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Hotel Sales Departments – Issues in Processes and Functionality by Carol Verret

The most recent Smith Travel Report indicates that occupancy or demand for the third quarter rose by 2.6%, year to date by 3.6% and in September alone by a whopping 7.1%! REVPAR increased by 6.4% in the third quarter, 7.5% year to date and a stunning 11.2% in September. It is obvious that September numbers drove most of the third quarter gains.

While there are no hard statistics for the same period for online bookings, the limited stats that we have from hotel companies and individual booking channels ranges from 17% to 50% over last year. We do know that most consumers, from leisure travelers to groups are finding and qualifying the hotel online prior to ever contacting us.

Given the stats above, how does your hotel`s sales department productivity measure up? How well have they integrated online functionality into the processes of the sales department`s day-to-day operations?

A hotel owner stated to me at the end of 2003 My bookings from online sources have increased by about 37% over last year, my sales department productivity is flat. Guess where I am putting my resources next year — the web site and managing online channels.

At a recent seminar, the participants were hungry to learn about using the Internet in every step of the process — from prospecting to guided virtual tours. We went online to their proprietary or franchise web sites to demonstrate how to conduct a guided virtual tour. Most were shocked by the lack of functionality that either site afforded them in this process.

There are a variety of issues that affect the functionality of these processes online. Many of the tools are inexpensive and easy to accomplish — we need to expand the notion of how we conduct sales to include online tools as standard operational processes.

New Business Development. There are a variety of online resources available to the sales department, many by market segment. The sales department needs to be working these with the same intensity that they work trace files. If your sales department isn`t making these a vital component of their prospecting activity, you can be sure that other hotels are — and gaining market share from these sites.

Pre-Approach Qualifying. There is so much information on the web — at the click of a mouse. The sales staff should be accessing information about their prospects prior to contact so that they know if they are worth pursuing. They need to know which factors to look for in reports that indicate the potential of a prospect to produce and to make a judgment about those in which they should be investing their time.

Using E-Postcards. E-postcards can be created quickly and effectively at a desktop PC. Their uses span individual prospect approaches to creating targeted e-blasts that fly under the radar of spamming. A little creativity and basic computer skills are all that are required.

E-flyers. These range from the extremely clever to the purely informative. They make an excellent vehicle for customer relationship management and to inform a broad range of guests and clients, who have given permission to receive them, of changes at the hotel and special promotions.

E-stationary. Make your hotel`s email correspondence from all departments stand apart from the rest of the hotel e-chatter that hits your clients` Inbox! This can be designed to have the same look and feel as the web site and online brochures (you do have online brochures, don`t you?)

E-brochures. While printed brochures are not quite yet dinosaurs, how many do you have left in your hotel supply closet from the 50,000 that you ordered prior to the new renovation and addition of high-speed Internet access to your amenity list? At a panel discussion of meeting planners, they all indicated that they have cleaned out or eliminated their massive file cabinets full of hotel sales kits. The meeting planners unanimously agreed that they would prefer to have brochures and sales kits electronically so that they can be downloaded as needed.

The Web Site. All too often the web site is developed without the input of sales or consideration of how it can be used as a sales tool — not just a design masterpiece. The inclusion of design elements and photography that appeals across and to many market segments makes it more functional for the generation of group leads. Franchise web sites offer the opportunity to include multiple photos but many hotels only include the exterior and maybe one other photo! The description screens are rarely edited to reflect seasonality and special packages. The reservation function is awkward at best — at worst it doesn`t interface with the property management system.

At an annual sales meeting of a medium sized hotel company to which I presented a seminar based on these issues, I was asked, Does this mean that we won`t need sales people any more? I answered a qualified No — qualified because those sales people who can`t incorporate e-tools into their processes risk becoming irrelevant!

Carol Verret Consulting and Training is a full service company offering consulting, training and other services to the hospitality industry in the areas of sales, marketing, customer service and human resources. Included in their suite of services are programs on Revenue Management, Leadership and Conflict Management. Please direct any feedback directly to Carol Verret at carol@carolverret.com

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TravelDailyNews Asia-Pacific editorial team has an experience of over 35 years in B2B travel journalism as well as in tourism & hospitality marketing and communications.

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