Author: Brian M. McSherry

Brian M. McSherry was appointed chief operating officer of M+R Hotel Management in 2013, responsible for overseeing the company’s existing portfolio of hotels in the greater New York metropolitan area and its growth nationwide. He is a 32-year lodging industry veteran with extensive experience working for major brands including Marriott, Hilton and Wyndham. He also served major franchisors in senior leadership roles, overseeing both full- and select-service hotels in the United States, Mexico and Caribbean. McSherry previously was vice president, operations, for Stonebridge Companies, a hotel management company in Englewood, Colo. In that role, he oversaw the company’s properties in four states and the ground-up development of two hotels in Manhattan. From 2009 to 2012, he was regional vice president for Concord Hospitality Enterprises Company, a hotel development and management company in Raleigh, N.C. He supervised the company’s the largest portfolio including hotels in eight states that generated more than $125 million in sales. McSherry came up through the ranks in food and beverage and served as general manager of hotels operated by Interstate Hotels & Resorts, Meid Enterprises, Columbia Sussex Corp., Regal Hotels International, Marriott International and Hilton Worldwide. He earned his master of business administration degree in global management at the University of Phoenix, Arizona, and a bachelor of science degree in hotel management and associate’s degree in culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University, Providence, R.I. He is a resident of Norwood, N.J. M&R Hotel Management operates hotels in Manhattan and Staten Island as well as La Guardia Airport and JFK International Airport. The portfolio includes brands of InterContinental Hotels Group, Choice Hotels International, Wyndham Hotel Group and Best Western International. In addition, Marriott International, Hyatt Corporation and Hilton Worldwide have certified M&R to manage hotels under their respective brands. M&R also provides hotel development consulting including site selection, feasibility analysis, design, planning and assistance selecting contractors and obtaining permits, financing and franchise brand licenses.

Exterior of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

The Convention Center Connection

The ongoing $1.5 billion expansion of New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is a reminder of just how connected meeting facilities are to the health of the city’s hotel industry, which provides accommodations for the thousands of attendees, sponsors and support staff, frequently for multiple-night stays.

The Javits project will add 1.2 million more square feet of exhibition space, bringing the venue total to 3.3 million square feet. The work includes construction of a 58,000-square-foot ballroom, which the center claims will be the largest on the East Coast.

The “convention-center connection” benefits hotels large and small, from the 500-plus-room “big box” full-service convention hotels to much smaller limited- and select-service hotels. The latter can benefit from convention business, too, if managed effectively.

Large citywide conferences and events are the lifeblood of convention centers. Accordingly, local convention and visitor bureaus typically work on behalf of their client hotels by assembling “room blocks” to house attendees. Hotels are invited to participate, and most wisely agree.

Considering that the lead time for a big conference can be two or three years, participating in the room block gives a hotel a base of business on the books for a fixed number of nights far in the future. In industry parlance, these bookings represent “found business”  or, more to the point, “money in the bank.”

While many who attend conferences will opt to stay at full-service convention hotels for the convenience of being able to order room service or dine inside the building, others will be happy to book a limited- or select-service hotel if only they’re traveling on a budget because such hotels are priced substantially lower than their full-service cousins.

Conferences present hotels with opportunities to attract additional bookings. Given the appeal of a destination like New York, Chicago, Miami or San Francisco, some attendees may wish to arrive a few nights early or stay a few nights afterward, possibly with their significant other. If offered an attractive “pre-con” and “post-con” rate, they’re likely in many cases to book a limited- or select-service hotel, since that part of their stay will be on their own dime.

3D bar graph showing downturn

When the Lodging Market Slows Down

The old adage that the lodging industry is a cyclical business seems to be proving accurate once again. Data from reliable industry sources, including Smith Travel Research, seems to indicate that after nearly 10 years of growth, the industry’s sustained period of growth is encountering a rough patch.

STR is forecasting year-over-year occupancy in the U.S. this year to be flat, the first time this has been the case in 10 years. Continued supply growth, meanwhile, is expected to have a negative impact on occupancy. Similarly, STR is expecting average daily rates to remain about the same in 2019 and then again in 2020.

For veteran managers of established hotels, industry downturns present a challenge, regardless of how many times they have been through them. Yet, like so many setbacks in business, the flip side of adversity in the short term is opportunity in the long term, if you can perceive it.

Certainly, no one solution fits all. Markets vary by size and region of the country, center-city versus suburban and by asset class. The luxury and resort segments may be more vulnerable than the upscale tier and the upscale tier more at risk than midscale. Indeed, limited-service hotels may end up benefitting, thanks to the value segment of the traveling public, especially if the national economy starts to soften as well.

Downturns give managers the opportunity to refocus their present operations in a way that may not have had the same sense of urgency in better times. They have the chance to restructure operations to ensure that the best use is being made of associates’ time and talents. It’s an opportunity, furthermore, to ensure that the quality of guest services has not suffered, despite fewer resources possibly being available.

In other words, it’s a chance to come up with creative solutions that not only add value in the downturn but become standard operating procedure going forward.

hand holding loyalty card

Taking Loyalty Programs to a New Level

Points-based loyalty programs have figured prominently in hotel marketing for decades, the most popular ones enlisting millions of members. In the belief that “20 percent of your customers give you 80 percent of your business,” hotel marketers eagerly pursued their best customers, encouraging them to sign up and then work to attain elite-level status.

The higher up the program hierarchy members rose, the greater the loyalty they felt and the greater the number of points and other sweeteners they received for their continued patronage. Both the member and the hotel brand benefitted as did the hotel owner and operator. It was a win-win all around.

I was reminded of how valuable these programs have become in February when Marriott International took the bold step of replacing its long-time Marriott Rewards program, one of the industry’s largest and most well-known programs, with a new entity called Marriott Bonvoy.

As with replacing an established hotel brand, replacing a popular loyalty program comes with a calculated risk, given the equity built into the original name over the course of many years. A seasoned marketer, Marriott certainly understands this and plans to invest heavily in promoting the new program, which consolidates Marriott Rewards, Ritz-Carlton Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest into a single effort.

Interesting too, in launching Bonvoy, Marriott has taken the opportunity to rethink the traditional points-based loyalty program and put a different spin on it, one the company seems to feel will better resonate with today’s travel consumer.

At the heart of this reinvention is something the company is calling Marriott Bonvoy Moments. These are tens of thousands of different kinds of experiences program members can have staying at Marriott hotels and resorts, depending on the destination and time of year. According to Marriott, there are roughly 120,000 such “moments” possible around the world.

In addition to being able to redeem points primarily for free nights — and to a lesser degree, merchandise — members will be able to use their points or purchase these trip enhancements that formerly would have been provided by travel agents, tour companies and/or destination management companies.

As time goes by, it will be interesting to see if other major hotel companies take similar steps with their loyalty programs and whether Marriott does, in fact, have its finger on the pulse of today’s traveling public.

Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Central Park guest room

When Is a Guest Room Too Small?

Many select-service brands that established consumer expectations in suburban or highway locations – with spacious guest rooms where guests could stretch out like they would in their own bedrooms – now are turning up in cities where space comes at a premium and guest rooms and public facilities are much smaller.

When these guests check into one of these brands in New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, they encounter a couple of unhappy surprises, including much higher room rates and significantly smaller rooms. They now must navigate cramped space around the beds and in the bathrooms and may discover their accommodations lack a closet or much space to stash their luggage.

On the one hand, hotel developers understand that the cost of land to build in center-city locations is so extreme that it’s unrealistic to provide spacious guest quarters at the brand’s price points. On the other hand, they are sympathetic to the frustration felt by the unsuspecting guests. It is a dilemma with no easy resolution.

It is encouraging, nevertheless, to read comments on TripAdvisor and similar sites that reveal how guests come to terms with these smaller, more expensive select-service hotels. Here are two examples:  “The room was small, but that was to be expected of any room in New York City.” Another guest echoed, “The room was a decent size by New York standards.”

A third comment took the matter a step further, touching on a truism that applies to guests visiting major, world-class cities as opposed to, say, a beach resort: “The room, although compact, had everything we needed. As we’re in a city that never sleeps, we weren’t in the room long enough to need extra space.”

Given the reality at hand, our job as hotel managers is to ensure that our rooms, although admittedly small, are functional, clean, comfortable and attractive. Also, we strive to reset expectations by providing a higher degree of service to help our guests take small rooms in stride and stay with us again.

private security guard

A Broader Take on Security

It goes without saying that security is always on the mind of hotel managers. Guests have every right to expect they will be safe and their possessions protected. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

But by its very nature, security is a subject that hoteliers don’t like to discuss, given that the very nature of security depends on not showing our hand to the bad guys.

Yet it occurred to me recently that, in a broader sense, hoteliers’ concern for the well-being of our guests goes beyond the time they actually spend on property. It was mid-December in Midtown Manhattan, and planning was in full swing, as it is every year at that time, for the New Year’s Eve extravaganza in Times Square.

The countdown to the new year draws tens of thousands of excited onlookers, who crowd the streets. The news media covers the event, and the police presence—both in uniform and plainclothes—is very strong. Considering the times we live in, there are always concerns that crowds of such a size could be subject to a terrorist attack.

Since M&R manages several hotels on the blocks in and around Times Square, our managers, along with managers of other local businesses, participate in the planning process, whether it involves crowd control, emergency access, alternate traffic routes or medical preparedness. Our people are happy to cooperate, eager to provide whatever assistance might be helpful.

When New Year’s Eve rolled around, the hotels in the Times Square area were sold out. Many guests had booked those rooms precisely because they were looking forward to being right in the middle of the action.

One thing they might not have realized: although they may have been blocks away from the hotel physically, caught up in the moment, having fun, the team at their hotel still had their safety and security top of mind.