Episode #79 with Bryson Koehler
Episode #79 with Bryson Koehler
The Hotel Moment podcast — episode 79

Revinate’s new CEO — on a mission to empower hoteliers with data-driven technology

In this week’s episode of the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen Stephens, Revinate CRO, is joined by Bryson Koehler — the new CEO of Revinate, as he shares the story of why he fell in love with hospitality and AI technology, and how he’s chosen to marry the two. Koehler explains why hotel technology should be rooted in data and built to serve hoteliers regardless of size, location, or market demand.

Listen in to learn more about Koehler’s background, how he plans to innovate and push the boundaries of what Revinate’s solutions can do, and what you can expect moving forward as a Revinate customer or partner.

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Headshot of Karen Stephens

Meet your host

Karen Stephens is Revinate’s Chief Revenue 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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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 – 00:00:219: Hello, and welcome to the Hotel Moment podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the Chief Revenue Officer of Revinate. And today’s episode is a little different than usual. I’d like to introduce you to a longtime friend of Revinate who is now poised to lead us from the top as we enter our next chapter as the data platform powering channels. My guest is no stranger to the hospitality industry, having spent the last 20 years working in technology, including 10 years at InterContinental Hotels Group, all while nurturing a decades-long relationship with the Marriott family. Here with me today is Bryson Koehler, Revinate’s new CEO. In addition to his time at IHG as SVP of Global Revenue and Guest Technology, Bryson has served in senior leadership roles at The Weather Channel, IBM, and most recently as EVP and Chief Technology Officer at Equifax. Bryson is a tech evangelist, a tech strategist, and he most definitely has the background to prove it. Welcome to the show, Bryson. It’s an honor to have you here.

Bryson – 00:01:18: Thanks, Karen. It’s great to be here. So excited to be back in hospitality and my passion for data and hospitality coming together with a great Revinate team. It’s awesome.

Karen – 00:01:28: Well, you know what? We are so excited as well, Bryson. I mean, I cannot wait to dive in. Before we do that though, I did want to mention for our listeners out there who haven’t seen our press release, our former CEO, Marc Heyneker, is still championing Revinate and he’s moving into a role as our Chairman of the Board of Directors. So I just want to give a shout-out to Marc. I speak for all Revinators when I say we are incredibly grateful for the path that he has paved for our company over the last 15 years and how far we’ve come under his leadership. So now let’s dive right in Bryson because this is exciting for everybody.

Bryson – 00:02:03: That’s great. And let me just say, Marc’s been such a tremendous leader. And it’s just been awesome to watch him grow the business and his love of hospitality. I think I’ve known Marc now for almost 17 years. And what a tremendous gentleman, and great leader. And he’s going to be a great addition to the board as we continue to think about the strategic direction of where we take the business.

Karen – 00:02:26: That’s right. And you know, Bryson, you hit on something there. We’ve actually met a number of times because you’ve been in and out of Revinate as an advisor and a friend for many years. In fact, you mentioned you’ve known Marc for a long time. Can we start with the story about how you kind of helped both Marc and Jay Ashton, who’s our other Co-Founder, at the very inception of Revinate in 2009? We’d just love to hear that story of how they thought about the business and your involvement at that time.

Bryson – 00:02:53: Yeah, so I was back at IHG during that time, and I got connected to Marc through our joint Akamai connections and working on leading a lot of the revenue and guest technology platforms globally for IHG. We were heavy partners with Akamai — got connected into Marc through a mutual friend. He talked to me a little bit about the business that he wanted to start in the hospitality space. We both talked a little bit about how much help hoteliers needed from a technology perspective. And there were so many technology options out there. Hoteliers were having a hard time understanding what was real?  What was vaporware? Shat was slideware? How would all of that connect? And so we spent a lot of time talking about what were the problems of the day — whether it was revenue management, guest feedback, guest surveys, then getting into marketing, getting into the opportunities for hoteliers to connect directly with guests. There was a lot going on in the OTA space. At the time, you can go back and look at some of the work we did at IHG at the time — trying to make sure that always we’re putting the hotel owners, hotel management first, and really always trying to figure out, “How do we use technology to help hoteliers maintain that relationship, maintain control, put them in the driver’s seat?” And so, yeah, we spent a lot of time debating at the beginning in 2009, like you said, as well as over the years, always checking in with the team and thinking through how the business would evolve and then advising some of their technology decisions and other activities along the way.

Karen – 00:04:37: Yes, so, as I mentioned, I remember a presentation — so I’ve been at Revinate for 11 years, and I remember a presentation when you came in. If we kind of talk about your career trajectory after IHG, I believe from there you went on to the Weather Channel. Is that right? That’s right. And then there was an acquisition by IBM. And then you were involved with IBM Watson, which is kind of the first, and you correct me if I’m wrong, but the first kind of AI on the market, which was years ago. And if you think about the trajectory of, particularly for hospitality, all we’re talking about now is AI, AI. So can you talk to us a little bit about what took you from the path from hospitality — which I got to say, I know that all of our listeners, our customers, are going to be very excited to know that you have that deep understanding of how hotels and hospitality works — through the transition into data, particularly with AI and on up.

Bryson – 00:05:34: My love is around using technology, leveraging data to help people and businesses make smarter decisions. The point of all of this is decision intelligence. “How do I feel more confident making this decision? How do I feel more confident that this is the right decision? This is the right guest, at the right channel, with the right rate, at the right time?” That is fundamentally a decision that you’re making hundreds of times a day for each property. And maximizing all of the data elements that we have — creating a true 360 view of that guest, of the market, of all of the things that can impact and influence a booking decision, the room type, the rate, the right channel mix — all of these things are very dynamic decisions. And if you think about my career, weather drives about 30% impact on the world’s GDP every day. And so, leveraging massive amounts of data to create more accuracy to help predict the future is a massive driver of B2B business. And that was really the reason why IBM acquired The Weather Company. Is we had really grown that business into a true data platform. And that really was a big piece of the Watson and Cloud platform, which then I had the honor and privilege to be a part of. And my journey at IBM, continuing to help them think through the evolution of Watson. Watson being traditionally, when it started, a very custom-built on-prem solution set. And if you fast forward today to Watson X and Watson Ads and the various tools that IBM has built, you now have a true kind of multi-cloud, cloud-native AI built for enterprise that IBM has evolved with. And so that journey, and if you look at my journey at Equifax, Equifax being a leading data and analytics company, thinking about, “ow do you key and link data assets to the right entity?” Again, helping people make smarter decisions. “Should I hire? Should I lend? Is this Bryson from a digital identity perspective? Is there fraud? Should I market?” There’s a lot of marketing activities that Equifax helps businesses make smarter decisions around targeting the right message, to the right person, at the right time. The right loan, to the right person, at the right time. The right income. All of these things are all basically various versions of decision intelligence. And when you think about what Revinate’s up to, Karen, I think it’s so fantastic because you’ve got all of these data sources across the landscape of a hotel. Again, back to kind of one of the original conversations, which is, “Are hotels really getting the best technology advice and solutions?” And, you know, if you walk on property today. 20 to 60 different systems, depending upon the size and complexity of a hotel that have to be kind of cobbled together to make the hotel operate, creates significant fragmentation of all of these data signals. And so bringing all of that data together, linking it together, and then creating that 360 view, and then allowing the hotel to make the right decision in real-time is really fascinating. And I think to your AI question — AI is truly phenomenal. AI has also been around for 60-plus years. So while OpenAI, and Chat GPT, and all of that has sparked a lot of interest in the last 12 to 15 months, AI has been around since DARPA started using it trying to figure out how to do language translation for the government. And so AI has been evolving: the techniques, the practices, whether it is deep learning, machine learning, all of the various activities that have gone on across the landscape of AI. Super fascinating to watch, but what’s happened is we finally hit that inflection point where the amount of data, the cost of compute power, and the networking capabilities are all intersecting at a place where it’s now economically feasible and viable to actually really leverage the true power that AI, machine learning, neural nets can bring in helping augment. What all of our people are doing every day is we’re trying to make the right decision, to get the right guest, into the right room, at the right rate, through the right channel, at the right time. AI is gonna have a huge impact into helping us take more data, bring that together, clean it, link it, and make sure that we’re using that data and those signals to help personalize that guest’s experience — that guest’s journey. And that journey is so critical, and machine learning and AI is really going to help us in ways that I don’t even think we can all fully imagine because I think we’re still in the very early chapters of how it’s going to come to life in our industry.

Karen – 00:10:42: Right. As you’re talking there, Bryson, I’m imagining being one of our customers today or somebody in hospitality and listening to your background and how you think about data. And I think what’s always top of mind and concern for our customers is always data privacy and security. So I think the first thing to note is, oK, head of data analytics technology at Equifax, which is obviously the kind of data that absolutely has to be secured within an inch of its life. So that is exciting. And then I think the other thing that’s important to note is scalability. So the companies you’ve worked for in the past, their ability, you mentioned it at the top, how many data points are flowing at any given time. So securing that data and being able to run it at scale. So given your background, and you touched on a little bit, but Revinate, we’ve been building behind the scenes here, and we’re about to release our Customer Data Platform. Can you talk a little bit about what excites you about the technology we have under the hood? Because you are a technologist. You are a Chief Executive Officer. But everybody knows that you’re a technologist. So what attracted you to Revinate, given that context?

Bryson – 00:11:45: Well, look, Revinate at its core is a technology company. And what Revinate has been building, that product mindset of the vision of the evolution of our various products across our portfolio. What’s so exciting is that at the core of all of that, whether it’s on a guest survey, or it’s on a marketing activity, or it’s on a voice channel, or it’s on a guest messaging connection point, whatever the product line is that one of our customers is using, underneath all of that is the data. Underneath all of that is the connective tissue of all of these signals. And knowing as much as we can about Bryson and what he likes and what he doesn’t like, and his rate sensitivity and the types of room preferences that he has. And all of those things behind the scenes can just smooth out and reduce friction across the journey. I don’t want to have to continue to re-explain myself every time. And I want that experience to be more and more personalized. And so what’s exciting is the ability to now create with the latest graph technology — being able to build that 360 view of a person, of a place, of a thing, and all of the connectivity of the data elements that come together now gives us that really robust view that then can be applied to make that call. If you’re talking to an agent and making that final booking, you’ve gone through the process, you’ve done your research, and now you really want to talk to somebody because that final booking is really important and you want to make sure that you really understand everything. And you’re on the phone, all of those elements now informing that agent on exactly how to handle that conversation so that it is seamless. That removal of friction is invaluable. And that’s why you see higher conversion rates through a Revinate product line because we have the data that powers it. And the upcoming release, and launch, and upgrades of our platforms with that graph-based technology is just the great evolution of how we think about data. And I think to your point, privacy is incredibly important. This is the guest’s data. And ensuring that it is protected, secured, well-governed, and is always only being used only to help make that individual’s journey better. It’s their data for their journey. That’s what it’s so important. I think, you know, I’ve been fortunate to spend a long time, many decades, working in enterprise-grade technology environments. And you talked about Equifax, Equifax being one of the more regulated businesses on Earth. And so really understanding the importance of how all of that is handled, I think, is critical. And I think in the world of AI, making sure that the companies that you’re working with have a really deep understanding. You’ve seen some of the challenges that even OpenAI has had. As AI has been trained on data that maybe now different countries, you know, we saw New Zealand saying, you know, wait a minute, no, you don’t get to use our data in that training. Well, OpenAI spent close to $100 million training ChatGPT-4. And now they find out, wait a minute, I can’t use that data. You can’t unlearn a model like that. And so there are a lot of very, very, very technical considerations as AI is brought into use. And I think across the hospitality space, I look at our ability with Revinate to be a true leader in how to properly leverage AI in this decision intelligence landscape and ensure that we are. Absolutely beyond reproach in terms of being excellent at data stewardship.

Karen – 00:15:50: I love that. And again, I feel our customers and all of the hotels that work with us today, the confidence, I think, having you drive the bus, so to speak, for Revinate as we kind of step into this next phase, because it is so critically important. It’s such a powerful platform and having access to that data, knowing that it’s in the right hands and that it’s going to be protected, I think is paramount for everyone. I would love to take a step back, I alluded to it in the introduction, but just so people can have an idea from you, I mentioned that you have a decades-long relationship with the Marriott family. So kind of a fun fact. Could you tell us a little bit about that story and how you got interested in hospitality?

Bryson – 00:16:33: Yeah, so I guess I’ve been kind of born into the hospitality space. My grandfather worked at Marriott Hotels from, I think I’ve looked it up, 1962 to 1984. And he worked for Bill Marriott as his Chief Financial Officer. And then my dad, after he graduated from business school, spent time at Marriott. And that journey as a kid, I remember going and riding in the car in the summer times with my grandfather to the Marriott headquarters in Bethesda and going up and spending the day. I was probably eight. I was the eight-year-old getting to shadow my grandfather around this big corporate office, which was something fun for me. And I’ll just always remember that. And so, yeah, so I’ve spent my childhood being surrounded by those conversations and then having the opportunity to travel around and then spending 10 years at IHG. Just — I love the hospitality space. One of my personal passions is travel. So for any of our customers out there, I love to come out and see your property and get an experience of your day-to-day operations and things that are going well, where you’re challenged. All of those things. Being out with you in the field and experiencing the hospitality that you’re creating every day is a passion of mine personally. That’s not a job. It’s actually my hobby. I just truly enjoy it. I love being out and meeting people around the world. And I’ve had the pleasure of — I think my count is 57 countries around the world that I’ve spent time in. And I just think that travel is such an amazing opportunity to bring people closer together. I think if we all traveled more and spent more time with each other, the world would be a better place. The more we can understand cultures and uniqueness, it just makes it fun. It makes life fun. And so I think being in an industry that is about making life fun and interesting and educational. I kind of feel like that’s what life’s about. And so being able to have had those inputs early on in my childhood, I think certainly kind of have influenced who I am today. And it’s just exciting to be back in the space and now at really an exciting time. I think we’re at an inflection point. What is the new normal? Most industries, you always feel like over time, things return to the norm, the median, the average. And what is that new average? What is that new norm in hospitality and travel more generally? And how will people continue to behave in the years ahead? And how will hotels have to change? Look, staffing is challenging right now. Hiring is challenging, costs are challenging. And distribution costs specifically, in my time away from the industry, I feel like I’ve seen them do nothing but go up. And it was my understanding that technology through efficiency should enable us to find ways to bring costs down. And so I think that there’s probably some reasons why that hasn’t occurred. And I look forward to helping think about how do we change that. So spending time out on property, my invitation is open, reach out to Karen — and love to come spend time with you and learn about what’s going on. And that influences in my worldview, how we think about our products, how we think about the backlog of features and enhancements that we want to continue to invest in. Those should be market-led. Those should be coming from what we learn and hear from each of you. And so we want to be out there. We want to be listening. We want to have a very tuned ear to everything that is happening — the challenges you’re facing. And look, the challenges in a big box in New York City versus a small property in El Paso versus a hotel in London versus Leeds. All of these are different markets with different unique characteristics, and it’s our job to understand all of those and synthesize those down into a set of world-class products. And I would say kind of tied to that, you know, look, I think my view is we’re building relationships. We are in the hospitality space. We want to have a deep relationship with all of our customers. And Karen, I think you’ve done a fantastic job throughout the last five, seven years. It’s been very turbulent in the industry, but the way you showed up with your team and handled that with our customers, I think was nothing short of remarkable. And I think it’s really a testament to the culture at Revinate. And it’s one of the reasons why I’m super excited to be here. But look, we want to constantly evolve. We want to be listening. And you’re not buying when you sign up to be a Revinate customer. You’re not buying just the product that we have today. You’re buying the roadmap and the vision of where we’re going to take this product so that you can evolve with us as we continue to grow. And so you’re really making a bet on the partnership and the relationship. And I think at the end of the day, isn’t that what hospitality is all about?

Karen – 00:21:44: Absolutely is. And so the good news is our customers are going to get a chance to meet you in person. We’ve got two events coming up. So the first one is NAVIGATE in Miami, which is happening from April 23rd to the 25th. And then we’re also going to be in London for our first NAVIGATE in Europe. So NAVIGATE London, which is happening May 16th, and Bryson will be there. So I invite all of our customers to come out. And in the meantime, if you’d like him to come on property, We have beautiful customers, Bryson. So that could be really amazing for you and for everybody else.

Bryson – 00:22:15: Well, look, I mean that sincerely. That’s how I learned. And while I was out of the hospitality industry, I wasn’t out of the data decision intelligence business. And so now it’s a matter of just replugging back into all of the things that I know and learn, see what’s changed, see what hasn’t changed. And what owners are facing today is probably different than what they were facing before. And look, you know, the hard times of the financial challenges in 2008, 2001, all of these, we go through these cycles, but I think the one that we’ve just gone through is unique and we need to be constantly listening and learning.

Karen – 00:22:49:  Absolutely. Wonderful. Well, you know what, Bryson, we are so excited. Effective immediately, our new CEO everybody. So welcome to the team, Bryson. I enjoyed the conversation and we will see everybody soon in Miami and in London. Thank you.

Bryson – 00:23:00: Thanks, Karen.

Outro – 00:23:03: 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 The Hotel Moment podcast is presented by Revinate.


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