When you arrive at a hotel, you might notice the softness of the sheets, how white the towels are, or how responsive the front desk staff is. But global hotel companies are far more than the sum of their parts, and they rely increasingly on technology to keep everything connected. Running hotels now involves a scale and processes that didn't exist before—all of which has led to a need for software to empower the people who make every stay the best it can be.
BWH Hotel Group is a leading, global hospitality network comprised of three hotel companies—including WorldHotels® Collection, Best Western® Hotels & Resorts and SureStay Hotel Group®. This creates a global network across every chain scale segment, in over 100 countries and territories worldwide.
Every property is independently owned and managed making BWH Hotel Group one of the largest hotel franchises in the world. Headquartered in Phoenix, AZ, the organization is supported by regional affiliate offices. Together, they provide technology, tools and support to help each hotel to scale.
Stephan Zimmer is the Enterprise Analytics and Automation Manager for BWH Hotel Group Scandinavia, where he works to transform one of Scandinavia’s largest hotel groups into a data-driven business by optimizing process flows, building data aggregation pipelines and business intelligence tools using his background and experience as a researcher.
As a former physicist, Stephan is obsessed with analytics, data, and efficiency. He loves streamlining workflows and finding ways to make anything more efficient—whether it’s a satellite in the sky or how a hotel is run.
Here’s a look at how he tackled revenue forecasting with Retool—and gave BWH Hotel Group Scandinavia a competitive advantage they didn’t expect.
Achieving scale with technology solutions
BWH Hotel Group Scandinavia, the Scandinavian affiliate organization in charge of supporting hotels in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, includes 160 hotels, and is the third largest chain in the region. Stephan and 30 teammates support the region and help the group grow.
But 30 people for 160 hotels means the team has to work smarter, not harder: “The only way for us to scale is to leverage smart solutions—we just can’t do everything for every hotel and ensure quality of service otherwise,” explains Stephan.
For example, Stephan noticed that revenue managers, who manage and find new business opportunities, were using Excel spreadsheets for everything from forecasting to tracking income.
“The last thing our revenue managers want is to be buried in spreadsheets all day,” Stephan explains. “So we needed to provide a way for them to automate workflows, limit human error, and let them do what they do best—we needed to get them out of those spreadsheets.”
Part of the issue with using spreadsheets was that they aren’t interactive: Rather than just reporting, Stephan and his team needed a tool that would show the impact of changes, such as fluctuations in prices, and allow revenue managers to make changes as they went along.
If we wanted to compare revenue based on fluctuations in hotel rates, we used to have to update a horribly complex Excel spreadsheet and it would take hours for managers to create revenue models.
“The hospitality industry is slow to innovate,” says Stephan. “As an organization, we want to differentiate ourselves by moving fast and continuing to be leaders in our space. Technology is the way to do that.”
Providing business value without all the legwork
After a few conversations with Retool, Stephan was sold—he’d found the platform that would help him build internal tools that were interactive, simple to use, and would empower several teams at BWH Hotel Group Scandinavia to work more efficiently.
I love Retool because it lets me focus on providing business value without having to think about building platforms myself.
Stephan actually knows how to code, but he doesn’t have the time to do so. Because of how lean the BWH Hotel Group Scandinavia team is, and how many hotels they support, he has to be as strategic as possible with his time.
Using Retool to build internal tooling means Stephan doesn’t have to default to repetitive coding work. Instead, his team uses technology to write just enough code and he uses his own time to focus on ensuring they solve the business problem.
When he rolled out Retool, Stephan was able to build revenue service tools in 3 months from start to finish, getting to market 5x faster than the average time it takes competitors while only leveraging one developer. “I credit the ease of use of Retool with helping to get us up and running so quickly—with such a quick deployment, we were able to see the impact much sooner,” he says.
Empowering revenue managers with accurate and interactive data
In a short time, Stephan built out several tools for revenue managers to streamline their workflows.
The Revenue Tool Stephan created with Retool helps Best Western revenue managers oversee their hotel properties. With the tool, they’re able to identify and analyze key revenue metrics across their properties, including how they’re pacing and what reservations are on the books—a number that changes as reservations or cancellations come in.
This information allows them to forecast and understand what's driving revenue changes and adjust strategy accordingly.
A table at the bottom of the revenue tool tells them occupancy on the books and the revenue pickup of the selected period, all while checking real-time rates that are currently being shopped. It also connects to another table that records whether there are events going on so that revenue managers can understand whether an event can explain what is going on.
“All of this happens in real-time using APIs to fill in data and it’s interactive, so revenue managers can change inputs to understand what might happen,” says Stephan.
One common challenge with this type of system is that it relies on accurate information from the hotels’ booking system. There’s always the possibility that something that goes wrong, especially when you’re dealing with 4 or 5 different vendors at the same time. Stephan mentions, “In Retool, with the click of a few buttons, I built a really simple data quality monitoring tool that helps revenue managers help themselves when data wasn’t looking right."
It’s made my life so much easier because it saves me 10 hours a month that I previously spent sorting data and addressing quality issues—that’s roughly $30k per year if I were paying a developer to do these repetitive tasks! With Retool, it updates automatically.
Stephan also created a breakeven analysis and ROI calculator in Retool that shows hotel managers what they need to do to breakeven in order for the hotel to afford a full revenue management service offering. They can plug and play numbers in the tool; for example, if they increase occupancy by 0.6% and average daily rate (ADR) by $11.92, the tool will show them whether those changes get them closer or further from their break even points.
And the tool is available on mobile, which means salespeople can take it with them to conferences and on the road easily. “I built the ROI calculator in one afternoon,” Stephan adds.
Future tools and further differentiation for faster growth
Not only have each of BWH Hotel Group Scandinavia’s Retool apps saved time and money for Stephan and his team, they are all part of one platform that gives Stephan the visibility to understand how different teams are working.
“Retool brings all of our data sources together and provides me with detailed audit trails so I can see what our managers are doing in the tool,” says Stephan.
With just one interface, they can manage 5-6 properties at once with aggregated information from 4 different systems. “Retool abstracts away the different data sources and makes sure our information is accurate and comparable,” he adds.
After seeing how Retool has empowered his revenue managers, Stephan has big plans for doing more with it. He envisions using Retool for the finance department and plans to roll out a standard bookkeeping tool that will track transactions, crediting, and billing, presenting them in a helpful dashboard for the finance team.
“Retool is simple enough that everyone can use it and it helps me provide a whole lot more information to my users than I’d be able to do on my own,” Stephan says.
Retool helps us innovate, move faster, and provide better experiences for our employees and guests—it’s a huge differentiator and we’re just getting started.