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Decoding Hotel Expenses: Understanding costs through the Guest Journey

16 January 2024
A deep understanding of cost categories and their alignment with the guest journey is not just insightful – it's critical. This blog post delves into why recognizing and managing these costs is paramount. It explains how each cost category can significantly enhance a hotel's operational efficiency when strategically allocated to different stages of the guest journey.
I aim to bridge the gap between accounting theory and practical hotel management, showing how informed cost allocation can lead to better financial performance and a superior guest experience. Let's start by looking into the three cost categories: Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and Operating Expenses.

Introduction to Key Cost Categories in the Hotel Industry

Understanding the Different Cost Categories

Effective financial management hinges on understanding various cost categories in the hotel industry. Three primary cost categories are pivotal to the financial health of a hotel: Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and Operating Expenses. Each of these plays a unique role in the overall financial structure:
  1. Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC):
    • Definition: The total cost of acquiring a new customer, encompassing marketing, promotions, and advertising efforts.
    • Importance: CAC is crucial for evaluating marketing efficiency and the investment needed per guest.
    • Size of the Cost: Typically ranges between 15-25% of revenue, highlighting its significant impact on profitability.
  2. Cost of Goods Sold (COGS):
    • Definition: The direct costs attributable to producing goods or services the hotel sells, like producing the hotel room, food supplies for breakfast, and F&B.
    • Importance: Essential for pricing strategies and understanding direct service costs.
    • Size of the Cost: Generally accounts for 10-15% of revenue, indicating the direct cost of service provision. COGS for hotel services are generally lower than for F&B, so 10-15 % is an estimated average for a hotel with some F&B operations.
  3. Operating Expenses:
    • Definition: All costs required to run the hotel, excluding COGS, such as staff salaries, utilities, and maintenance.
    • Importance: These are crucial for day-to-day operations and can significantly impact the hotel's net income.
    • Size of the Cost: Typically makes up 20-30% of revenue, representing a major portion of ongoing expenses.
Why It Matters:
Understanding these cost categories goes beyond mere accounting; it's a strategic necessity for hoteliers. Knowing the size and role of CAC, COGS, and Operating Expenses enables hotel managers to make informed decisions about resource allocation, pricing strategies, and service offerings.
This knowledge allows for optimized operations and enhanced guest experiences and paves the way for improved financial performance and sustainability in the competitive hospitality sector.

Challenges and Strategies in Managing Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

Understanding CAC in Hotel Management

While hoteliers traditionally categorize Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) as an operating expense, it's increasingly recognized as a distinct and significant factor impacting profitability. Unlike other operating costs, CAC is often perceived as a somewhat uncontrollable expense. However, with the right strategies and insights, managing and optimizing CAC can substantially improve a hotel's financial performance.

The Misconception of Unmanageability

Many hoteliers view CAC as a necessary but unmanageable cost, often attributing its variability to external market forces and the inherent unpredictability of marketing outcomes. This viewpoint can lead to missed opportunities in effectively controlling and optimizing these costs.

Measuring and Managing CAC

  1. Importance of Measurement
    • Understanding the exact figures and drivers of CAC is crucial. This involves analyzing all marketing and sales expenses, including digital and traditional advertising, promotions, and commission costs.
    • Regularly measuring CAC helps identify trends, inefficiencies, and opportunities for optimization.
  2. Strategies for Management
    • Data-Driven Decisions: Utilize data analytics to understand which marketing channels and strategies yield the best ROI. Investing more in high-performing channels can lower overall CAC.
    • Customer Retention Focus: Shifting some focus from acquisition to retention can significantly reduce CAC. Satisfied customers are more likely to return, reducing the need for constant acquisition spending.
    • Optimizing Digital Presence: Enhancing the hotel's online presence (SEO, social media engagement) can attract organic traffic, reducing dependency on paid advertising.
    • Collaborations and Partnerships: Forming strategic partnerships can spread out marketing costs and expand customer reach cost-effectively.

Impact on Net Revenue

Achieving an optimal level of Net Revenue — revenue after deducting CAC — requires a delicate balance. Efficiently managing CAC can substantially increase Net Revenue, as a lower CAC directly contributes to higher profitability. This underscores the importance of not just attracting guests but doing so in the most cost-effective manner.


Rethinking CAC as a manageable and optimizable component, rather than a fixed expense, is key to enhancing a hotel's financial health. Hoteliers can significantly improve their Net Revenue and overall profitability by measuring, understanding, and strategically managing CAC, ensuring long-term success in a competitive industry.

Allocating costs to the guest journey stages

Having delved into the intricacies of managing CAC and its profound impact on Net Revenue, exploring how this insight translates into practical application across the guest journey is critical. Understanding and optimizing CAC is just one piece of the puzzle. The next crucial step is to effectively distribute not only CAC but also COGS and Operating Expenses across the various stages of the guest journey. This allocation ensures that each cost category is strategically used to enhance guest experiences and maximize financial outcomes at every touchpoint. By doing so, hoteliers can create a seamless synergy between cost management and guest satisfaction, ultimately leading to a more successful and profitable hotel operation.
In the following section, we'll embark on a detailed exploration of how these three fundamental cost categories – CAC, COGS, and Operating Expenses – can be intelligently and efficiently allocated throughout the seven steps of the guest journey, from the initial inspiration to the final stage of fostering loyalty and encouraging repeat visits.
To effectively allocate the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and Operating Expenses over the seven steps of the guest journey, it's important to understand the nature of each cost category and how they relate to different stages of the guest journey in a hotel. Here's a breakdown:
  1. Inspiration:
    • CAC: High. This stage involves significant marketing and advertising expenses to inspire potential guests.
    • COGS: Low. Direct costs are minimal as no actual service is being provided yet.
    • Operating Expenses: Moderate. Branding and market research costs are involved.
  2. Research:
    • CAC: High. Continued marketing efforts and the cost of maintaining an informative and appealing online presence.
    • COGS: Low. Similar to the Inspiration stage, direct costs are still minimal.
    • Operating Expenses: Moderate. Costs for maintaining digital platforms (website, social media) are incurred.
  3. Shop and Book:
    • CAC: High. Costs associated with booking platforms, commissions, and final marketing pushes.
    • COGS: Low to Moderate. Initiation of some services like reservation handling.
    • Operating Expenses: Moderate. Includes technology costs for booking systems and customer service.
  4. Prepare:
    • CAC: Low. The customer has already been acquired.
    • COGS: Moderate. Preparation for the guest's arrival includes inventory stocking and staff scheduling.
    • Operating Expenses: Moderate. Administrative and preparatory tasks.
  5. In-House Experience:
    • CAC: Low. The focus shifts to service delivery rather than acquisition.
    • COGS: High. Most goods and services are consumed during this phase (room amenities, food, utilities).
    • Operating Expenses: High. All operational aspects of the hotel are in full swing (staff wages, maintenance).
  6. Share and Review:
    • CAC: Moderate to High. Efforts to encourage reviews and social sharing.
    • COGS: Low. Post-stay engagement incurs minimal direct costs.
    • Operating Expenses: Moderate. Costs for managing online presence and customer relations.
  7. Remember and Return:
    • CAC: Moderate. Marketing efforts aimed at repeat bookings.
    • COGS: Low. Minimal direct costs unless specific loyalty programs or incentives are offered.
    • Operating Expenses: Moderate. Costs for loyalty programs, customer relationship management, and marketing for repeat stays.
In summary, allocating CAC, COGS, and Operating Expenses across the guest journey should reflect the nature of activities and services at each stage. While CAC is predominant in the initial stages, focusing on attracting and acquiring guests, COGS becomes significant during the actual stay when most services are rendered. Operating expenses are consistently present throughout, varying in intensity based on the nature of activities at each stage. This nuanced allocation allows for a more accurate and insightful understanding of the financial dynamics of the hotel's operations relative to the guest journey.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways: Strategic Cost Management

As we conclude our exploration of hotel cost management through the lens of the guest journey, several key takeaways emerge that are crucial for hoteliers aiming to achieve financial success while delivering an exceptional guest experience:
  1. Holistic Understanding of Costs
    Recognizing the distinct roles and impacts of Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC), Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), and Operating Expenses is fundamental. Each category demands its unique management strategy and distinctly impacts the hotel's financial health.
  2. Strategic Allocation of Costs Across the Guest Journey:
    Allocating costs thoughtfully across the seven stages of the guest journey is vital. This approach ensures that expenditures in marketing, service delivery, and operations are not just expenses but investments in enhancing the guest experience and operational efficiency.
  3. Effective CAC Management:
    Managing CAC is not about reducing it to the bare minimum but optimizing it for maximum return. Strategies like focusing on digital presence, customer retention, and data-driven marketing decisions can significantly improve Net Revenue.
  4. Importance of Continuous Monitoring and Adaptation:
    The hospitality industry is ever-evolving. Monitoring directly correlated cost performance and adapting strategies accordingly is key to staying competitive and profitable.
  5. Synergy Between Financial Performance and Guest Satisfaction:
    Ultimately, the effective management and allocation of costs directly correlate with guest satisfaction. When guests enjoy a high-quality experience, it fosters loyalty and enhances the hotel's reputation and financial success.

Closing Thoughts

"Decoding Hotel Expenses: An Accountant's View of the Guest Journey" underscores the importance of viewing hotel expenses not as mere numbers but as strategic tools that, when managed wisely, can elevate both the guest experience and the hotel’s profitability. By embracing these insights and integrating them into their financial planning, hoteliers can navigate the complexities of the hospitality industry with confidence and clarity, paving the way for sustained success.