By Carol Verret
Hotel bookings through the Internet, whether on franchise web sites or electronic distribution channels, have risen exponentially. As reported by Travel Click in a recent article in Hotel Online, GDS bookings increased in 2003 3.3% while the Consumer Internet Channel bookings increased by 34.7%. This has led many hotels and hotel companies to re-allocate sales and marketing resources to managing and manipulating their positioning on the Internet. They are quite correct in doing so—this is a trend that is not only not going away but will continue this kind of growth for at least a few years into the future.
This percentage increase, unfortunately, has not been characteristic of most hotel sales departments and, as a result, the precious marketing resources available to them have, in many cases, been reduced to accommodate the expenditures on Internet channels and web presence. As a result, many hotel sales people have become frustrated and discouraged to the point that they wonder if there is a continuing role for them as this trend continues.
The answer to this question is a qualified “yes.” The traditional methods and modes of conducting hotel sales will not produce the results that will alleviate this concern. It is a simple case of “if you keep on doing what you have always done, you will continue to get what you have always gotten.”
In today’s environment, that leads to diminishing returns as travel and meeting planners turn to the Internet more and more to evaluate rate and amenity positioning prior to ever contacting a hotel. Often, the second step is to visit the web site of a particular property, again prior to contacting the sales department.
What can sales departments do to increase productivity, avoid becoming an in-house amenity or, the worst possible case scenario, the dinosaurs of the industry?
Hotels need to include the sales departments in their Internet positioning and web design so that the message and offering is consistent across the customer touch points. In addition, sales departments need to embrace the technology and use the Internet to become more productive and efficient in conducting hotel sales at every step of the sales process. For example:
Target Market Prospecting
In an attempt to locate new markets as existing ones are producing less, the decision is often made to target markets that previously were ignored. This can range from government (all of a sudden per diems don’t look so bad from a rate standpoint), SMERF, Affinity groups, etc.
Locate existing or dead files for prospects in these target markets then begin contacting them one at a time. If they weren’t producing before, why would they now and how long will it take you to contact enough prospects in a new market to ascertain its depth?
Conduct a web search that becomes increasingly specific until a prospect list or database can be located on related web sites.
Market Penetration Strategy
In most cases, it is impossible to ascertain the depth of a market or begin to penetrate it without making contact with a significant number of prospects. How to do this efficiently?
They are still contacting the “dead” files. Contacting one individual or organization with a phone call is very time consuming and not very efficient.
Develops an email postcard or an email message with a benefits tease, copies and pastes email addresses into a group on the email address book, puts each name on the email as a bcc. and sends it off to groups of ten or twenty at a time to avoid the appearance of “spamming” with the ISP.
The name of a prospective organization and key contact information is available. Now what?
Pick up the telephone and call them. Upon routing to their voice mail, leave a message with your name, the hotel’s name and phone number. Trace it for two weeks, repeat process. (Yikes!)
Locate the e-mail address on the web site or call the central number, press zero (normally there is still a human available) and ask for the contact’s email address. A recent client was absolutely amazed at how willing the receptionist was to give out the email address.
This is only a brief glimpse at how hotel sales departments can incorporate the Internet into their every day activities to contact more prospects more efficiently. Each of the examples above are just the beginning of the techniques that hotel sales departments can use to incorporate the internet into their activities to penetrate target markets, develop new prospects and maintain relationships.
I am going to anticipate and address an objection that I can hear coming about the lack of being able to build a relationship with a prospective client using Cyber Sales. People are now used to initiating and building business relationships through email, instant messaging, etc. Once we have “touched” them enough times electronically, it is then possible to make a telephone appointment to build on the relationship. A telephone appointment is more efficient than leaving voice mails.
The message here is that hotel sales departments can use the Internet in many ways to become more productive and efficient. As the growth in use of the Internet channels exhibits, our prospect find us in new ways—we need to find them in the ways that they locate us.
Yes, there is still a role for hotel sales departments to play if they become more creative efficient in conducting sales activity. It is exciting to be in a position to re-define the hotel sales process - use your imagination.
Carol Verret is a twenty-year veteran of the hotel industry. She arrived in Denver in 1984 in the midst of an economic downturn and quickly established herself as an expert in sales and marketing in hotel turn-around situations, applying her formula for REVPAR improvement. To learn more about Carol Verret, Consulting and Training, visit her web site at www.carolverret.com. Send email to [email protected]