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Eric A. Danziger has certainly worked his way to the top. Starting as a bellman in the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco right out of high school, he has worked in nearly every position imaginable, from the front desk to the executive suite, during his more than 30 years in the lodging business. His past titles include president and COO of Carlson Hotel Hotels Worldwide; president and CEO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide; as well as a previous stint as president of Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. In 2001, he left Carlson to return to his native California to take care of his ailing father. While there, he served as CEO of WhiteFence, an online shopping website for home services, and prior to that, he was president and CEO of ZipRealty, a national, full-service real estate brokerage.

But in December of last year, Danziger returned to Wyndham as president and CEO of its hotel group, which includes more than 7,000 hotels in 67 countries flying such well-known names as Wyndham, Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8, Baymont Inn & Suites, Hawthorn Suites, Microtel Inns & Suites, AmeriHost Inn, Knights Inn, Wingate, Howard Johnson and Travelodge. GlobeSt.com caught up with Danziger at the recent Americas Lodging Investment Summit in San Diego for a chat about the current state of the industry and his return to Wyndham.

GlobeSt.com: What is it like being back in the hotel business and at Wyndham?

Danziger: The answer is fantastic to both. I’m a hotel person. It’s what I did right out of high school as a bellman. I was out of it for a few years, but I was on the board of Kimpton Hotels. But I am thrilled to be back, it’s who I am, it defines me. It’s even more thrilling to be back at this company. My affinity for the brand Wyndham runs deep. I worked for the Crow family, who were the founders of Wyndham. It was a private company, and we took it public. The new Wyndham is an even bigger, broader, more exciting company and family of brands.

GlobeSt.com: When you went to the West Coast to work for ZipRealty, it was because of family reasons. Can you talk about that?

Danziger: Dad was dying. I moved out of the house when I was 17, got into the hotel business, and over 30 years, I’ve moved 13 or 14 times. I was away from the family, away much longer than I was home. And Dad was in failing health and I thought it would be important for me and my kids to see what the right values are, to be near Dad. And it turned out that I could do that. I worked for ZipRealty while I was there, which was also a neat thing to do and very different. And now I’m back in hotels. I spent 30-something years in hotels, from bellman, front office, catering, kitchen, F&B, front office manager, resident manager, general manager, regional vice president—done just about every job there was before I became a president and CEO at another company.

GlobeSt.com: Wyndham recently opened seven hotels in China. Do you see more growth overseas than in the US at this time?

Danziger: There is growth in both places. There is global growth. Keep in mind we have 12 brands. So the different brands have great appeal in different parts of the world. If you take China as an example, there is massive opportunity for growth there. They like brands they know, that they associate from here, so we have a 1,200-room Howard Johnson in China. The opportunity for all of our brands in Asia is fantastic, probably in the core brands more than Wyndham. Wyndham will happen, but because the other brands have been around 40 years, and Wyndham’s been around 20, it just needs a little bit more catch-up time. Europe and Eastern Europe are great opportunities for our brands as well. The world is full of independent hotels, which will likely look for brand assistance. We are the largest hotel company in the world, so I believe therefore we add value to all kinds of hotels in all kinds of different segments all around the world.

GlobeSt.com: There has been talk about trading down. Where do you see your revenue growth coming from, in what segments?

Danziger: We cover the whole market, except for luxury and I’m glad to not be in that segment at the moment obviously. The upper upscale is Wyndham and then right below is Wyndham Garden Inn and Wingate. Then you have Microtel and Hawthorn, so all of these products are really very different. On the economy side, we have Knights Inn and then higher up you have Days Inn and Super 8. The reality is, all of those segments have opportunities because that is where mid-America stays. I look at Howard Johnson and Travelodge as great iconic brands, I’m in love with those brands from the Americana aspect of them. All of the brands, I love equally. We have iconic names and we should work hard at reminding people of those brands. People do trade down in tough times from the luxury segment, and Wyndham is obviously the beneficiary of that. But because we are this big family of brands with 7,000 hotels, there is opportunity to move between them. The Wyndham rewards program allows people to earn points faster than any other program across all of our brands, which is really cool for our consumers to get the benefits faster.

GlobeSt.com: How can hoteliers to survive in these tough times? Are you looking at cost efficiencies?

Danziger: Yes. This is not the first time the hotel industry has been in tough economic times. It’s cyclical, it’s happened before. I’ve been around for a long, long time so I’ve been through several. You really should not do any one thing. It is a matter of being smart, prudent, wise, thoughtful, so you get the best revenue performance you can by working hard. It’s about market share, making sure your product is good, and providing greater value to consumers who then say, “If I am going to travel, where can I stay where I get the most value and I feel comfortable.” For example, in our brands, free breakfast and free Internet use is a big deal for somebody; that’s value added. On the cost side, it’s a matter of being prudent, smart and efficient. I’m not sure we have completely leveraged the fact we have 7,000 hotels in terms of our ability to continue to find efficiencies from a cost perspective. In every cycle, the good companies don’t hunker down and hide under the desk. They find ways to be a better, more meaningful company and then when you come out, you are that much better. And this too shall pass. We are doing all of the smart things. We continue to invest in our company. It would be silly to not be prepared for what we know comes at the other end. We’d rather be ahead of it when it comes. You have two choices—make dust or eat dust. We are a company out there making some dust. We’re spending, advertising, continuing to improve our brands, and working with the franchisees and owners to get more customers.

GlobeSt.com: Are you waiving brand standards?

Danziger: I wouldn’t say waive. I’d say flexibility. We have brand standards, and that’s a brand’s job, a brand is a promise. We are cognizant of the tough times, and where we may have said, “We are going to get something done by April,” it’s very reasonable of us to say, “Let’s go through this year,” and have a little bit of elasticity in our demands. So waive would be to forgive forever. I don’t want to do that. I want to be flexible and helpful to franchisees.

GlobeSt.com: Are you reducing rates?

Danziger: Cutting your rates is cutting your throat. How many times do we have to learn that there is no value in doing that. The consumer isn’t going to make a decision because rates are $3 or $4 lower. You are not talking about a rate going from $55 to $5. It is much better to maintain that $55 or $65 or whatever the rate is and do things of value like breakfast and Internet. Therefore, you don’t put yourself in a hole when things do recover. So I’m not a big fan of cutting rates, which means cutting your throat. Are there periods where rates reductions are smart, here and there, yes. But that is different than cutting our rates across the board. That is not a good business strategy.

GlobeSt.com: What about discounting?

Danziger: For certain times and certain periods. That is smart yield management, like the airlines. Yield management is a prudent business exercise. Cutting rates to say, “You’all come, we are on sale,” you’ve destroyed the brand value. It’s a careful balance of being value add, being good rate managers, but not have wholesale rate reductions. It’s just not going to put anyone else in the hotel. I really do think the traveler says, “Where is a clean, comfortable room, and where do I get something for it,” i.e., the Wyndham rewards. These are the reasons they are going to pick a hotel, not because it was $3 difference.

GlobeSt.com: Any projections for RevPAR for ’09 and beyond?

Danziger: I have absolutely none. Why do you never read about the psychic winning the lottery? Nobody knows and every projection is different every day. It’s a moving target. I really do believe that we are in the state of paralysis. I can’t give you a prediction. It’s my gut feeling, which could just be a wishful feeling, that it won’t be that many more months. I feel like it will be around summer before everyone says, it’s okay to come out now and people will start doing things. It will get better. I think RevPAR is going to be down,but I can’t tell you the number, you have to consult the experts. I don’t know. But I’m hopeful that we’ll see the beginnings of this thaw out post-spring.

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