Chief Revenue Officer, Dolce Hotels and Resorts
Barry Goldstein joined Dolce Hotels and Resorts as chief revenue officer in November 2009. Prior to that, he spent five years as vice president, global sales strategy, technology and operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, where he implemented the first integrated property-to-property lead referral tool and the first integrated global customer relationship management system. A graduate of Columbia University and of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program, he has also worked for Cisco Systems and Matsushita Electric Corporation. In his current role, Goldstein is responsible for directing Dolce’s global sales, marketing, revenue management and information technology teams.
How have you worked to make meetings at Dolce properties a good value, especially in light of the economy?
It’s been interesting to watch the transformation. In ’08 and ’09, and even ’10, it was about lowering prices and cost. Beginning in the first quarter of last year, we started to see prices shifting slightly or staying flat, so the conversation turned to, ‘What can we do to add value and services to make meeting planners more satisfied?’
The top of the list for us has been around transportation, and particularly how to get guests from the airport to their location, as our resorts are typically about 30 minutes outside the city. It’s important because rental cars and gas have become more expensive. Whether we build it into the meeting package or have the hotel provide shuttles, that’s something we’ve addressed.
In terms of technology, we’ve always had a standard where we include free wireless, and that has been useful. Also, late checkout, early check-in is much more of a discussion item. People will travel in early Monday morning for a start at lunchtime and want flexibility.
From a purely financial side, attrition is something planners want us to be flexible about. If we have a longtime customer doing business with us, rather than event by event we’ll do it quarter by quarter—if they made the numbers across the board they won’t be penalized.
How do you handle negotiating with planners and how has the process changed in recent years?
We’ve found that if we’re not flexible, planners will go somewhere else. That is the one thing that’s consistent. There’s a very high expectation that everything is up for negotiation. In the past, suppliers like ourselves used to say ‘This is it,’ because we had two or three groups behind it. Loyalty has a lot to do with it, too.
Flexibility is the most important aspect in trying to secure business and we’ve been much more flexible. Because of the complete meetings package [which bundles per-person, per-day prices for meeting services], one might feel we’re nonflexible, but we’ve modified it so you can make changes to the package.
Do you think group and meeting business is turning around?
If you asked that question in June of last year, we would’ve been bullish. We saw the first half of last year grow significantly in group business, which gave us the indication of a full recovery; the second half of last year was more challenging. Fears about the euro falling affected our European business, especially in the second half of 2011, and the nervousness of the outlook in general affected that, too. We’re back to 2008 levels in group occupancy, which is better than some, but we’re still not seeing hyper-growth in groups—that’s probably 18–24 months away. Hiring will have a lot to do with that; if hiring comes back quicker, we may see that accelerate faster.
What changes are you seeing in European markets?
Internationally, our booking window continues to shrink every quarter, every year. The pace in Europe has held up much better than we anticipated. The pace in the company is up 10% over last year, and in Europe 13–14%. The booking window has shrunk to 45 days or less, shorter than it is in the U.S. What we’re finding is with the euro discussion and debt discussion, booking times are very influenced by budgets—when budgets are quarter by quarter or month to month, we’re seeing a lot of pickup.
It’s also very different in each country. In Germany, it has been straight up like a hockey stick. The economy is thriving and booking size has grown. In France, booking windows are very short, quarter by quarter. They’re very concerned about what’s happening with their elections. It’s cautious but even paced, without a lot of spikes. Once elections are over, we see it becoming positive; inquiries are way up for the second half of the year versus the first half. Spain is very challenging. There’s high unemployment and business is significantly down. That’s the weakest of the countries. But across the board internationally, it’s much stronger in terms of inquiry and the pace is up. (For more on international meetings, see pg. 51.)
What’s new with Dolce?
Over the last 2.5 years, we’ve turned the company from an asset-heavy to asset-light organization. We divested the ownership and have become more of a management company, and we’ve diversified our approach to the market. Group business is still our core focus, but one of the things we’ve done is try to be more attractive to leisure and business travelers. We’ve done work to transform properties to have some element of the consumer lifestyle, so both meeting-goers and transient guests can have rewarding experiences.
We’ve redesigned the F&B at all our properties. What you’ll find now regardless of if you’re at a conference center or hotel is chefs are out with the guests. We’re very much focused on local and fresh; much of our menu fare and ingredients are farmed nearby.
We’ve also changed our technology. We’ve recognized that as leaders we need to stay current and upgrade our facilities. We recognize people are showing up with multiple devices—not just laptops, but iPhones and iPads. Bandwith and connections are important, and we’re making sure planners can integrate those as part of their meeting.
What’s the value of meetings to your bottom line?
For us, it’s who we are as a brand. People have certain expectations; many of our resorts are IACC certified and there are expectations for service. In terms of our performance, it’s directly tied to the amount of meetings we have. There’s the F&B contribution, too; as a company, we have been the leader in group REVPAR when you add ancillary spend in F&B. It’s incredibly important that groups come back and have success.