Web Exclusive: Q+A with John Parker, COO, RHG

When the pandemic hit, John Parker, COO, Real Hospitality Group (RHG), had a goal: ensure the safety and job security of his associates and owners. As Parker worked toward this goal, he also continued to oversee the operations, sales and marketing and revenue management for RHG, ultimately building up the business and instituting new technology.

Additionally, as a member of the Marriott Owners Advisory Board, he was one of many who fought to ensure the voice and concerns of RHG’s owners were heard. We spoke with Parker about his work at the beginning of the pandemic and what he’s doing now to continue keeping his associates and owners safe and successful:

Why hospitality? What about the industry inspires you?
When I was a child, I always loved staying in hotels, and who wouldn’t want a career that day in and day out nothing is ever the same. Each day brings new challenges along with being able to create memories for people. The industry allows for tremendous growth opportunities as a career, and you can work anywhere in the world.

How did you get started in the industry?
When I was in college, I got a job as a front desk agent at a Courtyard by Marriott to help pay for my college education.

What were some of your first thoughts when COVID hit? What did you do to ensure RHG got through it?
My first thought was for our associates and trying to protect them from being laid off, also working with our ownership groups to decide what was in the best interest for them to decide if the hotel should stay open or close. Finally, making sure we had safety measures in place for our associates and guests. At Real Hospitality Group, the executive team met and went through all our vendors to decide what was needed and what was not. We also did a lot of delaying services until business levels picked back up. We also spent a lot of time moving our associates to different positions either at the corporate level or moving some of our corporate team members to hotel positions we had open within the organization. We spent a lot of time with our revenue and sales teams to make sure we had every booking channel open and selling to local markets that needed rooms for COVID. Our regional director of sales worked with the hotel teams to place business.

What are you currently working on at RHG that you’re excited about?
I’m really excited about all the technology we added or upgraded during the pandemic. Our human resources team went paperless for all onboarding for our associates and added a new platform to evaluate our associates electronically. The revenue management team added a lot of new technology to help us price better and giving us a lot of new business intelligence and the operations team has a new platform for preventive maintenance. I’m also really excited about all our charity work that our corporate and hotel teams have worked on even through a pandemic.

What are you doing at RHG to combat labor challenges?
RHG uses a diverse platform of job posting boards that ties back into a central program, so we can track the process of each open position we have within the organization. We started a new retention bonus that paid our associates a monthly payout that was separate from our seasonal bonus along with a referral program in place for associates. We also did some unusual things like allow our night auditors to bring their dog to work (this was a hit for recruitment for this position, as it allowed them to have a companion at work).

Can you identify any other challenges the industry is facing? How are you working to help RHG overcome those?
We are seeing a lot of supply chain issues with our vendors that are required for us to operate a hotel on a daily basis. RHG has helped to overcome these challenges by teamwork with the hotels in our portfolio. We set up a central spot in our extranet to allow GMs to communicate of shortages and allow the GMs to shift inventory from one hotel to another.

What are your current goals for RHG?
My current goal at RHG is to be the “best of the best” with our guest service scores for the brands we represent along with Tripadvisor for our lifestyle hotels. With staffing shortages, supply chain issues and a huge increase in leisure travel versus corporate travel, guests have different expectations than previous years. We are working with our regional and property teams to make sure we are making each guest happy. I added to my team a VP of hotel performance that works directly with our property and regional teams for hotels that are not hitting our performance goals for the hotel.

Do you have any advice for aspiring hotel workers? And, what’s the best career advice you’ve received?
My advice to aspiring hotel workers in our industry is no job is not out of reach in our industry. If you have the passion and “juice” day in and day out, a willingness to learn and are committed to the industry, you can become a CEO. The best career advice I have received is to be a good listener both from the guest and the associates. If you listen and communicate with your guests and associates you will establish high performing hotels.

What’s your five-year plan?
My five-year plan is to work with our current CEO to hopefully be ready for his position when he retires. But if you ask him when he is going to retire, this actually might be my 10-year plan.

What’s something the industry may not know about you?
I’m a huge dog person, and our family dog is actually the decision maker in our household. I also volunteer with our local SPCA to help place dogs in new homes. I just love the loyalty a dog provides.