The Growing Importance of Digital Sales Skills

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, hospitality professionals have used the time to build up their knowledge in crucial areas. HSMAI is offering two online essentials courses in August to help them expand upon their skills in digital sales and data analytics. Holly Zoba, CHDM, principal at Scout Simply, has facilitated several sessions of the Hotel Digital Sales Essentials Series, which she created about a year ago and is continually updating to reflect advances in technology.

The course focuses on the industry’s changing buyers and new approaches to reach them earlier and in a more compelling way through digital methods. Zoba teaches new strategies and introduces new apps and tools that help make the entire prospecting and presentation process easier, faster, and more effective.

According to Zoba, now is the perfect time to take the course, because digital sales is a necessity rather than a bonus skill. “Our customers have been changing for the past couple of years and becoming more comfortable online,” Zoba said. “They spend less time talking with us and more time researching solutions online, on their own. The coronavirus pause has accelerated that evolution. It’s more important than ever to figure out how to insert yourself into their process earlier and in a different way.  You have to have these new digital sales skills to stay in the game.”

When every single sale is crucial to the business, being able to use the latest technology gives salespeople a strong competitive edge.  One example that Zoba likes to highlight is an app called Crystal Knows, which uses A.I. to examine the psychology of your prospects and offers advice on the best ways to reach out to them. “There’s all this technology out there that can make your life easier,” Zoba said, “so why wouldn’t you want to learn about it and take advantage of it to help you get in front of more customers?”

Every part of the buying process can be enhanced with technology, which is why the course introduces strategies for each step of the process, including: early in the buying process, several months before any hotel contact is made; as buyers search for solutions on their own online; when you’re ready to make a striking first impression; presenting your solution in a compelling manner; and afterwards, when you need to turn past customers into advocates for you.

Many of the skills targeted in the course are ones that are only growing in importance, such as  social networking – using LinkedIn, Instagram, and others as personal branding tools; creating engaging prospecting emails with better business writing; and producing compelling videos to tell your property story.

“These are new ways of conveying your value proposition to buyers in a fresh manner,” Zoba said. “Lots of salespeople have never considered creating a video before, and I have discovered an app that uses AI to help you to tell your story through video in about five minutes. It’s important for salespeople to have easy tools to help them stand apart.”

The course is designed for both newcomers to the hotel sales world who want to learn the skills they need and veterans who want to expand their toolbox. Throughout the iterations of the course, Zoba has had several marketers participate as well as salespeople. “They love it because they get to understand the buyer’s journey from a salesperson’s viewpoint and they see how they can better support their sellers,” Zoba said. “Plus, they get to learn about a lot of really cool apps that they can use in their own role.”  While Zoba doesn’t know of any revenue management professionals who have taken the course thus far, she thinks it could be helpful to them for similar reasons.

The next round of the Hotel Digital Sales Essentials Series will be held from Aug. 10–Sept. 16, with two more rounds set for Sept. 12–Oct. 28 and Nov. 2–Dec. 9. Participants receive daily eLearning activities such as videos and quick assignments, to allow them to learn the information at their own pace. And then once a week, the group gets together for a live, facilitated workshop  with Zoba, where they put into practice what they have spent the week learning.

“Everyone learns at a different pace, and this approach recognizes that,” Zoba. “Technology is all about providing options to improve the overall experience, so I tried to make sure the training process incorporated that philosophy too.”

Learn more about the Hotel Digital Sales Essential Series.

Shifting Priorities For Hotel Marketers

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

As part of its commitment to supporting hospitality professionals during the pandemic, HSMAI hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for hospitality chief marketing officers in partnership with Koddi and Phocuswright on June 25. (Read takeaways from HSMAI’s previous CMO virtual Executive Roundtable, held on March 31, here and here.)

Roundtable participants choose the topics that they wanted to focus on; participating companies included ESA, Hilton, Outrigger Hospitality Group, Preferred Hotel Group, Radisson Hotels, Rosewood Hotel Group, Warwick Hotels and Resorts, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts. Here are key takeaways from the group’s discussion:

SHIFTING PRIORITIES

Several participants said that a greater use of AI is one of the biggest changes the industry will see going forward. When polled, participants said they mainly had been using AI in operations, media marketing, loyalty/CRM marketing, and reporting. “As marketers, we play a huge role in investments in technology,” one participant said.

Another change that participants agreed on is the growing need to be more flexible, particularly when it comes to how they are spending money. “The spend right now needs to be nimbler and more fluid,” one participant said. “The way we’re budgeting and the marketing efforts we’re putting out have to change, because we’re seeing fluctuations like we’ve never seen before.”

“I think we’re seeing some of our partners have to adjust in the ways they’re allowing us to buy, because we can’t guarantee things like spend levels,” another participant said. “Seeing that flexibility is encouraging.”

LACK OF EXPERIENCE

Participants said that they are concerned about younger team members who have not been through any crises, such as the 2008 financial crisis, before, and therefore aren’t as adept as more experienced team members at pivoting to the new reality. “People who haven’t been through crises before are paralyzed right now,” one participant said. “Those that have been through other crises know how to react. I have to talk to the younger members of my team a lot, because they haven’t been through this before.”

“My more seasoned teammates are coming up with all types of ideas and brainstorming on how to tackle business in new ways, while the younger team members are stuck with how to think differently,” another participant said. “I think it is about going through other crises and knowing you have to change tracks to get out of it.”

Another participant said that fear of the unknown is new to everyone, whether they’ve been through a crisis before, because this COVID-19 is so different from all of the others. “People today are so data-driven, but we’re facing something we’ve never faced before,” the participant said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen. You have to lean on your gut more, which is making it hard for people to move forward as well.”

Participants also expressed concern that furloughed employees would be in for a bit of a shock when they come back and find they are in roles completely different from the ones they left. “I think the more junior team members on furlough are anticipating coming back to the roles they’ve left,” one participant said. “It’s new to them, so it’s going to be a bit of a learning curve coming back.”

“When they come back, everyone’s job is going to be different,” another participant said. “It’s going to be interesting to see a healthier respect from the sales and marketing team for our operations folks, after they have to work in that area for a little while. It’s a challenge to balance repurposing talent toward growth but recognizing they have to be quickly skilled in the space, since they have never worked there before.”

SUPPORTING EMPLOYEES

Participants discussed the ways that their companies are trying to support both current employees who have had their jobs completely changed and furloughed employees who are struggling. “We recreated our incentive plan for 2020,” one participant said. “At first I laughed, because we have no money, but everyone was just excited about redoing their goals for the year. Our CEO challenged everyone to rethink what they initially wanted to accomplish, which was tied to a financial reward, and instead refocus on what the company needs. There will be no bonus payout, but it was an interesting way to reset everyone’s goals in the organization.”

“We’re staying connected to our people one-on-one,” another participant said. “We want to understand their concerns and how they want to move forward. A lot of things come down to making sure that relationship stays strong and reacting to their concerns appropriately and staying supportive.”

Another participant said that their company launched an alumni network as a way for furloughed employees to remain connected to each other and to former employees. “We did it as a supporting mechanism to help our furloughed employees and create a camaraderie between those who are hurting within the global organization,” the participant said. “It also motivated and inspired those who are left to also think about the company differently and remain engaged.”

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

Integrating Technology in a Post-COVID Marketplace

By Kathleen A. Cullen, Senior Vice President, PHG Consulting

Conducting rigorous benchmarking, preparing accurate projections, and developing a responsive new business mix — the pillars of sound revenue optimization and the foundation of a strong post-COVID business strategy — all are dependent on technology systems that are being used to their full potential. It’s in your hotel’s best interest to ensure that all system versions are up-to-date, that system integrations are implemented and working properly, and that each system is configured with the ideal optimization, understanding its impact on each of the related systems.

While hotel technology is still fragmented in that there are many systems for differing needs, it is important to understand that the configuration and use of each one affects the output and success of the others, and therefore the hotel’s optimization and profitability. For example, how your central reservation system (CRS) and property management system (PMS) are uniquely set up directly affects your revenue optimization processes — both manual and automated.

Here are some questions to consider as it relates to your revenue-related technology assessment:

  • Does the hotel have sufficient interfaces allowing technology to help in cost efficiencies?
  • Are these interfaces set up optimally? Or are there regular errors or translation challenges causing the team to constantly research and correct or find counterproductive workarounds?
  • If you have a revenue management system (RMS), have you reviewed the configuration and decision outputs since the COVID-19 outbreak, including:
  • Review the business rules that the RMS is currently using for decision output. The initial “rules” configured likely will be completely different based on the new landscape. Examples include but are not limited to lowest acceptable rates or “hurdle rates,” group ceilings, rooms-to-meeting-space ratios, and cost information.
  • Booking activity has completely changed since you originally set up your RMS. It’s wise to review the decision output to ensure the system is properly calibrating to these new conditions.
  • Does the hotel have an automated commission processor to ensure agencies get paid in a timely manner, and therefore have confidence in sending business to the hotel again?

Excerpted from New Rules to Be Market Ready, by Kathleen A. Cullen, a new white paper available from HSMAI and PHG Consulting. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

What’s on the Minds of Hospitality HR Professionals

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

The HSMAI Foundation hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for hotel chief human resources officers on July 14 for industry HR professionals 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.

Participants identified the areas that they wanted to focus on; participating companies included Best Western, Concord Hospitality, CoralTree Hospitality, Crestline Hotels & Resorts Inc., Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, IHG, Loews Hotels, sbe Lifestyle Hospitality, The Kessler Collection, and Wynn Resorts. Here are key takeaways from their discussion:

SALES, MARKETING, AND REVENUE PROFESSIONALS

As part of the Roundtable, participants answered a series of live-polling questions about employees who have been laid off, furloughed, and/or returned to work, with an emphasis on those working in sales, marketing and revenue optimization. Their responses suggest that sales, marketing, and revenue represent a sizable minority of affected positions:

  • Nearly half of participants’ companies laid off or furloughed 50 to 75 percent of their enterprise workforce within in the previous three months; nearly a quarter of companies laid off or furloughed more than 75 percent of their enterprise workforce. Of the employees who were laid off or furloughed, up to 20 percent were sales, marketing, or revenue optimization professionals.
  • Of the companies that furloughed employees, two-third have invited back up to 20 percent while one-third has invited back up to half. Of the employees who have been invited back, up to 20 percent were sales, marketing, or revenue optimization professionals.

STAFFING ISSUES

Related to these questions, one participant voiced a concern that employees — particularly sales, marketing, and revenue professionals — will leave the industry for other sectors that may seem more promising. “We’re seeing that that skills in the hospitality industry are agnostic,” the participant said. “We’re getting destroyed by other industries taking sales and revenue specialists, especially as people are looking to come back from furlough. We need to position the hospitality industry as a viable industry of the future.”

Another participant said that while they have seen many salespeople start to come back to the hospitality industry, F&B professionals are leaving for catering or wedding companies that are hiring right now. Several participants said that they are struggling to get furloughed employees who are making more money on unemployment to come back to work. However, the additional $600 expanded unemployment insurance is set to run out at the end of July.

“The biggest problem is that lots of housekeepers are refusing to come back to work,” one participant said. “This has been an issue in key markets, because we don’t have the labor to clean all of the rooms, so then we can’t open them.”

“We’re torn in terms of next steps to take,” another participant said. “It’s an issue especially in union hotels, because their union says they are allowed to turn down the job offer because of the unemployment pay. It’s been tough.”

BRIGHT SPOTS

As devastating as the pandemic has been, participants mentioned a few positive changes that COVID has brought about. “With everyone taking on new responsibilities, for some positions we have found that the new structure is working well,” one participant said. “We may continue with it after this is all over.”

Technology has helped hotels adapt to a contactless environment while remaining connected to guests throughout the pandemic. By utilizing technology, hotels have been able to operate more efficiently. “We’ve enhanced our paperless and online systems to rely on them more,” one participant said. “People are now getting more comfortable with them. It’s forced us to be savvier with all that we have at our fingertips, which results in efficiency.”

“We’ve been able to engage with our remote employees, do more webinar-based learning, and welcome folks into our organization from far away,” another participant said. “We’ve learned a lot of new ways to do things; however, it leaves you vulnerable to cyberattacks. That was another difficult thing we ended up going through, but it was an important learning experience for us.”

ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY

The pandemic has forced hospitality professionals to come up with new solutions to every problem, exercising their creative muscles. “We’re certainly embracing creative strategies,” one participant said. “Being able to think creatively is quickly becoming a vital part of many sales and marketing roles.”

“We’ve been coming up with more customized solutions to our problems,” another participant said. “We’ve been experimenting to find things that will engage the audience. We’ve been throwing out ideas and trying to find the right platforms to get our message across, to see what sticks.”

Hoteliers are figuring out new ways to make the most of the capital and human resources that they have, even when it is not what they are used to. “We lost half of our team and had to regroup completely,” a participant said. “We are learning to do more with less, which has been a challenge, but our operational folks are happy that we haven’t had to spend as much money on training or celebrations.”

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. Learn more here.

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: Continuing the Conversation

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

Last month, I committed HSMAI to the fight for diversity, inclusion, and antiracism in the hospitality industry. A new report from Castell Project — a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to see women in more than one of every three positions at all levels of hospitality industry leadership and ownership”shows just how much work we have to do. According to Black Representation in Hospitality Industry Leadership 2020, while 18.8 percent of people working in hospitality are Black, just 1.5 percent of hospitality professionals in director positions or higher at the corporate/above-property level are Black. And the numbers get worse the farther up you go, with Black hospitality professionals representing just 0.9 percent of CEOs and 0.7 percent of c-suite positions.

Castell’s Peggy Berg broke things down for me further, tabulating the numbers for sales, marketing, and revenue optimization. Again, it’s grim. Among the 630 hotel companies that Castell reviewed, only 2.1 percent of all sales and marketing professionals at the corporate/above-property level are Black; 0.3 percent working at the director level or above are Black. Similarly, 3.4 percent of all revenue optimization professionals are Black, while 1.7 percent working at the director level or above are Black.

SOURCE: Castell Project

Of course, understanding the scope of a problem is one of the first steps toward solving it. From there comes the ability to identify possible solutions. For that, as HSMAI often does when we’re facing a daunting challenge, we first turned to our expert communities. Over the course of two weeks in June and July, we presented six virtual Executive Roundtable programs for chief sales, marketing, revenue, and digital officers working for brands and hotel management companies — with a total of 69 executives from 54 different hospitality companies participating. (We’ll be hosting a seventh roundtable, for chief loyalty officers, on July 16.)

As part of each program, we asked participants this open-ended question: What can we as an industry do to increase diversity and representation among hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue professionals at all levels? We received a variety of answers, some tactical, some strategic, some philosophical, but all approaching this issue with the seriousness it deserves. Here are some that stood out to me:

  • Seek out diversity in our boards and chapters.
  • Working with traditionally Black universities/colleges on hospitality scholarships.
  • Partner with Black-owned businesses in hospitality and vendors in hospitality.
  • Educational and leadership programs in our specific fields.
  • Create road to corporate from hotel operations.
  • Extend the reach of recruiting — more strategic talent acquisition approaches.
  • Mentor from other areas in hotels.
  • Continue to listen but also ask questions.
  • Stop looking for those that are like us to join our teams.
  • Starts with CEO commitment.

In last month’s column, I noted that the HSMAI Foundation is well suited to participate in this process in a meaningful way, and these and other insights from our Executive Roundtable communities make me even more convinced of that. Embracing diversity and inclusion is about not just providing opportunities but also eliminating barriers; with its mission of attracting, developing, and engaging talent in the hospitality industry, the Foundation can do both.

The conversation goes on, and HSMAI is listening and asking questions. We know our community is ready for some answers.

How Are Associations Feeling About Meeting in Hotels?

As hotels pursue reopening to varying degrees, they are preparing themselves to welcome back groups. But how likely is it that groups will be there? HSMAI President and CEO Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, recently spoke with several dozen association CEOs on consultant and speaker Ed Rigsbee’s “Office Hours” Zoom session, during which he presented data about the hospitality industry’s performance around the world, speculated about recovery, and live-polled attendees about hotel-based group meetings:

1. How do the CEOs feel about hotel salespeople? “Worried” and “scared” were the dominant responses, followed by “concerned” and cautious,” and then a variety of sentiments, from critical (“pushy,” “not collaborative,” “no authority,” etc.) to admiring and sympathetic (“cooperative,” “rock and a hard place,” “passionate,” etc.

“If there’s any consolation,” Gilbert said, “I think the sentiment is pretty similar with how a lot of hotels are thinking about their customers, both in the association market as well as the corporate market and other sectors.”

2. What are the CEOs’ biggest pain points in dealing with hotels? This question also generated a variety of responses, falling under three general topic areas—with planning and logistics being the dominant concern follow by contracting and budgeting and then safety. Gilbert found common cause with that. “[HSMAI’s] biggest issue is not our desire to have our events,” he said. “It’s the capacity or ability of our attendees to travel.”

3. How far ahead are CEOs looking for hotel meeting space? Most of the CEOs in attendance—more than 80 percent — aren’t planning on new events before the third quarter of next year. That matched data Gilbert presented from Northstar Travel Media and other sources suggesting that as travel and tourism recover, group business will come back last. “The decline in group business,” Gilbert said, “is going to be much longer than just Q2 [of 2021].”

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

An Informal, Anecdotal Forecast for Full Recovery

Everyone has their own forecast for the recovery. From HSMAI’s weekly Customer Insight reports contributed by industry partners, to the Hotel Recovery 2020 project, to performance metrics from numerous travel media and consulting companies — there is no shortage of speculation and analysis about when hospitality might find its way back from COVID-19.

In addition to offering valuable data, forecasts are useful because they give you a sense of how people are feeling at a particular moment in time. With that in mind, HSMAI asked participants at its latest round of virtual Executive Roundtables — for chief sales, marketing, revenue, and digital officers — to share when they anticipate their business returning to pre-COVID levels. The six programs for brand and hotel management company (HMC) executives were held from June 23 to July 7, during which time widespread images of people aggressively flouting social distancing over the Fourth of July weekend dealt a blow to reopening efforts across the country.

Polling results from HSMAI’s Executive Roundtables are by no means scientific, but these informal, anecdotal impressions are still interesting. You can see the consensus from the first program (June 23) to the last (July 7) tip from 2021–2022 to sometime after 2022, which jibes with recent forecasts from STR and other groups:

Brand Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable, June 23, 2020:

HMC Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable, June 24, 2020:

Chief Marketing Officer Executive Roundtable, June 25, 2020:

Brand Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtable, June 30, 2020:

HMC Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtable, July 1, 2020:

Chief Sales Officer Executive Roundtable, July 7, 2020:

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

What’s Changing for Hotel Revenue Professionals

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

Over the past two weeks, HSMAI hosted two virtual Executive Roundtables for brand and hotel management company chief revenue officers to discuss the most pressing issues they are facing. The virtual Executive Roundtable for brand CROs was held June 30 and produced in partnership with Clairvoyix, ZS, and Phocuswright; find takeaways from HSMAI’s previous brand CRO virtual roundtable on March 24 here and here. The virtual Executive Roundtable for HMC CROs was held on July 1 and produced in partnership with Clairvoyix, STR, and ZS; find takeaways from HSMAI’s previous HMC CRO virtual roundtable on March 25 here and here.

Participating companies at the brand CRO roundtable included: Ashford, Auberge Resorts, Choice Hotels, Host Hotels, IGH, Loews Hotels & Co., Marriott International, MGM Resorts International, Omni Hotels and Resorts, PHG Consulting, Red Roof, RLH Corporation, and Rosewood Hotel Group.. Participating companies at the HMC CRO roundtable included: Charles Group Hotels, Colwen Hotels, Commonwealth Hotels, LLC, Concord Hotels, CoralTree Hospitality, Crescent Hotels and Resorts, Genuine Hospitality, LLC, Highgate, Hotel Investment Services, Inc., Island Hospitality Management, LodgeWorks, Lodging Hospitality, Marcus Hotels, North Central Group, OTO Development, Peachtree Hotel Group, Playa Hotels and Resorts, PM Hotel Group, Prism Hotels and Resorts, Pyramid Hotel Group, Shaner Hotels, Stonebridge Companies, Vail Resorts, and VRI Americas.

Participants at each roundtable chose what to focus on, but there were several overlapping themes between the programs. Here are key takeaways from the two discussions:

BUDGETING FOR 2021

Roundtable participants discussed 2021 budgets, which typically would start to be decided now, but some participants said they were holding off due to the uncertainty. “Internally we’re considering doing a very compressed budget season, not starting until at least September or October,” one brand professional said.

“We’ll have a delayed start and shorter than normal budgeting season,” one HMC participant said. “We have made the decision to do the modeling off of 2019, because it’s a better base to use than 2020.”

“We’ve started those conversations, as painful as they are,” another HMC participant said. “We had more than 30 ideas on our board on how to do this, but everyone kept coming back to the same thing, which is going back to 2019 and looking at the month-by-month decline to 2020, and build a transient and group forecast that supports that, which is the opposite of everything we’ve ever done. We believe if you try to do segmentation first, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten instead of what the market will bear.”

“We’re mindful that any time spent doing the budget is time away from the operation,” another brand CRO said. “We are looking at virtual options to save time and expense. We’re looking for our partners to tell us what they need and find something that works for everyone.”

One brand CRO said the budgeting process might be simpler in some respects this year because they have already been working much closer with individual properties and there is more clarity there. “We’re closer to the hotels that we ever have been, so it should be a seamless process,” the participant said. “They know our expectations and there shouldn’t be any surprises there.”

FORECASTING

One HMC participant said that the forecasting information they need to present has changed. Another HMC participant said: “It’s not enough anymore for our owners and senior leaders, they want to see what’s on the books. There’s a lot more micromanaging and looking into details that in the past they never would have. Some of our traditional systems don’t work well to communicate the details, so we’ve been putting things in a Google Doc where it’s more easily accessible to them.”

Brand professionals said that they are mostly looking at predicting leisure travel and staying away from groups, because it will be a long time until those bookings return. “It seems like it will be so far off until we see any recovery in that area,” one participant said. “It’s sad, but it’s going to be the last part of our business that will return.”

Several other participants said the need for forecasting has increased, putting more pressure on their teams and elevating the importance of that skill. “Because the entire industry has been shut down, we don’t have any good data in our RMS system, so we’ve had to be a lot nimbler in our forecasting,” one HMC participant said. “Our team have been pulled into lots of different forecasting that they aren’t typically used to — ancillary revenue, rooms, total profitability.”

“We’ve centralized a lot more of our portfolio, but that means that we don’t have the bandwidth for that kind of forecasting that is needed,” another HMC participant said. “We’ve discussed hiring a dedicated forecasting team to take some of that off of the revenue managers.”

Participants said they are prioritizing customer sentiment data right now, citing several forecasting tools such as STR, internal data, and CBRE. “We’re relying more on third-party information than we ever have in this process,” one HMC participant said. “We have to listen to the customer.”

“What I found is that every region and submarket is very different, and we’re starting to see that some of the third-party data is messy compared to what our own data is telling us,” one brand participant said. “But we had to get to a point where we could rely on our own customer data again after our hotels were closed.”

PRICING AND ATTRACTING CUSTOMERS

There were several common themes between the two roundtables when it comes to making optimal pricing decisions. Many of the participants at the two roundtables have been through the 2008 financial crisis and/or 9/11, when the industry faced similar challenges, and said they were trying to communicate the lessons they learned from those events to their younger colleagues.

To start, many participants stressed that hotels should not lower rate, no matter what. “We’re sticking to our regular pricing philosophy, that pricing doesn’t drive demand,” one brand participant said. “This has not changed.”

While pricing is an important tool that hotels can use to attract customers, one participants pointed out that it’s equally important to focus on attracting customers who are likely to book instead of wasting resources and bringing down price in the hopes of attracting longshots. “We’re trying to help our hotels understand that they need to ‘fish where the fish are,’” another HMC participant said. “We’re coaching them to focus on travelers who are willing to travel right now, instead of trying to attract people who aren’t ready.”

SKILLS NEEDED

Participants from both roundtables agreed that flexibility is still a key skill as it has been throughout the pandemic — and will continue to be for at least the immediate future. “We’re looking for team members who can reimagine the processes and know what they shouldn’t do anymore, in order to leave time to do what they should be doing instead,” an HMC participant said.

“We’ve automated and centralized a lot that used to be done at the property level, so that there is more structure and accountability,” a brand participant said. “Everyone else is doing things they haven’t done before. People have to be open to that and embrace it.”

Participants said revenue and sales have been working together more than ever. “We need people who can see beyond data and are willing to test new ideas,” one HMC participant said. “This is a departure for many revenue people, so we have been partnering with salespeople instead.”

“We need people who are able to cross over from revenue to sales,” a brand participant said. “Whatever gets thrown at us in the next 18 to 24 months, we need to know that they’re going to be able to handle it.”

Another brand participant added: “RFP season is coming up, but our salespeople are furloughed, so we have to take people from distribution to cover for them. It shows that there are some positive things that came out of this, like everyone being more willing to pitch in.”

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

Connecting With Travelers in a Post-COVID Marketplace

By Kathleen A. Cullen, Senior Vice President, PHG Consulting

In the short to medium term, most demand likely will come from domestic travel, which means that hotels will be going after a smaller piece of the pie or finding new regional demographics to target. Creativity and connections with the local community and smaller businesses will help create improved value propositions and programming that is unique but also locally inspired. Hotels in secondary or tertiary locations actually might see more activity and interest because they are farther out from primary markets and offer larger spaces.

The following highlights some marketing tactics your hotels should consider preparing in advance. The key to all messaging will be to highlight health, safety, and sanitation:

 

  • Be ready with drive-market and staycation messaging, including:
    • Geotarget investments to focus on the drive market.
    • Consider including free parking or offering gas gift cards or credits.
    • Social media is a great way to reach a targeted (and potentially local) audience for your hotel.
    • Work with your digital agency to align paid search to target the drive market and keywords related to your specific locations and activities.
  • Travelers may research for a longer time before they are comfortable booking travel. Consider expanding retargeting criteria to allow a broader timeframe.
    • Make the most of loyalty programs and your guest profile database. Prepare specific messaging and unique offers to these guests. Communicating private offers directly to them avoids disruption of publicly available retail offers, including:
    • Think creatively about how to engage with past guests or loyal guests. Those who are part of a loyalty program or who have stayed multiple times are people who already have shown they like staying at the hotel. They are typically resilient travelers who want recognition more than they want a deal. Offer an incentive to join your loyalty program — for example, consider waiving resort or urban fees.
    • Reach out to those guests who had to cancel and invite them back.
    • Reach out to those who may have called for information but did not book; a recommended best practice is to track this information if you are not doing this already.
    • Those who missed milestone celebrations will be eager to celebrate with friends and family. Think about packages geared toward various celebrations.
  • Think creatively about the use of physical space. Can you use it in a transformative way? Meeting space likely will not be occupied as it was previously, so what are some other opportunities that may be of interest to your local market and guests? A popup farmers market? A collection of boutiques?
  • Consider the various methods of transportation to get to your hotel and identify strategies to work with them. Can you partner with a train company? Likewise, airlift for destination markets will be key. Work with local airport authorities to get air routes back.

Excerpted from New Rules to Be Market Ready, by Kathleen A. Cullen, a new white paper available from HSMAI and PHG Consulting. For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.

What’s Changing for Hotel Sales Professionals

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

As a part of its latest series of virtual Executive Roundtables connecting hotel executives working in specific functions, HSMAI hosted a virtual Executive Roundtable for chief sales officers on July 7 in partnership with Clairvoyix, ZS, and Groups360. (Read recaps of HSMAI’s previous virtual CSO Executive Roundtable, held on March 26, here and here.) Participants chose what topics the program focused on; participating companies included Accor, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, Club Quarters Hotels, Drury Hotels LLC, Extended Stay America, Loews Hotels & Co., MGM Resorts International, OYO Hotels Inc., and Radisson Hotel Group-Americas. Here are takeaways from the program:

INCENTIVE PLANS

The way companies are handling incentive plans for salespeople varies greatly, with roundtable participants expressing uncertainty as to the best way to implement them going forward. Several participants said they are waiting until business comes back before making any moves toward reinstating incentive plans, while others are in a constant state of flux.

“We have maintained flexibility to change on a monthly basis,” one participant said. “It’s hard, because our employees are realizing that the results of their efforts aren’t what they were before, when they are doing all they can to bring in business.”

One participant stressed the importance of having incentives to motivate employees now more than ever. “There’s a renewed interest in giving incentives, because everyone is doing the work of multiple people right now,” the participant said. “April was one of our highest-booking months and we want to reward the employees that are working harder than ever to bring in business.”

But another participant disagreed. “It would feel awkward to give incentives while so many are furloughed,” the participant said. “Their motivation now is to bring in work so that we can bring more of the team back.”

READJUSTING PRIORITIES

As the situation evolves every week, sales professionals are taking note of what is working and what is no longer applicable in this new world. “We are trying to unlearn everything,” one participant said. “What got us here won’t get us where we want to go. Past approaches aren’t going to work for an extended period of time.”

Another participant said that while flexibility in skillsets is important, being proactive and adaptable is equally necessary, as many salespeople will be working across multiple properties and potentially multiple regions more than they were pre-COVID. “The ability to navigate different markets in varying degrees of recovery is important,” the participant said. “They need to be able to take what is working and apply it to another market but be willing to abandon it very quickly if they have to.”

Another area where salespeople have to readjust their focus is key accounts. Participants said that they need to shift away from low-demand segments, no matter how important they were previously, and focus on segments that are increasing now. “Key accounts people have to be flexible and focus on other business,” one participant said. “You can’t rely on key accounts continuing to be key accounts in the future. We have to identify new customers and focus on them.”

Another participant has created a business development team focused on bringing in new groups that the copmany previously did not target. “We have to start engaging with other sectors we weren’t focused on before,” the participant said. “Everyone needs to be quick on their feet and adapt to what’s on the books now, instead of what was there in the past.”

RFPS AND PRICING

GBTA announced previously that it was recommending suspending the RFP season for this year. Roundtable participants shared their thoughts on RFPs that are nonetheless coming in and their suggestions for 2021 pricing without RFPs.

“I would like to see encouragement for corporations to delay RFPs to as late as possible,” one participant said. “The best thing we can do as an industry is to say that there is no point in sending out RFPs now and expect people to respond in July. There’s nobody on property to respond to them.” Another participant added: “It’s impossible and illogical right now to expect companies to have any idea about 2021 right now.”

Several participants said they are encouraging hotels to utilize dynamic pricing going forward. “Hotels are going to set price at the local level, and anything we can have that can be off that is a lot less work and a lot fairer to both sides,” one participant said. Another participant added: “Some companies are really not that keen on dynamic pricing, but I really don’t understand why. It’s the best thing for them right now.”

“In the past, their hesitation was that it was harder to manage a budget because they didn’t know what the impact was going to be,” another participant said, “but in situations like this, it’s to their benefit to be on dynamic pricing as an industry and it would be a reduction in costs for our partners as well.”

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