- At Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Chief Commercial Officer Mark Vondrasek tackles business challenges.
- The pandemic hit Hyatt hard, and bookings fell about 90% by April 2020, Vondrasek told Insider.
- Technology innovation and guest resonance initiatives have become the key to Hyatt’s recovery.
- This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series on business growth and technological change.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, as occupancy rates plummeted to individual digits and bookings fell by up to 90% by April 2020, hotel manager Hyatt’s top priority was the safety and well-being of guests still coming to its properties.
But Hyatt’s Chief Commercial Officer Marc Vondrasek says his role, which was created to bring together all top-line revenue-generating and guest experience features, was key to solving the pandemic’s unprecedented challenges.
“It allowed us to be more efficient, think differently and drive personalization across our platform,” Vondrasek told Insider. “The speed of change under COVID was something we had never seen.”
Dealing with consumer needs
The company quickly assembled a group of loyalty program members to talk in detail about offers that could meet their needs. A member interrupted them a few minutes after the company presentation: “She said, ‘You are not listening to what is in front of me right now. I am the mother of two school-age children and I have not left my home in weeks and you speaks to me about a business trip, “Vondrasek recalled. This led to the launch of Work From Hyatt in October 2020, which offered opportunities to temporarily move to Hyatt resorts and receive everything from pet care and laundry services to work areas.
Not only did Work from Hyatt deliver four times as much revenue as expected, but it has also served as an example of the company’s ability to fluctuate rapidly in response to customer needs, Vondrasek said. “Our speed to market was very fast,” he explained. “From concept to execution, it was only 60 days.”
Development of technological possibilities
In the end, Hyatt focused on what technology-driven initiatives would really resonate with its guests. They found that digital options were particularly relevant around helping guests control their experiences on the property, such as housekeeping, mobile food ordering and hassle-free check-in.
This desire for control and flexibility is likely to continue long after the COVID-19 concerns subside, Vondrasek said: “The ability to plan different interruptions for your space is a good example of something that was born during this time, but will live far beyond that. ”
Hyatt also used technology to target meeting planners who were desperately looking to turn to virtual or hybrid events. In April 2021, Hyatt Together By Hyatt debuted, which included a partnership with Swapcard, an integrated virtual and hybrid event platform that unites on-site and virtual experiences and uses AI to enhance the experience of remote participants. Hyatt also focused on digital opportunities to increase well-being during meetings, such as guided stretching exercises by Hyatt experts, remote food and beverage offerings, and curated content from
“We had 1,200 bookings in July on this platform alone,” Vondrasek said. “I think it’s a good example of technology that is not for the sake of technology, but it’s really meeting people where they are at the moment.”
Evaluation of takeaways
In general, the pandemic made it clear that Hyatt should be happy to experiment, Vondrasek added. For example, many market challenges change day by day – something that resonates in China one day may turn out to be the wrong solution two weeks later. “You have to be very willing to try a lot of initiatives, figure out what’s going on, and be confident of failing when they don’t,” he said. “Leaders need to be able to test and learn and be agile.”
The organization also realized that data collection will be more challenging in the future. For example, hotels often rely on seasonal data over the previous five years to understand what the business will look like. “Over the last 18 months, traditional data inputs have been far less valuable,” he said.
This means looking for non-traditional data sources to support decision making: get feedback from guests, listen to other travel partners, e.g. Airlines, about what they see, and gain insight into the trends of credit card spending.
“Looking at what people spend on things when they are not in our hotels may open up for non-traditional partnerships, but you need the right data to point to those opportunities,” he explained.
All of Hyatt’s innovative technological efforts since the beginning of the pandemic have been tightly focused on getting closer to its customers – and being flexible when things change. “We are not an organization that has a scale advantage over our competitors,” Vondrasek said. “We have to think about playing the game differently and I think that means we listen more.”