AWS for Industries

Executive Conversations: Building Resiliency with Geoff Ballotti, President & CEO, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts

Geoff Ballotti, President and CEO of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, joins David Peller, Global Head of AWS Travel and Hospitality, for a broad-ranging discussion about the recent disruption faced by travel and hospitality companies – and his company’s response to that disruption. Wyndham is the world’s largest hotel company, with 9,300 properties globally.

This Executive Conversation is one of a series of discussions held with industry leaders, where we seek to learn more about their resiliency, tenacity, and capacity for innovation. The series follows the publication of the AWS Travel and Hospitality E-book: Building Resilience For The Long Run.” Filled with strategic observations, hints, and tips, the E-book provides guidance for building a more resilient organization, potentially serving as a useful resource as travel and hospitality companies address both current challenges and those yet to come.

David Peller: While your business is recognized publicly by many, what’s one unique characteristic or feature that is either lesser known or understood about your company?

Geoff Ballotti: We are the world’s largest hotel franchise company with more than 9,000 hotels across 20 brands in 90 countries and territories. We have more than 6,000 franchisees who are the lifeblood of our company. Many of them are small business owners, often running family owned and operated businesses. Before we do anything, we ask ourselves: does this help our franchisees? Their success is our success.

DP: Many companies across travel and hospitality have been managing through a period of unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced during this recent period and how have you managed through them?

GB: We are in one of the most challenging times in the history of our industry. From day one, our focus has been our franchisees and helping them weather this storm. Among our many efforts, we suspended fees and provided payment relief to help them preserve cash; advocated on their behalf for government assistance alongside partners like the American Hotel and Lodging Association; and provided guidance on how to navigate critical programs like the CARES act.

Today, nearly all our hotels are open and welcoming travelers, with occupancy rates continuing to climb and averaging above 50%. The makeup of our portfolio—we’re predominantly economy and midscale and we cater to drive-to travelers—puts us in a stronger position than most right now.  Week by the week, the situation is improving and that is the trend that we hope will continue.

DP: As we all prepare for the next phase of traveler or guest demand, what are some of the changes your company has taken (or plans on taking) to adjust to the current operating environment?

GB: Health and safety are what matter most to travelers right now. They want to see that hotels are taking the right steps to protect their guests and their team members. It’s why earlier this summer, we launched Count On Us, a new multi-faceted initiative. This is designed to elevate our already strong health and safety protocols at our hotels around the world, instilling confidence among guests, and letting them know that when they’re ready to travel, Wyndham is ready to welcome them.

More than just new training and operational guidelines, Count On Us brings clean to the forefront and makes it clear to guests – through updated operational protocols, signage, and other visual cues – that hotels are taking the necessary steps to help ensure they have a safe and comfortable stay. What does that look like? Think more frequent cleanings of high-touch surfaces, use of hospital-grade disinfectants in guestrooms and public spaces, re-arranged lobbies designed to promote social distancing, and face covering requirements for guests and staff.

DP: In the face of the current disruption to the travel and hospitality industry, we’ve observed incredible innovations coming from across the industry. How has your company innovated through these challenging times and what are you most proud of?

We’re most proud of how quickly we’ve been able to recognize the evolving needs of franchisees and guests and the speed with which we’ve been able to bring solutions to market. As an example, just this month, we began the process of putting into market our new mobile app, which prioritizes new features that you typically don’t find at most economy and midscale hotels – things like mobile check in and check out, on-property texting, food delivery, and one-touch bookings. These features carry added weight in the current environment and allow our franchisees to seamlessly deliver many of the contactless features that today’s travelers are looking for.


DP: The travel and hospitality industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward recovery, what role does technology play for your company moving forward? How do you see technology enhancing the customer experience and improving operational efficiency?

GB: It’s critical. It’s the core of our biggest projects, our biggest innovations. Take personalization, which is a key focus for us right now. With 450,000 guests checking in and out of our hotels every day, technology is helping us develop the ability for mass personalization. What offers can we provide for specific guests? What are their needs? What requests did they have last time and how can we proactively address them during their next stay? Technology is allowing us to transform large volumes of data into actionable information, resulting in a better, more personalized guest experience.

We’re also heavily invested in the cloud. We continue to reduce the on-site technology footprint for our hotel franchisees by moving everything from property management to Wi-Fi maintenance to the cloud. This allows the franchisee to focus on the guest experience and not be concerned about the on-site technology. We’ve taken a similar approach internally, as cloud technologies allow us to reduce costs, scale globally, and provide a consistent team member experience. And it is an investment that continues to pay dividends, especially in the current environment. When the pandemic began in earnest in our part of the world, we were able transition to a global at-home workforce in less than one weekend without missing a beat.

DP: There’s much talk at the moment about how the travel and hospitality experience has changed and there will be a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you and how do you think the travel experience will look three years from now?

GB: Many of the innovations being pulled into the mainstream by the pandemic will stay: contactless solutions, expanded mobile functionality, and greater personalization. The world was already headed that way. The pandemic is simply pulling us there sooner. What won’t change is who we are and what we do: we make hotel travel possible for all. These innovations don’t replace the relationships hotels build with guests or the feeling that comes from having a great stay. If anything, they allow hoteliers to re-prioritize their time to focus on what they do best: taking care of guests and providing great experiences.

DP: What makes you excited for the future of travel and hospitality? As a traveler or guest, where are you looking forward to visiting next?

GB: Travel is resilient. Our industry is resilient. As difficult as these past several months have been, they have served as an incredible reminder of just how much talent, dedication, and compassion exists within our industry. When I think about the months to come, what I look forward to most is not just the chance to travel regularly, but the chance to once again connect in person with our team members and our franchisees.


Learn more about the new Travel and Hospitality E-book: Building Resilience For The Long Run.”

See more Executive Conversations and industry insights on the AWS Travel and Hospitality Blog.

Geoffrey A. Ballotti has served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and as a member of its Board of Directors since June 2018. Prior to that, he was CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group for four years, which spun off from the former Wyndham Worldwide in 2018 to become a publicly-traded hotel company. Geoff serves as Immediate Past Chair of the American Hotel & Lodging Association Board and previously served as Chairman of the U.S. Travel Association, on the Executive Committee of the American Resort & Development Association, and on the board of directors for Christel House International.

David Peller

David Peller

David Peller serves as Managing Director, Travel and Hospitality for AWS, the global industry practice with a charter to support customers as they accelerate cloud adoption. Before joining AWS, David held various leadership roles in Singapore, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom, in travel and hospitality technology businesses. He has been both an entrepreneur and founder, as well as being part of the launch team of a restaurant business in the UK. He is a qualified Solicitor in the UK, holds a Bachelor in Legal Studies from King’s College, University of London, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Studies from the London College of Law.