By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Danae Norris, director of group sales for El Conquistador Tucson, A Hilton Resort in Tucson, Arizona, and a member of HSMAI’s Rising Sales Leader Council, has worked on-property full-time throughout the pandemic. Recently she talked to HSMAI about how things have looked on the front lines.
How has your job changed during COVID-19?
Though my daily tasks are the same, they are done in a different manner. Instead of prospecting for group [business], we are now looking at every guest walking in our door. Instead of securing new business that we have been working to close, we are working with programs that are already definite and trying to find solutions to keep the program, whether they stay in the year or we are able to move them to the following year.
The main change for me on the day-to-day is being ready to be called at a moment’s notice to assist our team members. Whether we are assisting laundry from a busy weekend or stripping guest rooms to help housekeeping, we are there to assist. We are helping by the pool, ensuring tables, chairs, and umbrellas are being sanitized before the next guest. The best part of helping the team in various departments is seeing their smiles, knowing they have a management team that will support them at a moment’s notice.
How much of your team that was furloughed or laid off has been brought back?
At this time, no one from the sales, events, marketing, and reservations teams has returned, although we are very fortunate to have had many return in various other departments on property. We are working day by day with the constant changes in the industry and doing everything we can to bring as many team members back on property. Due to continued cancellations and addendums on upcoming programs, it is undetermined when these team members will return.
What new health and safety measures are in place at your property?
Current limitations on property are the closures of our fitness center, bike rentals, fitness classes, spa, hot tub, cold plunge, and our kids’ splash pad. Our plan is to reopen these services by not only the instruction of the state but after ensuring we are taking all safety and security precautions for our guests and team members.
Our property has teamed up with Hilton on all of the great programs/protocols they have released relating to the health and safety of our guests and team members. Our team members have been required to wear masks and gloves while working for a few months now. As of last week, we require that all guests wear masks as they enter the indoor public space. Masks are available at the front desk should a guest misplace or forget theirs. In addition, we have implemented the Hilton CleanStay and EventReady programs throughout the property.
What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?
With customers that are booking now, I am seeing more requests for special contract clauses the most. In addition, I am seeing requests for diagrams related social distancing, sanitation, healthy protocols, etc. to be sent prior to even starting negotiations for a potential contract.
Do you see things ever going back to “normal”?
Honestly, it is very hard to say. As much as we want things to go back to normal and for meetings to happen as they once did, we just don’t know. Meetings could completely change just based on the new social distancing and mask guidelines/mandates in place.
Have you seen anything positive come out of this experience?
For me personally, the connection with my clients has been the positive out of everything. Not only having the opportunity to connect with them to see how they are doing personally and professionally, but also having the tough conversations and working through them together. This is a tough time we are in, and working together as partners, trying our best to make it a win-win for both, has been a very positive experience.
What has surprised you the most?
As much as everything has changed, clients are still trying to stay in the same box while being reluctant to [accept] ideas on ways to modify their program to comply with regulations. For example, half in person and half digital, extending the dates to allow for a couple waves sharing the same content, etc. While we completely understand their reasoning for wanting to cancel and turn the program completely virtual or push to a further year, we as hoteliers are trying to find healthy solutions to still hold a meeting safely while keeping revenues coming to the hotels.
Do you have any advice for someone in sales who is just being brought back to work?
My advice to a sales manager coming back into the workforce is to have an open eye. This industry has changed a lot over the past few months. Be ready to listen to your customers and have solutions and/or information to share. Know that the contracting side will be different as we start getting into peak season securing programs for future years out. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes and understand what they are dealing with and be proactive on coming up with solutions or ideas. Be willing and able to learn new positions around the resort and help where help is needed. Learn everything you can, as we don’t know what the future will bring and what skillsets you will need.