 500 in-person attendees and an audio-visual component that’s able to accommodate another 1,000 remotely. I think that’ll be the norm for group business for the rest of this year, but I think group will be fully back in two to three years. You see it when you go to events: humans want to meet with humans. The Zoom thing is nice to have, but I do think we will definitely hit another watermark high in U.S. travel demand in the next five years. People want to get out and see people. People want to get the hell out of their houses.
Q: How has the tightened labor market affected Remington?
Dean: We have 500 open jobs right now, and they’re mostly hourly. I don’t think that challenge is going to get better until the unemployment benefits from the federal government stop in September. If you made less than $40,000 a year, you still are mostly made whole by being out on unemployment. What we have found is two-fold: People don’t want to come off unemployment or, if they do, they’ve gone to work in other industries that are less volatile than ours. Amazon has quickly become the biggest competitor for our housekeepers, and I’ve got multiple markets where we lost half our housekeeping team, and they’ve gone to pack boxes for $18 an hour at an Amazon fulfillment center.
What several of us are doing is almost taking the Uber model where we’re trying to say, OK, you want to work an eight hour shift this day and then we’re almost having to run payroll daily. If you want to attract a millennial, you’ve got to pay on that day. I think you’re going to see some changes like that, where, instead of having a housekeeper that works 40 hours a week, it may be three people at 40 hours.
Part of the challenge is that we’ve really tried to sell the career path, but some people don’t see hospitality as a career. They’re just looking for a paycheck. What will be interesting to see is if service quality really slumps this summer because we’ll have a lot of people working in hotels that never perceived that as their passion. That’s a fear of mine.
Q: We’ve been talking about coordinating strategies between sales, revenue and marketing for a while now. Did the pandemic finally force that to happen?
Dean: Absolutely. We now refer to it as commercial strategy, so it’s not even referred to as revenue management, digital marketing or sales anymore. I think, when we look back, that’ll be a good byproduct of the crisis, that those three primary disciplines have merged together. It will give people a lot more career flexibility where you don’t get pigeonholed in as a revenue management person or a salesperson, instead you really have to be cross-functional.
We brought in a chief commercial officer, and he has done a phenomenal job for us bringing those three legs of the stool together. You’re seeing a lot of companies do that because you laid off over half your commercial team. So, all of a sudden we had revenue managers who had to help sales and we had revenue managers that were doing marketing and we had salespeople that had to help with revenue management activities. There was a lot of cross-pollination simply because you had less head count.