From spearheading growth in Asia Pacific, to bringing a renewed customer focus into the company, Barry Robinson has played an important role in Wyndham Hotel Group’s evolution. The President and Managing Director for the group’s South East Asia and Pacific Rim operations (who is also the CEO and Managing Director of Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific) chats to The CEO Magazine about his journey in the travel industry.
The CEO Magazine: What are some of your earliest memories of being involved in hotels?
Barry: I’ve been in this business for more than forty years, my first taste being at ten years old. My parents owned the Orana Motor Inn at Kaitaia on New Zealand’s North Island. I watched them work hard, and it instilled a strong work ethic in me. I had to do the dishes, make beds, and clean the pool. I couldn’t wait to turn thirteen because under New Zealand licensing laws back then if you were the publican’s child, you were allowed to serve in the bar. So that was my great ambition as an early teen — to get out of doing the dishes.
Those early days taught me a great deal about customer service. Good hospitality is really very simple — you have to be responsive to people. It’s relationship-focused and the need to ensure you hire the right people who share your vision is paramount.
At twenty seven, I was appointed General Manager with Quality Inns NZ and went on to work for Swiss Hotels and Choice International. The former CEO of Choice approached me to open a four-star resort in Indonesia. After a couple of years there I moved to China. It was the 90s and China hadn’t really opened its doors to the rest of the world; the Security Bureau monitored all your activities. Learning the language and grasping the culture proved to be a steep learning curve.
At that stage there were limited numbers of hotels, as we know them today, in China. There were only traditional-style guest houses, so what we were doing was quite groundbreaking for the time. Despite the difficulties, the launch into Asia was successful and I garnered a good understanding of various cultures — a skill which is crucial in my role today.
I moved back to Australia in 2001 with my wife and two young sons, when I was leading the acquisition of the Flag Group as Managing Director of Choice Hotels Asia Pacific. It wasn’t long after I had arrived in Australia that I was approached to become CEO for Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific — then Trendwest — a division of Wyndham Vacation Ownership and part of Cendant Corporation, now Wyndham Worldwide. Further research into the company prompted the question: ‘Why would I want to run a timeshare company?’ However, I was convinced of its merits and that’s when my Wyndham days started. I didn’t think I would be here as long as I have, but the business has become very diversified and we are headed in a very exciting direction. I am proud to be part of that change and growth.
What have been some of the major highlights with Wyndham?
The amount of property we have purchased or built has been a big one. To see our portfolio grow from less than ten to more than 100 properties today has been very satisfying.
Good hospitality is really very simple – you have to be responsive to people
Four years into my role at Wyndham, I championed the introduction of a mixed-use development model, combining hotel and timeshare apartments within one property. This resulted in shared costs and multiple revenue streams and has helped us secure strategic locations in Melbourne and Sydney. We are also more able to control our own destiny. In Australia, the club runs for another sixty-five years so we are managing the resorts for that length of time — not ten or twenty years, as with the other chains. Our strategy is growth for both business arms [!wyndham!]. Vacation ownership is a very successful component of our overall worldwide global business.
We launched this business in Asia last year with the acquisition of Wyndham Sea Pearl Resort Phuket. We bought 25 per cent of the stock and own about forty units which we run as timeshare, while the balance (210 units) is run as a hotel. The timeshare club we established in Asia is a four-year-old club that lasts for forty years, so we have the asset for four decades and we have the same timeframe for our management agreement.
I am a great advocate of the wellness and development of our employees through our global ‘Be Well’ program. In 2014, our corporate headquarters were featured on Sunrise morning television as ‘Australia’s best workplace’, while the Gold Coast Bulletin dubbed it “Google of the Gold Coast”. This is due to our progressive Be Well initiatives such as on-site yoga classes, mindfulness workshops, stand-up paddle boarding, free gym access, and more. All Wyndham staff members have access to learning and development training and personal brand workshops to help them align with our vision and, in turn, help them reach their ultimate potential.
Furthermore, I am extremely proud of our push for sustainability through our Wyndham Green program. In 2015, Wyndham Worldwide reached its carbon emissions goal six years ahead of schedule. The company achieved a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions (measured on a per square foot basis), well-surpassing its goal. The reduction is equivalent to saving close to 53 million litres of petrol.
What is your personal philosophy on leadership?
Be a visionary. Be decisive. Keep changing the game and continually self-evaluate
for improvement. My leadership style has evolved over the fourteen years since I first came into this position. I have a lot more confidence in my ability and I have reinvented myself over the course of time. I think as a leader you have to do that. If you don’t continue to reinvent, at some stage you are going to lose your edge.
How important are suppliers to Wyndham’s success?
Just as hiring the right staff with exceptional attitudes is important, key relationships that are supportive are just as crucial to our ongoing success. We want partners who will go the extra mile to make sure that if something needs to happen overnight or urgently, they will find a way.
Times have changed and people are thinking differently about how they travel. What is Wyndham doing to meet the needs of today’s travellers?
We believe everyone should have great experiences at any price point. Families, individuals, businesspeople, and everyone in between are on the move more than ever before. Regardless of travel style, consumers all over the world are making it their priority to take a trip, and create unique memories. We are here to enable that freedom.
The hotel industry has traditionally categorised travellers by price point, but this approach no longer works.
We deliver delightful experiences for everyday travellers, no matter how they choose to travel. Economy and midscale hotels empower travel for everyone, so by improving these hotels and brands, we can change the game.
Our mission is simple: elevate the experience of the everyday traveller, wherever they go, however they choose to stay. This includes refreshed amenities and spaces, travel perks, and new partnerships.
“The hotel industry has traditionally categorised travellers by price point, but this approach no longer works.”
We are in the midst of a global transformation, refreshing and redefining each of the sixteen brands in our powerhouse portfolio, and unveiling a new look to emphasise this. From recharged websites and collateral to updated spaces, Wyndham is giving its brands a facelift to ensure the millions of travellers who go through our hotels know what they will receive.
Our revamped Wyndham Rewards program is revolutionising hotel loyalty, allowing members to benefit from a generous points-earning structure, along with a flat, free night redemption rate. And we recently disrupted the loyalty game yet again with the launch of Wyndham Rewards’ Member Levels program that brings special member perks and offers the industry’s first experience-enhanced redemptions.
We surveyed 5,000 travellers around the world, comparing fifty different hotel brands and a list of forty-five decision drivers affecting the hotel purchase. We came up with 1,500 ideas to bring our guiding principles to life. The research yielded two key insights into traveller expectations: a more nuanced ‘one size does not fit all’ approach to economy; and an evident preference for great experiences over status. Using this knowledge we have clearly defined each of our brands with meaningful identities, bringing to life a personality as unique as our guests.
We are also reiterating the importance of our brand standards ensuring that the millions of travellers who go through WHG’s hotels around the world expect, and get, the best.
We are the first global hospitality company of our scale to roll out a cloud-based property management system with automated revenue capabilities to give hoteliers the tools they need to grow their businesses and succeed. The newly implemented software-as-a-service (SaaS) by Sabre gives hoteliers expanded market presence through access to a scalable and flexible distribution platform, bringing increased efficiencies and effectiveness in managing pricing and inventory.
Tell us about Wyndham’s philanthropic efforts?
Supporting communities is one of our core values and this is reflected in our program, ‘Wishes by Wyndham’. Capturing the passion and commitment of staff, leaders, and business partners, Wishes by Wyndham makes lasting, meaningful contributions to the communities in which we operate. The program is committed to enriching the lives of children around the world. To support Wishes by Wyndham’s nominated charities, Wyndham staff across our region fundraise via hosting
morning teas, arranging raffles, bake-offs, events, participating in fitness activities, and through workplace giving.
In 2015, Wishes by Wyndham raised $66,034 for children’s charities including the Starlight Children’s Foundation, Make-A-Wish Australia, the Leukaemia Foundation, and SIDS and Kids. In 2016, Wishes by Wyndham became a registered charity in Australia. Funds raised this year have gone to the Red Cross Cyclone Winston Fiji Appeal, along with charities such as Epilepsy Action Australia and Rosies.
What do you have planned for the future?
To make the Wyndham name synonymous with exceptional service.
To be a disruptor in the way we innovate and deliver hospitality.
I am a big believer in experiential hospitality — from unique boutique concept hotels like TRYP Fortitude Valley, to a grander scale.
We have a bright outlook for 2016 and beyond. Globally, our pipeline includes 910 hotels and over 122,800 rooms, 68 per cent of which are new construction hotels. In South East Asia and the Pacific Rim, we have a pipeline of more than seventy hotels, 80 per cent of which are new builds.
What do you love most about your job?
The people, the variety, and the creativity.