By HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leaders Council Industry Evolution Workgroup
- Maxwell Smith, Worldwide Sales Manager, Sports Market, BWH Hotel Group
- Estefania Arevalo, Global Business Development Manager, Accor
- Mackenzie Bennett, Account Manager, GitGo Group
- Lauren Morris, Senior Sales Manager, Kessler Collection
In 2022, a diverse task force of HSMAI Rising Sales Leader Council members aligned to explore our industry’s most recent evolution. Amidst a major turning point for domestic and international travel rebounding from COVID-19, we aimed to find consistencies, gain understanding, and share real-world experience in the evolution of the sales process. Our focus was two-pronged: to research current trends in hospitality sales and customer needs. This is not meant to summarize the early stages of the pandemic that included worldwide lockdowns and closed businesses, but rather examine the recovery within the new landscape. Since each participant holds a different sales position within the hospitality industry, we were able to experience different perspectives and compile a variety of things we’ve noticed shift as a result of the global pandemic.
Over the course of the pandemic and well into our recovery, many hotels were forced to shut down, remain temporarily closed, or operate with extremely limited capacity due to government restrictions and decreased demand. As a result, hotel sales teams had to quickly adapt with more lean processes and creative new strategies to attract guests, improve their experience, and generate revenue for their property. Many of these strategies have remained in place even after the fact, as they have proven to be helpful, resourceful, and a seemingly natural transition for our industry in their own respects.
- Virtual sales meetings: With travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines in place, in-person sales meetings have become less common. Instead, hotel sales teams have shifted to virtual sales meetings, using video conferencing tools to connect with clients and showcase their properties remotely.
- Increased focus on digital marketing: With people spending more time online, sales teams have shifted their focus to digital marketing channels and tools. This includes increased spending on search engine marketing, social media advertising, and email marketing to reach potential guests. Hotel websites have also become more vital, with many hotels revamping their sites to include more detailed information on their meeting/event space, safety protocols, cancelation policies, and other pandemic-related updates.
- Flexible cancelation policies: With fear of travel plans being disrupted by the pandemic, hotel/hospitality sales teams have introduced more flexible cancelation policies. This includes waiving cancelation fees, offering refunds, and allowing guests to rebook at a later date without penalty. This has helped to build trust and confidence with potential guests, who otherwise may be hesitant to book travel in uncertain times.
- Emphasis on safety and cleanliness: Due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, many hotels have implemented new safety and cleaning protocols. Hospitality sales teams have emphasized these measures in their marketing and sales efforts to reassure guests that their properties are safe to stay in. This includes highlighting new cleaning procedures, social distancing measures, and mask mandates.
- Contactless check-in and check-out: To minimize physical contact between guests and staff, many hotels have implemented contactless check-in and check-out processes. This involves using mobile apps, keyless room entry, and self-service kiosks, which allow guests to bypass the front desk entirely.
These changes are likely to become commonplace even after the pandemic ends, as the industry naturally conforms to new consumer behaviors and preferences. On the other hand, there continues to be lingering effects from the damage the pandemic has done to the workforce. Some of the most difficult issues still facing the hospitality industry today are related to staffing shortages and employee retention. These challenges affecting the labor market have forced everyone to rethink their daily processes and organizational structure. When comparing different approaches to these challenges, we saw some common themes.
- Cross-training staff: With a smaller workforce, hotel sales teams are often required to wear multiple hats. Sales teams may be trained to handle customer service inquiries, marketing tasks, or other functions outside of their traditional roles. This allows the hotel to maximize the value of each employee and maintain the level of service guests expect.
- Offering incentives: To attract and retain employees, some hotels have begun offering incentives such as sign-on bonuses, referral bonuses, and flexible schedules. By offering incentives, hotels can differentiate themselves from their competitors and attract employees who may be considering other job opportunities.
- Automating sales processes: With limited staff, hotels may also choose to automate certain sales processes, such as lead generation, customer relationship management, and reporting. This allows sales teams to focus on high-value tasks, such as building relationships with clients and closing deals.
- Outsourcing sales efforts: Some hotels have chosen to outsource certain sales functions to third-party providers. This can be especially useful for smaller hotels or hotels with limited staff, as it allows them to focus on their core business while still maintaining a strong sales presence.
- Streamlining operations: In addition to changes in sales efforts, hotels are also evolving their operations to maximize efficiency and minimize staffing needs. This includes automating check-in and check-out processes, reducing the number of staff required for housekeeping and maintenance, and increasing the use of technology in all aspects of the hotel’s operations.
Taking these measures is a great place to start if you’re having difficulty figuring out how to best adapt your hotel or business to this new norm. With limited resources, it can be challenging to continue meeting the expectations of your customers, which have also evolved over the last couple years. Many clients now have key needs, and on the flip side deal-breakers, that are much more important now than they ever were in the past.
- Safety and cleanliness: Group travelers are now more concerned about the safety and cleanliness of their accommodations and activities than ever before. They want to know that the hotels, venues, and activities they choose are following strict health and safety protocols to minimize risk.
- Flexibility: Customers are also seeking more flexible booking and cancelation policies due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. They want to be able to change their plans easily if travel restrictions are put back in place or if someone in their group tests positive for COVID-19.
- Private spaces: Group travelers are increasingly looking for private spaces where they can gather safely and maintain social distancing. This includes private dining rooms, event spaces, outdoor gathering areas, and meeting rooms that can be reserved exclusively for their group. Offering fun outdoor activities, tours, and excursions on-site can also be a great way for a hotel to set itself apart from the competition.
- Local experiences: People are interested in more authentic, local experiences that allow them to connect with the local culture and community. This includes farm-to-table dining experiences, visits to local markets, and guided tours that highlight the history and culture of the destination.
- Technology: With remote work and virtual events becoming more common, guests are looking for accommodations and activities that offer the latest technology to support their needs. This includes high-speed Wi-Fi, video conferencing equipment, and virtual event platforms.
Since travelers are seeking more personalized and unique experiences that prioritize health and safety, these trends are also expected to stick around after the pandemic. Lastly, we’ve seen some other interesting consistencies among our peers:
- Trusted partnerships and quality relationships matter now more than ever before, as companies and hotels that graciously navigated the pandemic now have partners that remember that favorable treatment and want to continue doing business with them since trust was built during a highly stressful time.
- With a greater interest in unique experiences and design, soft brands are becoming increasingly more popular among guests and groups, which also affects property development strategy.
- There is still an overwhelming pent-up desire to travel, but now mixed with the pitfalls of high inflation. Therefore, guests are particularly careful with their money and deliberate with how they choose to spend it.
The global pandemic may have forced a hard reset upon travel and all its sectors, but our sales professionals have emerged more capable, more experienced, and more prepared than ever. Additionally, the companies they work for have adapted to become more effective with streamlined processes. In our rapidly changing travel industry, there is constant evolution. With new inventive sustainability efforts and further technological advancements such as artificial intelligence on the rise, it’s only a matter of time until we start seeing those effects that will inspire further progression.