Video Series: Celeste Loh on what we can learn from APAC, what hoteliers should avoid doing & big changes coming

This week, Dylan Cole of Revinate sat down with Celeste Loh, one of Asia’s trail blazers in revenue management and founder and owner of theREVpeople. Celeste has worked with some of the world’s renowned hotel brands to give them a competitive edge in a demanding market.

Like many in hospitality, Celeste worked her way up the ladder. She began at the front desk in 1993 and later, was ‘forced’ into taking over reservations and revenue management by the GM and Director of Rooms and found her calling. In 2012 she left her corporate job to launch theREVpeople.

In the interview, Celeste shares her thoughts on how hotels need to work together, how technology provides an edge and how the industry will likely change as a result of COVID-19. View the video or read the interview, below:

We’re obviously living in some unusual times, and Asia was impacted before other regions. I’m curious…what are you seeing and hearing from your hotel clients in the region regarding the coronavirus?

Unusual times…that’s an understatement! I felt like I’ve been in the cave and going back into stone ages. The truth is, everyone wants answers but no one has certainty. We’re far from out of the woods, not now and even into 2021. But can an individual hotel be out of the woods sooner than the majority? Absolutely! This is the time to strengthen your positioning and unique branding, what you are selling, and the customers you will keep. This is the time to set yourself up to win – use best practices, team building, and strive for sustainable performance and profitable revenue.

I would say that people are using China as a benchmark on how they’re recovering. However, China is unique in every way, from brands to products to channels to its customer mix. Remember that your business is unique to you and no one can take a cookie cutter or one size fits all approach.

For example, one of the local Singapore hotels has the sweet spot for high profile government business, so that will be the first segment for them to recover, and not individual travellers.

You’ve worked with all aspects affecting revenue including Sales, Marketing, and Operations. What are some innovative things you’ve seen from these different departments?

If we use Apple as a benchmark, we haven’t really had any remarkable innovation as an industry. After all, we are still calling porter service “bellman”! (for the new generation, in the old days when someone dings the bell at the desk, the bell man will come to the person).

Even now, there is still a tendency to focus on topline and market share…as well as going back to internal stakeholders to ask what they want. While that’s an important question, it needs to balance with us figuring out what the customers today and tomorrow would need/want before they do, like what Steve Jobs did with phones.

That said, I believe the biggest innovation is still technological advances – a good PMS, a good RMS, one that collects and analyzes data, has science built into it, has humans supporting it and brings about best practices in the business to drive change and optimization. It’s powerful when fully leveraged. However, much more can be done through seamless integration into the business and with other applications into optimizing total profitability.

We need to break barriers, and I am a strong believer that revenue managers need to be that change manager. There needs to also be a focus to drive a high adoption rate of new technology and business practices. Based on my experience, this is a major issue and opportunity.

What should hoteliers? avoid doing right now?

Working in silos. As we’ve seen with the COVID 19, we are not alone and we are only as good as our weakest link. It’s time for everyone to come together. Rooms cannot be focused just on rooms, F&B on F&B, Finance on Finance. Engage your owners, management companies and everyone at the hotel. I recently formed a revenue lounge chat group and one of the topics we brainstormed was how much money is left on the table on cross-selling and upselling, and I surprised the entire group when I mentioned how Marketing and Training play a crucial role in the optimization cycle.

What industry changes do you expect to come from this crisis?

Whilst many would not debate there will be new standards and way of working, the change curve will be steep. I was a Front Desk Agent 27 years ago and the procedures haven’t changed much today, from how a guest is welcomed, the script, the registration to key card issuance and checking into the PMS.

4 things run through my mind on how to make the car run faster:

  1. Invest in Technology. But choose the right platform as not all RMS or BI tools have the same solution or can cater to the type of business you are in, and pick a vendor who has strong after sales support. You will need that. I’ve seen vendors trying to make a sale without assessing the real need. Does a new hotel projecting to run at 10-30% occupancy the first 6 months need a full RMS six months before opening?
  2. Stabilise and build a very strong team. Knowledge is power. If everyone speaks the same language and has the same belief in their products and services, then this will not only drive organic customer loyalty but also positively affect both top- and bottom-line.
  3. Pick the right talent. Train, Coach, Practice, Learn, Repeat. If these times teach us anything, it’s about valuing our people more than ever.
  4. Know your opposition and yourself. As Sun Tzu says, If you know the enemy and know by yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemyfor every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Anything closing thoughts? Any additional advice you’d give our community?

Right now, think about a holistic approach to all strategies. This is the time to do it with plenty of focus. Deep dive into your customer data. Take time to invest in your own development as knowledge is your own asset to keep. Get to know the person/s in your household once again and vice versa, as we might never get a chance to have total focus and time with the family like now.

Looking for more expert opinions? Check out these videos:

How to Rethink Operations with Jan Hein Simmons (16 minutes)

Dealing with Coronavirus as an Independent Hotel (3 minutes)

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