“Everyone used to spend so much time on reporting. I remember watching our team go through printouts with highlighters. We knew there had to be a better way. That realization started us on the journey to where we are today.”Zach Cunningham, Vice President, Analytics & Business Intelligence, Remington Hotels
Five years ago, the Remington Hotels team spent too much time entering data and creating reports to understand how their hotels were doing. But today, after developing a proprietary business intelligence platform powered by Microsoft’s Power BI, everyone in their organization from front-line managers to owners has real-time, customizable reporting at their fingertips.
In this case study, Raul Moronta, Chief Commercial Officer at Remington, and Zach Cunningham, Vice President, Analytics & Business Intelligence, share the steps they took to get there and the benefits it provides their business today.
The journey to build a modern reporting system
“We started our journey by talking with a few technology providers, but didn’t make much initial progress,” Zach recalled. “My boss at the time suggested building some prototypes in Tableau and Power BI. Within a few weeks, we had a prototype of a profit & loss statement and an operational scorecard. We showed it to [Remington Hotels CEO] Sloan Dean and he told us to go all in on building out a modern reporting framework.”
“Sloan had a new mindset around hotel operations and was very familiar with and excited by what technology could provide,” Raul added. “He wanted Remington to become a technology-enabled management company and tasked our team with developing what this approach could look like and what systems we needed to support the vision.”
New analytics for a new business model
During this time, Remington was transitioning from exclusively being an operator of Ashford-owned hotels to developing capabilities to manage hotels on behalf of any owner.
“This transition brought in its own complexities because we needed to be able to answer any question for any owner at any point,” Raul noted. “That was especially important because the majority of the owners that we work with are REITs and institutional investors. They are more sophisticated, and more sophisticated owners apply extra scrutiny when it comes to trends and data analysis.”
The importance of standardized, cross-brand reporting
“The fact that Remington Hotels currently manages properties under 26 brands and 18 independent hotels highlighted the need for standardized reporting across brands,” said Raul.
“We were working with six different PMSs, seven CRSs, a variety of Revenue Management Systems – and they all needed to be harmonized. We needed to roll it up into one place.”
Focusing on the five core drivers of performance
Raul shared how Remington is constantly referencing how they are doing across their five core drivers of performance, which create a balanced scorecard of revenue/market share growth, guest satisfaction, profitability, asset maintenance, and associate satisfaction. “We needed a way to constantly understand who was actually achieving results according to this scorecard.”
These five drivers are part of Remington’s management bonus plan. Those general managers that achieve the highest performance become part of the President’s Club and get to take part in a special incentive trip. The Commercial Strategy teams also have an annual incentive plan based on their year-end performance.
Remington leadership wanted its managers to focus their time on driving results, not trying to figure out where they ranked in performance.
“Transparency and accountability for performance are very, very important.”
Starting with standardized data sets
Remington started by ingesting data from leading standardized sources, including ProfitSword for financial systems, Smith Travel data for benchmarking, and sales performance from sales systems.
“Overall, we have 42 data sources that support around 170 jobs,” Raul said. “Where we could get standardized data feeds, we pushed our partners to provide those. But there were a few areas of our business where data needed to be collected and uploaded manually, so we did that. If there is data that’s important to our business we will find a way to digitize it, upload and store it for reporting and analysis.”
Identifying what data was important
According to Raul, the biggest challenge wasn’t collecting and storing the data, but rather understanding what was important in the data. “How do we ‘boil the ocean’ and get the three things that are really important for my area of responsibility?”
“We achieve this through constant communication internally and with our owners about the business problems we need to solve. We work closely with Zach and his team to identify if we have the data and how we need to view it.”
“The reality is that every report we have probably existed in another system in a similar format, but we needed to aggregate or display it slightly differently. Visualization is important to make sure that it’s usable for each intended audience. Our most senior owners are in a different age group than many of our junior analysts. The analyst may be trying to aggregate data in a modern way, and that information eventually needs to inform a senior leader who doesn’t want to spend time reading reports. They just want to see our dashboard of performance.”
“The way we’ve approached this is through a multi-layered reporting framework that shows both what executives want to see in what analysts want to see – and everyone in between.“
Evolving from tracking to trend spotting
“We started with tracking data, but progressed to looking at trends,” Raul told me.
“What is happening portfolio-wide? Why are leisure destinations in the south of the US performing better than the northeast urban locations? We needed to understand what was happening in our portfolio.”
Enabling reporting customization through open data access
Remington’s open data policy means that anyone in the organization, including owners, can create ad-hoc reports or download raw data at any time based on their security settings and property access.
“We allow complete customization,” Zach shared. “Allowing our teams and owners to leverage the 50 different data sources we ingest in any way they want to answer questions they have has been a big win for us.”
What Remington offers owners today
“All of the data we’ve discussed is also accessible to our owners,” Raul noted. “Through our owner portal, they can see statistics in real-time for any of their properties. It’s extremely powerful because in the past owners would have had to wait to get a report because our teams had to pull out data together and create it. Today, our automated reporting system cuts down on a significant amount of interaction between owners and our teams. This is helpful to them as they may be refinancing an asset or understanding cash flow. Everything’s at their fingertips on desktop or mobile. The level of transparency we offer is unlike any in the industry.”
When a hotel owner decides to work with Remington Hotels, one of the first people they’ll meet is Zach, who provides them with an overview of how to use the applications.
“We’ve branded our application REMi because while it’s powered by Power BI, we have made a significant amount of adaptations on it. Every report is home-grown. It’s unlike anything others can access.”
“We’re able to offer P&Ls all the way to general ledger (GL) codes and see the trends. For example in the rooms department, you can see the cost per occupied room as compared to a year or three ago. You can answer questions such as ‘Are revenues growing at the same level as my labor costs?’”
“Owners are able to see pick-up and pace for each night. They can see productivity for sales. They can see the activities that sales managers are completing on behalf of their hotels. They can see guest satisfaction scores. They can see what preventive maintenance actions have been taken. Any metric that’s important to an owner is available in real-time.”
“Reporting for our owners is constantly updated. We do a minimum of three data pulls each day where is available: one in the morning, one mid-day, and another in the late afternoon. We do this because our business is dynamic and at some point, you may be forecasting revenues halfway through the day and need to have as much recently updated information at your fingertips as possible.”
“We find that the CEOs and senior leaders of our ownership groups care about dashboards, but their analysts want significantly more information. A lot of the stuff that we are doing is providing access for an analyst to be able to pull any information they need in whichever way they want it.”
Real-time data for instant gratification
“Our most widely used reports update 8 times a day. People tend to want instant gratification,” Zach observed. “They want to know how we did an hour ago – and what’s changed. If we made a change yesterday what are the results now? Everyone from owners to our general managers to frontline managers want to see this. We designed our system to provide this instant gratification.”
“Reporting used to be based on data that was manually typed into Excel. We had people spending 10 hours every single day typing numbers into reports. Now with automation that’s completely gone. This efficiency frees our teams to do much higher-level work. The cost savings is something our owners appreciate as well. It shows we are focused on operational efficiency.”
Insights available today through modern business intelligence
Raul and Zach spoke about how exciting it is to work in business intelligence in hospitality because of the tremendous data sets available.
“We have so many data sources to work with,” Raul shared. “For example, we track how much revenue we earn from our gift shop on top of revenue per occupied room and other standard metrics.”
“We started tracking spa revenue and found people tend to spend more money on nail services than hair services. That’s not something that I would have guessed.”
“We found a vast majority of our F&B revenue was earned between Friday night and Sunday morning. This showed us we should do all we can to avoid having a staffing problem between Friday night and Saturday at noon because that would severely affect our revenue streams.”
Guiding hotel operations with data
Raul and Zach and their teams are not just looking at transaction and revenue data, but at correlations – and how those correlations can guide changes to their business model.
“That agility of us being able to do this in real-time is vastly superior to any other tool I’ve seen,” Raul said. “We have the ability to learn from our entire portfolio. We can see what our full-service Marriott hotels doing differently than our full-service Hilton hotels – and how it is working out for them.”
“If I’m talking with a hotel owner we’re considering working with, I can show them if their cost per occupied room is not as good as our average hotel. That is vastly important for us because we now can do benchmarking to quickly identify and satisfy any curiosity.”
“I always take a look at outliers and try to see why it’s not behaving like the others. That’s how we identify trends and that’s how we learn.”
The journey to data-driven hotel operations is worth taking
“It’s been a long journey for us and taken a lot of time and investment,” Zach told me in closing. “But it gives our organization an incredible advantage, and it’s something I am really proud of because of the capabilities it gives us and our partners today.”