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Episode art #71 with Patrick Norton
Episode art #71 with Patrick Norton
The Hotel Moment podcast — episode 71

Build intelligent operations and let data drive direct bookings

In this week’s episode of the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen Stephens, Revinate CRO, and Patrick Norton, VP of Sales and Marketing at Brittain Resorts & Hotels, discuss how building guest profiles is a journey — a journey hoteliers need to take if they want to reduce their reliance on OTAs and stay competitive. Norton also champions data-driven tech stacks, explaining why they not only prevent hoteliers from falling behind the competition but serve to support a more productive staff.

Tune in to discover some key truths about what it takes to position your hotel as a data-driven property, and why learning as much as possible about your guests is foundational to increasing direct bookings.

Red, yellow, and blue lines to indicate soundwaves.
Headshot of Karen Stephens

Meet your host

Karen Stephens is Revinate’s Chief Marketing Officer and runs the sales, marketing, and customer success teams. She has more than 20 years of experience in the industry alone.

On the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen speaks with leaders to draw out their experiences and insights. She is also a Francophile and Prof K — a coach, a mentor, a guide to the people who work with her.

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Quote graphic episode #71- Use OTAs as a tool.

Use OTAs as a tool

Never stop building guest profiles

Quote graphic episode #71-Guest history marketing

Guest history marketing

Data-driven technology is foundational for your tech-stack

Transcript

Intro – 00:00:02: Welcome to the Hotel Moment podcast, presented by Revinate, the podcast where we talk to leaders in the hospitality industry. If you’re looking for trends, perspectives, and stories from leaders in travel and hospitality, you’re in the right place.

Karen – 00:00:19: Hello and welcome everyone to the Hotel Moment podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the CRO of Revinate. And I am joined today by Patrick Norton, who is the VP of Sales and Marketing and Managing Partner for Brittain Hotels & Resorts. Welcome, Patrick.

Patrick – 00:00:33: Good morning, how are you, Karen?

Karen – 00:00:34: I’m doing great. You know what? I’m very excited to have you on the podcast. Brittain was one of our very first customers on Revinate Marketing. I’m going to say seven or eight years ago. So, it’s been a really nice journey to evolve together. It’s a true partnership between our two companies. So, I’m really pleased to have you on the show.

Patrick – 00:00:53: It’s been a while, and we’ve used a lot of your products before you guys even acquired them in your suite. So, we are Revinate fans through and through, even before you guys know that you like something.

Karen – 00:01:02: So, yeah, that’s something I was going to say, you know, we had this like, oh, this omnichannel direct booking strategy with all these different platforms, voice channel messaging platform, Revinate marketing, CRM. And you’re right. You had all of that in place and then we started acquiring. So, it was kind of like, oh, well, maybe we have the same brain space here. So, it’s been pretty cool.

Patrick – 00:01:23: Revinate junkies we like to say. So, you build it and we buy it.

Karen – 00:01:29: Very cool. All right, we have a lot of juicy topics to get into today. We really want to talk about making connections across those multiple channels and paying attention to guest preferences, all to drive direct bookings and brand recognition. But before we get into that, I have five questions that I asked all my guests. So, we’re going to start there. So, your first question is, when did you start working in the industry and do you remember your first day on the job?

Patrick- 00:01:54: Yes, 14 in upstate New York and Lake George, the resort called Buena Vista Resort. And I started where everyone in the hospitality industry should start, which is in housekeeping. And it was me and a buddy. We were both 14, I remember. And we got paired with the housekeeping crew and it was kind of these older ladies and they were cleaning these big late-side cabins and they would say, all right, you take him, you take him, we get in there. And they had this term of just saying, “Hey, you start in the back of the cabin and we’ll start in the front.” And the front was the living room, the back was the bathroom, and the kitchen and where the trash was. So, day one was immediately in a bathroom cleaning toilets. So that was a glorious introduction to the industry and exactly where everyone should start.

Karen – 00:02:37: That’s awesome. Very cool. All right. The next one, what has been the most uplifting moment so far in your career?

Patrick – 00:02:45: Probably a selfish answer. I made partner this year, which was a really big, exciting move. What I would consider is something I never thought I would achieve in my career. It was — I’ve been with Britain for most of the past 20 years. It started as a reservationist, actually, and sort of phone calls, and for myself and another partner in our company to sign that paperwork this year was pretty, pretty awesome moment. I think we’re the first partners in the history of the company. It’s a 80-year-old company. So, that was definitely a big moment. I moved to Myrtle Beach when I was 20. I had $300. I had no car. I took a cab to work. Walked home two hours every day for a year before I met someone. It was the same company I’m partnered now. So that was a long, exciting journey, and it was a pretty good payoff for this year.

Karen – 00:03:34: Wow, congratulations, that’s fantastic. And talk about what a cool industry that we have. You can start in housekeeping, you know, like I said, literally cleaning toilets, and move your way up through the ranks to managing partner. So big congratulations for that. Right, so the next question, this is more of a personal question. So, what is the most striking experience for you so far in terms of a holiday, a hotel stay, a food experience that comes to mind?

Patrick – 00:04:02: Has to be my honeymoon. The capital in Maui before the horrific fire was a few years ago, was the greatest resort I’ve ever stayed at in my life. It’s way nicer than I deserve, but that was a great trip, but our actual honeymoon was in Ireland and we went there for 12 days. We really had no idea what we were going to do there. We just, we got dropped off in Belfast, we got a car, and we spent 11 days just keeping the ocean on our right and drove the entire coast of Ireland from Belfast down to Cork up to Dublin and then flew home. I hate it because it’s my one Europe trip and it’s barely a Europe trip, but like I have to talk about all the time to smell one. I need to go back more. You need to go to Ireland or Italy or somewhere. So, I have something new to talk about without a doubt. Ireland is standing on the edge of like Giants Cosmo in Ireland is very unique experience unlike anything else in the world, for sure.

Karen – 00:04:59: Alright, number four, have you met any celebrities while you were in the trenches?

Patrick – 00:05:03: I have boring celebrity stories. We have Monday after the Masters here, which is great and it’s a charity event. It’s very low-key. So, you do meet a lot of people there and they will talk to you. Actually, I’ve gotten asked this — recently to us. I stole someone else’s story. We have a call center in Jamaica; a 300 agent call center in Jamaica. And I was down there with our partners that we run at call center solutions. One of their wives was on their way down and he stopped during a meeting, got a phone call from her, and he got off and he said, my wife’s in the sky lounge in Charlotte right now and she’s watching the Matrix on her iPad and some guy just walked up and tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Hey, that’s a great movie.” And he walked away and it was Keanu Reeves. So, I don’t have a good story, but I have no problems stealing other people’s stories. I might change that one where I talked to Keanu, but we’ll see. I think that’s a good enough one.

Karen – 00:05:52: Thanks, celebrities.

Patrick – 00:05:53: Exactly. I’ll borrow.

Karen – 00:05:55: That’s an awesome story. I’m going to start watching that movie just in case sitting in airport lounges. All right, so the final question, who are the women at work you’ve been most inspired by?

Patrick – 00:06:07: There’s also drinking in my company that every time I mention I have five sisters, you have to take a shot because it was a unique situation growing up on the youngest of six. They’re all sisters and they’re all older. So, I learned respect for women at a very young age. I learned a healthy fear of women at a very young age. I’ve learned my lessons on if I picked one sister to be my favorite, that is not a good outcome. So, I can’t do the same at work. There’s too many. There’s Christine McBride, who runs our call centers. Amazing Victoria runs our vacation rental, which is so big for where our company is going. Amanda, she runs call center solutions, our partners down there in the call center, Jamaica. She’s the most technically efficient operator I’ve ever met. She is like a Terminator. She’s incredible and she hired very similar styles of how we like to operate. I think what I guess I would call my protege Carly Fletcher is probably the most inspirational for me. When I started with the company on a corporate level, the marketing team was one. Our sales and marketing is 50 now. We have about 55 people on sales and marketing now, but it was just me when I started. I had to do everything. I had to do SEO, PPC. We had to do all the analytics, everything. So, as I started to build that team up, I had a hard time kind of delegating. I just felt like everything was on me to handle it. And the marketing team got up to 12 people, so 12 right now. And when I got promoted, I promoted Carly and she took my seat, which was very hard to give up. And she’s very different than Amanda and I, and they both have great, unique skill sets. Carly is more passive. She nurtures talent and she lets all 12 people with marketing come together, collaborate, and have one good, unique idea, whereas I think I had more of an army of one strategy, and everyone was just helping me with labor. So. It’s been great to watch her career go. It’s been inspirational to watch her take my baby, and my marketing team, and see it continue to thrive in my absence. So, I guess I was not as important to it as I thought. So, she’s doing a great job though. And then our company has, we have a program called WLA, which we’re very proud of, and it’s our Women’s Leadership Alliance. And every year we identify 10 females in the company, and they go through a year-long class. They’re paired with a significant female mentor within the industry, and they have mentoring sessions, and they have group activities and all that. And then they graduate at the end of the year, and then they become alumni. They get to know each other, and they learn about the problems that they face as females in the industry, not just, not as many within our company, but in the industry in general. And it’s been an incredibly empowering program. We’re really proud of that and the company.

Karen – 00:08:41: That’s great. I love it when I hear of companies that have programs like that to help mentor women and bring them up in careers. And that is very, very cool. All right, thanks for indulging me. Now I’ve got to get to the meat of the podcast. We need to talk about the tremendous growth that Brittain has seen over the last couple of years. But can we just start with talking a little bit about Brittain Hotels & Resorts, just the 10,050 of the company. For a lot of people on the West Coast, they’re maybe not as familiar. If you’re on the East Coast, you certainly know who Brittain is and are familiar with the properties.

Patrick – 00:09:12: Yeah, we’re primarily in the Southeast and we are new to getting our name out there. We are a large management company. We’re not new to the industry. We’ve been doing this for 80 years, but we’ve primarily been centralized within the Southeast. Myself and the partner Kris Kuball coming on board, are taking the company more in a third-party management direction. We have this significantly efficient, effective management company of about 75 people, which is pretty good for an independent management company. We have currently about 25 resorts. We do about 250 million in revenue a year. That was 180, I think, four years ago. So, it’s the gross bench tremendous. We have a 300-person call center in Jamaica, 150 agents of which is just focused on our portfolio. We do a lot in-house, which is unique for management companies. There’s a lot of past management companies and that’s what most of them are out there. We have 12 people on our marketing team. We have 10 in our revenue management. Our accounting is 22. Our HR is 12. So, we like to do it in-house, home-based. We have remote agents as well. By doing that, we’re not meant to, and we’re not managing a resort, working it up, and then hiring an agency to do the workforce. We do it in-house. Obviously relying on significant technology partners, we are positioning ourselves as the most technology-driven, AI-driven business intelligence is the term we use. Management company in the industry. We spent three years rebuilding our entire technology stack into what we call the Brittain Technology Matrix, with power behind the middle folks in on business intelligence and then surrounding the kind of wheel with all these great technology partners of which revenue is about 40% of our wheel, which we’re proud of. We’re heading in a very exciting direction. We just brought a new chief development officer on. We partnered with Daly PR, which is a significant PR firm to kind of get our word out there. We’re just starting to hit the conferences and the Brittain name will reach the West Coast very soon.

Karen – 00:11:14: Very cool. Yes. And so, when we think of Brittain, just maybe talk a little bit about the portfolio. Myrtle Beach, beautiful hotels. Can you talk a little bit about kind of the cache and what Brittain, the brand?

Patrick – 00:11:27: So, we’re not small resorts. We do have some small resorts, but we’ve managed extremely complex properties. So, the average hotel is anywhere from 200 to 600 units that we manage. A lot of hotels have one to two room types. Ours have 30. So, you know, revenue manager managing 30 resort, 30 room types times 365 days. We’ve got four diamond resorts with world-class steak houses, world-class spas. Real high-rise towers, very condo-driven. That’s one of our specialties, which is a very small segment of the industry, but it is without a doubt the most complex one to manage. We are in the branded world as well. We did through COVID. We just built an $80 million dual-brand Marriott courtyard and Spring Hill suites right in the heart of Myrtle beach. So, we’re in the development phase. We are in the third-party management phase and we are in the condo relationship phase. So, the portfolio right now is about 25 resorts and about 45 F&B outlets, I think.

Karen – 00:12:26: Wow. Hopefully, our audience can really appreciate how diverse, how much is going on there and how much growth you’ve had. So, you mentioned you have a team of 12 that are on the marketing team and you and Carly, how do you keep that team focused and think about what are the initiatives that you’re running? What are the most important channels for you? How do you approach that from a marketing perspective?

Patrick – 00:12:47: Our secret sauce is guest history and it is easy to be a management company, take over a property and then just put them on the OTAs, put them on every distribution channel possible and let the OTAs and these massive agencies and massive companies with huge marketing budgets do the heavy lifting for you. You just mark it up. That’s nonsense. So, it’s OTAs are not — they used to be a swear word in our industry. You don’t want them. You want direct business. They are a great source of new business, but you, you want to use them once. You take over a property. You get them on the OTAs. You get a new customer there, but then you’ve got to get them into your repeat guest history cycle. So, for us, we have 75% guest history repeat that is high as 75% and as low as about 62. I think our last study that we pulled, we do 84% direct, which is very high in the industry, we do less than 15% OTA. And it’s not small, I mean, through our Revinate platform, we send, I think 30 million emails a year. 56 separate deployments across 25 different counts. It’s all about guest history marketing for us, creating a guest history that you can get into your funnel. Target every year, get that base of business on the books, and then spot fill and use the OTAs to kind of help you where you get last minute compression and to fill those holes.

Karen – 00:14:06: Thanks for mentioning it is a tremendous amount of email that you’re sending out of our platforms. I think the key there, you have the S history and you’re really segmenting and targeting. So, the messages that get delivered are relevant. Is that a fair statement?

Patrick – 00:14:21: Absolutely. And there is a fine balance when you have so many different resources, a fine balance between again, it’s not something we coined. It’s just an expression I love of shotgun marketing and sniper rifle marketing. We started out shotgun, kind of one message fits all, blasted out there, and we went with a volume-based approach early in our careers. And that is really sliding more to the right of sniper rifle, dynamic displays. Your team and our team talk all the time about adding new tools and, “How do we keep enhancing it?” As these new tools roll out, we keep refining that process. I think three days ago we signed a contract there last week on the abandonment program that we’re rolling out through Revinate. It’s just another tiny piece of how to target these individual customers. And I have this huge pet peeve as a, I’m considered a millennial, I don’t know how, I don’t feel like I fit the profile. I think I made the cutoff at like six days or something. But we’re at this conference and there’s like these people that talk about millennials and demographics like there’s some rare species that you’re studying on Discovery Channel. I hate that. And they’re like your average millennial likes this and they like color blue and you have to market it at nine o’clock in the morning. Consider large channel. It’s absurd, like your entire database, ours, which is 15 million different profiles, every single one of them, regardless of their demographic has a unique story, a unique behavior that they exhibit on your website, a unique trail that it will take you to get them to convert. We try to and have to continue to get better at collecting as much customer data profile as we can from them. And we have got to keep moving in this direction again, of, I’m gonna beat this term to death, the AI-driven business intelligence of letting the system determine what the customer wants to see in their email. I wanna move in a direction where the web experience is not the same. The promo panels you see when you get to the website are dynamically changed depending on the guest profile. We’re pulling from Revinate on different data subsets that we’ve gathered from that customer over time to build the most tailored customer profile we can. So, they’re ambitious goals. We have good partners like you all to get it done and we’re slowly heading in that direction.

Karen – 00:16:27: It’s so exciting, I think, as a tech company to work with a company that really gets it, understands it, and also helps drive us towards other goals, right? Because it’s like, technology is only effective if you have people on the other end who understand how to execute a strategy against it. That’s really exciting for us. And I think, you know, because you’re using it across all channels, that’s also something that is really exciting. So can you talk a little bit, you mentioned about gathering guest preferences. So just from a guest experience, let’s say I come in on an OTA, once I hit a Brittain property, what are the touch points where you’re making sure that you capture my data direct?

Patrick – 00:17:05: Sure. So, OTA is a great place to start, right? Cause if you’re in — our guest sits or we’ve already started that kind of data aggregation process of collecting profile information, building out what your customer persona looks like. And again, you, not as a millennial, you as an individual is about very different millennials, you know? And OTAs are great. That’s a completely blank slate. So, a lot of companies, which we’ve looked at companies, we take over, they have 50, 60% OTA, which is crazy. This means they’re not doing a good job of getting that customer information while they’re on-site so they can retarget them in the future. What we do is, you book through the OTA once. Stay at our property. Hopefully, we deliver a great guest experience, which we do. We have an excellent customer service team. We make exhaustive efforts to get their email address. That is the number one priority. You have got to get the email address of the property. We want to report every single night that shows what profiles were checked into the system without email addresses. Front desk agents that miss those profiles, then contact them just to make sure, “Hey, ma’am, I’m sorry, I wanna make sure we have the most updated information on you.” We do get that, we have like a 98% email capture rate. The following year, through an auto-responder that we create in revenue, I don’t remember the threshold, but I think it’s 60 days or 90 days prior to when they booked the year before they receive an automatic email saying, “Hey, I know you booked on an OTA last year, excited to have you back in your two-bedroom suite. Here’s why you should book directly with us this year.” You know, best rate guarantee, no cancellation fee, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And we have a high conversion on that. We called our OTA intercept email. If they’re booking through you, and they’re booking through it speedily every year, you’re doing something significantly wrong. So that captures some customer data, right? Now they’re in your system. While they’re on-site, use Ivy. Ivy is the Revinate-driven on-site communication tools. So, we are hitting them with messages. If they’re responding to them, is it a drink or was it a spa offer? We’re finding out what they like while they’re on-site to continue to deepen that data profile set for that customer. And then there’s just pieces you can grab during check-in. There’s pieces the following year when they call and they go through our call center that we’re asking kind of profile-building questions to just kind of flesh out that profile a little bit more. So, there’s a lot you can do. There’s a lot automated you can do. Our goal is always automation with human oversight. That’s the direction we’re trying to head in. I don’t believe in AI or anything replacing people. We’re not that type of management company. You can save a company a lot of money year one and two. If you hired us to manage your property, I will make you extremely profitable the first two years. I will cut every cost you can cut. No, we drive profitability through revenue. That’s our specialty. Revenue generation and using AI and technology to augment your existing staff, not to replace.

Karen – 00:19:57: That is so exciting. I mean, I just love to hear it again. When you step back and think about from a guest experience and covering all the touch points and delivering relevant messaging, and I know I’m excited because we’re releasing the Customer Data Platform, graph technology, which is coming out at the end of this year. And all of your properties are going to be upgraded. And then you’re going to be able to see everything even more stitched together on the backend. So, I don’t talk a lot about upcoming releases, but you’re our favorite customer. I mean, I would have to tell the audience, like every time we have a conference, Brittain gets the top award. They’re kind of in a class by themselves because they do use all of the platforms. So, Carly’s been on stage with Patrick and the whole team a number of times because of that. So, we love the partnership and we’re excited about the next steps.

Patrick – 00:20:45: Very proud of our award that we proudly display in our trophy case. Amanda, Brian Miller, Carly, myself, we would never miss that trope.

Karen – 00:20:54: That’s very cool. When we’re about to release we’re coming for next year too, so that’s coming.

Patrick – 00:20:58: You don’t want to break the news now?

Karen – 00:21:00: No, my marketing team, you know how it goes with those marketing folks. And via big travel. All right, cool. So final question for you. We’re coming up on 2024, I mean, I just saw the press release — more investment in AI, all the things, but what is your kind of crystal ball for 2024? What are you looking forward to as the Managing Partner of Brittain Hotels?

Patrick- 00:21:22: We are at the tail end of our three-year investment in, again, building what we call the Brittain Technology Matrix. It is this incredibly sophisticated system that will have our CDP and our BI tool at the heartbeat of it. There’s too many companies still leaving the PMS at the center of their technology hub. And it’s crazy. It’s such a legacy-old way of thinking. Your PMS is important. I get it. It is a piece of gathering a little bit of information. It is a check-in checkout tool. If you don’t have some sort of data-driven piece as the nucleus of your technology stack, then you’re doing something wrong, and you’re gonna fall behind. And you’re gonna get beat by companies that are focusing on that. There was a recent conference I went to, there’s a great quote, which I’m probably gonna use for the next 10 years. And I think it was Ed St.Onge from Flip.to who said it, he might’ve got it from someone else, I don’t know, but Ed always has great quotes. He said, “you will not lose your job to AI, you will lose your job to someone using AI.” Which again, is back to that idea of AI should augment what you’re doing, not replace what you’re doing. So, we have a lot of energy going into rolling out the functionalities of this three-year, I think it was a $5 million investment in this technology matrix that we built out. And 2024 is about data. And we are going to, we don’t wanna keep pace with the industry, we wanna plow the snow and we want people to follow behind us. We are not afraid to take chances. We feel we know the difference between fads and what’s the next big thing. I think a lot of companies are going to fall behind in AI and business intelligence. We watch that happen in social media, and it’s still happening. There’s still companies 20 years later that don’t know how to use social media. And they just know a marketing agency told me I’m supposed to do this. So, I’m going to do it. And it looks terrible. It’s like someone telling a 50-year-old dad that he should get an earring. And he’s walking around thinking it looks great. You know, your social media strategy is terrible. Like people really struggle that I can’t imagine how the industry is. This AI initiative is going to really separate the pack, I think, for next year. And the way generative AI is accelerating every minute is incredible. Next year’s gonna be a really, really exciting year for those who are paying attention to it and taking advantage of every, all these evolutions that are happening in our industry.

Karen – 00:23:40: Absolutely. Well, you heard it here first. I mean, as I mentioned at the top of the podcast, Brittain’s always been at the forefront, the cutting edge, even when we had nascent technology and we were just starting to roll out, they saw the opportunity and we’ve evolved over time and really excited for the next steps. So, Patrick, for those of our listeners that want to learn a little bit more about the management company, what’s the URL to go visit to get more information?

Patrick – 00:24:03: Sure, just go to brittainresorts.com and you can always find us on LinkedIn as well.

Karen – 00:24:08: All right. Well, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure, Patrick. Always good to talk to you.

Patrick – 00:24:12: Looking forward to the next conference and we’ll see you then.

Outro – 00:24:15: Thank you for listening to the Hotel Moment Podcast. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you’re watching on YouTube, please like the video and subscribe for more content. For more information, head to hotelmomentpodcast.com. The Hotel Moment podcast is presented by Revinate.

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