The Starters Guide to Tech Innovation in Hotels

With the way individuals leverage technology now – constantly having access to smart phones, tablets, and computers – everyone has come to expect things at the touch of a button. We are constantly reaching to be on top of the next update and the newest technology, yet we have to remember that technology can’t completely take over our business. This is hospitality – we can never entirely eliminate the human element by which it’s characterized.

The world of technology changes fast, so being first is not necessarily always being best. When we’re talking about an area that can change overnight, we have to systematically sift through all of the options to find those that are truly worth focusing on. Time and resources are valuable commodities and we want to ensure our investors are sinking their resources into opportunities that are worthwhile.

Identifying those worthwhile opportunities can be a process. At First Hospitality Group, we’re always continuously testing new programs and systems to figure out whether or not they are a good fit for us. We learn the technology as we go and become educated on how to better implement these technologies in the future, as well as building the insights we gain into pre-planning for our pipeline hotels.

We are constantly asking ourselves how to best meet the needs of our operations teams, guests, and vendors. To identify these needs, we’re required to drill down and identify our demographic, building a strong database along the way. For that reason, a key objective in establishing a solid foundation for us is collecting more enhanced, better quality data.

For example, new updates in forecasting systems allow us to obtain more analytics on our financial reporting, forecasting, and industry trends. To lead the industry, we first have to lead ourselves. Solutions like HotSOS and REX help to reduce guest incidents, optimize requests, support preventative maintenance programs, and gather data on housekeeping (to name a few benefits), which both support our operations teams and help create a consistently positive experience for our guests.

To be on the cutting edge, we start with a strong foundation. Right now, our team is focusing on innovations to streamline processes that have the most potential to be conducted more efficiently. At First Hospitality Group, our vision for strategic growth includes a significant transition from primarily select to full-service management and development over time. We see where we want to go and we’re working to build that infrastructure.

Accommodating these shifts takes more time and deliberate action – we can’t just assume it’s going to work. We want systems that prove to be reliable and support not only the needs of today, but those of tomorrow as well. So that, as technology changes, we’re equipped to keep pace with the speed of innovation.

As we continue to develop new projects, like Hotel LeVeque in Columbus, Ohio, the implementation of systems like Miracasting and fiber to the room (only available in a select handful of hotels in North America as of 2017) equip us to handle any technology upgrades slated through the next 50 years.

First Hospitality Group has continuously been on the cutting edge of all things hospitality for its entire history; technology is no different. By consistently working to maintain a strong foundation we are able to prepare for and embrace whatever comes our way next.

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Live Free, Drive Free – A Win That Lasts a Lifetime

All in all, 2016 was a phenomenal year for recognition within Team FHG. Our hotels took home some pretty remarkable wins, but the closest to my heart will always be our Live Free, Drive Free Award. This incentive is presented to one finalist among our line-level associates for their dedication and commitment to showing up and positively representing their hotel every, single day. To win an award that either pays your rent or puts a car in your drive for a whole year is pretty great in itself, but it’s truly the stories behind the wins that make it an incredible thing to be a part of.

One Live Free, Drive Free win that I will never forget is an occasion in which we had an associate who was in danger of losing her home. It was an incredibly difficult time for her and her family and we were able to step in and help turn things around. In cases like this and so many others, being a Live Free, Drive Free winner has the ability to make a profound and lasting impact on someone’s life. In celebration of that, we decided to up the ante this year and hand the keys over entirely to make for a win that will truly last a lifetime.

Check out how 2016’s Live Free, Drive Free recipient, Lionel Cuevas, reacted to his big win:

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Promoting from Within: Front Desk to VP

As the lingering energy from our recent Conference & Awards Banquet dissipates and we close the book on another successful year for First Hospitality Group, our team reflects on all of the hard work that went into creating those victories – both big and small. Hands down and without argument, one of the most impactful moments of the entire event was the reveal of Jenna Smith’s promotion to Vice President of Revenue Management. The energy present in that room when the announcement was made is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my 15+ years with FHG; for those that know and care about Jenna, there could be no one more deserving of that outstanding recognition for their hard work and dedication to our success.

In the last year, the number of internal promotions within First Hospitality Group more than doubled – something that we are very proud of. Why is it so important to promote from within? It’s not that we’re opposed to hiring externally, however, there is immeasurable value in knowing that someone is committed to your vision and can be relied upon to execute successfully. We want to ensure that our top talent not only has the genuine desire to grow with us, but also possesses a strong understanding of our culture and embodies it in everything that they do.

Our people strategy is designed around retaining top talent, while simultaneously moving those in the middle of the pack up to the top tier and positioning them to operate successfully when they get there. We are very conscious about creating a clear path for those eager to grow with #TeamFHG, as well as the best resources and environment to develop that success.

This includes assembling a dynamic team that complements one other and plays to each person’s genius; leveraging the individual’s natural talents and tendencies. The thought here is that we all do what we love much better and with greater frequency than anything that feels forced or doesn’t align with our personal strengths. It’s the people that love what they wake up and pour their energy into each day that are most invested in the culture and collective success of their team. At the end of the day, it’s the best people that yield the best results. Devoting your time and resources to those people, those that have the potential and desire to grow with you, is the smartest investment that you can ever make.

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5 Essentials for a Successful Company Conference

FHG is truly a people-centric company…and it’s not something we just say. Between all of the recognizing, connecting, and sharing that went on at our recent annual conference, it was easy to see (veterans and new rock stars alike) being inspired. Thanks to our dedicated regional teams and the unending enthusiasm throughout #TeamFHG, we were able to call this year’s event a smashing success. There is clearly a lot that goes into planning an event of this caliber, but there were a few things that I would consider absolute essentials:

 

  • Come up with a theme

A dedicated theme helps keep focus and is easy to put energy behind! While playing “rock star” for a day is a lot of fun, it also enabled us to promote a much grander message. By weaving our theme throughout the every component of the event, our rock star attendees were part of an immersive experience – not a typical corporate conference.

  • Build energy/momentum far in advance 

You know you’ve succeeded with this part when people arrive not knowing what to expect but knowing whatever it is they want to be a part of it….THAT is a great place to be at the start of any event like this.

  • Let others rock their genius

Leveraging the strengths of those on your team just makes sense. When everyone understands the vision it’s easy to divide and conquer all of the tasks that need to get done. The most organized people can help with logistics, creative minds can infuse the theme, your training experts can oversee breakout session planning, etc.

  • Engage at ALL levels

There’s no question that an engaged, passionate teams drive better results. By the same token, energy generated at the top, like anything else, trickles down to the rest of the company. At an FHG Conference, you might find that vested interest and excitement created through air guitar competitions or a live performance by our very own leadership team, which ultimately made for an unparalleled team building experience.

  • Reward the behavior you love to see

There’s more to great results than numbers on paper; no – truly great results demand drive and dedication. It’s important to actively reinforce and reward the behaviors that you want to see. We see that our teams are passionate about what they do and that, in the end, that passion translates into phenomenal results. Through programs like Live Free, Drive Free and the coveted Inner Circle (life-changing incentives unlike anything else in the industry), we are allowed to openly communicate just how deeply we appreciate the efforts of our rock star associates.

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Thirty Under 30: FHG’s Top Rising Stars

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Over the last 30 years, First Hospitality Group has made a reputation as a company that’s consistently on the cutting edge. We’ve risen to meet the changing climate of the hospitality industry, achieving results that speak for themselves along the way. It’s among the many aspects of our business on which we pride ourselves most – surpassed only by the extraordinary group of people that we’ve developed to build #TeamFHG.

In October, one of our own, Alyssa Poniatowski, was nominated for Hotel Management’s “Thirty Under 30”: a measure of the industry’s top rising stars. The FHG Marketing team, where Alyssa is a key driver, is known for keeping up with the demands of today and the trends of tomorrow, collaborating with Sales and Revenue Management to offer the best support to our hotel teams. In her first two years at FHG, she’s become widely recognized as part of the regional staff for her role in challenging and streamlining our processes. It’s players like Alyssa that make our success, present and future, possible. Young professionals bring energy and new ideas into the workplace, revitalizing not only that for which they are directly responsible, but inspiring (and sometimes challenging!) those around them.

Our hiring initiative around bringing more millennials into the fold is rooted in the life that they breathe into our company. As a mom, I’ve experienced the effect that being surrounded by youth can have; it brings excitement and keeps you on your toes (did somebody mention being challenged?). We bring young people like new Accountants, Irais Cortes, Peter Piatek, and Jason English, into our business to infuse that energy into our culture. We work closely with others, like Development associates, Sam Schwartz and Dorothy Bukowinski, who were both internally promoted, to open the door to the potential that’s alive in them and so many other exceptional young people like them.

Congratulations to Alyssa on this show of excellence. We’re proud to have you on our team, paving the way for future “Thirty Under 30’s!”

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Comeback Kids Take Super Bowl Win

At First Hospitality Group, the Super Bowl Award is our highest recognition for outstanding performance in Guest Satisfaction and GOP. For the team at the Hilton Garden Inn Minneapolis Downtown, it means so much more. To say that it’s been an uphill battle doesn’t begin to cover it, but under the leadership of Ryan Caldwell, Sylwia Oak, and Andrea Krawczyk this key asset has made a remarkable turnaround. We are so proud to be able to celebrate this team’s first ever Super Bowl win!

Despite inheriting a property that was underperforming to budget with guest scores that continued to sink further and further, Ryan and his team have been able to spin their circumstances into gold. They’ve increased GOP by over $600,000 since last year and grew sunken Guest Scores to +2.7 above the brand. It just goes to show that nothing – no amount of time or money – can take the place of a truly strong leader. My pride and appreciation for this team swells when I think of how far they’ve come and how far I know they will go. Hopefully, “better late than never” applies to this deep congratulations from us to all of you.

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FHG Does National Drink a Beer Day

Last Wednesday, September 28th, Team FHG took to their markets to celebrate National Drink a Beer Day and ring in our seventh consecutive companywide sales blitz. As we continue to carry this new tradition through its first year, I couldn’t be happier to see participation rising to an all-time high out in the field. From Minneapolis to Columbus, our teams have taken a genuine and active role in making these sales events truly their own, while celebrating the success of their colleagues as one, big FHG Family.

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Elevating Leadership with Emotional Intelligence

At First Hospitality Group, the development and advancement of our team has always been a primary focus. Whether it be a result of promoting internally or providing an expansive arsenal of resources to supplement growth, we recognize that if you desire strong results you need to have strong team, and if you need a strong team you need to start with strong leaders.

In Leadership Training, groups of corporate leaders, directors of sales, general and regional managers come together to work on developing a set of skills that involve listening, giving feedback, creating agreements, and making commitments. What sets this program apart from our competitors is that our model facilitates inside out work. It’s a holistic approach that marries who you are as a human being with the role you play here at FHG, while still understanding that the responsibility to deliver leadership is on you.

Based heavily on the principles of emotional intelligence, the first step is always comprehending your own emotions, so that you can learn how to manage them. As a result, you will in time become able to understand the emotions of others and manage – not manipulate – those relationships.

What I hope these leaders walk away with is a heightened sense of who they are, a heightened sense of their connection with the people who work with them, and an increased awareness of empathy. All in all, we want our rising leaders to be able to fully understand themselves, so that they can in turn understand another human being. I think Maya Angelou sums it up best when she suggests, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

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Crisp Culinary Connection in 2016

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With the first half of 2016 behind us, this year’s culinary food and beverage trends have come into focus. Some are brand new, while others act as continuations of movements that have been developing over a multitude of years. One thing they all have in common is that they are significantly impacting an segment of the industry as it quickly expands.
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Innovation and creativity continue to maintain a key role. Chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers are both challenging and satisfying hungry customers with inspired re-imaginings of traditional dishes and iconic cultural cuisines. Healthy alternatives and organic ingredients continue to gain traction as the willingness to experiment—both on the part of chefs and diners—is made indubitably clear.

Vegetable as a Star

A growing numbers of consumers no longer need to be encouraged by their parents to “eat their veggies,” as plant-based dishes to have reached a tipping point. In a fairly dramatic role reversal, vegetables are starting to push animal protein to the side, relegating traditional main courses into side dishes or complementary flavor/texture accents. This could be attributed, in part, to the growing concerns about meat quality and safety with one third of American shoppers agreeing they are more worried about food safety today than they were a year ago (according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults conducted by Daymon Worldwide).

Alternatively, the rise of the vegetable on the modern plate is part of a larger movement toward healthier eating that stands alone. We’re seeing veggies become the centerpiece of the meal as “root to stem” and “vegetable forward” dining gain momentum. It’s clear that these drastic shifts do not favor only vegetarians. Vegetable appetizers are particularly prevalent and popular, lending  themselves to an expanse of creativity and experimentation. The seasonal nature of fresh veggies, with a rotating cast of in-season favorites making for a varied and delicious progression of dishes throughout the year, is another appealing aspect of the emergence of vegetables on menus across the country.

Unblemished Foods

The organic trend is hardly new to 2016, but it is worth noting that we continue to see a strong push toward easily accessible healthy, natural, and organic options. Shoppers and diners remain worried about chemicals, additives, GMOs, and artificial ingredients, which has translated into a shift in the way that dining and spending decisions are made. This gradual change has rewarded organic menu items and dining concepts, while alienating limited offerings that ignore the trend. In a recent survey, 40 percent of consumers reported that the use of all natural ingredients in food is very important to them, echoed with resounding agreement by chefs and restaurants worldwide. Fast, casual, and convenience brands are not immune to this shift: names like Chipotle, Panera Bread, Subway, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts have all taken steps to purify their menus. From new dishes to entirely new dining concepts, organic is on a seemingly unstoppable rise.

Eco-Friendly and Social Consciousness

Consumers are not just looking for good things on their plate, they are also raising their expectations with respect to the policies and practices of restaurants, hotels and food suppliers. Diners are rewarding brands that have prioritized water conservation, humane treatment of animals (and employees!), regulation of waste, and other eco-social issues to meet the demands of the generation’s increasing awareness.

Flavorful Snacking

Notions of a rigid three-meals-a-day model and the previously suspected dangers of snacking are fast becoming antiquated concepts. The growing recognition that eating more often can actually be healthy is contributing to an industrywide refocus on snacks and smaller portioned meals. More Americans are snacking with increased frequency, enjoying healthy refreshments with new and interesting flavors and textures. Different, sometimes unconventional, flavor combinations are making their way onto the scene, like dried and crunchy peas or edamame. In general, high-carb offerings are shifting to protein rich selections, sweets are giving way to spicy, salty, savory and even sour snack options. One of the most popular concepts is the acai bowl, essentially a healthy “smoothie in a bowl”. Made from acai pulp, milk, banana, bits of other fruits and lots of ice, along with a selection of topping choices that include things like chocolate chips, coconut flakes and peanuts, acai bowls are packed with both nutritious goodies and plenty of flavor. As we witness an increase in small plate offerings on menus, understand that it is not only an opportunity for costumers to peck rather than order a large meal, but to share with their companions for a more active dining experience.

Seasonal Variation

Foodie culture has begun to seep into our collective consciousness. With more refined palettes and higher expectations, creativity and menus that adapt seasonally are owning more weight in the game. Summer, for example, means BBQ time, which adds a whole new component to dining. Take stereotypically boring foods like Brussel sprouts; throw them on the grill and they take on a completely different flavor and identity for those consuming them. Summer also allows you to introduce fun and refreshing seasonal drink complements from classics like margaritas, mint juleps, and mojitos to unique cocktails, craft beers, and fresh pressed fruit and vegetable concoctions.

Revitalized Cuisines and Concepts

Chefs at restaurants and hotels around the country are embracing a range of traditional foods in a refreshed way—using cultural traditions to inform their menu choices with concepts that include both faithful recreations and creative interpretations of longtime favorites. On some level, it’s about culinary storytelling and exploration, celebrating both the old and the new in exciting and delicious ways. In fact, according to the 2016 Food Travel Monitor study, 81 percent of the 2,527 respondents believe that eating and drinking help in understanding the culture at hand. Modern Jewish cooking is a great example of this kind of “heritage cuisine”, as is Poke, a traditional Hawaii cuisine made by chopping or cubing raw fish in a blend of marinade, spices and seasonings, and before serving over flavored rice. Already commonplace in New York and LA, fast-casual Poke has recently entered Chicago with the opening of FireFin Poké Shop and Aloha Poke Co, and is soon to sweep the nation.

Digitalization

In 2016, tech-driven food ordering and delivery will continue to expand on a large scale. Delivery services and non-traditional providers are quickly becoming a big disrupter in the industry. Acting as a middleman between the customers and restaurants, these new services, such as UberEats, which provides high-speed delivery from restaurants, and Google and Amazon that are now delivering groceries, allow people to stay at home instead of going out to eat. The concern for restaurants and hotels is that they may begin to lose control of both the messaging and the marketplace, allowing outside agencies to influence their operation. Another popular concept is subscription-based food delivery brands (such as Blue Apron), with pre-portioned ingredients and recipes sent right to the doors of consumers.

On the Outs

Any effective discussion about what’s “in” also needs to touch on what’s “out.” Ultimately, understanding what consumers are moving away from can tell us just as much as what they are embracing. The “deconstructed” trend (the idea of breaking apart elements traditionally combined together to make a dish, and serving the items separately in a unique way) seems to be waning, part of a natural response to a trend that had almost begun to parody itself. Additionally, in a more surprising turn of events, pasta might be slipping in popularity. A Baum + Whiteman article about 2016 F&B trends in restaurants and hotels, points out that pasta sales dropped 13 percent in Europe and 25 percent in Italy over the last five years. Here in the U.S., pasta is down a more modest 6 percent, as Americans eschew carbs/gluten and embrace proteins. Paleo diets and other carb-light approaches play a part in the decline of this filling staple. In an attempt to dissuade further ruin, vegetable alternatives like spaghetti squash are on the rise and more pasta dishes are starting to be especially heavy-handed with the vegetables, while lighter with the noodles themselves.

Attracting the Culinary Traveler

Leisure travelers are proactively seeking unique and memorable food and beverage experiences while traveling. According to the 2016 Food Travel Monitor study, this group of individuals is referred to as “Culinary Travelers”. The study defines Culinary Travelers as leisure travelers that have both participated in a unique or memorable food or drink experience on a recent trip and for whom food or drink experiences are a prime motivator in choosing a destination. There is such a large Culinary Traveler demographic, that it is becoming more and more of a necessity for all hospitality establishments to keep up with trends and incorporate matchless food and beverage options into their menus.

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The Hub of Everything

What is the key to success in Revenue Management? Even if you have all the proper tools and the right team behind you, is that enough to yield maximum results? If you were to look back on the evolution of First Hospitality Group, you’d know that in the beginning revenue management was only executed by small teams of Regional Operations and Sales for just 17 hotels. Over time, we came to realize that one of the biggest areas of opportunity in our industry was refining our revenue strategies: monitoring, restricting, having the right pricing strategy, knowing the hotel vs. market – the list goes on.
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Since then, we’ve grown our revenue management department from one to a very robust team of six. Our strategies have become so much more complex than they ever were before. Revenue Management used to be responsible for just what the title suggests – managing revenues – demand, pricing, etc. Now, it’s connecting the dots; revenue management has become the hub of everything. With Corporate Director of Revenue, Jenna Smith, in place we have been able to maintain a team that is inspired to ask so many of the questions posed below and diligently seek out answers.
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There is now a critical marriage between sales, marketing, and revenue management that didn’t exist before. Online reviews reflect how confidently we can price. There is absolutely a premium on consumer sentiment – price often takes the back seat if our product is valued. Strategy has to be deliberate and consistent on all channels. You have to understand how to access those channels armed with the knowledge of which will be the most profitable for the hotel. How are we reaching the most relevant audience? How do they want to book?
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Do we understand what the consumer values? What is the price value comparison and how can we market that in the most successful way? We have low demand strategies executed by revenue management including but in no way limited to prospecting, implementing cost per click placement optimization, and leveraging our market knowledge to understand competitor activity. The objective went from solely managing revenues to asking ourselves “how can we assist in generating revenues in a bigger way?”
Are the revenues coming in as forecasted? Are we forecasting correctly? Are we falling within a 3% margin of accuracy? What channels are open or closed and how is that impacting us? Is our website optimized to convert? These are all questions that our regionals have to ask themselves when trying to assist in generating revenue. We are only able to uphold an effective team by instilling the principle that nothing falls outside of their job description. In my mind, once you’ve got the right people supporting you, the key to success lies in the relationship that those people have with each other.
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If we are not connected and aligned on our most crucial objectives, then we are not the best team that we can be. As we continue to develop, we are in the process of cross-training all regionals to understand the work of each of their counterparts and how it impacts the big picture. As a result, we’ve been able to grow 2.4% in RevPar index YTD, all of our city center hotels are #1 in RevPar, and over 50% of the remaining portfolio own the #1 and #2 rankings in their markets. We firmly believe that we can operate most effectively when the silos are broken down and we are fully emerged in a collaborative environment. As we continue to grow, our teams are rising to the occasion and we have never been more proud of those powering Team FHG.
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