Execs Discuss Wyndham’s Long Game at 2019 Global Conference

Geoff Ballotti on stage at the 2019 Wyndham Global Conference

From September 25-27, more than 7,000 hoteliers, developers, vendors, and other hotel professionals convened at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas for the 2019 Wyndham Global Conference. Between learnings, brand sessions, and walking the Global Village and Supplier Trade Show floor, Wyndham’s top execs sat down to talk about the company’s goals for the next five years, the increasing importance of growing globally, and whether there might be any more acquisitions on the horizon.

Shoring Up the Portfolio

Wyndham president and CEO Geoff Ballotti said that Wyndham’s growth trajectory has been very consistent over the past several years, and that it’s extremely strong overseas. “We haven’t seen a slowdown; in fact, we’ve seen an acceleration domestically.” He says that the strength of the global economy is making his team more selective in terms of what properties they allow into a brand, as well as more demanding when it comes to quality assurance. “And we’ve be adding more rooms lately than we’ve ever added,” he pointed out.

Ballotti did add that these elevated standards have led to a number of hotels being removed from certain Wyndham brands, but also noted that Wyndham’s property retention rate is hitting all-time highs, currently at 95.5 percent domestically.

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That’s not to say though, that the company isn’t prepared for a possible downturn. David Wyshner, Wyndham’s executive vice president and CFO, mentioned that in the case of downturn, there are still opportunities for the company. “If the economy and the lodging industry continues to do well, we’ll participate in that. If the economy slows down, what we’ve seen in the past is that our business model has a bit of a natural insulator… Also, we have a number of brands that tend to be oriented toward conversion rather than new construction. We’ve seen in the past that we can win more conversions in a tougher environment, and we’d expect that to be the case in the future as well. Our brands, our distribution, and the services we provide to franchisees all become even more valuable in a more challenging environment.”

Next-Level Tech

To support the growth the Wyndham has seen on the development side, the company is investing in new technologies to improve both the owner and guest experience. One of the bigger announcements that came out of the show was around an updated version of Wyndham’s mobile app, which is set to launch early next year. “Our goal really is we need to be where our guests are, and that’s mobile,” said Jessica Davidson, Wyndham’s SVP of digital. “We see over half of our traffic coming to us via a mobile device, and this is very much in line with the industry, and so we know we need to focus or our energies [on the] transformation on the mobile guest experience.” The new app’s user experience will be anticipatory and personal, and make it easy for guests to make transactions on their devices.

Leveraging Loyalty

Another hot topic at the conference was loyalty—both how Wyndham is looking to leverage their existing program, as well as how they’re trying to make it better. Eliot Hamlisch, SVP of global loyalty & partnerships, said that Wyndham has always taken a critical eye to its loyalty program, looking for areas of success and areas that require improvement. “Early in 2018, we embarked on a research effort from both a qualitative and a quantitative perspective to understand what it is that our customers and members really wanted… In April of 2019, we evolved the Wyndham Rewards program, offering members free nights faster, more ways to earn and redeem, and more places to stay,” he described.

Hamlish also noted that these new initiatives coincided with the introduction of La Quinta to the Wyndham brand family, and the addition of 12-13 million new members to the Wyndham Rewards program.

He added, “Over the next 18 months, I hope we continue to take a hard look at those same questions. What’s going well and where are there opportunities for improvement? This is not a one-time deal. This should be something we’re always take a fresh look at and always being self-critical to the extent that we can so that we can make the program better.”

Updated Strategies

Wyndham’s development team also spoke about how the La Quinta acquisition has impacted the company’s strategies. “We average a new [acquisition] every 18 months. We learned a long time ago that our way isn’t always the perfect way or the right way. So, [we] look at the best practices of the organization [we’re] buying and whether it can make the overall company more efficient… If we can learn from each other, that’s the best way,” said Chip Ohlsson, EVP and chief development officer. Ohlsson says that the La Quinta acquisition led the company to rethink and retool its strategies around new construction design and development to make them more efficient. The updated approach is now being rolled out throughout the company.

Tom Barber, global chief development officer, added. “Financially it was an acquisition, but [mindset wise] it was a merger.”