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AI and Human Input: Hospitality Leader Andrew Rubinacci Shares His Recipe for Revenue Management Success – By Alan Young

Andrew Rubinacci - Chief Advisory Officer of FLYR for Hospitality

When I asked Andrew Rubinacci to describe the early days of his illustrious hospitality career, his answer was one you might not expect – “I was a guinea pig,” he’ll say with a smile. “I was, quite literally, the first revenue manager at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG).”

Today, Rubinacci is a well-known name in an industry of hotel revenue and technology experts, bringing over 25 years of commercial leadership experience to the table and a resume that includes a number of executive positions ranging from Chief Commercial Officer at Omni Hotels & Resorts to Senior Vice President of Distribution & Revenue Management for InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rubinacci and discuss his foray into the many different corners of the hospitality business, his new role at FLYR for Hospitality, and his predictions for the industry moving forward – including the importance of human input in revenue management, and the impact of AI on the job landscape.

“I went to school at Florida State University where I earned my Bachelor of Science focused on Hospitality Administration and Marketing, and then found my way into the world of hotel operations with Holiday World Inn back in the day – now IHG. For the better part of a decade, I gained experience in essentially every position within IHG and later became a GM,” he explains. “But at a certain point, it was suggested that I would be good at the revenue management side of business. At that time, Marriott had just started a revenue management program, so my task was simple – go figure it out and tell IHG what to do. So, that’s exactly what I did – I became a revenue management guinea pig.” Eventually, Rubinacci found his way into the distribution side of the industry, more specifically, helping to facilitate the first deals between hotels and online travel agencies (OTAs) such as and Travelocity. “From there, I settled into a role as Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) at Omni and, after that, I headed up the commercial teams at Aimbridge,” he shared. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate. Navigating seemingly every corner of the hospitality landscape has been equally rewarding and fun.”

While his influence as a hospitality leader is undeniable, his role as a revenue management pioneer is, perhaps, most noteworthy when we consider the latest iteration of his career: his new role as the Chief Advisory Officer of FLYR for Hospitality. “My career has allowed me to see what worked and what didn’t work in our industry – as well as what was new and on the horizon,” he notes. “So when Artificial Intelligence started to explode in the last 18 months, I knew it would be the next big thing, and I didn’t want to be the old guy who doesn’t understand the latest innovations. With this in mind, I took some classes at MIT and, eventually – and entirely by chance – I met the FLYER team. It was clear that they had built out a fantastic, AI-driven revenue management solution, and now this fantastic BI platform as well. I've sat on everyone's advisory boards and installed just about every revenue management system – but FLYR’s was different, and the team was great, so I’m thrilled to be a part of it now.”

The base algorithms of these systems, Rubinacci notes, are typically derived from two years of history and 12-week trends. “FLYR’s system is fundamentally different; the algorithms create an entire machine learning engine. It’s not a set of prescriptive algorithms – it’s constantly changing and dealing with much bigger and more relevant data sets. It learns and moves,” he explains. “Don’t get me wrong, there are some great systems out there. But after extracting the data, our platform can start getting recommendations in as little as four to five days, with 80% of our customers advancing to full automation in about two weeks and over a 95% percent acceptance rate.” After all, today’s hospitality landscape offers a different playing field than legacy platforms. Hotel brands face a world of different expectations, and the technology they utilize must adapt to this market intelligently and efficiently. Only modern technology will help solve modern problems.

“What I like about our system is the marriage of machine learning, for all its predictive capabilities and smart automation, with human input,” Rubinacci explains. “I've worked on many systems that re-optimize after that input is added, and this creates a constant tug-of-war that requires you to manage the system continuously. But with our system, if you know something is going on, you can add that input, and the engine will adjust to it rather than override it. This is critical because we are still dealing with people – we’re still dealing with customers, so a human element will always need to be a key part of revenue optimization.”

Of course, as the industry moves to embrace new technology, there are bound to be some challenges associated with integrating a product ahead of the game with an outdated system. “We obviously connect to the PMS in most cases, and we can connect to the CRS as well,” Rubinacci shares. “Some of the more advanced PMS systems obviously make integration much easier, and the data is richer – you can do a little more with it. But when we look at the big picture, as an industry, we have to get more progressive in our approach to technology adoption and investment and understand what our customers want while considering the entire technology ecosystem from a holistic POV.”

Part of the challenge, Rubinacci notes, is how we talk about – and position – technology within the industry. “There are typically three entities in every asset, right? There's an owner, a brand, and a manager, and they're all buying and owning different things,” he explains. “This means they care about different things, and we have to speak directly to each of those perspectives and position solutions accordingly. So hospitality technology companies must start understanding the real estate market as it relates to our industry; after all, the owner is our customer – if we don’t understand where they’re coming from, we’re unable to sell them the tools they need, right?”

AI and machine learning capabilities will undoubtedly transform the hospitality industry. In fact, that transformation is already well underway. However, it’s not the only thing that Rubinacci is excited about as he looks to the road ahead. “I think the democratization of data—even without the influence of AI—is huge for our industry and can help us meaningfully increase productivity and enhance customer satisfaction,” he shares.

In some cases, the mainstream adoption of new technology is met with trepidation. In the case of AI, there is great excitement, but there are also questions about the impact of these platforms on the job landscape. Will AI replace human workers? Is this something to fear?

“Recently, I was asked this question on stage while speaking about this changing job landscape, and it made me think about my career,” Rubinacci notes. “Realistically, 80% of the roles I’ve had throughout my tenure did not even exist when I started. Will the landscape change from a job perspective? Definitely, but while some roles go away, just as many – if not more – will be created. Of course, I can’t tell you what they’ll be, but the opportunities will present themselves, so I’m not fearful of that change.”

Rubinacci notes that revenue management will lean towards commercial strategy and enhancing the asset's overall revenue, which the industry has been discussing for 25-30 years. “Just look at ancillary revenues,” he adds. “We're finally putting the infrastructure in for AI to handle all the combinations of permutations and present the right thing to the right customer at the right time.”

Ultimately, new technology will allow hotels to identify trends before they become apparent to humans, which will be tremendously powerful from a performance perspective. “Going back to owners and their POV – technology vendors can finally assure them they won’t have as many dips or misses because we’re going to know what’s happening. We can affect change more meaningfully and proactively than we ever have, opening the industry up to so many opportunities,” Rubinacci explains. “I think we're at the beginning of this journey, and it will change everything. I don't know how it all changes, but it’s going to be fun to figure out, and I know I want to be at the forefront of it all.”

About Alan Young

Alan Young

Alan E. Young is the Co-Founder and President of Puzzle Partner, the leading marketing agency focused exclusively on the complex B2B initiatives of technology innovators across industries including hospitality, travel, healthcare, life sciences, pharma, media, and entertainment. He is also the Tourism and Hospitality Program Professor at Georgian College. Previously, Alan has held executive-level positions with start-up companies such as Newtrade Technologies, (acquired by Expedia), Hotel Booking Solutions (acquired by IBS Software) and TrustYou. Alan is past Chair of The Board of Directors of The OpenTravel Alliance and been very involved with other industry associations most notably AHLA, HEDNA, and HTNG. With over two decades of experience in the travel and hospitality technology world, Alan specializes in helping innovative companies achieve winning performance and dramatic growth.

About Puzzle Partner

Puzzle Partner is a marketing agency focused exclusively on the complex B2B initiatives of hospitality and travel technology innovators. By combining industry expertise, strategic thinking, and passion for delivering exceptional results, the agency helps clients achieve their business objectives and stay ahead in competitive markets. With its deep understanding of the hospitality and travel sectors, Puzzle Partner has established itself as a trusted advisor to leading global brands. The agency's insights and holistic methodologies have helped clients navigate the evolving marketing landscape, maximize brand exposure, and drive revenue growth.

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Posted by on May 15, 2024.

Categories: Technology

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