As we rapidly move through 2022, the hospitality industry continues to have the need to actively pivot their sales and marketing efforts based upon the changes incurred by the pandemic. As everyone knows 2020 was massively impacted by the pandemic that put an abrupt halt on any sales and marketing efforts from March onward.

While the hope was that by fourth quarter 2020 the world would start returning to normal, most found 2021 was equally dramatically affected. There were some bright spots for those properties who attracted the leisure segment in destination markets. But the majority of the hotels whose revenues were primarily influenced by business transient and group business, continued to suffer. As a result, they were conservative with their sales and marketing efforts due to the reduction of travel and events compared to Pre-Covid years.

Fast forward to this year, and we are seeing a transition due to the relaxation of Federal and State Government mandates. The relaxation of these mandates is certainly welcomed by Hotel Nation, and many of the hotels that have enjoyed Group business in the past. Forecasts are telling us that these Group Segments, and well as Individual Corporate Travel will continue to slowly grow. Group segments will fall victim to group lead times per segment. Smaller groups will start to take shape and be enjoyed this year, larger events in 2023, and City-Wide consumption success in 2024 and 2025.

Planners are eager to get back to normal, as well as attendees. But they want to feel safe (both personally and financially) as they lean forward. Business levels have started to rebound, and hotels have now found the need to re-energize their sales and marketing efforts.  So how can this be achieved?

First and foremost, the importance of sales and catering sales managers is coming back as a vital foundation block to achieving increased revenues. The two-year time span of not proactively selling, has created the need to provide support to teams to help get sales leaders back on track to having great sales skills, and to maximize closure rates.

1. Prepare, Qualify, and Present – The Fundamentals Do Not Change Although Discussion Topics May

There are significantly varying degrees of how decision makers view the issue of Covid and what they look for when choosing a hotel. So, the first step is to have a plan for the sales and catering team to tactfully learn each customer’s needs and expectations as it relates to this important issue. Some will be extremely strict, others not as strict, and everything in between.  Some will have company standards they have to adhere to, and this will be important that they have a comfort level they are working with a property who can ensure this happens. Some customers’ needs will vary according to market segment they represent, or the attendees.

Realizing the issue of the pandemic is an ever-changing situation, the sales and marketing team must always be ready to pivot and adapt to what the current situation is.  So close contact within each hotel to have a professional and effective plan to market to their customers safety and well-being is going to be important, even as we exit the dreaded days of the deep Covid era.

When selling and marketing the hotel, the issue of how the hotel manages the new expectation needs to be carefully crafted in how this is conveyed in conversations with customers, via presentations, proposals, and marketing campaigns.  Because expectations will vary amongst customers, for groups and business travel, an effective verbal presentation will be key to selling the customer on choosing your hotel. This should be a part of every sales leader’s qualification questions.

The brands have all prepared highly effective collateral to convey their brand standards in maintaining a clean and safe environment. While this is an excellent start, and all professionally written and crafted, it needs to be supported with a personal approach, unique to each hotel, and specific to the customers concerns. Customers will become immune to reading the same documentation that is presented by every hotel within the brand. They will zone out, and you will not get their attention on an important fact. So, have a strategy on how each individual property will maintain these standards. At the same time creating an enjoyable and effective guest stay and events will help in marketing and selling the hotel. Be proactive, and do not shy away from this conversation, until a time that Covid is not part of our conversation any longer. Show empathy.

2. Hybrid Meetings – Don’t Be Camera Shy

A new aspect of marketing to meetings and events is being able to truly effectively sell and service the hybrids meetings market. Most hotels who will accommodate hybrid meetings have an audiovisual department or service that will provide the technology side. However, some customers are not going to want to have to have two separate sales interactions when booking one event. One with the hotel salesperson on the rooms and function space and a separate one with the audio-visual department.  This is especially important if it is a small to mid-size event.

It is also essential for each salesperson to have a strong understanding of how their hotel can meet the needs of a hybrid meeting and how the costs will work.  The presentation verbally and in proposals and in response to RFP’s, needs to be effective and easily understandable and convince the customer that their meeting will be easy to plan, and successful to execute. Selling this professionally and knowledgeably can help separate a hotel from the competition. This will aid in increasing closure rates, thus increasing revenues.

3. Inbound Leads Are Everyone’s Friend…

With the inquiries of many meetings and events being submitted electronically, the hotels are often one of many in the sweepstakes for group business. By taking time to create a presentation to truly stand out from the competition and create an enticing proposal that includes Covid safety will help outsell others and increase your closure rates. The strategies should not only be what is in writing to Cvent and in proposals, but what other steps is the hotel doing to stand out from others to ensure individuals’ health comfort.

For example, after responding to an RFP a simple phone call to let the customer know you appreciate the opportunity and confirm you have submitted your proposal and hope to be considered takes a couple of minutes but helps stand out. The electronic smorgasbord may have hundreds of hotels bidding. The follow up call will make it personal, even more so if this call is placed by a senior member at the hotel. Customers like to feel their business is valued and this can help in this area. An insincere, templated follow up e-mail will just not do it. Build a relationship, make a friend.

Hotel Sales staffing over the last 3 years has also evolved, and that would be a kind description. If we go down memory lane for a moment, pre-Covid sales staffing for many hotels had specialized segmentation, typically assigned to a specialized Sales or Catering manager. That deployment model hit the wall about May of 2020. Quickly gone in cases were the wedding planners, Association Sales Managers, Corporate Sales Managers, and in many cases the Director of Sales or Director of Catering. It was indeed a dark period of time, that even the survivors did not enjoy. Job combination by segment is the new normal. As much as the term is distasteful, the pull through today from the Covid era will last for the foreseeable future. Inbound inquires for all segments now are being managed by all Sales Managers, many of which have also learned the art of completing a BEO, as Catering buddies are no longer available.

This is a good thing for sales leaders that have shown flexibility and is certain this flexibility has been appreciated by all hotel organizations. From a customer’s standpoint, probably also good as call screening by others should be minimized, allowing faster engagement to the inquiry for smart selling managers.

Fast forward to today and tomorrow, it is all but certain that this deployment will not change in the foreseeable future. As uncomfortable as it was at the time, those that expanded their sales skill resumes are those that will continue to prosper. Segments in markets, like Association and City-Wide Convention, are just now beginning organizational conversations. Certainly, their outreach to us, and us to them, will be refreshing, albeit the rooms may not be consumed for months into the future.

4. Personal Relationships are better than Electronic Relationships

Often hotels are also still understaffed. Teams have worked amazingly hard these past two years, and perhaps are weary. But response time must always be a priority in convincing a prospect that your hotel has true interest in their needs, is Covid safe, and is able to provide excellent service. If the initial first personal impression is extremely slow, or comes across as casually interested or insincere, especially via electronic messaging. It will give the first impression of what the service levels may be once the group arrives. This will affect a sales leader’s personal success in closing this business and building that relationship. Engage the customer as quickly as possible and do so with sincerity.

This will be the competitive edge over those hotels in the Competitive set that are still suffering from workforce issues, or untrained sales professionals. Respond to every inquiry in under 4 hours if not immediately. This one item can totally separate a hotel from its competition and help earn the sale. Now more than ever, avoid all but particularly important internal meetings and conferences, unless they are scheduled outside of prime selling time.

While brighter times are in the future, it is still a very challenging time for every team member at the hotel and will continue to be so. That said, owners’ expectations have not changed, and we must be successful at selling. And most of this article is dedicated to Inbound lead success only. Think of how a hotel could even be more successful via healthy prospecting. Those that have lived though this period will benefit from expanding their skill resume and will have a major career advantage over those that have sat Covid out on the sidelines, or those that will enter our industry withing the next 2 years.

Hard efforts will position the hotels sales team for professional growth and success, as they dedicate themself to the success of the property, your ownership, and themself. Today successes, prepare everyone for tomorrow’s opportunities. Always smile often and lead positively.