Last week, RLH Corporation hosted its 2020 Virtual Conference and Expo. The two-day event, which had the theme “United We Roar,” offered educational sessions, covering everything from leveraging technology during the pandemic to workforce retention, as well as a virtual exhibitor hall where attendees could “visit” industry vendors. The show came to an end with a recipe for a signature conference cocktail that attendees could enjoy during their own personal happy hours.
John Russell, RLH Corporation CEO, kicked off the virtual conference on Tuesday. “What a year this has been,” he said. “By far, the most challenging in my hospitality career, but also rewarding seeing our industry come together as one—brand and owners working side by side.”
He added, “Congratulations to all of you for your leadership in your communities, your properties, and [for] exemplifying compassion during this unprecedented pandemic.”
Despite the challenges presented by 2020, RLH Corporation made several major announcements over the course of the conference. Russell noted that the company had drastically reduced the number of voluntary terminations since 2019, and that they had onboarded 34 new hotels since the beginning of the year.
Perhaps the biggest news to come from the conference was that RLH Corporation would be relaunching its GuestHouse International brand, which the company acquired in 2015, as GuestHouse Extended Stay. The revamped brand was designed for both new-build and conversion opportunities (particularly conversion) and will help RLH Corporation owners tap into the increased demand for extended-stay products. Harry Sladich, Red Lion Corporation’s EVP of lodging development and franchise operations, said, “Our design works hand-in-glove with our operators to ensure that this product becomes a huge success with both owners and our guests. As you’re aware, extended-stay properties fared very well during the pandemic and we think this segment will continue to do well as it’s under-represented in many markets. [It will also add] to the continued growth of our footprint.”
Chris Trick, who was hired to helm RLH Corporation’s marketing as CMO in September, spoke at length about RLH Corporation’s marketing efforts throughout the pandemic. “This year, our strategy approach was focused on leveraging online media channels to capture incremental market share… The results of this highly targeted campaign were remarkable this year. Our media campaign alone generated over 50 million impressions and, most importantly, we achieved a 16-to-1 return on investment. Simply put, for every dollar we spent online, we received 16 dollars in booking revenue,” Trick described.
Trick also made several announcements. First, RLH Corporation is planning to launch a new website in early 2021. Trick explained, “This new site is a major step forward [for RLH Corporation] with dynamic new features and functionalities aligned to all phases of the guest journey.”
The new site ties into the company’s other marketing efforts, which included hiring a new advertising agency to “help bring [RLH Corporation’s] campaigns to life, as well as a planned 30 percent increase in group media spend. “These sustainable improvements will provide a foundation for all our marketing efforts, and improve our brand direct contributions,” Trick said.
On the second day of the conference, industry leaders, including Biran Patel, chairman of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), and Chip Rogers, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), addressed attendees. Industry expert, host of The No Vacancy Podcast, and conference emcee Glenn Haussman was joined by his podcasting partner and host of Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible, Anthony Melchiorri, to discuss lessons in leadership and what makes a great leader during a crisis. “The number one thing that I think is really important is relationships,” said Melchiorri. “The people who have been there for you will be there now, and the people that haven’t won’t. And then you have to make decisions based on that. You can only control what you can control and everything else is everything else.”
In one of the final panels of the virtual conference, “Where does the Economy Go From Here? Economic Outlook by Industry Experts,” Sladich and Haussman were joined by Chris Thompson, president and CEO of Brand USA, to talk about how the pandemic will affect business in 2020 and in the years to come. “Whether you’re talking domestically or internationally, it’s not that people don’t want to travel, it’s not that the places they want to go to aren’t still there, and aren’t as amazing as they’ve ever been—it’s their ability to do so, and to do so safely,” Thompson noted. “There’s much uncertainty…around how to handle [the pandemic]. Eventually, we’ll get there, though… We are going to get beyond this. There will be a new normal.”