Interview: Wyndham Worldwide CEO on Listening to Guests’ Needs

Wyndham Worldwide CEO Stephen Holmes speaks at a corporate event.
Wyndham Worldwide CEO Stephen Holmes speaks at a corporate event.

Wyndham Worldwide

Wyndham Worldwide CEO Stephen Holmes speaks at a corporate event. Wyndham Worldwide

Editor’s Note: This interview is part of Skift’s CEO interview series. This particular series is with hospitality CEOs talking about the Future of the Guest Experience and the evolving expectations and demands of hotel guests. Check out all the interviews as they come out here. Also, enjoy the previous series on the Future of Travel Booking, with online travel CEOs.

Wyndham Worldwide could be considered the ultimate hospitality business with formidable vacation rental, timeshare and hotel operations around the world.

Wyndham Hotel Group launched its first multi-brand TV campaign in May 2014, has considered using guest photos as parts of its new multi-million dollar content relaunch, and continues to expand throughout Africa and the Middle East.

How does a corporation with millions of properties from hotels to rental cottages keep track of evolving guest demands? Wyndham Worldwide CEO Stephen Holmes boils it down to listening, which puts the company in a position to adapt and grow with the help of technology.

An edited version of Skift’s conversation Holmes can be read below:


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Skift: Can you please explain the shift in guest expectations and demands that you are seeing?

Stephen Holmes: One is the advent of ubiquitous technology and data that’s available to all consumers. If a consumer is going to a certain market and knows there’s a bunch of different hotels then they want to be told what they’ll like and they don’t want to hear it from the hotel. They want to hear it from a third-party site so something like TripAdvisor.

We started putting TripAdvisor on all of our websites. When a consumer goes on our website for a Days Inn, they can see the TripAdvisor rating right there on our website. That’s responding to an expectation of the traveling consumer. If you don’t give it to them they they’re going to go find it so you might as well offer it up to them. That’s one aspect of the shift in technology — it’s available to everyone.

The other shift in technology is the generational shift. Millennials will soon be, soon being 20 years, the main consumer of our travel product. Right now it’s still the baby boomers and the following generations, but the millennials are coming along in a big way and they come along with different expectations. To them, a smartphone is something that’s always existed.

Access to the Internet is something that is, basically, like oxygen. They are very technologically savvy and very aware of what’s available out there. They want to utilize all the resources that are available to them to make sure that they’re having a great experience. Frankly, not to sound contrite about it, it’s forcing the hotel industry to do a better job at customer service. It’s forcing us to get a better game. We probably should have always had a better game, but it’s forcing us to have a better one.

Skift: How is Wyndham responding to these changes in guest expectations?

Holmes: We respond by trying to understand the needs, wants and desires of our customer. Each of our businesses is always listening to our customers and analyzing developments. Listening is a very important part of being in a position to be able to respond. We have to have the right people who are attuned to what’s going on in the marketplace, understand the technology that’s available out there, and understand how to apply that technology to our business. Frankly, we do better in some businesses than in other businesses within our umbrella of businesses. We need to be on top of what’s out there and actually ahead of the curve.

I would also step back here and make a comment on is how we really have two customers. We have the consumer and all of our B2B customers. For us, a hotel franchisee is our customer and then the consumer who puts his head in the bed at night is the customer of our franchisees.

Skift: How important is back-end technology for improving the guest experience? Is it more or as important as consumer-facing technology?

Holmes: Back-end technology is critically important. Frankly, I don’t think you can do consumer-facing technology without it. If you don’t have a good foundation then going out and trying to interact with the consumer in a different way will be futile. If you can’t access your inventory, if you don’t have the right pricing availability, if you can’t be responsive to what’s going on in the marketplace on a real-time basis then interacting with consumers will be very difficult to do in a way that’s meaningful and delivers accurate information. I think the back-of-house infrastructure is very very important.

Skift: What has the hiring experience changed or evolved to match these changes in the guest experience and expectations?

Holmes: Hiring is an important part of it. We have a very people-focused environment and a culture that’s really built around people. When you ask how does hiring impact your thoughts about guest experience and delivering it, I’d say it’s all about our people. We have a very interesting, customer-centric, guest experience-focused philosophy that we call “Count on Me.”

That’s our customer service buzzword. What “Count on Me” means is that we’re going to be focused on being accountable, responsive, and delivering a great experience. It’s those three elements. It permeates our workforce so when we’re out hiring, we’re looking for people that will fit into the culture that we’ve built. The culture of being responsive, being respectful, and being prepared to deliver a great experience.

I think when you define who you are, it becomes a lot easier to hire people that you want versus just going out and saying I need 20 people to fill 20 jobs. You’re trying to hire people who fit that need. That sets the foundation for the kind of people that we want to hire and it all goes into what we’re going to end up delivering as the guest experience.

Skift: What are your opinions on fees levied against guests?

Holmes: I don’t think it’s anything new. Fees have been an important part of how hotels made money for decades. It used to be the big fee was for watching movies or telephone usage. The hotel industry has always had the fee structure, but just like the airline industry that started to charge for bags, it is looking for ways to generate profits. Yes, I think there are hotels that have added different fees now. The one that I find, as a traveler, the most offensive is Internet fees. The majority of our hotels, at least domestically, don’t charge Internet fees. I think that Internet is something, like have the electricity or the water running, should be available.

What do I think of an increase in fees? I’m not a big fan of it. I think you should get quoted a price and that’s the price that you’re going to pay. Obviously, there are taxes but, for the hotel itself, I’d like for them to charge a fair price and include everything other than the major items like meals or laundry. These fee trends have an ebb and flow to them. They come and go just as they have in the airline industry. Most of our hotels are in the economy to mid-scale sector so we probably don’t have as many of those fee situations as you find in other hotels.

Skift: The change in customers expectations in regard to technology, how is that affecting the vacation rental business?

Holmes: On the vacation rental side, we have a managed rental business in which we manage the rental of customers’ homes and handle everything from advertising to check-in to checking on the facility after a few days into a guests’ stay.

We are very much a hands-on managed rental business but technology has played a great role in allowing us to deliver our product, which is the home or the cottage that we’re renting out for the consumer. It used to be a business that was basically handled by brochures being displayed in travel agents’ offices.

Now everything is available online. Technology has also allowed us to add a new feature that we’ve been rolling out over the last couple of years, which is a yield management feature. We can determine what the pricing of your home or cottage should be for the consumer based on trends that we see happening as well as historical information like large events or weather patterns. We have a very dynamic pricing system for the rentals.

Technology has been a big boon for us.

Skift Take: With such a broad range of products across so many markets, Holmes must look at the top-level changes in guest expectations in order to meet as many customers’ needs and desires as possible.

— Samantha Shankman

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