By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
Mandy Reid, area sales manager for the Westin Stonebriar Hotel & Golf Club and the Sheraton Stonebriar Hotel in Frisco, Texas, has remained on staff despite most of her team being laid off in March. Since then, her workload has increased to include marketing and business-travel sales duties. Reid recently spoke with HSMAI about her experience working through the pandemic.
Has any of your team been brought back?
We retained three sales team members of a 12-person team. Since then, we were able to bring one additional salesperson back to the team in May, so we have been an operation of four for the last three months.
What limitations are in place at your property or in your area?
Occupancy mandates are still at a 50-percent capacity for events in Texas. Our Sheraton restaurant has been mostly closed since March, so the absence of our usual offerings has been a challenge for our guests. Things seemed to be improving and restrictions were lifting before Texas hit a spike in July. We had seen a gradual increase in occupancy only to see it stall and even fall off a bit after restrictions were reinforced.
What trends have you seen in the customers who are booking now?
We are seeing shorter-term booking windows and requests for more flexible contract terms (attrition, cut-offs, force majeure, cancellations). Weddings are getting creative and still happening or rebooking rather than canceling altogether. Corporate meetings are a bit more hesitant to commit to future dates after canceling their 2020 programs.
Do you see things ever going back to “normal”?
I am not sure what “normal” means anymore. Through so much adversity and change, we have learned new ways to approach each day, sometimes in the moment. Emotions are at an all-time high for clients and consumers, and I hope that will soften over the next year.
The importance of our relationships with clients is number one and will have to be even less transactional than they have ever been if they are going to be successful. It looks like it will be entirely a buyer’s market a year from now. The way we negotiate will generally lean in favor of the customer beyond that, so my hope is that if we can solidify relationships now, we stand to maintain more loyalty when we start to see more demand in the market.
Have you seen anything positive come out of this?
We have been finding different, creative ways to connect with clients and strengthening those relationships. Kindness goes a very long way, and I have seen this in abundance from my team. They make me want to be a better person each day. During the citywide lockdown, we all experienced a range of emotions. Getting out and going to work each day during a pandemic has been scary at times — wondering if you might be affecting the overall health of your family or coworkers as a result of going in to the office, business levels dropping, uncertainty of job security, daily difficult cancellation conversations and negotiations, etc. — but through it all, my team has stayed hopeful, positive, nimble, and kind. And we also managed to continue to book business. They are an inspiration.
What has changed that has surprised you the most?
Committing to a hotel is very scary for each client. Some of the decisions made by fear have been surprising. One thing that hasn’t changed is the dedication and spirit of my team members throughout a really challenging time.
Do you have any advice for someone in sales who is just being brought back to work?
Take time to observe your surroundings and then set realistic expectations and goals. Priorities have shifted, so ask what you can do to help rather than pointing out what you see needs to be done.
Have a plan, but have the flexibility to know that those plans will change at a moment’s notice. Be empathetic to the people who have been managing the property from the start of the pandemic. Life is extremely different at your property than you remember. People are fatigued and focusing not only on maintaining as much normalcy as possible, but also focusing on tasks outside of their original job description without the luxury of standard training. Patience is your first tool to settling back in.
Also, be prepared to look for business out of your usual, reliable markets. Think outside of the box and use your creativity. What features does your property have, and how can you reposition them to meet the needs of a client? Focus on what you can do, not how the pandemic restricts you.
Additionally, teamwork has never been more important. Trust that your team is there to support you. Don’t bottle up your concerns or fears, but be aware of your surroundings. Read the room. Be prepared to put in extra hours, and don’t forget to celebrate even the smallest victory.
For additional information, insights, and tools, visit HSMAI’s Global Coronavirus Recovery Resources page.