Since establishing Hospitality Ventures Management Group, CEO Robert Cole has led hotel teams through various crises, including 9/11, the Great Recession and the COVID pandemic. In this episode of Lodging Luminaries (Audible, Amazon), we talk with Cole about how HVMG managed to do more than merely eke out a profit from the hotels in its portfolio during the pandemic – over the past 18 months, the third-party management company exceeded the industry’s average house-profit levels. Cole talks about the tough decisions that were made amid the crisis to save the hotels under HVMG’s care, including a major step to centralize all property-level hiring.
Listen to the entire conversation with Cole here or read highlights of the conversation below.
Q: What changes has HVMG made to how you hire post-pandemic?
Cole: Absolutely, by far and away, the number one, two and three issues that we are facing, our peers are facing, everybody in the industry is facing, is running hotels. And we have tackled that through a myriad of different approaches. One of the big, more strategic efforts that we’ve done over the last couple of months is we have actually centralized talent sourcing and talent retention and the onboarding process as a resource for our hotels.
Typically, as third-party operators, we’ll source general managers, directors of sales and other key leadership team members at the properties. But typically management companies do not get involved in sourcing hourly associates like housekeepers and front desk associates and engineers. So we’ve actually hired six people as talent sourcing experts, and their one and only focus is hiring – they’re on the phone all day and on social media, driving the sourcing for our hotels, providing leads and reference checks and background checks – we’re doing it all. We’re trying to take all of that, or most of that, off the hands of the general managers at the properties because they’re fighting enough battles as it is.
Q: How is HVMG implementing steps to better connect with guests and personalize their experiences?
Cole: Like a lot of folks, we do the pre-arrival email and address each guest that’s coming in, in advance, and ask them for any specific requests that they may have and what we can do to personalize their stay, whether it’s a certain kind of pillow or whatever it might be. And then, at check-in, it’s really trying to set up that communication, determining whether they like to text or chat. So we make it easy for them, if there’s an issue, to get it resolved.
Folks, especially those younger than me, will avoid human contact and talking on the phone at all costs, so we make it easy for them by providing a text number, and they can text somebody 24/7 and get their questions or issues solved.
Q: Does it still make sense to have hotels with meeting space in them?
Cole: I personally believe there’s a small segment – and I think hopefully it’s very small – that may decide, ‘you know what? I don’t want to travel. I don’t want to go to a convention or I don’t want to be a part of a meeting because I don’t want to take the risk or I want to save money.’ But I really believe it’s just a matter of time before groups rebound and recover.