The Importance of the Sales Hunter in Today’s Environment

By Bob Anderson, President, Star Performance Inc., and member of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board

There are two main types of salespeople: farmers who focus on long-term relationships, and hunters who go out and find customers with whom to build those relationships. Right now, hunters are desperately needed, according to HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board (SAB), who on a recent call discussed what makes a good hunter and why this type of salesperson is so valuable right now.

WHAT DEFINES A HUNTER

Fearlessness. Aggressiveness. Creativity. Self-motivation. Curiosity. These are just a few of the traits that SAB members said set hunters apart from other salespeople. But overall, what makes a hunter a hunter is not something that can be taught. “It’s just the way their minds work,” one SAB member said. “The people I have on my team that are hunters were just innately hunters and went that route on their own. Being able to hunt is a skill that can’t be taught. They either have it or they don’t.”

“Hunters see the whole picture,” another SAB member said. “They’re not just in it to make the sale. They’re developing and working on building those relationships. It’s almost like a lifestyle. They’re constantly touching base and constantly working.”

Farmers, on the other hand, are good at sales training and keeping long-term business intact. Both positions are valuable but require different skill sets. “The hunter is not the person that’s going to be able to then actually make the phone call and be the warm and fuzzy conversation,” one SAB member said. “They’re the person that’s going to be able to do the entirety of the due diligence. They bridge between the sales and the revenue side of things, and are able to dive into analytics and follow what those trends are saying.

“The hunter is actually not the one that’s going to complete the action,” the SAB member said. “They’re going to then serve it up to our sales professionals that are more of the farmers, who farm the opportunity and see it bear fruit from their efforts. Then the hunter moves on to what they can then serve up to the next person.”

A HUNTER’S CAREER 

“You don’t develop a hunter,” one SAB member said. “That’s how they get out of bed in the morning. It’s more about identifying who the hunters are and then just figuring out if you can structure and manage up enough freedom for that position to do what it needs to do.”

SAB members agreed that hunters have to work in the right position in order to be successful. The most successful path for them doesn’t necessarily head into leadership, one SAB member said. “We sometimes make those hunters directors of sales and they fail,” the member said. “A lot of times, we do a disservice to them and put them in a role that they’re just not meant to be in.” Another member added: “They don’t want to lead, they just want to sell.”

Often hunters turn into farmers if there isn’t a clear process spelled out once they bring in new accounts. “We wind up with some great hunters who wind up getting buried within the accounts that they’ve hunted and they then end up becoming farmers,” an SAB member said. “Because we haven’t thought out the process on what do we do after they find accounts.”

While hunters are typically the salespeople who go out and find business, farmers actually make the sale down the road, once a relationship between the two entities has been established. “I think a really critical piece is figuring out where the handoff is,” one SAB member said. “The misperception is that we’re going to prospect and find business, and they’re going to have a need right away, but it’s a lot different than that. There can be a seven-month span between when you start engaging with the customer and when they book. What point in the buyer-behavior process do you move that business to a different seller? It’s a critical piece to identify.”

HUNTERS IN THE CURRENT ENVIRONMENT

Hunters are more valuable than ever, because new business is so desperately needed as the industry continues to struggle through the pandemic. However, many owners don’t have the cash or the foresight to work on long-term strategy right now, which leads to hunters being cut if they aren’t the ones directly booking business.

“You’ve got the obstacle of getting ownership to understand that, yes, we’re paying this person a salary to go out and hunt this business, and no, this month they didn’t put room nights on the books,” one SAB member said. “But there’s still a value and we’ve got to show them that value.”

Hunters, like the rest of the industry, have to adapt to a virtual environment, one SAB member said. “It’s almost starting a new career,” the member said. “You’re starting almost from scratch, because you’ve got to create some new methods, making everything virtual.”

“Right now, because things are so different, the hunter has to have that creativity,” another member said. “We have to go about business differently, so you have to think, ‘How am I going to get someone that’s not currently traveling? How do I change the landscape? How do I do it all virtually?’”

Another SAB member, who has seen his portfolio’s sales team slashed in half, said that he sees his hunters’ networking skills coming into play strongly right now. “If they get a piece of business, they’re asking, ‘Where else are you going?’” the member said. “Then they’re alerting everybody to the account. They’ve been very successful in that. They’ve also been very successful in tapping into their resources in the community, reaching out, wherever the business is coming. Whether it’s hospitals, retirement facilities, distribution centers, they’ve been just out there thinking and dissecting,”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Four Revenue Topics in the Forefront

By Jennifer Hill, Vice President of Development, Kalibri Labs, and member of HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board

As part of HSMAI Road to Recovery 2020, throughout the fall HSMAI will host Recovery Connections, a series of live webinars paired with small-group discussions, each focused on a different topic in sales, marketing, or revenue optimization. HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board (ROAB) discussed the program’s four revenue-focused topics on a recent call, with ROAB members offering their input. The topics are:

1. Consolidating RM Organizations: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The pandemic has led to many organizations streamlining their revenue teams to cut costs. “What I’m struggling with is figuring out how much a cluster of revenue managers handle for a number of hotels at a level of accuracy and deliverability that it would be sufficient to garner fees from it,” one ROAB member said. “I think I’ve gotten it wrong both ways where I’ve overloaded people and then ‘’ve also kind of underestimated some of our team members’ capacity to take on.”

Another ROAB member, whose organization already had a consolidated revenue team, said the pandemic has forced them to find the most effective ways to deliver their services to hotels that are now on a budget. “The struggle we’ve had has been trying to find the right fit for all the different scenarios,” the member said.

ROAB members also said they were interested in diving deeper into the role of leadership in a consolidated model. “It’s been a long dialogue about the role of the director of revenue management as being a more significant commercial leader,” one ROAB member said. “Is this consolidated effort at odds with that leadership role? Does it need to adjust its vision in that leadership role in the future with consolidation on the table or shared services?”

2. Recovery Mode Revenue Management: Never Let a Good Crisis Good to Waste

One thing that ROAB members mentioned as being a positive result of the pandemic is the increased interest in technology — in terms of both optimizing existing tech and investing in new tech. “It’s a quandary not having the investment for things,” one ROAB member said. “But we likely have unutilized functions in a lot of the technology we’re using now. Maybe that’s where the focus on technology should go.”

Another ROAB member said that they are taking advantage of dynamic pricing during the pandemic to try to make it stick. “I think there’s an opportunity here because of what’s happened really drive forward the dynamic-pricing model, not just on negotiated accounts, business travel, but even on the group side,” the member said. “I look at it as a chance to really make it more of the norm and not the exception. I think that’s going to help our industry and give more clarity to buyers.”

3. From Revenue Optimization to Profit Optimization: Build Your Business Acumen to Make Your Revenue Strategies and Tactics Optimize Profits

“We need to make sure that as recovery begins to happen, that we don’t lose sight of the value of different pieces of business and the profitability equation,” one ROAB member said.

ROAB members are planning in order to maximize their profits and adjust for different scenarios. “This is a disruption, not a recession,” one ROAB member said. “The difference that I see is that in a disruption, I’m doing things right now that I would never do, but when it gets fixed, I’m going to go back to doing what I used to do. This was different than when I was in a recession, where I had to create strategies that were short, long, and evolving. This is more of thinking about the strategy for today and waiting for the vaccine of tomorrow, so I can get back to business.”

Another ROAB member said that there are still too many unknown variables resulting from the economic recession and the public health crisis. “The conversation is around what do we do now, and in the next quarter, and long term,” another member said. “We want to show our value, so we start focusing on the things that are happening right now, But everybody’s refocusing their effort now in the same direction and paying attention to it. What are we going to miss on the periphery while we’re doing that?”

4. Setting Meaningful Goals When the World Is Wacky

One challenge that ROAB members mentioned is being held to a normal budgeting schedule. “In a lot of ways, we’re having to use budget to satisfy financial institutions,” one ROAB member said. “That is confusing to hotel teams and unfortunate, but we’re held to the version that would satisfy the needs of the financial institutions and in line with our hotel management agreement.”

Another ROAB member said that because there is so much uncertainty, his company is trying to pull in third-party data to use for forecasting and budgeting, but that comes with its own set of issues. “If it came to arbitration, we feel like we could stand behind the fact that we looked at a baseline case for our market and use that appropriately,” the member said. “The other key principle is that the hotel teams on the ground have been eviscerated, so we’re trying to streamline the process for them as much as possible and put out a reasonable guess. But using a set like that means knowing there is a lot of variability.”

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Pandemic Experiences: DoubleTree by Hilton Washington DC’s Armand Thelen

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

Even though the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Washington DC–Silver Spring in Silver Spring, Maryland, hasn’t reopened yet, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, Armand Thelen, BBA, CHDM, CHSE, has been working harder than ever since the start of the pandemic. He has taken on work supporting property maintenance, managing client engagement, and even doing administrative tasks in addition to his regular duties. Recently, he talked to HSMAI about that experience, including some of the positive developments that have come out of the situation.

What has your work environment looked like since the pandemic hit?

I am fortunate to have been working continuously since the onset of the pandemic, forming part of the commercial team at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Washington DC–Silver Spring. Hilton provides a flexible and safe work environment, so I choose to spend most days in my hotel-based private office, while working from home on occasion.

What has been the most challenging part of ramping back up?

At the moment, we’re working to determine our reopening date, and this requires a careful review of many factors. We are analyzing market data, keeping an eye on business trends, and staying close to customer feedback, among other considerations — all of which require time and focus. We are committed to fully restoring operations at our hotel and look forward to welcoming guests and team members back as soon as possible.

Have you implemented any new strategies that have been successful?

Speed to market and personal connections remain key winning sales strategies when it comes to managing RFPs and customer relations. As business trends show the transient/leisure market recovering first, we are adapting our strategies to ensure we capture this customer base effectively. Our hotel has implemented Hilton CleanStay — Hilton’s industry-defining standard of cleanliness and disinfection. Our elevated process and team member training have been developed with RB, maker of Lysol, to help our guests enjoy an even cleaner and safer stay from check-in to checkout. Also, value-added amenities such as free parking and complimentary Wi-Fi are a must in order to capture today’s traveler.

What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?

The most significant trend I am seeing is the change in how events are being considered and booked. Event clients are rightly interested in our cleaning protocols as well as booking flexibility. We are in a great position to address these requests with Hilton EventReady with CleanStay, our global cleanliness and client service program specific to meetings and events.

Have you seen anything positive come out of all of this?  

Absolutely! The sense of community and support within the hospitality industry and in the local market are bigger and stronger through this challenge that unites us all. As an organization, Hilton’s commercial leadership team has engaged with us regularly, ensuring we have the right support and are focused on the road to recovery. We are also sharing best practices and specific examples of unique success stories, and this creates hope for us all and encourages us to stay focused on the positive!

What do you miss most about the way things used to be?

I miss the opportunity to work with our team and support others to help them be successful. Being able to share ideas and experiences is how we all grow and become better each day.

Do you have any advice for someone who is just being brought back to work?

Know and understand things have changed while you were gone. Be ready to adapt and hit the ground running. Using one my favorite quotes I say: “What got you here today won’t get you there tomorrow.” This is particularly true in the current environment we are all facing.

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

What’s on the Minds of Hospitality HR Professionals in Asia Pacific

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

The HSMAI Foundation and HSMAI Asia Pacific hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable on Aug. 19 for hotel chief human resources officers in the Asia Pacific region to discuss current and potential future challenges they are facing in the new world of COVID-19. J. Bruce Tracey, Ph.D., editor of Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, professor of management at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and member of the HSMAI Foundation Board of Trustees, facilitated the discussion. HSMAI Americas hosted a similar roundtable June 14.

Here are key takeaways from HSMAI’s Asia Pacific CHRO Executive Roundtable:

GOVERNMENT HELP AND CONCERNS

Governments in every country around the world have handled the pandemic differently in terms of shutdowns, travel restrictions, and economic relief. Even throughout Asia-Pacific, Roundtable participants have had different experiences with state and international border closings, quarantine, and receiving aid from the government. While the majority of participants said that they have most of their hotels open, sustained border closings could hurt their business in the long term.

“If the border continues to be closed, the first half of next year is going to be very tough for us,” one participant said, “particularly in Singapore, where the government is paying us a low rate so that we are fully open. But if the border remains closed, the government support will go away.” The participant added: “Australia is our second-biggest concern. If the state borders are still not open, it’s going to impact us. We think that China will recover first, but Malaysia and Vietnam are going to be difficult.”

Another participant’s company has already been impacted by border restrictions, because 40 percent of the staff is made up of foreigners who cannot return to work.

In Australia and New Zealand, one participant said, the Jobkeeper Program and the Wage Subsidy, respectively, have been crucial to getting many people in their company through the pandemic so far, but even as they were grateful for the assistance, another participant said it has been challenging navigating the logistics of the two programs. “For a number of months, we were just responding to the daily changes of Jobkeeper, New Zealand Wage Subsidy, short-time work in Europe, and all of the changing rules coming out,” the participant said. “It was very dynamic and the pace was frenetic. Our focus became very compliance- and employment-law-oriented.”

INNOVATION AND THE FUTURE

While participants do not know what the future holds, they are confident that the industry will bounce back. “We will come out of it more agile than hotels were before,” one participant said. “We’re the ones that will absolutely collapse if we don’t get around it. So, I think we will come out a much better structured industry moving forward.”

The pandemic has brought about innovation and creativity in many areas, making companies stronger than before. “The one thing I’m really excited for, for our industry coming out of this, is it was so traditional before,” one participant said. “And this is giving us the opportunity to look at structures in our hotels and figure out if there are better ways of setting up departments to get better efficiency and productivity.

“And I think the views on working from home have changed for the better,” the participant said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what that looks like for us on the other side of this, because I don’t think it’s about work-life balance anymore, I think it’s more about that work-life integration.”

Another participant noted that his hotels have been producing monthly videos, compiling what everyone has been doing, which has inspired some employees who were made redundant to show their creative side. Employees were opening up cafeterias and catering businesses in hotel car parks, selling cakes and other local foods to current employees. “So much of that came from this video connection we were having,” the participant said, “because suddenly we discovered that the employees at hotels that suspended operations were going into their [the hotel’s] gardens and growing their vegetables and organic leaves.”

TAKING CARE OF EMPLOYEES

With everything that’s happening, our biggest priority is just the wellness of our team members,” one participant said. “We’re spending quite a lot of time, at the moment, working with different partners on resilience, mental health in particular, and different things that we can do for our team for wellbeing.”

Another participant added that a recent survey showed that hotel leaders in her organization said that their number-one concern is team morale and wellbeing. “We’re going to partner with an external organization to focus on resilience, and we’re then partnering with another wellness expert to really help our leaders develop their coaching skills,” the participant said, “so that they can have the strong quality conversations with their teams to not only build their own personal resilience but to enable the resilience of their team members.”

It’s not just team members who are still fully employed who are a concern. Several participants said they are making it a priority to engage with and take care of employees who have been furloughed or let go. “It’s about making sure we’re coming up with different ways of keeping in touch with people,” one participant said. “And at the moment, it’s about being there for our team members as much as we can, even if they’re not physically with us.”

“We’ve asked all of our hotel leaders to keep in touch equally with the teams that are working and the teams that aren’t working right now,” another participant said. “We built a website that enabled everyone to be able to access information, and we built a portal that had learning content, wellbeing content, financial information and support, alternative job opportunities for team members who might’ve been stood down.”

The mission of the HSMAI Foundation is to elevate the overall caliber and performance of sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals in the global hospitality industry by driving initiatives that will attract new talent, develop emerging talent, and engage existing talent.

The 2021 Outlook for Hospitality and Travel

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

As part of HSMAI Road to Recovery 2020, global economist Bernard Baumohl will present a live webinar on Sept. 29 that offers insight into factors impacting recovery in hospitality and tourism around the globe. Recently, Baumohl spoke with HSMAI about his presentation, including what goes into making his predictions.

FORECASTING FACTORS

“I think we have to clearly brace ourselves for the next couple of months,” Baumohl said. “Right now and for the next eight weeks, we are going to be dealing with the tragedy of coronavirus and a political circus that will lead up to the November elections. There’s this toxic combination for the consumer and for businesses, and it will continue to have a negative impact on the leisure and hospitality industry.”

Baumohl said that there are three main factors that will shape the U.S. economy at least through 2022: the path of the virus, emergency funding from Congress, and who wins the presidential election. During his presentation, Baumohl will go over each factor and what happens in different scenarios for each one.

The first factor depends on how much more the virus spreads, which rests a lot on when a vaccine is developed, how effective it is, and if people are willing to take it, Baumohl said. “The effectiveness is critically important, because you can’t fix the economy and certainly not the industry without first fixing the virus.”

The second factor is what comes out of Congress in terms of an emergency funding package. “It is crucial that there be a financial bridge available at least until the vaccine is distributed,” he said. “It is necessary to keep businesses and the unemployed financially whole until then. If we do not have a meaningful package, then a recession is certain.”

Baumohl added that it is important to note that the Federal Reserve has done everything it can to support the economy. “It is now on Congress and the fiscal package,” he said. “A financial vaccine is needed until we get a coronavirus vaccine.”

The third factor is who is elected president. “We have radically different personalities with profoundly different policy agendas,” Baumohl said. “I will show what we think will happen if Trump wins or if Biden wins, and how it will affect the economy. It’s a major factor and their policies will have a huge impact on how the hospitality industry recovers.”

Even after coronavirus is no longer an active health threat, the economic and business landscape will look very different than it did during the pre-COVID world. Baumohl will review the areas where he expects to see major changes, then finish with additional factors that could affect the economy, including the possibility of the virus mutating, the accumulating national debt, and the risk of an international war. “There are lots of tensions that can derail economic expansion that are more political,” Baumohl said. “There are many international threats out there.”

THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY

One of the signs that the hospitality and travel industries are not close to recovery is the mass layoffs that are still occurring. “If companies are still seeing massive layoffs as late as August, that means these companies still don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Baumohl said. “If they were more confident at the outlook, we wouldn’t be seeing that. They aren’t convinced the economy will turn around and show a stronger recovery anytime soon, which is concerning.”

There is a lot at stake for the hospitality industry when it comes to who wins the presidency. “The industry needs fresh funding, and it matters if they will find it under Biden or Trump,” Baumohl said.

Baumohl said that overall he believes the leisure and hospitality industry will recover more slowly than the rest of the economy, as people likely will still be uncomfortable with gathering and taking trips. Much of this could depend on a vaccine becoming available, but even then, Baumohl said people will have concerns. “We have to be prepared to erase our business model and come up with new strategies in the aftermath of the virus,” Baumohl said. “There will be a lingering fear for many years of another pandemic. It came out of the blue, and it could happen again. That’s the scary part.”

CHANGING PREDICTIONS

Due to the ever-evolving state of the world, Baumohl and his colleagues have found themselves having to update their predictions at least once a month. “We’ve run out of erasers,” he joked, “because we have to keep making new assumptions. All the events that are happening are still very fluid. This is so unprecedented. We’ve never shut down the economy like this before, and now we’re trying to open it again without a vaccine. We find ourselves often having to change our predictions.”

The most difficult part of making a forecast is trying to guess how humans are going to react, Baumohl said. “You can’t predict human behavior based on math, so we will always be behind on that,” he said. “We can look at policy decisions, but we really have to dive into human insights such as when will people be more comfortable. That’s why we have to keep reforecasting.”

HSMAI will present “The Changing Economic & Business Landscape” at 2 p.m. EDT on Sept. 29. Register here.

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Wish You Were Here

By Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, President and CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

Just like organizations everywhere, HSMAI is grappling with the decision of where and how to meet. We want to bring our community together in person but understand the time still isn’t right. While we’re committed to presenting our three flagship conferences — the Marketing Strategy Conference, ROC, and the Sales Leader Forum — face-to-face in 2021, in the meantime we’re rolling elements of all three as well as some of our other signature events into HSMAI Road to Recovery 2020.

The hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals who have participated in Road to Recovery, which mixes live and on-demand online programs in a variety of formats, seem eager to be not just with us but with each other. Right now, these virtual offerings are the correct choice for HSMAI, allowing the members of our community to engage at the level and to the extent with which they feel most comfortable. It feels good to be able to continue providing them with valuable content and experiences while still observing the realities of our pandemic economy.

Designed to give our stakeholders a comprehensive and affordable way to engage this fall, Road to Recovery kicked off with Small Screen, Big Impact and CURATE PRESENTS: Resilience Now. These takeaways struck me as particularly resonant:

  • Debra Jasper, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Mindset Digital, our partner on Small Screen, Big Impact, on the importance of building a robust presence on LinkedIn: “Often when people google you, your LinkedIn profile comes up. It’s the first site people will find. Your clients and your colleagues go there. It’s a platform for your thought leadership, and it is a go-to site for journalists. If you haven’t googled yourself lately, the first thing I’d suggest is doing that. Ask yourself: Is this the right impression? Is this the impression I want to be creating in this new virtual space?”
  • Jannell MacAulay, Ph.D., performance and leadership consultant, who is leading us through CURATE PRESENTS: Resilience Now, on the power of mindful awareness: “Are your thoughts, words, and actions in alignments? It all starts with how we think, and then it translates into how we behave and how we act…. If they’re misaligned, then especially when we apply pressure into our lives, it’s going to going to be a struggle…. It’s most important to build psychological flexibility, because what happens inside our brains is, when stress is applied, if we have not built up a psychological toolkit, our brains will go into survival mode.”

Both of these programs speak to the need for all of us to rethink how we conduct ourselves as individual professionals and within organizations. That’s a recurring theme for Road to Recovery, which continues with The Changing Economic & Business Landscape, featuring a hospitality and travel forecast from global economist Bernard Baumohl. From there we’ll have six Executive Roundtables and 12 weekly Recovery Connections sessions — plus ongoing certificate courses and credentialing opportunities.

And, finally, I urge you to spend some time with our HSMAI Hospitality Heroes, whom we’re honoring as part of this year’s Adrian Awards program. These are hospitality professionals whose actions have made a difference to their colleagues, industry, and communities during COVID-19, and who inspire us with their kindness and compassion.

We’ll see you in person when it’s safe to do so. Until then, meet us on the Road to Recovery.

 

CURATE BOOK CLUB: Yield to the Power of Common Sense

By Christopher Durso, Vice President of Content Development, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

When you’ve been in hospitality as long as David R. Evans, CHME, has, you’ve probably got things down to a science. But Evans does that one better. He’s got things down to a formula, which he explains in his new book, Yield to the Power of Common Sense: CS = PR(2), Common Sense = Performance & Results(2).

“To me, common sense is just keeping things simple and using your head,” Evans said in a recent interview with HSMAI. “For example, the art of selling is listening, not selling. Common sense says: In order for you to sell something, get to know your customer. Common sense says: If you’re a manager or a leader, listen to your associates, listen to your customer, and don’t tell anybody what to do or what not to do. Common sense fundamentally to me is just being a very good listener and a learner.”

Evans would know. He started his career as sales manager for The Olympic Hotel in Seattle in 1961, moved to the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles three years later, and eventually became vice president of sales and marketing for Western Hotels International (later Westin),which managed the Century Plaza. When he retired in 2000, he was senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. A few years later, he started David R. Evans & Associates, which provides hotel sales and marketing consulting.

Evans majored in radio and television at the University of Washington and originally had planned to become a film director, but that background still came in handy when he ended up at the Century Plaza, where he booked the Emmy Awards, the Grammy Awards, the affiliate meetings of all three TV networks, and other show-business events. In Yield to the Power of Common Sense, he intertwines stories from his career with his advice for talking small and doing big.

What was it about the hospitality industry that drew you and kept you around for so long?

Well, being in Los Angeles at the Century Plaza at that time was like golden years. This hotel became the premier hotel in the USA, ranking alongside the Waldorf-Astoria in New York or the Palmer House in Chicago. And just being there in Los Angeles, was working on the outside and looking in at the entertainment business, was very exciting. I was just very blessed to build a team, and then I became the youngest vice president of [Western, which managed the Century Plaza] in 1973, and there was no reason to leave after that.

Why did you want to write this book?

I had to leave Starwood [which acquired Westin in 1994] after 39 years because I had heart issues and had a heart transplant in 2000. It took me a few years to recover, and I kind of got bored. And a friend of mine, who’s now passed away, said, “Dave, why don’t we join up and become consultants or advisers?” And so in 2004, I created David R. Evans & Associates.

At the same time, a longtime former associate of mine, Steve Halliday, was executive VP of Pan Pacific Hotels. They were going to build a hotel in Seattle and the owner of the hotel was to be Paul Allen, who owned the Seattle Seahawks; his company’s called Vulcan. Steve said, “I want you to see if you’ll work with Vulcan and advise in the sales and marketing of this hotel.” It was a no-brainer. I had done this many times in my career.

One of the things that’s always bothered me about marketing plans in the hotel business is, they lacked common sense, because they were long on verbiage and short on action. And to me, common sense says that you’re better off to reverse the process. We had to go before the asset manager and the Vulcan team to give them a presentation on the pre-opening plan, so I came up with this idea called a Smart Plan and the meeting was long on action and very short on verbiage. I had probably three pages of explanation instead of 75.

We were all nervous as hell, for God’s sake, because here’s one of the wealthiest men in the country and we didn’t want to fail him. I went ahead and presented the plan, and a guy by the name of Gary Zack was the asset manager for the hotel. When it was all over, there was a big pause: “David, that’s the best damn thing I’ve ever seen in the hotel business.”

People used to say, “Dave, why don’t you write about your history?” Because I’ve got a lot of great stories of different people and I’ve learned different things. They’re all in the book.

How did common sense become such a big part of it?

I’d give a little talk about selling. I mean, the art of selling is listening. I started thinking about that, and I said, “You know something, it’s really basically common sense.” Then I went through a lot of crap in consulting. We did convention bureaus and I was absolutely amazed how the lack of common sense was used in so many situations. We were working somewhere and it was a disaster, and I came up with a formula: CS = PR2. I used it there in a presentation. Use your common sense. and your performance and results will be successful. You’ll get twice as much success.

How does the book apply to the hospitality industry as it’s dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic?

I think it’s more relevant than ever, because you’ve got to keep it simple. What common sense says is, if you want to protect yourself, wear a mask. Don’t go to the beach with 27,000 people. And here’s a common-sense thing for me: I believe that people have been locked up so damn long that when the virus goes away or the vaccine comes in and people are allowed to go free again, you will not get a seat on an airplane anywhere. I feel quite strongly that people are just going to want to get on an airplane and fly someplace.

What should hotel salespeople be doing right now to prepare for whatever comes next?

Build relationships. Human nature is still the same, and they need to build relationships and they need to stay in touch with their customers and they need to offer solutions to any kind of a problem they have, if they can. I think the meetings industry is going to absolutely explode within a year or so, because all the people living in their homes and working on their computers, do they want to do that all the time? No. Common sense says, people need other people to react with. It’s human nature that people like to be with people. Common sense says we truly need to build relationships. We need to get out from our computers. We need to go back and hold hands and hug and meet and have cocktails.

Pandemic Experiences: Best Western’s Monte Gardiner

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

Monte Gardiner, managing director of revenue management at Best Western, has been hard at work throughout the pandemic, during which his team transitioned to fully remote. Recently, he talked to HSMAI about that experience, including advice for hospitality professionals who are returning from furlough.

What has changed for you as far as day-to-day tasks?

Our team’s underlying goal remains the same — to maximize our hotels’ profitability — but we have had to be very flexible in adapting our roles to suit the current environment. Changes in consumer behavior and the operational challenges faced by hoteliers have had a profound impact. Forecasting has been particularly challenging, because traditional forecasting models generally have a hard time responding to the kinds of disruptions introduced throughout the course of the pandemic. And we have had to reengineer our team’s workflow as well as the tools we use in order to continue to service our hotels’ needs effectively.

Have you experienced many layoffs or furloughs among your team?

The broader organization took swift action at the onset of the crisis in order to place us in a position where we could withstand what promised to be a prolonged period of uncertainty. Revenue management was spared the worst of the cuts, but like other departments, we had to make some very difficult choices and separate from a number of valued team members. While we have been able to bring back a handful of these individuals throughout the summer as occupancy started to improve and demand for our services increased, that has been the exception, not the rule.

How have your properties navigated the back-and-forth of travel restrictions?

Particularly early on, when little was known about the virus, the constantly evolving nature of state and local restrictions was problematic for many hotels, as these restrictions tended to introduce additional uncertainty and constraints at a time when hotels were already facing many challenges. In response, and working together with AHLA, Best Western rapidly adopted a set of protocols to provide a measure of certainty to our hotels and to reassure our guests. Our organizational structure allows us to receive timely feedback from our member hotels and franchisees and be responsive to changes on the ground. While the velocity and breadth of the recovery has been uneven, the overall trajectory since early April has been toward steady improvement.

What has been the most challenging part of ramping back up?

While leisure demand steadily improved over the course of the summer, corporate travel remains depressed. Many companies are still reluctant to travel, either because their budgets have been cut or they have misgivings about asking their employees to travel on company business. This has been and continues to be the single biggest challenge in returning to normal levels of occupancy.

What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?

The two trends that are most apparent are related to how guests book — they are more likely to book closer to the day of arrival, and they are also more likely to book property-direct than through an intermediary. Both of these phenomena are a function of lagging consumer confidence and textbook examples of how consumption changes during an economic downturn.

What positives have you seen come out of this?

I believe there are many positive outcomes that will come out of the current crisis. One positive outcome I have seen is the extent to which the revenue management team has been able to provide value to our hotels. At a time when every dollar counts, our team has guided hotels to optimal decisions that in some cases have made the difference between the hotel surviving versus closing its doors.

Another positive aspect is the way that technology has risen to the occasion and allowed us to make data-driven decisions. Within our organization, we were fortunate enough to have made some very timely investments in infrastructure and people before the pandemic hit, and these have served us well at each major decision point we have encountered.

Finally, I believe that the people within our organization will come out of this crisis having honed their abilities and functioning as a more cohesive unit. For some of my team, this is the first time they have been through a recession, and even for those who were in the industry during the Great Recession, the current crisis is giving them opportunities to stretch themselves in ways they could not possibly have imagined.

It has been remarkable to watch the extent to which our hoteliers have demonstrated their resilience throughout the pandemic, adjusting to restrictions and changing circumstances on the ground, changes in consumer attitudes, new standards, and staffing and resource constraints. I am lucky enough to have frequent interaction with our hotels, and I am constantly reminded how fortunate I am to be associated with such resilient, positive people.

Do you have any advice for someone in revenue management who is just being brought back to work?

Be ready to give 110 percent and to increase the frequency with which you interact with hotels — it is critical that we are in tune with the specific needs of each hotel at this time, and every day brings a new opportunity to go above and beyond in responding to those needs.

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson on Diversity, Coronavirus, and Personal Challenges

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

Marriott President and CEO Arne Sorenson joined former stockbroker and author Mark Jeffries for a “fireside chat” during Cvent Connect on Aug. 26. Sorenson shared the challenges that he has faced on a personal level, as well as Marriott’s efforts in diversity and against coronavirus.

Sorenson has been mainly isolating in his home in Maryland since the pandemic began. He has been fighting a double battle — not just with coronavirus and lockdown but with chemotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer, with which he was diagnosed a year and a half ago. In March, he shared a video encouraging Marriott employees to stay strong and offering hope that they would get through the pandemic together. “The video got a lot of play because I did it bald, which made what was already emotional much more personal,” Sorenson said. “One thing that I have learned is that there is nothing more important than being transparent and recognizing the challenge in front of us.”

Sorenson added that he is feeling better these days — and that his hair has finally grown back. “I feel great and am up for the challenge,” he said.

TRAVEL AND LEADERSHIP
After being cooped up for several months, Sorenson said, he is eagerly waiting for the day that he and his family can safely travel again — and he believes that many others are as well. “I am biased in favor of travel and the power we can derive from being together,” he said. “People yearn to see places, experience things, and gather together. Things will come back. It might be with a twist, but they will come back.”

One of the harder parts of his health battle, Sorenson said, is not being able to engage in person with employees in Marriott hotels. “I was walking through a neighborhood the other night and walked past one of our hotels,” he said. “Any normal time I would have gone in and shook everyone’s hand, but I didn’t. I’m not in a position where I can do that yet, but I can’t wait to get back to being able to come in unannounced, shake a hand, talk to them, and give a hug.”

Listening to one’s people, whether it be employees, senior leaders, or customers, is one of the most important qualities a leader can have, according to Sorenson, who was Chief Executive magazine’s CEO of the Year in 2019. “You have to keep your ears open,” he said. “By listening to them, you pull people into the team and let them tell you what they’re thinking. You can empathize with the perspectives people have. That’s the most important part of leadership.”

ON DIVERSITY
Coronavirus is not the only uphill battle the United States is facing. Calls for diversity and against racial inequality have been loud and strong in the wake of several high-profile police killings of African-Americans. In 2020, Marriott was named one of Forbes’ Top Workplaces for Diversity. At a time when many companies are under increased pressure to diversify the workplace, Marriott is helping lead the charge.

“We are a collection of people from everywhere of every faith, race, sexual preference, and identity,” Sorenson said. “We welcome a million people every day from every walk of life. How anyone in this industry can be anything other than fully embracing of diversity of inclusion is lost on me, because you can’t understand our business otherwise.”

Sorenson said that in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, Marriott has doubled down internally to increase diversity, and has been working externally as well to move the industry and the world forward. He noted that Marriott has had a committee for excellence focused on diversity for the past 20 years, more than half of the board is racially or gender diverse, and the management team is 50-percent women. “There are always advantages to having diverse voices in the room,” he said. “You have to make sure that you pull that together.”

LIFE AFTER CORONAVIRUS
As business starts to come back, Sorenson is relying on his teams to make good decisions. “The folks running the hotels know what they need to do,” he said. “We have to help them with the right tools, but if you give them a bit of leash, they’re going to do just fine.”

While Sorenson recognizes that everything from technology, to buffets, to meetings and events will change in significant ways after the worst of the pandemic is over, he firmly believes that business will return to hotels as soon as 2021. One step that could help attract individual business travelers, he said, is to start reopening offices as soon as it is safe to do that. “If we aren’t going to the office, our business partners don’t have anyone to come see,” he said. “We don’t want to take risks, but we’ve got to get offices open to get individual business travelers back on the road, and then groups will come behind that as confidence comes back.”

Group business is one area that Sorenson thinks will be permanently altered, as organizations have found ways to meet virtually and likely will include hybrid models in many future events. “The hybrid future is harder to deliver,” Sorenson said. “If you do both in-person and digital, you have to make sure the live experience is translated in a way that the digital audience doesn’t feel like second-class participants. We have to make it work for both.”

Everyone will be permanently changed by the pandemic, Sorenson said, calling it “the biggest economic or daily life disruption that anyone has faced in decades. Every one of us will have strong memories of where we were and how it hurt us and our livelihoods. The memories will influence the way we experience life afterward. We will see changes in travel, but people will want to see the world when it’s safe.”

Pandemic Experiences: Hilton’s Mark McBride

By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

Mark McBride, senior director of franchise revenue management at Hilton, has been hard at work throughout the pandemic, pivoting as his team and his organization experienced furloughs and layoffs. Recently, he talked to HSMAI about that experience, including advice for hospitality professionals who are returning from furlough.

What has changed the most for you and your team?

Like everyone, we’ve had to look for efficiencies if we didn’t already have them in place. We’re taking on roles and transactional functions outside the norm to meet our consumer and franchise partner needs. My team at Hilton is structured to support hotels through management company relationships. This ensures management companies with multiple Hilton brands (e.g., a Hampton Inn, a Home2 Suites, and a DoubleTree) have one point of contact for revenue management instead of having to communicate with a revenue management representative for each brand.

We leveraged that structure in the COVID-19 environment and refocused efforts to support hotels — both those still in operation, managing through limited demand and new customer mix, and those temporarily suspending operations. We activated our reduced resources to target opportunities that might have the greatest impact on performance.

On the reactive side, we have added support and oversight for our revenue management hotel Q&A channels to quickly respond to questions/concerns from the field. We are proud to have maintained our commitment to same-day response times for those queries during this challenging time.

What has been the most challenging part of ramping back up?

Prioritization has been a challenge with limited resources and a multitude of needs, but it is key when we can’t tackle everything. We must be able to quickly determine the material impact of something, which can be challenging with limited resources. Initially, our response has been to focus on the immediate and pressing needs of our customers, in contrast with prior approaches that were more anticipatory of forthcoming business needs. We are now able to focus more clearly on opportunities so we can add value for our customers.

What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?

Occupancy is moving in the right direction, but recovery and stabilization will take time. System-wide occupancy has continued to trend up from its low point when the global COVID-19 pandemic began affecting travel. We are also now competing for new customers and, in some cases, against new chain scales. Our business mix has shifted, as well as the stay patterns and booking behaviors of our typical guests. As business customers work from home, we are seeing that they are combining business and pleasure to create family getaways over a long weekend. Of course, everyone is also experiencing shorter booking windows and last-minute travel decisions that have affected a hotel’s ability to forecast.

We’ve also seen markets growing at a faster clip than last year, especially in markets like Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, where social distancing is easier than in typically high-occupancy, urban locations like New York City. Road trips are taking off!

What changes do you see as sticking around for a while?

Though business travel has waned, it is returning slowly, and as our CEO Chris Nassetta shared during a recent earnings call, the makeup of that business travel varies to prior years. If all things remain equal, we should continue to see positive movement toward recovery. In addition to this, the concept of “hybrid meetings” (combination of virtual and in-person), as shared by Hilton’s CEO in recent interviews, will certainly kick into high gear as necessary technology infrastructures are put in place to support.

Have you seen anything positive come out of this?

On the personal side, I have to say it’s been nice that people have had a chance to reconnect with friends and family in a different way. For those not impacted by the virus, I know many people who have improved their exercise routines and cleaned up their diets. It is sometimes hard to maintain healthy eating and regular exercise for those of us who travel frequently for business, not to mention sleep interruptions from changes in time zone.

And then I would say, speaking within the Hilton organization, it has brought teams together to work more collaboratively than in the past. There is a renewed sense of partnership and having to get the work done between everyone. We’ve been successful in streamlining efforts across a complex, matrixed organization.

Do you have any advice for someone in revenue management who is just returning from furlough?

The first order of business, whatever organization you’re working for, is getting up to speed on all that has happened over the last few months. Focuses have shifted dramatically. At the end of the day, it’s still revenue management, and you must think about things like high demand and opportunity nights of the week, but KPIs and priorities may have changed. Finally, given the fact that we can no longer use prior-year history as a benchmark, I would recommend reading as much as you can about industry projections, emerging trends, and event shifts that will affect demand and resulting strategic decisions.

For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.