Mr. Kistner

Executive Leadership

Developing the Next Generation of Hospitality Professionals in Global Distribution

By Mike Kistner, President, Chief Executive Officer & Chairman of the Board, Pegasus Solutions

What if there was an easier way? What if we could bring up the next generation of travel distribution professionals with an accelerated education plan that helped them circumvent the traditional 25-year plan? Of course, there's nothing that can replace real-world experience, but can't we try to replicate our industry understanding in a classroom environment or through mentoring?

Too often, we graduate, leave the classroom and stop learning for good. Some, in a down economy, will return to earn new degrees or certifications. But, for the most part, we enter the real world, and so begins the long, tedious process of on-the-job training. In the first year of our professional lives we say, "I wish they had taught me this or that," but we rarely call our professors and give the suggestion a chance at life in the classroom. Instead, we share it down the road as a supervisor to the new junior employee, when that helpful tidbit becomes a bullet in a list of new items to assimilate with client demands and day-to-day headaches. The chance to turn that "wish they had" into an actual item on a curriculum is past, and yet another class of young professionals is set on the 25-year plan.

Some industry organizations actually harness the "wish they had" mentality to address hospitality technology issues, including distribution. For example, Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG) features workgroups that bring industry constituencies together - hoteliers, vendors, consultants, and others - to address pressing needs. By including both large and small member companies in various workgroups, from the technology buyers at the hotel level to the technology sellers at the vendor level, they allow the creation of industry standards that can incorporate lessons learned from the perspective of new and veteran professionals.

As the industry "experts," we have an obligation to the next generation of hospitality professionals to educate them on the distribution challenges we face as an industry every day. We need to accelerate the learning curve so they can immediately begin offering valuable solutions once they enter the workforce. If their work with central reservations systems (CRSs) was limited to yesterday's green screens instead of today's sophisticated enterprise solutions, then they might as well be confirming reservations with a Telex machine.

Other trade groups offer educational opportunities in terms of online and distance learning, seminars, conferences, textbooks and networking. In 2008, the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI) published Demystifying Distribution 2.0, a must read detailing the basics, importance and impact of aligning proper distribution channels to match brand messaging. The American Hotel & Lodging Institute, the educational arm of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, provides materials for all levels of hospitality personnel and professional certifications. Additionally, the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association (HEDNA) places such a value on education that it actually lists "educating industry members" as one of its primary objectives.

On the vendor side, some next generation learning programs do exist. For example, the University of Delaware School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management actually provides hands-on global reservation and distribution training to hospitality and e-commerce students using Pegasus' RezView(R) NG CRS. We donated RezView NG and team hours to the school for the sole purpose of better equipping our future workforce. But, for the rest of us who can't be leading in the classroom, we can fulfill our obligation by providing guidance to our young talent through mentoring. Think of it as Tuesdays with Morrie for travel distribution. What would you teach your student "Mitch" to help him understand today's travel distribution landscape and shave a few years off his learning curve? I have a few suggestions.

How to Cope with Peer Pressure

Peer pressure gets a bad rap. In business and politics, it's disastrous not to benchmark against your peers. Once a hotel in a market drops their rates, that hotel's "peers" better be examining their own if they don't want to lose the race for the weekend bookings. It's just a matter of making peer pressure work for the hotel in terms of business intelligence. Hotels can partner with specialists who will help them benchmark rates against competitors; update rates, availability and restrictions across multiple channels, and even enable business forecasting. It's a matter of understanding who your peers are, what they're doing and how you can maximize revenue potential without commoditizing your offering.

How to Handle Attention

Look-to-book ratios that traditionally stood at four-to-one have spiked to 300,000-to-one and beyond, and now a flood of queries threatens to overwhelm many hotel CRSs. We need the travel agents, distributors and Web sites to keep clicking and shopping, but how do we take the burden off the CRS? As a hotel manager, you need to be armed against the onslaught of online inquiries to ensure the 300,000th look at your Web site has every chance in resulting in an actual booking. From an e-commerce perspective, it becomes less about getting the shopper's attention than it does making sure you can handle the buyers.

How to Be Reliable

In an industry rife with statistics, something as small as one percent doesn't seem significant, unless you're talking about reliability. For hotels, CRSs are essential to survival. Would you want a pacemaker that might not work one percent of the time -seven hours a month or three-and-a-half days a year? No, and as a hotel, you should demand the best, which isn't one percent of downtime. The most reliable CRS delivered 99.997 percent availability last year. It therefore seems reasonable that with next generation technology, 100 percent should be the new standard for reliability.

How to Be Responsive

If I ask how much a tie costs and the salesperson wanders away to look it up, pauses to chat with a colleague, then decides to answer my question, odds are, I'm not going to buy the tie. The same is true for a hotel's CRS response times with online shopping. Research suggests that if a Web site doesn't respond to information requests within four to five seconds, customers will drop off and move on. Global distribution systems (GDSs) will automatically time out if your CRS exceeds the response time limits. So how should you respond? As quickly as electronically possible.

How to Dress

The next generation of professionals and travelers is discriminating about online shopping. They expect hotel sites to give them the sense they're standing in the lobby, swimming in the pool, lying in the bed or dining in the restaurant. Outdated pictures and outdated content translate into missed bookings and lost revenue. Web sites are no longer "brochures" offering a picture and contact information alone. Today, they're key revenue streams that need to dress the part with updated rates and availability, rich media, multilingual support and simplified booking technology. One of our newest U.S. Utell clients knows dressing is so important that after a recent property renovation, their first move was to tap Utell Online Marketing Services for Web site design.

Where to Go

Once it^1s all dressed up, a hotel's information needs somewhere to go beyond just 'online'. In the case of the aforementioned U.S. Utell client, that meant using Utell to handle GDS and Internet reservations by linking its new site to its next generation booking engine. Other services online include search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, social media optimization and e-mail marketing to maximize revenue streams. Beyond the Web, hotels need to ensure access to voice reservation services and the GDSs, not to mention using professional support in both areas. Getting the right information where it needs to go across all channels allows hotels to effectively attract all potential booking parties and retain control of distributed content.

What to Do

My experience has been bolstered by the path I took to CEO - in the relationships I've developed, the thorough understanding I've gained in each role filled, and the passion I have for this industry. The right mentor, trade association or the best university program is no substitute for hard work and full immersion. When tomorrow's student, or the coder in the cube, has worked her way up through the ranks in a hospitality organization, let's hope she has done it with the solid foundation that we helped establish through our efforts today. And, that she operates with a global perspective, looking beyond her individual role and understanding of distribution to place sufficient emphasis on driving the bottom line for her hotel or customer.

Mike Kistner is Chairman, President and Chief Executive of Pegasus Solutions. He joined Pegasus from Best Western, where he was CIO and SVP of distribution. Mr. Kistner holds a BS from Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D., and a MS in Information Systems from Colorado State University. He is the past Chairman and current member of the e-commerce committee of the AH&LA. From 2000 to 2005, he served as Chairman of the Open Travel Alliance (OTA) and has been recognized as one of the leading CIOs in the hospitality industry. Mr. Kistner can be contacted at 480-624-6450 or mike.kistner@pegs.com Extended Bio...

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