How a GM’s Floor Visibility is Tied to Repeat Business

Originally published in Hotel Management November 10, 2015

We know that hotel general managers are kept very busy every day, and just about all day. But maybe we need to think about what folks were doing years ago that helped garner repeat business as well as helped management learn firsthand what is really going on at a property.

What we are talking about is seeing more of the hotel management out in front of the guests. It used to be that we would regularly see top management visible to the guests in the house. Sometimes they were at the front of the lobby as guests entered, offering a smile and welcome greeting. Or maybe they would spend a little time at the front desk to observe the check-in process and how the staff relates to the guests. How about the guests seeing the general manager walk through the dining room during meal hours once in a while to greet guests, and of course observe the operation?

These days, we don’t see much of this. Guests are impressed when they get to see top management around at a property. It makes them feel good to get a welcoming “hello” from the top dog.

Being visible goes a long way to show employees the value of smiling, greeting guests, trying to be helpful, etc., and it is catching. If the GM does it, so do the employees, and that is what creates the repeat business as well as referrals from existing guests to their contacts. If an owner, operator, general manager or whoever the top person may be cannot be available to see what’s going on and greet guests, then an assistant or other member of the management team should be visible.

High management visibility really should be required during certain hours when guests are arriving, departing or using the services of a hotel property. It is important for guests to know that management cares. People talk about this when they chat with friends and associates about their recent stay at a hotel. This helps make people return on a future visit to the area. In addition, a business card is a very low-cost marketing tool. Management folks need to get used to passing them out to guests whenever appropriate. This impresses the guests, and they remember that gesture. Also, it is not a bad idea to ask the guests to return on their next trip, and to send their friends and associates to the property.

Another important area to show visibility is in group sales, such as when the sales department is working with a prospect or during a prospect’s site visit. Making an appearance for a welcome to show interest could be very valuable to the sales effort. Meeting planners often talk about never seeing a general manager when visiting a property on a site inspection. This could be very valuable in helping the prospect make a buy decision. 

Looking Forward Amid a Seller's Market

Originally published in Hotel Management August 29, 2015

With all the data coming in from a variety of sources that measure U.S. hotel occupancy, demand, supply, average daily rate, etc., it sure does look we are in for a banner year right now—and it should continue into 2015. It's never too early, then, to look ahead to even 2016 and beyond.

We are a cyclical industry. This happens not only because of the economy (and who knows what will happen with it), but mainly due to the change in supply and demand. When profits start looking good in our business, we start seeing developers, lenders, owners, brands, consultants, all coming out of the woodwork saying: "Let's get into the act."

That is pretty natural. When business is good, and there are profits to be made, the idea is to get into that business. The industry is set up nicely for the rest of the year and, likely 2015; however, be wary as 2016 approaches—that's when we will probably see a surge of new properties coming online throughout the country.

The recently released 12-month outlook (May 2014 - April 2015) by TravelClick reflected that for that 12-month period, committed occupancy will be up 4.9 percent over last year. ADR is projected to be up 3.4 percent, based on reservations already on the books, so it could even be greater than that.

Here is something very interesting from a sales standpoint: Transient bookings are up 5.2 percent, year over the year, and ADR is up 4.8 percent. TravelClick has indicated that for the second quarter this year transient ADR was up 4.1 percent, and even though the group segment occupancy was up 4.0 percent, the ADR for group was up only 0.1 percent. That tells us a great deal. What has happened to the group rate? It seems that we really have not recovered enough since we started dropping rates as a result of the last recession.

As business falls off, for a variety of reasons, sales staffers and general managers get nervous and start cutting rates. The problem with cutting group rates is that when we see a competitor cut rates, we feel we have to do the same. Instead, we should be holding rates and selling on value. We have already proven, over the years, that once we cut group rates it becomes very difficult to get back up to where we were once business turns around.

So, where are we going to be when new-build hotels start opening? This could be in 2016 and even after that. Are we going to have another 2008? What are the sales staffers doing right now to get group business on the books for 2016 and thereafter, at the rate that is needed? Now is the time to get busy going after the various group markets for those future years. Remember: We are in a seller's market. For a worksheet on Proving Value visit the Forms and Tip Sheets page of my blog.

Negotiating Group Business to Your Best Advantage

Originally published in Hotel Management June 3, 2015

Yes, we are in a seller's market, and will continue to be for the rest of the year, next year and in all probability, even in the following year. However, don’t forget the cyclical nature of the industry we are in. Once the owners, developers and lenders get around to it, the pipeline will start to open. Then, in all likelihood, we will see a load of new rooms in the marketplace, as we did in 2008. So, sales folks, let’s make hay while the sun shines.

All too often in the business of sales, prospects usually hit us right in the beginning, wanting to know what we are going to charge them for rooms, food-and-beverage, etc. Here is where we miss the boat. We get into a negotiating situation right off the bat, before we are even ready. We need to get away from that. We are never really “ready” to negotiate until we know the needs and wants of a prospect, and to what extent that business would be profitable for the property. It is a situation of us needing to ask the appropriate questions so that the responses we get help us determine to what extent we need or even want the business.

The key lies in the answers we get to who, what, when, where, why and how, before we are ready to get into a negotiating situation. While being a good listener, we should be able to relate how our property may add value to the prospects’ needs, thereby putting them in a “buy” position. Getting the prospect in a “buy” decision mode makes it easier when negotiating. The key questions above relate to the following: who (we need to know who is the decision maker); what (get details on specific needs of the prospect and the group involved); when (find out when the decision will be made; the shorter the time it takes, the better position you will be in); where (location and property where they have met previously); why (their reason for having the meeting); how (your best opportunity for booking this business).

Of course, a key part of being a good negotiator is knowledge — knowledge of your property, knowledge of the competition and knowledge of the prospect’s needs. In many cases there is the issue of overcoming objections during the negotiating process. Accomplishing a complete product analysis of your own property, as well as a competitive analysis, and showing how you can better meet the needs of the group and provide value makes you a better negotiator, capable of overcoming objections.
For a free copy of Negotiation Tips, visit the Forms and Tip Sheets page of my blog.

Are RFPs Driving You Crazy? Here’s How to Fix the Issue

Originally published in Hotel and Motel Management October 13, 2014

So many hotel sales associates are going nuts trying to handle all the requests for proposals (RFPs) coming into a property every day. Of course, they all do not get reviewed or answered immediately. In fact, many meeting planners have been complaining about their requests not getting responded to at all. These requests keep coming in, not only directly from meeting planners needing the information to help them make a decision about a meeting location, but also from third-party independent planners, convention bureaus and a wide variety of software companies trying to assist planners who have their software programs. This creates a deluge of requests daily for hotels, conference centers and resorts to answer. How much time does it take to review all these inquiries, and then to determine if this is business in which the property may be interested?

In most cases, as the RFPs are reviewed, if they do not meet the needs of a property, in all probability, they do not get answered. This makes the inquirer unhappy and creates a poor image of the property, which may very well reflect badly in case there is other future business that may be available. Also of great concern is how much time is spent by sales associates in reviewing and responding to all these RFPs. So much time is spent in responding to RFPs that are never booked. Is there an opportunity to reduce the amount of time spent by sales people by having someone else do the reviews to determine which may very well be the best prospects for a property? This would help greatly so that a sales person can spend more time in actually following up on a qualified prospect. Further, management should try to determine what percentages of the RFPs coming in represent qualified prospects for a property; it may likely be a pretty low amount.

Once reviews of incoming requests are made, the ones that represent the best prospects for the property need to be contacted. The best bet would be to actually go ahead and make the phone call to the meeting planner for an organization or company, not necessarily to the person sending the RFP. Requests coming in directly from the sponsor of a group, whether it is a company or an organization, should be handled immediately. This should be a priority, even though that particular request may not qualify for the property. We never know when that sponsor may have another opportunity for a group to be placed at that location.

With the limited number of sales staffs located at properties these days, it is important for management to find other staff associates to assist on the reviews of RFPs, and have sales staffers work those which would qualify for the property.

Great Customer Service Ensures Future Group Bookings

Originally published in Hotel Management August 3, 2015

There is no question about it: Wonderful customer service at the property level is what ensures a group booking, as long as it can meet the needs of a prospect.

In today’s world of real-time communications via social media, a favorable comment about a property will no doubt reach millions of people, while an unfavorable comment might reach even more.

Each guest staying at a property, and especially a meeting or conference attendee, becomes a “walking mouthpiece,” according to an article by Hotel Management editor-in-chief David Eisen in a recent issue. Guest reviews, in a variety of methods, have a tremendous effect on millennials, who are the group booking prospects of the future.

It is interesting to note that one customer-service aspect meeting planners say they would like to see improved upon at a property has to do with the general manager.

Meetings & Conventions magazine conducted a survey to "find out what meeting planners think could be enhanced in terms of group meetings. Of all the items mentioned by group planners, the one item that stood out was that they thought general managers needed to be more visible. Suggestions included for the GM to attend the preconference meeting of an event, meet and greet planners when they visit for site inspections, and be around and visible sometime during their meetings.

Customer service really begins well in advance of any group meeting event. It even begins well in advance of any personal contact made with a prospect.

For example, one of the biggest items that meeting planners complain about every year is the slow response they get from sales staffers in response to requests for proposals, according to Meetings Professionals International. Not responding within a day or two to requests for information, whether via a RFP or phone call, represents poor customer service.

The issue really is what do we do to improve our customer service?  There are so many things involved when we talk about this subject. It starts with answering the phone; how we address guests; and how our employees act and demonstrate good customer service.

It really all comes down to employing the right people, providing appropriate job descriptions for all employees and consistent training – not just one-time training, but on a continual basis. In the business of bringing in more group business, a salesperson needs to rely more on the entire staff to perform appropriately, and to provide the service necessary to assure the success of the event for the planner who made the arrangements.

Sales staffers know that booking a group should not be a one-time thing, and that getting them back again is what is critical. It is superior customer service that will do the trick.

Successful Sales Depend on Proper Negotiations

Originally published in Motel Management July 8, 2015

The whole idea behind the business of negotiating with a prospect is to end up assisting the prospect in making a  “valued buy” decision, while at the same time making a successful sale for the property. Of course, we all understand that the process of negotiating should never be an adversarial situation where both parties argue over demands and concessions. A positive outcome of the discussion is more likely if it is approached as a problem-solving process through which both parties reach a mutually beneficial solution.

To prepare for negotiations, it is important for the property sales representative to carefully analyze a prospect’s position as well as the property’s position. This has much to do with how far away the prospect might be in making a “buy” decision. The closer they are (time-wise) to making a decision, the better the negotiating opportunity for the property. However, if it will be sometime down the road when a decision is made, the prospect may be looking for more concessions because they have the opportunity to seek out other locations. The whole idea is for the property sales representative to gather important information early in the sales effort that will prove useful in negotiations, such as:

Ultimate decision maker: Does the person negotiating make the decision for the group?
Decision date: Will the event be soon or sometime in the future?
Key issues: What do the prospects think is most important?
Budgets: Prices paid at earlier events.
Competitors: What other properties are being considered?
Special needs: What concessions were provided by previous hosts?
Past problems: Know what went wrong at the last event.
Although all this information may not be available in advance of the discussion time with a prospect, it is important to be able to secure this information so that the sales representative is prepared for negotiations. Be careful about not getting into a negotiation session too early in the sales effort. Sometimes that develops into concessions being made too soon. Also, it is important to understand that concessions are a “give-and-take” situation; such as “if you do this, I will do that.” Be prepared to make appropriate concessions or suggest reasonable alternatives. Do not do too much talking during the process. Ask good open-ended questions and be a good listener. You never know what information one can pick up by listening well. Tips garnered in the discussion may be very useful in negotiations.

Understanding the property’s position is the other important part of the process. The big question is: How important is this business to the property? Consider whether the group will provide additional revenue via food and beverage, shopping at the property, use of spa or recreational facilities, early arrivals or stay-overs. Will it offer favorable public relations for the property or multiple-year contracts? The list can go on, but the idea is to be sure that what you are seeking is profitable business for the property. 

How to Show Real Value in a Property to Sway the Buy Decision

Originally published in Hotel and Motel Management February 2015

A top concern in any business’ sales division is having a salesperson talk too much without asking the right questions. The successful salesperson is the one who doesn’t start by just listing off everything there is to know about the property, but rather starts by asking open-ended questions. These, in turn, allow the prospect to do all the talking. Why is this important? It is always best to get information rather than to give it, and the type of information that emerges in these conversations is usually critical in helping the prospect make the decision to buy.

To get started, the salesperson needs to know the property inside and out. This means that he or she must be familiar with all the specific details and features of the hotel. It is not enough to rattle off how many rooms there are, the total square footage of the meeting rooms or how much parking is available. One needs to have an in-depth knowledge of the finer details.

Consider a group market prospect. The salesperson should know things like how many connecting rooms there are, the actual size of rooms, the number of different types of rooms and other details pertinent to group business. This means that all salespeople need to conduct their own product analysis, coming up with a detailed description of all the property features that make up the whole product.

Next, the salesperson must understand how each feature can be presented to a group prospect as a real value. What we are talking about is need. There is no point talking about something unless it can meet the needs of the buyer, and is a real value for the group.

A buy decision starts with getting the potential buyer talking so that the hotel representative can determine needs. Once these are confirmed, the rep can describe the features of the property that represent a real value.

Property management needs to work with sales personnel during meetings to go over and practice describing various features of the property that are a true value to specific group prospects. For example, corporate meetings could have different needs than association meetings. Sports groups will have different needs than social groups. If group attendees are driving to the property, how would you describe parking in a manner that shows value? If families with children are part of a group, how would you describe the accommodations, including the connecting rooms?

Remember: Showing value is critical to the buy decision.

Showing value is critical to prospects making buy decisions. For a free copy of a “Proving Value in Selling to Prospects” tip sheet, visit the Forms and Tip Sheets page of my blog.

Making A Difference

MAKING A DIFFERENCE has been my philosophy of life for all my adult years. Whether it is making a difference in someone's life or career, just one person at a time or with a whole group of people. In my own mind I have felt that I have been accomplishing that mission.  However, when I received this letter from one of my students, at the end of this past semester, it blew my mind. This is how it works, one person at a time.

I challenge everyone to do something to MAKE A DIFFERENCE in someone's life, just one person at a time.

Helloooo Howard,

First and foremost, I want to thank you for an amazing semester. You are a powerful man who represents Virginia Tech for its truest form of wisdom. I have always believed that education is not knowledge. Education is simply knowing facts, reading books, and envisioning. However, you taught me more than what any book can ever teach me. You have raised my knowledge. You taught myself, and the rest of the class, something that no textbook ever has, and that is the power of influence; which is true leadership. In my eyes, you are the ideal example of a leader.

I didn’t come to your class once for an attendance point, I didn’t do the work because I had to, and I didn’t participate because I needed to. I came to your class to learn from you, I did the work because I wanted to, and participated because I was comfortable. In high school, I was never the person to really raise my hand to answer a question, or ask something. And being in large classes doesn’t give me much of an opportunity to speak up. Your class was the first small class I had ever taken, and the best I will ever take. I got to step out of my comfort zone, and listen while comprehending information to the point where I had no problem of answering a question. I may not have always been right but even when I was wrong, you didn’t make me feel uncomfortable or be put on the spot. That’s really hard to find in professors these days.

While I have learned so much in your class that I can carry out in the future, one thing stands out: the importance of listening. If I had to compare my listening skills from the beginning of the semester to now, the difference would be extraordinary and I wanted to thank you for that. I work in sales, and I cannot begin to express how important listening is when I’m talking to a client. Sometimes I ramble on and on about how great a pair of sunglasses may be, but that is meaningless if it doesn’t have what they want, like polarization for instance. I cannot wait to go back to work and apply everything I learned from you. Again, thank you for an amazing semester and your time. Have a great summer! I’ll be sure to visit you next year!

Best Regards,

Leads Are Plentiful if You Know Where to Look For Them

Originally published in Hotel Management May 18, 2015

In last month's Sales Clinic column, I discussed the importance of locating leads (suspects) in order to develop those leads into qualified prospects (see ‘Focus on Finding Leads and Turning Them into Prospects’). First, we find a lead through various sources, and then make the phone call to actually determine whether that lead could be a qualified prospect—that is, a person or a group who could do business with you, should they choose to do so. Using a prospect survey sheet that lists questions to ask and the responses will help make the determination.

The first suggestion was using old files to make the phone calls. Following that was the suggestion that the property’s own staff could very well be in a good position to offer leads via their families and connections. Another great opportunity for leads comes from your daily newspaper, where one can find logical sources for businesses, organizations or individuals who may end up being prospects. Carefully read every section of the paper and seek out leads such as companies moving into your area, people with companies being transferred into your area and organizations managing sporting events that would attract sports groups or spectators. Newly engaged couples as described in the social columns of the paper certainly are good leads for wedding events. You might find the names of officers of local associations and organizations or details about their activities, which may be leads for local and regional meetings. Meetings and events being held at other properties in the area are excellent leads for developing prospects for next year’s meeting. Checking out a daily newspaper could generate as many as 100 leads. Just select what look like the most promising leads to call to develop as prospects.

Referral prospecting, or making contact with those prospects already doing business with you, can be very promising. In many cases, satisfied clients would not mind offering you leads, if followed up.
Further, just because a property may be doing business with a company or organization for one particular meeting or event does not mean that’s the end of it. Consideration should be given to seek out other business coming from the same company or organization. Make the inquiry.

If you call a lead that does not become a prospect, determine if they are able to furnish other leads for business. Ask the question.
The best lead of all comes from the telephone inquiry. This is where we lose some very good leads, but never know about it. It all depends on the way the phone is answered and the questions that need to be asked, as well where the call is transferred. Properties probably lose most of their phone leads by using voicemail to answer calls rather than a real, live, friendly voice.

There Hasn't Been a Job in Feiertag's Life That he Hasn't Enjoyed

This interview with Robyn Taylor Parets was published in Lodging Magazine back in 2001

Hospitality veteran Howard Feiertag has led an intriguing life. A faculty member in the department of hospitality and tourism management at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Feiertag was honored in April at the AH&LA Spring Conference with the Educational Institute's prestigious Arthur Landstreet Award, which is presented to an individual who has made a lasting impact on the quality of education and training in the hospitality industry.

Feiertag says he's honored that he was chosen, particularly since educating others has become his passion. Twelve years ago, Feiertag, 72, left a healthy income at Servico, where he was senior vice president of marketing, to accept a $20,000-a-year part-time teaching position at Virginia Polytechic Institute.

He did it because he wanted the opportunity to teach young people and also to explore other options. It afforded him the chance to develop a series of hospitality workshops. He now conducts seminars for hotel industry professionals, management companies, and meeting planners. He also frequently speaks at conventions. "I log 100,000 miles a year with the airlines," he says.

Before working for Servico, Feiertag spent 16 years with American Motor Inns, where he ended up senior vice president of operations. Prior to that, he served as a director of sales for two hotels in Charlotte, North Carolina. But Feiertag got his start in the hospitality business in the early 1960s, when he was hired as the first manager of the Charlotte Convention and Visitors' Bureau. Two years later, he went to Orlando to launch the region's CVB.

"It was a beautiful little city," he says. "Somebody started buying up all the land. Everyone thought it was the government, but it was Disney."

Feiertag sort of fell into the hotel business when he was hired to run the Charlotte cvb. "I thought I'd end up working in police administration."

Right out of high school, Feiertag was enlisted in the military and served three years in military intelligence. He investigated people who were supposed to have security clearance with the U.S. government. Because he held this position, he was called to testify during the McCarthy Hearings. "They wanted me to testify, but I refused," he says.

Feiertag remained in the military reserves while he attended college. When he graduated, he received his military commission and got a job in a state prison in southern Michigan.

In 1953, during the Korean War, Feiertag was called back into the service. He was stationed in New Jersey and served as a commander of the military police. He was charged with setting up a prisoner of war unit and hired interpreters, photographers, and linguists. "By the time we got it all organized and filled all the vacancies, the war was over."

When recalling his life experiences—which until recently included running sheep and cattle farms– Feiertag considers himself fortunate. "I never had a job I didn't like."

About Howard:

Title: Hospitality instructor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Born: Brooklyn, New York

Education: B.S., business and public service, Michigan State University

Leadership style: "Very casual—if there is such a thing. You've got to be able to provide direction without being uptight."

Biggest personal influence: "Thad Riddle, a friend who just passed away. He was a dreamer who never became rich or important. But the things he did were important to everyone around him. He was a major influence on me and we were friends for 41 years."

Admire most in the industry: "Joel Krisch, former president of the now-defunct American Motor Inns. Krisch taught me a lot about how to get along with people. Also John Russell, chairman of AH&LA, who I've always admired because he's very smart and knows this business. And, Richard Jabara, president of hotel management company Meyer Jabara. We go back many years."

Hobbies: "Operating sheep and cattle farms. Thad Riddle was my partner and I got out of that business when he passed away."

—Robyn Taylor Parets

How Will Hotel Properties Make Profits This Year?

Originally published in Hotel Management March 2015

Generally, we look to the chief in charge of operations of a hotel or resort property, the GM, for profitability. All agreed. But where does it all start? It always starts at the top, meaning, of course, with revenue generated by sales. It has to come in at the top to fall to the bottom line. Once all the costs are paid, the bottom line (or profit) is what is left. The more we take in and the less we pay, the larger the profit.

So we need to look at what we take in at the top and make sure it covers the costs, and more. We all know that costs of property operations continue to increase. There is absolutely nothing (except, maybe, gas for your car and other uses) that costs less these days. Just think about it, debt service, leases, rentals, taxes, utilities, maintenance, supplies, advertising, franchise fees, management fees, contractual services, repairs, benefits, and the list goes on. This year, we may even be hit with minimum-wage increases, and in all probability this may very well result in many other wages being increased. So, with all this in mind, it tells us that we just better be in the business of doing a better job in hotel sales.

According to TravelClick, we can expect about a 4.5-percent ADR increase over last year, which is good. We just need to be sure that our sales teams are onboard with the understanding that, in booking groups, we need to work on getting better rates. Sales staffers need to get better at negotiating deals to make sure that the properties represented maintain the expected increase in ADR. It appears that ADR from group bookings have always lagged behind transient travel. That, of course, brings the total ADR a couple of percentage points down for a property. Sales departments should be geared to secure better group rates this year.

Here is where the GMs need to include some training opportunities during the usual weekly sales meeting. The sales performance of the staff needs to be monitored to see what works and what doesn’t. We need to look at what procedures are being followed in getting prospects to make the buy decision. Are there objections from prospects? How are they being handled? Many real objections are not rate-related, but perhaps many objections come forward as rates; but are they real? Sales staffers need to understand the business of overcoming objections. Quite often we feel that because of a group booking, we need to offer a rate lower than published rates. Why do we do this? We need to reduce the effort of offering discounts right at the beginning of an inquiry. There should not be a reason for this. We may want to offer valued benefits other than rate discounts. For a free copy of our “Overcoming Objections” tip sheet visit the Forms and Tip Sheets page of the blog.