The Skills to Succeed in the Current State of Hotel Sales

From the HSMAI Foundation – Hospitality School Sales Faculty Forum 

Eric Kreins, Assistant Managing Director of Sales, Hilton Worldwide Sales, Chair of HSMAI Sales Advisory Board  

I began my career 30 years ago as a sales trainee with Marriott International. I attended the University of Maryland, with a desire to earn a degree in architecture, but finished with a degree in Business Administration. Hotel sales turned out to be a fulfilling career path for me. I have been very fortunate to work for three large hotel companies over the past three decades, having spent time at Marriott, Starwood and now Hilton Hotels. I was happy to join hospitality educators at a recent Hospitality School Sales Faculty Forum hosted by the HSMAI Foundation. I had the opportunity to share my insights on the discipline’s evolution and to discuss which skills are needed today to excel in the profession of hotel sales. 

The Evolution of Sales 

Sales teams today must work with less and be effective in a rapidly changing, dynamic environment. The last few years in the industry have been volatile. Of course, there have been tactical changes brought about by the pandemic. Business volumes collapsed two years ago, forcing sales teams to deal with the cancellation of business and subsequent rebooking and realignment. Business shifted from corporate travel to a mix that has been largely driven by leisure business. It was a very reactionary and stressful time. Many salespeople left the industry, some were furloughed, and were laid off. Then, in 2022, we saw business travel return with strong levels of demand.  

The pandemic isn’t the only catalyst. Taking a high-level view, the discipline has been evolving for the last decade. We live in an information era, and the customer today is savvier with more tools, technology, and resources. Buyers will respect you as a salesperson if you can inform them of something they don’t know, shrink their blind spots, and give them insights. That’s how sales teams add value to the sales process today.  

Hospitality Sales – Art or Science?  

Hospitality sales is a blend of art and science. There are the soft attributes of hospitality, design, culinary arts, and travel meshed with business, finance, data, analysis, and customer acquisition. We’ve shifted more from art to science. Salespeople can’t rely as much on relationship-building, as in the past. Today, you need to be versed in commercial knowledge – revenue management, marketing, digital, and catering skills. Hotels are creating positions for commercial directors. They must separate their product from a sea of sameness and be compelling storytellers. And creating an innovative and distinct guest experience is still at the heart of everything.  

Knowledge and Skills Needed   


As a discipline, we need savvy salespeople with the administrative muscle to use customer relationship management (CRM) technology and other digital skills. They must be comfortable in an increasingly virtual environment that is more web and mobile-based than on the telephone or in person. They are dealing with short attention spans and modern communication methods. Along with all that, they still need the “people-relationship” skills they have had in the past. 

Market Segmentation 

There has been a shift for sales teams to be more focused on verticals and segments rather than a geographic market. Our customers rely on us for in-depth product knowledge and insights into our business to help impact their business.  Customers find value in someone who can “speak their language” and understand the nuances of their business rather than someone who happens to be physically nearby.  

Hotel Operations 

It’s critical for salespeople to have a strong understanding of a hotel’s overall operations and of their responsibility to the team members at that hotel. Without the sales discipline, there would be little business coming in the door, and no hours for people to work. The best salespeople are still the ones who have had a solid foundation in hotel operations – from working the front desk to culinary or event operations. Even as much as the business has changed, it still gets down to the details of hotel operations.  

Despite recent volatility, a career in hotel sales is a rewarding one that many should consider, especially people who are interested in a profession that blends art and science in a meaningful and impactful way. 

Categories: Sales, Talent and Leadership Development
Insight Type: Articles