Bill is the director of marketing for a resort and also has been his own boss and lived through periods of unemployment. Today I had the pleasure of sitting with him on a roof top terrace in Lake Placid, NY and pick his brain on a variety of topics.
You will be very interested in the tips and secrets that he shares to help you book a memorable but affordable vacation at a hotel and resort. His opinion and advice about how to deal with adversity, retain customers and what it is really like to be your own boss and insightful as well.
I really enjoyed his outlook on life and how to face the darkest days of life and debt and his outlook on bankruptcy in your life. Listen and discover why his emergency fund was critical in his life.
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Interviewer: Well, I’m traveling around talking to people about the economy, credit and debt, and the economy, you know, in some parts of the country has really kinda taken a nosedive and people are desperate and they’re losing their homes, but in other parts of the country, it hasn’t. So in your world, have you noticed a difference with the economy?
Bill: I have noticed a difference in the economy. I work in travel and tourism and I noticed in that specific industry that we’ve seen the trends is people are waiting until the last minute or waiting to see if they’re going to have a job. They’re waiting to see if the economy is going to improve. They’re just – it’s a lot of waiting to see what’s gonna happen and now that we’re moving through the summer and we’re into August now and Labor Day’s gonna be here before you know it, people are putting less importance on the economy and more importance on, “Well, we still need to get away.”
But the first portion of the summer I – we – I can tell you that in our particular industry it was definitely a down year and so from that perspective, I have – we’ve seen the economy really affecting people’s decisions to travel, how long they’re gonna stay and how much they’re gonna pay. Our guests and guests of – you know, of people in the – of other, you know, hotels in the area have said that they’re waiting until the last minute to see the best deal. They’ll call and they’ll haggle. We’ve never seen that before and they’ll just – they’ll shop and shop and shop. Whereas in the past it would be, “Okay. Oh, that’s the rate? Okay, we’ll take that rate.” It’s – it really hasn’t been that way this year.
Interviewer: Yeah, it’s been interesting because along my travels like two nights ago I was at a Marriott in Buffalo and they told me what the rate was and they said, “Is that okay?” And I said, “Well, you know, it seems a little high.” And they went, “Okay, well…” And they knocked off 50 bucks.
Bill: And that’s sort of par for the course. You – if somebody walks in, you don’t let them leave, whatever it takes to keep them. Otherwise that room goes unoccupied for the night and you – in a way, you would want that to be at least – you want someone to be in that room at whatever rate you can get. But there are certain periods where you – you know, where there’s – where occupancy is high and you can still get those top rates and so right now as we’re moving into August, I – it feels like things are moving back to normal, whatever normal is, but a little more predictable in terms of the trends. Really though, the first five or six weeks, I would say right after June 21 until just about last week, it was tough going. It was an environment that I’m not familiar with.
Interviewer: Now what is the – what’s the cost for a hotel – not wherever you are, but just in general – for a hotel to maintain a room?
Bill: I mean it depends. You know, if you’ve got – what type of amenities you have in the room, how often you turn it, if you’ve got, you know, once or twice a day, if you’ve got turn-down service. More or less it’s anywhere between $35.00 to $50.00 a night to turn a room and then of course there are other, you know, costs involved with that, but I’d say high end you might be looking anywhere to 50 to 60.
Interviewer: An empty room earns you no money.
Bill: An empty room surprisingly earns you not a dime.
Bill: The end. The average daily rate on an empty room is zero. But, you know, the flipside of that is that you sometimes don’t want to compromise your own rate integrity, that if you’ve always gotten a certain amount of money for a room and there are expectations in the marketplace for what you can charge for a room and you start to drive rate lower and lower and lower, when the economy starts to pick up again, bringing the rate back up is not as easy as one might think and so you try to give guests other value-added items, whether it be food and beverage or an extra night stay for the – you know, two for three or something like that. So you really try to retain guest rate integrity as much as possible in this particular industry. Like anything, you know, it’s easier to lower the rate than it is to raise it.
Interviewer: So what’s the secret for people when they’re trying to negotiate? If they’re trying to decide between a staycation – it’s the word of the year –
Interviewer: – or go away, is there something that they should know about how to negotiate to get the best rate?
Bill: You’re giving away all our trade secrets here.
Bill: I don’t – I would say that there’s no secret. It’s just too – the term of do your due diligence. I would say just shop around. Make sure you are getting the best value. Don’t settle for the first good deal you see and to read the fine print. Ask as many questions as possible. You know, even in this industry, if it seems too good to be true, there’s a chance that it might be.
Also, sometimes it’s not bad to spend a little extra to stay at a place you may – might not otherwise stay at because everyone’s keeping their – trying to keep either the rates down or to offer value-added packages out there. I’d say just don’t settle right away. Don’t say yes to the first offer. Always say, “Well, do you have anything else?” or “Is that the best you can do?” And a lotta times a reservationist or somebody will come back and say, “Well, we do have this” or “We do have that” or “If you stay an extra night we can do this” or something like that.
Interviewer: Is it better to call the hotel directly?
Bill: Call the hotel directly only ’cause there’s so much you can do online. You can put your prices out there. You can put packages out there, but you don’t have that one-on-one of talking to a person and we’ll have people call who are looking right at our booking engine and say, “I’m on your booking engine but I wanted to call.” And there is something to be said about that human contact of speaking with a person and a reassurance of they know exactly what I want and what I’m looking for.
Interviewer: Is it also good to call up and say, “I’ve spoken with Hotel X, which is just down the street from you, and here’s their rate. Can you –?”
Bill: No. I would say hotels – it’s hard for a hotel to – I would say not to do that. (Laughter)
Bill: Well, and again, you could say, you know, you personally know what you’re looking for. When you start to pit hotels against each other, it sometimes works to your disadvantage and that’s – you know, you don’t – we – hotels want you to stay with them. You know, restaurants want you to eat there. But like anyone, no one likes to be put in a compromising position. We want to give you a wonderful stay, a great guest experience, regardless of where you’re gonna stay, but nobody likes to feel manipulated.
And so I would say, you know, as long you’re being genuine and honest and saying, “This is really what I’m looking for” – I wouldn’t say, “Okay, this is what I’m willing to pay,” but say, “This is what I would like to do and this is – I’m coming out and what can you do for me?” And if they don’t have what you’re looking for and they – you know, and you shop it around, you know, and you find someone that does, you know, stay with where you feel comfortable. You know, you – some of us only get one vacation a year. Some of us don’t get any.
Interviewer: Well, you had mentioned before we started talking that you were an entrepreneur. You were your own boss.
Bill: I was.
Interviewer: And a lotta people out there are their own boss right now and what I’m hearing is the money was coming in but it’s not coming in as much now and I’m worried about what to do in the next six months and do you have any advice for people who are their own boss?
Bill: I would say don’t give up on what you’re doing if you’re doing something that you love to do. This is a tough time for everybody. It will not always be like this, though. Things – we’ve all been through tough economies. We’ve all been through down periods and up periods. If you can just get through this period, you know, live within your means. Don’t overspend. Really concentrate, whatever you do, on customer service, on making sure you retain the clients or the guests or the customers that you have.
That old saying is it’s six times more difficult to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one, it’s true. So, you know, once you are able to get someone to use your product or to try your service or to read your blog, as I was – as I once did, do whatever you can to keep them, especially through this tough period, because once we start to come out of it, that core group of fans that you have or loyalists or whoever, you know, that believes in you and your product, they’re gonna stay with you. It’s not all about price. It’s not always about what you’re charging someone but what you’re giving to them.
Interviewer: Is this – this down economy, is it a good time to start a business?
Bill: You would see – you would think it would be, the number of people that are starting new businesses. I think that, you know, people are turning to entrepreneurship as a way to get back to work. I mean I have many friends who’ve been outta work. My brother, in fact, has been out of work for about a year now and has talked about starting his own business just for lack of not being able to get another job and so, you know, you can only live so long on unemployment and you start to get stir-crazy.
But then you also do have a lotta time to reflect and to say, “What is it that I actually enjoy doing? What is it that I really want to do with my life? Do I want to sit in an office? Do I want to manage people? Do I want to wait tables? Do I want to” whatever it is and – or is it “Do I want to be an entrepreneur? Do I want to provide something to people that I can only do if I open my own business?” I would say there’s no good time or bad time to do it. If it’s something you are passionate about and you believe in, don’t let the economy tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. Just listen to your heart.
Interviewer: Have you ever lived through a difficult time or a period that might have been labeled a failure and how did you pull yourself through that?
Bill: I think it’s an individual. I think people – all people react differently to adversity. I don’t want to play, you know, armchair psychologist here, but I just think if you believe in yourself and you have – basically you believe in what you’re doing and, you know, good times, bad times, you know, we’ve all had our share. I mean you think that it’s – that things are as bad as they could ever be and they’re not. Never think that things are as bad as they can be ’cause they can always get worse, but the truth is is that they’re gonna get better and so if you get fired – I’ve been fired from jobs before. I’ve been fired for a lot of reasons.
You know, it’s just – I’m in marketing and when things are good, you know, marketing gets no credit. When things are bad, marketing gets all the blame and, you know, being in marketing, it’s a tumultuous field and so I’ve lost positions and you feel like you are worthless and you have nothing to offer the world and then you just have to keep doing what you’re doing. You have to believe in what you’re doing and just say, “I do have something to offer and I can contribute.” Just – it comes back to don’t let anyone else tell you what you’re good at and what you’re bad at and what you can contribute. There’s one person in the world that can do that and that’s you.
Interviewer: So a lotta that advice applies to having financial problems, too. Your creditors are yelling at you. Your collectors are yelling at you, whatever, and you’re feeling hopeless. Do you just try to find that positive face and move on or – ’cause a lotta people are just scared out of their gourd.
Bill: Yeah. I mean it’s that fear of the unknown, like what’s gonna happen tomorrow and the sun always comes up, you know. It – things always move for – my mother used to say that all the time, you know. No matter what you do, you know – I wanted to go back and get my master’s degree, which I eventually did – I went back and got it in teaching. I’m no longer a teacher but, you know, I remember my mother said – she’s like, “Well, you – whether you go back to school or you don’t go back to school, those years are gonna come and go anyway.” So, you know, don’t revolve around what-ifs and who – you know, maybes.
You know, you just – yeah, okay, so maybe you have too much debt. Maybe the creditors are knocking down your door, but there’s always a way out, whether it’s, you know, by declaring bankruptcy or consolidating or, you know, just again living within your means or living even within within your means. You know, there’s always a way to figure it out, and it’s not the end of the world because these days are gonna come and they’re gonna go and then there’s gonna be good times ahead and rest assured, there’s gonna be bad times ahead.
So just, you know, always – you have to take – it’s – you have to take a very – just I think just take a thoughtful approach to everything and just don’t – you can’t over – you just can’t exaggerate issues and you can’t get – listen – one thing you – and again, I know I’m rambling here. Don’t get wrapped up in what people are saying on television because if you do, it’s gonna be a lot of rhetoric and hyperbole and a lot of exaggeration and it’s gonna make you feel really bad because it’s a lot of scare tactics out there and –
Interviewer: Have you ever relocated for a job?
Bill: Well, for this particular job. I live in Albany and I work up here in Lake Placid, so I’ve half relocated, so I travel for my job.
Interviewer: And would you ever consider moving across country to try to find a better opportunity or do you have your limits, that Albany –?
Bill: I have my limits. I have family. I’m a homebody. I’m an East Coast guy, so I wouldn’t – my brother lives in Atlanta. My other brother lives in Jersey. You know, we’ve got pioneers in the family. I’m not one of them.
Interviewer: Now one of the things that I hear are people who are just in terrible financial straits and they need to go bankrupt, but they’re concerned about this stigma of being labeled a loser or a failure or something else.
Interviewer: Do you have any advice for people in that situation?
Bill: Again, I don’t think you can worry about what people think about you. You need to worry about you and your family and you need to do what’s right by you. If that’s declare bankruptcy, it’s not the end of the world. I mean if you have to do it, you have to do it. You do it; you move on. And it’ll be tough and you may have to, you know, take some – you know, some looks from people and, you know, maybe certain – some of your friends won’t be your friends after that. Maybe they weren’t your friends in the first place, but you need to do what’s right by you and your family and that’s the only advice I would give anybody.
Interviewer: From your marketing days, do you know somebody who had a flashy appearance to the outside and it was all built on sand?
Interviewer: And then they lost it?
Bill: That’s the essence of marketing. No, I – sure, sure. We all know – I think we all know people like that and, you know, I definitely am not – I would never judge. I mean there are – people come in many shapes and sizes and some people are ostentatious and they’re boisterous and when you really drill down and you find out there’s not a lot of substance there and some people are quiet and thoughtful and there’s a lotta substance there and so, you know, the world needs loud people and quiet people. It needs all types and so who am I to judge?
Interviewer: And finally, I think the news is kind of turning. We’re seeing little green shoots of there’s hope coming or whatever, but a lotta people are feeling very bad. How are you feeling about the economy?
Bill: Well, I’ve got a house, got a car. I’m – I don’t have a lotta debt beyond, you know, just paying, you know, for my home and my cars. You know, we’ve paid off all of our student loans. I mean we’re a single-income household. My wife stays at home with the boys and we’re able to make it by. We’re frugal. I mean we really live well, well within our means and we don’t really go out and do much of anything, so personally, the economy hasn’t affected me either way.
I mean it was tough when I was looking for a job, you know, but was able to find this I think before the economy took a turn, but for us, it’s – you know, we’ve always sort of – we’ve always just sorta been very, you know, not – we’re not really spendthrifts. We’re really not, so it hasn’t affected us. I know people would be – are like shaking their fist saying, “Oh, who’s this guy to think he’s better than the economy?” But the truth is it’s – you know, it hasn’t really bothered us.
Interviewer: Do you have an emergency fund? I mean have you focused on saving at all?
Bill: We unfortunately a couple of years ago went through a period where I was out of work and we had to tap into my 401k and we’re building it back up at this point, so I know of some people who’ve had to do that and we are part of that group. But, you know, we don’t have that. We don’t have that fund.
Interviewer: Any final words of wisdom?
Bill: I don’t think that I am a person to give wise advice. No. No, I – I would say that, you know – that if you have not – you know, to go back to where we started that, you know, the summer’s almost gone. You know, even if you can get away for a day, I would say it’s good to break away from your routine and to just detach and unplug and to – I think it helps you gain some clarity on where you are and where you’re going. I think vacations are critical for the psyche.
Interviewer: So even in a downtime you deserve to reward yourself a little bit at least.
Bill: I think everybody deserves a reward. I do.
Interviewer: Okay, speaking of rewards, what would your reward be for this summer? What would you really like to do?
Bill: I’d like to unplug for a day. I do – part of my position and what we do is I’m also – I’m the director of marketing but also the director of social media and so a lot of what I do requires me to be online at least once a day for something. So my wife and I have talked and we’re gonna take a vacation after Labor Day ’cause at that point there’s a few periods where I can technically unplug. That would be my reward.
Interviewer: To power off all your devices.
Bill: I just turn them all off.
Interviewer: All right. Well, thank you very much.
Bill: No, it was my pleasure. Thank you.