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Article by Doug Kennedy

Hotel Sales Best Practices For The Era Of Electronic Inquiries

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 12 June 2017
As anyone who has worked in the profession of hotel sales and catering sales for 10 or more years knows, the skill-set required to be a top performer is quite different these days. Today's sales superstars still have to have exceptional "people skills," which today is more formally referred to as emotional intelligence.Equally as vital, however, is the need for sales colleagues to develop an excellent organizational skillset. These days, one has to be good at both "people" and "process" skills in order to succeed. This is because today's sales teams are dealing with an overwhelming flow of electronic correspondence throughout the sales cycle and it is therefore essential to be highly organized.First, there is an overwhelming number of leads coming in via electronic channels, as meeting and event planners reach out to a long list of hotels via a few key strokes at CVENT, Starcite, CVB sites, Meeting Broker, or Wedding Wire and The Knot. Thereafter, once a prospect becomes a client, communications regarding key details start flowing in piecemeal in via texts and emails at all hours of the day.Therefore, it's essential that sales professionals evolve their skill-set tool box to adapt to all of these changes. Following are a few of my recommended best practices from KTN's sales training for today's era of electronic inquiries and messaging.Give up the paper and embrace your electronic tool. Whether you are using Delpi, Opera Sales & Catering, Salesforce, or one of the many other lead tracking systems, fully commit to using all if its features. There are just too many leads floating around to track any other way. Searching through a stack of print-outs of leads is way too time consuming when a prospect calls in; as is going through the stack when it's time for follow-up.Similarly, stop trying to make Outlook into a lead tracking system. While Outlook can be an excellent email platform, and the calendar features are useful, if you take time to fully embrace your lead tracking platform you will probably find it has far more features and functionalities that will make you a better organized sales person.Enter all "right sized" leads as soon as the come in. Print RFP's and inquiries as PDF documents and attach them to the contact. (This will also help your revenue manager better track demand for meeting space and also lost business.) Then - and this may be hard for many of you - toss that paper into the recycle bin!Immediately trace the next step. Ideally, it is good to respond right away but of course this is not always possible. Just trace the lead for "today" until you have responded and then re-trace for the actual next step.Respond by phone. Unless the sender specifically requested not to be called, find a reason to pick up the phone and engage your prospect with some intelligent investigative questioning. A good way to start the call is by saying "I just have a few questions that will help me better respond in more detail..." If you can't reach them, leave this in a voicemail and you will at least be showing intent to out-service the competition.Next, personalize the correspondence sent out. Start the cover email or cover letter by paraphrasing and re-stating a few key details you have learned from the inquiry (or hopefully the phone call if you were able to connect.)Customize the proposal templates. Most hotels have several templates already, but by making a few changes to the textual copy and also the images included you can make it real for the recipient. If it is a company or association, drop-in their logo.Respond both inside and outside of the platform (where possible.) Ensure that your response does not get lost in the long list by also sending it directly to the planner's email if it was included, or at least shoot over a note saying you have responded in the platform.If your sales tracking system is not integrated with your email platform, then copy and paste key email exchanges in the comments or notes field.Encourage a phone call. Rather than saying "call me if you have questions" or "I'll reach out to answer questions..." say "I hope to connect with you by phone to review this proposal and to hear more about your unique needs. I'm currently open tomorrow between 3:15pm and 430pm and the following day between 9am and 10:45am, so please click back a time that would be good for us to connect."Your cover message should also request that the recipient confirms receipt. Do not rely on Outlook's "Return Receipt Requested." Most planners read emails on multiple devices and it's just too easy for them to accidentally delete it. If they do not confirm, then reach out again.Include a headshot and link to your Linkedin profile in your email signature.After confirming receipt, trace for a follow-up appropriate to decision making timeline. This is typically three to five business days after they have received the proposal, while they are still early enough in the decision for you to try to influence it.Alternate between phone calls and emails for at least two or three follow-ups, typically spread a few days in between.Never throw guilt at your prospects with statements such "Since I haven't heard back from you..." or "I've left you several messages now..." Instead just keep reminding them how much you want to host their meeting or event. "Hello, just reaching out to see what else we can do to secure your business."Whenever you do connect, enter key details in the "notes" or "comments" section. Then keep referring back to these during subsequent follow-up voicemails, emails and conversations such as "When we last spoke I know you were going to meet with your colleagues at the head office..."To really stand out from the competitors, try using some "hi tech" tools for "old school" relationship building.Give video email a try. The hottest thing I have discovered this year are the new platforms for sending video email correspondence. (Note: For a sample of how to use this contact me personally doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com )Offer to contact the prospect via Skype or Facetime. Especially for social function planners, these are great options to make a personal connection and to stand out.- For a personal touch, send camera phone pics of property features, views, meeting set-ups, amenities etc...- Use screen sharing tools to walk prospects through the proposal and to offer "virtual FAM tours." It's often hard to get prospects out to visit the hotel prior to the decision making these days, so use a tool like join.me which is free of charge. They will be seeing whatever you are viewing on your desktop. Then just open and review the proposal, share stock images or floorplans, or walk them through highlights of your website.
Article by Doug Kennedy

How Did The Bartell Hotels' Call Center Capture 7% More Revenue From 11% Fewer Calls?

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 10 May 2017
Like all hotel companies, Bartell Hotels was looking for ways to increase direct bookings as part of an overall strategy to reduce its distribution costs and to recapture market share from other channels such as OTA's.Yet unlike so many other companies that have outsourced reservations to brand call centers, Bartell maintains its own centralized reservations call center to provide the personalized service and local area knowledge that today's callers are seeking.In early 2015, Bartell Hotels contracted with KTN to provide its Hotel Reservations QUEST training and mystery shopping program for the reservations team at their call center and also implemented the best practices KTN recommended, such as new "by agent" sales metric reporting and new staff recognition and incentive contests."The results continue to speak for themselves," according to Sergio Davies, General Manager of the Humphrey's Half Moon Inn and Suites. "For example, as compared to the first 4 months of last year, in 2017 our call volume went down by 11.7%, while revenue sold is up by 7.1%" he said. The best part is that this was not accomplished by discounting, but rather by a balance of converting more calls into bookings and also upselling. "Results improved across the board. Our 'ADR Sold' went up by 3.3% while 'Room Nights Sold' was up by 3.7%" Davies added.How did they do this? Part of this is of course the KTN training, which helped their agents to understand that most of today's callers have already researched online. What they don't want to hear is a scripted list of features. Nor do they want to just hear agents read the same list of rates they have found when they searched.Instead, Bartell's agents now routinely ask questions such as: "As I'm checking those dates, are there any questions I can answer for you about our location or amenities?" This provides an opportunity to sell the experience and not just quote a rate. For those callers who do have questions, their agents are more prepared than ever to answer them, as part of the training process involved regularly scheduled familiarization tours lead by their KTN trainer and complete with various homework assignments.Beyond the training, Bartell Hotels also re-evaluated their staff recognition and incentive programs to ensure that they were rewarding agents for taking the actions that have the most impact on sales, and not just good shop call scores.Of course it is also helps that the Bartell Hotels are all highly rated, and that they have a mostly long-term staff who is fully dedicated to hospitality excellence. All of this leads to more repeat bookers and that also helps conversion.So many other companies seem to focus solely on electronic channels, mistakenly overlooking the opportunities to impact direct bookings their agents encounter every day. Alternatively, the strong focus that this company has on the voice channel is helping them generate even more revenue the past two years in a row, despite that call volume has dropped significantly in this hotel market.
Article by Doug Kennedy

Are You Giving Your Guests Enough RevPAH?

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 5 April 2017
In the hotel business we measure our RevPAR, which everyone knows is Revenue Per Available Room Night. Fortunately for us, our guests do not use a similar equation to evaluate their hotel stay, which they might call RevPAH, because even at an economy hotel the RevPAH is exorbitant at times.What is RevPAH? It is Revenue Per Awake Hour. Let's take a closer look. First, the official check-in time for most hotels is 4pm, with check-out at 11am or possibly Noon. Ironically, the fancier the hotel the more likely it is that we kick them out the door at 11am, giving our housekeepers time to service all those nifty features, replace the fancy amenities and fold the towel into an animal shape. So the total awake time is at most upscale hotels 19 hours, assuming they arrive right at 4pm.Next, let's subtract a good night's sleep which is perhaps 8 hours. Then take out the time they spend doing whatever it is that brought them into town in the first place. At most hotels the average numbers of "Awake Hours" a guest might spend might be 4. Now depending on where this upscale hotel is located at, whether there is a hotel fee or charges for basics such as Internet and parking, and what the local and state taxes might run, the revenue could be quite high, easily reaching several hundred dollars just for the room. Yet let's just keep it at a nice even number of $200, bringing us to a RevPAH of $50 per awake hour for those 4 hours, which breaks down to about .83 cents per minute or 1.35 cents per second. Drop those pennies into a piggy bank one after another and it would sound like a jackpot on a slot machine.If you are in a major metropolitan area or resort destination, changes are your RevPAH is much higher. Of course if you are an economy hotel in small town suburbia your rates might be much lower than $200 and therefore your RevPAH might be less. But for your guests, it is all relevant to their personal travel budget. Another of my mantra's is that "The Super 8 is somebody's Ritz-Carlton." For guests on lower budgets, the dollars to them are as big or bigger of an expenditure as they are to guests with more economic means.To take this concept of RevPAH further, let's think about what we give those guests at the end of their stay... NOTHING! Well, maybe something - a nice pen and some fancy soap bottles.Those who understand what the hospitality business is all about know that the truth is we give them something much more important than a physical "thing," which is a fond memory of an emotionally based experience. But only if we focus on creating hospitality excellence at each phase of the "guest circle of life" of their stay.So at your next revenue management meeting or front office pre-shift huddle, when you review the latest RevPAR numbers take a moment to switch your mindset to the other side of the front desk or the other side of the guest room door. Pause to consider what RevPAH guests are receiving for whatever it is you are charging.
Article by Doug Kennedy

Hotel Sales: "Why Do Our Rates Change? We Discount When It's Slower!"

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 17 March 2017
Every day your hotel sales, reservations and front desk colleagues are fielding questions from both prospects and guests regarding why it is that the rates are so much higher during certain periods as compared to other dates.For convention hotels, the question might be "Why are the rates so much higher in mid-October than July?" For the catering sales manager the question is: "Why is the F&B minimum spend for my wedding so much higher on a Saturday in May or June?" For beach resorts the rate objection is "Why are rates higher for July 4th?" At mountain ski resorts it's the opposite, as most rate objections occur for Presidents Day and Valentine's Day periods. At corporate, urban hotels meeting planners and guests are asking why rates are higher Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but in Las Vegas, Gatlinburg, and Branson, MO they ask why rates are higher on the weekends.Indeed, the specifics of the questions being asked vary according to who is asking it and by what type of lodging company it is being asked of. Yet for as long as I can remember, the basic explanation provided by the hotel sales or front desk colleague is essentially the same: "Rates go up during periods of peak demand."Again the specifics of what is said vary slightly: "October is our busiest month for conventions so the rates are higher..." or "July 4th is the most popular beach holiday so our rates go up..." or "Most brides want to be married in May, so we have higher minimums..." or "Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the busiest nights so rates go up due to high occupancy."Yet when you think about it, offering this type explanation is essentially defending one of the fundamental laws of capitalism; supply and demand. We might as well tell them the whole truth and nothing but the truth: "Actually, sir, the rate goes up due to what our revenue manager calls compressed demand. When that happens, she really pushes rate so that we can maximize RevPAR, which is "revenue per available room." This helps our company generate the most ROI, which is return on investment, so our owners can make the most profit off of guests like you!"Okay, so this is all true, but do we REALLY want to say this? There is another way of explaining why rates change that is equally as true, but which sure sounds much better to the listener. To use an idiom that is now in popular usage in the political news, today's sales and front desk colleagues should use "alternative facts" in providing an explanation which is every bit as true.It is true that we do charge more for meeting space and guest rooms when it is busy; yet it is every bit as equally true that we also discount when it's slow! Further, and also very true, smart hospitality salespeople are very happy to help the buyer find discounted rates if their plans are flexible. Your revenue manager will LOVE you if you do! RM's love elastic demand that can be stretched to move over during periods of moderate or low occupancy. Any hotel can sell out when demand is strong; the best hotel sales and revenue managers do all they can to encourage those who are flexible to move to alternative dates by luring them with lower rates and more concessions, helping to optimize revenue and fully actualize potential.Whether you work in sales, catering sales, room reservations or at the front desk, you just have to re-program your mind to change-up the way you explain rate variance. It does take some practice. So the next time a guest or sales prospect says "Why are the rates so much higher during this time?" just respond by saying "During times like these (when its busy season, busy night of week, etc...) our normal rates apply; however we do offer discounts during slower periods." Here are some specific examples of how to use these "alternative fact" based explanations:Weddings: "Saturdays in May are the most popular for weddings so our normal rates and f&b minimums apply; however if your plans are flexible at all, we have some incredibly value-priced options for Sunday weddings or if you would consider April or October."Corporate guests at front desk: "During your last stay you were with us on a Sunday and Monday, and on slower nights like those we are often able to extend lower rates. However on Tuesdays our normal rates apply."Convention planners: "October is of course a peak time for associations to hold their annual conferences and so our normal rates apply; however if your group is flexible at all, I would be happy to check to see if we have any gap dates during which we can offer you some special rates."Room reservations: "July is a wonderful time to visit the beach and also the most popular. If your vacation plans are flexible, I would love to search some other dates for you. For example, we have some terrific package deals for the first week of June and the last week of August."
Article by Doug Kennedy

Hotel Sales - It's Time to Use Video Email to Outsell the Competition

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 7 February 2017
Based on what I hear from the hotel sales and catering sales managers I train each month, the vast majority of inquiries for groups, meetings, conferences and catering events are being received electronically. Some come in via direct email; others arrive after a planner completes a "contact us" inquiry form at the hotel's website. Most, however, arrive via third party platforms such as CVENT, Starcite, MeetingBroker, or via the local DMO or CVB. When planners reached out by phone, they tended to inquire at far fewer properties as it took much more effort. Now after a few keyboard strokes and the push of a "submit" button, their inquiry goes out to dozens of hotel sales offices.As a result, sales managers are overwhelmed with "lead spam" and experiencing "lead fatigue." Non-response rates have skyrocketed, and those who do respond promptly all too often tend to send back generic sales collateral. Sales messages are mostly cut and pasted from templates and attached as PDF's that contain mostly generic commentary and similar images as all the others.Given these business conditions, it is more challenging than ever to stand-out. Although I'm an advocate of placing a phone call - unless the sender specifically says not to - it is challenging to get someone to even pick-up these days if they don't recognize the caller.Now there is a brand new way for hotel sales and catering sales managers to ensure that their responses stand out from all of the others, and that is to use personalized video email messages.Until now, using the medium of video was time consuming and challenging. Although has always been easy to record video messages, sending them was another matter. Video files are too large to send as email attachments, so one would have to use a file sharing method such as DropBox. The only other option so far has been to upload videos to platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo and then to send the URL link in an email message, or to embed it in the email. While this can work well for email marketing campaigns sent to distribution lists, the effort required made it impractical for everyday one-to-one sales correspondence.For those of us who are early adapters of sales technology, there is now a brand new option as several new platforms enable salespeople to easily create and send video email messages show up in the body of the email message itself. Not a link, but the actual video right there, with an enticing "Play" button.By finding creative ways of displaying the sales prospect's name, (and their company or organization if applicable), the receiver will clearly see that it is a personalized message not a generic marketing video.Of course, salespeople will still want to respond via the platform on which the RFP was received, and it is usually always a good idea to also send the response directly to the prospect's email address when it is provided (unless specially instructed to reply only in the platform.) However, to get your response noticed a personalized video email can go a long way.Imagine the smiling face of a hotel catering manager responding to a bride-to-be while holding images of other weddings held in the venue. Or even better, imagine them sending a personal video email from their smartphone on Saturday night as a wedding is being set up, enticing each bride-to-be on their list with a personalized video message saying "Hello Margaret! It's a beautiful evening here as we set-up for another fabulous wedding! Here's a look at what yours will look like if you give us the opportunity to host it!"Or, picture a corporate hotel sales manager sitting in front of a logo-themed backdrop looking into the webcam and expressing how much they want to host the group meeting or conference.I predict that this new technology will catch on very quickly, but those who learn to use it to its fullest potential will continue to stand out even once the gimmick wears off. If you a hotelier who would like to receive a sample of how to use video email, send me a traditional "old school" email and I promise to reply. doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
Article by Doug Kennedy

One Task Every GM Or DOS Should Do Right Now To Increase Group Sales Revenues

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 10 October 2016
With group demand growth having leveled off or declined in most hotel markets, General Managers and Directors of Sales are looking for ways to capture more of the market share of the business that is still out there.As I have explored many of my previous articles, the hotel sales environment has changed dramatically in recent years, yet hotel sales training and the related sales processes have not evolved fast enough at too many hotels.We all know that an ever-increasing number of meeting planners inquire electronically by sending emails; others use electronic request-for-proposal tools such as Cvent, Starcite, CVB sponsored websites and lead management tools offered by hotel brands.As a result, it is now more important than ever to stand out from the completion by sending personalized correspondence, by using descriptions that allure and entice instead of listing, and by expressing sincere interest in securing the business. Yet another way to stand-out is by responding promptly and follow-up tenaciously.Most if not all the hotel sales directors and general managers that I speak with seem to know and understand these principles. Yet when I conduct my pre-training "hotel sales process audits" for a wide range of hotel clients, I find that responses are far too often tardy, generic, and essentially the same as the responses being sent by all the others. Likewise, I often find a lack of tenacious follow-up.One of my training mantras is: "If you want to the same results as all of the other hotel salespeople get, just do the same things the other salespeople are doing." That will surely result in you getting your "Fair share" of the market.Leaders who are truly committed to excellence at every step in the sales cycle know that the key to success is accountability. It is not just enough to have a team that understands the principles of sales excellence, or to have a top-notch lead tracking system; they must also live by those principles. As a leader, the most important part is auditing their systems periodically.Being in the hotel sales mystery shopping business, I of course think it is important to know what is being said during telephone inquiries, which is the focus of most traditional sales mystery shopping.Yet sales audits such as I offer prior to my sales trainings dig deeper, and such as I'm describing here, allow a leader instead investigate a) what is being seen by the decision makers (who often are not the ones who inquired) and b) when they are seeing it. If you have never conducted a sales audit before, here are some ideas.After notifying the team, while sitting with each sales manager, have them randomly pull 10 or so inquires, roughly representative of the various lead channels. (This can be done by searching their email folders for the notifications sent by various systems that a new lead is available, and for voice inquiries by checking the copies of completed voice lead inquiry forms located in a master file somewhere in sales.)Next, sit with each salesperson and ask them to show you the documentation of any follow-up they have done for each respective lead. Depending on how they organize themselves, this might be by having them search their sent messages, by looking into the contact records if they use an automated lead tracking/CRM system, or if they use a manual system, then by looking into their folders, binders or paper trails to see what notes they have written on their print-outs.Create your own "scorecard" to use as you review these details. Here are some criteria to consider for your checklist.Timeliness of first response. For electronic leads, did the salesperson respond same day or next? Did they reply only in the website tool or portal, or did they also respond directly in order to stand out from the others and to make sure a response was received? Did they also call when it was appropriate to do "Just to clarify a few details on what was needed"?For voice leads, was someone available to speak with the caller? If not, when did we call back?Lead details. When connections were made via phone, did the salesperson take copious notes showing that they fully investigated "the story" behind the group/function? Or if the inquiry came in electronically and did not have detailed information, did they respond with questions?Timeliness of proposal/contract. Did the salesperson respond with a proposal and/or contract within standard timeframe? (Typically 1 business day.) If they needed more time, did they let the prospect know that a response would be forthcoming?Personalization of correspondence. Was the correspondence personalized? (Such as did the correspondence include references to what was stated in the original voice or electronic inquiry? Example: "Since you mentioned that your group is looking for X, you will find that our hotel is excellent at providing Y.")Confirmation of receipt. Did the salesperson confirm and document receipt of the follow-up correspondence?Reinforcement follow-up. Did the salesperson follow-up after the proposal was received to express interest in securing the opportunity and to offer to work through any special needs or concerns?Tenacity and method of follow-up. Did they alternative between phone calls and emails? Did they follow-up at least three times unless they heard "no?"Long-term follow-up. If a sale was not secured, but the prospect could potentially generate future business, was the sales lead re-traced for an appropriate future follow-up action step?By conducting a sales audit based on the criteria outlined here, you will ensure that your team is doing all it can to capture more than its fair share of group business by out-selling the competition at every step in the sales cycle.

Kennedy Training Network Helps Bartell Hotels' Private Call Center Improve Direct Bookings

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 24 May 2016
Like all hotel companies, Bartell Hotels was looking for ways to increase direct bookings as part of an overall strategy to reduce its distribution costs and to recapture market share from other channels such as OTA's. As the owner and operator of 8 fine hotels in the San Diego area, Bartell maintains its own centralized reservations call center to provide the personalized service and local area knowledge that today's callers are seeking.In early 2015, Bartell Hotels contracted with KTN to provide its Hotel Reservations QUEST training and mystery shopping program for the reservations team at its call center and also implemented the best practices KTN recommended, such as implementing new "by agent" sales metric reporting and updating its staff recognition and incentive contests."We were super excited to onboard Bartell Hotels last year," said KTN President Doug Kennedy. "They were clearly among the enlightened hoteliers who recognize just how important the voice channel still is as a tool for capturing more direct bookings."Bartell Hotels engaged KTN for one of its Ongoing Training Programs that involves three customized, on-site training interventions over a 12 month period along with monthly mystery shopping support. "We really like that Doug Kennedy personally presents all of the KTN workshops and coaching sessions," said Bob Hilborn, General Manager of the Holiday Inn Bayside where the reservations office is located, "...and especially that Doug personally reviews and comments on all of the performance metric reports he recommended each month to reinforce the training."Shannon Pavich, Director of Central Reservations said "KTN has improved the quality of our calls in our call center. Their mystery shoppers are wonderful and are nearly impossible to detect, unlike what we found from dealing with other companies where our agents always seemed to know when it was a shopping call. Before KTN some of my agents would go months without getting shopped and now each agent gets feedback each and every month.""The results speak for themselves," according to Sergio Davies, General Manager of the Humphrey's Half Moon Inn and Suites. "For example, as compared to the first 4 months of last year, in 2016 our call volume went down by 10%, while our total revenue sold actually increased significantly by 5.6%. This is because our agents' call conversion was up 4.8 percentage points, (a 17.7% increase) and also because our ADR increased by $2.13 per room night sold by our call center.""Our training alone cannot cause this type of change," said Doug Kennedy, "But when nested into the right corporate culture where leaders are open to new ideas and ready to reinforce, it definitely always makes a difference." Kennedy says that many hotel companies believe that voice is an unimportant distribution channel and they fail to see the huge opportunity for channel conversion of online shoppers into direct bookers. "Bartell Hotels was different. They recognized right away that our new QUEST program gives agents the tools they need to convert someone who has already seen the rates, viewed pictures and probably also read reviews," he said. "Rather than using a scripted approach to spew out a list of random features, QUEST is all about asking the right QUESTions to figure out what it is they need to hear to make a commitment."About Bartell Hotels Founded in 1975, Bartell Hotels is one of San Diego's oldest and largest independent hotel companies with eight hotels, six restaurants, three marinas, and the nationally renowned Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay. Bartell Hotels include: Holiday Inn Bayside, San Diego Airport Hilton, The Dana on Mission Bay, Pacific Terrace Hotel, Sheraton La Jolla Hotel, Humphrey's Half Moon Inn & Suites, Best Western Plus Island Palms Hotel & Marina, and Days Inn at Hotel Circle by Sea World. Marinas include: Shelter Island Marina, Half Moon Marina and Dana Marina. For more information visit: www.bartellhotels.com
Article by Doug Kennedy

Advanced Reservations Sales Skills Required For Quoting Today's Complex Rates and Restrictions

Kennedy Training Network (KTN) 20 April 2016
Due to the advances in revenue management philosophies, processes and technology systems, those in charge of pricing and distribution have found evermore creative ways to "fence" rates such as by the booking window, distribution channel, length of stay, stay pattern, market segment, room type restrictions, membership affiliation, or by requiring special terms such as advance purchase / non-refundable.At the same time, today's callers are armed with more information than ever before caused by the transparency resulting from online distribution channels.Therefore, today's agents are required to convey (and often to defend) the most complex rate structures and availability restrictions in the history of the lodging industry to the most educated callers our industry has ever faced.Yet at the same time, most revenue and marketing managers are spending the majority of their time focusing on online distribution channels, making "voice" reservations the forgotten channel. The result is that today's agents struggle along on their own and do their best to defend some very direct and often harsh lines of questioning such as:Why is the rate higher this time?Why is the rate lower than my group's (or company's) special contracted rate?Why does the rate change during my stay?What do you mean I can't cancel the reservation?Why do I have to stay two nights?Why do I have to say over on a Tuesday? (Or Saturday?)Why did my traveling companion who booked after me and got a lower rate than I'm paying?Why didn't you quote that lower rate to me in the first place?I see that same rate online, guess I'll just book it there.What does that rate include?Your competitor has a lower rate, can you match it?$50 A night just to park? $19 For just to go on the Internet? That doesn't even include breakfast?Why is there a hotel fee? I'm not going to use any of that.What do you mean that rate does not guarantee what I'm requesting?Most marketing and RM professionals only look at the final channel by which a guest books a reservation. They fail to see the interplay between online and voice channels. In other words, some guests book online and then call with questions such as these. Others look online and then call. Still others look online while calling! The higher the rate paid, the longer the stay, the more important the trip is to the guest, and overall, the more emotionally invested they are in the experience, the more likely they are to pick up the phone somewhere in the process. Looking just at the contribution margins by each channel does not tell the true story of how the overall booking cycle.If you've not yet done so, now is a wonderful time to have a meeting with those who are fielding your hotel's reservations calls. For larger hotels, this might be meeting with your reservations team; for smaller properties this might be the front desk crew. Even if your hotel has outsourced reservations to a call center, chances are people call daily asking specifically for "in-house reservations" and therefore it is your phone operators or front desk staff that have to field these calls. (It is also a good idea to meet with your CRO agents.)Here is an agenda for such a meeting:Provide an overview of the various rate tiers, categories and their respective restrictions and fences; present the "why's" behind the "what's."Review the list of questions above. Ask the team which they are hearing daily. What other challenging questions do they field?After making a list, brainstorm possible responses to each question one at a time. Summarize into a list of bullet points for how to respond.Conduct role playing exercises whereby agents have to practice using the recommended responses to each scenario they might encounter.By helping your team prepare for questions such as these you will be providing them with the tools they need to convert more calls into bookings, whether the booking ends up arriving via voice or online channels.If you are looking for ideas on how to respond to tough questions such as these, stay tuned to this publication for future articles in this series wherein I will provide specific ideas for responding such as those we offer with KTN's new Advanced Reservations Sales Training on-site workshop and private, live webinars.

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