With the hospitality industry’s imminent post-pandemic recovery on the horizon and fully underway, hoteliers and travel professionals are all faced with the same question: what’s next? How can hotel brands drive business forward in the new normal? How can we return properties to their former glory of lead flow and conversion of leads to definite bookings, while also laying the foundation for a more successful future? In this case, the best insights are offered by those who have experienced industry highs and lows first hand — the industry veterans who know how things were done in the past and, more importantly, how they must change to suit the future.
Rick Day, the Executive Vice President of Sales and Implementation at SalesAndCatering.com, is precisely this industry expert. Day is a seasoned hotel executive with property-level operations and multi-unit sales and marketing and management company systems expertise. He specializes in helping hospitality brands maximize client relationships, manage sales performance and put their best foot forward to current and prospective guests. We had an opportunity to sit down with Day and discuss the future of hospitality, and the best path forward for hotels eager to not only recover from the pandemic, but achieve long-term, sustainable success.
When asked about the changes he observed in the way hotels run their business over the course of the pandemic, Day admitted that the shift in hotel operations was unprecedented. “Operationally, the industry had to quickly adapt to new protocols for service, utilizing scaled back operations whilst also implementing new procedures,” shares Day. “Many of these new procedures aimed to not only maintain the traditional hands-on service approach, but also to establish a new standard of cleanliness and safety of guests and staff. This is where we saw the emergence of a hybrid service model — a contact and contactless environment.”
Day notes that hotel sales efforts, in particular, underwent a dramatic shift. “Hotel operations had to consolidate to handle sales for multiple hotels, while establishing remote and flexible work models. At the same time, hotels had to manage their day-to-day property needs with limited staff, all the while focusing on trends and timelines to restore the flow of business needs,” explains Day. “Because of this, sales people were often being called on to support operations, and in a slower lead and business environment, still maintain relationships. Navigating postponed events and booking cancellations became paramount, but also presented an opportunity for savvy salespeople to strengthen their relationships with customers.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway, Day notes, was the need for flexibility. With sales teams working remotely, salespeople found themselves collectively selling multiple locations, and utilizing new methods of client management via digital sales tools. Hospitality has always been a customer-centric realm but, in the new normal, it was more important than ever before to cater directly to client needs and concerns by providing options for in-person events, hybrid events, enhanced safety protocols, flexible cancellation policies, etc.
Fortunately, the hospitality industry finds itself on the path to recovery, with re-hires, new hires, and increased booking momentum as sales teams generate more leads in the pipeline. “We are finally getting back to some pre-pandemic levels in various markets,” notes Day. “Salesandcatering.com sees the energy returning to the workplace, and while some markets are moving at a slower pace, others seem to be returning to or exceeding 2019 levels.”
As for improving guest engagement moving forward, Day reveals that hotel sales teams need a good system in place to help staff move with agility while reaching out to customers. “Technology has played a key role in giving staff ways to communicate and connect with clients and guests while using a service that is user-friendly and intuitive. Ease of use is key to keep the staff engaged.”
“I think a focus on the client relationship emerged during the pandemic and has emphasized a more proactive sales approach, connecting for updates with accounts, and spending less time dominated by just responding to leads and spending less quality time connecting with clients,” says Day. “The pandemic is a lesson in valuing information from the client and keeping records updated and follow up in a pipeline so you are top of mind as the lead flow re-surfaces.”
As interest in domestic and international leisure travel returns, we can’t help but wonder about business and group travel. Will these segments catch up to leisure? According to Day, it depends on the market. “I think business travel is moving at different paces, depending on the markets. There will always be the need for a personal connection in business, but now it’s clear companies are taking a hard look at the workplace and how to connect with staff and clients,” shares Day. “Again, technology allowed us to use online tools like Zoom to stay connected, but that will really not ever replace the personal touch that is especially critical in the hospitality industry.”
Day notes that this new reliance on technology is especially important, but it goes far beyond Zoom meetings. “There are so many options for guests to interact with digital platforms and self-service technology now throughout their on-property experience, and it is interesting to see how hotels use these tools to expand their offering and continue to focus on personalized service. Sales, especially, has seen the need for user-friendly programs that can effectively manage CRM and bookings, and offer new flexibility to manage multiple hotels and venues.”
When asked about the near future of hospitality, Day expects that our industry’s embrace of new technology is here to stay. “I think we will see more reliance on technology to connect both for front of house services and also for stronger client relationships to identify new sales opportunities,” shares Day. “The use of this technology will pave the way for hotel teams to identify new opportunities to deliver guest needs, control costs, and really have tools to track guest needs and upkeep of the building assets.”
“From a staffing perspective, I think the industry will continue to look at new ways to create, energize and develop teams in a challenging hiring environment,” says Day. “Demands from leisure guests and business travel are very different, so moving forward, hotels have a mix of business to manage in the coming 12-18 months as things begin to shift from the new normal to the old normal, which is still a work in progress.”