Chris Dane, veteran of airlines, GDSs, leisure and business consortia, is back at the helm of Hickory, a half-dozen years after he left the company. Since then, Hickory has changed hands a few times, with Traina Cos. buying it in 2011. In September, Tom Sparico, who had been president and COO, left the company, and Dane began running it as a consultant. Last month, Hickory named him president. Kate Rice talked with Dane about the past and future Hickory.
Q: You'd been here before. What prompted your return?
A: I like the energy of the company, I really liked the energy of the group. The only thing in common between the two companies [the Hickory of the past vs. the Hickory of the present] is that Hickory is still in the name.
Q: Did Traina hire you to engineer a turnaround?
A: I wouldn't call it a turnaround, I would call it an entirely new business model. In fact, we're moving away from using the word "consortium," because that doesn't begin to describe what we're doing. We're actually the antithesis of a consortium.
Q: What is this new business model?
A: It's a data-driven revenue management model, as opposed to a "join us and you'll have a hotel" program. We're really changing the vocabulary, we're all about measurement, accountability and guaranteed [return on investment] for our partners, and those are terms you've never heard with any consortia. ... We're creating revenue streams where they don't exist.
Q: What's so special about a data-driven model? Don't travel management companies (TMCs) have data today?
A: It's fragmented. If you do get any data from a hotel, it is on a once-a-year-basis. Before, if you were to ask a TMC, myself included when I was at HRG, what my nets were vs. my total commissionable bookings, if you were to ask me what rate codes I was booking, I couldn't tell you. Hotel data is, frankly, the worst data. It's almost an oxymoron. It's the way hotels work, it's the way their computer systems work, it's the way they track rate codes. There is a whole compendium of issues that we are addressing with data management.
We are trying to change behavior so the TMC can go in and look at their bookings for the day and see if they're booking nonpreferreds and then change it. The reason preferred suppliers are in our program is because they want more business, and they incent us to do that. And we in turn provide that incentive directly to the travel management companies participating in the program. They earn money on a quarterly basis, and it can be as little as $3,000 a quarter. And some of our biggest players are making six figures on an annual basis, and keep in mind, that's new income.
Q: So how does it work?
A: There are three pieces. Obviously there's the hotel-income side. There's the technology side that helps us to drive that model, giving them data to help move share to our suppliers. And the third piece is that we have a preferred airline program which gives them the ability to take higher upfront commissions.
Q: Is the air program new?
A: Hickory had an air program, but it was a nonevent. This one's got over 20 airlines. Our program touches every continent in the world except Antarctica. And if there were ever demand for Antarctica, we'll find a program for them there, too. And the nice thing is, it's all point-of-sale ticketing, they do all the ticketing, they get the commission up front and they have total control over the [passenger name record]; this is not some outsource deal.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.