As part of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit’s Patron sponsorship program, ALIS asked Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ President-Americas Scott LePage eight timely questions as we prepare for the 20th annual event July 26-28, 2021, at the JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles L.A. LIVE. Following are his responses.
You were promoted to your current position in June 2020—just as the pandemic was becoming engrained as a way of life. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as Wyndham’s leader of the Americas since assuming that role?
Wyndham has always embraced the culture of service and the relationships that we have with our teams, our owners, and our guests – which have been built on trust and empathy. In stepping into my new role, I’ve seen how important our service culture is to working through challenges and staying connected with our customers.
Whether it was implementing mask requirements or setting up COVID exposure protocols, we found that managing our teams with empathy and clear communication and then sharing those recommendations to our franchise hotels through our weekly “COVID-19 Relief Roundup” emails, we were able to maintain open dialog and support a positive, successful working environment.
The good news is that we are starting to see some improvement and, while there are still real challenges that hotels are facing from the impact of COVID19, the lessons we’ve learned about looking to the culture of our teams and this industry will help us continue to persevere and be ready to welcome back more travelers.
How has your previous experiences in internal audit/process improvement and operations helped you make decisions in your current role during the pandemic?
Having a foundation in analysis and finance helped me focus on the business perspective when making day-to-day decisions and setting short- and long-term goals throughout 2020. We have been able to make meaningful progress on our key initiatives by remembering that “what gets measured gets managed.”
When the pandemic hit, we were faced with making critical choices about hotel operations, keeping our team and guests safe and adapting our on-property processes. We evaluated all available information, created internal teams to collaborate on the best solutions and quickly leveraged supplier relationships and franchisee feedback to develop our “Count on Us” cleaning processes. We engaged a distribution partner to design and execute a drop-ship program that delivered key supplies to all of our hotels when those resources were scarce to help weather the most challenging days.
In the rapidly changing world we faced in 2020, our success came from setting key goals and then engaging our teams, suppliers, and customers to ensure the effectiveness of our efforts.
What’s the most common issue that Wyndham owners, developers and franchisees ask you to address—and how do you respond to them?
The most common issue our owners and developers brought up in 2020 was their need for help operating through the pandemic so they could make it to the other side. We are proud that we were able to quickly roll out franchisee relief in (fee deferrals for March, April, and May of 2020 with no interest on recurring fees through September 2020). We deferred certain non-life-safety brand standards to help our hotels focus on recovering their business while still maintaining the best possible service for our guests.
As we return to more normal economic conditions, I expect hotels will face a range of challenges that will mean a more individualized approach to providing service. To effectively respond to and support our hotels in what is to come, we have already started our efforts to meet with owners and operators, ideally in person when we can, to understand their specific business needs and work alongside them to develop customized action plans and assistance.
What general challenges and opportunities will emerge in the Americas during the next 12 months from a development standpoint?
The challenges of the next 12 months will continue to be the ones we’ve been working through. Hotel owners, hotel organizations and industry groups like AHLA have collaborated to ensure hotel operations are running safely and effectively. As we look ahead, we need to focus on addressing deferred maintenance and enhancing quality assurance efforts that are key to guest satisfaction. Our success in achieving those objectives will be a significant part of supporting ongoing growth for the industry.
We face very interesting opportunities coming out of the pandemic and this recovery may be unique. As the COVID19 concerns diminish, we expect to see business bounce back quickly. Now is the time for forward-looking hoteliers to invest and ensure they are prepared to have the right rooms in the right location run by the right teams. We have an exciting opportunity to be opening new product into what could be a very strong business cycle.
What do you see in terms of transactions and investments during the next 12 months?
This is the slowest transaction market the industry has ever seen. Brand owners are waiting for greater clarity on how the recovery will play out – particularly potential sellers who are well-positioned from a liquidity perspective and don’t need to sell.
As the recovery continues, we expect more of these sellers to come to the table because we believe that consolidation in this industry is inevitable, as size and scale matter more than ever before. In addition, as travel demand normalizes – and it will – banks will feel more comfortable financing new projects. We should be confident in our industry, our hotels, and our people. With that mindset, we will continue to see transactions and investments coming back and potentially accelerate coming out of this crisis.
What should hotel owners be doing now to prepare for the recovery, including the expected rush of U.S. leisure travelers hitting the road this summer?
It is important to maintain rates so that pricing supports operations. Professional revenue management services can make a difference now more than ever. Owners should reinvest in their facilities and operations as much as they can, through capital improvements and restocking soft goods and amenities. We are working with vendors to make key products available and affordable to owners right now as hotels get their operations back up to speed. I recommend that hotels take a close look at their inventories, so they do not find themselves with limited supply that impacts their ability to operate and recover.
In addition, we are a service industry and delivering great service takes great people. In the long run, my belief is that the winners in the recovery will be the hotels that have the best teams. Find, nurture, and take care of great talent. Embrace diversity and inclusion so that you can benefit from all team members in delivering value to our guests.
What segment of the hotel industry is best positioned to have a robust rebound from the pandemic? Why?
For Wyndham Hotels & Resorts in North America, drive-to leisure destinations and ongoing business from the everyday business travelers like infrastructure workers have led the recovery. That business has created momentum primarily for our economy and midscale segments. Recent government stimulus efforts and the demand brought on by Spring Break have positively affected room revenue and are hopeful signs of what is ahead for us and our industry.
The big question on everyone’s mind is when group and overall business travel will rebound, which will undoubtedly help with driving additional recovery for full-service properties. Progress with vaccines and immunity is encouraging and we are optimistic about the impact we’ll see on business and group travel. I just got my first shot in Texas recently and I am excited to complete the vaccine and get on the road more often too.
What’s the one takeaway people should know about Scott LePage?
For me, life and work are about service. From my time in the U.S. Navy to what I do today, it is why I do what I do, and it is what I love about our industry and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Getting the opportunity to contribute to the goals and objectives of others is the best type of work and provides the highest reward. As a leader in a great organization, I get the privilege to serve alongside a global team that is dedicated to the concept of service in every respect.