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Wyndham CFO explains push for increasing hotel ownership among women

Michele Allen, CFO of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, discusses her company's latest financial results, travel's rebound, and how she's trying to get more women to get involved in hotel ownership.

Video transcript

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Staying in corporate news, pay packages for women who run S&P 500 companies soared in 2021, as businesses saw stock prices and profits explode. Now the median pay for women CEOs rose to nearly $16 million, according to the Associated Press's annual survey by Equilar.

Now, despite this 26% pay jump for women, there is much more work still to be done to achieve equity between men and women in the C-suite. Of the 340 CEOs in the latest survey of S&P 500 companies, only 18 were women. And when it comes to top earning executives, men still far outpace women, with the top earning male CEO, Peter Kern of Expedia Group, receiving a pay package valued at $296.2 million, and the top earning woman, Lisa Su of Advanced Micro Devices, receiving compensation valued at $29.5 million.

Well, vacation plans are adapting to all this high inflation, but what if instead of just staying at a hotel, you have the chance to own or invest in one? Well, my next guest knows all about that. Let's bring in Michele Allen, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts CFO. Thank you for joining me today. So first, I want to take a step back and get sort of a lay of the land, with this current environment of high inflation, labor shortages, supply chain issues really dampening consumer sentiment. How is Wyndham faring at the moment?

MICHELE ALLEN: Well thank you. Thank you for having me. You know, Wyndham is operating really at 2019 levels in almost all respects today. Leisure travel was incredibly strong last year. And we saw that continue into spring break this year. We meet with our owners on a regular basis, and they are telling us they expect this summer travel season to be even busier than last year, which was a record here in the US.

And US travel recently reported nearly 9 out of 10 Americans are expecting to travel this summer, with eight of those 10 planning to travel by car, which is a perfect fit for Wyndham, since many of our hotels are located all along America's highways and byways, close to national parks or in beach destinations. And that's where Americans are going this summer.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: So then in terms of the top destinations, where are people headed, whether it's by plane or if they're road tripping?

MICHELE ALLEN: Yeah, so they're going to places like Virginia, Myrtle Beach, Florida, and traveling again to those national park destinations and warm 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, to the all-inclusive hotel space. A lot of people might wondering-- be wondering, why launch it then? But you've actually said it proved to be exactly the right decision. How so?

MICHELE ALLEN: We did. We launched our new Ultra brand, which is an all-inclusive brand for mostly midscale hotel travelers. There are a lot of all inclusive upscale brands in the marketplace today. But this was serving a different customer need for the vast majority of the US demographic and very similar to a new product that we've recently launched on what we're dubbing our Echo Project. And that is really about attracting traveler trends and increased demand from the new $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and harnessing what we think is real upside in the future dedicated entirely to longer term space.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And as we look at how Wyndham is approaching the future, I want to talk about your Women Own the Room initiative. Looking at the number of women who work in tourism, 70% versus 22% in the C-suite and only 11% in some of these developmental roles. How did you see this Women Own the Room initiative as a solution to perhaps bridge that gap?

MICHELE ALLEN: Yeah, so hospitality industry data shows that women are significantly underrepresented in investment funding roles, real estate, and in hotel ownership. And this program, Women Own the Room, is the first ever program by a major hotel company specifically targeting women's advancement in hotel ownership. We're just so proud of the program. It's designed to advance and empower women entrepreneurs to break through what has historically been a male dominated space.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And so, in terms of the benefits that that has for the industry as a whole, a lot of people might be wondering, why does this matter? What answer would you give them?

MICHELE ALLEN: I would say research conducted by Castile Project shows that for every 9.2 men entering the field, we see only one woman entering the field. So there's still a significant gap. And this program, it aims to close that gap by helping women overcome the common barriers they face in hotel development and then helping them effectively open and run their properties.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And then in terms of the sort of outcomes that you've seen from this program, what sort of progress have you seen from some of these franchisees and people who've gone through the program?

MICHELE ALLEN: Yeah, so we're seeing significant interest in the program. And we have that-- we have hotels open all over the country owned by women today and dozens in the pipeline under this specific program. If a woman is interested in hotel ownership, we just ask them to pick up the phone and call Wyndham. There are three pillars to our program. There's a financial aspect and operational aspect and then a community aspect as well.

On the financial side, Wyndham's providing comprehensive solutions, including enhanced capital support. We're also offering complimentary guidance 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 much of this happens today on the golf course, or again, in areas that are predominantly male dominated.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: So being that now you have this focus-- and this actually came about before COVID came into full flow across the world. How challenging, then, is this current environment for people who are new to the industry who want to come into hotel ownership?

MICHELE ALLEN: Yeah, you know, when we're talking to our women entrepreneurs, we hear the same stories over and over again. For example, one woman owner was asked if her father or husband would be joining the meeting, despite the fact that she was the sole owner listed on all the paperwork. Another woman petitioned her bank for a better interest rate and was told that is the best the bank could do, only for her brother to test the bank, bringing the same deal back to the same banker with the same pitch deck and walking away with a better rate. So there's definitely still some form of unconscious bias out there.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Well, hopefully, this program goes towards closing that gap. We do thank you. Michele Allen there, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts CFO. Thank you.

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