Michele Allen, CFO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, discusses her company’s latest financial results, the travel rebound and how she’s trying to get more women involved in hotel ownership.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: Also in corporate news, earnings for women running S&P 500 companies soared in 2021 as companies saw stock prices and earnings soar. Now, the median salary of female CEOs has reached nearly $16 million, according to the Associated Press annual survey by Equilar.
Today, despite this 26% pay increase for women, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve gender equity in the C-suite. Of the 340 CEOs in the latest CEO survey S&P 500 companies, only 18 were women. And when it comes to top-earning executives, men still far outnumber women, with top-earning male CEO Peter Kern of Expedia Group receiving a salary package worth $296.2 million, and the highest-earning woman, Lisa Su of Advanced Micro Devices, to receive compensation valued at $29.5 million.
Well, vacation plans are adjusting to all that high inflation, but what if instead of just staying in a hotel, you had the option of owning or investing in one? Well, my next guest knows all about that. Let’s call on Michele Allen, chief financial officer of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. Thanks for joining me today. So first of all I want to take a step back and have some kind of ground, with this current environment of high inflation, labor shortages, supply chain issues that are really dampening consumer sentiment . How is Wyndham doing right now?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Thanks very much. Thank you for hosting me. You know, Wyndham is really performing at 2019 levels in almost every way today. Pleasure travel was incredibly strong last year. And we’ve seen that continue over Spring Break this year. We meet with our owners regularly, and they tell us that they expect this summer travel season to be even busier than last year, which was a record here in the United States.
And U.S. Travel recently reported that nearly 9 in 10 Americans plan to travel this summer, with eight in 10 planning to travel by car, which suits Wyndham perfectly, as many of our hotels are located along the US highways and roads. , near national parks or in seaside destinations. And that’s where Americans are going this summer.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: So when it comes to top destinations, where are people heading, whether by plane or road trip?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yeah, so they’re going to places like Virginia, Myrtle Beach, Florida, and traveling again to those national park destinations and those hot weather destinations.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: Now I want to ask you about the pandemic because we saw that Wyndham actually launched a new hotel right in the middle of the pandemic. And it was dedicated to all-inclusive, all-inclusive hotel space. Many people might ask, why throw it then? But you actually said it was exactly the right decision. How?
MICHAEL ALLEN: We were doing. We launched our new Ultra brand, which is an all-inclusive brand aimed primarily at mid-range hotel travelers. There are many high-end all-inclusive brands on the market today. But it addressed a different customer need for the vast majority of the US population and very similar to a new product we recently launched on what we call our Project Echo. And it’s really about attracting traveler trends and increasing demand for the new $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and harnessing what we think will be a real benefit in the future fully dedicated to longer-term space.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: And as we consider how Wyndham approaches the future, I want to talk about your Women Own the Room initiative. As for the number of women working in tourism, 70% compared to 22% in the C-suite and only 11% in some of these development roles. How did you see this Women Own the Room initiative as a solution to maybe bridge that gap?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yes, data from the hospitality industry shows that women are significantly underrepresented in investment finance, real estate and hotel ownership roles. And this program, Women Own the Room, is the first-ever program from a major hospitality company specifically targeting the advancement of women in hotel ownership. We are so proud of the program. It is designed to advance and empower female entrepreneurs to break into what has historically been a male-dominated space.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: And so, in terms of the benefits this has for the industry as a whole, a lot of people might ask, why does this matter? What answer would you give them?
MICHAEL ALLEN: I would say research by the Castile Project shows that for every 9.2 men entering the field, we only see one woman entering the field. So there is still a big gap. And this program aims to close that gap by helping women overcome common barriers they face in hotel development, and then helping them open and effectively manage their properties.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: And then, in terms of the kind of results you’ve seen from this program, what kind of progress have you seen from some of these franchisees and people who have gone through the program?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yes, so we are seeing significant interest in the program. And we have that – we have women-owned hotels open across the country today and dozens under this specific program. If a woman is interested in hotel ownership, we just ask her to pick up the phone and call Wyndham. There are three pillars to our program. There is a financial aspect and an operational aspect, and then a community aspect as well.
Financially, Wyndham provides comprehensive solutions, including enhanced capital support. We also offer free advice and operational support to maximize revenue at the property level. And then finally, we’re building a community for networking and education, which is really so important in this space. And a lot of that happens today on the golf course, or again, in male-dominated areas.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: So given that now you have this focus – and it actually happened before COVID kicked in across the world. How difficult is this current environment for newcomers to the industry who want to become hotel owners?
MICHAEL ALLEN: Yes, you know, when we talk to our female entrepreneurs, we hear the same stories over and over again. For example, a female owner was asked if her father or husband would join the meeting, despite the fact that she was the sole owner listed on all documents. Another woman asked her bank for a better interest rate and was told that was the best the bank could do, only to have her brother test the bank, reporting the same deal to the same banker with the same pitch deck and leaving with a better rate. So there is certainly still a form of unconscious bias.
RACHELLE AKUFFO: Well, I hope this program will help close that gap. We thank you. Michele Allen, CFO of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. Thank you.