During her many years in hotel sales, Cindy Novotny has seen the industry from every angle, but it was in South Korea that she witnessed what might be the best example ever of hospitality in action. It was spring of 1989. She had just launched Master Connection Associates (MCA), her customer service, sales, and leadership development firm, and was conducting training at the Westin Chosun Seoul. During her time there, university students took to the streets as part of an annual commemoration of 1980’s Gwangju Uprising. “This one was so big,” Novotny recently told HSMAI, “they had tear gas.”
Novotny and a colleague were staying farther south and took the train up to Seoul, where a driver picked up them up at the train station. Because of the protests, he had to drop them off a few miles from the Westin. “We had to leave all our bags in the car, because he couldn’t get to the hotel,” Novotny said. “He said, ‘I’ll get it to you. I’ll get it to you either tomorrow or the next day.’ We figured we’d never see these bags again, and literally 48 hours later, the bellman knocked on our doors and there was our luggage. Totally intact, nothing stolen. And that’s the life. This is hospitality.”
And what a life — and career — it’s been. Recently, Novotny, who is MCA’s managing partner, was honored with the HSMAI Americas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sales, presented during HSMAI’s Sales Leader Forum on Nov. 5–6. “I feel very honored,” Novotny said, “and I’m very proud that I got it.” You can learn more about her professional journey and her thoughts on hospitality sales from an interview we did with her a few months ago. From our latest conversation, we learned these five things:
1. She thinks of hospitality as a calling. “I do think that you choose to be in the hospitality industry because you love it. You like serving people, you love being involved, and you have no issue working weekends and holidays, because that’s what hospitality’s about. We’re the ones that are doing the events and parties on the weekends and serving on Thanksgiving when other people are home. And to love that, you’ve got to be present, you’ve got to increase your visibility, you’ve got to be out there meeting and greeting people in the lobby of your hotel. I don’t think anything has changed — the warmth and genuine love for hospitality is very important.”
2. She believes in mentoring. “I had phenomenal mentors. I had people that showed me how to do it. They showed me how to work a trade show. They showed me how to network. They showed me how to go to a cocktail party. You know, when you start out and you’re in your 20s, you’re drinking beer and wine when your customers are having a martini and you’ve never had that in your life. It’s not about teaching somebody how to drink, but if you don’t drink, it’s knowing how to make the customer feel good by you going up to the bar and getting a soda water with lime. It’s all these little elements of finesse. The etiquette and the art of being in sales today is you have to learn how to do some of this. And I think we have lost some of that.”
3. She runs her own venues. “I own a restaurant in Southern California and I have a 200-acre farm in Iowa where I do weddings and events. I don’t have hotel space, rooms, but I have event space and I do a lot of that. So, I don’t miss being on site, working in a hotel every day, because I am doing it in my own business, too. And also, in my career as a trainer, I actually am at a hotel every day. I’m answering inquiries, I’m working a reservation, I’m showing people how to do it, I’m talking to live customers every day. Right now, I’m at Pebble Beach and I’m wearing a Pebble Beach nametag. I’m walking through the hallways and people are asking me questions and I’m helping them out, and I love that.
4. She sees how customers have changed. “They’re very knowledgeable. They have everything at their fingertips. The client knows as much about your hotel or your destination or your venue as you do. They have access to every one of your competitors. So, the only difference today is, you have to be much faster. You have to be more knowledgeable. You have to sell stronger against the competition, because they’re not ever just looking at you. You’ve got to be more savvy with business acumen. You’re now involved in the owner meetings and with real-estate investment firms that own some of these hotels. You have to be able to put a report together and present on your market, which didn’t used to happen. The only person that ever presented was the director of sales and marketing and the GM. You’ve got to be a lot more tuned into the business side of it, the revenue side of it, the ROI side of it.
5. She’s done it all. “When you take a look at what I’ve done and where I’ve been, I have been able to fly all over the world. I’ve been to countries that are phenomenal, and I’ve been in situations where a coup is taking over in Venezuela and we’re down there training. One time I was in South Korea in the middle of what they call the Spring Uprising, where the students were rioting. I’ve been with sheikhs, wearing an abaya in the middle of Saudi Arabia. And I never would have been able to do things like that if I wasn’t in hospitality sales, because I wouldn’t have been able to see the world like I saw it.
“When I was first with Westin, we’d go to these huge incentive shows, and one year they dressed us up as elves — in front of all these clients. One year I worked in Chicago, and my boss put me in a gorilla costume and I roller-skated up and down Michigan Avenue saying, ‘It’s a jungle out there! Welcome to paradise!’ I’ve done it all. And I have had bosses that are phenomenal and I have worked for some of the biggest jerks in the world, and yet I have nothing that I can go back and go, wow, that was terrible. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.”