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Trend Setter, Dorothy Dowling

Dorothy Dowling, senior vice-president, marketing and sales, Best Western International, shares her views on the challenges and opportunities facing corporate travel managers

As the senior vice-president of marketing and sales for Best Western International since 2004, Dorothy Dowling’s job is to have her finger on the pulse of the travel industry. That diligence has been rewarded by numerous awards and accolades—including being named one of the most influential chief marketing officers in the world by Forbes. The Canadian native and 30-year industry veteran shares her views on the challenges and opportunities facing corporate travel managers.

What trends do you see in the industry?
The distribution landscape is changing at a rapid pace. Corporate travellers are now being served online travel agency (OTA) rates, tour operator rates, as well as negotiated rates, and may the best rate win! If a corporate traveller books an OTA rate, then the tracking of the business is lost for the corporation to some degree or at least made more difficult from the hoteliers’ perspective. This devalues the buying power of the corporate travel manager and increases the leverage of others. Another prevalent trend is the huge increase in group requests for proposals (RFP). The demand in the group segment for the lodging industry is at its highest level ever.

We’re also seeing an increase in à la carte pricing—from airlines to cruise lines to hotels to rental cars, today the final price almost always comes with add-ons.

What is the biggest challenge facing hotels in terms of corporate travel?
It is difficult for hotel brands to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Best Western is well positioned to embrace consumer influence as we have a consumer-centric business model that considers the unique needs of the traveller in every business decision that we make. Millennials, for example, who have not yet come into their full purchasing power, are under-consuming in the market. Yet the future for our industry is the Millennials. We need to be prepared for this significant shift—and we have done so by creating new hotel types such as Vib, our boutique lifestyle concept. (Vib hotels will open in Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami in 2016 and the first international Vib will open in Seoul, South Korea.)

At the GBTA conference in Toronto last spring, you mentioned that corporate meetings are becoming more of a focus for Best Western: could you elaborate?
Corporate meetings are one of the fastest growing segments in the travel industry. Customers are realizing that Best Western is not only a transient hotel brand but also can fit the needs of their corporate meetings. Best Western is deploying more resources and staff due to the growth in the corporate market to ensure our customers’ satisfaction.

What is your stance on Airbnb and have you seen it encroach on your corporate travel business?
Our hoteliers pay federal, provincial and local taxes. Additionally, they pay income, liquor and rental taxes, amongst others. Finally, our hotel owners are responsible for insurance, health and safety obligations that come with considerable oversight. For Airbnb, there are only a handful of cities that levy hotel and accommodation taxes on short-term rentals. In addition, these laws are not adequately enforced. Also, there remain tremendous gaps in regard to health, safety and disability compliance standards.

Through legislation, short-term rental marketplaces should be required to report who is hosting, where and how much they charge. They should be required to collect the taxes owed and verify that the rentals meet local, state and federal requirements on health, safety and disability access requirements. Only then can the interests of the public be truly protected.

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