By Kaitlin Dunn, Writer, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)
After a rough eight months, Melanie Miller, director of sales for Embassy Suites by Hilton Memphis, said she feels like her hotel is slowly but surely recovering thanks to the entire staff’s hard work and willingness to pitch in. Recently, Miller sat down with HSMAI to share her experience of working throughout the pandemic, including the highs and lows that have come with it.
Can you give an overview of your experience from the beginning of the pandemic up until now?
Just before the pandemic, I traveled to Anaheim, California, for the Hilton All Suites Brand Conference as well as to Austin, Texas, for the HSMAI Mike Leven Leadership Conference. Almost immediately after I returned from travel, occupancy started declining, groups started canceling, and it was obvious that, at least for a while, things were going to be far from normal. My sales department of four quickly dwindled to one as the majority of our staff was furloughed.
In the beginning — April and May — I was almost exclusively helping clean rooms and doing laundry. No groups were coming in and no meetings were happening; it was all about getting rooms ready for transient guests who may be traveling. As the summer was upon us, sports tournaments helped to fuel our occupancy through July. At that point, not only was I managing rooming lists and contracts, I was also helping to inspect rooms and making sure that they were looking great for the groups that I was able to sell. I became an expert on the Hilton CleanStay and Hilton EventReady programs.
As our business started coming back to life near the end of the summer, we were able to bring more staff back from furlough. We started booking small meetings — socially distanced, of course — more regularly, and as a result, I was able to bring one sales manager back to work at the beginning of October.
I have been doing sales primarily since August, but of course, we all have to pitch in when needed. Whether it is helping to inspect rooms, touching up a meeting room to make sure that it is cleaned and sanitized, giving someone at the front desk a quick break, we do what is needed to work as a team.
Do you consider your hotel to be in recovery mode yet?
I feel like we have been in recovery mode for a while now. As one of the better-performing hotels in our area, we have stayed pretty consistent. Of course, we are now at a time of the year that generally slows down, so it will be a bit difficult to account for whether it is due to the pandemic or if it is just the normal wind-down before the holidays.
What markets have picked up?
The SMERF market is helping to give us a small base layer of business. This is typically made up of wedding blocks and sports tournaments. A little bit of corporate business is spotty here and there, usually attached to meetings. Leisure transient is definitely the bulk of our business to date.
Have you come up with any innovations or promotions to bring business in?
Many of the trainings that have booked our meeting space have held hybrid events, which require more A/V. Our partnership has been great, as they were kind enough to invest a lot of time working directly with our clients to make sure that their meeting is functional and effective. Like everyone else, Webex meetings and Zoom meetings have played a major role in internal meetings as well as in the hospitality associations that I am a part of.
What positives have come out of all of this?
Of course, I could say what everyone else might say — I have gained a new appreciation for other departments in the hotel, which I have. More than that, however, I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to get to know staff members who I may not have had the time to spend with otherwise. We have some great people supporting our sales efforts, and we could not do it without our housekeeping or guest services departments.