The Benefits of Intelligent Process Automation

By Kunal Shah, Associate Principal, ZS, and member of HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board

Technology is advancing at a lightning pace right now thanks to all of the innovation that has come out of the pandemic, changing how many revenue optimization professionals do their jobs. Along with being a topic of discussion at HSMAI’s ROC Americas event last month, HSMAI’s Revenue Optimization Advisory Board (ROAB) recently discussed how automation is coming into play on a recent call. Here are key takeaways from our discussion:

WHAT IS INTELLIGENT PROCESS AUTOMATION?

Intelligent process automation (IPA) is a system that mimics human action, is noninvasive, and is very quick to implement, making it a great choice for many revenue professionals to solve their problems. IPA can do things that many revenue management systems (RMS) cannot. “Where I think this could be valuable is that it almost can offer enhancement or customization to whatever your environment is, especially if you’re looking at something like portfolio management in some way,” one ROAB member said.

IPA is especially fruitful in problem solving, regardless of what area one is dealing with. By setting parameters or terms of search, IPA can mine data to identify potential problems. This allows human problem solvers to focus on solutions rather than trying to identify what is wrong.

Hoteliers shouldn’t worry about the scale of the problem when it comes to IPA; products are equally flexible when dealing with problems large or small. One ROAB member remarked that “even within IPA, there’s a spectrum of what can be done with it.”

Another ROAB member said that she found IPA to be valuable when she implemented it. “I had looked into it with one of our programs, where we had one person using a portfolio of hotels, and traditionally they would spend their morning collecting all of their reports,” the member said. “And by using IPA, they pressed a button and IPA went ahead and took all the reports, put it in a repository for them. And that freed up enough time per person that we were actually able to not only get more efficiency out of the associate, but we actually were able to reduce staff.”

WHEN TO USE IPA

ROAB members also discussed when IPA is most impactful. Companies must consider whether automating a system or simply replacing or upgrading it may be the best solution. One ROAB member suggested that when a project “crosses a certain threshold of investment that’s going to touch across the company and starts to get really big, that’s when you might want to start looking at some tech investments.”

Another issue to think about is the repercussions that come from automating a particular process. Companies should be wary of using IPA as a quick fix and should consider the downstream effects of automating a process. “IPA sometimes does something which will push the bottleneck somewhere else,” one ROAB member said. “Just think of it as a dam that you just open the dam and the water comes flowing in. Where two people might have handled it easily earlier, the increased efficiency might now necessitate a further investment, which companies may or may not be able or willing to make at this time.”

Another ROAB member added, “What I would suggest, if you’re ever going to go down this journey, is to be a little bit deliberate about choosing what automation software to use. Make sure you’re comfortable with whatever you’re building.”

With proven success on smaller projects, companies can feel more comfortable using IPA for larger projects. But whatever path a company chooses, they should build in ground rules and standardized processes, and above all, maintain a level of comfort with how they are using IPA. As one ROAB member said, “You have so many different pieces going on in these disparate ways as you scale up. But for some of these bigger things, you probably want to have some standard processes.”

As with anything, companies should approach IPA carefully, start small, consider the possible effects, and build in structure to ensure that IPA is achieving your objectives.

Adam Sacks Delivers Economic Insights For HSMAI

Adam Sacks from Tourism Economics spoke about the outlook for hospitality and travel to two HSMAI audiences at Commercial Strategy Week in Dallas — first delivering a general session at ROC Americas, then appearing before a combined Executive Roundtable program for brand and Hotel Management Company chief revenue officers and ownership group commercial executives. Adam is optimistic about travel recovery, which he says will have four characteristics:

  1. Recovery continues under storm clouds.
  2. The economy will fuel a rebound.
  3. Travelers are more than ready.
  4. The recovery will come in stages.

Other insights:

* Oxford Economics (TE’s parent company) is forecasting 5.5% growth in U.S. GDP this year and 4.4% in 2002.

* Group travel was at 60% of pre-crisis levels last month, but 68% of businesses are traveling now and 76% plan to travel within the next three months.

When Adam spoke to our Executive Roundtable participants, they

“The recovery really has remained constant even as things have gotten rough out there,” Adam said, which gives us a tremendous amount of confidence. In one word, the recovery is inevitable.”

Facilitating a conversation about recovery at our Executive Roundtables, Adam further identified three lessons that the hospitality industry learned from the pandemic, based on what he was hearing from Roundtable participants, who represent brands, HMC, and owner groups:

  1. We benefited from better technology and the fact that fewer people were employed who could potentially override revenue management systems.
  2. We had the confidence to hold rates because everyone understood the significant and real increased costs of operations.
  3. When cash flow is challenged, everyone focuses on profit metrics and not just revenue-centric metrics.

For more on what Adam is thinking about the recovery, read our interview with him.

Why Hotel Revenue Leaders Are Feeling Optimistic

Brands are enjoying 2019 all over again — at least when it comes to leisure — while hotel management companies are more focused on cross-teams collaboration and how people work, according to participants at HSMAI’s Brand and HMC Chief Revenue Officer Executive Roundtables, held in Dallas on Sept. 30 during Commercial Strategy Week. As part of the programs, they shared these and other positive trends they’ve observed recently, including:

BRAND CROs:

  • We’ve largely recovered to 2019 levels in some segments.
  • We have a much deeper understanding of necessary travel. When we really dug into who was traveling and why they were traveling, it gave us greater focus on the segments and accounts that were really producing.
  • By the end of the year, we will have exceeded 2019 revenues for leisure.
  • We crushed it in Q3 in our market. There was very little group to speak of, but it didn’t matter, because leisure customers were there in droves.
  • People are realizing that the way they’re going to optimize their business isn’t just through price by segmentation.
  • While some groups are canceling, lead volume is still very strong and we can replace it.
  • I’m bullish on international travel coming in; as the regulations allow that, they will want to come to the United States.
  • How people used stimulus money was distributed evenly — both using it for immediate travel or saving for future travel benefited us.
  • Our owners are ahead of 2019 for some markets. Volume is strong, and ADR is outrageous.
  • Innovation could have been paused during the pandemic, but hospitality organizations are continuing on the innovation roadmap and making investments in technology.
  • We’ve been able to better focus on what our guest experience should be.

The roundtable was supported by IDeaS Revenue Strategies and ZS, and attended by leaders from Best Western Hotels and Resorts, G6 Hospitality, IHG, Las Vegas Sands Corp. (Venetian/Palazzo), Margaritaville, Omni Hotels & Resorts, Outrigger Hotel Group, Preferred Hotel Group, Red Roof Inn, Sonesta+RLHC, Rosewood Hotels & Resorts, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

HMC CROs:

  • The siloing of disciplines is gone because we had to take into account occupancy, channels, redeployment, lean teams, and more. We’re clinging on to keeping those siloes gone forever.
  • Team members are becoming real teachers and spending more time on education with hotels to teach why we do what we do (holding on to rate is just one example).
  • The numbers of new users coming into software platforms, which indicates the onboarding of new team members.
  • There’s more collaboration across sales, marketing, and revenue teams.
  • We’re getting better with our data and making search more relevant to consumers based on how far they are willing to drive.
  • Leisure ADR movement that is being driven by special events (college football games, for example).
  • College football, concerts, beaches — they’re all bright spots. Plus, we’re seeing a decline in group cancellations (government and SMERF especially).
  • An increase in IBT mix over the last few weeks with dynamic rates.
  • It’s okay to talk about mental health at work.
  • Borders are opening, vaccinations are increasing, and international travel is increasing.
  • Talent is finally getting to decide where they live while still doing the work we need them to do.
  • Getting back to some grassroots, 101 tactics — especially in our sales organizations.
  • Improved relationships with the brands as we’re starting to come back from the worst. You need the brands on your side to face the owners.
  • Increased interest in all-inclusives at the four- and five-star level.
  • The lifting of international restrictions.
  • Luxury ADR growth.
  • An uptick in group leads.
  • Progress made in automating the use and roll-up of data to do more with less — it didn’t cost as much as we thought it would.
  • Growth in business travel and group leads for urban hotels.
  • The investment community is spending more money on renovation and product improvement, which will help with recovery cycle and holding/increasing rate.
  • A shift to being more strategic.

The roundtable was supported by OTA Insight and ZS, and attended by leaders from Aimbridge Hospitality, Chesapeake Hospitality, Concord Hospitality Enterprises, Crescent Hotels & Resorts, Highgate Hotels, Hotel Investment Services, HRI Lodging LLC, Kessler Collection, Marcus Hotels & Resorts, McNeill Hotels, NCG Hotels, Playa Hotels and Resorts, Preferred Hotel Group/PHG Consulting, Prism Hotels & Resorts, Regency Hotel Management, SBE Lifestyle Hospitality, Shaner Hotel Corporation, Stonebridge Companies, Vail Resorts, and VRI Americas.

Why Hotel Ownership Groups Are Feeling Optimistic

Hope isn’t a business strategy, but staying hopeful even — or especially — during a crisis is crucial. With that in mind, we asked participants at HSMAI’s Ownership Group Commercial Executive Roundtable, held in Dallas on Sept. 30 as part of Commercial Strategy Week, to share positive trends they’ve observed recently. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Big-box hotels have captured leisure and providing a model for diversifying from groups
  • Business isn’t just all about group
  • Getting away from RevPAR being the most important thing.
  • On-property teams have learned a lot about what happens on their properties.
  • We reimagined some of our assets. The fact that they were closed allowed us to do it faster; we got creative and made it happen. Relaunches are coming off well and will get return for us.
  • Technology is helping us do some of the repetitive work we had to do before.
  • There’s progress on the digital side in terms of automation — we’ve gotten better, and cost per click has gone down.
  • Analytics have improved, and we’ve continued to invest in it. We were looking hard for trends to give direction to hotels and management companies to make better decisions. We helped them adjust and be more aggressive based on data.
  • We’ve improved our ability to look at trends not just for one property. We’ve invested in business intelligence teams to get a better view of how they are doing; we see the big picture and can make adjustments.

The roundtable was attended by professionals from Apple REIT, Hospitality Ashford Hospitality Trust, BRE Hotels and Resorts, Host Hotels and Resorts, HVS Asset Management, Noble Investment Group, Ohana Real Estate Group, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, Roch Capital, and Summit Hotel Properties.

Why Hotel Digital Leaders Are Feeling Optimistic

People don’t just want to travel, they are traveling. That was the overwhelming consensus among participants at HSMAI’s Chief Digital Officer Executive Roundtable, which was held in Dallas on Sept. 27 as part of Commercial Strategy Week. And it was just one of the positive trends that they’ve observed recently, which include:

  • Mobile and road trips have continued; customer sentiment and appetite are there.
  • Hotels have invested in digital/mobile infrastructure.
  • The uptick in leisure travel is helping occupancy. Revenues from leisure have been much higher than pre-pandemic.
  • Travel is alive and well, and airports are busy.
  • As a leisure brand, 2021 was a great year. Once people got over the initial phase of COVID, they didn’t want stay at big hotels, and ours are in tertiary markets.
  • It’s encouraging that guests are willing to spend a lot to make a memorable experience.
  • Traveling two to three times a week, I’m noticing more business travelers on the planes, including construction workers, and, since the middle of July, also bleisure.
  • Everyone wants to travel, and we can continue to improve the booking process and better understand what people want.
  • We have seen ADR pick up pretty quickly, and the digital contribution is as high as it has ever been.
  • Appreciation for travel is a positive trend, as is the switch culturally to work from anywhere — we are poised to own that for our employees.
  • Demand has been significantly stronger than anticipated.
  • Digital contribution to growth as well as the growth of rate above and beyond 2019.
  • Leisure — sold-out flights are nice to see happening.
  • We’ve been creative in finding new sources of revenue and maximizing best practices.
  • Sports is booming; it’s our busiest ski season, and we have a resort with a lot of dance groups. We’ve been able to win over owners to digital marketing as group hasn’t been there.
  • Booking direct has picked up and is sticking around.
  • It’s great to see people are traveling; we’re celebrating some small wins for our sales team

The roundtable was supported by IRECKONU and attended by professionals from Aimbridge Hospitality, AMResorts, Atlantis Paradise Island, Best Western Hotels and Resorts, Concord Hospitality Enterprises, CoralTree Hospitality, Crescent Hotels & Resorts, G6 Hospitality, IHG, Marcus Hotels & Resorts, NCG Hotels, Peachtree Hospitality, Preferred Hotel Group, Prism Hotels & Resorts, Radisson Hotel Group, Red Roof Inn, Regency Hotel Management, Remington Hotel Corporation, Sonesta+RLHC, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

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Why Hotel Marketing and Loyalty Leaders Are Feeling Optimistic

It may feel as if the entire hotel industry has relapsed during the surge of the delta variant, but there are plenty of reasons to feel good about the outlook for hospitality and travel. Participants at HSMAI’s Chief Marketing and Loyalty Officers Executive Roundtable — held in Dallas on Sept. 27 as part of Commercial Strategy Week — shared some of the positive trends they’ve observed, including:

  • An uptick in Sunday-Monday stays, which suggests that guests are taking advantage of “workcation” trips.
  • More “suits” are flying on planes, meaning business travel has been returning — and will continue to increase into the fall.
  • Borders are beginning to reopen, which is good news for travel into the United States and within other parts of the world.
  • Through COVID, we finally have been able to move the needle on industry pricing; there’s more willingness among hotels to try new things.
  • As an industry, we’ve been able to have in-person events one after the other throughout the summer and into the fall, and that continues to move us forward. We as an industry can be a leader for meeting safely and productively.
  • The public and companies have demonstrated great resiliency throughout the pandemic. People have shifted gears and kept going.
  • Our company has actually managed to hit record numbers in the last few months.
  • Luxury came back quickly — and a lot of that sector is younger than you would think.
  • The growth of work from anywhere as an option has results in significant increases in productivity and conversion.
  • We had a great summer — we hit 2019 occupancy levels and exceeded 2019 on rate.

The roundtable was supported by Clairvoyix, iSeatz, TINT, and attended by professionals from Aimbridge Hospitality, ALHI, Atlantis Paradise Island (Brookfield Hosp), Best Western Hotels and Resorts, KSL Resorts, Marriott International, Outrigger Hotel Group, Preferred Hotels and Resorts, Radisson Hotel Group, Red Roof Inn, Rosewood Hotel Group, and Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

CURATE BOOK CLUB: Chasing Revenue

Gregory Cross introduced revenue management to Hilton and helped evolve it at Hyatt. In a new book, he shares his story.

By Christopher Durso, Vice President of Content Development, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

Inspired by the high-level, cross-disciplinary conversation of HSMAI’s Curate event, the Curate Book Club interviews the authors of new and recent books that are relevant to hospitality sales, marketing, and revenue optimization leaders. Read previous Curate Book Club interviews here.

Gregory Cross has been part of revenue management since the beginning. Back when the airlines were still calling it yield management, Cross was among the generation of hotel professionals who figured out how to apply this new field to hospitality — starting in 1980 at Hilton, where he spent 29 years, leaving as senior vice president of revenue management, and continuing at Hyatt, where he served in the same role before retiring in 2018.

What was it like creating revenue management from scratch for Hilton and pushing it further along at Hyatt? The first-ever recipient of HSMAI’s Vanguard Award for Achievement in Revenue Optimization, Cross tells the whole story in his new book, Chasing Revenue: The Birth of Revenue Management. “I had started in the industry when forecasting, pricing, and inventory-control procedures were manual tasks — executed without computers,” writes Cross, whose first positions with Hilton were in front-office operations and management after ditching his college plan to become a writer. “And I was there at the beginning when everything started to change.”

In a recent interview with HSMAI, Cross talked about the “snotty” white paper that got him into revenue management, the “unbelievably weird” early days of online travel distribution, and the importance of perseverance.

What was it about revenue management that appealed to you so much?

When you work in a hotel, there is a hierarchy, and generally in those days, in the 1980s, the sales department and the director of sales was considered to be the top of the food chain for revenue generation. I was working in what was now my fourth front-office operation — Los Angeles, Pasadena, Irvine, and now Chicago — and I was coming to the realization that my department could also generate revenue, but nobody believed that it could. They thought we were just simply there to check people in and out, service the customer, keep our mouth shut, and do what the sales department said.

So, I wrote a white paper which was kind of snotty to the corporate office in Beverly Hills and strongly implied that nobody knew whether I was doing a good job or not because I didn’t have any technique for measuring what I was doing. Then I touted the fact that there’s actually money to be made here in markets that you take for granted that you don’t think can be yielded. Maybe two months after that, our vice president who was visiting Chicago came into my office and she had my white paper in her hand, and she said, “Would you like this job?”

I had never thought about it, because the job that she was talking about did not exist. It took another couple of years and she was replaced by another fellow. The subject kept coming up, because Hilton was watching Marriott and was kind of annoyed that Marriott kept bragging about their revenue-management prowess in their quarterly earnings reports and other things that would catch the eye of other hotel companies. A day finally came when they reached out to me again and said, “Would you like this job?”

By then, I was contemplating my first general-manager assignment, which had been my goal all along up to that point, and I made what at the time was the mistake of a lifetime. I turned down my first manager position and accepted a theoretical experimental position at the corporate level that involved pricing strategy. It was not called revenue management; it was called regional director of front-office operations, because there was no revenue-management department. I was in the position for roughly 18 months before it crashed and burned, and it deserved to crash and burn because it was set up wrong.

But when we did a reboot of that position, I was sitting on ice so to speak without a job, and they said, “Would you like to try it again?” And this time I got to write the job description. I met with the president of Hilton and I told him why it didn’t work the first time, how we had to set it up to make it work, and he said, “Okay, I want all of that in writing on my desk by nine o’clock tomorrow morning.” And that was where it all started.

Why did you want to write this book?

When I retired in 2018, we had a second home in Chicago where Hyatt was based. Well, my pastime is golfing, and if you live in downtown Chicago, there isn’t a golf course for 25 miles. Most days I would wake up with nothing to do, so I thought, well, maybe I should go back to what I had originally wanted to do before I ever got into the hotel business and see if I could write a book. All that summer, I took notes for what I thought might be an eventual book, and then I put it down for about year because we sold the Chicago place.

As life started to slow down, all of my former colleagues and employees and associates and people that I had mentored were reaching out to me for letters of recommendation because they were losing their jobs all over the world. Simultaneously, I live on the fifth hole of a golf course in a private country club, and in the early days of the pandemic, they actually closed the golf course and wouldn’t let anybody golf. So, when life became that stagnant, I pulled out all of those notes and said, “Well, I guess this is a signal that it’s time to write this book.”

Who’s your intended audience?

The primary audience is the hospitality industry. I’ve previewed it with a few people, and there are recommendations on the book. Sloan Dean, who’s the CEO at Remington Hotels, has read it, and so has Spencer Rascoff, who was one of the founders of Hotwire, because one of the key pieces of the book is when hotels first migrated to online travel distribution. Most people don’t remember just how unbelievably weird that was. I was the person who signed the first company-wide contracts with Expedia and the forerunner of Hotels.com, which was called Hotel Reservations Network.

Hilton became the first company to actively work with online travel agencies with a corporate relationship and the same strategy in place at all hotels across the company. That was not only a breakthrough, but it was also extremely controversial. Probably at least half the leadership within Hilton thought we were going down the wrong path, so every day I had to kind of fight that battle.

It came to me when I was taking notes for the book that that was a history that was lost on the next few generations of people who just might take the origins of revenue management for granted. It really had to stand up on what I call wobbly legs and survive in those early days, because it was not highly thought of. In fact, it was looked down on. I would have people tell me, “Do your magic!” or “Here comes the guy with all the elves and fairies who’s going to change our business for us!” It was not well respected at all, and so I thought it was important to capture that.

Are there relevant lessons from that time that you think the hospitality industry could benefit from today?

Absolutely. I tried to write the book thinking of readers who might still be at the academic level, studying for a hospitality degree, or who are working their way up in the hotel business. Most business books about hospitality are written by CEOs, and it’s usually a reflection on what they did to change their company or to change their industry from the CEO level. I tried to write a book for people who will never be CEO, from a person who never became a CEO, and put in there the survival techniques that you need to develop in order to sustain a 40-year career in the hospitality business without winding up out on the street at some point.

What’s your number-one piece of advice for building a sustainable career in hospitality?

Well, the key ingredient is perseverance — a lot of people say that. I was thrown into a period of time where everything about pricing and inventory management and strategy went from manual — and I mean on paper with an adding machine — to digital. I was forced and I forced myself to stay ahead of the technology curve.

The metaphor of online travel agencies is probably the best example of, if you can’t keep up with the way the customer wants to buy, you’re going to lose out. I was surrounded by a hotel industry that wanted to run tomorrow’s hotels the way they were run yesterday. They wanted to ignore the internet, and I do mean ignore it. They honestly believed in their hearts that if we didn’t work with them, the online travel agencies would go out of business and just go away. That was the mountain that I had to scale, and prove that not only was that theory wrong, but also if you followed their theory you were going to be way behind.

The Recruitment Blitz

Prism Hotels & Resorts is experimenting with deploying its sales teams to help address the talent shortage.

Everybody complains about the weather, the old joke goes, but nobody does anything about it. Likewise, everyone in hospitality is talking about the talent crisis, but who’s doing anything about it?

Allison Handy, chief commercial officer for Prism Hotels & Resorts, for one. Recently, she decided to refocus some of Prism’s properties across the country from sales blitzes to recruitment blitzes — where instead of prospecting for group business, sales teams prospect for candidates to help fill line-level job openings, including in housekeeping, front desk, and culinary. A member of HSMAI’s Sales Advisory Board, Handy talked to us about why salespeople make good recruiters, where to look for hospitality talent, and how the blitzes are working out.

Where did the idea for the recruitment blitz come from?

I visited of all of our hotels in one city and talked to everybody to understand our roadblocks to recovery. I’m sitting in one revenue meeting and hear they’re raising rates to close that inventory because they don’t have enough housekeepers to prepare for the arrival of a group, so they’re slow-playing selling those rooms. The next day I’m with another hotel where they’ve had to take rooms out of inventory in general because they don’t have the staff yet to be able to get them ready for sale. For the most part, we’ve been able to stay operational, but I’ve got large groups coming in one hotel in October and as of right now we don’t have a culinary team to be able to service the volume of people that we’ve got coming. And, I listened to our HSMAI Sales Advisory Board discussing everyone’s collective struggles with lack of staff and knew this problem was universal and that Prism had to find an innovative solution.

And so, I said to the sales team, “Hey, guys, it does no good for us to continue to book this short-term business if the operations teams can’t service the business in such a way that we’re going to give them an amazing experience that they’re going to want to rebook.” Then it dawned on me: Who’s best to recruit for these positions than our salespeople. Our salespeople are trained to prospect, to qualify, to close, to sell; they give features and benefits. Why wouldn’t we just translate those skills from closing on revenue to closing on sales candidates? Not that operations isn’t good at that per se, but we have a unique skillset to be able to do it.

I had two hotels go out and do it, and they came back with seven candidates apiece. We typically do a sales blitz every month. It’s a different segment every month, and so for August it was supposed to be universities and education, and I gave all the hotels and the general managers the option to have their team continue to do the regular scheduled blitz or to do the recruiting blitz. That’s how it started.

How did the logistics of it work?

We gave them a list of ideas of where to go. We looked at it in two different facets — those that were working and those that were not working. For those that were working, we were sending people to Starbucks, to fast food, to small restaurants, to 7-Elevens, to drive-throughs — all of the minimum-wage, line-level employees — just looking for great people. You see someone that has a smile on their face, that’s giving great service, and then approach them. We were careful to use the phrasing “Would you like another job?” versus trying to recruit them off of their existing job. That might’ve felt a little intimidating. So, “Hey, would you like a second job? Here’s what we have to offer,” and then talking about the hotels and going through a sales process to try to capture them.

Then we also looked at those who were not working. We sent teams to different apartment buildings, to laundromats, to coffeeshops, to community centers — places that people who were not working but were employable maybe would be hanging out during the day, and then approaching them with “Hey, would you like a great job?”

We had flyers made up, because we’re offering a referral program right now for all of our employees that if they refer candidates there’s a referral incentive. They pass out the flyers, so that if a candidate came in and applied, the salesperson would be part of that referral process and incentive.

How many of your properties participated?

We had about six that participated. I had expected more, quite frankly, but I think that the draw to do the university sales blitz, which is a segment producing good business right now, was a bigger draw than I thought.

Can you share the results you’ve seen so far?

I don’t have much to report yet. We got six applicants that came in for one hotel. We’ve got an interview scheduled for another hotel. We had another hotel that had five or six phone calls inquiring about the flyers they got from our team. But it just concluded at the end of last week, so it’s too soon yet to say how many people we actually hired.

Either way, is this something that you’ll continue doing?

Without a doubt. Once I saw that not as many hotels did it as I expected, we’re going to go back and do it again, because the talent shortage is a major problem. I was at a hotel last week where the chef was going to the local culinary school and talking to the instructors there to figure out who do they have available, because he’s got three kitchen positions that he’s got to fill. The sales team was going to partner on that to try and help capture some folks from the culinary school. At the end of the day, if they want their groups and their customers well taken care of, they should be very motivated to ensure that we have the staff to take care of them.

Leading Sales Into a Post-Pandemic World

Sales icon Cindy Novotny offers a preview of her keynote at HSMAI’s Sales Leader Forum next month — including why this is ‘a great opportunity to go forward.’

By Christopher Durso, Vice President of Content Development, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

The bad news for hospitality sales is — well, the pandemic. For 18 months, sales teams across the industry have been operating at skeleton levels, and they’re still struggling to staff back up. The good news, according to Cindy Novotny: This is a chance to do things differently.

Managing partner of Master Connection Associates and a recipient of HSMAI’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sales, Novotny will explain how during “Leading Sales Into a Post-Pandemic World,” the closing keynote session at HSMAI’s Sales Leader Forum in Charlotte on Oct. 26. Recently she offered us a preview of what she’ll be discussing.

What does leadership in hotel sales look like right now?

We’re so busy right now bringing people back, and it’s not all the same people. So many senior salespeople that were furloughed went off and became real-estate agents, went into other industries, and they said, “You know what? I can’t wait for this to come back because our business was hit harder than any other industry.” So, we have a lot of young people that have stepped into the roles.

Right now, we are training all these new young people coming in, because they’re not proactive sellers. They’re reactive. Energizing and motivating that team as a leader is absolutely critical, and there cannot be any excuses like “we’re just too busy with the leads that are flying in.” We have to look at all of what happened, which has been awful, as a great opportunity to go forward.

I look at this as revving up these sales teams and giving leaders some really good tools: Here’s the five things that you’ve got to walk away with — repositioning your hotel, looking at how we can use unoccupied rooms as offices, looking at how we can do a hybrid meeting so much easier than they can do in their law-firm office. Those sorts of things that are going to really bring it home.

Has the pandemic permanently changed anything about hotel sales?

One thing is, prior to COVID, I could barely get a salesperson to pick up the phone and talk to a customer. It was like, “Oh, I’m too busy. I just email.” That’s one thing we’re never going back to. You have to be creative in alternative ways to reach out to clients. People don’t want to just email — they want to talk to you, look at you. And because of so many Zoom and Teams calls, people are just accustomed to it.

The other thing is, corporate travel will come back, but now they’ve become accustomed to using some select-service properties. Where some corporate travelers were very spoiled, always staying in a four-star or even a five-star, now they’re like, “You know what? They had no services.”

The consumer is making decisions differently. Loyalty to the brand is not as big as it was, and that’s because none of the brands could do much for you anyway and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity. Nobody was traveling to use any of their comp stays, so using your American Express and getting points on that actually became more important.

Is there one takeaway that you would like your audience to leave with?

The one takeaway is that they have rolled up their sleeves for the last 18 months and they’ve been doing the work. Don’t fall back into bad habits. Don’t fall back into sitting in an office and doing reports. Stay out with the people. Stay out with your team. Be on calls. Be on site visits with customers. Hear what they’re saying. Make sales calls with your people.

The job is, I’ve got to lead a sales team forward, and I’ve got to be proactive and I’ve got to be energetic. You can’t beat up on these people, because they’ll just quit and go somewhere else. We can’t go back. We’ve got to stay very much engaged.

HSMAI’s Sales Leader Forum is being held in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Oct. 26, 2021. Learn more.

HSMAI PERSPECTIVE: What’s the Good Word?

Looking for encouraging news? Here are 12 positive developments that members of the HSMAI Americas Board of Directors have observed recently.

By Robert A. Gilbert, CHME, CHBA, President and CEO, Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI)

As you’re reading this, HSMAI is in the middle of Commercial Strategy Week — our successful return to in-person events after nearly two years of a global pandemic that has challenged our community of hotel sales, marketing, and revenue optimization professionals like never before. From Sept. 27–30, we’ve gathered in Dallas for a robust series of programs, including our Marketing Strategy Conference, ROC Americas, and four Executive Roundtables.

Of course, it’s been wonderful to see members, colleagues, and friends again — there’s nothing like the give-and-take of face-to-face — but what’s really resonating with me are the optimistic messages I’ve heard everywhere, from speakers presenting onstage to members clustering in the hallways. Yes, the hospitality industry has been through the ringer and we’re still not sure about the timeline for full recovery, but these hopeful, inspiring, and empowering insights have left me energized.

Our HSMAI Americas Board of Directors are the ones who got things started. During a meeting at the beginning of the week, we asked board members to share an encouraging trend they’ve observed recently. Here are some of the positive developments they’ve seen:

  • A better 2022: Next year will be really good, starting right in Q1, with the pipeline looking healthy and pent-up demand existing all over the world.
  • COVID, round 2: When the delta variant hit, business didn’t drop off a cliff to the extent that it did during the early days of the pandemic, and any panic around delta seems to have dissipated quickly.
  • World party: International travel has skyrocketed, including pre-booking inbound travel to the United States now that there’s a timeline for reopening, as well as travel within Europe.
  • Direct action: Data is showing that direct bookings have come back strong, even compared to 2019.
  • Local news: The regional leisure market is strong, and there are numerous opportunities as we build back.
  • Better together: There is greater cooperation between brands and hotel management companies, with larger brands in particular are embracing innovation to get back on track.
  • Making money: Profit data is getting back to 2019 levels.
  • Hello again: The number of hospitality industry events held since the summer shows that people are excited to get together. And the energy around these face-to-face programs can’t be replicated online.
  • Staffing up: While the talent crisis is real, over the last few months, hiring has become a little easier.
  • Leveling up: Second-tier cities are seeing an uptick in group business.
  • Making book: Booking windows are growing again, with both searches and actual bookings happening further out.
  • No shame: The travel shaming that happened last year has settled down, and many more people are comfortable traveling.

As we continue our recovery journey together, let’s use these and other expert insights as an evolving blueprint for staying positive, identifying problems, developing solutions — and taking advantage of the new opportunities that every crisis creates.