LOOKING BACK WITH RANDY SMITH

Randy Smith never thought the company he and his wife launched would not only become a booming business but also influence lodging, the industry Smith Travel Research monitors so well. When Randy and Carolyn Smith started what would become STR in 1985, their goal was modest: to compile a database listing every name, address and telephone number of every lodging establishment in the U.S.

In the first few years, the Smiths sold a few databases to vendors, their target. In 1987, they took a great leap forward and shifted direction when the American Hotel & Motel Association (now the American Hotel & Lodging Association) gave the fledgling company its blessing. Now STR tracks about 30,000 properties and has figures for every major chain in the industry including Super 8, which came on board only late last year.

Through its monthly Smith Travel Accommodations Report (STAR) report, all chain-affiliated properties receive an assessment of performance benchmarked against a self-selected competitive set to establish operational strategies. In the past two years, Smith Travel Research has entered into relationships with the Cornell Hotel School and Deloitte that is expanding its scope beyond the U.S. lodging market.

“It's been amazing,” Smith says from STR headquarters in Hendersonville, TN. “We never envisioned that STR would be where it is today in terms of coverage of the industry, its impact on the industry, the overall position in which we find ourselves.”

The Smiths began by collecting directories from hotels in the Lancaster, PA area where they were living at the time. They keyed in that information and hotel listings from state associations and state and city governments to create a database for random sampling and as the basis of a newsletter.

One big leg up came when Holiday Inn told Smith it wanted market share reports. In early 1987, he launched the STAR Report, based on data on about 10,000 hotels.

“We see the different brands from the inside out,” Smith says. “It's amazing how we're all part of one industry, yet they really are very different. It is a unique, symbiotic relationship between the brands and us. We cannot do what we do without their cooperation and they cannot develop and grow without the kind of information we have.”

What's the biggest change he's seen in the industry? The rise of public companies. “When times are good, they are very good,” he says. “When times are bad, they can be very bad. When your earnings are down, Wall Street is merciless.

“I think the industry has finally learned how to deal with the public markets and we've finally figured out how to control supply side,” he says. “We will overbuild again at some point, but I don't think there will be this massive overbuilding, this lemming-like rush.

“You've got to be optimistic to be in this business.”

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