By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Valerie Gold Rios, director of sales at IHG–Staybridge Suites Lake Buena Vista, is the recipient of HSMAI’s On-Property Sales Professional of the Year Award, which will be presented at the first-ever Sales Leader Forum in Frisco, Texas, on Nov. 5–6.
A graduate of Arizona State University, Rios began her journey in hospitality sales in Orlando. During her career, she has opened new hotels, held regional positions, mentored numerous associates, and guided sales teams through hotel renovations. HSMAI recently sat down with Rios to discuss her accomplishments, how she got here, and what she thinks about the industry as a whole.
What was your fist job in the hotel industry?
I started as a Sales Coordinator at The Residence Inn in Orlando. But I knew I wanted to go into the industry long before then. When I was 16, my father asked me to plan my mother’s 50th birthday party, and I was taken aback by the excitement of planning an event. From the smallest details of menu preparation to the incredible staff customer service at the party, it was intriguing to me how every aspect of our planning came together in the end. It was then that I knew this was a career path that I wanted to explore further.
Why do you like working in sales?
I enjoy providing exemplary customer service to all our guests. Especially in Orlando, it’s our goal to create vacation memories and I treat my guests exactly how I want to be treated when I’m travelling for leisure or business. I’m very conscious about the level of service I provide and try to make it a personal experience. We are very fortunate at this property to be able to engage with our guests and develop connections even prior to them arriving at the property. Everyone that stays with us leaves feeling special and like one of our family, which is very gratifying.
How has hospitality sales — or the industry in general — changed during the time you’ve been a part of it?
It’s been a 180-degree turn. When I first started, there was very little technology and certainly no internet, so the relationships we created were mostly face-to-face through trade shows, or through advertising. Now it’s definitely more computer-to-computer. Although I miss some of the past conventional selling techniques, the internet has opened up so many more opportunities to attract a wider range of new customers.
What excites you about the future of hotel sales?
I am excited to see how the hotel brands and independent owners are recreating themselves to meet the needs of the ever-evolving consumer. New concepts are continuing to surface as these developers look for market niches. You never know what is coming down the pipeline next.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in sales?
I would say it’s an excellent career choice. The hotel industry is expanding. Each day is always different and challenging and you never encounter the same situation twice. It’s a unique mix of customer service, sales, and operations all wrapped in one. It is rewarding knowing that your guest had a wonderful experience when you receive positive feedback through social media. It is always exciting, and it is a pleasure knowing that you have exceeded your guest’s expectations. I’m looking forward to continuing my career in hospitality in hopes of further training, teaching, and mentoring those up-and-coming individuals who have the same passion for this industry as I do.