Revinate
Revinate
Aaron Miller, VP of CRM & Digital, Highgate
Aaron Miller, VP of CRM & Digital, Highgate
The Hotel Moment podcast — episode 46

No missed opportunities — prioritizing a data collection practice for every property

In this episode of the Hotel Moment podcast, Karen Stephens, Revinate CMO, and Aaron Miller, VP of CRM, Digital at Highgate, explain why data collection isn’t something you can just pay attention to “sometimes.” Miller emphasizes that every property is a chance for hoteliers to see what data touchpoints provide the most value and which touchpoints could improve.

Listen in to find out more about the work Highgate is doing to manage first-party data across their portfolio and how they are learning from vendor management and data collection to maximize revenue.

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

Meet your host

As Chief Marketing Officer at Revinate, Karen Stephens is focused on driving long-term growth by building Revinate’s brand equity, product marketing, and customer acquisition strategies. Her deep connections with hospitality industry leaders play a key role in crafting strategic partnerships. Karen is also the host of The Hotel Moment Podcast, where she interviews top players in the hospitality industry. Karen has been with Revinate for over 11 years, leading Revinate’s global GTM teams. Her most recent transition was from Chief Revenue Officer, where she led the team in their highest booking quarter to date in Q4 2023. Karen has more than 25 years of expertise in global hospitality technology and online distribution — including managing global accounts in travel and hospitality organizations such as Travelocity and lastminute.com

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Episode #83 quote

As a business, take time to pause, reflect, and innovate

Highgate’s growing portfolio and international expansion

Episode #83 quote

Making touchpoints count and thinking outside the box

Every property is a chance to refine first-party data collection

Transcript

Intro/Outro – 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 – 00:00:21: Hello, and welcome to the Hotel Moment podcast. I am your host, Karen Stephens, the Chief Marketing Officer of Revinate. And today we are honored to introduce Aaron Miller, an expert in CRM and digital marketing with a track record spearheading innovative strategies to elevate guest engagement and drive revenue. Aaron brings a wealth of knowledge to our discussion — currently serving as the Vice President of CRM and Digital at Highgate. Aaron has played a pivotal role in shaping loyalty initiatives for iconic hospitality brands by leveraging technology to personalize the guest experience and maximize ROI. With a career spanning over two decades at roles in renowned organizations like Turning Stone Enterprises, the Sydell Group, Trump Hotels, and The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, Aaron’s insights are invaluable in navigating the ever-changing landscape of hospitality technology.

Welcome to the podcast.

Aaron – 00:01:12: Thank you for having me.

Karen – 00:01:13: It is great to have you here, Aaron.

Aaron – 00:01:15: Yeah, happy to be here.

Karen – 00:01:15: We’re wrapping up day one here in Miami, so we’re all here for NAVIGATE  in Miami. And it’s really wonderful to be able to do these podcasts in person. So thank you for taking time at the end of the day.

Aaron – 00:01:25: Thank you for having me at the end of the day.

Karen – 00:01:27: It’s been a big day.

Aaron – 00:01:27: Yeah, it’s been great to see everybody. It’s been a lot of fun.

Karen – 00:01:30: So let’s start with, you know, we’ve had a lot of panels, a lot of discussions, a lot of meetings. So what is your impression here at day one? What have you kind of taken away from all the discussions you’ve had today?

Aaron – 00:01:40: I love where we’re headed. You know what I mean? I think that there’s just this great balance of finding the path of what we are going to do next? What’s actionable? What matters to us. How do we stay creative? How do we keep things fun? What’s realistic in the next couple of months? What is the market asking from us? What are we internally being asked to do? I think that we’re answering a lot of those questions one by one, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a quiz. It kind of feels like these types of dialogues where we’re able to, you know, vent a little bit, be thoughtful a little bit, you know, hear from other people with their experiences and hopefully be able to bring that back and make some new changes.

Karen – 00:02:18: I think that’s the coolest part about a conference like this because it is a customer conference. So you’re seeing brands of all different shapes and sizes and resorts and properties. And I think it’s really that exchange of information. So there’s the content of the conference, but then there’s also all the people kind of bringing those perspectives to the table, so.

Aaron – 00:02:35: Yeah, what’s great is I’m clearly a fan of a lot of the email marketing that I see resulting from some of the brands that are here. So it’s kind of like seeing celebrities a little bit, where I’m like, “You’re behind some of the emails that I get? I love them!” Maybe that’s the nerdiest thing you’ve ever heard on this podcast, but it’s kind of the truth, being able to see who’s behind this stuff.

Karen – 00:02:55: It’s the who’s who of beautiful brands in the United States. It really is.

Aaron – 00:03:00: It’s the red carpet.

Karen – 00:03:01: It’s the red carpet. That’s so cool. So I love looking at your experience. So I read a couple of organizations there that you worked for.

Aaron – 00:03:07: Sure.

Karen – 00:03:08: And of course, the one I want to hear about is The Venetian.

Aaron – 00:03:10: Sure.

Karen – 00:03:10: Because that’s next level. So can you tell us a little bit about what you did in Las Vegas and what it’s like to run, you know, the strategy and all the things that you did there?

Aaron – 00:03:19: Sure. So I started my hospitality career there. So this was during college. I went to UNLV at the hotel school and I would go to class at night and work during the day or flip-flop and work during the day and go to class. I’d do graveyard shifts and work or go to school during the day. I can’t even remember because my, you know, the scheduling was so flip-flopped all the time.

Karen – 00:03:41: Yeah.

Aaron – 00:03:41: So got into the industry through operations and understanding that structure. I mean, it’s a gigantic organization — a gigantic building. At the time, it was like 4,000 suites in the building and then they added The Palazzo, another 3,000. So it’s just not necessarily the example that I returned to for a lot of things, other than if you can do this, you can probably do a lot of other things.

Karen – 00:04:04: Right, yeah.

Aaron – 00:04:04: In the casino world too. So I never worked in the casino on the floor or anything like that, but through operations, and I moved into sales and got started understanding that because it’s a huge convention base. You know, they have tons of ballrooms. They have the Sands Convention Center next door. Now it’s the Venetian Convention Center. So a lot of meeting space. Got to fill up a lot of rooms. And then that kind of led me into the revenue management world where I started understanding who’s saying no to all the rates that I’m asking for to get these groups to sign these contracts. Revenue management, “Oh, what do they know? How’s this work?” And kind of waded into that and that’s brought me to New York and I started working through kind of that division ever since.

Karen – 00:04:38: Okay, very cool. Yeah. So now you’re at Highgate. So first of all, Highgate’s obviously a huge management company, but can you tell us a little bit more about the portfolio, the size of the company, what’s in there?

Aaron – 00:04:48: Yeah, sure. It’s big and growing every day. Huge presence across America — big international presence. We onboarded maybe about 14 hotels from Portugal onto Revinate in the last year.

Karen – 00:05:01: Wow.

Aaron – 00:05:02: So it’s wonderful. I work with the independents. Probably in general, I work with, I’d say it’s pushing a hundred. I keep saying that number. I think that that’s true. Maybe it’s a little less, maybe it’s a little more. I can’t keep track these days and I don’t hold myself to a number anymore.

Karen – 00:05:15: Right.

Aaron – 00:05:16: But it’s sizable, and it’s great because they’re all different and they live in their own little universes and that makes the data component a little bit more complicated, but you can learn from one and that brings it to the next. And Highgate’s just this unique type of structure being a management company of that size and all these cool different assets. So it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a lot of great people to work with.

Karen – 00:05:36: Yeah. You know, one thing when we think about a huge organization like Highgate and then you’ve got the pocket of independent hotels within that. So can you talk a little bit about first party data? I know you want kind of the character of the independent hotel, but how do you leverage first-party data to make sure that the guests, because it’s not just the hotel they’re staying in, if you’re doing it right, you can use it in other places. So you want to talk a little bit about that, and how you approach it?

Aaron – 00:05:59: Yeah. I mean, it depends. So I work really closely with the Viceroy team. They are fantastic. They have a small brand of hotels that are gorgeous, and they have the luxury of being able to kind of share data in between one another, right? That’s how a brand works, you know? Even a small brand like that. Whereas some of these other independents that are true, true independents, they don’t have that ability because they don’t have any affiliation with the hotel down the road that I’m also working with. So that complicates things. But what we’re able to leverage with first-party data doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re limited to say, “We can’t use this data from here and use it there”, which is the truth. We can’t do that, but we can learn from practices to say, “Oh, we were able to implement, this sort of Wi-Fi portal page to collect this contacts, and we’re just showing it to guests, and we’re not forcing them to do anything”. It’s up to them, but putting in front of them, people typically want to hear from the hotel that they’re staying at if they like it — learning from that, finding those same vendors, and implementing that other places. So a lot of the practices can be standardized at scale, which is, , makes my life easier when we can do that.

Karen – 00:07:07: So, what does it look like when you take over a hotel? Do you have a playbook that you kind of go in with?

Aaron – 00:07:11: I try.

Karen – 00:07:12: Oh, yeah.

Aaron – 00:07:13: I try. We’ll see how quickly it goes out the window. But yeah, in general, we have some best practices with setups and SOPs and calendar strategies, audience strategies, and things like that, that we typically are able to implement everywhere we go.

Karen – 00:07:28: Okay, very cool. Very cool. So you mentioned you opened up or took over some hotels now in Portugal. So what is the international kind of portfolio, and what is the growth plan for Highgate outside the United States?

Aaron – 00:07:40: That’s a great question. I mean, it’s growing all the time. I don’t necessarily, I can’t keep track with the development because it’s so wonderful and they’re growing all the time. The Portugal situation was fantastic. I mean, these hotels are beautiful. They just revamped Sesimbra, which is like a gorgeous hotel right by the water. I mean, it’s amazing. So it’s fantastic. They’re, they’re growing all the time domestic too. I mean. I’ll be in here doing a podcast with you, leave and check my phone, and we just took over another hotel.

Karen – 00:08:09: Wow.

Aaron – 00:08:09: We have to get a contract. We got to go, go, go, go, go. So it’s growing all the time, which is the right kind of anxiety to have, I guess.

Karen – 00:08:16: Right. It’s job security. So it’s 7000 rooms are just spread out.

Aaron – 00:08:21: Yeah.

Karen – 00:08:22: Out of the casino.

Aaron – 00:08:23: All over the place. Yeah, exactly.

Karen – 00:08:24: So what does a day in the life look like for you? I mean, you mentioned you’re opening all these things, but like, what do you do when you first wake up in the morning to deal with this portfolio? How does it go?

Aaron – 00:08:35: Coffee

Karen- 00:08:36:: Lots of coffee. Oh, yeah, we learned that. Lots of coffee.

Aaron- 00:08:36: Got to fuel up. Now, from there, I mean, I… See by nature of where all these hotels are, you know, we’re in different time zones. So I’m trying to do my best to stay as up-to-date as I possibly can with what’s come in, what I haven’t been able to respond to in my emails. We have many, many different calls for many, many different things. Usually these are kind of scheduled. We have like our weekly calls with website vendors, or weekly call with digital marketing vendors. We have ad hoc calls all over the place. You know, I have a call all the time with our CRM team here.

Karen – 00:09:04: Right.

Aaron – 00:09:05: It’s constant in a very good way because it keeps things current and you catch things that way. And it’s just a never-ending dialogue. And then all the emails in between, you know? Trying to manage the conversations, which are imperative. You have to, and that’s what’s actually happening out there.

Karen – 00:09:19: Yeah. Budget season must be a nightmare for you.

Aaron – 00:09:21: Budget season. You said those two words.

Karen – 00:09:23: Sorry. And we have six months to go, so I’m sorry I brought it up.

Aaron – 00:09:27: It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s almost happy hour.

Karen – 00:09:29: It’s almost happy hour. That’s right, folks. We’ve been at it all day. So you’re listening to this in the comfort of your home, but it’s been a good conference.

Aaron – 00:09:36: It’s comfortable. That’s for sure.

Karen – 00:09:38: Yeah. So what are you most looking forward to? I mean, you’ve seen a lot and heard a lot today. And obviously, as a technology vendor, we have things that are in production now that are starting to surface. But I know you’ve had meetings with a lot of our senior leadership while you’ve been here. So of everything you heard today, what are you most looking forward to?

Aaron – 00:09:54: I’m really looking forward to see where things go from here with Revinate understanding the CDP, and hearing all the wonderful things that can come from that. It’s really exciting being able to modify existing apps, and being able to tie everything together. I mean, that’s sort of the name of the game when you’re talking about data and being able to kind of get creative with it, say, “What do we have? Can I use it? Should I use it? Does it make a difference?” You know, and being able to kind of play with that is half the fun. It kind of is. So being in a room with everybody here and seeing, you know, all these experts, it’s just really empowering to say, “You know, there are a lot of smart people doing a lot of smart things”. And you get to see the fruits of that labor.

Karen – 00:10:31: Yeah, no, that’s exciting. I think that’s a good way to put it, you know, because we’re always evolving. And I mean, just personally for me, because it’s been a long time coming, building the CDP, putting it on the technology, when it would be scalable. And now it’s kind of like, “Okay, now we can really iterate and see what’s there.” But it’s a very hard problem to solve, you know, and it’s always ongoing. Yeah. I don’t think we ever say, “Oh, we’ve reached the top”. You know? Which is good. Again, job security, job security. So, you know, in closing, it sounds like you had a really cool trajectory, kind of unexpected. I mean, did you think you wanted to be in hospitality or were you like, I’m at school?

Aaron – 00:11:07: I mean, initially I had no idea, honestly. But it’s sort of being around it. And I grew up in Las Vegas, so it’s kind of there and sort of just like in any environment that you grow up in. It’s just like the big industry in your town. And that was kind of always around. And as I got a little bit older and started seeing what that industry can be and how it affects travel, and the travel component was what really got me interested. Because the difference with Vegas is that it’s all signs point to Vegas, Vegas, Vegas, right? And then outside of that, there’s this element of like, “Oh, you can go think of a brand. You can go here. You can go there. We’re all connected.” Similar with a management company where I see all these different independent properties. And no, they don’t necessarily have affiliation with one another, but it takes you to cool places. It takes you to see different things, meet different types of people. The restaurants aren’t bad either, you know?

Karen – 00:11:57: I know, and what a great industry to fall into, right? It’s hospitality. So what advice would you offer to somebody who is like, “Huh, I really think I’ve been listening, and I love hotels. And how do I get myself in this career?” — specifically in the digital marketing CRM part of the career?

Aaron – 00:12:13: That’s a great question. I mean, it’s such a fun part of the digital landscape. The hospitality industry is fun in general. My sincere advice, if you want to get into the digital marketing world, if you want to get into the CRM world, work inside of a hotel first. Know what you’re selling. I can’t thank my younger self enough for working in operations and going through all those graveyard shifts and doing all that stuff that there’s a lot of nitty-gritty to it. But I know this may sound cliché and maybe cliché are kind of true. But I’ve learned so much from doing that to be able to say when we’re sending out these campaigns and when we’re designing ads, we’re keeping that in mind. “What really happens when you’re at this hotel?” Feature that. Be proud of it. And having an understanding of what’s going on with the folks that are working inside the building making it actually work. It’s the most important thing. So start there, understand the product of what you’re selling, and then find your way. You just get familiar, learn the technology, get familiar with Google, get familiar with Revinate, get familiar with digital landscape. It’s great.

Karen – 00:13:18: Yeah, always be learning. I think that’s really good advice because we love our industry, but I think there’s something to be said for having credibility, no matter what part you want to move into. And I think if you’re coming in from the outside and you haven’t spent the time to kind of learn the inside, you can get there, but it’s probably a lot more fun to do it from the inside out, right?

Aaron – 00:13:36: It is. Yeah. I mean, work at a hotel, fall in love with it, learn every nook and cranny in that building. You’ll have a different appreciation for what’s going on in advertising, honestly.

Karen – 00:13:45: Yeah. Oh, I love it. Well, hey, thanks, Aaron, for spending a little time with us right before the big party tonight. So I appreciate you taking the time. My guest has been Aaron Miller, who is the vice president of CRM and digital at Highgate Hotels. Thank you so much.

Aaron – 00:13:58: Thank you for having me.

Intro/Outro – 00:13:58: 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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