In late 2019, Cycas Hospitality Group, the Dutch hotel management company that works with Marriott, Hyatt, and IHG, named Peter Habelitz its new CFO.
In the time since his hiring, Habelitz has focused on integrating digital technology into the finance function, building a robust finance and IT team, and, more recently, attempting to shepherd a hospitality company through an unprecedented health crisis.
"My first months at Cycas have been eventful, to say the least," Habelitz told CFO Dive Monday. "While the focus has shifted away from my initial priorities of facilitating Cycas' European expansion plans and further developing the finance function, I've dove deep into our P&Ls and contracts to better understand and manage our cost base and financial commitments. So while my focus may have moved slightly, it has ensured we'll be in the strongest position when the current restrictions ease."
At the same time, Habelitz said, he has ensured his team is strongly positioned for when the "trading situation" progresses to the next stage.
As finance head of a hospitality group with properties across the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany, Habelitz is cautiously charting a path forward while prioritizing the health and wellbeing of staff and guests.
"With very little information about what the next three to six months will bring, we have to take it day by day," he said. "Not only has our focus on extended-stay concepts allowed us to keep most of our hotels open, but we're actually operating from a break-even position, at least from an operational profit perspective."
Habelitz said the extended-stay sector of hotels has proved to be more crisis-resistant. "Having hotels open in certain markets means we experience the trends firsthand, and can react flexibly on changes in the markets," he said. "That said, we continue to update forecasts on a weekly basis, and monitor our results and cash flow very closely."
'Scenario planning is key'
Another fraught responsibility: scenario planning, which many CFOs have struggled to execute without any visibility into the end of the year.
"Scenario planning is key in times like these," Habelitz said. "This situation highlights the value of robust business intelligence and financial planning tools, an area in which we will certainly invest even more going forward."
Habelitz and his team have been working closely with Cycas' commercial and operations teams to use the available internal and external data at their disposal to create scenarios ranging from an extended lock-down, or very slow recovery, to a v-shape recovery.
"We usually run with three scenarios and prepare our 'what-if' actions accordingly, so they can be initiated as soon as we see a scenario happening," he explained. "Ultimately, it's much more hard work on a much more frequent basis than our team would otherwise have done, but it's proven essential to our business continuity."
Due to the nature of the pandemic as a health crisis, consumers have come to demand that hotels provide extra cleaning services, without consideration to the behind-the-scenes budget adjustments often needed to make them happen.
Safe and secure
"Throughout the pandemic, our first priority has been to do everything possible to make our guests and staff feel safe and secure in our hotels," Habelitz said. "At this point in time, no one knows when hotels will get back to a 'normal' level of occupancy, nor can we know how the 'new normal' will look."
As he looks towards balancing costs to ensure cleanliness, Habelitz's bottom line is that Cycas would be worse off having no guests in its hotel than it would be overly fixating on losing a percentage point in margin because of higher cleaning costs.
"Cycas is in a very good position to come out of this crisis strong," he said. "We have backing from our shareholders, we continue to acquire new business and we have a team doing a fantastic job during these unprecedented times."
With Cycas' understanding of the market situation and differing government requirements across its portfolio, it can move towards a forward-planning stage, Habelitz said, with a particular focus on widespread adaptation and improvement.
"Personally, I will continue focusing on helping grow the company internally, in the financial analysis, business intelligence and automation sects, and externally, in terms of new business," Habelitz said. "Ultimately, Cycas' [goal] continues to be building a best-in-class finance, technology and business intelligence capability that delivers even greater value for our hotels and owners, and my job is helping Cycas achieve that."